Letters for the week of August 3-9, 2005

Supporters of evolution think Phillip Johnson is Cro-Magnon, plus the Wayans brothers army sets us straight about them.

“Phillip Johnson’s Assault Upon Faith-Based Darwinism,” Feature, 7/27

Ignore that man behind the curtain
Phillip Johnson must have been a great lawyer. Confirmation abounds for Darwin’s “descent through modification,” while there isn’t a shred of evidence for the existence of either designer or design in the natural world. Johnson merely asserts that random mutation and natural selection couldn’t possibly have caused the bounteous life on our planet — yet he has people eating out of his hand.

But then again, maybe there’s a wee bit more to this than honest intellectual inquiry. The Wizard of Oz must be awfully jealous right about now.
Richard Pfeiffer, Berkeley

Maybe the monkeys took megadoses of vitamins
I feel sorry for people like Philip Johnson. But he is not alone. He follows in a long line of highly intelligent, persuasive, and accomplished intellects who, at the end of an otherwise salutary career, lose their intellectual bearings in a new field, tarnishing their legacy in the process.

Think of William Shockley (inventor of the transistor who strayed into questionable racial theories), Linus Pauling (winner of two Nobel Prizes who espoused megadoses of vitamin C as a cure-all), or Thomas Gold (discoverer of the pulsar who later wasted millions trying to prove a radical theory of the origins of oil and natural gas), to name a few.

Intelligent design may or may not be creationism, but it is certainly not science.
Tom Burns, Berkeley

Surely you jest
I am stunned by Justin Berton’s conclusion: “The arc of man’s understanding of the universe’s creation is long. … Today, we rely on evolution. Maybe in the 25th century, it will be intelligent design,” insinuating as it does that ID is somehow progressive, ahead of its time, and not the reactionary-though-savvy strategy of the Christian majority. And this on the heels of exposing Johnson’s deliberate deceptions to make ID academically palatable. Has the Express fallen so far that it upholds intellectual dishonesty as a badge of progressivism?

Further, it is unpardonable that Berton would allow Johnson’s assertions about “Darwinian orthodoxy” to go unchallenged, as well as his intentionally deceptive conflation of Darwinism (natural selection) with evolution (descent with modification). The SCIENCE of evolutionary biology has a rich history of challenges to Darwinism (natural selection) as the primary mechanism/driver of evolution. These critiques began with Thomas Henry Huxley, gained power with the experimental embryologists of the early 20th century, and have been largely vindicated by biological structuralists and the “Evo/Devo” movement of the past 25 years. These non-Darwinian critiques have consistently argued that biological variation is highly nonrandom and patterned. Not by a creator, mind you, but by biological processes that can be and are being studied and understood, as revealed by recent advances in developmental genetics.

Whatever one’s religious views, are we serious about moving into a technologically complex future thinking and teaching that a legitimate aim of science is to extol the creator’s handiwork?
Clifford Baron, Alameda

Don’t hold your breath
In spite of Phillip Johnson’s widely-professed discomfort with either side of this debate “cramming their convictions down” our throats, he also curiously insists that the “truth of a God” will eventually be obvious to all!

Too bad Professor Johnson seems deaf to his own wise declaration that “being religious or antireligious is the same thing: it’s a position about religion or God, and it goes beyond the evidence and into confident assertions that are based more on personal convictions than they are scientific testing.”

Though probably an unpopular theory for those of us who have fed our minds on this seemingly endless passionate debate, I suspect that a true answer to our evolution will only be possible when there is also an answer to spatial infinity.
Gerta Farber, Berkeley

“Do I look like a muthaf#&%! role model?,” Take Out, 7/13

Homie, don’t play that
I am offended that you would overlook the wonderful opportunity the Wayans brothers are trying to create, and think it is more important to criticize their work. I see no one else, black or white, offering such a huge opportunity to African Americans and, I’m sure, anyone else that may be interested. As a thirty-year-old up-and-coming filmmaker, this is huge. Not only is there potential for jobs and skills training, but this gives us hope that Oakland isn’t dead and people still care for us here.

So the Wayanses haven’t created the most sophisticated works. Is that a reason for them not to give back to communities that need help?
D. Fortune, Oakland

Homie says: Lighten up
Why beat up the Wayans brothers? There is a time to laugh and a time to be serious. Hello! Have you forgotten that these guys are “comedians”?? Are you telling me that the Wayans brothers are not capable of being serious leaders and role models outside of their raunchy comedy? Lighten up! It’s only “Hollywood.” Sometimes us African Americans have to laugh to keep from crying. Personally I do believe these guys are capable of being successful, responsible role models. How dare you slander their character. If that’s the case, take a look at Magic and his situation(s), or President Bush the cheater. Let’s not go there. Instead of being negative, be positive. Allow the Wayans brothers the opportunity to advance before offering such negative comments and energy.
Latika Allen, Oakland

“The Danger Beneath,” Cityside, 7/13

Earthquake insurance is a rip-off
Seismic upgrading may be your cheap alternative compared to the long-term cost of earthquake insurance and your potential loss risk, even with insurance. If you and your neighbors earthquake-retrofit your homes, you have a far, far better chance of surviving the earthquake shaken, but safe and intact.

Earthquake insurance is a personal decision. I am not trying to talk you out of earthquake insurance. However, the former director of the California Seismic Safety Commission, Dr. Lloyd S. Cluff, has publicly stated “Earthquake insurance is a rip-off.” People who purchase earthquake insurance may not be getting the financial protection they believe they are. The California Earthquake Authority insures about 90 percent of the homes in California, and has a 15 percent deductible. For a $300,000 home, you would have to suffer $45,000 in losses before you could collect a cent. A loss this size would be devastating to most families. This is about four times the anticipated $12,000 cost (4 percent of the value of your home) of retrofitting. This is relatively cheap compared to your potential losses. An adequately reinforced home is far less likely to suffer significant damage from an earthquake.

Most people will have damage less than the deductible, which means that only a very small percentage of policy holders will ever collect anything. Furthermore, earthquake insurance is currently grossly underfunded. Even if you have a total collapse, you may only collect 25 or fifty cents on the dollar (after the $45,000 deductible). Adequately retrofitting your home is probabilitywise the most cost-effective way to save money, personal possessions, and personal misery when the next big earthquake comes. Most earthquake experts put their money into earthquake-retrofitting their homes and do not carry earthquake insurance because they know a well-secured home will survive a major earthquake with only minor damage.

Many of our homes are older, built before 1940, with comparatively weak foundations with shallow footings of bricks or poorer quality concrete, no foundation bolting, no shear walls, and often extensive foundation dry rot. Pre-1940 homes have a considerable risk of damage in an earthquake. ABAG estimates that 20 percent of the homes in the East Bay could collapse in a major Hayward earthquake.
Osman Vincent, Berkeley

“Popes, Perps, and Pills,” Press Here, 7/27

Beneficial to mankind and no more fattening than sugar
We read with interest the July 27 article “Popes, Perps, and Pills,” by Anneli Rufus, particularly the writer’s use of the term “fattening” to define high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a natural, homegrown sweetener from US cornfields. Please share the following information concerning HFCS with your readers:

HFCS contains approximately equal ratios of fructose and glucose similar to table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose and HFCS have the same caloric density as most carbohydrates; both contribute four calories per gram. The human body cannot discern a difference between HFCS, table sugar, and honey, because they are all nearly compositionally equivalent.

Recent mischaracterizations of HFCS as a unique cause of obesity do not represent the consensus opinion of scientific experts. The Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Tech issued a report last year compiled by scientists who reviewed a number of critical commentaries about HFCS. Their analysis found that HFCS is not a unique contributor to obesity.

Your readers should know that HFCS has proven beneficial to consumers through its use in many foods and beverages, including several products that are specifically made for people trying to control their weight.

As a natural, nutritive sweetener, HFCS can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. According to the American Dietetic Association, “Consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations … as well as individual health goals.”
Audrae Erickson, president, Corn Refiners Association, Washington, DC

“Crapped in the Closet,” Music, 7/20

While you’re discussing slights to commercial products
Just wanted to correct you on your trashing of R. Kelly using Schick Quattro. First, Gillette was not the first razorblade manufacturer to have a three-bladed razor; I believe Kai was. Second, three-bladed razors have been out for over ten years, while Schick Quattro only came out in the past few years, not “immediately after.” Not a big deal to you, I assume, but just like the most recent Geico commercial, “You should do some research first.”
Stacy Masi, Wallingford, Connecticut

“Go Ahead, Tear Us Apart,” Music, 7/27

What they need
Despite the original INXS’ problems, or lack of hits, or whatever, the publicity they are getting is enormous. I’ve never cared for INXS, but after watching the show for three weeks, I’ve started listening.

In addition, what better way to rekindle the fire they had than to have America choose their lead singer? I’ve never watched American Idol, so I can’t understand the Clarkson/Aiken success, but would those two have any kind of career if not for the millions who tuned in each week to see what would happen next? INXS is obviously trying for the same thing. Is that bad? Is it good? Haven’t an idea, but why should they be castigated for wanting publicity for their reemergence?

Plus, what better way for a new singer to start out than with a multicity/country tour in big stadiums, plus a recording contract with an already-established band? The contestants have all apparently paid some of their dues, and are hoping the exposure on the show will lead to bigger and better things.

Not everyone cares for the same type of music. The band and the singers should be applauded for trying something different. There are a couple of singers on the show who are absolutely wonderful, and I am putting in my vote weekly to make sure they continue.
Donna Bass, Pacheco

In our July 27 cover story about the intelligent-design movement (“Phillip Johnson’s Assault on Faith-Based Darwinism“), we misrepresented Johnson’s position on AIDS. He believes that both the definition and cause of AIDS should be considered unresolved.


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