Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Phone Salesman Opera Singer

Before you get the wrong idea, I can't stand the television talent shows. But if they could deliver talent like this chap in from the British version every time, they could get me to watch. It is quite inspirational. There is also a final performance and the announcement of the contest winner. This guy has probably done more to create interest in opera than anything since the film Amadeus. It's the kind of story that seems to good to be true.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Buzz Aldrin: A Great Punch

Thanks to PZ Myers for alerting me to this great little video of Buzz Aldrin doing to a moonlanding hoax conspiracy theorist what a lot of us have thought about doing. It was in 2002, not sure how I missed that one. LA County decided to not press charges. I guess astronauts still get some priviledges. hereis a version with audio.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Atheism a Civil Rights Issue? Hell Yes!

Over at the Council for Secular Humanism, DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey argue that atheism is not a civil rights issue. Matt Nisbet chimes in in similar fashion. I must respectfully disagree.

Grothe and Dacey argue:

"But do unbelievers really suffer comparable harm? Atheists are not denied equal access to housing for lacking belief in god, nor are they kept from seeing their partners during life-threatening scenarios in hospitals. Atheists don't earn sixty-five cents for every dollar earned by believers, nor are they prevented from voting."

The reason there aren't as many public issues with discrimination against atheists as one might think given the common ministerial rhetoric out there, seems rather obvious: it is easy to hide, and we all learn rather early on that we should. We don't like to suffer that harm more than once.

We are not like blacks in that one can't tell we are atheists by looking at us, and we are not like homosexuals in that we have no public meeting places bashers can go to find us. In that regard we are not like them, but that is only in degree, not in kind. Were we all to walk around with t-shirts that said "I'm an atheist", the situations would be very similar.

"To our knowledge, there is no such thing as 'atheist bashing.' If there were cases of such harm, one would expect to hear about them in the media and the courts, or at least in the common knowledge of unbelievers. So, where are the cases? On many occasions we have put this question to leaders in the nonreligious community and have never been presented with a single compelling example."

I guess your standards of compelling differ from mine. When you have a slobbering football coach scream threateningly at you when he notices you aren't saying the Lord's Prayer with everyone else, when you have a good friend stop talking to you just for asking that she not prosyletize in emails, when your good friend is told to leave her uncle's house and never return because she told him she was an atheist, when your girlfriend says "you aren't an atheist" with the same tone that she might say "you aren't a bad person", when your mother apologizes for you to family and tells them you really aren't an atheist, when your wife has to explain to your otherwise intelligent inlaws that you do not in fact eat babies, I'd say that's atheist bashing. You just don't hear about it very much because we learn to just shut up about it.

"Sure, it would be hard to be elected to higher office in America as an avowed unbeliever, but it would also be impossible for a socialist or a Mother Earth spiritualist."

What a ridiculous comparison. Socialism is a political position, so obviously it is acceptable for someone to vote against a candidate who was a socialist if that did not match with the voter's political opinions. As for Mother Earth spiritualists, their difficulty would arise from the fact that they hold bizarre beliefs with little evidenciary backing, and this would lose votes the same as a flat earther or Raelian. In a Hindu society a Christian would be viewed the same way and for the same reasons. But atheists are atheists precisely because we DON'T do this. A majority of Americans say they would never vote for an atheist for president because we apply what is considered a virtue in any other area of thought (demanding evidence before accepting a claim) to religion. If that isn't atheist bashing, then what the hell is?

"Civil rights struggles are related to a more general approach to social action known as 'identity politics.' In identity politics, people organize around their shared identity rather than their party affiliation or political ideology. This is quite appropriate for groups whose collective, historical experience of oppression has forged some substantial unity in belief and social agenda. Yet atheists have no beliefs in common but their disbelief. Imagine a voting bloc that would back a candidate merely for lacking faith in a personal deity."

In other words, discrimination against atheists isn't a civil rights issue because we are not politically organized. What a bunch of semantic claptrap. I suppose Grothe and Dacey would claim the same about emancipation of the slaves. They had no unity in belief and social agenda, they don't count. Shame on you both.

Let's not forget the president claiming you can't be a good citizen (as Bush Sr. did), or the fact that we are portrayed as the hero in popular entertainment 0% up until recently when the figure has spiked up to a scary 5% or so. Seems pretty akin to what blacks when through, when only fairly recently have gotten roles that weren't stereotypically black. This has an effect on people's views, and is plain old bigotry.

It's not complicated reasoning really. If friends and family are willing to ostracize you over your atheism, what might people who don't give a rats ass about you do? Most of us would rather not find out. In that way, the best analogy is probably to people with HIV. They too are demonized beyond reason, but you don't hear a lot of cases of people being discriminated against for it because they can choose not to tell anyone, and stay hidden.

Now have at the semantic argument over whether or not bigotry agaist atheists qualifies as a civil rights issue if you choose. I do not. The reality of the discrimination is enough for me to make it an issue worthy of addressing in our society.

Nisbet replies:

"On occasion, atheists are discriminated against because they have a public image problem, and the Dawkins/Hitchens' PR campaign, by radicalizing a movement of attacks and complaints, only makes this public image problem worse, generating more discrimination."

I disagree, especially with regard to Dawkins. People react the way they do to what he says primarily because they are used to religion getting a free pass from the kind of frank criticism he levies. I have never seen an actual quote of his that warranted the shrill complaints about his supposed irascibility, and I've read and seen a lot of him. He just calls religion for the unusupported bullshit it is the same as he would for something like astrology.

Hitchens is no doubt incendiary, but I have yet to see any data that supports the notion that he makes the problem worse. Just from observing book sales and other social trends, it would seem he and the others are giving atheists the confidence to stand up and be counted like everyone else. No one highly offended by what Hitchens has to say was going to side with us anyway.

"Instead of mobilizing a movement of sophomoric attacks and complaints that paints as black all religious Americans,"

You make my case for me. Why are atheist criticisms of religion automatically labelled "sophmoric" and "complaints"? Because atheists are just supposed to sit down and shut up, of course. It's fine and dandy that someone winning an award thanks the gods for helping her. Never mind how ludicrous that is. Call it as it is, and you are being sophmoric. THAT is sophmoric.

"atheists need to focus on offering a positive vision of what it means to live life without religion; both in the popular entertainment media but also as leaders who span divides in our communities, (instead of just generating further polarization.)

I agree that atheists ought to be focusing on the positive, and I'd argue that most of the atheist authors of these so-called attacks are doing just that. Dawkins is fabulous to listen to talk about the wonder of the world, and our quest for knowledge of it. He gave a moving talk of giving a religionless funeral service, and how enriching it was. Of course, people always want to focus on his views of religion, so that is what gets the press. But read and listen to what the man actually says when left to his own devices, and a very different picture emerges.

As for polarization, just check your average pulpit this weekend, where thousands of ministers will be ranting to their flock of how atheists have no morals, and aren't really atheists anyway, and can't be trusted to tell the truth, or be faithful, or a whole host of bigoted garbage. Hitchens at his acrimonious best doesn't begin to come close to that. Could we atheists do things a little better? Sure. But let's not forget where the real dividers are on this issue, and how their bigotry is no less real, than when they were ranting about negroes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Save the Planet: Uncycle

A lot of people have asked me whether I recycle. I do not. It's not because I think it doesn't do any good, or that we don't need to conserve, or that the process of recycling can be more environmentally damaging than not doing so. It's just not a habit I've been able to pick up. I'm a good old fashioned conservationist, but no one uses that word any more, so I call what I do "uncycling". Rather than use something and recycle it, I just don't use it in the first place. I find it much more satisfying than delivering goods to the recycler. It can be as simple as not letting the checker at th grocery put your one item in a bag. Why put bread in a another bag? Or avoiding driving across the street when walking will do. It's easy, everyone can do it, and it makes a difference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Neat Mobius Effect

Via Good Math, Bad Math comes this neat video. It's amazing how insightful graphics like this can be. I might have enjoyed algebraic structures had I had access to something like this.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Fading of Intelligent Design

If you want to see what a fading political movement looks like, check out Denise O'Leary's column on Uncommon Descent entitled Recent columns addressing the intelligent design controversy, where she stretches in desperation to find someone, anyone, paying attention to ID in the mainstream press. The list is quite telling:

First there is Mike Adams:

"My understanding of (and disrespect for) the underpinnings of modern feminism was actually fostered by a biologist who once made a very candid remark about the foundation of his support of Darwinism. When asked about the lack of evidence supporting Darwinism – the fossil record, etc. – he confessed there was a very human reason for his faith in evolutionary theory despite the lack of scientific evidence. He confessed that if Darwinism were not true, he wouldn’t be able to sleep around."

Sure he did Mike. This sounds like a Jack Chick tract, where the evil scientists always say what the creationists need them to say, even though it never resembles anything that real scientists say. There's a good reason that the scientist in these stories is always nameless, and Adams' is no exception.

Believe it or not, that was the most scientifically substantive reference on the list. The rest were unsubstantial:

Charles Krauthammer, for metaphorical use of the term in a discussion of elections.

David Limbaugh, who cites popular fiction authors as authorities on science.

And of course, that bastion of cutting edge scientific knowledge Bill O'Reilly, who says things like "the sun always comes up, while man oversleeps all the time".

This is what the IDers are reduced to: lapping at the low end of the trough, desperate to get any crumb or mention at all, no matter how obscure, irrelevant, or embarrasing ignorant. And of course no mention on their site of any scientific research done by anyone associated with ID.

It looks like ID has run it's course. Looks good.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

CNN Geography can't find Afghanistan

This is realy embarassing for CNN and America. Their onscreen graphic identified Syria as Afghanistan. On a major news network. And we wonder why we can't get a handle on what is going on over there. The other question I have: I wonder how many Americans saw the graphic and didn't know it was wrong?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Right wing hysteria: Matt Barber on Gay Marriage

I have never understood the rabid resistance to gay marriage. As a hopelessly heterosexual man myself, and with few gay acquaintances, I have no dog in this hunt. I just don't see how allowing gays, or anyone else for that matter, to get married, effects my or anyone else's life and relationships in the ways the social chicken littles imply. The arguments, as Matt Barber illustrates, are comically shrill, alarmist, and frankly, absurd.

"With its 2003 Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court circumvented the constitutional process and arbitrarily imposed 'same-sex marriage' on the people of Massachusetts in what amounted to a brazen and contemptuous act of judicial activism. Now members of the liberal Massachusetts state legislature have surrendered to the demands of the militant homosexual lobby and have betrayed both the citizens of Massachusetts and the democratic process by preventing voters from weighing in on this crucial issue.

Prior to Goodridge, the concept of a man 'marrying' a man or a woman 'marrying' a woman was widely and properly considered preposterous. However, with their decision in Goodridge, four of the court’s seven social mad scientists have zapped artificial life into a cultural 'gay-marriage' Frankenstein monster. And that radical and bizarre new concept has been terrorizing the countryside every since. "

Let's count the panic words, shall we? Circumvented the constitution? Arbitrary impositions? Brazen, contemptuous, judicial activism, liberal, surrendered, demands, militant, betrayed, prevented votes, social mad scientists, monster, radical, terrorizing the countryside, and in later portions, leftist extremism. This guy is a slogan machine. It's time to hang tight and pull together, all for one, and one for all. Oh, and note the constant use of scare quotes around the term "marriage" when it is applied to gays. Now one might oppose allowing such a thing, but the concept is not unclear, so this is just an attempt to create another panic word.

All of this because the Massachusetts legislature chose not to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I'm sure if a drunk was apprehended banging on the White House gates in confusion, Mr. Barber would describe it as our brave troops thwarting a major terrorist attack.

Then come the silly arguments, in machine gun rapid fire:

"Recognizing that 'if everything is marriage … nothing is marriage at all,' the good folks of Massachusetts decided to fight back and to defend the cultural cornerstone of legitimate marriage."

The religious right give away their myopic black and white thinking with statements like this. Just as it is absurd to describe an atheist as "someone who doesn't believe in anything", since they pretty much believe everything else that everyone else believes, it is absurd to claim that allowing gays to marry makes "everything marriage". People still can't marry their siblings, minors, members of other species, or more than one person. All that changed is the requirement that the people getting married be of opposite sexes. This is not complicated.

"If the 1913 law [that prevents homosexuals from coming from other states to marry in Massachusetts] is repealed and homosexual activists have success with like-minded judges, then we can expect the “gay marriage” levy to break, flooding the countryside with Hurricane Katrina-like destruction to the marriage and family foundation upon which our society rests.

Really? And how exactly is allowing people who are in relationships anyway to get a legal recognition of that relationship going to do all of this? These are questions that are never answered by the anti-gay-marriage chicken littles. They offer no evidence for their claim at all. Instead, they give themselves away as intellectual cranks by asking a lot of inane questions instead.

"What possible justification would there be for preventing polygamist marriages once the true definition of marriage is done away with?"

The same justification there is now. Frankly, I see no conflict between the goals of marriage and polygamy, but in any case, changing the sex prerequisites of those allowed to marry says nothing at all about the number of people that may marry. Again, we see the myopia of people like Mr. Barber: if it isn't the way he thinks it should be, then there can be no rule at all.

More amusingly, the "true definition of marriage"? True according to what? Perhaps Mr. Barber needs a refresher on the No True Scotsman Fallacy. He also needs an education on world history. Monogamy is a relative newcomer on the scene. Polygamy was the dominant definition of marriage for thousands of years, and is still the majority societal preference:

"According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry"

So the idea that heterosexual monogamy is some sort of universal standard of marriage is nonsense. Mr. Barber's version is the minority view. He next moves on to incest:

"And what about incest? A brother and a sister? A father and a daughter? If it’s discrimination to prevent same-sex couples from “marrying,” then why not couples who just happen to be blood relatives?

Because those marriages are not allowed for health and other reasons that would still apply just as much in a society that allowed gay marriages as one that didn't. Again, we see that Mr. Barber's view of the world is: those who share my religious views, and all those other anarchistic evil bums.

"Once the castle gate of traditional marriage bursts open and that 'gay marriage' creature escapes — there’s nothing to contain him … anything goes."

This is a point of view that need only be considered for a moment by anyone with even average intelligence to be rejected as absurd on its face. If this is the best the anti-gay-marriage contingency can manage, it is no wonder they are losing this battle. They offer no evidence to support their views, and their arguments fall apart at the slightest touch. The reason is obvious: their opposition to gay marriage is rooted in their religious traditions, all this talk of logical arguments leading to their position is just a big rationalized smoke screen. Luckily, we have a first amendment to protect us from that, and judges who recognize that fact. That doesn't make them activist judges, it makes them competent ones. Keep in mind that Judge Jones from the Dover trial went from staunch conservative Bush appointee to activist judge according to this crowd, all because he disagreed with them. That's really all "judicial activist" means coming from people like Mr. Barber.

I'll go one further and give people sympathetic to Mr. Barber's view some arguments from a completely pragmatic heterosexual perspective on why we should allow gay marriages:

1) Population control. Homosexuals can't breed, not without a lot of help anyway. Given the ever-swelling human population, and the problems associated with that, anything that encourages people to enter relationships likely to remain childless is a good thing.

2) Family structure for children. By not allowing those homosexuals who do have children to marry, and form a stable home environment for the child, the anti-gay-marriage crowd is preventing the very thing they claim to support.

3) Disease reduction. Anything that encourages monogamous relationships is going to have a positive impact. Again, the anti-gay-marriage crowd is preventing the very thing they claim to stand for, by criticizing homosexuals for having multiple uncommitted sex partners while denying them the advantages of leaving such a lifestyle that the rest of us can enjoy.

Off the cuff, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and it still beats the arguments offered by the entirety of the anti-gay-marriage faction. They are going to lose this battle, as they slide further and further into political obscurity, and it can't happen soon enough. Of course, then they'll have more time to protest evolution and abortion...

Friday, June 22, 2007

So much for Family Values: Red States underperform Blue states

Via Dispatches comes this study comparing red and blue states in various categories: health care, education, out-of-wedlock births, murder, and divorce. Shock of shocks, the evil liberal blue states outperform the family-values consevative red states.

"By almost any measure of societal breakdown that so-called Republican 'values voters' decry, it is Red State America where moral failure is greatest."

I found the educational trend particularly disturbing. While there is room to critcize some of the measures used, I've done my own study of blue vs red states on educational achievement (HS diploma, undergrad, graduate degree, etc.) and found a very strong correlation in favor of the blue states.

And gee willy, what social trend do you suppose best indicates this nonvalued Republicanism?

"If the Republican electoral map closely correlates with social dysfunction, it is frequent church attendance which strongly predicts Republican party preference."

You don't say? So just like the rest of the world, the data by state shows the canard that belief in gods gives one a moral edge over those that don't is complete nonsense. Once you stop theorizing and look at the actual data, the pattern is decidedly the opposite of that: more religiousity means MORE sin, not less.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Move over smallpox, we killed Guinea worm!

Via Denialismblog comes this story about the impending eradication of Guinea Worm:

"Guinea worm disease, or dracunculiasis — Latin for "affliction with little dragons" — is a plague so ancient that it has been found in Egyptian mummies and has been proposed by some to have been the "fiery serpent" described in the Old Testament as torturing the Israelites in the desert. The global Dracunculiasis Eradication Program spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center has now reached its final stages (see graph). This accomplishment is unprecedented — the only disease previously eradicated was smallpox, not a parasitic disease — and it has been achieved through grassroots public health initiatives involving thousands of village volunteers."

This is one of the great things science can do, and it is exciting to see it be succesful with such a formidable adversary. And who do we have to thank for it?

The Carter Center has led the effort with the help of the CDC, the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many other donors and nongovernmental organizations, as well as governments of the countries where guinea worms are endemic and thousands of village volunteers.

So much for all those nasty atheists that never do anything for anyone else.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dennis Prager and his 10 Men in an Alley: Missing the point again

Dennis Prager has always been a mystery to me. I was first introduced to him around 1993 by a colleague who found his arguments for the existence of God impressive and thought I might agree. I did not. I found him amateurish, and simply not interesting. All the arguments he presented were standard arguments much debunked (design in the universe, the moral code, etc.). The one thing this guy I had never heard of had was a fabulous voice, classic radio. He was certainly, if you could tune out the content, pleasant to listen to.

Over the years I've been amazed at his rise in the media, how shallow and poorly reasoned his arguments remain, and yes, still, how beautifully he speaks. Of course his fans would remind me that his stardom, as it were, could not be entirely due to his voice, since much of his opinion is shared in writing, where that fabulous baratone can't be heard. More's the pity.

With such solidly low expectations in place, I perused Prager's Townhall article titled "You're in a Bad Neighborhood and 10 Men Approach You . . ." Dennis did not dissappoint.

Apparently there is this question Dennis likes to ask atheists, which amounts to:

"You are in a strange city at night walking down a dark alley, and 10 men approach you. Would you feel safer, or less safe, if you were to learn that they were just coming from a Bible class?"

Prager apparently thinks this is going to reveal something profound, but why? Obviously the person's answer is going to indicate what they think of typical people who attend Bible classes, which in America means wimpy and harmless at the mean, and thus very little threat. We need a rhetorical question to learn this? Prager not only thinks so, but goes into a classic fundamentalist minutial rant over the fact that Christopher Hitchen's version of the story in Hitchens' book said "prayer class" rather than Bible class:

"I have always specified 'Bible class' because I assume that in America, anyone with common sense would in fact be very relieved if they knew that the 10 strangers, all men, approaching them in a dark alley were committed to either Judaism or Christianity and studying the Bible. I never stated 'prayer class' because, unlike a Bible class, which more or less confines us to normative Judeo-Christian religions, 'prayer meeting' can signify anyone in any religion or even in some dangerous cult. "

Well Dennis, anyone with common sense in America is going to understand that "prayer meeting" means, well, "bible class". Sure, it could mean a dangerous cult. It could also mean a group of klansmen, but I doubt our more melanin-laden brethren would feel safer knowing that.

The other glaring problem with this is the fact that its the "studying" and "class" parts that makes the difference here, not the "Bible" part. I'd be relieved to learn they were coming from pottery class too, or geology class, or astrology class, or a class to learn how to speak to the deaf. See, people who go to a voluntary class tend not to be into a lot of violence. It's bad enough people like Prager want to give religion credit for civilized societies morals, now they want to give religion credit for the peacefulness of studiousness? Please.

Prager goes on:

"Even atheists would have to admit that in America today, they would be very grateful to learn that those 10 men had just been studying Genesis or Isaiah. One does not hear of many Bible classes with students mugging passersby. "

All the more proof that Bible classes aren't really classes as we think of classes. At least not as far as expecting the students to actually be familiar with its contents and such. For we all are better off that Bible students don't follow the example of Numbers 15:32-37, where a poor passerby is "mugged" to death merely for collecting kindling on the wrong day of the week. One would wonder why we would presume a nonviolent demeanor of people who worship a book so full of violence.

Now Dennis pats himself on the back for his brilliant insights:

"I therefore pose this question to make the rather obvious point that nearly all of us instinctively assume some positive things about normative Judaism and Christianity in America. "

Rather indeed. So obvious that you needn't have wasted so much space and time to going over it. Better to just skip ahead to, you know, the issue at hand:

"This question evidently annoys many of those who argue that there is no relationship between personal decency and Judeo-Christian religiosity. "

As indeed it should, for several reasons:

1) The question brings in too many mitigating factors to support that claim, per my argument above.

2) The question addresses people's perception, not the reality. Dealing with the reality would require getting some, you know, actual data on the subject to see if one's hypothesis was correct. Here Prager employs a standard bit of laziness seen predominately (but not exclusively) among sloppy conservative thinkers: make a conjecture, and then support that conjecture with...more conjecture. Not good science.

3) The most basic reason - there is not evidence one that Prager's hypothesis is true. At best moral behavior is randomly distributed among the pious and atheistic alike. One certainly does not see a world where decency and religiousity are positively correlated. Quite the opposite. Where would you feel safest? Relatively atheistic Sweden or Germany? Or very religious Brazil and Iran?

Prager attempts to address my argument:

"...any of us would also be relieved if we learned that the 10 men walking toward us in a dark alley had just come from a secular humanism seminar or one on photosynthesis. I fully acknowledge that I would be relieved in such cases as well. The problem with this response, however, is that in the real world, in bad parts of our cities, 10 men are rather more likely to be studying the Bible than photosynthesis or secular humanism or any other subject that would bring us relief in that dark alley.

And this matters how exactly? Prager has a habit of claiming to acknowledge a point right before demonstrating he missed it entirely, and this is no exception. If he were arguing that wolves more dangerous than lions, and asked if we'd feel nervous seeing wolves in the alley, the counter to "but I'd be even more scared if I saw a lion" is certainly not "yes, I acknowledge that, but in the real world America, wolves are far more likely than lions".

If Prager concedes the level of relief he'd feel is the same for the secular humanists or the scientists, then he has conceded the point that what makes us safe with regard to the Bible studiers is NOT the content of their studies. He evades the issue, and then once again in the classic style of the zealot, projects this onto his interlocutors:

Every response I have seen to this question is an attempt to evade the only honest response. We would all be relieved because when push comes to shove -- when we have to make real-life decisions and not theoretical ones -- we know that at least in America, the dominant Judeo-Christian values and the religions that adhere to them have generally made better people.

We know no such thing, as the ever-filling jails filled with a disproportionate number of Christians, and the violence and indecency that seems to follow them all over the world, attests. I gave you the real honest answer Mr. Prager, and it matches the data a good shot better than yours does.

It means simply that if our lives were hanging in the balance, we would be inexpressively happy to know that 10 men we did not know, walking toward us in a bad neighborhood, had just come out of a Bible class.

Substitute "voluntary" for "bible" and the claim remains the same. Amazing, isn't it? Almost as amazing as people thinking Dennis Prager's pedestrian rhetoric is challenging to nonbelievers. I'm sure Hitchens had a good laugh over this too.

The Singles Map

Via Pharyngula" comes this interesing map of the number of single males and females by city. Unfortunately it is a raw figure, so the 40,000 extra males in Los Angeles really doesn't mean that much. Still, it is interesting to look at the clear pattern of male dominance of the west and females in the east. I've seen several hypotheses, the most popular seeming to be correlation with age, but I'm unconvinced.

Sir Salman Rushdie reveals what we are up against

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and target of a fatwa due to his depiction of Mohammed which many Muslims found offensive, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The reaction from the Islamic world was predictable, and yet, you really have to read the comments to believe them. It shows just how truly reality-removed much of the Islamic world is, and how truly opposed to our western values they really are. However bad Robertson and Falwell (all the demons rest his soul) were, their guys are even worse:

"Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said granting Britain’s highest honor to Rushdie, whose novel 'The Satanic Verses' sparked the death threat, insulted the Muslim world. His comments came during a time of especially tense relations between the Islamic republic and the West.

'Awarding a person who is among the most detested characters in the Islamic society is obvious proof of anti-Islamism by ranking British officials,' Hosseini said at his weekly press conference.

Here we see a classic cultist mindset: if you aren't with us, you are against us. I guess it passed Mr. Hosseini's notice that it just might be possible that Britain doesn't consider the opinions of non-Brits in the awarding of internal awards and titles. Do Islamic states consider the opinions of westerners in their appointments? Oh wait, thats right, we are infidels, we don't count. I keep forgetting that.

From Pakistan, where they are demanding Britain withdraw the knighthood, it gets even better:

"The 'sir' title from Britain for blasphemer Salman Rushdie has hurt the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. Every religion should be respected. I demand the British government immediately withdraw the title as it is creating religious hatred," Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Khan Niazi told the National Assembly.

So if someone refuses to censor their speech as you see fit, that makes them guilty of religious hatred? Quite an equivocation there Mr. Niazi. I guess the fact that other people might have different views eludes those like Mr. Niazi. Indeed, he continues:

"The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title," ul-Haq said, also urging Muslim countries to break diplomatic ties with London.

I see. So to counter the accusations that you are extremists, you are suggesting that someone be murdered because he portrayed a person long dead in a way you found objectionable. Uh huh. Anyone's irony meters still working? To put a cherry on top of this lunatic sundae, we go to Asim Dahr, a student leader from the group Jamiat Turaba Arabia:

"This queen has made a mockery of Muslims by giving him a title of 'sir.' Salman Rushie was condemned by Imam Khomeni and he issued a decree about his death. He should be handed over to the Muslims so they can try him according to Islamic laws."

The underlying theme here is clear, and it is not one from which we should let the bumbling in Iraq distract us. What we think of as tolerance of differing viewpoints in the West, our beloved freedom of speech and thought, is completely foreign to the Muslim world. They call it Apostasy, which can be punishable by death. Even suggesting doing away with apostasy can be interpreted as apostasy. They do not think we have a right to live as we do, believe what we believe, and say what we say. They believe we deserve to die for this. This is not some lunatic fringe as it is with American Christianity. In the Muslim world, this is the norm.

The only reason they have not enforced this code on the West is because they lack the means. Thus, they become terrorists to pursue this agenda as far as they are able. Paranoids have real enemies, as do those with incompetent leaders. To anyone with an open, tolerant mind, who seeks to know, to question, to understand, regardless of where the search leads, the Muslim world is your enemy. They would kill you if they could. Never forget that.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Is Ape Hatred Self Hatred?

Kevin Beck asks an interesting question: What drives the fervor with which creationists deny our ancestry with the apes? "I ain't come from no monkey" is a common refrain, with varying degrees of grammaticality. Is there something about apes that revolts creationists more than other animals, or does it really boil down to disagreement with the Bible? I say the former.

It's familiarity breeding contempt. In apes, the average person sees the worst in themselves. They scratch, they make silly faces, and they fight with each other. In the case of chimps, they kill for sport. The Christians subconsciously recognize the traits some of us find fascinating in our ape cousins, and thereby bring human moral measurement to bear on the apes. And the apes, by really no surprise, measure poorly. To a scientist, the gorilla may appear noble, almost beautiful. But to a Christian who believes all on earth is here for his uses and dominion, he appears only a brute, cursed to be ever less than human.

Contrast this to the dog or horse. They are noted as noble and loyal, man's best friend and companion. We are able to project our own virtues onto them, and ignore their flaws precisely because they are so much more different from us than are the apes. We would never call our dog a thief for sneaking behind us and grabbing our sandwich, but we would say so about a chimp. A chimp throwing his shit at you is a nasty, impolite critter. Yet your dog, who greets his friends with a nose to the ass, is dismissed as "just being a dog".

Just think for a moment about how popular culture views apes. Calling someone a "gorilla", "chimp", or "orangutan" is almost never a compliment. Those terms tend to describe unintelligent, dirty, clumsy, or overly violent individuals. Whereas being a "workhorse" is quite virtuous. "Aping" something implies you are a simpleton. But being "dogged" means you have great tenacity. Is there even one sports team that chooses the noble ape as its mascot? I can't think of one. Even the lowly duck occupies that position of honor more than our closest relatives. I suspect that says much about how we see ourselves.

It is noteworthy how little, if at all, apes are mentioned in the Bible. One can be excused for wondering if its authors were aware of the existence of apes, and if not, how much more plausible that made the whole human/animal dicotomy they were pushing. It would be hard to claim uniqueness with your 97% identical cousin sitting next to you aping your every move. But if all you are surrounded by are sheep, dogs, and horses, it doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fix the Jury Selection Process

My one experience with jury duty, was very negative. I was in a pool of 60+, and we were there all day for a selection of 13 or so. The really shocking part to me was how downright stupid some of the people in the pool were. So I started an Idiot List just to pass the time. And at the end of the day, wait for it...half the 15 or so names on my list made the jury.

That's 60 people, away from their jobs, or their kids, or whatever obligation they have, all day long. That was one courtroom of many in that courthouse. But that was just one courthouse of many in the city. And that's just one of the thousands of cities in this country. I would love to see someone with access to the data estimate the economic cost in terms of lost economic productivity of our jury selection process. My rough estimate has it in the billions (60 people X 8 hours X $15/hr X 10 courtrooms X 5 courthouses X 50 such big cities X 260 workdays a year = $4,680,000,000). That's insane for a system that seems to produce juries arguably WORSE than just taking the first 12 (OJ anyone? The $3 USFL verdict?)

I say give each lawyer 2 strikes for any reason, they can use them when the defendants brother turns up in the pool, and then (the four words that came to my mind most while wasting my day) GET ON WITH IT!!! Paid for with the savings from that, juries ought to be given the royal treatment. Give them their own parking lot, and pay them the average hourly wage (a good way to remind those of us with white collars just how low that is). Make it seem like a priviledge rather than a burdon, something to take seriously and do well, not just something to suffer through.

Troublesome Frog is right, when doing one's taxes seems fun by comparison, something is wrong with the process.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Legend of Ba Part II

More Sci-Fi:

The two messengers of Ba came to the city of Omasia in the evening, and Tola was sitting in the gate of Omasia. When Tola saw them he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the planet, and said "My lords, turn aside, I beseech you, to your servant's house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may wake early and go on your way on second rise." They said "No, we will spend the night in the street." But he urged them strongly, so they turned aside and came to his house. And he made them a feast, and roasted the daeio root, and they ate.

But before they laid down, the males of Omasia, both young and ancient, all to the last, surrounded the house of Tola, and called to him: "Where are the messengers that came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we might meet them. Tola went out to them, closed his home behind him, and said "I beg you fellow Aeonions, do not act so wickedly. I have two young female progeny who have not yet been with a male. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these messengers, for they have come to be my guests.

Great stuff eh? Real family values there. Shades of an old George Carlin joke: "Things you never hear: 'Do what you want to the girl, but leave me alone'". Well, its the story of Lot, Mr. Just and Righteous, Genesis: 19: 1-8

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Another Chinese Feathered Dinosaur

Well, here's another transitional fossil for the creationists to pretend doesn't exist:

"China has uncovered the skeletal remains of a gigantic, surprisingly bird-like dinosaur, which has been classed as a new species.

Eight meters (26 ft) long and standing at twice the height of a man at the shoulder, the fossil of the feathered but flightless Gigantoraptor erlianensis was found in the Erlian basin in Inner Mongolia, researchers wrote in the latest issue of Nature."

It's bigger than expected, but it's still a clear link between dinosaurs and birds.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

We Are the World: a Fabulous US map by world GDP

Via Stranger Fruit we get this map of the United States, with each state labeled with the nation most similar in GDP.

Some of the more interesting ones:

California = France
Texas = Canada
Florida = South Korea
Illinois = Mexico
New Jersey = Russia

Dissecting Creationist Lies

A poster on Evolutionblog provided me with an opportunity to dissect some common lies creationists tell about evolution and the scientific evidence:

"There is no proof or hard evidence, in the fossil record or in recent scientific observations, of anything changing into something else."

Tiktaalik is not only a transitional form, it was found recently EXACTLY WHERE THE SCIENTISTS PREDICTED IT WOULD BE. One has to be rigid in the extreme to not be persuaded by such evidence. If you need more, check here, where many many transitional forms are documented.

"You might want to consider the extremely complex organ called the eye ... all [parts] need to operate in consonance or there is no sight."

This argument has been debunked repeatedly. Watch my favorite version here. Ditto for the bombador beetle, the bacterial flagellum, and all the other examples creos like to trot out.

"Einstein, perhaps the greatest mind,stated that most of his life's work was the pursuit of understanding how 'God did it'."

Typical creationist quotemining (ie lying). Here is what Einstein said about that:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

Back to the creo nonsense...

"It is truly astonishing that so many accept evolution as fact based on such trivia as a change in color of a fuchsia, an appendix, beak size in finches, Wolbachias killing their hosts, changes in habits of the hawthorne fly, fruit flies, ad infinitum, where none have indicated change to something else only variation."

No, what is truly astonishing is that you people keep parroting these lies, despite how readily accessible proof of your lying is. And then you complain about being called liars. Hysterical, really.

Monday, June 11, 2007

O'Reilly's Delusion

Bill O'Reilly has an amazing piece of self-delusion and sheer intellectual laziness, if not dishonesty, with regard to atheists in general, and his conversation with Richard Dawkins. It is the kind of article that clearly illustrates why O'Reilly doesn't allow comments to his articles on his sight, because such tripe cannot withstand honest, critical, scrutiny. Right out of the gate, O'Reilly departs from reality:

Atheism is chic, it's cool, it's the latest craze. The book stores are chock full of authors declaring that "God is Not Great," that God is a "Delusion," that you are a moron if you believe in the Deity.

While there seems to be a recent uptick in the number of atheists willing to be vocal about it, I've seen no data at all suggesting that there is an actual increase in atheists that significantly departs from the long term increasing trend that position has had for years. We are a minority that numbers anywhere from 3-30% of the American population, depending on how the question is asked. At one extreme, very few people are sure there are no gods, at the other, a sizeable minority hold no formal god belief. It is a testament to how spoiled some Christians like O'Reilly have become, so used to their position of dominant social privledge that the slightest ripple against the tide is viewed as a "craze".

Notice there is no reference for BO's claim that atheist authors believe "you are a moron if you believe in the Deity". There's good reason for that: he made it up. We are quite capable of reconizing the intellect of those that believe. We just believe they are wrong.

But BO is either unwilling, or unable, to engage the intellectual content of atheists: what we actually believe, and why. Instead he chooses to poison the well by association with terms of frivolity like "chic", "cool", "craze", "stylish", "trend", and of course Hollywood. He is blatantly playing to his audience. He knows when most of them hear those terms what immediately springs to their miniscule mind is a bunch of liberal, dope-smoking fags, trying to get your 10-year-old daughter to have sex and abortions. BO is creating his own reality in his head and in his audience. That way he can say batshit insane things like

Believing in God is not very stylish in mainstream media circles these days.

Excuse me? Ever watched football players in the end zone Bill? God apparently got credited for a LOT of touchdowns. And you know, no one in the "secular progressive" media has ever asked them why they do this apperently idiotic thing (like the all-powerful creator of the universe gives a rats ass who scored a touchdown). And did you see the powder puff treatment Ken Ham's creation museum got, even from the NY Times! You would think it had made some amazing new discovery, instead of just being hyped old nonsense, from reading much of the media reaction. Let's also not forget the discussion of atheism on CNN with 4 nonatheist panel members. Then after the complains, CNN apologized and had a new panel discussion: 1 atheist, 3 nonatheists. The idea that the mainstream media is anything but overly friendly to Christianity is absurd on its face.

To my amazement, BO followed that blunder with a run of remarkable lucidity:

The question then becomes, is there anything wrong with [atheism]? After all, we have freedom from religion in America; the Constitution makes it clear that no power in this country has the right to impose religion on anyone. So the atheists have clear sailing, and I say: Thank God. That's because people of faith should be challenged and think about their beliefs. Critical thinking in all areas makes the mind sharper, your philosophy stronger.

He's got the philosophy down there, even if he still needs some help with the facts. But really, he has no intention of subjecting his beliefs to critical thinking. He's just learned, as have many of us, that this is just the sort of thing we say in polite society, just like we say "I don't mean to offend you" right before we say something offensive. He's like a child chanting the words of the pledge of allegiance with no comprehension of their meaning. They just know it was morning and the flag went up.

And so, he then celebrates a fairly silly exchange with Richard Dawkins they had while Dawkins was on his show:

But I stopped him in the fourth round with this right hook: "[The earth] had to come from somewhere, and that is the leap of faith you guys (atheists) make—that it just somehow happened."

Dawkins replied: "You're the one who needs a leap of faith. The onus is on you to say why you believe in something ... you believe in, presumably, the Christian God Jesus."

"Jesus is a real guy," I said. "I know what he did. I'm not positive that Jesus is God, but I'm throwing in with him rather than throwing in with you guys, because you guys can't tell me how it all got here."

"We're working on it," Dawkins said.

"When you get it," I shot back, "maybe I'll listen."

This is a knockout Bill? "You can't explain how the earth got here, therefore I'll 'throw in' with Jesus"? Do you decide which airline to fly by the colors on the plane?

Then of course Bill trots out a creationist oldie but goodie:

But the atheists will never get it. The universe and the earth is so complex, so incredibly detailed, that to believe an accidental evolutionary occurrence could have exclusively led to the nature/mankind situation we have now, is some stretch of the imagination. I mean, call me crazy, but the sun always comes up, while man oversleeps all the time.

Uh, Bill, the sun one day isn't going to come up. It's got a finite life span. It might be billions of years, and that's a big big number, but it's not infinite, however much it may seem that way to you. Likewise, evolution is a very long, slow, bit by bit process, and that may be hard for you to grasp. It might seem like just one big accidental occurrence, but in fact, it is not very accidental at all. Selection is the opposite of chance. The unfit systematically, nonrandomly, die out. So no, it does not take much imagination at all.

It does however, take a great imagination to think:

I just don't think we could have lucked out to have, the tides come in, the tides go out, the Sun go up, the Sun go down. Don't think it could have happened.

is a scientific statement, or would be the slightest challenge to someone like Dawkins.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Great Video of Just How Wrong the YECs are

It will be interesting to see if videos like this one will have any social impact. Will they motivate the silent intelligentsia? Perhaps a bit. Will they deconvert the faithful? Doubtful. Will they wake up the giant, silent, often apathetic middle? Time will tell.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Sci-Fi Excerpt: The Legend of Ba

I am reading a recently discovered rare piece of sci-fi from a well-known author. Can you guess who it is from the style and subject? A group of people come across a traveler in the jungle of a strange planet:

While the people of Ae were in the jungle, they found the alien gathering firewood on their Day of Ba. Those who found him brought him to Esara and Onama, and to all the Aeoni. They put him in custody, because it had not been made plain what should be done to him. Ba told Esara, "Put the alien to death; have some of the Aeoni impale him with the trunk of the sesi tree outside the home ring. And all the Aeoni brought him outside the home ring, and impaled him to death with the sesi tree tunks, just as Ba had commanded Esara to do.

Stumped? Yeah, me too. That Ba is a swell fellow eh? Kind of makes Idi Amin, Stalin and Atilla the Hun look like pussies.

Well, OK, I lied. It isn't from a sci-fi book. It's Numbers 15:32-37 from the Bible, with the names changed to sound alien. Illuminating, isn't it? I leave it the reader to discern who plays the part of Ba in the Biblical version.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

More Guillermo Gonzales: Sometimes ID is Sad

Over at Thoughts from Kansas, Josh and the gang were having a little fun at the IDers expense. Davescot made a post comparing Gonzales' treatment at the hands of the ISU tenure committee to the victims of the holocaust. Josh makes an interesting point that downplaying the holocaust is a form of holocaust denial.

But I'm really focused on the IDers. Anyone else think sometimes these guys aren't really funny any more? I mean, like, maybe they ought to get therapy? How would you like to be Davescot's dad? Would your son's posts make you start wondering about an intervention? "Okay Dave, your mother and I don't think you should play with your ID friends any more."

I'm serious - the compulsive lying, goofy ideas, quote mining, shrill rhetoric and ridiculous comparisons, paranoia, isolation, martyr complexes, and of course the obsession with anal orifi and their expulsions. Sound like a happy hunka grey matter to you? It's like the Raelians meets Beevus and Butthead. Are there any psychiatrists in the house?

Tom Delay Joins the Idiot Brigade

Chris Matthews just had Tom DeLay on Hardball, and asked him about Mike Huckabee's embarrasing answer to the evolution question at the Republican debate. This was depressing in so many ways.

First off Mr. Huckabee, it is not a choice between the gods and evolution. There are plenty of believers who also accept evolution. Their gods are not so small as yours that they cannot withstand a universe where evolution occurs. Secondly, humans did not descent from primates...we ARE primates (97% chimp).

But Delay, my goodness. How can anyone believe anything this man says? Before I saw who it was and could only hear him, I thought he was a backwoods preacher. Phony to the bone.

And of course he actually, in public, stated that he did not believe in evolution. I share Chris Matthews' chuckling reaction, "I cannot believe we are having the Scopes trial all over again in the 21st century". Then Delay said this:

"His faith has nothing to do with his religion, it is who he is."

OK, this guy was elected to congress in the 21st century? I can't take any more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Kitzmiller Debate on the Montana Law Review

The Montana Law review has a debate on the merits of the Kitzmiller case in Dover Pensylvania where Bush-appointed contructionist judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design was religion, not science, and as such had no place in American schoolchildren's science classrooms. The Discovery Institute and the rest of the ID world has been whining ever since. They fire the first volley here, then there is a response by Peter Irons, and then Luskin, De Wolf and West (LDW)offer a rebuttal.

Being neither a scientist, nor a lawyer, I don't dare delve into the minutia of those arenas. I'll leave that to those that will do it best. However, there were a few passages that I thought worthy of note:

LDW: the Center for Science and Culture was recognized as the leading supporter of research and scholarship on ID.

I had to chuckle at this. Despite much ballyhooed anticipation, the "research and scholarship" produced by the IDers has been tiny, to put it kindly. They can't even find enough material for their own journal, which hasn't published anything new since November of 2005.

Irons: Some DI donors, concerned about the DI’s primary focus on propaganda rather than hard-science research to back up ID’s scientific pretensions, have withdrawn their financial support. The Templeton Foundation, which funds a broad range of policy groups, reportedly asked DI officials to submit proposals for ID research. “They never came in,” said Charles Harper, Jr., Templeton’s senior vice president. “From the point of view of rigor
and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review.”

Science has come a long way in the ten years since Michael Behe published "Darwin's Black Box". ID is still where it was, and still making the same mistakes. Being the leading supporter of such efforts is a dubious honor at best.

LDW: Cooper sent Buckingham materials that included a DVD based on the book Icons of Evolution and a study guide prepared as a companion to Icons of Evolution. Notably, these materials focused only on scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory. They did not discuss ID.

But that is all ID is. Dembski himself described it as "the set theoretic complement of chance and regularity", ie evolution. Indeed, one of the consistent criticisms of ID is that it proffers no thesis of its own. The language is more sciency and mathy than earlier incarnations of Paleyism, but in the end it is the same schtick: evolution couldn't have done this, therefore God did.

LDW: eighty-five scientists...filed an amicus brief imploring the court not to assume that scientific
questions could be resolved by judicial decree... there is no evidence from the text of Judge Jones’s opinion that he ever considered the arguments made in either brief. By contrast, “90.9% (or 5,458 words) of Judge Jones’s 6,004-word section on intelligent design as science was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU’s proposed ‘Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law’ submitted to Judge Jones nearly a month before his ruling.”

This becomes really funny once you have a lawyer explain it to you. In cases like this, each side prepares a brief and submits it to the judge, where they basically sum up their case. Judges then write their decisions from selected quotes from those briefs, as well as original commentary. Of course the judge is going to use those arguments he found most persuasive for his ruling. So what this boils down to is the IDers are claiming the game was rigged solely because they lost it so badly. Jones simply found extremely little of what they had to say worthy of inclusion.

One of the main arguments made by the IDers is that Judge Jones was an activist judge in this case because he ruled on issues not necessary to the case at hand. This apparently is something within the discretion of judges to do. It is a way of offering guidance as to the implications of the ruling on future cases. The IDers claim Judge Jones overstepped his bounds in ruling ID not science, since the case was primarily about whether an Establishment Clause violation had occurred. It is here where the law gets interesting:

LDW: Under the disjunctive Lemon test, all that was necessary to determine that an Establishment Clause violation had occurred was to find that the Dover school board members had predominantly religious motivations for enacting their ID policy.

One fun trait of IDers is they have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. This is easier to understand when one recalls that ID is at its core a religious/political, not scientific, movement. As such, sometimes the implications of the current strategy aren't understood by all the participants, or everyone didn't get the latest bulliton on what to say and not say. Take for example "Of Pandas and People" co-author Dean Kenyon saying "Of course my motives were religious. There’s no question about it"

Here, the IDer's legal argument implicitly assumes that it isn't science:

Peter Irons: The DI authors argue that “[l]ongstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent” militates against “decid[ing] questions beyond the necessities of the immediate issue.” As a general proposition, this is sound advice. In my view, however, the “fatal flaw” in the DI’s attack on the Kitzmiller opinion stems from the DI authors’ failure to grasp that deciding the question of whether ID is science was essential to Judge Jones’s ruling against the Dover school board’s effort to include ID in the biology curriculum. The reason is simple. If ID is, in fact, a
legitimate scientific theory, as its proponents claim, it might well have a place in the science curriculum. And if so, the religious motives of the Dover board members who adopted the ID policy become irrelevant, as do the religious beliefs of ID proponents.

On this crucial issue, the DI authors cite the so-called Lemon test, in which the Supreme Court set out the “purpose” and “ef-fect” tests in Establishment Clause cases. In an undoubtedly unintentional slip, which they may well regret, the DI authors have effectively given away the store with their concession that under the Lemon test, “all that was necessary [for Judge Jones] to determine that an Establishment Clause violation had occurred was to find that the Dover school board members had predominantly religious motivations for enacting their ID policy.” To repeat, those religious motivations would have been irrelevant if ID was in fact a legitimate scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution.

I also take special note of Irons second comment:

As a general proposition, this is sound advice.

One way the different points of view (dogmatic on the part of the creationist/IDers, more amenable to persuasion and aware of the possibility of error on the scientific side) reveal themselves is in statements like this. Rarely do creationist/IDers consent to even the tiniest point by their opposition, or areas of possible error. Their attitude was summed up well by Michael Behe at Dover, who explained that it was up to his critics to perform the falsifiable experiments relevant to his theory, because he had more "fruitful" uses for his time. Irons demeaner stands in stark contrast to that.

An additional problem for the IDers is they claim what Jones did was activism, but as explained here, it was really a concept called "orbiter dicta". That they made their argument in an often childish manner and tone didn't help matters much:

LDW: Proclaiming that one is not an activist judge does not make it so. And claiming that those who charge “judicial activism” simply disagree with the ruling and have nothing better to say does not mean that reasonable arguments cannot be raised...

Can't you just see the pimply faced kid with his thumbs in his ears going "Nyah Nyah Nyah!" Put Irons' piece next to the IDers' material and read them side by side. It literally looks like an adult arguing with a child.

And then there is the usual DI misrepresentation of the issue of what ID is:

LDW: It is important from the outset to understand that labeling ID “creationism” simply because many of its proponents believe God created the universe would define the term so broadly as to make it largely meaningless. For example, biologist Kenneth Miller, one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, conceded on the witness stand that he was a creationist when “creationist” is understood to mean anyone who believes that the universe was created by God.

Yes, but the only people doing that are the IDers. It is one of their rhetorical tricks that makes them so slippery. They like to talk about what ID is not, but they do everything they can to not be clear about what it is. "The set compliment of chance and reglarity" is about as detailed as you can get them. This gives them rhetorical advantages. If ID is roundly debunked, just accuse your interlocutor of misrepresenting ID, and that the REAL ID has no such problems.

"God created the universe" is a vague theistic position, and most Christians hold it to some degree. The difference however, between theistic evolution supporters (TEs) like Ken Miller and IDers like Michael Behe, is that TEs mean it in a much more vague sense, often having evolution completely materialistic, and leaving as God's job to set universal constants. IDers, on the other hand, claim to be able to scientifically show that specific items, such as the bacterial flagellum, or the human eye, could not have arisen via evolution and therefore must have been created by God, er, the Intelligent Designer. This is why IDers draw the wrath of the scientific community, whereas TEs don't. Miller keeps the gods out of the lab. Behe claims he can scientifically demonstrate they are there.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Just say No to Creationists!

Sam Brownback was kind enough to clarify his views on evolution here. I'm not going to bother fisking this nonsense. It has been done well here, here, and here. What I want to concentrate on is the political angle.

We all know how this works in politics. Politicians do their best to present their views in such a way as to snare the most votes. The special few derive their views that way (Mitt and Hillary, you listening?). The bottom line is, whether Brownback really believes this scientifically ignorant claptrap (I think he does), or whether he is only doing it for the votes, it occurred to me that maybe what finally needs to happen in the evolution/creation wars is that those of us who understand science start to make support of this nonsense a sure way to lose votes.

In the first place, I'd argue it should, political expediancy aside. As Josh put it here:

"This is roughly how we got to war with Iraq. We looked under a bunch of stones, found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs, concluded that any evidence which undermined the truth President Bush already knew 'should be firmly rejected,' and now our troops are stuck in the middle of a civil war. "

This point needs to be emphasized over and over and over again. The exact same epistemological deficiencies that lead goofballs like Brownback to deny evolution (presuming his stated views are sincere) are what got us ensnared in Iraq. There is no compartmentalizing the results.

Thus, as much as I hate one-issue voting, it is absolutely reasonable to eliminate from one's consideration for president ANYONE who denies evolution. They are either blatantly lying to garner the fundie vote, or they are woefully misinformed about an issue that anyone leading this country ought to understand at least well enough to know how scientifically solid it is. With science playing a bigger role than ever in the kinds of issues facing us in the near future (cloning, global warming, robotics, population problems, etc.), it is more and more imperative that the President of the United States be scientifically literate and respect science. If we have an issue worthy of making someone a one-issue voter, this is it.

So it's worth doing even only as symbolic resistence to this dangerous form of nonthinking. But on the political expediancy side, it has advantages in application and effectiveness. It's easy to remember, and painless to implement. For many of us who appreciate what the scientific outlook has brought our culture, it's hard NOT to hold it against them. Now consider that there are about 30% of us. Let's see how politicians react to knowing that denying evolution will cost them 30% of the vote. We aren't as populous as the fundies, but you don't have to be. Look at the success the gay lobby has been over the last few years. Whether you agree or disagree with what they've done, they are less numerous than we are, and their issues further removed from whitebread American values. Yet they keep winning, through organization and doggedness.

So why not? Just say No! to creationists, and any ID sympathizers. Many school boards have been successful in ridding their ranks of creationists because voters decided it was unacceptable, regardless of other issues. Why not on a national level? So sorry, Brownback, Tancredo, and Huckabee, whatever odds you had of getting my vote just dropped to zero. I may just have a lot of company.

Let's Hear it for LeBron James

In case you missed it, Lebron James, playing for the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers (franchise appearances in the finals = 0), became superman, scoring 25 consecutive points through double overtime to get a victory on the road against the favored Detriot Pistons. It was a 48 point performance, one of the greatest ever in the playoffs, and will no doubt garner comparisons with the best Larry Bird, Michael Jordon, or Magic Johnson ever managed (hat tip Dispatches). But really, the greatest story here is the lack of stories. LeBron James has long deserved to be recognized for, well, not being a story. No drug stories, no brutalizing women stories, no obscenity-laden TV embarassments, no prima donna complaints from teammates, etc. This guy was 18 years old and given $90+M. That had disaster written all over it. And all he's done instead is be responsible beyond his years, and oh yeah, played some tremendous basketball. He is gracious in victory and defeat. All this apparently with little to no guidance from home on how to be a decent human being. Let's hope he represents a change in attitude for the NBA away from the swaggering Allen Iversons of the world.

So here's to you LeBron. Keep the high road, and bring Cleveland that title that they haven't had, in any major team sport, since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

All-Time Dumb Families

Sometimes stupidity is greatness. Sometimes it is just sad. But you had to give it Richard Dawson, he came up with all sorts of creative ways to handle them. Maybe TV wasn't so innocent in the good ol' days.

Seriously, we in America ought to be ashamed of such things. And don't think the age of these makes them OK. The newer ones aren't much more encouraging. It's not hard to see what an anti-intellectual culture we are.