Friday, February 01, 2008

LATA lives at a new address!

This blog has been revived, and now lives at Wordpress:

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's that time

Folks, it is that time. I believe - and abc agrees - it is time to close up "Left at the Altar." I am delighted and honored that people read this blog - that many have even bookmarked it and make it a regular weekly stop. But it's time to re-direct the hours and energy that goes into the search for bloggable material. (Even when I'm updating this site with the minimal and unsatisfying "regularity" that has characterized the past year or so, I still spend more hours than I care to count "surfing" other blogs and news sites.) Other bloggers and activists are doing this much better, more resourcefully, and with greater reach and impact than I have the time or talent to cultivate. We're quite small, and have stayed pretty small. I know that some people are going to miss us, and I know I (I won't speak for abc) will miss blogging.

But the internet can be - as abc herself has called it - a big time sink. You all know what happens: you follow a link, which leads to another, which leads to another, and suddenly 30-60 minutes are gone. If that happens a few times each week, then there's that block of time I've been saying I don't have for volunteering somewhere! abc and I attended the Faith and Politics
conference in Pasadena this past weekend. One of the speakers quoted someone - Rabbi Abraham Heschel, perhaps? - on the need to "put feet on our prayers." Walk the talk. I'm ready to put some of my blog time and energy to different use. The reason you haven't heard much from abc this year is because she's been "putting feet on her prayers" -- organizing, demonstrating, and rallying others to do the same. I've been content to conduct a pretty anonymous "virtual activism" on this very small scale. But I'm preaching to the choir - not even recruiting new "singers"! - and there are much more inspirational and effective "preachers" out there.

Why stop now, of all times? No matter what happens in November - whether Dems take back one or both houses, as they possibly could, or whether they once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - closing up shop the day or week after won't feel right. It will look smug and satisfied, or tired and defeated. Closing up now will let us concentrate even more on November and the aftermath. There is much to be done!

We'll keep the site up (but not updated) through Election Day -- taking up bandwidth and giving you time to make sure you've bookmarked any sites you accessed regularly from the sidebar on the right. Then we'll take the site down and someone else will fill the space.

Thank you all!

P.S. Consider adding these sites to your blog stops:

Progressive Christian Witness

Faithful Democrats

Quaker Agitator

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Don't ask...

...about the comprehensive exam. It wasn't pretty.

You CAN ask about Baxter, on the other hand. He is doing quite well! He had those gnarly stitches removed yesterday, and the biopsy report came back Saturday with a good news/bad news aspect to it. The bad news: the tumor was malignant. The good news: it's a non-fatal type of cancer that likes to recur in the same location, and doesn't spread. So we will need to remain vigilant in order to catch it earlier if it returns (and sadly, there's a good chance of that: the vet was not able to "take anything extra" around the tumor to leave super-clean margins). The cancer has such a long and bizarre name, even the vet stumbled as he read the report to us. If I can figure out how to spell it, I'll link to a description later.

A few items:

  • San Francisco and Oakland are having a disturbing increase in violent crimes this year, but it turns out that's happening all over the U.S. Still feeling safer under the Tough on Crime/Tough on Terror Republicans? Check out this report by the Third Way Strategy Center for Progressives. I love the title, "The Neo Con: The Bush Defense Record By the Numbers." The reality is this: while the BushCo NeoCons waste billions of dollars and thousands of lives on an illegal and unwinnable war over there, our national resources and preparations for violence and disaster are rapidly deteriorating. Sleep tight!

  • Oh, you meant those secret prisons?

  • A more constructive link: I buy and sell quite a few used books from Amazon's "Marketplace." Recently, several of my textbook purchases came from a dealer called "Better World Books," and arrived with the claim that my purchase was helping send books to Africa. Sounded pretty cool, so I finally checked out the organization and discovered I can order books directly through their web site. Please take a look and throw them some business!

  • Next time a wingnut tells you conservation projects don't work, show them this study!

    (A Bali starling, one of the species saved from extinction.)

    (If this post appeared, disappeared, and reappeared in your "feeder," it's because Blogger only published 3/4 of it the first time, and momentarily lost all the sidebar links, etc. So I deleted the original post and "re-published" it.)
  • Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    A poll to chew on

    My 24-hour take-home open-book-but-dastardly comprehensive exam is tomorrow. I'll be offline and up all night squeezing every last minute out of those hours. The Better Half bought me a case of Tab, my "drug" of choice since I was but a teen (and not available in San Francisco!), to assist in maintaining wakefulness (no promises for coherence).

    While I'm writing, and then weeping, and then spending the holiday weekend curled into a fetal position, digest the results of the latest Pew Poll on Religion and Public Life, which says Americans yearn for the via media on this issue.

    One of the interesting points to me: "Only 7 percent of Americans identify with the "religious left" (an increase, nonetheless), but "32 percent of the public identify themselves as 'progressive Christian'"! They "tend to be more moderate than left-of-center on political issues." That is an unhelpful distinction, since there are moderates on both "sides" of the center. I won't be able to dig into the specifics before Friday, but if you want to, the full report is here.

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Of Dwarf Planets and other downsizeable objects

    Pluto has been demoted from a full-sized planet to a "dwarf planet," and Neptune could be next! What is this universe coming to?!

    The difference in Pluto's stature was immediately apparent. Here is Pluto and its "moon" when Pluto was still a planet:

    And here is Pluto and its "moon" since Pluto was demoted:

    Pluto's fans and supporters are taking it pretty hard.

    But observers in other disciplines have been inspired to re-examine their own sacred cows and classification schemes. Reasonality proposes the Dwarf Presidency, for example. (MizM disclaimer: Mr. Reasonality is a friend and former colleague; welcome to the blogosphere "Cal"!)

    So far, so good

    (Baxter and one of the wonderful techs at the SF/SPCA animal hospital.) (Updated: I replaced the original photo with one edited to blur the tech, since I forgot to ask if I could post her picture!)

    Baxter was heading outside with a vet tech when we went to get him this morning. The tech said he'd been very quiet up to that point, then got so agitated that she "thought he had to pee." But he saw us coming up the sidewalk and either forgot what he was going to do, or - as the tech suggested - just "knew" we were coming for him!

    Alas, with this many stitches to mess with for the next two weeks (warning: "stitches" photo follows!)...
    Yucky photo coming...

    Yucky photo coming...

    Yucky photo coming...

    (For the squeamish, I tried to put enough "warnings" there to push the photo out of your window.)

    ...he'll need to spend a lot of time in this fashionable headgear:

    (Another "yucky photo" alert.) You can see the pre-surgery growth on his knee in this picture.

    It was big, but that still seems like a mighty generous incision he's sporting!

    Some good meds, some napping in the sun... He'll be just fine. We'll get the biopsy results in a week or so. Thanks for all the good wishes!

    Enlightenment from "DarkSyde"

    (Updated to correct a surprising number of typos.) "DarkSyde," a regular contributor to Daily Kos, today reflects on the five year anniversary of Bush's announcement that he would cripple all stem cell research. DarkSyde puts it in linear terms, first:
    Five years ... let's put that in technological perspective: Are you reading this post on the same computer you had five years ago? Does your business use the same routers, hubs, software, and servers you used five years ago, with no upgrades or replacements? Now extend that analogy to stem cell research and you get the idea of where we could be. For half a decade, this precious research has been frozen in time, placed in suspended animation at the expense of the sick and dying, to benefit the already rich and the powerful while enabling the incompetent.
    Then he gives us a brilliant visual, posting these pictures and caption--
    The President's rationale in pictures: Left an Iraqi girl, one of the thousands of living human beings BushCo considers worth sacrificing for an unknown benefit, maybe, at an unknown future date, perhaps, in some unknown way. Right: A human embryonic stem cell magnified thousands of times; a life too precious to risk destroying no matter what the potential benefit.
    Of course, the administration's medieval mindset is getting to be old news, and we grow weary of protesting it. But folks, Bush's war on science is serious business, systematically crippling research and education. From a July 22 NYT article I saved (now only available in paid archives):
    NASA's Goals Delete Mention Of Home Planet
    Published: July 22, 2006

    From 2002 until this year, NASA's mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can."

    In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet" deleted. In this year's budget and planning documents, the agency's mission is "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."

    David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush's goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

    But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the "understand and protect" phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
    Then there's Friday's news that evolutionary biology had mysteriously and "inadvertently" been omitted from a list of majors approved for federal student aid:
    Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List

    Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.

    The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. “There is no explanation for it being left off the list,” Ms. McLane said. “It has always been an eligible major.”

    Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing.

    If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were full-time students majoring in an eligible field.

    “If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the process,” he said.

    That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about threats to the teaching of evolution.

    One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of Education, who got in touch with him after his essay on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter.

    An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Dr. Krauss said the omission would be “of great concern” if evolutionary biology had been singled out for removal, or if the change had been made without consulting with experts on biology. The grants are awarded under the National Smart Grant program, established this year by Congress. (Smart stands for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent.)

    The program provides $4,000 grants to third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security.

    The list of eligible majors (which is online at is drawn from the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs,” or CIP (pronounced “sip”), a voluminous and detailed classification of courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and subsections.

    Part 26, biological and biomedical sciences, has a number of sections, each of which has one or more subsections. Subsection 13 is ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology. This subsection itself has 10 sub-subsections. One of them is 26.1303 — evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time.”

    Though references to evolution appear in listings of other fields of biological study, the evolutionary biology sub-subsection is missing from a list of “fields of study” on the National Smart Grant list — there is an empty space between line 26.1302 (marine biology and biological oceanography) and line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology).

    Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said Mr. Nassirian of the registrars’ association. “Your declared major maps to a CIP code,” he said.

    Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the omission as “a clerical mistake.” But it is “odd,” he said, because applying the subject codes “is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.”

    “I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is unintentional,” he added. “But I have to take them at their word.”

    Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.

    Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the change was not immediately reversed “we will certainly pursue this.”

    Dr. Rissing said removing evolutionary biology from the list of acceptable majors would discourage students who needed the grants from pursuing the field, at a time when studies of how genes act and evolve are producing valuable insights into human health.

    “This is not just some kind of nicety,” he said. “We are doing a terrible disservice to our students if this is yet another example of making sure science doesn’t offend anyone.”

    Dr. Krauss of Case Western said he did not know what practical issues would arise from the omission of evolutionary biology from the list, given that students would still be eligible for grants if they declared a major in something else — biology, say.

    “I am sure an enterprising student or program director could find a way to put themselves in another slot,” he said. “But why should they have to do that?”

    Mr. Nassirian said he was not so sure. “Candidly, I don’t think most administrators know enough about this program” to help students overcome the apparent objection to evolutionary biology, he said. Undergraduates would be even less knowledgeable about the issue, he added.

    Dr. Krauss said: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”
    If you haven't curled up with Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, now is a good time; since the book's original publication just one year ago, the Administration has been so dogged in its anti-science efforts that Mooney had lots of material to add to the paperback edition.