Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thanks Joe Rogan, for the Black Guy and the White Guy

While watching the UFC 87 prelims for the first time, Joe Rogan said something I have always thought myself. The other announcer had identified Jones as being the fighter in black trunks, and Gusman in the white trunks, when Rogan retorts with:

"Or, black guy, Jones, white guy, Gusman. I'll never understand why people just don't say that."

I've wondered about this ever since I saw a boxing match where the announcers had an extremely difficult time identifying the fighters, because both were wearing white trunks with red stripes. The idiotic thing about it was that one guy was black and one was white, but the announcers refused to say anything about that. So we got "Jones has the thicker red stripe than Smith".

I'll tell you why Joe: because people have gotten so hypersensitive about race and the perceived damage of acknowledging that (gasp) we aren't all the same, that they deny reality, potentially as far as claiming race doesn't exist at all. It's good solid social change run amok. And in the long run it is potentially very damaging, because we still have work to do with race relations in this country, and we can hardly have the serious discussions we need to have if we start pretending our differences don't exist out of fear of the political consequences. That's just the "Darwin is wrong because it leads to Social Darwinism" canard in a different suit. Reality is what it is, and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can make our future reality better.

Close to Russia? Just How Stupid do They Think People Are?

Apparently it wasn't a flub when Steve Doocy of Fox News said Sarah Palin had international experience because Alaska was next to Russia. Now Cindy McCain is making the same claim. Do they REALLY think people are this stupid? Hell, Alaska is right up against Canada, why doesn't that count? Does every governor of every state that borders (or is "near") Canada or Mexico have foreign policy experience too? What about Florida's proximity to the Bahamas?

In my 25 years of watching politics I have never seen an argument this moronic: not the reparations arguments, not the creationism, not "comparable worth", not even the feminist that said if firefighter standards were too tough for women to pass they should be lowered until the women can. Flatearthers make sense compared to this. Is this what America has come to? Are we to choose the most powerful leader in the world based on arguments that even South Park would consider too ridiculous to use? It is said that America gets the politicians it deserves. We must be indeed an Idiocracy if we deserve this.

BTW, that region of Russia that is across the Bering Strait from Alaska is called Chukotsky. It has a population of 91,000 people. I doubt they'll be planning an invasion soon. The Governor is a man named Roman Abramovich. I suggest someone in the media ask Sarah Palin questions about this region. Her answers could prove most enlightening.

The Having a Beer with the Idiot Factor: Bush, Biden, and Palin

One thing this election has really exposed, and to our national embarrassment, is our anti-intellectualism, and the nomination of Sarah Palin as VP is just the latest incarnation. Sadly, this has been going on for far longer.

Start off with the king of the anti-intellectuals, George W. Bush. He was elected because he was the guy everyone wanted to have a beer with. You know, I've drunk a lot of beers with a lot of guys, and there is no damned way I'd let most of them near the Oval Office. Yet that was the standard America used, and we got a president that didn't know what the major religious factions of the country he invaded was, can't say "nuclear", and thinks "These people want to kill us" is a sophisticated argument. Everything that followed was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.

Now along comes an intelligent, Harvard-educated black man to run for president, and some of the major attacks on him concern his supposed elitism. He's arrogant. He eats/drinks arugula (I confess to being insufficiently elitist to even know what that is). He's not like us.

Let's cut through the crap. What they really mean is that he's not a dumb fuck like us, he's not an idiot, he actually knows things. "Elitist" is just code language for "someone smarter than me", and in America that's bad, bad, bad. Only in America could a Harvard education work AGAINST you in an election. Only in America could the fact that you can draw far larger crowds than your opponent be used as a negative against you. It's ignorance, and it's envy, and it's fucking absurd. Who needs to watch Idiocracy when we are living in it?

So what does Obama do? He picks Biden as VP, who is also a smart guy. But he also speaks off the cuff, fumbles his words on occasion, and can say his share of stupid things. He called Obama "articulate" and "clean". In his nomination acceptance speech, he referred to Obama as "Barak Amer...". That no doubt played in his favor during the selection process, because it appeals to the dumb fuck vote. They say "Wow, he's like me", and that, in our bass-ackwards culture, translates into votes.

So now McCain has to counter, but we're on his turf baby. You can hear the voice in his head: "They're on my turf now, I can out stupid anyone". So what does he do? Nominate someone completely unqualified for the position, but who mirrors all the visions of "me" out there in dumbfuckland. They see the her hockey-momness as a positive, when it is clearly a negative when measured by the barometer of the demands of the position of vice president. Obama had no idea how right he was when he talked of this possibly being a big election about little ideas. Our two major parties are battling it out to see who can look dumbest. It is a national disgrace.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whatever Happened to Fair Debate?

The Democrats set it up great. As political theatre, it was top notch. Have the defeated champion of women, Hillary Clinton, make a dramatic entrance in the middle of the voting, take over her state's delegation, and declare that the champion of blacks should be anointed their nominee via acclamation, and after the "aye"s deafen the "nays", the two largest factions of the Democratic party join hands whilst singing Kumbaya. It's brilliant, and all it needed was a referee who would let the game finish before declaring a winner.

Nancy Pelosi blew it.

She asked for those in favor, and got the expected big cheers. Yet when she asked for those opposed, she didn't even give them a chance to respond, practically declaring Obama's victory in the same breath. And she LAUGHED about it.

I'm sorry Nancy, it wasn't funny, and it cost your candidate votes, because no doubt some of Hillary's ardent supporters noticed the same thing. That's not how democracy works.

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans are liable to have their own battle over the Nevada delegates for the same sort of anti-democratic behavior. I'll let the WSJ explain:

"In April, riding high on a second-place showing in the Silver State, the grass-roots Paul supporters were well represented and well organized at the Republican state convention. Winning a key rule change, the Paul delegation began electing a majority slate for its candidate, when party officials dropped the gavel, turned out the lights and adjourned the convention indefinitely.

The state party leadership went on to appoint a slate of McCain delegates to the national convention by private conference call. Meanwhile, the spurned Paul faction gathered for its own "reconvention" to produce a competing delegation. In a decision Aug. 5, the national party's contest committee recommended against seating either slate, citing flaws in the selection process. The fate of Nevada's 34 seats at the Republican National Convention may not be decided until the final days before it begins."

In an election as close as this, a third party candidate that gets even a tiny percentage of a constituency can cause the candidate that depends on that constituency to lose. Paul is a threat to McCain, so the party shut him down.

It's not just an election this time around. The very principles on which our society is founded are being threatened by politicians who place their personal agenda above the country's. Washington, the father of our country, who turned down an offer to be king, is surely rolling over in his grave.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain-Palin. WTF?

Sarah Palin is the hail mary into triple coverage when you know it's the only shot at winning you've got. Obama essentially took the Olympics off and let McCain pound away. Yet McCain was barely able to squeak ahead in a few polls, and these in the face of unbelievable new voter registration for Democrats, and continued disinterest in McCain. It is Bob Dole all over again, and now here comes a cross between Geraldine Ferraro, Mike Huckabee, and Harriet Miers to join him.

McCain has to get the religious right AND the disgruntled Hillary supporters to win this thing. So he picked someone with the Ferraro woman factor, with Huckabee style scientific looniness (Palin denies evolution, global warming, and well, everything), and the possibility that it will be one giant Miers head fake to make whoever he chooses next look that much better by comparison.

I don't think it's that last scenario, at least not predetermined, but don't discount it if the polls tank. I think it's just all he had left, having tried everything else and seeing it was clear he wasn't going to win unless he tried something aggressive and risky. And for what it's worth, bully for him.

However, I think that, barring a catastrophe on the other side as is always possible, it is going to get him killed in the election, Dole-style. He's given away his best intellectual line of attack, Obama's inexperience, by adding someone to his ticket that has less. Obama was winning among more educated voters anyway, and this will only make McCain's deficit among them worse.

He's never going to win the style contest with Obama, who is a better speaker, and more pleasant to look at, a factor which, while sounding shallow, has driven the presidential election process since it was first shown on TV. Recall golden boy Kennedy whipped melting Nixon according to those who watched the TV broadcast, but not according to those who listened on the radio. McCain looks like he's got one foot in the grave standing next to Palin, which is only going to exacerbate anxiety about her inexperience, since she'd have an all-time high of becoming president from the VP slot.

Perhaps McCain's best chance to strike gold with this is in the VP debate. It didn't take a psychic to see the excitement in the eyes of the Democrats when they contemplated Biden taking on the top Republican VP candidates. Yet here is a candidate that threatens to win the debate due to Biden looking like a pompous bastard as he thrashes her. Recall that when Lloyd Bentsen gave Dan Quayle this classic gut shot, the polls didn't much change and Bush/Quayle went on to beat Dukakis/Bentsen. So take heed laughing Democrats, you've screwed up a situation almost this good before.

Still, Obama is too good at this for that. He's too smooth to get caught looking like an idiot in a tank, and he showed against Hillary his skill at holding onto a lead simply by not making mistakes. I predict a steady slide in the polls for McCain after perhaps a small short-lived blip, followed by a solid drop after the first debate.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Apeboy and His Irony

It is the ultimate irony that those most infected with an anti-ape bias provide it's most visual refutation. The circled quote from the pictured and pointed-to primate reads:

"I can see something else, too" he said. "I can see that there's no way I came from an ape."

On the contrary son. Any objective visual inspection of you, as contrasted with, say, a dragonfly, a cat, or some dirt, clearly shows that not only did you come from an ape, you are an ape. We are, all of us, apes. There is no shame in that.

Hat tip: Gawker.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Intellectual Dishonesty, thy Name is Andrew Tallman

For a good example of the sort of blatant intellectual dishonesty that pervades homophobic arguments, look no further than Andrew Tallman's embarrasing attempt at satire. Of course, like most who followed in his footsteps, he forgets that to properly satirize something, you must understand it well enough to capture the essential arguments. He fails miserably, instead substituting his Bible-influenced mischaracterizations of what homosexuals and those who defend their rights argue, and comes off sounding like a child saying "If you can do it so can I". And they wonder why no one who isn't already in their camp doesn't buy these arguments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Belief in God Continues to Decline, Highest Among the Old and Uneducated

A recent Gallup poll reports that god-belief is slowly being squeezed out of society, with the number of atheists slightly increasing, and a large shift from traditional religious views to a more general belief about a "universal spirit". This would be more evidence against the frequent claims that the Angry Atheists (tm) such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have hurt the cause of spreading more enlightened views about religion. We still await the first shred of evidence that would have us believe atheists to be the first oppressed group in history whos social status improves more when they take a quiet and conciliatory approach to dealing with their oppressors.

Of additional interest is yet another bit of evidence that the prevalence of religious beliefs is inversely related to education.

That's right, contrary to all the pie-in-the-skyism out there, religious belief is tied to ignorance, just as so many of us have said for so long. It should be an obvious relationship not needing empirical support, but for those who need it, there it is. Postgraduate students are 20% less likely to be infected with God. Education people, that's all, in the long run, it takes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Myth of the Myth of Race

Over at Greg Laden's blog, we've gotten into one of those discussions on race that tend to crop up whenever a large sporting event like the olympics is going on. Some people start making racist comments about the natural ability of black athletes, as if one could be a world class sprinter merely by walking onto the track with such superior genes, and there is much merit to the position that blacks usually get short shrift in these conversations. Black athletes are described as natural athletes, whereas the white winners are often credited with their hard work. Black athletes are described as "articulate", white athletes are "disciplined". Things are improving, but we still have much work to do.

However, the arguments that there is no racial component to performance in sports at all, or worse yet, that race is merely a social convention, are nonsense, a classic example of political and social bias trumping science. These arguments make many logical mistakes, the most prominent is an ironic black/white view that attempts to paint all arguments as "100% of this group has trait A", straw men easy to knock down. However, the real argument made by those of us who believe there is a racial component, and who would not register as a racist by any other measure, are much more complicated and use sound statistical analytical principles.

Take the position of NFL cornerback. For you nonyanks, this is the position whose job it is to keep players from the other team from catching passes. It is the football position for which foot speed is most essential. And while the NFL is very racially diverse, this position is completely dominated by blacks. The question is: Why? The answer: the exaggerated effect of small changes in mean ability at the extreme end of the curve.

Take all the Americans that 99% of Americans would categorize as either "white" or "black" and separate them (Greg and his ilk can come up with whatever names offend them least). Then imagine a bell curve graph of their average "natural foot speed". Now if there was no genetic advantage, aside from the difference in population sizes, we'd just see two overlapping graphs. However, if one population has just a tiny genetic difference that made a difference in the ability to run fast, say slightly longer limbs, lower body fat, or some change in muscle structure, it would shift their curve a bit. This shift would hardly be noticeable when viewing the entire graph, and indeed, it would be unfair to make a generalization that one group was faster than the other. However, at the extreme end, the difference would be dramatic. And professional cornerbacks, like 100 meter dash runners, come from that extreme end.

The same argument could be made as to why certain racial groups dominate swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, or a whole host of other events. Tiny differences in body structure can make all the difference in elite athletic competition, and these tiny differences exist in all sorts of social/racial groups. This is why we have never seen, nor will we ever see, a Kenyan heavyweight weightlifting champion, or a Swedish 100 meter dash champion. That is not to say there are no fast Swedes or big strong Kenyans. Of course there are, and their abilities are no doubt impressive when compared to the norm. But that doesn't cut it at the elite level.

What do those who oppose this theory say? The contention is often made that "the variation within races is less than the variation between races", which is true but unimportant. I translate that to mean that the range within a race, say the 95% confidence interval, is greater than the difference between the mean of the races. Of course it is. This is why saying "Joe is surely going to be faster than Bob, because Joe is black" puts you on shaky ground. The difference in the means is just not that big. But for my argument to work it doesn't have to be. A tiny difference is enough when you are discussing a handful of people out of a population of millions.

Some claim reflexively that somehow it is the environment that is responsible, leaving the pathetic details of how exactly this was the case to someone else to figure out. This is clearly a political/ideaological statement, not a scientific one. They want it to be about the environment, because they find the idea of genetic differences offensive, and potentially socially problematic. Tough. Reality is what it is, and as with the criticisms of evolution claiming it leads to Social Darwinism, the dangers of acknowledging the tiny genetic differences among human groups are also greatly exaggerated.

Some claim that a racist bias causes the Cornerback Effect. Racist coaches, the theory says, assume black kids are stupid, and steer them into speed positions like cornerback, and outfield in baseball, while steering white kids racistly assumed to be intellectually superior, into thinking positions like quarterback and catcher. However, this theory completely breaks down when tested in basketball, where the position that demands speed, point guard, ALSO demands intellect. Black guards are far more prominent than black centers in the NBA. There is a bias all right, but it is FOR speed, not against intellect.

And then there are those who claim the concept of race is a mere social convention. When confronted with the objective data however, they either deny it outright, change the subject, or of course, accuse people who recognize the genetics as racists. They are simply denying data in lieu of theory, intellectually in the same camp as the good Christians who claim atheists cannot have morals, while ignoring the actual data of real atheists living real moral lives.

Racial groupings, however rough, are readily identifiable, and produce statistically significant deviations from what we'd expect were the entire concept of race fraudulent in some way. The fact that an overwhelming majority of NFL cornerbacks and 100 meter dash finalists are of West African descent and can be independently identified as "black" demands a scientific explanation. Denying reality through philosophical games that try to pretend races don't exist are no more effective in explaining anything than was Berkley, the King of Dodges, when he claimed there was no external objective reality.

These silly denials also damage science in the public eye, giving fuel to those who claim scientists are out of touch with the real world. We can't win the creation/evolution battle, and persuade so many people that what their minister and Bible tell them are scientifically wrong, if they see us claiming that "blacks" and "whites" are merely social conventions, and that what they see with their own eyes isn't real.

Anti Vaccers Win, America Loses, Measles at its Highest Level in a Decade

The number of measles cases in the United States this year, 131, is the highest since 1997, and we've got 5 months to go. And to no one's surprise in the reality-based community, half of them are the children of anti-vaccers.

"Childhood vaccination rates for measles continue to exceed 92 percent, but outbreak pockets seem to be forming, health officials said.

Of this year's total, 122 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Some were unvaccinated because the children were under age 1, making them too young to get their first measles shot.

In 63 of those cases _ almost all of them 19 or younger _ the patient or their parents refused vaccination, the CDC reported.

In Washington state, an outbreak was traced to a religious conference, including 16 school-aged children who were not vaccinated because of parents' beliefs. Eleven of those kids were home schooled and not subject to vaccination rules in public schools."

Once again, those who deny the importance of taking on religious lunacy with vigour have some explaining to do. Why isn't this considered the child abuse it is? Freedom of religion means you can believe the gods hate vaccines if you want, but it doesn't mean your children should die because their parents are nut jobs. It is no different than refusing to let your child wear a seat belt or motorcycle helmet, except that you don't infect other people when you die in a crash.

Idiocracy here we come. You can find more detailed write ups here and here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama Chooses Clean, Articulate Biden as his Running Mate

In a move to counter charges of inexperience and lack of foreign policy gravitas, Barak Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. Apparently Indiana and Virginia were not important enough to choose Evan Bayh or Tim Kaine (my pick), and Obama instead chose someone with the general experience he needed to balance the ticket.

One problem the selection of Biden exacerbates is the anti-intellectual problem, since Biden packs both a wallop of an IQ, and a higher-even-than-McCain prickly personality factor. I suspect that Biden's success with blue collar workers is hoped to counter that.

Now we all get to sit back and watch what sort of bounce the polls give Obama/Biden (I must admit, that does roll off the tongue). Obama has basically been playing rope-a-dope with McCain for the last few weeks, and it has led to McCain slowly creeping back to even in the polls. With the Olympics going, my bet is that the Obama campaign decided they'd rather not compete with Michael Phelps for air time, and instead let McCain do exactly that and drain his resources. I expect that to reverse itself immediately, and we are going to see full fledged Obamamania for a few weeks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Complexity has Always Been an Argument Against Intelligent Design

Poor Denyse O'Leary, in an article so bad it apparently was flushed down the infamous UD memory hole, scores an own goal with this feeble analysis:

"It's not easy being an evolutionist these days. You have to feel a pang of pity for the critics at New Scientist, who have resorted to a new argument against intelligent design:

The more complex things are, the more we see that there's no way intelligence could have created them.

That's right — complexity is now an argument against intelligent design. From yesterday's print edition:

As Socrates knew, the really intelligent know the limits of their own ability, an idea we seem to be relearning. You might say supporters of intelligent design have it backwards: the more we observe the complex workings of our universe, the more we must conclude that no single intelligence could have created them."

What Denyse and the rest of the ID crew seem never to understand is that complexity has always been an argument against ID. The hallmark of intelligent design is efficiency, not complexity. The designs we see in nature more resemble a Rube Goldberg machine than something designed intelligently. This is the natural consequence of design by an shortsighted process like evolution.

Think about the difference between a house designed by one builder, and a house that was built and then modified over the years by several different builders. Which is more complex? Which is more intelligent? The modified house models evolution far more than the house build all at once, for each builder had to work with what he had, rather than having the ability to create what he wanted from scratch.

When we look at a halibut, with both eyes scrunched onto one side of his face, we see complexity, yes, but it is the sort of mindless complexity of evolution, not the imagined complexity of a mythical intelligent designer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If there is No God, Whatever Will Dennis Prager Do?

Dennis Prager is back with yet another mind numbingly stupid and bigoted article that amounts to "We really have no good reason to believe in gods, but we are all doomed to misery like those evil atheists if we don't believe, so believe anyway". Pascal might be impressed, but I most certainly am not, so this one is getting the full point-by-point fisk:

"1. Without God there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label 'good' and 'evil.' This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, 'right' and 'wrong' no more objectively exist than do 'beautiful' and 'ugly.'"

This, as with so many of Prager's arguments, warrants the "So what?" retort. If atheists can be good, then clearly we don't need objective right and wrong to exist, just like we don't need objective standards of beauty to exist to enjoy those things we find beautiful. Further, if we can leave planet Prager for a moment and observe planet Earth, we see bitter, often violent conflicts between subsets of god believers over even the most basic moral standards (women's rights, infanticide, etc.) One would think listening to Prager pontificate that where there are large populations of god believers, there is moral unity. And finally, the idea that an objective morality could come from the gods is contradictory. If there was an objective morality, it would exist apart from any gods, just as math does. Nothing could be more subjective than a morality that comes into being, and could change at any time, merely on the whim of a god.

"2. Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced."

Again, so what? Millions of nonbelievers get along just fine, living highly meaningful lives without any gods. The entire concept of intrinsic purpose or meaning is nonsense anyway. Things have meaning only when we give them meaning. A pebble properly placed, or thrown, can have plenty of meaning. Likewise, "purpose" only has meaning in the context of "to whom, for what?" Further, Prager is self-contradictory here (and not for the first time), for later in his screed he laments that we might just be robots. Yet what could be more robotic than a being created with an intrinsic, unchangeable, purpose? Prager's vision is merely Brave New World with gods as the architects.

"3. Life is ultimately a tragic fare if there is no God. We live, we suffer, we die -- some horrifically, many prematurely -- and there is only oblivion afterward."

Yes, and Christmas becomes a horribly burdensome affair of toil and suffering of parents to provide presents for their children in the absence of Santa Claus. Sometimes reality is hard, but the rational response to that fact is not to deny it and invent gods that make everything all good. It is also worth noting that the god Prager defends punishes those who dare doubt him to an eternity in a most unpleasant hellfire. Oblivion doesn't seem so bad compared to that.

"4. Human beings need instruction manuals. This is as true for acting morally and wisely as it is for properly flying an airplane. One's heart is often no better a guide to what is right and wrong than it is to the right and wrong way to fly an airplane. The post-religious secular world claims to need no manual; the heart and reason are sufficient guides to leading a good life and to making a good world."

No, the secular world claims reason within a scientific framework is sufficient, and again, if we actually examine the real world (something Prager is understandably unwilling to do) we see that play out. Where, I wonder, would Prager prefer to live, secular Sweden, or religious Iran?

"5. If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates."

Excuse me, but if the god Prager has in mind exists, then Hitler and Mother Teresa have identical fates, both having accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Prager also conveniently omits the many murders that were caused by a belief in gods and an afterlife. Death becomes a far more serious matter when this life is treated as all there is. It becomes a mere doorway when one envisions a paradise of virgins on the other side.

"6. With the death of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many Westerners believe in little. That is why secular Western Europe has been unwilling and therefore unable to confront evil, whether it was Communism during the Cold War or Islamic totalitarians in its midst today. "

Ah, the 21st century conservative standby - when the facts don't support one's claims, simply make shit up (MSU). Needless to say, there has been no death of values in the West, just a slow decline in belief in the kinds of values that drive those very Islamic totalitarians Prager is so concerned with. It of course totally escapes Prager's notice that there would be no Islamic totalitarians if they didn't have those wonderful god beliefs.

"7. Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men's and women's natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm."

Again, when we leave Planet Prager to examine Planet Earth we find much acceptance of Marxism in highly religious South America, and religious people applying a wide variety of irrational beliefs to society, such as evolution denialism, global warming denialism, resistance to birth control, abortion, and stem cell research. It is nice to see Prager admit that religion's function in society is as a receptacle of irrationality.

" 8. If there is no God, the human being has no free will. He is a robot, whose every action is dictated by genes and environment. Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that transcends genes and environment who implanted the ability to transcend genes and environment can humans have free will."

This is just semantic sophistry, as Prager conveniently defines "free will" as that which transcends physical reality. Human beings have a free will, which is a complicated neural net still being studied and quantified by evolutionary psychologists and many others. Even identical twins raised in identical environments do not solve all problems in the same way. Prager is simply wallowing in his ignorance here. And what, may we ask, is "free" about a will that, if exercised incorrectly, results in an eternity in hell-fire. Is Prager's god really Joe Strummer, telling us we have the right to free speech, so long as we are not dumb enough to actually try it?

"9. If there is no God, humans and 'other' animals are of equal value. Only if one posits that humans, not animals, are created in the image of God do humans have any greater intrinsic sanctity than baboons. This explains the movement among the secularized elite to equate humans and animals."

It is not a movement Dennis, but a simple scientific fact that we are animals, 99% identical to other apes like chimpanzees. As previously addressed, there is no such thing as intrinsic value or sanctity, only what we choose to give. And again, it has passed Prager's notice that those in secular societies tend to treat their citizens with far more sanctity than do those in religious ones.

"10. Without God, there is little to inspire people to create inspiring art. That is why contemporary art galleries and museums are filled with 'art' that celebrates the scatological, the ugly and the shocking. Compare this art to Michelangelo's art in the Sistine chapel. The latter elevates the viewer -- because Michelangelo believed in something higher than himself and higher than all men."

This is blatant circular reasoning: Prager apparently gets no inspiration from nonreligious art, therefore nonreligious art is not inspiring. Never mind all the nonreligious art that inspires millions around the world. Prager is arguing like a 12 year old here.

"11. Without God nothing is holy. This is definitional. Holiness emanates from a belief in the holy. This explains, for example, the far more widespread acceptance of public cursing in secular society than in religious society. To the religious, there is holy speech and profane speech. In much of secular society the very notion of profane speech is mocked."

Again, so what? Life without the concept of holy words doesn't seem to slow anyone or anything down. One might as well lament the lack of "Snarkiness" in our society due to lack of belief in The Snark. Prager is intellectually masturbating.

"12. Without God, humanist hubris is almost inevitable. If there is nothing higher than man, no Supreme Being, man becomes the supreme being."

But Dennis, you just got done telling us that without god we are of no more value than baboons. Now you are telling us we'll be the supreme being. Which is it? This is typical of anti-atheist screeds, as with anti-evolution screeds. Never mind any contradictions in the arguments, as long as they attack the right target. And of course, ignore the hubris that god-belief gives people like Prager to think they know what the world would be like were there no god belief.

"13. Without God, there are no inalienable human rights. Evolution confers no rights. Molecules confer no rights. Energy has no moral concerns. That is why America's Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are endowed 'by our Creator' with certain inalienable rights. Rights depend upon a moral source, a rights giver."

No, rights depend on recognition in society, with the power to enforce them. God belief confers no rights, just ask the Jews at Auschwitz. Let's also remind everyone that the creator referred to in the DoI was nature, not the Christian god, so the founders disagreed with Prager about evolution and rights. Finally, let's again remind those that agree with Prager that one could never conclude from observation of religious societies that there were any inalienable rights. They look like they make it up as they go, just like everyone else.

"14. 'Without God,' Dostoevsky famously wrote, 'all is permitted.' There has been plenty of evil committed by believers in God, but the widespread cruelties and the sheer number of innocents murdered by secular regimes -- specifically Nazi, Fascist and Communist regimes -- dwarfs the evil done in the name of religion."

The Nazis were not a secular regime, as has been painstakingly documented by historians. Hitler thought he was doing the work of the gods. But evil scoreboards aside, why does ANY evil occur in societies so concerned with the gods? A sober look at history would conclude that god belief has no effect whatsoever on the evil a society can do. Prager is simply ignoring reality.

"As noted at the beginning, none of this proves, or even necessarily argues for, God's existence. It makes the case for the necessity, not the existence, of God."

So is Prager saying that even if we have no evidence of any gods, or worse yet, know there are no gods, we should lie to our family and friends and claim there is anyway to prevent them behaving badly? But who is to lie to us?

This really gets at the crux of the real evil behind Prager's little screed: controlling the other. We (pick your group) can act right even if we know there is no god, but they (pick whatever group you don't like) will act like vicious animals if we don't keep them controlled. It's the same mindset that has the vast majority of people believing drug use would escalate if it were legalized, but that THEY wouldn't do them.

"'Which God?' the secularist will ask. The God of Israel, the God of America's founders, 'the Holy God who is made holy by justice' (Isaiah), the God of the Ten Commandments, the God who demands love of neighbor, the God who endows all human beings with certain inalienable rights, the God who is cited on the Liberty Bell because he is the author of liberty. That is the God being referred to here, without whom we will be vanquished by those who believe in less noble gods, both secular and divine. "

Not only the secularists, but everyone who believes in different gods is asking. Why won't belief in them have the same effect? After all, as Prager said, this is not an argument for the existence of his god, but of the necessity of belief. It is as though Prager spent pages explaining the necessity of motor oil only to finish claiming we must buy Penzoil.

And what exactly is so noble about Yahweh anyway? Recall this is the god that created us with temptation, then sent the talking snake to manipulate us into following that temptation, and then after seeing how it turned out (which he knew beforehand anyway) decided to destroy via drowning every living thing on the planet except for one boat full of people and apparently very fast-moving and fast-breeding animals. Compared to this guy Ming the Merciless looks noble.

Dennis Prager is a pseudointellectual, writing for people with the intellectual development of the average 13 year old. He avoids the tough questions, ignores facts, and makes shit up to satisfy his simplistic view of the world. If this is what modern conservatism considers an intellectual, they can hardly be surprised that they are derided by intellectuals who have no need for their lame gods and even lamer arguments.

For more dissections of Prager's idiocy, go here.

Creationist Weaknesses are Science's Strengths

Jason Rosenhouse reports from the 6th International Creationism Conference, and in showing some slides from one of the talks, reveals the crucial difference between creationists and scientists. The slide lists lack of unity, schisms and personal animosities, many different personal agendas, and competitiveness as weaknesses of the Creationist movement. But these are weaknesses in political movements, not scientific ones. Science thrives on divergent points of view, different agendas and competitiveness. It is through that crucible that nonsense is burned away until we are left with useful, explanatory theories. That creationism turns that on its head reveals it to be a political exercise, just as the Don't-ask-don't-tell Big Tent strategy of the IDers, where different viewpoints on basic relevant questions are suppressed for the sake of a unified appearance reveals it too to be a political, not scientific, exercise.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Black and White World?

Conservatives often bristle at being accused of simplistic, black and white thinking, but rarely do they have the audacity to revel in those accolades the way Burt Prelutsky does. This simply has to be seen to be believed:

"Those on the left regard themselves as the moral, as well as intellectual, superiors of those on the right because they claim to see shades of gray whereas conservatives see only black and white. The problem is that most things are black and white, and the inability to realize that doesn’t suggest clearer vision, but only lack of courage and conviction."

Now one would think someone who made such an audacious claim would start on safe ground, say mathematics, or fundamental logic, where one can indeed find much that is black and white. Surely someone making the claim that most things are black and white would stay away from value judgements, since they are the clearest example of things that are decidedly NOT black and white. But not Prelutsky, who leads with his chin thusly:

"So, while those on the right are convinced that capitalism, for instance, is better than communism and socialism, and have no problem saying as much, liberals go around parroting sound bites."

Better? "Better" is inherently subjective, because the standards of comparison are arbitrarily determined. A might be better than B, and B better than C, but only according to certain standards. This is not a black and white statement. Further, when one says capitalism is better than socialism, the question begging to be asked is "better at what?" and "by what measure?". The socialist nations of Europe have superior medical care and mass transit systems than does the capitalist nation of the US. Our socialist highway system works better than capitalist ones did. There are many such examples. Either Prelutsky is ignoring these facts, or simply chooses, subjectively, to ignore them. Where is Prelutsky's proof that capitalism is better than socialism? If it is black and white as he claims, then such a proof should be forthcoming. Of course, it isn't, because in typical 21st century conservative fashion, Prelutsky pretends to be dealing with facts when he is really just making shit up. That he does little but weave straw about what mythical "liberals" supposedly think instead solidifies this point.

The world is NOT black and white, and if Prelutsky is right and conservatives see it this way, it explains why they have so many failures in the political and social spheres. "Either you are with us, or you are against us" is childish, unproductive foreign policy. Parts of the Bible are true, and some parts aren't. Capitalism is superior to socialism in some spheres, but not in others. It is a complicated world, and if the conservatives like Prelutsky can't handle that simple fact, then they need to get the hell out of the driver's seat and let someone who understands the nuances of the real world (as opposed to the simplistic version in Prelutsky's head) take over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worst Named Olympic Sports

Without a doubt, the Olympic sport most in need of a name change: In weightlifting, the women's snatch.

The clean and jerk isn't much better. Doesn't the Olympics have professional PR people that are supposed to help avoid such things?

Monday, August 18, 2008

McCain Storms Back

We now have a real horse race for president, as gains in Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Ohio have the race within 10 electoral votes. This map is pretty representative of the current situation.

However, as this map shows, McCain's leads are smaller than Obama's, many of which fall into some "toss up" categories. Some of those toss ups are unrealistic in my view, particularly Florida. McCain should win Florida handily. If by some miracle Obama wins Florida, we'll all be able to go to bed early, because that will signal a Democratic landslide. The race will be decided right across middle America: Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia will decide our next president.

The Marathon is The Olympics

As I watch the women's marathon, it occurs to me that, more than any other event, The marathon's absence would make the Olympics seem like the Olympics light. Here, to finish first one must first finish. As I watch Dina Caster from the U.S. drop out from a foot injury, and the favorite Paula Ratcliffe from Britain, from the last Olympics collapsing in an emotional heap a scant 4 miles from the finish, suddenly the idea that Michael Phelps' run in with a pair of leaky goggles was anything close to being worthy of the term "courageous" seems ludicrous. Try to imagine Phelps (who has indeed earned his superstar status), a few meters from the finish, breaking down physically or emotionally and being unable to get there on his own power, and you start understanding what sets the marathon apart.

The marathon is everything the Olympics should be, courage, training, athletic ability, dedication, discipline, and passion. There are no judges to award victory based on frivolous aesthetics, no referees to soil the competition with amateurish errors, and no rules so complicated an interested viewer could watch the entire competition and have no idea who won. It is the runners, and the course, and little else. It has the most romantic story associated with it, and of course the most interesting history of how it came to be the distance it is.

Long live the marathon, and a toast to everyone who competes in it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Socialist, Satanist, or Creationist? Who's the Craziest, and What that Shows about Our Politics

One of the biggest problems with American politics is that a large segment of the population, has become so certain of their views, and so insulated from differing opinions, that they have lost sight of what is objective and what is subjective in the world. To illustrate, consider the following: who is more insane, the socialist, the satanist, or the creationist?

To many Americans, too many, the answer is that the Satanist is the most insane, the socialist second, and the creationist third. Consider for a moment the reaction when Mike Huckabee spoke of his creationist views in the debates. While many chided him, he had much support among like minded Americans. Were he to have promoted socialism, we can only imagine the outcry, and had he promoted Satanism, it would have been even worse. Ken Ham's creationist museum has been a great commercial success. There is nothing similar for Satanism or socialism.

This is completely backwards. Clearly the least reasonable of the three positions is creationism, because it violates demonstrable facts. The earth is not 6,000 years old, nor did all life appear fully formed all at once. This is consistent with all of the evidence. After that would come Satanism, a position that makes assumptions not supported by the evidence, but not contradicted by them either. Satan, like the gods, defies attempts at double-blind experiment. Finally, socialism is clearly the most reasonable of the three. History certainly has not been kind to completely socialist governments, but some aspects of socialism, such as public services, health care, and the military, have proven competitive, if not superior, to free market solutions.

This is the problem with American politics today. Politics and religion, inherently subjective subjects, are treated as objective truths not to be questioned, and science is treated as no more objective than taste in films. It's small wonder we can't solve any of our serious problems.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I Hate Hate Speech, and the Real Terrorist Threat

For those who missed it, Europe continues its dangerous trend towards suppressing free speech and expression under the guise of "Hate Speech". In the latest absurd example:

...a "pro-family" activist group in Spain has filed charges against the organisers of the 2008 Madrid Gay Pride march, accusing them of making hateful statements against Catholics, pro-family organisations, and those politicians opposed to the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE)."

As so many of us predicted, those who were to be protected by hate speech have now become its victims, due to an ever expanding definition of what constitutes "hate". This really must be read to be believed:

Article 525.1 of the Spanish Penal Code, which HazteOir is invoking to support their case, carries heavy fines for those who seek to "hurt the feelings of the members of a religious confession" by "publicly, by word or through any type of document, make fun of their dogmas, beliefs, rites, or ceremonies, or publicly humiliate those who profess or practice them."

Hurt feelings? You have got to be fucking kidding me. Such a law, if universally enforced, would gut all political and sociological discourse. Giving religion a special pass is even worse, allowing the religious to criticize others, but not the other way around.

This is a movement that needs to be opposed, vigorously, and without delay. Our values of free speech and expression, and the pragmatic benefits of allowing free debate, and yes, even hurt feelings, is what makes the marketplace of ideas work. A society that does not allow hurt feelings will make no progress, and will atrophy just as the Middle Eastern nations, the Chinese, and everyone else in history who isolated ideas from criticism has.

This is the real threat that Islamic Jihadists pose to the United States, and the west in general. It's not bombs, or hijackers that we need fear. It is the insidious ideas of censorship, of placing religious and other state-supported ideas beyond reproach, that threaten our freedoms. If I am not allowed to criticize someones religion, or draw pictures of who I please, or toss crackers in the trash as I see fit, my freedoms have been curtailed the same as if there were an Al-qaeda member holding a gun to my head.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hawkins Shows the Republicans Need a New Playbook

John Hawkins has yet another article where he demonstrates a very important point about this election, but not the point he was trying to make. He claims to have a list of issues that will bring Barak Obama down in November. The problem is they have all already been tried, some by Hillary Clinton, some by McCain, some by both, and yet they've had little to no effect. Here's the list:

Phony Idealism
Anti-White Racism
Lack of Patriotism
Changing Position On The War in Iraq
Poor Judgment
Gaffe Prone
Fuzzy Platform

We've seen all this before, and none of it had much effect. Obama stayed ahead of Hillary when she raised these issues, and he's remained ahead of McCain as well. Hawkins is making the mistake of projecting his own views on the entire electorate. If the Republicans make the same mistake, McCain is going to get creamed.

It doesn't help their case that there is little substance to many of these claims. The GOP seems determined these days to label as a snob anyone who doesn't drink beer and outburp his kids around the doublewide, as phony any ideals that come with pragmatic implementation, as unpatriotic anyone who disagrees with their political views on the war, and as fuzzy any political position that takes more than two sentences to explain.

It's not working. If they are going to beat Obama, they are going to have to try something else. Maybe they could do something radical, and like, discuss the actual issues, and stuff, you know, show how McCain's solutions to our problems are better than Obama's. I know, I'm such an idealist.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

UC's Court Victory over the Association of Christian Schools: Science beats Creationism Again

The University of California won their case against the Association of Christian Schools, who were claiming viewpoint discrimination over UC refusing to grant admissions credits for various Christianized courses, most notably creationist biology classes. You can read detailed commentary on the case here and here, and the full ruling here. As is common with creationist cases, it was a comedy of poor legal and scientific reasoning. The plaintiffs didn't seem to understand what was required for an argument for animus, assuming that a lack of reasonableness implied animus, sort of like they assume any weakness in evolution is an argument in favor of creation. It fared no better, as did Behe's testimony, which was rejected for being untimely, and insufficiently detailed. As usual, Behe waves his hands at problems and can't be bothered with all that niggling science.

The case is likely to be appealed.

Carl Baugh on the Flintstones

Before anyone gives too much credit to Carl Baugh's claims about human and dinosaur prints together, take a look at Jon Stewart's investigation. Satire and ridicule are indeed our best weapons in this battle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Impress the Refs with Red

If you've been watching the Olympics and wondering how the judges come up with some of the scores, perhaps they are just too influenced by the competitors wearing red, as some scientists decided to test.

"To test this idea, Hagemann and colleagues chose recruited 42 seasoned referees who, between them, had over 320 years of experience at judging tae kwon do matches. The judges watched one of two sets of videos clips, showing matches between contestants who wore red or blue gear. Both sets of clips were completely identical save for one key difference - in one, the experimenters had digitally swapped the colours of the fighters' clothes.

The referees watched the matches and, following the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation, awarded their points. And when Hagemann tallied up the scores, he found that the red fighters scored on average 13% more points than the blue ones. When a blue competitor was digitally transformed into a red one, his points tended to rise but a red competitor who was turned into a blue one was awarded lower scores. Neither set of clips was given a higher total number of points.

It's a very neat result - with a bit of digital sleight-of-hand, Hagemann found that referees will assign more points to red-clothed contestants than they would to blue-clothed ones, even if their performance is exactly the same."

No wonder China has won so many medals in the judgement sports.

Medved: ID not a Theory

Michael Medved on Intelligent Design:

"The important thing about Intelligent Design is that it is not a theory - which is something I think they need to make more clear. Nor is Intelligent Design an explanation. Intelligent Design is a challenge. It’s a challenge to evolution. It does not replace evolution with something else."

Science is about proposing and testing theories that explain what we observe. If it is not a theory, and not an explanation, and doesn't replace evolution with something else, then it isn't science, nor is it a challenge to evolution. In similar fashion, noting that Newton's laws of motion couldn't account for the precession of Mercury did not challenge Newtonian physics, not could pointing that out be considered a science in itself.

"No, you see, Intelligent Design doesn't tell you what is true; it tells you what is not true. It tells you that it cannot be that this whole process was random."

Well you don't need Intelligent Design for that, every biologist would tell you the whole process isn't random. If it was we couldn't expect to wake up every morning.

I certainly hope any ID defender who ends up on the stand to defend their shenanigans, perhaps in Louisiana, is asked to comment on Medved's views, because these guys sure talk like they can explain a lot, and they insist what they are saying/doing is science. It is time we broke up the big tent.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Million Men vs One

A million people organized by a group calling itself "TheCall" plan on descending on the National Mall "to fervently ask God for his undeserved mercy on the nation.":

"We believe God wants revival to break out all across America, but it will only happen as believers humble themselves and pray," said Wendy Alec, co-founder and program director of GOD TV, in a press release. "The key to revival in America is constant corporate prayer and so we urge all our viewers to participate. And, if they can't attend in person, to please tune in."

I disagree, and am going to put my prayer where my mouth is. I'm going to pray to cancel out all their prayers. One against one million. There will be no revival, and the nation will continue to go on as it has. I have spoken. Thus is the power of prayer, known to those of us in the reality-based community as "wishing it were so".

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Comparisons of WWII to the Iraq War

Frequently, all-too-frequently, we hear supporters of the Iraq war comparing it to past US military conflicts. However, it is interesting to note that the most comparable wars to the Iraq conflict, Viet Nam and the Korean war, are rarely mentioned. Instead, in a testimony to the shoddy history education we get in this country, a general lack of understanding of the current conflict, and the ease with which one can make shit up (MSU) when there is no one left to correct you who was there, the frequent comparison is to World War II. Typical is a piece called 'You ain't gonna like losing', which is making its way around the email circuit, and had some comments dying for rebuttal:

"President Bush did make a bad mistake in the war on terrorism. But the mistake was not his decision to go to war in Iraq. Bush's mistake came in his belief that this country is the same one his father fought for in WWII. It is not."

No shit Sherlock. A lot has changed in 65 years. We have computers, penicillin, equal rights for nonwhites and nonmales, and microwaves. We've been to the moon. I supposed this is another insight of Bush's comparable to his claim that before 9/11 we thought the oceans would protect us. No George, YOU thought they would protect us. The rest of us were quite aware that our political opponents around the world had mastered flying machines and watercraft. Likewise, the country has changed a lot in the 60+ years since WWII.

"Back then, they had just come out of a vicious depression. The country was steeled by the hardship of that depression, but they still believed fervently in this country. They knew that the people had elected their leaders, so it was the people's duty to back those leaders. Therefore, when the war broke out the people came together, rallied behind, and stuck with their leaders, whether they had voted for them or not or whether the war was going badly or not. You never heard prominent people on the radio belittling the President. The people stuck with the President because it was their patriotic duty. Americans put aside their differences in WWII and worked together to win that war. "

What a bunch of unadulterated bullshit! This sort of pie-in-the-sky revisionist history really burns my balls. Criticism of Franklin Roosevelt during WWII was common. He was called a warmonger by Charles Lindberg, and a fascist by Herbert Hoover. He was accused of prolonging the war through his policy of insisting on unconditional surrender from Germany, having foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and of misusing the Office of Censorship during the war to conceal his deteriorating health and his mistress. Upon his death, columnist H.L. Mencken described Roosevelt as having "had every quality that morons esteem in their heroes."

This idea that political controversy and criticism of our leaders during times of war is something new is ignorant in the extreme. It is yet another case of MSU. Even during the revolutionary war there was great difference of opinion as to whether we should be an independent state. This is as it should be. Active, informed, monitoring and criticism of our leaders is what (supposedly) separates our government from the totalitarian governments we rightly have pride in opposing.

"Teachers in schools actually started the day off with a Pledge of Allegiance, and with prayers for our country and our troops!"

Yes well, back then the Pledge of Allegiance had yet to be sullied with the McArthyesque phrase "under god", which is the cause of most of the resistance to saying it. As for the prayers, the Nazi's too prayed to their gods for victory. Was it a battle of the gods? Were our gods stronger than theirs? Or was it all just wishful thinking? And maybe no one has noticed, but the so-called Islamo-fascists do their fair share of praying too.

"Back then, no newspaper would have dared point out certain weak spots in our cities where bombs could be set off to cause the maximum damage."

Um, back then the enemy lacked the ability to deliver and set off huge bombs in our cities. Remember, the atom bomb was not invented and used until the end of that war. Think people!

"A newspaper would have been laughed out of existence if it had complained that German or Japanese soldiers were being 'tortured' by being forced to wear women's underwear, or subjected to interrogation by a woman, or being scared by a dog or did not have air conditioning."

Perhaps, but getting back to reality for a moment, newspapers did complain about the internment of Japanese Americans simply for being Japanese, just as they complain about prisoners being held without cause, tortured via simulated drowning, and otherwise being treated in ways contrary to the Geneva Convention today. Again, the idea that the news media just discovered how to be critical of our government is Mayberryish nonsense.

"There were a lot of things different back then. We were not subjected to a constant bombardment of pornography, perversion and promiscuity in movies or on radio. We did not have legions of crack heads, dope pushers and armed gangs roaming our streets."

Yeah, back then we kept those niggers in their place. What is the point of this comment anyway? Are we supposed to believe that white collar workers who are critical of the Iraq war would support it if only there were less porn to watch, drugs to use, and fewer gangs on the streets? "Non sequitor" is too elevated a term for this.

" No, President Bush did not make a mistake in his handling of terrorism. He made the mistake of believing that we still had the courage and fortitude of our fathers. He believed that this was still the country that our fathers fought so dearly to preserve. It is not the same country. It is now a cross between Sodom and Gomorra and the land of Oz. We did unite for a short while after 9/11, but our attitude changed when we found out that defending our country would require some sacrifices."

No, our attitude changed when we attacked the wrong country under dubious circumstances, and with evidence of doubtful quality and presented with doubtful sincerity. When we attacked the country that was the source of the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan, the nation and the world were behind the president. It was only when we, for the first time in our history, attacked a country who had done nothing to us, and for an ever changing list of bogus reasons (WMDs, oil, bringing democracy to the middle east, etc.) none of which turned out to be justified, that popular opinion changed. We trusted our leaders, and they let us down.

"We are in great danger. The terrorists are fanatic Muslims. They believe that it is okay, even their duty, to kill anyone who will not convert to Islam. It has been estimated that about one third or over three hundred million Muslims are sympathetic to the terrorists cause...Hitler and Tojo combined did not have nearly that many potential recruits. So... We either win it - or lose it - and you ain't gonna like losing."

Estimated by whom? According to what methods? This is just more MSU, and irrelevant MSU at that. The Iraq war is not, nor has it ever been, about Islamic terrorists. It was about Saddam Hussein, and his supposed WMDs.

As for the Islamic jihadists, this is nothing new. A strict conservative reading of the Koran has always implied death to infidels, and there have always been many Muslims more than willing to do so. The problem for them has always been what this missive conveniently omits: the means to do it. This is the crucial difference between WWII and the conflict with the Islamic jihadists. Hitler and Tojo had massive armies which they used to conquer neighboring states. They had the ability to effect a military takeover of the United States. Islamic jihadists lack this ability, WHICH IS WHY THEY RESORT TO TERRORISM IN THE FIRST PLACE! Terrorism is a technique of the weak, not the strong. Blowing up buildings in hijacked airplanes is the best they can do. It is a testimony to the myopia of the Chicken Littles out there screaming "We are in great danger!" that they fail to recognize this simple fact.

"America is not at war. The military is at war. America is at the mall."

It is ironic that I first heard this line from Bill Maher, an ardent opponent of the Iraq war. America is indeed at the mall, because unlike WWII, the opponent in this war simply does not pose 1/1,000th the risk that Germany and Japan did, and consequently, doesn't warrant the kind of massive sacrifice that Americans made then. Indeed, this is not the America of the greatest generation, the ones that saved us from the tyranny of fascism and later, communism. They would laugh at our hysterical reaction to these glorified vandals in the middle east, a pebble to the boulder those great men and women faced. Those who complain about disrespect for the military, and who then propagate this revisionist history, should look hard in the mirror. Comparing the Iraq conflict to WWII dishonors the memory and sacrifice of the men and women who fought and died in that great conflict more than any anti-war protester could.

Friday, August 8, 2008

McCain, Britney, Paris and The Problem with the Dog Whistle Theory

There has been much talk about the "dog whistle" theory of political advertisements with regard to the now infamous McCain ad showing Obama along with images of Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. The theory is that, like a dog whistle, a message can be embedded in political ads, through certain imagery or words, that will send a message to a certain target group without being noticed by everyone else. Thus, so says the theory, to appeal to racists, one need only juxtapose the black candidate against white girls. The racists will hear the message, even if no one else does. It's basically the same argument that was made years ago about "code words". When someone said "people in the inner city", or "gangs", what they really meant, we were told, was "blacks".

The problem then, as it is now, is that the theory is essentially nonfalsifiable. What if someone really meant "gangs", regardless of color? How are they to express themselves to avoid the "code word" charge? Likewise, if John McCain really meant to represent Barak Obama as all celebrity and no substance, who else comes more quickly to mind than Brittney and Paris? It's not John McCain's fault that the biggest bimbos in our society are white.

Accusing someone of meaning something other than what they say is always risky business, and it is not a charge that should be accepted without considerably evidence, such as The Wedge Document with regard to intelligent design. Without such evidence, it is simply too easy to make baseless accusations and ignore clearly stated positions.

I do not see that evidence here. The images of Britney and Paris were fleeting, and there was no direct sexual innuendo. If McCain deserves criticism, it is for political incompetence in thinking he could put these images together and not elicit this reaction from the more sensitive members of the populace re racial issues. After the Harold Ford Playboy incident, McCain should have made sure his overpaid advisers found a black bimbo to put in the ad, for no other reason than insurance against the charges he faces now.

Enough of this fluff. Can the candidates get to discussing the issues now?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Typically Incompetent AGW Denial Courtesy of the IDers

Things haven't been going so well lately for the IDers, as evidenced by their increasingly desperate attempts at appearing relevant. But not to worry, there is a lot of legitimate science out there to deny, and since the techniques are all the same (phony experts, cherry picking, scientific relativism, etc.), it's a snap to shift to other areas of science and do just as shoddy a job there. Thus we get this little bit of comically bad denialism from Davescot.

As you may recall, climate scientists were concerned that the entire arctic ice sheet might melt away this summer due to the 30 year trend of anomalously low ice levels there. Happily that did not transpire, as this year's ice levels broke with the extreme trend of reductions of the past few years, and managed to peak above the 30-year regression line. However, Davescot's reaction to this, a declaration that "Global Warming Alarmists Wrong Again", is completely irrational, and the fool put the evidence why right there in his article. Anyone can see clearly in the graph of ice levels that this year's measure is completely consistent with the regression line showing reduced ice levels over time. As one can also clearly see, and which should be obvious, such measures are stochastic functions that fluctuate year to year. What matters is the overall trend, not one year to the next. But to people like Davescot, desperate to interpret all data as supporting his hypothesis, anything short of an absolute, unwavering linear downward trend is sufficient to deny the clear downward spiral of ice levels.

This is akin to the phony "ten years of no warming" nonsense that I've debunked previously. It is cherry-picking of data, and obvious cherry-picking at that. It is often said that global warming denialists, and indeed denialists of all stripes, do shoddy science, when they do any at all, and their interpretation of the data is horribly, incompetently, downright comically, inept. Consider Davescot's little irrational little rant Exhibit A.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paris for President?

Sadly, Paris Hilton's mock campaign ad has more substance than many of the real ads. At least when she's funny, it's on purpose.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Preservation of Primitive Societies Insures the Survival of Ours

There is much talk in recent years about the possibility of mass destruction to the human race. Meteors, global warming, famine, AIDS, nuclear war, all threaten to destroy the modern world in which we live. Well, the world most of us live in anyway. That got me to thinking: how would we survive if one of those scenarios played out. Would you know how to survive if 80% of humanity, and with it all our modern tools, were eradicated? No sewage, grocery stores, cars, phones, electric heating and cooling, medicine, processed clean drinking water, to be found. It's a safe bet most of humanity that survived the big event would die in short order from malnourishment and disease. We just can't survive without our modern tools. Well, except for those of us who never had modern tools in the first place.

I doubt the effect on the lives of the bushmen of Africa, the Yanomamo of South America, native groups of Indonesia, and the Aboriginal Austrailians would be nearly as dramatic. For some of the catastrophic event candidates, they wouldn't even notice. Life for them would be very much as it was, except now the fate of humanity would ride with them, as the rest of us die off in ignorance, the last members of the last great dynasty of earth: the Dinosaurs, the wolves, and the humans.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

John West Lays out the Dishonesty of the IDers, Again

In a typical false comparison, John West of the Discovery Institute accuses a newspaper writer named Rekha Basu of inconsistency in her treatment of the case of ID promoter Guillermo Gonzales being denied tenure (which she supported), and Iowa community college professor Steve Bitterman being fired because he told "his students not to take the story of Adam and Eve too literally", which Basu did not support. West is obviously stretching things to say the least, since one is the promotion of pseudoscience, the other a wise suggestion when reading an ancient text. So how can one confuse the two you ask? Simple: pretend the issues aren't what they are, and that people didn't say what they said. The amazing part is how blatant West's dishonesty is:

While grudgingly conceding that “professors are entitled to their own beliefs,” Basu insisted that “Intelligent Design proponents are wrong to equate the exclusion of their theory from the classroom with academic bias. Professors are… not [entitled] to teach as science something that is not.” (Rekha Basu, “Bias over views or credentials,” The Des Moines Register, May 20, 2007, 30P. Retrieved through

So according to Basu’s cribbed version of academic freedom, a university has the right to impose an outright ban on the presentation of ideas in the classroom with which it disagrees.

Misrepresenting opponents' statements is old hat for IDers of course, but rarely are they so foolish to put the quote that reveals that dishonesty RIGHT ABOVE THEIR CLAIM! Basu did not say "ideas with which it disagrees". She said "teach as science something that is not". Agreement or disagreement didn't enter into it. West would be ashamed if he had any shame. But then, he clearly doesn't understand the first thing about the issue, or science, as revealed by his next statement:

"It turns out that Basu’s advocacy for university gag orders depends entirely on what ideas are being banned."

No shit Sherlock. Let me spell it out so even you can understand it. Scientific ideas, whether one agrees with them or not, belong in the science class. Pseudoscience like ID doesn't. Apparently to people like West, all "nonscientific" means is "I don't agree with it." No wonder he thinks ID is science.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Obama Opposed Reperations, Irks Old-Style Black Leaders

In another move that seperates him from traditional black activists and politicians likw Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Barak Obama has reaffirmed his position against reparations for the descendants of slaves:

"The man with a serious chance to become the nation's first black president argues that government should instead combat the legacy of slavery by improving schools, health care and the economy for all.

'I have said in the past — and I'll repeat again — that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed,' the Illinois Democrat said recently."

Of course the two dozen members of Congress co-sponsoring legislation to create a commission that would study reparations, dismisses out of hand the notion that Obama could have reached this conclusion via reason, and instead attributes it to pragmatic politics:

"Let's not be naive. Sen. Obama is running for president of the United States, and so he is in a constant battle to save his political life," said Kibibi Tyehimba, co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. "In light of the demographics of this country, I don't think it's realistic to expect him to do anything other than what he's done.

"People say he can't run and get elected if he says those kinds of things," Vernellia Randall, a law professor at the University of Dayton said. "I'm like, well does that mean we're really not ready for a black president?"

Nice going folks. Once again we see the duplicitous nature of these advocates, and why they've never been able to make any headway outside of their loyal followers. Out of one side of their mouth they (rightly) rail against racist notions of "typical blacks" as completely homogeneous people. But the moment someone disagrees with their position, then that person isn't really black, and didn't reach their conclusion via reason. Of course, the fact that Obama has held this position since 2004 doesn't sway them one bit. Facts don't matter to them, they never did. Obama on the other hand, shows through as a refreshing voice of reason on the issue:

In a 2004 questionnaire, he told the NAACP, "I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say, 'We've paid our debt,' and to avoid the much harder work."

Pressed for his position on apologizing to blacks or offering reparations, Obama said he was more interested in taking action to help people struggling to get by. Because many of them are minorities, he said, that would help the same people who would stand to benefit from reparations.

"If we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured," Obama said. "If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get — should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college."

Hear hear. If we are to have a government program to alleviate suffering, and to level the playing field for those who need a hand up, we should not discriminate based on how or why said person is suffering or at a disadvantage. That would only further exacerbate racial tensions by giving poor blacks and poor whites something to fight over. Suffering is suffering, and disadvantages are disadvantages. There are certainly whites who benefit from the results of slavery, but it isn't the ones living in the trailer park who can't afford to send their kid to chess club meetings, much less college. Those people need assistance every bit as much as do the descendants of slaves.

This is what excites so many of us about an Obama presidency. Compared to him, the so-called "professional blacks" like Sharpton and Jackson, and those like Tyehimba and Randall who follow their lead, look like dinosaurs, relics of a past age. The country needs black leaders who are able to digest the fact that it has been 40 years since 1968, and while there is still work to be done, we have come a long way.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Born Gay? Tallman's Supposed Five Logical Errors Are Just More Straw

Those of us who support equal rights for homosexuals do so for a fairly straightforward set of reasons: They are a natural variant of the species norm, as evidenced by its existence throughout the animal kingdom (ask any rancher to tell you about freemartins), there is no inherent public danger to society from homosexuals, and what they are doing is highly private and as such doesn't fall into the domain of what government should be worrying about. They are no more a threat to anyone than are men who prefer blondes or women who are attracted to tall men.

Yet this simple position eludes people like Andrew Tallman, who goes on and on missing the point of the issue entirely, and attacking a series of simplistic straw men of the (I love this phrase) "pro-gay orthodoxy". It is illuminating to go through each of them. As is usual with this sort of rant, Tallman misrepresents the argument right off the bat with typical, simplistic, black/white social conservatism: either homosexuality is a choice as free as the brand of latte they drink, or it is set in concrete, inviolate by birth. The mainstream scientific notion that it could be like so many of our traits, a combination of nature and nurture, as is everything from our height to what foods we like to eat, is of course ignored:

Error 1: Sexual orientation cannot change

If present at birth, sexual orientation could come from either biology or psychology. If biological, then a medical procedure may be discovered to alter it...Similarly, if the issue is psychological, treatments may be possible. Many traits and behavioral patterns people believe ought or need to be changed can be adjusted by good counseling or psychopharmacology. Simple induction concludes that if medicine goes looking for a treatment for homosexuality, it might find one.

Many gays will be outraged at this line of reasoning. But why?"

Simple: because there is nothing wrong with them that needs to be changed. Surely Tallman would understand this if someone suggested that his red-headedness could be changed.

"We’ve been told that homosexuality can’t be a choice—apparently because so few would choose it. Clearly some gays would relish the power to turn their unwanted condition into an optional one."

This might be a logical argument except that the negatives associated with being gay are largely due to those who have Tallman's bigotry, but lack his (hopefully) civilized behavior. It is the discrimination against gays, potential ostracism from friends, work, and family, combined with the violence that often results, that is the unwanted aspect of being gay, not the orientation itself.

"Error 2: I have no choice about how I behave

There are two kinds of inborn behavioral tendencies: the resistible and the irresistible."

Again, we see the straw man built from a myopic, almost childish view of the world that divides everything into binary absolute choices. There is really no reason to delve too much into the details of Tallman's argument here, which follows a happy rabbit trail consisting of free will, determinism, and the capacity to resist carnal urges. The question is not "Can gay men abstain from sex?". The question is, why should they be asked to, any more than Tallman should?

"Error 3: If I was born gay, then acting upon it must be good"

This borders on a lie. I'd love to see Tallman or anyone else who shares his views show where anyone has ever made this argument. The real argument, as always, studiously avoided by homophobes, is that there is no evidence that gayness is any more or less something someone is born with than is straightness, nor is there any evidence that there is anything inherently wrong with being gay, so therefore acting upon it is just as good as acting upon being straight.

"Error 4: If I was born gay, then this is simply who I am In gay doctrine, being gay isn’t seen as an important part of one’s identity. It’s seen as the definitive center of it. But why should this be so?"

Again, this is nonsense. No one is claiming that being gay is any more nor less the definitive center of a person's identity than is being straight.

"Error 5: If I was born gay, God must have made me this way

Of all the untenable conclusions drawn from the born gay premise, this is the most scandalous."

This is beautiful, since the argument is logically rock solid. After all, since the Christian God is purported to be all-knowing and all-powerful, then everything must, by definition, be intended by Him. Tallman cannot attack this argument via logic, so he attempts to weasel out of it by that favorite of Religious Right tactics, baseless assertion:

"Whereas claiming that God has His hand in the creation of every child is uncontroversial, alleging that every element of that child’s physical, emotional and even sexual state at birth are all intended by God is quite another thing. If this pattern of inference were allowed, we would have to believe that God desires every birth defect, handicap, psychological disorder or behavioral tendency we can trace to early childhood. God may allow such things, but that is theological miles from saying that God wanted them."

Not when we are talking about an all-knowing, all-powerful being it isn't. If an adult watches a baby drown in a bathtub with full knowledge of what is happening and possessing the ability to stop it, do we not rightly conclude he wished the baby to die? Why the gods should get a pass for similar negligence is something people like Tallman have been struggling unsuccessfully to explain for eons. And yes, that pattern of inference DOES imply that God desires every birth defect, every handicap, and every other evil on the planet. To deny it is to deny His nature as YOU have defined it. One doesn't get to dismiss the results of logic merely because one finds it uncomfortable. Don't blame we silly atheists for holding your pious feet to your sloppy rhetorical fire.

Tallman's true assumptions about the matter come out eventually, showing that all this supposed reasoning is merely cover for sheer bigotry:

"Yet there is a much deeper blunder embedded in this particular claim. The idea that people have inappropriate inclinations from birth is not unique to the born-gay meme."

Whoa! Inappropriate inclinations? What's inappropriate about it, aside from the fact that it makes people like Tallman feel icky, and that his version of the inerrant word of the gods, as interpreted by his favorite dudes in dresses and silly hats, say so?
There isn't another one, which is why all of his arguments are so laughable.

"Although I have serious doubts about the claim that sexual orientation is determined at birth, the issue is largely academic since nothing important hangs on it."

I sure hope Tallman was watching tonight when the LA police chief commented that Lindsey Lohan had "turned gay", and gave him a call to explain the wrongness of his ways. Somehow I doubt that's what happened.

"Being born gay doesn’t prevent change, prohibit choice, justify behavior, form identity or implicate God."

No, nor does being born straight. The question remains for people like Tallman to explain, logically, considering all the facts, and without appeal to arbitrary religious authorities, why those who are born gay should be asked to do all these things when straight people are not.

"It just means that the moral challenges of the gay person are different from mine."

And in this case they are a good deal simpler, since the gay person doesn't have to deal with the moral challenge of being the ignorant bigot Tallman is. I know, picking on born again Christians is, as PJ O'Rourke put it, like hunting dairy cows with a rifle and scope. They just need to stop putting those targets of irrationality so prominently on their backs while they attack others. To have peace one must practice peace.