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Collected editorials

Has anyone heard of Fred Figworth?

One good bird deserves another

Whilst driving from one place to another (the places being Pierre and Highmore although I don’t think that this much matters to anyone) Our Lady of the Large Black Dog announced that she espied deer ahead in the distance. (She didn’t use the word “espy” – she leaves that sort of thing to me.) We slowed down, a wise precaution when there are animals near the road. The presumed deer (what else could they be?) ran across a pasture and headed for the ditch. Fortunately the animals did not run back and forth across the road; instead they ran in the ditch parallel to the road. This was good; we are not in the habit of driving in the ditch so the prospects of collision were remote.

As we got closer we saw that they weren’t deer at all. Instead they were a pair of emus zipping along at about twenty miles an a hour. Emus you ask? Yes, emus. Emus aren’t exactly native to South Dakota but we have them. We called the local sheriff who called the owner, one Ken Oestreich, and told him that some of his emus were loose. Ken, it seems, is an emu rancher, having a herd of about 170 animals. Ken managed to get them back to their prairie home, not the easiest of things in the world to do. An emu can run at 30 miles an hour; herding emus is an art form, something like herding cats.

Fancy that though, an Oestreich with emus.

The richest man in Cuba

Forbes magazine has included Fidel Castro in its annual list of the richest people in the world. Fidel (cigars aren’t all that bad for you if you’re a communist) Castro has taken exception to this and says that he will sue Forbes for libel. One wonders where this suit will take place. I don’t imagine that Forbes has any assets of consequence in Cuba, and I don’t fancy Castro’s chances in an American court. On the other hand, he might do well in a Californian court.

I don’t think it is a fair kop. Forbes counted various Cuban state enterprises as being part of Castro’s assets. Leave us ignore sticky questions about ownership and control and follow the money. Could Castro sell off these enterprises and pocket the proceeds? If not, then they aren’t truly Castro convertibles.

Say Cheese

In the March, 2005 editorial I had a small section entitled Napping in the Cheese Factory in which mention was made of a South Dakota law prohibiting lying down and falling asleep in a cheese factory. I expressed some skepticism about the existence of said law.

An attorney with the SD Department of Agriculture, kindly wrote me, quoting the offending passage, and then gave me the results of a text search on the word “Cheese” in the S.D. laws. The search turned up three references, to wit:

Chapter 39-7-2 Definition of terms
Chapter 9-39-5 Municipal regulations
Chapter 38-1-18 Promotion of agricultural interests–Experimental and extension work–Marketing of farm products

It seems that America’s Dumbest Laws has unjustly maligned the fair state of South Dakota. I for one am glad that SD attorneys are vigilant in their correction of the record. I must admit, however, to some curiosity as to how they heard of me. I’m not sure that my web site is proper reading for a lawyer.

Quality Spam

I get an inordinate amount of spam. I have been using this email address since 1995 and have never concealed it from the email address harvesters. My poor email address has been harvested so many times that it is smooth as a billiard ball. Much of it is the usual, pill pedlars, variants of the Nigeria scam, offers to increase my penis size and breast size (I shudder to imagine who is using both), on-line casinos, porn sites offering free (except in the small print) porn, cruises in the Sahara, and a variety of get-rich-quick schemes. Upon occasion I do get some quality spam.

For example, Invitrogen, is offering me 50% off on their ChargeSwitch® purification kits, “The Next Generation in Nucleic Acid Purification.” Here is a bit of what they have to say:

ChargeSwitch® Technology is a revolutionary approach to nucleic acid purification. Scientists can now purify DNA in a 100% aqueous environment without using ionic chaotropes such as guanidinium isothiocyanate or organic reagents such as ethanol, phenol, chloroform or IPA, which can inhibit subsequent applications such as PCR.
I don’t quite know how I can pass up such an opportunity, but I suppose I shall. My consoling thought is that my spam is keeping me up with the latest technology.

Has anyone heard of Fred Figworth?

The internet has been a boon to the creationists. Once upon a time they had to stand on street corners passing out their badly printed pamphlets. Nowadays they can advance their cause on internet websites without leaving the comfort of their own home. The tecnnology has improved; the content, alas, has not.

Creationist scholarship is a wonder. For the most part it consists of theological arguments of dubious validity, fanciful crackpot physics intended to reconcile Genesis with mundane reality, essays about how evolution destroys morality and our precious vital bodily fluids, and long lists of quotations taken out of context. It is the latter practice that brings us to Fred Figworth.

A while back the Discovery Institute ran an ad in which it listed scientists whom they implied were disenchanted with Darwinian evolution as a satisfactory explanation for the complexity of life. Whether the ad was an honest representation of the views of the people listed is open to question.

Among the people listed was one Fred Sigworth, a real person, a professor of cellular and molecular physiology at the Yale Graduate School, who testified in a court case as a friendly witness for a “textbook” called Pandas and People. (“Textbook” is in quotes because the book was more creationist pseudoscience than legitimate science.) Professor Sigworth’s name is used in a number of creationist and “intelligent design” websites. His views are not discussed in such sites. They are not wanted; what is wanted is the use of his name as a friendly authority.

Exit Professor Sigworth. Enter Fred Figworth. Somewhere someone copying Sigworth’s name (probably from the ad) misspelled it. Other people copied the original misspelling. Fred Figworth does not yet have the popularity of his progenitor, but his presence is growing. One of his merits is that he hasn’t written any scientific papers; indeed, he hasn’t written anything at all. His unreality doesn’t matter; Sigworth, Figworth, it is all the same. All that is needed is a name; there needn’t be a face behind the name.

I wish there were a real Fred Figworth – the name has, ah, character. Oh well, I am sure that there will be one of these days. Some unscrupulous person will create a web site for him, complete with quotable sayings plagarized from quotable creationists.

This page was last updated April 1, 2005.
It was reformatted and moved October 16, 2006

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Collected editorials