Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cats and Rabbits and Aussies: Oh My!

One would think after their disastrous attempts to solve their pest problems by introducing cane toads to their continent (and producing an additional whopper of a pest), the Aussies would be a little more careful the next time they attempted to assist an environment. No such luck:

"It seemed like a good idea at the time: Remove all the feral cats from a famous Australian island to save the native seabirds.

But the decision to eradicate the felines from Macquarie island allowed the rabbit population to explode and, in turn, destroy much of its fragile vegetation that birds depend on for cover, researchers said Tuesday.

Removing the cats from Macquarie "caused environmental devastation" that will cost authorities 24 million Australian dollars ($16.2 million) to remedy, Dana Bergstrom of the Australian Antarctic Division and her colleagues wrote in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.

"Our study shows that between 2000 and 2007, there has been widespread ecosystem devastation and decades of conservation effort compromised," Bergstrom said in a statement.

The unintended consequences of the cat-removal project show the dangers of meddling with an ecosystem — even with the best of intentions — without thinking long and hard, the study said.

"The lessons for conservation agencies globally is that interventions should be comprehensive, and include risk assessments to explicitly consider and plan for indirect effects, or face substantial subsequent costs," Bergstrom said.

Several conservation groups including the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birds Australia said the problem was not the original eradication effort itself — but that it didn't go far enough. They said the project should have taken aim at all the invasive mammals on the island at once.

"What was wrong was that the rabbits were not eradicated at the same time as the cats," University of Auckland Prof. Mick Clout, who also is a member of the Union's invasive species specialist group. "It would have been ideal if the cats and rabbits were eradicated at the same time, or the rabbits first and the cats subsequently."

I would like to see some comments to this effect made prior to the eradication effort. It is entirely too easy to say in hindsight "we should have taken the rabbits too". Has there been a thorough analysis of what would have happened if they had done so? Perhaps there are species there that depend on both the rabbits and the cats in some fashion. Nature and the creatures in it are interlaced in highly complicated ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Late Show Farewell to Bush

So long Dubya, we'll miss you.

Legalize Marijuana Now!

I rarely take much interest in the drug war any more. It's similar to the way I feel about a college football playoff: the arguments are the same as they have always been, those that favor the status quo have been trounced by any logical and factual measure, but those in power still refuse (for a variety of reasons, not all irrational) to change their position.

But now that we have a president who has seen the drug culture first hand, there is hope. Hopefully this article on the advantages of legalizing marijuana will get his attention.

"With our economy going to pot, President-elect Obama has promised a “top-to-bottom audit to eliminate spending for programs that don’t work.” So, here’s a sane, simple proposal to save the country billions of dollars a year: end the war on marijuana users.

This failed and counter-productive program is an assault on people who pose virtually no threat to themselves or anyone else, certainly no more than that all-American "Joe Sixpack" revered in our recent presidential election.

Yet, getting caught with a few seeds or trace marijuana residue on a pipe is enough in some jurisdictions to trigger an arrest. Most who favor continuing the war assume that law enforcement focuses on sweeping up kingpins and members of cartels. But, here’s a sobering statistic. Of the 872,000 arrests in 2007 for marijuana-related offenses, almost 90 percent were for simple possession of the dried vegetation in question. The typical arrestee is younger than 30. Think college-age kid caught lighting up a joint. Now, multiply that by 775,000 — that’s where a significant chunk of your drug war dollars are going.

The price of deploying an army of local, state and federal cops, prosecutors and guards to arrest, try and imprison the perpetrators of this non-scourge? Using data from 2000, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated it as $7.7 billion per year while a 2007 study, by public policy expert Jon Gettman, figured it closer to $10.7 billion per year.

Most of that money is eaten up by law enforcement according to Miron, with $2.94 billion going to prosecution costs in 2000, and less than half a billion toward incarceration.

Add in the revenue we’d eventually gain if marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco (from $6.2 billion to as much as $31.1 billion per year), and you’re talking real money."

Those are staggering figures, and they don't even consider the tangential costs of releasing rapists and murderers to clear cramped prison space for drug offenders, or the clogged courts, or the costs to society of having such a huge proportion of our population become artificially unemployable due to becoming ex-cons.

David Doddridge took pride in his work for most of his 21-year career with the LAPD. But when, five years before his retirement, he got transferred into narcotics, he began to feel he was doing more harm than good.

Cops see the collateral damage done by the drug war, costs that don’t show up on anyone’s budget analysis and are paid, not just by those arrested for the high crime of preferring a doobie to a Bud Lite, but by their families: The father whose car is confiscated when junior gets pulled over by an officer with a nose for burnt herb. The daughter who tries to buy medical marijuana – because it’s the only medicine that relieves her parent’s chemotherapy-induced nausea – and gets arrested in the process. The children who get shuffled from foster home to foster home while mom serves time.

“One of the first things that struck me as a narcotics officer was the tremendous amount of damage we were doing to the social structure – homes, families, children, parents,” says Doddridge. “I look back and still see the faces of the people I arrested and threw in jail.”

He recalls a young mother he busted who had been working her way through college. “Her boyfriend left her and she was trying to make a better life for herself and raise two children at the same time. All of that was gone now. All of it was gone.

“I got to thinking, what are we doing? I’d been thinking it for a while but that just made it worse.”

When I ask him to give me the positive side of prohibition, Doddridge’s usually soft, thoughtful voice betrays anger. “It’s really helped out the drug cartels. It’s created lots of new jobs, building new prisons, hiring new guards.” Doddridge also decries how, under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the government has enacted laws that ignore the fourth amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure.

And there are practical considerations even the fiercest anti-drug crusader should take into account. When law enforcement agencies allocate more time, money and officers to drug task forces, those resources aren’t available to fight crimes against people and property.

“The homicide clearance rate today is less than it was in 1950,” says Doddridge. “Today we have all the DNA and all the electronic stuff and CSI and all these other people. But we can’t clear as many because serious investigative resources, that could go into clearing homicides, rapes, robberies and other things are now being diverted into this war on drugs.”

President Obama, it is time to stop this madness, and get the country on a more rational program for combating our drug problems. We no longer have the luxury of spending so much money on ineffective programs simply because so much of our population is ignorant of what is really going on. A massive reprioritization and reeducation of our society is in order. It is only a matter of time, as those who lived after the 70's become a greater and greater proportion of the populace, before this new policy will have the support of the majority of Americans, assuming it doesn't already.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gallup Poll on Party Loyalty

Gallup has a new poll out on party affiliation, and the results are pretty astonishing:

"All told, 29 states and the District of Columbia had Democratic party affiliation advantages of 10 points or greater last year. This includes all of the states in the Northeast, and all but Indiana in the Great Lakes region. There are even several Southern states in this grouping, including Arkansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

An additional six states had Democratic advantages ranging between 5 and 9 points.

In contrast, only five states had solid or leaning Republican orientations in 2008, with Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska in the former group, and Nebraska in the latter.

The most balanced political states in 2008 were Texas (+2 Democratic), South Dakota (+1), Mississippi (+1), North Dakota (+1), South Carolina (even), Arizona (even), Alabama (+1 Republican), and Kansas (+2 Republican).

That is pretty astonishing given there was talk of a permanent Republican majority recently. Nate at 538 has a good discussion of the poll, and some important facts to know about exactly what was done and what it all means. The poll was of adults, not likely voters, and included independents and which way they tend to lean. However, the most important fact he mentions is that since the Democratic party is so diverse:

" tends to include a miscellany of groups that don't always see eye-to-eye with one another (African-Americans, Hispanics, coastal liberals, union workers, young voters, etc.), is that it is more difficult to harness the entirety of that coalition in national elections. A Democratic presidential candidate from the North might have trouble appealing to voters in the South. A candidate from the South might have trouble appealing to voters in the North and West. A theoretic 'generic Democrat' might have a chance at a rather large majority -- but a 'generic Democrat' is an abstraction, and most real Democrats will offend the sensibilities of some or another region."

It is also worth considering that a lot of anti-Republicanism has grown from the last 8 years, so it is safe to assume some of that blue is not so much pro-Democrat as it is anti-Republican. The Republicans have been theocratic of late that they have driven many of us away who otherwise have great sympathy for their small-government, low taxation, free market message. The Sarah Palin nomination was the embodiment of this problem.

But the biggest concern for the GOP has got to be the fact that they just got beat by a guy who had the biggest strike against him available among the oft-squabbling Democratic factions: being black. Several estimates of the cost of Obama's race hovered around 6-7% of the popular vote. Now note the blue states above that Obama did not win: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Few are known for racial harmony, and would likely have voted for a white Obama. So as bad as it seems at first glance for the GOP, it is actually worse.

In some ways this should be encouraging to those of us who want more accountable government and political parties. The Republicans had a majority of Americans on their side, but many of us changed over time in response to what they were doing. That is how it should be. Concrete political allegiances doom Democracy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Buchanan on the Shrinking Republican Base

He's a crotchety old cuss, with a mean xenophobic streak in him, but as conservative commentators go, Pat Buchanan hits more than his share of bulls eyes. This article analyzing recent trends in presidential outcomes is a beauty, although still marred by some of Pat's usual blind spots.

He begins with a discussion of the geographic Democratic strongholds that make up what he calls "The Blue Wall":

"In the five successive presidential elections, beginning with Clinton's victory in 1992 and ending with Obama's in 2008, 18 states and the District of Columbia, with 248 electoral votes among them, voted for the Democratic ticket all five times. John McCain did not come within 10 points of Obama in any of the 18, and he lost D.C. 92-8...

Not only are the 18 hostile terrain for any GOP presidential ticket, Republicans hold only three of their 36 Senate seats and fewer than 1 in 3 of their House seats. "Democrats also control two-thirds of these 18 governorships, every state House chamber, and all but two of the state Senates," writes Brownstein.

In many of the 18, the GOP has ceased to be competitive. In the New England states, for example, there is not a single Republican congressman. In New York, there are only three.

The Blue Wall is The Kerry States less New Hampshire: Everything northeast of Virginia(again, save NH), the Great Lakes states save Ohio and Indiana, and all the Pacific states save Alaska. Drawing it out on a map, it looks like Canada seeped down into the US. With 270 electoral votes required to win, the GOP has its work cut out for it, especially considering there is no equivalent red wall. Buchanan again:

In the same five presidential contests, from 1992 to 2008, Republicans won 13 states all five times. But the red 13 have but 93 electoral votes, fewer than a third of the number in "the blue wall"...

Put succinctly, the red pool of voters is aging, shrinking and dying, while the blue pool, fed by high immigration and a high birth rate among immigrants, is steadily expanding.

Philosophically, too, the country is turning away from the GOP creed of small government and low taxes. Why?

Indeed, with more and more immigrants landing on our shores who are not white fundamentalists, the Whitewing Party can't pull off a majority any more, and will have to broaden its scope to attract new voters. Atheists, homosexuals, and minorities see little appeal in the Palinist GOP. The data doesn't look much better if you exclude the 2008 race and just look at the Clinton^2/Bush^2 years, the GOP only manages 135 to that same 248 for the Democrats.

Buchanan also accurately notes that those on the public dole are unlikely to vote other than in favor of their pocketbook, but he neglects to mention the most glaringly obvious reason voters are abandoning the GOP's small government, low taxes message: because the GOP themselves have abandoned it. Eight years of GOP domination of our federal government have resulted in bigger, not smaller government, with debt that should make anyone's tongue snap off in their mouth who mentions "fiscal responsibility" and "GOP" in the same sentence. The GOP themselves abandoned their principles, so why should anyone else buy into them?

Finally, the GOP faces a serious cultural problem, and here Buchanan's little red choochoo runs off the rails. He's part of the problem, so his analysis is expectedly blinkered.

"Lastly, Democrats are capturing a rising share of the young and college-educated, who are emerging from schools and colleges where the values of the counterculture on issues from abortion to same-sex marriage to affirmative action have become the new orthodoxy."

Pat is living in the ignorant past, as do so many GOP stalwarts. We should have expected no less from the man who still, in defiance of all the evidence, claims Sarah Palin was a net gain for the McCain ticket. The bottom line is that new voters emerging from college reject the GOP cultural plank not because of any orthodoxy, but simply because the science supports so little of it:

The Bible does not form the basis for our laws
Evolution is not "just a theory"
Homosexuals are not deviants living a chosen lifestyle
Allowing homosexual marriages will not destroy society
Aborting an early pregnancy is not a murder
Abstinence-only education does not work
Anthropocentric Global Warming is the consensus of scientists
Lowering taxes does not increase revenue

As more data comes in, these truths will become even more inconvenient for any Republican insistent on defying them, and will cause the GOP base that still buys them to become more intolerant and out of touch with the rest of society. Simply peruse the comments of Pat's or nearly any thread on Townhall these days, and you'll see many comments like this one:

"None of the established punditry have identified the reasons the GOP was crushed last year. Ideology was not an issue in the elections. American voters haven't a clue as to the ideology of either party. Few have any knowledge of politics, know nothing of the candidates - except Obama because they know from Oprah he's cool, and know nothing at all about how our government is structured or how it works. To attribute the GOP's loss to the disdain for conservatism is erroneous. We are being led to believe this lie because it is what the communists want."

This is what the Rovian divide and conquer strategy has left the GOP: a base of ignorant, paranoid, crusaders for Jesus who still think the communists (with their toadies, the dreaded liberals) are going to get us.

The GOP has a simple choice: get up to speed on science and the real world, stop pretending Jesus said "Go forth and change the laws", or become the Shakers of the 21st century.

What are the Odds of Hitting the Bullseye? Depends on When You Draw It

What are the odds of hitting a bullseye? It depends very much on when you draw it. Take this typical story of a person who thought she saw the future:

Arizona Cardinals’ fullback Terrelle Smith says that in April, when her cancer had spread to the brain, Smith’s mom said she had a vision of him playing in the NFC championship game. Nine months later, the Cardinals are hosting the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday for the conference title.

“Doctors say sometimes they get delusional and, at times, we thought she was,” Smith said on Tuesday. “But now it lines up. It makes sense, and it tells me want to fight for every week.”

A heartwarming story for sure, but as a miracle or sign of paranormal power, those like it are highly overrated. You'll notice that we never hear an athlete say "Wow, my mom had a vision, but it didn't come true." Yet are we to assume this never happens? Of course not. They just call our attention to the ones that hit, and ignore the rest.

But aren't the ones that hit still highly improbable? Taken as individual events, sure, but that is the key. Once one considers a huge data set, one must consider the probability that any such event will take place, not just the ones that do. It is the difference between the odds of someone winning the lottery and the odds that you will. Looking at the winning ticket and proclaiming the odds of that person winning is like shooting a ton of arrows at the wall, drawing the bulls eye around one of them, and shouting "What are the odds?!"

No telling what Ms. Smith dreamed about the Super Bowl, but methinks the Cardinals can use all the help they can get.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Protect Democracy, Hold Politicians Accountable

In one of the most wrongheaded columns I've seen in a while, John Hawkins argues that holding the Bush administrations feet to the fire for their possibly unlawful actions somehow amounts to "fascism" and "witch hunts", would create a partisan firestorm or hatred, and endangers Democracy. Really. You have to read some of this stuff to believe it. Take this gem:

"In other words, this has nothing to do with anyone, including the President, being "above the law." We're not talking about perjury, bribery, corruption, a Nixonian break-in, or some other real crime."

Nahhhhh, we're just talking about getting the country involved in a war based on disinformation that resulted in over 4,000 American soldiers dead, and hundreds of thousands dead in tangental damage, as well as drowning the country in trillions of dollars in debt. It's not something important or anything.

I think the Republicans are starting to come unhinged. Just go peruse Townhall and check out the comments on nearly any article there. You won't believe what you're reading. The liberals are coming, and they are going to steal your guns, abort your babies, take your kids and turn them into socialist atheist faggots, steal your money and give it to lazy Mexicans. We might as well give the country back to the Indians.

So I won't bother with Hawkins' article point by point. It's just one bit of MSU after another, with Hawkins taking the fundamental issue at hand - whether or not some members of the Bush administration are guilty of crimes - presuming it is clearly settled in his favor, and then rambling along that red herring lane. Shrilly. Amazingly shrilly.

But I digress. Hawkins and his ilk have it exactly backwards, and they have for a long time. Criticizing our politicians, and holding them accountable for what they do (you're supposed to be the party of personal responsibility remember?), is the most patriotic thing we can do. THAT is what protects democracy - holding those given power responsible for what they do with it. Otherwise they will simply do what they will. Absolute power doesn't corrupt absolutely, it is unchecked power that does. Withholding criticism and charges for crimes doesn't protect democracy, it protects politicians! Too many people blur that distinction.

Of course it is entirely predictable that people like Hawkins would be saying these things right now. It's all about partisanship with him, which is why he speaks as though all political events are decided by ideology rather than the evidence. Like the Intelligent Designers with whom he allies himself, he projects his own faults onto others, not the least of which is an inability to conceive of an objective analysis of data. All is ideology to him: Democrats bringing charges against a Republican is partisanship, per se.

If that is your attitude, I would say you don't believe in democracy, because in the real world, that is the only way it works. We the voters elect our politicians, we give them the keys to the car, and we have to hold them responsible for what they do with it, and punish them when they crash it. The only power we have over them is to vote against them when they run again for office, and have them investigated by other politicians when they don't. If you don't like that, you don't want a representative government. You want a king, or a dictator. Is there a difference that matters? Those with power need to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one.

So bring the charges against any and all politicians when the evidence warrants it, and let the crucible of the courts burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product, the truth, or at least the best estimate we can hope for. We are a nation of law, not people, so hold our elected people to the laws. What's the downside? That the next generation of politicians will also have their feet held to the fire? This hurts who exactly, besides politicians that is?

Grow some balls Democrats, and congressmen in general. Prosecute Bush, and anyone in his administration, to the fullest extent of the law, and do the same to Obama, and the president after him, for as long as this nation exists. It is the most important thing to do to insure that existence.

Shark Attacks and Relative Risk

In another example of how our village primate brains don't process data from large sets well, witness the reaction to three recent shark attacks in Australia:

SYDNEY (AFP) – A spate of savage shark attacks in Australia has sent a shiver through summer holidaymakers bombarded with graphic details and claims that the razor-toothed predators are increasingly targeting humans.

Three attacks on swimmers within 24 hours over Sunday and Monday -- just two weeks after a snorkeller was killed -- have fuelled a fevered debate over whether overfishing has put man on the menu.

"Humans are next in line on the food chain," veteran shark hunter Vic Hislop told commercial radio. "It will definitely get worse."

It is always handy to remember when interpreting one's emotional reactions to such things that our brains did most of their evolution in a very different world from our modern one, particularly with regard to population. Our brains developed in an environment where we'd only into contact with a few hundred people at most. We are not geared to digest information on millions of people. Thus, we tend to overstate the risks of very low-probability events, especially the ones that inflame our most basic fears (from an evolutionary perspective, the value of an abject fear of spiders, snakes and sharks is clear). So, a death rate that rounds to zero causes a primal reaction in us, as if the cause posed a real increase in risk. The cause of the death of three people in a band of 25 would.

Luckily, we humans haven't been slacking these last 11,000 years, and we've developed scientific and statistical techniques to improve on our gut reactions.

Experts say there is no scientific evidence to support his claim that reducing the shark's natural prey through overfishing has produced a spike in attacks.

Three attacks in 24 hours might be unusual, but John West, curator of the official Australian shark Attack File held at Sydney's Taronga Zoo, dismisses claims that the number of attacks on humans is increasing.

"The human population is increasing and more and more people are going into the water, but there has not been a corresponding spike in fatalities from shark attacks," he told AFP.

"There is still an average of 1.2 fatalities a year over about the past 50 years -- if anything the fatality rate for shark attacks is dropping in comparison to the increase in the human population.

"Humans are not part of the shark's diet, otherwise there would be nobody safe in the water."

A total of 194 deaths through shark attacks have been recorded in Australia over the past two centuries, leading researchers to point out endlessly that more people die from bee stings and lightning strikes.

But there is something about being eaten that resonates with swimmers.

Damn skippy there is. I recall as a child when "Jaws" came out, it was so terrifying I found myself fearing sharks even in fresh water lakes where I innocently thought then(thanks a lot bull sharks) that sharks couldn't be.

People who say you should always follow your instincts haven't really thought the issue through. Our instincts lead us astray sometimes. Following them blindly is like always taking advice from your grandpa. He lived in another time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Global Cooling: An Eleven Year Trend?

It will be interesting to watch what happens to the AGW denialists' arguments concerning recent temperature trends, since now 1998 is no longer among "the last ten years", as in "global temperatures have been declining for the last ten years". 1999 is now the year at the beginning of "the last ten years", and unfortunately for the AGW denialists, 1999's average temperature was not freakishly high like 1998 was, and in fact was below the regression curves as you can see here:

The denialists now have a serious problem, since the 1999 and 2000 average temperatures are considerably lower than any that follow them. They can't say temperatures have declined for the last ten years any more without exposing themselves as either ignorant parrots or liars. They can't suddenly emphasize the last 11 years without it having the effect of tattooing "cherry pickers R us" on their proclamations.

My prediction is that they will simply keep saying temperatures have dropped for the last ten years regardless of the new data, in similar fashion to how creationists keep chanting "there are no transitional fossils" as those very fossils pile up around them. After all, they were never really interested in reality, or they wouldn't be denialists in the first place.

So Much for Country First

Remember "Country First", John McCain's motto? We were all supposed to put our personal differences and feelings aside, and put the interests of the country first. Then John McCain nominated the most unqualified ignorant VP nominee in the history of our nation on the most obvious motives of self-interest in lieu of interest to country. Yet his throng kept shouting "country first".

Well, if that wasn't enough to convince you that all that "country first" talk was just another disingenuous political ploy, take a look at these survey results on Worldnetdaily to the question:

"Do you think we should pray for Obama's failure as president?"

Now surely anyone who puts country first is going to want their president to do well. Does this need explaining? Those of us who were so critical of George Bush weren't so because we wanted him to fail, but because we wanted him to succeed and he kept failing!

Now here come the WND readers to show us how to put country first, even when it isn't their guy in the white house, right? Heh, WRONG! Here are the results so far:

"Yes, but also implore God's protection for our nation while Obama personally goes down to defeat 36%

No, we should pray for God's blessing and protection in spite of any harmful presidential agenda 14%

Yes, Americans need to wake up to the need for a leader of true godly values 11%

Yes, if Hitler were president, we obviously would not pray for his success 6%

No, because Obama's failure would mean America's failure 4%

Yes, Obama has shown he does not stand up for most of God's commandments 4%

Yes 4%

No, we should always pray for our elected leaders to succeed 3%

No 3%

No, whatever happened to love your enemies and pray for them? 3%

No, God is allowing Obama to be president, so we might as well pray for his success 2%

No, Farah has finally gone bonkers to suggest that, if he had not gone bonkers already 1%

Yes, the man is destined for failure 1%

Yes, but I admit it's difficult for me to pray for his failure 1%"

That's 63% praying for their own president to fail, 7% uncommitted, leaving only about 30% actually putting country first. So once again, its far more about partisanship than ideology with these people. They'll say X to get their guy elected, and then just as cheerfully scream not-X when it is the other way around. And they wonder why the GOP is having a hard time getting new members.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

There is a common argument against Social Security that I addressed in another thread elsewhere and decided to reproduce here:

"If your parents and grandparents invested the money they put into SS into conservative funds they would have three times the income when they retired"

You could say the same about your welfare taxes, and it would be just as irrelvant. SS isn't an investment program or a pension, so it is inappropriate to compare it to them. It is a form of social insurance, a welfare program for old people if you like. As welfare programs go, its one of the more defensible. After all, we all get old, and those that don't aren't in a position to complain.

The comparison of social security with ponzi schemes is ignorant, and those who claim knowledge of actuarial science says otherwise are bloviating out of their bungholes. The very fact that we actuaries (ACAS, MAAA, 1994) study SS and attempt (succesfully to date) to keep it solvent proves its not a ponzi scheme, since one of the things that make ponzi schemes what they are is a complete disregard for the solvency of the program. They begin with a business plan certain to fail. That is simply not true of SS.

Now it is true that many politicians talk about SS as if it were a pension plan (if they say "trust fund", turn your skepticism way up), and we should all be more vigilent in holding their feet to the fire for doing so. But, with apologies to Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson, that's not remotely the same thing as a ponzi-guy like Madoff lying to investors. It's not in the same ballpark, its not the same leage, it's not even the same fucking sport. The sport here is people ideologically predisposed to oppose government programs grasping at straws to attack social security.

SS paid a group of retirees the moment it was created. No ponzi scheme ever did that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All the Presidents

Here's a nice morph of all the presidents in order. We should all know more about them than we do.

Wilkins Ice Shelf Hanging by a Thread

While the AGW denialists play dishonest cherry-picking games, and display their ignorance in continually confusing weather with climate, major ice formations that have stood for thousands of years like the Wilkins Ice Shelf are collapsing. Here is a structure that was 4,000 square kilometers just 60 years ago, hanging by a thread 500 meters wide. One needs no ideology to understand the implications of this, but one certainly needs one to deny it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Victorious in Texas!

Creationists lose in Texas!

"On a one-vote margin, the Texas State Board of Education stripped out of Texas science standards for public schools, creationist language that suggests there are weaknesses in evolution theory that make the theory sound like less than it is.

Good work everyone, looks like all the noise made a difference. Good thing we weren't overly concerned with offending our enemies.

White House Yard Sale

The first minute of this clip from Real Time is hilarious.

Glacier National Park Soon to have no Glaciers

In yet more news for the Anthropocentric Global Warming deniers to ignore, Glacier National Park, once the home of 150 glaciers a mere century ago, will soon have none. But never mind that clear, long term trend, when you can wax ignorantly about short term cold spells, right?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Intellect, Education, and Subtlety

From this thread, we get an insightful commentary on intelligence, education, and subtlety:

"Nell," the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, "the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people, and this is true whether or not they are well-educated, is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations, in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward."

This would be a good lesson for the majority of Americans who seem to think that any subject can be summarized in a couple of sentences, and that anything that strikes their gut as true must be. Reality has no obligation to be as simple as we wish it to be, or as simple as our brains can comprehend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Christian Nation? The Treaty of Tripoli

For those intent on believing the fiction that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, I give you The Treaty of Tripoli:

The Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, Article 11, as ratified by Congress:
Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Text Queen, Sign of the Narcissistic Times

What more illustrates the narcissism of our times than this story about a teen girl who sent over 14,000 text messages in a month.

Now I'm all for using new technology as much as we efficiently can. I text my fair amount, as it is very useful for brief, low-time-dependent information exchange, or for communication when audible options are not viable (ie, in a loud bar, or movie theatre). But almost 500 texts in one day? No one has that much to say, especially a teenager. This is just another example of the ever-creeping narcissism in the Myspace era, where everyone thinks their every utterance and thought warrants someone else's attention. Sorry kids, they don't, not by a long shot.

The Big Message the Inauguration Sends the World

Of all the messages sent by our inauguration, the loudest and most important is this:


When the Iraqis had their vote, many in the US jumped the gun and celebrated the embrace of democracy in Iraq. After all, they had voted hadn't they? This misses an important point. Democracy is not about voting. After all, the Soviets had votes, and they did in Pakistan, Russia, and Canada. Yet they did not have democracy as we have it in those places, because they lacked the essential element: recognition by the losers of the authority of the winners vis-a-vis the vote. Everyone likes the idea of a vote when they think they are going to win. It is the peaceful stepping aside when you lose that marks the embrace of democratic principles.

This year it was the Republicans' turn, and with the exception of a small bunch of nitwits grasping at any straw to deny the n..., black man the position of president (the Birthers, those that think ACORN is guilty of a huge fraudulent vote, etc.), they have done their duty. Just watch the irritated expression on George W. Bushes face while Obama was speaking to see great adherence to democracy. He hated every minute of it, wanting as he did to have someone win that would praise him, rather than give him a gentle, but clear, rhetorical kick in the ass out the door as Obama did. Yet there W sat, as every other ex president sat, respecting the fact that the people had spoken, and he was no longer president.

So take a good look world. This is what is greatest about America. Let's hope this new administration will lead us to embrace other virtues of America that have been lacking of late: personal responsibility, the presumption of innocence, the right to trial and counsel for all, honesty and transparency of government, knowledgeable, efficient, and respectful use of military force, respect for science, recognition that all citizens (be they gay or president) are equal before the law, the discipline of separating church and state, and the recognition that it is much too large and complex a world to think we can accomplish much unilaterally.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Beasts Most Loathsome for 2008

Once again we bring you The Beast's Most Loathsome for 2008, filled with the usual hilarities. My favorites:

47. Michele Bachmann

Charges: Exemplifies the simmering, all-American fascism lurking behind the forced smiles of uptight church ladies throughout “real America.” Echoing Sarah Palin’s alarming hints about “helping” the media do its job, Bachmann’s casual call for a “penetrating” press investigation into “anti-Americanism” in congress was so fucking dumb it made Chris Matthews seem smart. Once it occurred to the Oral Roberts University graduate that calling for witchhunts against Democrats might be a tad extreme for election season, she decided to just pretend she didn’t say it, and then she blamed Chris Matthews. Then she just blamed words. Then she denied it again. Then she won. Way to go, Minnesota’s 6th.

Exhibit A: BACHMANN: Actually, that's not what I said at all. COLMES: Well, I'm just — I'm reading your exact quote. BACHMANN: Actually that's not I said. It's an urban legend that was created. That isn't what I said at all. COLMES: We have — it's on tape.

Sentence: Assigned to conduct her own “expose” on anti-American views, in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

45. Nancy Pfotenhauer

Charges: A face so hewn can't be found in American politics outside of the Black Hills—or possibly the Speaker's office. The envy of any giraffe prostitute, her Coulterish neck suggests a correlation between head-shoulder distance and affinity for dissembling fascism. Past crimes include acting as head lobbyist for Koch Industries, which faced 97 indictments and four criminal charges to individuals for dumping benzene, until Koch donated $800,000 to Bush and other Republicans in 2000, and all the charges magically disappeared. As advisor and spokes-liar for the McCain campaign, Nancy touted offshore drilling as the desperate, calculated and completely ineffective solution to America's energy woes. She minimized the environmental impact, claiming “We withstood Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and didn’t spill a drop” of oil. There were, in fact, almost 600 spills. Other Pftotenhauer falsifications included pretty much everything else that passed her collagen-bloated lips.

Exhibit A: "But the rest of the state, 'real Virginia,' if you will..." We won’t.

Sentence: Projectile vomits crude oil whenever she attempts to speak.

43. You

Charges: You think it’s your patriotic duty to spend money you don’t have on crap you don’t need. You think Hillary lost because of sexism, when it’s actually because she’s just a bad liar. You think Iraq is better off now than before we invaded, and don’t understand why they’re so ungrateful. You think Tim Russert was a great journalist. You’re hopping mad about an auto industry bailout that cost a squirt of piss compared to a Wall Street heist of galactic dimensions, due to a housing crash you somehow have blamed on minorities. It took you six years to figure out what a tool Bush is, but you think Obama will make it all better. You deem it hunky dory that we conduct national policy debates via 8-second clips from “The View.” You think God zapped humans into existence a few thousand years ago, although your appendix and wisdom teeth disagree. You like watching vicious assholes insult each other on TV. You support gun rights, because firing one gives you a chubby. You cuddle falsehoods and resent enlightenment. You think the fact that 43% of whites could stomach voting for an incredibly charismatic and eloquent light-skinned black guy who was raised by white people means racism is over. You think progressive taxation is socialism. 1 in 100 of you are in jail, and you think it should be more. You are shallow, inconsiderate, afraid, brand-conscious, sedentary, and totally self-obsessed. You are American.

Exhibit A: You’re more upset by Miley Cyrus’s glamour shots than the fact that you are a grown adult who is upset about Miley Cyrus.

Sentence: Invaded and occupied by Canada; all military units busy overseas without enough fuel to get back.

42. O.J. Simpson

Charges: Jesus H. Christ, man. You literally get away with murder, to the astonishment of anyone capable of tying their own shoes. Then you write a book, coyly framed as “hypothetical,” in which you explain slicing and dicing your ex-wife and some poor shlub by describing her as a pain in the ass. You know the whole country is still gunning for you. And yet, you feel it sensible to try your luck one more time, because some guy in Vegas is selling a football you signed? Sure, O.J.’s sentence was too harsh to believe he wasn’t being punished for previous crimes of which he was acquitted, but did anyone think that wasn’t going to happen? O.J. could get 33 years for pissing on a tree, and he knew it, so at a minimum the whole “gimme my shit back” caper was unbelievably stupid, the product of a life in which consequences are things that happen to other people. At least now he can get to work on his next book, “If I was an idiot who got himself locked up for life after skating on a double homicide.”

Exhibit A: "I'm O.J. Simpson. How am I going to think that I'm going to rob somebody and get away with it? Besides, I thought what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas."

Sentence: Ghost of Howard Cosell narrates the remainder of OJ’s life: “This man, once a man of greatness, now a man fallen, disgraced, disgusting, reduced to defecating in an unenclosed, seatless toilet, in close proximity to other convicted felons, the indignity apparent on his sad, rapidly aging face. What an incredibly pitiful story is his.”

23. John Fund

Charges: Membership on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board requires that one be a cynical sophist, but the dog-faced Fund actually appears to be in love with lying. Fund has devoted himself lately to muddying up the election fraud issue by selectively promoting mostly spurious tales of ground-level Democratic voter fraud in an effort to obscure more credible stories about the GOP’s top-down machinations. Fund’s book, Stealing Elections, is replete with phony numbers and discredited stories—he even sources a well-refuted tale to a WSJ editorial he probably wrote. Fund delivers his lies with a sneering smugness that would merit facial pummeling even if he were truthful, but whipping conservatives into a creative frenzy of demonic fabrication against ACORN, creating the lamest conspiracy theory of the year (which even McCain hyperbolized absurdly) based on false registrations that ACORN themselves flagged a suspicious, and none of which could conceivably have led to actual voter fraud, reveals Fund to be against not fraud, but the simple act of registering voters. The endgame here is to pass Voter ID laws that will prevent 20 million legal voters in this country who don’t have the required ID from voting.

Exhibit A: “Republicans focus more on the rule of law.”

Sentence: Malfunctioning Diebold central tabulator flips public referendum on whether Fund should be fed to sharks.

20. Joe the Plumber

Charges: The Che Guevara of bald, pissed off white men. In a lot of ways, Samuel Wurzelbacher really does represent the average American—basing economic opinions on unrealistic expectations of personal future success, blaming his failure to meet those expectations on minorities and old people, complaining about deadbeats getting his taxes when he isn’t actually paying his taxes, and advertising his own rudimentary historical and mathematical ignorance by warning of creeping socialism in a country whose highest income tax rate has dropped by half in thirty years. “Joe” indeed symbolizes the true American dream—to become undeservedly rich and famous through a dizzyingly improbable stroke of luck. As American folk heroes go, Wurzelbacher ranks somewhere between Hulk Hogan and Bernie Goetz.

Exhibit A: "Social Security is a security I've never believed in, don't like it. I hate that it's forced on me."

Sentence: After blowing his fifteen minutes and all his money on coke and Thai hookers, an infirm, elderly Joe finds that social security actually is a joke, and is finally forced to snake toilets for a living.

14. Ashley Todd

Charges: As attention-getting devices go, trying to start a race war is a tad disproportionate. It’s a good thing this batty bitch was completely hopeless as a fraudster, or her 11th hour “big black Barack backer battered burgled and branded Barbie” ruse could have done a lot worse than throw Pennsylvania to McCain. It’s not surprising that log cabin bottom feeder Matt Drudge slapped the headline “Shock: McCain volunteer ‘attacked and mutilated’ in Pittsburgh” on his bafflingly popular website in big red letters, as he’s got about a 40% accuracy rating on the stories he “breaks.” We’ve tried feeling sorry for Todd, but the fact that she scratched the “B” backwards, because she was looking in the mirror, is just too damned funny.

Exhibit A: “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off, but its better if you do.”

Sentence: The reverse “B” never heals.

11. Rush Limbaugh

Charges: The father of modern stupidity, Limbaugh spins reflexively, never struggling with issues, because he knows his conclusion must favor Republicans, and his only task is finding a way to get there. In other words, he may or may not actually believe what he’s saying, but it’s beside the point. His job is not to say what he thinks, but to instruct his listeners on what they should think. If the facts don’t agree, he can always change them, as his “ditto heads” are already armed against the contrary evidence with the all-purpose “liberal bias” attack. “Rush is right,” as the slogan goes, and all those nerdy reporters in the “drive by media” are lying, because they secretly love terrorists. It’s this creepily worshipful, breathtakingly infantile abdication of intellect to a blatantly dishonest hypocrite that makes Limbaugh’s audience so goddamn sad. These pathetic, insecure, failures of men look to Rush as the champion of their impotent rage, helping them to externalize responsibility for their own deficiencies, pinning the blame on those darn liberals and their racial and gender equality.

Exhibit A: You have to marvel at the sheer ignominy of someone who coins the term “Obama recession” two days after the election.

Sentence: Tiny speaker implanted in his inner ear which blares Randi Rhodes 24-7.

4. George W. Bush

Charges: It’s hard—believe us, we know—to keep coming up with new things to say about this brutally stupid narcissist, who may have ruined this country irrevocably and certainly has ruined a couple of others, mugging amiably all the way. If anything good comes from Bush’s reign of error, let it be the death of the notion that vitally important, life or death decisions that affect the entire world should be made with one’s “gut.” We used to think that incompetence was just a good cover story for this administration, an excuse that masked their deliberate criminality, but it turns out that Bush and his inner circle are both treasonous, corrupt warmongers and inept fools. One good thing about him, though, is that he has no real interest in politics, and probably won’t give a flying shoe what happens to the world when his term is up. As he once put it, ““History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” Here’s to George W. Bush being history.

Exhibit A: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

Sentence: Detained in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailer without charges or counsel, sodomized by Lynndie England, declared guilty by military tribunal, set adrift naked on a small ice floe in the Arctic.

2. John McCain

Charges: McCain vowed to run a clean, respectful campaign, and then accused Obama of pushing sex ed for kindergartners, calling Palin a pig, hanging with terrorists, being a welfare-loving Marxist, being an arugula-loving elitist and pretty much everything but conspiring with the Borg—but he didn’t really mean it, and he didn’t use Reverend Wright, so we’re all supposed to think he’s swell. McCain lied so blatantly and constantly that even cable news bootlicks were compelled to fact-check him, to which he and his surrogates responded by insisting on the same lies. When pressed on the Nixonian onslaught of falsehood, McCain whined that he wouldn’t have had to be such a mendacious prick if Obama had only refrained from raising so much more money than him. McCain pretended to give a shit about America, and then he picked a vapid ambition-hound to succeed him. His response to the economic crisis might as well have been to punch himself in the face. In every way he could this year, McCain burned up all the credibility he had stored up from decades of shameless worship by the press, utilizing every tactic he ever decried, exuding a heady aroma of bullshit and Alzheimer’s, and displaying an unrequited obsession with Joe the Plumber, and he still wound up a failed Faust even the Devil didn’t want.

Exhibit A: "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations."

Sentence: Every time anybody says the word “surge,” McCain is shot in the leg.

1. Sarah Palin

Charges: If you want to know why the rest of the world is scared of Americans, consider the fact that after two terms of disastrous rule by a small-minded ignoramus, 46% of us apparently thought the problem was that he wasn’t quite stupid enough. Palin’s unending emissions of baffling, evasive incoherence should have disqualified her for any position that involved a desk, let alone placing her one erratic heartbeat from the presidency. The press strained mightily to feign respect for her, praising a debate performance that involved no debate, calling her a “great speaker” when her only speech was primarily a litany of insults to city-dwellers, echoing bogus sexism charges when a male Palin would have been boiled alive for the Couric interview alone, and lionizing her as she used her baby as a Pro-life stage prop before crowds who cooed when they should have been hurling polonium-tipped javelins. In the end, Palin had the beneficial effect of splitting her party between her admirers and people who can read.

Exhibit A: Waving her embryo-loving credentials, in the form of her Down syndrome baby, at "But ultimately what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy."

Sentence: Hand-to-hand combat with Vladimir Putin and a pack of wolves.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Poe a Poe?

This is just too sweet. Sarah Palin has an opponent in her governor's race, and you won't believe his name:

"Bob Poe, an erstwhile state commissioner and former president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., has announced his run for the Alaska Democratic gubernatorial ticket in 2010. Whether Sarah Palin will seek re-election is yet to be determined."

So now Sarah Palin, the ultimate example of Poe's Law, will be running against a man named Poe. SNL, eat your heart out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prelutsky Projects onto Atheists and Homosexuals

Projection is the act of attributing one's own faults onto one's opponent or perceived enemies. Think about all the homophobic homos (Haggert, Foley, etc.), or those who, being incapable of reasoned, unbiased analysis, instead attack straw men while accusing everyone else of having those same flaws. Exhibit A of that last category is this pathetic piece from the king of MSU, Bert Prelutsky. It is a real work of rhetoric art, with practically every statement absurdly false. A major fisking is in order:

"Recently, I noticed a similarity between atheists and homosexuals that hadn't occurred to me before. It has to do with the way they wage their wars. Basically, they erect straw men, put words in their straw mouths, and then engage in battle with these creatures they've cobbled together with spit and glue."

Right Burt, because homosexuals and atheists don't know anything about life in their shoes that you believing heteros do. Seriously, it is comical in the extreme that Burt can preface his stream of ignorant straw with such a projecting preamble. Want straw men? Burt provides:

"It just seems to me that it's high time we began setting the record straight. To begin with, there is no such thing as homophobia. A phobia is defined as a fear or anxiety that exceeds normal proportions. Concocting the word was simply a rather sly way of suggesting that it is heterosexuals who are deviant."

Wow, concocter, they name is Prelutsky. Let's start with the basics: a phobia is defined as "a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.". It is irrationality, not lack of normalcy, that defines a phobia, and there is plenty of irrationality when it comes to homosexuals: simply peruse all the arguments against gay marriage. There's nary a shred of rationality in any of them.

Particularly irrational is Prelutsky's claim that those who recognize homophobia when they see it are suggesting heterosexuality is deviant. Most of the people who do so are themselves heterosexuals, I being one example. Further, the claim is a complete non sequitor, there being no logical connection between irrational fear of gays and the supposed deviancy of heterosexuals. Where is Prelutsky's evidence of any of these assertions? Absent, as always.

"The other lie that is parroted with some frequency is that those who don't fully support the gay agenda are most likely latent homosexuals, which is supposed to suggest, I assume, that lurking inside every heterosexual man is an interior decorator"

There are several lies here, all Burt's as usual. There is no "gay agenda". That would be like labelling the civil rights movement the "negro agenda". There is only an agenda to allow everyone, homosexual and heterosexual alike, to choose their mates, and otherwise have the same rights with regard to those mates and the contracts they enter into.

Now what has been observed is that many of those who argue most stridently against homosexuality turn out to be homosexual themselves: Mark Foley, Ted Haggert, Larry Craig, the list goes on. It's not every heterosexual man, but rather the ones that make it their life's passion to slander homosexuals, that should come under the microscope. Such subtlety and sophistication of thought is too much for Prelutsky, who prefers to wallow in sophomoric scatological humor that would do Beevus and Butthead proud:

"The proof that heterosexual men aren't all sitting around fantasizing about being seduced by Boy George or Richard Chamberlain is that every heterosexual man I know prefers having his cavity worked on by a dentist than by a proctologist."

And Burt wonders why those of us in the reality-based community don't take him too seriously, except as a propagandist. Witness the Gish Gallop of untruths:

"Homosexuals ... are as free as they've always been to marry members of the opposite sex. For several millennia, everyone has understood marriage to mean the sacred union of a man and a woman."

Brilliant Burt! And prior to Loving vs Virginia, every person was free to marry anyone of their own race! What pedantic nonsense. The question is whether anyone should be free to marry anyone they choose, or rather, why should marriage be restricted to two people with different naughty bits? The answer certainly is not "that's what we've always done", since that would suggest never changing anything, and more importantly and obviously, Burt's statement is false. He should read his Bible more, where polygamy was common, as it has been for most of human history. Monogamy is the newcomer on the scene. Polygamy is still widely practiced in many places in the world that people who wax ignorant on the subject like Burt does have obviously never visited. Get out more Burt.

"I have asked on more than one occasion if the institution of marriage is to be turned on its head to accommodate the ludicrous demands of a very small number of people, on what moral or legal basis does society then deny fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, or, say, your cousin Phyllis and a dozen Elvis impersonators, from tying the knot. If the parties merely need to be consenting adults, on what basis could you prevent Hugh Hefner and his bevy of blonde companions from pledging their troth before man and God? I have yet to receive a response. "

That's because it is a typical red herring, akin to asking "how did life begin?" when arguing about evolution. There is no more need to concern yourself with those other options than there was before. Whatever reasons we had won't go away just because we decided to stop preventing people with matching naughty bits to marry. The genetic and social problems with incest and polygamy aren't effected in the slightest by allowing gays to marry. Now if people like Burt want to claim they are, then they need to make their argument, rather than dodging the issues with this little Coulterish non sequitor.

Speaking of non sequitors, Prelutsky's rants on atheists are even more full of them:

"This brings us to atheists and their own brand of hypocrisy and lies. It's silly enough when they feel they can use logic to disprove the existence of God. But it's worse when in voicing their angry opposition to organized religion, they begin sounding exactly like the religious zealots they claim to despise."

Ah yes, what would an rightwing apologetic rant be without the baseless claim that their opposition is angry. We can't admit our opposition might just have a reasoned disagreement with us, no sirree bob. They are angry and unreasonable, so we don't have to deal with the substance of their arguments.

The comedy level of the claim that atheists are the equivalent of religious zealots is another baseless claim. When atheists start gathering together to worship Darwin, claim those who disagree with us can't be good citizens and will burn in eternal hellfire, equate giving others a voice in the public square with squelching ours, shoot doctors who don't agree with us on abortion, and require that public officials agree with us on the issue of the existence of gods, THEN you can start comparing us to religious zealots.

But then what does Prelutsky know about atheists anyway? He obviously isn't listening to what we say if his comments above are any indication. Atheists do not believe they can use logic to disprove the gods. What we do believe, and are happy to demonstrate, is that we can use science and logic to refute the claims made for the existence of gods, thereby remaining at the rational default position of "no gods". He who asserts must prove, and if proving the existence of gods is too tough a task for Prelutsky, then I suggest he shut up about it until he can. Private faiths should be kept that way. In public, we need evidence.

Finally, atheists do not oppose organized religion. Organize to your heart's content! Believe whatever fool thing you like. Chant away in your churches or synagogues. But if you try to bring that fool nonsense into the public square, you are going to get treated the same way as everyone else. Where's your evidence for that claim? Don't have any? Then sorry, you can't demand that everyone behave as if they agree with you. Our opposition is to the demand that religious views be exempted from the rules of the marketplace of ideas.

Still, it's when they begin blaming all the evils of the world on religion that my own sense of reason and logic kick in. Inevitably, they bring up the Spanish Inquisition, as if the new year we just rang in was 1478. Ask them to make a slightly more contemporary case and they'll bring up Nazi Germany with a "gotcha" gleam in their eye. While it's true that Germany had been a traditionally Christian nation, Hitler was neither German nor Christian. He and his followers were pagans. They didn't march and murder under the cross of Jesus Christ, but under the swastika of Adolf Hitler.

Yes, they marched under a swastika with belt buckles that said "God with us" to the tune of Mein Kamf, in which Hitler speaks often and frankly of his godly mission. 95% of Germany during both World Wars was Lutheran or other Christian denomination. By promoting the notion that Germany suddenly became Pagan under Hitler, Prelutsky reveals that logic and reason are not his concern.

And Jesus Jumping Christ, does Burt really expect us to believe the atheists he supposedly talks to have trouble coming up with contemporary examples of the evils of religion? 9/11 anyone? You remember that right, where religious extremists caused world turmoil and killed thousands of people for the sake of 72 virgins from Allah? Jim Jones ring a bell? How about all that religious brotherly love in Iraq or Israel? Burt strains credulity to the limit expecting us to believe these conversations with atheists occurred anywhere but in his rather dull imagination.

Whenever atheists blame religion for causing most of the world's mass murders, they merely prove that they're not only bigots, but ignoramuses. While nobody knows exactly how many millions of innocent people have been butchered in the past 90 years, we do know that the vast majority died at the hands of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, atheists all.

Burt shouldn't be spouting about others' ignorance while so prominently displaying his own. We've already noted that Hitler was not an atheist. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot might have been atheists personally, but it does not at all follow that atheism was therefore responsible for their acts, any more than the fact that they were all men was. Correlation does not imply causality. When one studies their political methods, it becomes clear that all three men set up pseudoreligious authoritarian regimes, demanding absolute obedience and disallowing dissent.

None of this is inherent in atheism. As is constantly pointed out, a lack of belief is nothing to build on. One might was well claim that the Tyrannical Three's lack of belief in mermaids is what did the trick. It was and is tyrannical authoritarianism which we atheists are concerned about. We object to them regardless of whether they are based on religion. Tyranny is tyranny.

Finally, notice the sure sign of a crank here: mutually contradictory theories. Prelutsky labels Hitler an atheist (no gods) and a pagan (many gods) within a few sentences of each other. As long as he's not recognized as the Christian he was, right Burt?

The only exceptions to that rule, of course, are those who have been gassed, beheaded and blown up, by the Muslim faithful. And yet Islam, interestingly enough, is the one religion that doesn't seem to enrage atheists! Could the reason possibly be that, for all their huffing and puffing about how awful all religions are, even the atheists understand that Jewish and Christian martyrs will die for their beliefs, whereas Islamics will kill you for theirs?

This is MSU salad Burt. Atheists object greatly to Muslims all the time. We were critical of them when 9/11 occurred, we were critical of them when they threatened the Dutch cartoonists, and we continue to be critical of them. This "No atheists against Muslims" meme has become dogma to the paranoid right. To illustrate how much so, consider the great cracker incident wherein PZ Myers threatened to desecrate a Eucharist from a Catholic mass. Typical were comments like this:

"If you REALLY want to do a courageous, revolutionary act, defecate publicly on a copy of the Quran. Or do you have the cojones? Christians won't attack you for desecrating a host, but will those wonderful cuddly peace-loving Muslims be as forbearing if you used their book for a toilet? Well, how brave are you?"

Well PZ went ahead and did it, as we all knew he would. There in the trash was the Eucharist, on top of ripped pages from the Quran, and for good fairness measure, the God Delusion. Game over right? Wrong! Even after the event Myers continued to get notes from people making the same tired refuted argument. Like Prelutsky, they aren't interested in what atheists really do, only what those fauz atheists in their heads supposedly do. That's the bottom line with Prelutsky: no interest in reality, only in making shit up about people whose mere existence threatens his infantile worldview.

Life on Mars Says the Methane?

Scientists have discovered plumes of methane rising from the surface of Mars, which is consistent with the existence of microbes:

The researchers today today are reporting that in 2003 and 2006, they recorded plumes of methane rising from the surface of the Red Planet. Working back from their measurements of methane in the air, the researchers pinpointed some particular spots on Mars where the methane came from. And it’s a lot of methane they’re talking about–19,000 metric tons of the stuff in one plume. It’s coming out of Mars at the same rate seen at methane-producing spots on Earth.

Those places on Earth happen to be places where microbes are churning the gas out. There might be other ways of getting plumes of methane into the air–generating it from magma, for example. But in a paper published today by Science, Mumma and his colleagues point to the possibility that microbes buried a mile or two under the surface of Mars might be responsible.

There are also nonbiological possibilities, so we need to restrain our excitement a wee bit. Still, it's hard to ignore what could be the most momentous event in science since Einstein's theories.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Saggy Pants Ban to Eliminate Crime!

The Jackson Mississippi city council has dropped its saggy-pants ordinance, an attempt to ban the most moronic fashion trend ever, far worse mullets or white leisure suits, being functionally idiotic as well as aesthetically so. It also does social damage, being yet another sad case of people in a group suffering from a stereotype of stupidity (inner city blacks) perpetuating that stereotype by dressing stupidly. Ditto for the sideways hats (recall Otis on the old Andy Griffen show). I roared with laughter once watching a group of kids walking to school through some 3 or 4 inches of standing water with those idiot pants on, having to pull up their pants legs to keep them out of the water. I couldn't help unleashing a "Hey dumbasses! Wear your pants right and you won't have that problem!"

Here's an idea: instead of banning them, how about a public education program reminding these morons that this fashion originated in prison with guys who got it up the ass a lot. Now how tough and macho do you feel?

But seriously, what caught my eye with this article was something the mayor said about it that sounded eerily familiar:

He said many of the young men who wear saggy pants also get in trouble at school or with police.

He said the ordinance was an attempt to "save all the children we can."

Now where have I heard similar reasoning before?

In the US:

Accidental shooting injuries by people with guns: ~200,000/yr.

Accidental shooting injuries by people without guns: 0

Ah there, you see? Ban saggy pants because saggy pants are involved in so much crime. That way the saggy-pants related crime will drop to zero! Never mind that the perps will merely wear something different, or use a different weapon, and commit the crimes anyway. You also hear similar arguments with regard to alcohol, textbook examples of confusing correlation with causality.

Atlas Shrugged, The Cliff's Notes Version

Whether you are a fan of Ayn Rand (I remain one of the spirit, if not the intellectual rigour, of her work) or not (commies), this is a hilarious short version of the story, written in an over-the-top Randian style:

"Yes Dagny, you silly silly woman, I may seem a slacker to you, but after ten pages of explanation you will know that it is you who slack and it is I who serve a higher cause which will not be explained for another seven hundred pages. Remember, I am a d'Anconia which goes without saying that I know what I am doing," he mocked. He was so perfect at mocking. No man mocked like Francisco. How she wanted to be back in his arms. Were it not for... no! He was a slacker! The very embodiment of slack yet... yet he slacked with purpose. Even that was perfect. No man slacked like Francisco.

And no one brought it like Rand.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quote of the Month

From this thread:

"You Obama supporters are DUMMER THEN MUD and you cant keep 1 fact straight."

The Difference Between an Ideologue and a Partisan

In a post ostensibly about the difference between denialism and plain old ignorance, Kevin Beck also gives a good example of the difference between an ideologue and a partisan:

Gribbit: "First the obvious. Those in charge in Washington are tax happy. They've never seen a tax proposal they haven't liked."

Beck: "Of course. But if you read the post Gribbit wrote six hours after churning out this one, you'll see him complaining that Obama is promising tax cuts; rather than express relief, he calls this 'hypocrisy.' Gribbit and his ilk never leave any doubt that they care very little, if at all, about the actual fate of the country; they just want to vent their spleens, consistency be damned.'

This is too common in American political discourse. Partisans have turned our process into a sporting event, with 2/3 of the population like Gribbit, rooting for their side. Someone with an ideological difference on an issue will cheer when their opponent changes to an agreeable position. "Welcome to the fold, what took you so long?" is the appropriate response, not to play the "hypocrite" game. The majority GOP reaction to Obama's decision to not use public funds was a perfect example. Only a partisan Republican would condemn their opponent for changing to a pro-marketplace position. A free market advocate would cheer the move.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Obama Citizenship Conspiracy Theories

One by one the Supreme Court is saying "nahhhhh" to these silly Obama-isn't-a-citizen conspiracy theories. The conversations in the comments where the "birthers", as some are calling them, confront a knowledgeable audience, are well worth reading. Note how, as with all conspiracy theories, they have no evidence supporting their position. All they have are questions about the position they are attacking, a common disinterest in looking for answers, and a bizarre attitude that someones unwillingness to accede to their every rhetorical whim implies some sort of guilt. Indeed, that is all what makes conspiracies what they are. These are the very same people that don't see why the fourth and fifth amendments are important.

The best retort to them from those threads:

"You know, if Obama would just give us a blood sample and hair follicle and semen sample for DNA testing, we might be able to stop asking him so many questions about his authenticity.

I also hear he has the Islamic crescent & star (team logo) tattooed on his ass with his Kenyan birth UPC code, if he would just pull down his pants and end all the speculation, we could submit to his authoritah."

Satire is the best weapon when dealing with loons.

No Arabic in our Airports!

A man completely minding his own business was told he had to change his clothing because he was making the other passengers uncomfortable. What was he wearing? A bomb? Something sexually explicit? A big smelly fur? Nah, just a t-shirt with (gasp!) Arabic writing on it!

Jarrar, a US resident, was apprehended as he waited to board a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland, California, and told to remove his shirt, which had written on it in Arabic: "We will not be silent."

He was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like "wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'" the ACLU said.

Sure, because we all know a huge proportion of people wearing Arabic on their shirts are terrorists. This is another example of a zero tolerance attitude amounting to zero thought. I wonder if the guy who made that comment thought Obama was an Arab too?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Top Jobs Report Good News for Scientists

A new report is out on the best and worst jobs to have, and the list is mighty kind to scientists:

The Best and Worst Jobs
Of 200 Jobs studied, these came out on top -- and at the bottom:

The Best
1. Mathematician
2. Actuary
3. Statistician
4. Biologist
5. Software Engineer
6. Computer Systems Analyst
7. Historian
8. Sociologist
9. Industrial Designer
10. Accountant
11. Economist
12. Philosopher
13. Physicist
14. Parole Officer
15. Meteorologist
16. Medical Laboratory Technician
17. Paralegal Assistant
18. Computer Programmer
19. Motion Picture Editor
20. Astronomer

The Worst
200. Lumberjack
199. Dairy Farmer
198. Taxi Driver
197. Seaman
196. EMT
195. Roofer
194. Garbage Collector
193. Welder
192. Roustabout
191. Ironworker
190. Construction Worker
189. Mail Carrier
188. Sheet Metal Worker
187. Auto Mechanic
186. Butcher
185. Nuclear Decontamination Tech
184. Nurse (LN)
183. Painter
182. Child Care Worker
181. Firefighter

The pattern is clear: those that think are at the top, those that work hard and sweat are at the bottom. We are truly in the information age.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Venus' Ashen Light, and it's Lesson for ID

Venus' "Ashen Light", first noticed by Italian astronomer Giovanni Riccioli in 1643, continues to defy explanation after almost four centuries of observation. The article has some interesting astronomical tidbits:

"Riccioli was an astronomer of some repute. Working in the first generation after Galileo, he discovered that Mizar (the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper) is actually a double star — the first one known. He also discovered satellite shadows on Jupiter and published a map of our moon's surface. The names he assigned (e.g., Sea of Tranquility, Sea of Storms) are still used today"

The mind boggles at someone able to discern a double star with 17th century technology. But the real eyebrow raiser for me was the conclusion:

"It's also possible the Ashen Light of Venus is caused by solar particles energizing the atmosphere like the terrestrial Aurorae Borealis and Australis — hence its evanescence.

Or it's some previously unknown combination of things we understand.

Or something we don't understand at all"

Much of that could be said for many fields of science, with evolutionary biology being prominent among them. Like the astronomers struggle with an explanation for Venus' light patterns, so biologists will struggle with explanations for much in the living world, particularly its beginning. This no more justifies inserting supernatural designers into biology than it would to suggest a supernatural source of light on Venus. Unknowns in the face of little evidence represent the frontier of knowledge for science, and deserve the "I don't know" answer science gives, rather than the baseless certainty in religious fictions clung to by so many.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Whine Baby Whine! Sarah Palin Goes All Ben Stein on Us

She just can't stay away. Apparently being the biggest political joke in the history of this nation, and singlehandedly dragging down the intellectual level of national political discourse wasn't enough for Sarah Palin. Now she and her delusional followers are pretending that somehow all the idiocy that was the Palin campaign, that was literally too much to keep track of for us mere mortals, was somehow all the fault of a biased media out to get the poor widdle governor. Prepare your irony meters:

"As a public official, I expect criticism and I expect to be held accountable for how I govern,” she said. “But the personal, salacious nature of recent reporting, and often the refusal of the media to correct obvious mistakes, unfortunately discredits too many in journalism today, making it difficult for many Americans to believe what they see in the media.”

Refusal of the media to correct obvious mistakes? You mean like 95% of what came out of Palin's mouth? For someone who accused her opponent of "palling around with terrorists", as well as countless other objectively refutable falsehoods, this goes beyond chutzpa. It is unmitigated gall, the equivalent of a child who murders his parents and then asks for clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan.

However, she's got a whole film crew to do her bidding in a new propaganda piece in the spirit of Expelled called "Media Malpractice - How Obama Got Elected. Never mind the obvious reasons Obama won. Conservative radio host and film maker John Ziegler treats irrelevancies and fictions as facts in an unabashed display of the flaws of right-wing thinking. They took a poll of Obama voters they think reveals something about the media and, well, it has to be seen to be believed:

"71.8% could NOT correctly say Joe Biden quit a previous campaign because of plagiarism (25% chance by guessing)

82.6% could NOT correctly say that Barack Obama won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot (25% chance by guessing)

88.4% could NOT correctly say that Obama said his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket (25% chance by guessing)

56.1% could NOT correctly say Obama started his political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground (25% chance by guessing)."

Translation: The mass media didn't treat our paranoid conspiracy theories and irrelevancies as important, therefore the media is unfairly biased. This is denial of the highest order, since in politics, what is and is not important is part of the game. Politicians constantly lose because no one thought the issues they emphasized were important. This is sore loser whining, simple as that. It again, exactly mirrors Expelled, which accuses scientists of a bias for rejecting Intelligent Design according the rules of science.

Also noteworthy was what the polled Obama voters knew about Sarah Palin, and the HowObamaGotElected's crew's reaction to that:

"Only 6.2% failed to identify Palin as the one with a pregnant teenage daughter

And 86.9 % thought that Palin said that she could see Russia from her "house," even though that was Tina Fey who said that!!"

Well, when one parades one's knocked-up teen daughter in front of the national media while assuming sanctimonious positions on social issues such as teen pregnancy, sex education, and abortion, one can hardly be surprised if notice is taken and an issue is made of it. If Palin wants to play with the big boys, she's gotta take the hard knocks with the rest of them. As for the Russia/house comment, this is a good example of fixation on minutia while missing the bigger point. Sarah Palin did claim that Alaska being next to Russia somehow gave her foreign policy experience, which is what the Tina Fey skit was mocking. That Palin never actually said the line is completely irrelevant.

Palin mentions the "editing" and "splicing" of the Couric interview, as if that's news. All interviews are edited to make for a more entertaining production. The implication is that somehow the interview was cut (a la the interviews in Expelled) to give a false impression of what Palin actually thought, yet no evidence is ever given to support this.

Palin also speaks as if the controversies over her daughter's pregnancy and Trig's parentage were the focus of the attention on her, when in fact the Trig issue came and went rather quickly in all but the most paranoid corners of the internet. The film completely ignores the myriad errors Palin made, and her clear lack of qualification for the position of Vice President, which were the focus of the election and the reason ultimately she was rejected. The film is one giant red herring.

For additional laughs, watch the excerpts from the Palin interview in the film, where Ziegler's self-described "tough interview" asks her gut-shot questions like:

"How did you feel about the Katy Couric interview? Did you feel it went well, not well?"

After seeing a Tina Fey joke about shotgun weddings, "How did that make you feel?" "Did you know about it before you went on the show?" "Would you have gone on if you did?"

"Do you feel [Couric and Fey were made heroes for what they did to you?]"

"Would you be willing to go through this again?"

Oh yeah John, real tough questions there.

And if you are sitting down, here is the ultimate zinger:

"If by chance you had been chosen as a VP candidate for Barack do you think your candidacy would have been treated differently?"

"I think they would have loved me..."

Seriously, she really said that. Words fail me. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. More importantly, this is yet another example of conservatives justifying their theories with speculation rather than facts. Never mind showing that the media actually did treat someone differently, just speculate and make shit up. Perusal of the comments in the WJ article also reveals this mindset in several hilarious instances:

"The reason John McCain did as well as he did was because of Sarah Palin. He ran a lack-luster campaign. She brought life to the ticket. The reason he lost was because of his support of the bailout. Had he come out against bailing out companies like AIG, he would have won."

Uh, no, McCain was well behind in the polls immediately following the revelations (through the Gibson and Couric interviews) of what an ignorant hayseed Sarah Palin was, and well before the economic meltdown occurred.

"Just wait and see there will most likely be a President Palin in 2012 because Obama is already proving to be a terribe president. Just look at the stock market after Obamas speech. It achieved triple digit losses"

Obama's not even sworn in yet and already they are blaming him for Republican screw ups.

"the country is destined to be attacked and destroyed due to the weakling administration we are about to employ.. we are about to enter into another clintonesque administration, which started the economic downfall, not bush, this stuff doesnt happen overnight or in 8 years. look back in 4 years if we are still around, and look at what the socio-communist left has done to us. stockpile your weapons and supplies, pray for gods mercy. because while obama is “negotiating” with hamas and the muslim world iran, china and russia will destroy us. i am ashamed today to be a weak american the rest of the world cant stand. corruption, drugs, laziness, and greed along with this nut you elected king have killed us all."

Methinks someones tinfoil hat is on too tight. More seriously, the amazing thing about people who say things like this is when none of their predictions come true, they don't think once about whether it is because their worldview is flawed. They simply make up another conspiracy and move on.

"The media is an arm of the anti- American, anti-US Military, anti-God Democrat Party."

Ah yes, this is the same media that continually eviscerates atheists on panels about atheism that include no atheists. And isn't Democrat leader Obama having Rick Warren give a prayer at his inauguration? Rightwingers have no concept of what an anti-god party would look like. Don't miss their desperation in clinging to the "Obama's not a citizen" and "Who paid for his Harvard education" conspiracy theories as well.

My GOP, how you have fallen to come to this. Enough about Sarah Palin. She revealed herself to be an ignoramus of the highest order, and a consistent liar, and that is why she lost, and why so much of America thinks ill of her. Get over it already, because if you run her in 2012, you will only get another crushing defeat.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Sample from the Conservative Asylum

For a good understanding of how the 28% tick (those that would give W a passing grade regardless), check out the comments on this article discussing why that poor lying propagandist Ann Coulter is treated so poorly by, well, everyone who isn't in the Asylum. Note the rampant paranoia, lack of logical justifications, and boogie-man attitude towards those fictional "liberals" who are the cause of all ills. Note their continued insistence that Coulter is never rebuked with facts, when the reality otherwise takes little more than the ability to google "Coulter evolution" to find. This is what happens when people insulate themselves from actual information and pay attention only to that which reinforces their views. These are the same people that still believe Barack Obama never did anything in the senate:

" we all know, the left has no respect for life as the unambiguous bullhorn leaders for abortion at every stage and probably the future champions for euthanasia for everyone."

"Pravda aka The MSM (that's what I've taken to calling to the MSM from now on, since it seems content to be nothing more than a state organ for the Obama Administration in the same way that the original Pravda was a state organ of the Russian communist regime"

"i would tune in if someone stormed the stage and took the mike from one of these Liberal Slugs and/or smacked them in the nose.
I don't know their bosses, but they had better pay attention to the permanent damage these thugs are doing to this country. And by god that's a fact.They are creating a situation where ONLY a revolution will reverse it."

"You cannot be a hypocrite unless you have some principles and consciously violate those principles. Since Liberals only abiding principles are personal pleasure and personal comfort they cannot be hypocrites. Self sacrifice for a greater good is out the question for them."

"I can support your point about liberals being angry over beautiful conservative women. ...and the fact liberal females are butt-ugly."

"The problem liberals have with Coulter is that she’s right – and they absolutely hate the fact that they have no good counter-argument. I NEVER see anyone from the Left argue with what she’s said..."

"Every single objective study EVER conducted of news outlets have found FOXNews and Drudge Report to be the most "balanced" news outlets out there."

"Just because there are "millions" of Christian liberals out there doesn't mean your title makes any more sense. Kind of an oxymoron like saying you are a Nazi-Jew."

"Several trolls have said you can't trust Drudge. When one has the highest response to current events,it is natural that some stories are not always word for word."

"'all that is wrong with the republican party' is far worse in the democratic party where they start comparing people to hitler if they aren't whole heartedly in favor of a womans right to choose or some other liberal cause. "

"Go check the real facts and not what Huffy Puff, brainmovedon or commie Kos tells you. Dr. Demento Dean and fatman moore told you that you could make a difference like your hippie dad and protest, protest, protest. Well guess what? The technology these days is just a bit different and your buddies, you know, the throat cutters on video, can listen to what you say instantaneously. If FDR was president today you would already be shot for siding with them."

"You've been frolicking in the Goebbels style propaganda for the last eight years which included putting national security secrets on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, NYT and WP. And anyone that participated in that should be in a cell. And I would prefer it to be with a terrorist. And as for Jan 20 I think we've already seen what were in for. This machine style will include Truth, Youth, Green and Food Squads."

"...every so often we do have to persue some false leads (Blago etc), since none of you idiots will connect the dots on any real ones (Reverend Wright, Ayers, Tony Rezko). He barely knew Ayers right? And he NEVER heard Wright spew racist, anti-American speeches.

You have proved yourself through your posts to be an anti-American slime. Not to mention a complete leming who will believe anything the democratic A-holes sell your way."

Amazing, isn't it? After getting their asses handed to them in November, they are still unwilling to admit defeat, unwilling to accept the reality that theirs is not the majority, or factual, view, instead inventing conspiracies and prattling on about nonissues like Ayers and ACORN.

There's a word for people whose predictions consistently fail to come true and yet refuse to alter their views, and it's not "scientist", or even "liberal".

Friday, January 9, 2009

Abstinent-Only Mississippi Leads in Teen Pregnancy Rates

Predictably to those of us in the reality-based community, but surely as a shock to those in the faith-based community that are so enthused about abstinence-only sex education, their leader in that pedagogy Mississippi, now leads the nation in teen pregnancy rates:

The Centers for Disease Control released a new report today that found that Mississippi “now has the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate, displacing Texas and New Mexico for that lamentable title.” The report found that in 2006, the Mississippi teen pregnancy rate was over 60 percent higher than the national average and increased 13 percent since the year before.

While the new report does not explain why the state’s teen pregnancy rate is increasing, one reason may be the poor quality of its sex ed programs. As the Sexuality Information and Education Center explains, Mississippi focuses heavily on abstinence education and teachers are prohibited from demonstrating how to use contraceptives:

Mississippi schools are not required to teach sexuality education or sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV education. If schools choose to teach either or both forms of education, they must stress abstinence-until-marriage, including “the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining.” […]

If the school board authorizes the teaching of contraception, state law dictates that the failure rates and risks of each contraceptive method must be included and “in no case shall the instruction or program include any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.”

Of course this data, as always, will be ignored by the abstinence-only crowd in lieu of their faith in theoretical canards like "abstinence is the only 100% effective prevention method", which any thinking person should be able to fisk with little effort.

It does however, have a certain amount of evolutionary benefit to their DNA. Idiocracy, here we come.