Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Right-Wing Whining

Okay, I like Cheerios as much as the next Leftist Mama; I like them mainly because they are one of the few breakfast cereals on the shelf in your mainstream market which do not contain high fructose  corn syrup (as regular readers know, the kid has a corn syrup allergy).

But the FDA sending them a warning letter concerning their practice of placing claims on the box about how eating their cereal for six weeks would lower someone's cholesterol level, given that no scientific study exists to back that claim?  Well, that's the FDA's job.

So this conservative outrage over the incident? (Rush Limbaugh called it "irritating, intrusive nonsense," and claimed Obama was behind the letter, since he knew babies loved Cheerios more than they loved the President.)  More anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-reality -- well, yeah, I am being redundant, I suppose: more conservative behavior, that's all I need to say.

Which brings me to what I've been doing over the past week or so: reading about Charles Darwin, who, I have to tell you, is so cool.

This started because the kid is doing a project at school on Natural Selection.  We made a trip to the public library, hunting resources, somewhat dispiritedly -- we'd been there last year, when the kid was first interested in evolution, so I knew not much was available.

But! Surprise!  Darwin Day had, apparently, made a difference: half dozen new books had been added, which is quite a few for this library, including an excellent short biography, Tim Berra's Charles Darwin; and a couple new kids' books, including a graphic novel about Darwin's life.  I also found a big fat biography on Darwin, from the 80s, which I hadn't noticed before.

Anyway, the kid did her research, but I've also been reading quite happily.   The Berra book, though short, was quite good; the big fat biography, Ronald Clark's The Survival of Charles Darwin, though old, is also entrancing.  My favorite bits include Darwin and Captain FitzRoy's row while in Brazil.  You'll remember that FitzRoy was the captain of the Beagle.  Anyway, they had visited a plantation in Brazil, and the FitzRoy asked a slave, in front of his owner, if he was happy as a slave.  The slave said indeed, he loved being a slave.  (FitzRoy, a conservative, supported slavery, thought black people were natural slaves, and white people natural owners, due to their superior natures.)  There, he told Darwin, see?  Darwin scoffed at this "evidence," pointing out that what a slave said in front of his owner could hardly be taken at face value; FitzRoy flew into a rage and banished him from the Captain's mess.

But the gunroom officers let him eat with them until FitzRoy got over his snit and apologized.

(This is from Berra's text: When Huxley and Wilberforce held their famous debate over Darwin's Theory at Oxford, Captain FitzRoy was in the audience.  Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, demanded to know, if Darwin's theory was true, which of Huxley's grandparents was an ape, his grandfather or his grandmother.  Huxley replied that, given a choice between having an ape for an anscestor or having someone like Wilberforce, who would introduce mockery into a scientific debate, he would certainly choose an ape.  The audience erupted, with students shouting "Monkey, monkey!" and women, so the story goes, fainting.  My favorite bit, though, is how FitzRoy stalked from the room, brandishing a Bible and shouting, "The Book! the Book!")

(30 years after the voyage of the Beagle, while governor of New Zealand, FitzRoy would shoot himself.)

Also: seeking evidence to back up his theory of evolution (as most people know, Darwin wasn't the first to come up with the notion; however, he was determined not to publish without plenty of evidence) Darwin studied barnacles, both fossil barnacles and actual barnacles, for nine years, amassing details for change through the eons and centuries.  At one point during these nine years, he wrote in his famous notebooks the line, "I hate a barnacle as no man ever did before."

He also hated slavery, people who hurt animals, that he had to send his children off to boarding school, and rudeness to servants.

He was bad at math, and did not do well in the 19th century equivalent of grammar school.

He was an atheist (though he called himself an agnostic) and said he did not see why anyone would even wish to be a Christian, calling it a "damnable doctrine."  This distressed his wife Emma (herself a Christian) so much that she edited it out of his autobiography, though some years after her death it was edited back in.

He discovered the role earthworms play in creating soil, and established the method of scientific controls.

On the occasions when he got things wrong - which did happen -- he admitted it.  Right up front and straight out.

The more I read, the more I like this guy.

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