NCSE informs us that Cope vs. Kansas State Board of Education, which we reported on here and here, has been appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals had upheld the District Court’s earlier dismissal of the case, largely on the basis of standing. Here, with permission, is NCSE’s report on the appeal:

COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al., the creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview,” is now under appeal to the Supreme Court.

As NCSE previously reported, in December 2014 a district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims; in April 2016 the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal. In May 2016, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked the appeals court to review the case en banc.

Subsequently, in August 2016, COPE asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision and to address the question “Do theistic parents and children have standing to complain if the goal of the state is to cause their children to embrace a ‘nontheistic religious worldview that is materialistic/atheistic’?”

The lead plaintiff, COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education, is a relatively new creationist organization, founded in 2012, but its leaders and attorneys include people familiar from previous attacks on evolution education across the country, such as John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

The Next Generation Science Standards have so far been adopted in eighteen states and the District of Columbia, with similar standards adopted in a number of further states. The treatment of evolution and climate science in these standards occasionally provokes controversy, but COPE v. Kansas is the only lawsuit to have resulted.

You may find COPE’s petition to the Supreme Court (PDF) here, courtesy of NCSE.

And you may find NCSE’s collection of documents from COPE v. Kansas here

By Gaythia Weis.

An uproar fanned by the right-wing media has left a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor and two instructors with quite a tightrope walk. The uproar involves an online humanities and environmental health class at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, entitled “Medical Humanities in the Digital Age.” The three faculty members (and others) may have to walk softly when teaching courses that may be a subject of public controversy. In my opinion, statements calling for “balance” (below) by a UC Board of Regents member and UC President Bruce Benson have potentially negative ramifications for academic freedom and the teaching of politically controversial material in a science-appropriate manner.

The controversy here originated with an e-mail sent by the professors indicating that the course would be based on science and would not be a forum for discussing other ideas, as reported by a Colorado Springs TV station:

The point of departure for this course is based on the scientific premise that human-induced climate change is valid and occurring. We will not, at any time, debate the science of climate change, nor will the “other side” of the climate change debate be taught or discussed in this course. This includes discussion among students in the discussion forums. Opening up a debate that 98 percent of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course. [Excerpt from email.]

It seems from this link that the professors’ response was a specific response to students worried about their grades in the class. (Note that the College Fix advertises itself as offering “right-minded news and commentary from across the nation.”)

This source is not one I’d usually quote, but it does indicate the involvement of one of the conservative UC Board of Regents members in the controversy:

John Carson, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, said he plans to make inquires Thursday about an email from three University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professors who advised students to drop the class if they dispute climate change.

“I have a lot of questions after reading this reported email sent to students,” Mr. Carson told The Washington Times. “We should be encouraging debate and dialogue at the university, not discouraging or forbidding it. Students deserve more respect than this. They come to the university to be educated, not indoctrinated.”

After Googling the professors involved, I see that they are now apparently under attack:

Thus, I offer you their emails along with a request that you politely send them links to information disputing the obvious hoax of man-made climate change:

Then again, you’re probably just pissing into the wind, as these three professors have already declared themselves to be cognitive idiots who are incapable of neuroplasticity (i.e.[,] learning anything new or expanding their knowledge in any way whatsoever). One of them also has a PhD! (I didn’t realize they were handing out PhDs for f–ktardery studies… hmmm…)

Moving forward in time, here is an article dated 9/8 that gives some data on an e-mail apparently sent by UC President Bruce Benson to UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. It would be interesting to read the entirety of this e-mail to see more about the context of “a little more balance”:

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson also wanted more “balance” from the professors. In an email The Colorado Independent obtained last week, Benson wrote to the regents about the email controversy. “I talked with Pam [Shockley-Zalabak, Chancellor of UCCS] about a variety of issues on her campus, including the faculty syllabus that has caused a stir recently,” he said. “I am not happy about it[,] and I shared that with Pam. While the issue falls squarely in the realm of academic freedom, it also seems that a little more balance would have helped.”

The Chancellor’s apology seems to me to have been carefully phrased and limited:

I am issuing an apology for the public concern that this has generated.

I can understand why Benson’s apparent e-mail to the Chancellor may have led her to feel the need to apologize. And, moving down the chain of command, she has now apparently told the professors teaching the course that their e-mail was “ill advised.” I frankly do not agree that it was ill advised. Progress in science education coursework cannot be made if time must be continually taken out to rehash basic underlying principles at the instigation of active denialists. Thus, it also seems to me that future directions have at least the potential to stray from remaining “squarely in the realm of academic freedom” and wandering off into denialism and politics. The Chancellor should have stood up for her faculty.

Science Debate questions and answers here. I have not read the responses yet.

From a press release we received this morning from Science Debate:

U.S. Presidential Candidates Answer ScienceDebate 2016 Questions

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 13, 2016 –Three of the four major candidates for United States president have responded to America’s Top 20 Presidential Science, Engineering, Technology, Health and Environmental Questions. The nonprofit advocacy group ScienceDebate.org has posted their responses online at http://sciencedebate.org/20answers. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jill Stein had all responded as of press time [6:30 a.m., EDT], and the group was awaiting responses from Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. (Individual answers can be jumped to by appending “#1” through “#20” to the link.)

On August 10, a blue-ribbon coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, called on U.S. Presidential candidates to address the questions, and encouraged journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.

“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort and author of The War on Science. A 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America revealed that a large majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.

“Science is central to policies that protect public health, safety and the environment, from climate change to diet related diseases,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a consortium member. “Reporters as well as voters should use these statements on science to push the candidates for more details on how they intend on addressing these many societal challenges.”

The consortium crowd-sourced and refined hundreds of suggestions, then submitted “the 20 most important, most immediate questions” to the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, “along with an invitation to the candidates to answer them in writing and to discuss them on television,” said Otto. The questions and answers will be widely distributed to the science community, journalists, and the general public to help voters make well-informed decisions at the ballot box this November.

In both 2008 and 2012, Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney participated. This is important, says Otto, because “science is accelerating, and we are searching for a more robust way of incorporating it into our policy dialogue.”

“Ideally, the people seeking to govern a first-world country would have a basic understanding of everything from sustainable energy to environmental threats to evidence-based medicine,” observed the Des Moines Register in a recent editorial. “They would talk about these things… Imagine if the public – and debate moderators – pressured presidential candidates to talk about the country’s electrical grid or emerging disease threats instead of abortion and transgender bathrooms. Political discourse would be smarter. And the individuals who seek the highest office in the land might learn a few things, too.”

Selasphorus platycerus

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Photograph by Vivian Dullien.

Photography contest, finalist.

Dullien_V.Hummingbird.JPG

Selasphorus platycerus – broad-tailed hummingbird, male.

Charadrius vociferus

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Photograph by Paul Burnett.

Photography contest, finalist.

Burnett_Killdeer.jpg

Charadrius vociferus – killdeer standing her ground, protecting her eggs from a vicious photographer three feet away.

Advocates for canonizing Marguerite d’Youville hired a hematologist to decide why a woman had recovered from incurable leukemia after praying to the aforementioned d’Youville. The hematologist, Jacalyn Duffin, warned the investigators that she was an atheist. The investigators reasoned that if an atheist could not figure out why the woman had recovered, then obviously the recovery must have been a miracle.

The hematologist went further and investigated hundreds of “miracles” in the archives of the Vatican. She concluded, to put it bluntly, that those things that she could not explain must have been “miracles” (she did not, incidentally, admit to supernaturalism, so her definition of “miracle” seems a little fuzzy at best).

This is the kind of logic, according to Tom Gjelten of NPR, that will lead to the lightning-fast canonization of Agnes Bojaxhiu, commonly known as Mother Teresa. Pope Francis will canonize Bojaxhiu on the basis of two “miracles,” that is, two unexplained cures that, in true post hoc fashion, followed someone’s praying to Bojaxhiu.

By this logic – if something cannot be explained by science, then it is a miracle – lightning must have been a miracle from the beginning of time until we could actually explain it.

For a more jaundiced view of Bojaxhiu, who as far as I know never founded a single hospital, you might want to have a look at Mommie Dearest, which Gjelten cites, and Pope John Paul II Beatifies Mother Teresa. The first was written by the late Christopher Hitchens; the second, by Richard Kreitner, harks back to a 1997 article by Hitchens.

Scudderia sp.

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Photograph by Richard Meiss.

Photography contest, finalist.

Meiss.Katydid_Nymph.jpg

Scudderia sp. – Scudder’s bush katydid nymph, bedded down for the night in the flower of a lily (Lilium maculatum [?]). Not shown in this view are the several species of ants that have also found this refuge to be congenial. For (temporarily) flightless insects, such cover must have some survival value.

Macaca fuscata

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Photograph by Dan Moore.

Photography contest, finalist.

Moore.Evolutionary Family.jpg

Macaca fuscata – snow monkey, or Japanese macaque, mountains of Nagano, Japan, due west of Tokyo, March, 2016. These monkeys have adapted to the cold more than any other subspecies, and they have adapted to almost totally ignoring humans (which is good for photography).

I just saw my colleague Paul Strode, with whom I wrote a book a few years ago. Knowing my interest in pseudoscience, Mr. Dr. Science Teacher (the name of his blog) directed me to his article Acupuncture Study as a Cure for Pseudoscientific Thinking.

The article is, I think, really two articles. The first describes an experiment that his students perform, but he sets it up so that they generally overlook one important variable. The outcome of the experiment is therefore not necessarily useful. The second article, which relies to some extent on the first, is largely about acupuncture, and that seems to me to be where he gets down to brass tacks.

I will only summarize here. Mr. Dr. Strode concludes that acupuncture is better than no treatment but that it is not better than a placebo. He cites a number of studies showing that sham acupuncture, including poking with a toothpick, works as well as “real” acupuncture. He observes that acupuncture can sometimes have deleterious side effects (nocebo effect) and cites a reference to the effect that there have been five confirmed cases of death resulting from acupuncture treatment.

Finally, and perhaps this is really a third article, Dr. Strode describes perusing the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; he is impressed primarily by “how tentative each headline is.” Then he singles out one article, not about acupuncture but rather about how “Meditation or Exercise May Help Acute Respiratory Infections, Study Finds.” May help. May help.

I did not read the original article, but Dr. Strode helpfully provides a P-value of 0.054, and an effect size of 0.043. The P-value means that there is only about a 1 in 20 chance that the claimed effect is real the result (or a more extreme result) could have happened by chance. Statisticians often define a study to be statistically significant when the P-value is less than 0.05, so this study is marginal at best.

Effect size is, in the simplest case, the ratio of the difference between the two means and the sample standard deviation. For example, if the mean of the test group and the mean of the control group differ by one standard deviation, then the effect size equals 1. The means in this study differ by 0.043 standard deviation; in other words the two means are virtually the same.

The headline says that meditation or exercise may help acute respiratory infections. Indeed they may. This study has not ruled out the proposition, but to my mind neither has it provided one whit of evidence in its favor.

Dr. Strode claims that meditation is useful anyway, and it differs from acupuncture by being free. He concludes,

In summary, we may be able to cure our students (our future voters) of pseudoscience and pseudoscientific thinking by exposing them to the claims of practices like acupuncture that masquerade as medical science and by helping them identify and unpack the pseudoscientific assertions of these practices and understand why the claims are indeed pseudoscientific.

To which I have nothing more to add.

Chapman’s Peak

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Photograph by Neil Taylor.

Photography contest, finalist.

Taylor.Chapmans_Peak.jpeg

A group of (shortly to be long distance running*) Homo sapiens enjoying the sunset at Chapman’s Peak, Capetown. Chapman’s Peak is an offshoot to Table Mountain and hence has the same geology. There is a famous and very beautiful road between Noordhoek and Hout Bay which has been cut right into the vertical cliff which makes up the southern side of the peak. The photo is at one point on the route where they’ve had to blast a cutting into the cliff to get the road through. We are standing on one side of the cutting with the shadow cast on the cliff on the other side of the road. Table Mountain is about 10 km to the North. [*Mr. Taylor explains that the 56 km Two Oceans Ultra Marathon was run the next day, and he and all the shadows ran it.]

Lyssomanes viridis

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Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, runner-up.

Denelsbeck.Lyssomanes_viridis.jpg

Lyssomanes viridis – magnolia green jumping spider, juvenile female. All jumping spiders have excellent binocular vision for use in obtaining food, but since the cornea is a fixed part of the exoskeleton, the eyes must move internally. With the magnolia green jumpers, the exoskeleton is translucent enough to allow the internal movement of the eyes to be seen, and they can move independently. I had captured this one and was keeping it in a small terrarium, providing appropriately-sized prey, and when it snagged a small midge while perched on a weed, I was able to move the entire plant out to obtain a decent photography angle.

Guest post by David MacMillan.

David MacMillan is an author, engineer, and researcher who formerly wrote for Answers in Genesis before obtaining his degree in physics. He now writes about science and culture for Panda’s Thumb, the Huffington Post, and several other blogs.

In the buzz of excitement surrounding Opening Day at the Ark Encounter, the team of writers at Answers in Genesis continues their struggle to explain how all terrestrial life could have been shoved onboard the Ark and then exploded back out into millions of species in only a few dozen centuries. The more they write, however, the more difficult it becomes to make sense of their approach. Nathaniel Jeanson has a new post that further compounds my confusion.

One of AIG’s youngest writers, Jeanson sports an impressive Harvard degree in cell biology and has previously worked with the Institute for Creation Research. Given his degree, it must be assumed he has enough education to understand the subjects he is writing about. Jeanson appears sincere, and it is evident he believes his conclusions fervently. He has to know, though, that his arguments are completely detached from those conclusions. He writes with the awkward obfuscation of someone trying to defend a sinking ship while earnestly attempting to remain tenuously bound to the uncomfortable constraints of reality.

2016 Contest Winner.

Bentonite clay, by Alan Rice.

Rice_A.Bentonite_Clay.jpg

Slot canyon in soft bentonite clay – Panaca formation, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

And the 1st of August is his birthday. I will list some of his real biological achievements below the fold, and dispell some myths. We've discussed this every year, so I will keep this short. Suffice it to say that the inscription on his statue in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris declares that he was the "Fondateur de la doctrine de l'évolution", and there is a good argument that he really was.

Rob Asher of the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology has an interesting post up at HuffPo on “Did Arabic Scholars Discover Evolution in the Ninth Century?” Here’s the beginning:

One thousand years ago, when the United States of America did not exist and Oxford and Cambridge were backwaters of ignorance, the light of human reason shone brightly in places like Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad. During the Abbasid caliphate for much of the 8th through middle 11th centuries, and also sporadically thereafter, tolerance of certain non-Muslim groups was enshrined in law. This was not as extensive as the constitutionally guaranteed religious (and non-religious) freedoms we enjoy in the West today, but it did mean that non-Muslims such as Musa Ibn Maimun (also known as Maimonides), Hunayn ibn Ishaq, and Yuhanna Ibn Bukhtishu, could not only practice their Judaism or Christianity, but could also make enduring contributions to the social and intellectual life of the then-dominant Muslim culture.

It may not be a coincidence that many aspects of our understanding of the world have roots in this age. Arab and Persian scholars (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) not only translated the writings of the Greeks, but also made original contributions about mathematics, medicine, and social science (among other topics). Regarding biology, one of the more interesting claims that surfaces from time to time concerns evolution:

Go here for the rest!

References

Asher, Rob (2016). “Did Arabic Scholars Discover Evolution in the Ninth Century?” Huffington Post, July 28, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1165778.html

Curious article Is scientific research flawed? on the AIG website. The author, Callie Joubert, is identified only by name and has no bio. The article correctly enumerates some of the problems with science, particularly medicine, and blames conflict of interest, competition, and so on – the usual suspects.

The author also notes two papers in physics, the Bicep2 experiment in Antarctica and the “superluminal neutrinos at the Swiss-Italian border.” Both papers apparently had drawn erroneous conclusions and were retracted. The author fails to note the significance of the fact that the papers were retracted – that when science makes a mistake it admits that mistake and tries to correct itself.

Nevertheless, the article is not half bad until it gets to this point:

There is another “background assumption that almost all practitioners in the biomedical sciences agree upon and that is naturalism.” Naturalism is problematic because human problems are often reconceptualized and subsequently described in terms that are consistent with the evolution story but otherwise in conflict with alternative perspectives.

And:

[Scientists] refuse to accept that the scientific method is only one source of truth among others. What need serious reevaluation are the naturalistic materialist and the biological reductionist worldview that dominates the academia; it is a wholly misguided conceptual framework for the articulation and explanation of human origins, personal and interpersonal problems, and how it [sic] may be rectified.

I want to make two brief points: This article outlines some serious problems with Big Science and makes a great deal more sense than any of the material I have read on AIG to date. It fails to stress that the problems have been discovered by the scientists themselves, and the scientists are trying to correct the problems. Unfortunately, the article is to some extent an ad hominem attack, in that the problems of Big Science, while very real, have absolutely nothing to do with science’s adherence to naturalism, which I take to be the main point.

The author is in good company, but I also object to his or her use of reductionism as an epithet; reductionism is what scientists do when they discover that gas laws can be reduced to molecular physics, molecular physics can be reduced to atomic physics, atomic physics can be reduced to nuclear physics, and so on. Reductionism is not a dirty word, or at least it ought not to be.

Finally, I will be more impressed by articles like this one when I see creationists finding problems with their own thinking and working to correct them. Or even correct problems that others point out.

Here are the finalists of the 2016 photography contest. We received 38 photographs from 14 photographers. We had considerable difficulty choosing a half-dozen finalists – most of the pictures were excellent, as you will no doubt see during the coming months. We finally enlisted our wife to help with the choices, which are displayed below the proverbial fold. Unfortunately, the submissions did not lend themselves to being divided into categories, so we present one general category (which includes as much variety as we could muster). The text was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency.

The finalists are presented in alphabetical order of last name. Please look through their photographs before voting for your favorite. You will have to be logged in to vote in the poll. We know it is possible to game these polls. Please be responsible and vote only once. If we think that the results are invalid, we will cancel the contest.

Polling will close Friday, July 29, at approximately 12:00 CST.

Reed Cartwright contributed to this post.

One thing I’ve loved about living in Australia this past year is how much more generally pro-science the culture seems to be (PT blogmeister Reed Cartwright was just in Canberra to visit collaborators, but sadly he forgot Prof. Steve Steve). We have the annual Australian National Science Week coming up next month – can you even imagine having a National Science Week in the United States?

2016-04_Australasian_Science_cover_373.jpgAnother thing I’ve loved is how there seem to be many independent media outlets interested in science. I got to write a short popular article on the Evolution of Antievolutionism paper, which ended up on the cover of Australasian Science, for instance, and participate in several other talks or radio shows.

The most recent radio show was:

… and Ark Park responds predictably.

More specifically, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a “warning” to more than 1000 school districts in Kentucky and neighboring states, advising them against field trips to the Ark Park. The Ark Park, says FFRF, is a Christian ministry (as opposed to an educational museum), and they quote Ken Ham as having penned a letter, “Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter,” in which he writes:

Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith so that we can reach as many souls as we can.

FFRF says,

Taking public school students to a site whose self-professed goal is to convert children to a particular religion and undermine what is taught in public school science and history classrooms would be inappropriate.

And they add that courts have summarily rejected arguments that making the field trip “voluntary” makes it constitutional.

Ark Park today responded predictably, if a bit hysterically:

The atheists are on the rampage again, and this time their target is our just-opened Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.

Their lawyers crafted a response, which is largely pabulum, but the gist of which is

If classes are coming to the museum or Ark in an objective fashion, however, to show students world-class exhibits and one group’s interpretation of the origin of man [sic] and earth history, then the field trip is just fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational and cultural experience.

I suppose that would be true if that group’s “interpretation of the origin of man and earth history” were not a purely religious interpretation. The author of the article, Mark Looy, goes on to say that the atheists “can’t handle the truth” and accuses them of being “secularists,” which I suppose is true, and of being specifically anti–[fundamentalist] Christian, which I rather doubt. Mr. Looy repeats the pretense that the Ark Park is an educational museum:

Such antireligious zealotry causes secularists to grossly twist the First Amendment and then scare educators with a misinterpretation of the First Amendment. To repeat: as long as a school trip fits an educational, recreational, or historical purpose, for example, it would be constitutionally appropriate.

The secularist religion of humanism and naturalism is being taught in the public education system without challenge in most schools. This false teaching is deceiving many young people. Students are being taught that there is no God and that they are merely the products of random processes. [Italics added]

The FFRF letter provides chapter and verse, if you will pardon the expression, to explain why “it is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of Ham’s Christian theme parks” and concludes that

Ham is free to erect monuments to his bible, but public schools are not permitted to expose the children in their charge to religious myths and proselytizing.

Fortune magazine CLAIMS that Barack Obama is the first president to publish a scientific article. Obama_2016.png They are referring to:
Obama, Barack (2016). "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps." The Journal of the American Medical Association. Published online July 11, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.9797 http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2533698
See also JAMA's Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/JAMA_current?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

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  • alicejohn: Aren’t they appealing the decision to dismiss the case? So if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case and if they win the appeal, the only thing they would read more
  • W. H. Heydt: Sigh…it’s possible. Between butchered Biblical quotes, Shakespeare and William S. Gilbert, it’s hard to keep track of the good lines. read more
  • W. H. Heydt: I got it when I first saw it as soon as I worked out the acronym. read more
  • Just Bob: Too subtle by half. But brilliant! read more
  • John Harshman: Was I too subtle? The name was intended to be read as an acronym. COPE vs. MARSH. What, no paleontology fans here? read more
  • Matt Young: It’s Shakespeare – King John, a play I think I have never seen: You think he cribbed it from the Bible? read more
  • W. H. Heydt: The cleverest twist on I ever say was–IIRC–during a feminist campaign over an issue (possibly the ERA) when women were urged to get out and protest instead of doing read more
  • Just Bob: I’m assuming Dave did that on purpose. COPE is trying to ‘heat up’ things by ‘striking’ with a case that so far has always lost. But maybe if they read more
  • stevaroni: Absolute, Schmabsolute. I’d be happy if IBIG could simply prove God is. read more
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