Monday, June 30, 2008

The Problem of Ignorance for Markets

As a former advocate of, and one still inclined towards lassez faire economic policies, it is disheartening to see people speak of free markets as if they are some sort of magic that works in all circumstances all the time. I have blogged a few times about the tragedy of the commons, a situation where limited supply meets unlimited demand, clogging the mechanisms of the free market and demanding a more authoritarian solution. Another weakness in free markets is the limited information and rationality of actors in the mix. Unfortunately for free market advocates like Walter Williams, the only information gap they notice is the twig in the government’s eye, while they steadfastly refuse to examine the beam that often exists in the populace’s eye.

"The big problem in any system, whether it's an economic, biological or ecological system, is information, communication and control. For congressmen, or a committee they select, to take over control of the nation's traffic signals requires a massive amount of information that they cannot possibly possess such as traffic flows at intersections, accident experiences and changes in peak and low peak traffic patterns.

The same information problem exists at the supermarket. Consider the challenge we give supermarket managers. We don't tell them in advance when we're going to shop, what we're going to buy and how much, but if they don't live up to this challenge, we're going to fire them by taking our business elsewhere. The supermarket manager does a fairly good job doing what's necessary to meet that challenge. You can bet the rent money that Congress couldn't begin to produce such a satisfactory outcome."

There are several problems here. First, in standard neo-con style, Williams supports his speculation, not with evidence, but with more speculation. "You can bet..." is not evidence. Have we ever had government run stores? Do we have data on the outcome? Second, Williams seems a little behind the curve in understanding modern information gathering techniques. All the information Williams claims the government could not get to determine optimal traffic light patterns is what the local governments collect now! Who does Williams think determines light sequences now, the Traffic Fairy? Taking periodic measures of traffic, checking accident reports, and compiling it all in a computer is hardly the impossible task Williams makes it out to be. In fact, compared to many other tasks done in similar fashion, it is quite simple.

Third, in Williams' supermarket example, he assumes perfect information on the part of consumers, and this is demonstrably wrong. The average consumer does not have knowledge of all prices of all desired items at all surrounding stores. Our decision making is imperfect. Whether or not it is less perfect than government decision making depends on the nature of the market, but to assume, as Williams does, that the free market always has better information than government is ideology speaking, not evidence. A perfect example is social security, which Williams rhetorically twists into an unrecognizable state:

"Right now Congress tells each American how much should be set aside out of his weekly paycheck for retirement. How can they have the information to know what's the best use for the $70, or so, taken from you and put into Social Security? Might you benefit more by saving that money to start a business, purchase tutoring lessons for your children, or putting it in a private retirement plan? Unlike congressional control of traffic signals and supermarkets, the effects of Social Security aren't apparent because we don't have the information about what people would have been able to accomplish if they were able to keep more of their earnings."

This is nonsense first word to last. Social security is a welfare plan for old people, not a retirement fund. Social security taxes are spent on social security benefits, not "put into" some sort of investment fund. Your social security taxes are not in any form or fashion "set aside for retirement". For a professional political writer to present it like this reveals a level of ignorance so profound as to call Williams' integrity into question. Were his dream of (apparently) doing away with social security realized, we would have an immediate welfare need as those currently on social security would suddenly find themselves with no benefits. Williams of course, doesn't talk about that.

There is a problem of ignorance in markets all right, but it mainly resides with people like Williams, who ignore well-documented problems with free markets such as inefficiencies in market knowledge for consumers, the tragedy of the commons, inherent societal problems like the retired poor (which unlike free-market problems must be dealt with in one form or another), and the level of efficiency possible with a centralized, computerized database. They offer as an alternative a blinkered belief in the efficiency of all free markets in all circumstances based on straw man caricatures of government programs and sheer emotionally-based speculation masquerading as evidence. So much for the party of facts over feelings.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Charlie Black? The Politics of Distraction

It seems we all need a reminder of who is running for president these days. Our candidates are John McCain and Barak Obama. Charlie Black, or Reverend Wright, or whoever else close to McCain or Obama who say or do something stupid isn't. This game of rhetorical gotcha is reminiscent of school yard gossip: "Did you hear what Charlie said, ummmmmmmmm". We need to hold our politics to a higher level than this. Who among us can be held responsible for everything their associates say, especially when what is said can be taken out of context.

What exactly did Charlie Black say that needed apologizing for anyway. Sure, it was a political blunder, the same as Obama's comment about the bitter among us clinging to their religion and guns. And just like Obama's bitter comment, Black is guilty of nothing more than speaking uncomfortable truth. His comment is just a restatement of current conventional wisdom on the issue of terrorism. Hell, the Republicans get criticism (and rightly so) all the time for using scare tactics to get votes. This wouldn't work unless what Black said was true: when people get scared, they run to the elephants.

We can recognize a political mistake while still maintaining our intellectual integrity. Reality matters, and people who state it, even when "it" is something we'd rather not consider, should be treated better than this. Oh, what George Carlin would have to say.

Overexploited Oceans? Jellyfish are our Reward

In more bad news about our environment, the warming of the oceans combined with overfishing has allowed jellyfish to drive out more ecologically sound and, from a human perspective, more pleasant marine life:

The dramatic proliferation of jellyfish in oceans around the world, driven by overfishing and climate change, is a sure sign of ecosystems out of kilter, warn experts.

"Jellyfish are an excellent bellwether for the environment," explains Jacqueline Goy, of the Oceanographic Institute of Paris. "The more jellyfish, the stronger the signal that something has changed."

Brainless creatures composed almost entirely of water, the primitive animals have quietly filled a vacuum created by the voracious human appetite for fish.

Dislodging them will be difficult, marine biologists say.

"Jellyfish have come to occupy the place of many other species," notes Ricardo Aguilar, research director for Oceana, a international conservation organisation.

Nowhere is the sting of these poorly understood invertebrates felt more sharply than the Mediterranean basin, where their exploding numbers have devastated native marine species and threaten seaside tourism.

The over-exploitation of ocean resources by man has helped create a near-perfect environment in which these most primitive of ocean creatures can multiply unchecked, scientists say.

We never can seem to learn that nature abhors a vacuum, and that we simply cannot destroy something occupying a niche without something else moving into that niche. And in many cases, what moves in, like the jellyfish, is not exactly optimal from our POV.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Clintonites for Obama, Morons for McCain because of Obama's Name

In a new poll by AP-Yahoo, 53% of former Hillary supporters now say they would vote for Obama, whereas 23% say they will vote for McCain. This 30% margin is up considerably from April, where it was 16%. However, what really caught my eye was Hillary’s considerable moron contingency (she consistently outpolled Obama among the least educated voters) that McCain has apparently picked up:

The poll responses also show Obama has more work to do to quell fears among voters like Kirstie Hartle of Rome, N.Y., a registered Democrat who has never supported a Republican presidential candidate. With Clinton out of the race, Hartle said, "I'm Republican all the way now."

She said she doesn't like Obama's name and thinks he has a questionable background. She also said she thought Obama was deceitful when he broke from his church after it hurt his campaign, and she doesn't trust him to handle the Iraq war.

"It sounds to me like a Middle Eastern type of name and whether or not he's born here in the United States, he doesn't seem like, to me, somebody who is trustworthy," Hartle said in a telephone interview. "You can't trust anybody these days, so who's to say he's not a terrorist and we just don't realize it yet?"

"I refuse to vote for an Arab to be in my White House," said retired salesman Dean Johnson of Lanett, Ala. "That is the only factor. Otherwise, you couldn't break both my legs and make me vote for a Republican."

It is frightening that such people will be choosing the next leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Please, if you are as ignorant as Mr. Johnson and Ms. Hartle, and are thinking of voting for or against any candidate because of how his name sounds, by all means do the most patriotic thing you can do on November 4th and NOT VOTE. The rest of us are better off without you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Global Warming Denier: I'm not Cherry-picking, I Picked the Data that Fit my Hypothesis!

Sometimes people are so ignorant it is hilarious. This quote is from a commenter on Deltoid who tried to present the bogus cooling-since-1998 nonsense as a refutation of global warming, and had his cherry-picking pointed out to him:

"The accusation of cherry-picking against me is ridiculous. May 2008 is the latest available data, so I did not pick that. June 1997 is exactly 11 years ago, chosen to show just how long there has been no global warming."

Right, and you aren't repeating gossip, it's something you heard.

Seriously, it is no wonder the AGW denialists keep repeating the same mistakes like cherry picking. They are so ignorant they don't even know what it means, and why it is an invalid way to analyze data.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Rules on 2nd Amendment

In the first conclusive ruling on the meaning of the second amendment, the Supreme court ruled 5-4 that Americans have the right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, striking down a Washington DC ban on new handguns and requirement that allowed weapons be disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

"Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by ‘the historical narrative’ both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted. The Constitution does not permit ‘the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home,’ Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority ‘would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.’ He said such evidence ‘is nowhere to be found.’"

I can’t help wondering what part of "shall not be infringed" Stevens doesn’t understand. Of course the 2nd amendment sets such limits, the question has always been exactly where, and now the court has ruled. Personally, I think we are long overdue for a constitutional convention to revise some of our constitutional rights, and the 2nd amendment is high on that list. Wise as they were, it is unreasonable to think the founding fathers were capable of writing laws over 200 years ago, in an agrarian society with flint locks, slavery, and limited rights for women, that would well serve our modern society with cities congested with millions of people capable of carrying around machine guns, flame throwers, and the odd missile launcher. When the Founders wrote the 2nd amendment in 1791, the US population was ~4 million. New York City alone has twice that figure now. It is a new time and we need new laws to go with it.

We also need to get a grip on reality when it comes to weapons. We need to accept that, contrary to media representations, accidental deaths by gun are rare. Over half of gun deaths are suicides. The typical victim of a gun in America is not an innocent child, or a gang banger. It is a depressed, middle-aged man who decides his life should end, and tragically, often takes his wife with him against her will. Marriage counselors would save more lives than trigger locks, so let’s drop that foolishness from the equation. Let’s also remember that crime in the United States is actually pretty low, approximately 14 events per 1,000 citizens annually, and that includes all crimes, large and small. Gun violence is also highly concentrated within certain demographic groups in society, mainly young urban males with criminal records. This is true both of the shooters and their victims. When it comes to dying by gun, who one associates with matters far more than how many guns are present.

With all that in tow, we should have a new 2nd amendment, one that protects an individuals right to own a weapon for defense of family and property, but one that recognizes the limits of such a right. Crucial among those limits is the understanding that where ever one may brandish a weapon, there are likely to be many people in the area that are innocent of any wrongdoing. Any weapon owned by a citizen therefore must be capable of being successfully fired at, and only at, the justified criminal target. Thus, flame throwers, bazookas, and atomic bombs do not qualify. The new 2nd amendment should read something like this:

"The right of the people to defend life and property, with weapons capable of being fired at a specific, individual target, and without unreasonable risk of tangential damage to innocent persons or property, and the right to bear such weapons, shall not be infringed"

I'll step aside and let the lawyers have at it. Our other problems with gun violence can be better served through means other than depriving law-abiding citizens of their right to defend themselves, or to collect weapons, or to go hunting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who's Talking Obama and Who McCain? Townhall vs Dailykos

As poll after poll shows Barak Obama extending his early lead over John McCain, I decided to see who everyone was blogging about. I did a quick search for Obama and McCain in the titles of the top 38 articles on both Townhall and Dailykos. The scoreboard shows the basic problem the Republicans have in this presidential election:

Representing the Republicans: Townhall

Obama: 7 mentions
McCain: 2 mentions

Representing the Democrats: Dailykos

Obama: 9 mentions
McCain: 3 mentions

So, in summary, the Republicans are talking about Obama, and the Democrats are talking about Obama. Issues don't matter much if your candidate just isn't interesting. In the television era, charisma and appearance are paramount, and McCain has neither. It is going to be an uphill climb overcoming these shortcomings.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin RIP

I remember the first time I saw George Carlin. It was his cable special with the green sweater, that opened with this lovely family line:

"Have you ever noticed that most of the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn't want to fuck in the first place?"

I was hooked. Here was a guy that dealt with the profane and the profound wkith equal ease. His contrast of baseball and football, and the subsequent translation of football into technical war terms remain relevant classics. His later material delved much more into religion, with his Ten Commandments routine being among the best.

He wasn't without his flaws. His dismissal of voting and general participation in government was a paranoid copout. The reason is simple enough: government problems have to be dealt with, they do not go away, like say the NFL would, if we just stopped caring. In the end his cynicism got to him. But at his best, and even not at his best, Carlin was a person with rare and valuable insights, and the equally rare balls to express them unapologetically. He will be missed, and we shall not look upon his like again.

Bees Vs Hornets

You have probably seen videos like this one, where 30 hornets massacre a hive of thousands of honeybees. But you may be surprised to see that the bees have developed a defense where dozens of them cover the hornet and smother it. Evolutionary arms races abound.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Freshwater Cross Burning Case

I'm sure many of you have already read about the John Freshwater case, where an eighth-grade science teacher was eschewing the required curriculum in favor of preaching fundamentalist Christian values, denigrating scientific theories, and promoting pseudoscience like Intelligent Design. His students were apparently so poorly educated in his class that they had to be retaught the material in high school. To add injury to insult, he apparently burned crosses into some of his student's arms.

One would think this would be an open and shut case, and anyone acting like that would be fired immediately, but apparently this behavior has gone on for over a decade. It took the cross burning to garner the proper attention. Yet Freshwater still has some defenders in the community. Prominent among them is professional irritant Dave Daubenmire, friend of Freshwater, and a former high school football coach who's district was sued years ago over his own proselytizing. "Coach" Dave offers these tidbits:

"With the exception of the cross-burning episode … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district"

Right, and OJ was a great guy except that whole knife thing. That aside, someone needs to tell Coach Dave that the law of the land says a teacher cannot dismiss the science curriculum simply because it conflicts with his religious views, or those of the parents. I know you guys hate to hear this, but part of the purpose of a public school system is to prevent ignorant parents from making that a permanent family trait. Otherwise they might all end up being like this:

"Do you think there are other teachers in the public classroom that are trying to drive their opinions in the classroom? I don’t care who you are. You cannot separate your value system from your teaching."

The issue is not having opinions in the classroom. The issue is taking opinions of a religious nature, and presenting them in place of the approved curriculum in violation of the law.

As for separating your value system from your teaching, this is not only possible, but easy, especially so when teaching subjects like science where one's personal values are completely irrelevant. Science is about evidence, and the theories that explain it, not personal values. E = Mc^2 whether you believe in sex before marriage or not. Value systems place moral and utilitarian measures on our choices, thereby guiding our personal decisions. What does this have with teaching history, or math, or English, or science?

It seems people like Daubenmire and Freshwater misunderstand, as did Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell of Dover fame, the entire pedagogy of our school system at its most basic level. No wonder they keep walking into this legal buzz saw. This is going to be a festival of Schadenfreude.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

World Poll on Leaders Shows a General Lack of Confidence. Guess Who

A new worldwide poll on world leaders shows a general lack of confidence:

"Only UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received largely positive ratings in a worldwide poll that asked respondents whether they trusted international leaders 'to do the right thing regarding world affairs.'"

The leaders ranked as follows:

1)UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
2)British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
3)Russian Leader Vladimir Putin
4)Chinese President Hu Jintao
5)French President Nicolas Sarkozy
6)Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
7)US President George W. Bush
8)Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf

Yes, you see that correctly. That's the President of the United States resting between the presidents of Pakistan and Iran. The world has more confidence in VLADIMIR "radioactive material" PUTIN to do the right thing than George Bush. Am I the only one embarrased by this?

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's the Harm in Psychics? Here's the Harm

These of us who are critical of psychics and other peddlers of the paranormal are often questioned as to our motives. "What's the harm?" "It's just entertainment." "No one takes this seriously." "They have real insights, some have helped the police." "Have an open mind".

Tell that to Colleen Leduc, who has been put through the horrific experience of being told her 11-year old autistic daughter was being sexually molested, complete with an investigative visit from the Children's Aid Society. Why? Because an educational assistant visited a psychic who said so.

Credit the CAS for rationality; they dismissed the complaint as "ridiculous". However, it was in no small part due to the unlikely fact that Ms. Leduc had equipped her daughter with a GPS and recording device which enabled her to all but prove the accusation was false. We can only imagine the hell she would have endured had that not been the case, or worse yet, had there been some innocent circumstance that might have looked suspicious to the credulous, such as her having a new boyfriend that fit the description, or a neighbor who spent time with the girl.

The teacher and educational assistant should be fired immediately. No one with judgement that poor should be in charge of children. The psychic should be charged to the full extent of the law with whatever law would be applied to a person who yelled "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. And people who continue to make excuses for this nonsense ought to think about what that experience might have been like, because that could happen to anyone with a child. You want to be entertained, go watch a movie. There shouldn't be anything entertaining about someone pretending to know what they don't. We already have a word for that - lying.

hat tip: Pharyngula

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Davescot Sets a New Low for Quotemining

I try really hard these days to not give the IDers too much attention. We've got to follow their political movements of course (ie Louisiana), but for the most part they remain a dying movement that doesn't deserve any unearned publicity. Expelled was a major flop, Louisiana's scam bill is the first headway they have made in eons anywhere, and they spend more time playing "gotcha" semantic games than they do making serious arguments. But still, sometimes one of them says or does something so utterly unbelievable, I just have to talk about it. Enter the king of baseless bluster Davescot.

IDers quote mine all the time. It is pathological, as if they think they are playing a game, or just don't realize the inherent dishonesty in it. Well, if Davescot's example is indicative, they must not understand the inherent dishonesty in it, because he doesn't even try to hide it.

The quote comes from a New Scientist article about the recent revolutionary experimental results achieved by Richard Lenski:

"It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait."

Seems clear enough, doesn't it? Generically, it says "It's the first time Process A has been caught in the act of making Result B", and indeed, that is exactly what it was. That says nothing about what other results Process A might have previously been caught in the act of producing. This is the sort of thing you learn in 5th-grade sentence structure. Apparently Davescot missed that day, because the title of his article, and the way he represents the quote in his criticism of it, is:

"the first time evolution has been caught in the act”

He then goes on to pretend that the qualifier of "making such a rare and complex new trait" wasn't said, which completely changes the meaning of the statement. It is the equivalent of taking the statement "I've never seen LeBron James play basketball so well" and leaving off the "so well". Yet he quotes the paragraph in full right before he quotemines it! There are no words to describe this. What does one do with a child who lies with the proof in plain sight?

Let's also not lose sight of the mad goalpost moving that Davescot and company are engaged in here. The event Lenski documented was, according to ID lore, not supposed to be able to happen at all, first, last, or any other time. Attempting to play word games to try to twist this into somehow meaning there was no prior evidence for evolution doesn't change the fact that there certainly is evidence now, and extremely robust evidence at that. Their standard challenge of explaining evolutionary history in terms of strictly beneficial mutations has been eradicated.

The ID ship is sinking, slowly but surely. Each time the make a claim, and science disproves it, it makes the space their gods can hide in that much smaller. Yet nothing makes that space bigger. It is only a matter of time until it is too small to attract any but the most blinkered of audiences.

Ken Ham at the Pentagon: This Should be a Joke

Ken Ham, pompous peddler of creationist nonsense, was invited to speak at the pentagon prayer breakfast. Until now I had never taken the Dominionist threat seriously, but now I am starting to wonder. It is tough to find any other reason why our government would pander to such a loon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Looks Like the Next Dover will be in Louisiana

The Lousiana Senate has passed the bogus Academic Freedom bill, and now it sits on Governor and vice presidential contender Bobby Jindal's desk awaiting a sure signature. Let the governor know your displeasure with this scam.

This sets up the first Louisiana school district that allows religious material into a science class, most likely something from the Intelligent Design crew who is behind the bill, for a Doverlike fiasco of a lawsuit. This would be a tragedy, since the cost of the suit will likely fall entirely on the shoulders of the duped school district in question, and not the ID proponents who are ultimately responsible. Our school districts are strapped enough for cash as it is, they certainly don't need this.

In the bigger political picture, this will have interesting implications. If McCain makes Jindal his VP, it will certainly endear him to the fundamentalist base, but it risks alienating the center where this election is going to be won. So far creationism has not sold well in this election.

Ann Coulter: 100% Delusional About Bush's America

The Queen of MSU (Making Shit Up), the Galloping Gish of politics, A. Hart Coulter* is back, this time promoting George Bush as a great president, using reasoning that would make your intro logic instructors head spin. If you want to understand what makes that twelve percent who strongly approve of Bush's performance tick, AHC lays it all out there for us. And as usual, she can't even get out of the starting gate without saying something ridiculous.

"In a conversation recently, I mentioned as an aside what a great president George Bush has been and my friend was surprised. I was surprised that he was surprised."

Earth to A. As the referenced poll above shows, and indeed as every poll for the last few years has shown, the vast majority of Americans think poorly of the job George Bush has done. Thus, those of you expressing positive opinions of his performance should always expect resistance to that idea. There is no excuse for being surprised, except your favorite, virulent ignorance.

"I generally don't write columns about the manifestly obvious,"

True, generally, you write about the manifestly untrue, which makes you one of the few writers for whom writing about the manifestly obvious would be a marked improvement.

"...but, yes, the man responsible for keeping Americans safe from another terrorist attack on American soil for nearly seven years now will go down in history as one of America's greatest presidents."

I guess A. missed the survey of professional historians which found 98% of them believed Bush's presidency has been a failure, and 61% said it was the worst in American history. In a case of classic crankiness, A. has no need for such things as professional, expert opinion. She knows history better than historians, just like she knows biology better than biologists, and climatology better than climatologists. This is a key theme in the conservative denialist mindset: experts know no more about their topic than anyone else.

So what is A. Hart's evidence that W is responsible for preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil? Well, the fact that we haven't had another one! No, I'm not kidding.

"Produce one person who believed, on Sept. 12, 2001, that there would not be another attack for seven years, and I'll consider downgrading Bush from 'Great' to 'Really Good.'"

OK A. Hart, you are now hearing from one. I said from 9/12 that the religious fundamentalists that flew their planes into the WTC according to God's will took advantage of a fluke of a situation that could not happen again. And indeed it has not. However, neither I nor A. Hart can claim great vindication in this most sparse of evidence, for the simple reason that terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by Islamic terrorists (as opposed to our homegrowns like The Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh) have always been a low probability event. So the probability of the results being what they are even if we were wrong (beta error) are very high. Thus, we could go backwards and give Jimmy Carter great credit for preventing Islamic Terrorist attacks via the same flawed reasoning. A. Hart is going to have to do a lot better than that to persuade anyone who thinks, which granted, is not really her target audience.

"Merely taking out Saddam Hussein and his winsome sons Uday and Qusay (Hussein family slogan: 'We're the Rape Room People!') constitutes a greater humanitarian accomplishment than anything Bill Clinton ever did -- and I'm including remembering Monica's name on the sixth sexual encounter."

Ah yes, the Clinton canard. Like the Clintonites before her who used to blame everything under the sun on Ronald Reagan, A. Hart and the rest of the Bush hardliners can't seem to ever defend W without mentioning Clinton. I'll simply remind them that this is not a game of comparisons: Bush does not get off the hook for his idiocy just because some other president had his share. They each must stand on their own merits.

But instead of giving us good solid reasons who should praise W, A. Hart delves into absolute lunacy:

"We invaded Iraq to protect America. It is unquestionable that Bush has made this country safe by keeping Islamic lunatics pinned down fighting our troops in Iraq...We are, in fact, fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them at, say, the corner of 72nd and Columbus in Manhattan -- the mere mention of which never fails to enrage liberals, which is why you should say it as often as possible."

Everyone mark your crank Bingo card squares where you see "pretends their opponents' opposition is confirmatory evidence". Poor A. Hart can't seem to grasp that people sometimes get angry when you say something so completely moronic that it borders on a lie (which we all know you aren't afraid to do for the cause), and this idea that our presence in Iraq has prevented attacks here qualifies in spades. It would be like arguing that the way for residents of Beverly Hills to protect against acts of vandalism from the residents of nearby Watts is to take over the government of East LA and hope the Wattsians go attack them there. It is preposterous on its face, and it is a testimony to the power of political loyalty over rationality that anyone could promote such a thing anywhere but a Saturday Night Live skit.

Yeah, we invaded Iraq with the intent of protecting America, except the stated purpose of doing so (imminent threat of attack from WMDs) turned out to be untrue, which means by simple basic logic that in retrospect we'd be better off if we had never gone there in the first place. That also happens to be the opinion of practically every American who doesn't have an "R" tattooed on their chest.

Speaking of R's and D's, good soldier A. Hart follows orders and promotes one of the bigger lies of this early political season within one of the most absurd comparisons you will ever see:

"The Iraqis have a democracy -- a miracle on the order of flush toilets in that godforsaken region of the world. Despite its newness, Iraq's democracy appears to be no more dysfunctional than one that would condemn a man who has kept the nation safe for seven years while deifying a man who has accomplished absolutely nothing in his entire life except to give speeches about 'change.'"

Did everyone catch it? A. Hart just compared Iraq's democracy to America's, for the simple reason that some people disagree with her on politics. This is a defining feature of modern Republicanism, an anti-intellectualism that pretends political opinions are facts, but scientific facts are opinions. Thus denying global warming and evolution is deemed reasonable, but believing Obama would make a better president than Bush is not.

Let's also once again point out that the Republican mantra that Obama is all hat and no cattle is a flat out lie, one easily disproved from a mere few minutes on Google. The man graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law and was the first black president of the Harvard Law review for crying out loud, and sponsored a lot of interesting legislation. "Accomplished absolutely nothing in his life"? Coulter lives in her own little fantasy world.

Yet she keeps on though, trying to top the stupidity of the America/Iraq democracy comparison with this doozy that surely has all the criminologists choking on their training:

"Monthly casualties in Iraq now come in slightly lower than a weekend with Anna Nicole Smith. According to a CNN report last week, for the entire month of May, there were only 19 troop deaths in Iraq. (Last year, five people on average were shot every day in Chicago.) With Iraqi deaths at an all-time low, Iraq is safer than Detroit -- although the Middle Eastern food is still better in Detroit."

Strip away the invective and titillation and what you have is a statistical blunder that would have you the object of derisive laughter from the even the D students if uttered in a statistics class. Coulter is comparing the deaths of US troops in Iraq to the deaths of the entire population in Chicago and Detroit! Civilian deaths in Iraq don't count you see, they are probably al Qaeda anyway. How many cops were killed in Detroit and Chicago last year? That would at least be getting into the ball park of reasonableness.

Let us also not forget that evaluating a presidency goes way beyond one just war and one colossal blunder. The social security crisis, global warming, the faltering economy, our declining educational standards, and many other important issues pose far more of a threat to our way of life than bass-ackwards fanatics blowing up a building every few years. Historians understand this, which is why they rate the W presidency so low. Coulter perhaps under her strident veneer understands it too, which is why when she attempts to make her case for the greatness of Bush II, she doesn't mention any of that. Reality, as always, is just too damned difficult for A. Hart Coulter to wedge into her simplistic view of the world. Sad thing is, she has a lot of company.


*Since the shrill little harpy thinks it is cute to refer to Barak Obama as B. Hussein Obama, I thought it appropriate to return the favor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Terrence Jeffrey is in Love with his Car: Are You?

Have you ever had an argument with someone about all our environmental and societal problems associated with our love for our automobiles, and not been able to make the slightest headway, despite whatever evidence or logic you presented? You might want to check out Terrence Jeffrey's latest article, where he ties freedom and liberty to the ability to drive without any interference from nasty government. No, I'm not making this up. First, he invents a boogeyman, which, as always, is THE LIBERALS:

"Still, some liberals would like to use government to force Americans out of their cars.

They believe in socialized transportation, not free-market transportation.

In a free-market transportation system, a person purchases his own vehicle with his own money, buys his own gas with his own money and can drive his vehicle anywhere there is a road -- and, if he has the right kind of vehicle, some places where there are no roads."

Sounds like a nice little libertarian paradise. Oops, except for the crucial role governments play in our driving, which he apparently hopes you don't notice undercuts his entire argument:

"Admittedly, the roads generally are constructed by government, albeit with funds extracted from the earnings and gasoline purchases of drivers."

He seems to think it could be otherwise, and we just arbitrarily chose to do things this way. Then he goes on a little rant about all the ideas governments have implemented to try and unclog our roadways (eg HOV lanes and buses) as if they were some sort of communist plot designed to take away our precious bodily fluids:

"Methods governments can use to do this include placing constraints on parking availability, forbidding taxpayers from using certain lanes of the highway (or even certain highways) unless they agree to carpool or ride a bus, and imposing excessive gas taxes or road tolls and using the excess revenue to subsidize money-losing public transit."

Give me my HOV lane or give me death! This all comes from the same guy whose answer on how to motivate teenagers was to take away their stereos. Yeah, he's in touch with what's going on in the world around him. His cluelessness about the conditions of our highways and the increasing space the occupy is no better. The next time you are stuck in a traffic jam, think of Jeffrey saying this:

"Hopefully, the 8 percent who have taken to socialized transportation represents a trend that can be reversed."

One can't help wondering how any sane individual living in a modern large city could think that fewer drivers is a bad thing. The answer is one of two common themes with this ilk: Jeffrey is either placing ideology over facts, again, and pretending that we can solve all our smog and congestion problems by magic, or he is simply shilling for the oil companies. I've just never seen it this blatant before.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bill Dembski Butkus? Ken Miller Brings out the IDers Worst

Ken Miller's new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul is out, and predictably the IDers come out in droves against it. Be sure to read the comments to that thread to see just how truly wacked these people are. The comparison of "Darwinism" to the LDS church is only the beginning.

But none can outdo the Queen of Equivocation, that shrill dissembling harpy known as A. Hart Coulter, for out-of-touch-with-reality commentary:

"With this book, two more witches present themselves for burning: Sean McDowell, whose gift is communicating with young people, and Bill Dembski, often called the Isaac Newton of intelligent design. I think Dembski is more like the Dick Butkus of Intelligent Design. His record for tackling Darwiniacs is unmatched."

Bill Dembski, likened to Dick Butkus? Butkus, this guy who mauled opposing running backs like no one ever had before succumbing to the physical collapse inevitable when one truly goes 100% on every play? She's comparing him to Bill Dembski, who ran away from his chance on a fair stage against the enemy in Dover, and made farting videos about the victors and the referee instead.
And people wonder why she is the bane of the reality-based community. This picture is worth 1,000,000 of her words.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Surprise! 90% of Environmental Denialists Associated with Conservative Think Tanks

If you pay attention to denialists, of any stripe, you will notice they are almost universally from a field outside the one they are criticizing. Deniers of biological evolution are almost never biologists, deniers of climate change are almost never climatologists, etc. It is enough to make you wonder if they are motivated by something other than science. The fact that these denialist groups are overwhelmingly of a particular political persuasion increases that suspicion. Thus, it is small wonder that a recent study found 92% of environmentally skeptical books were connected in some way to conservative think tanks:

"...of the 141 books which promote environmental scepticism, 130 (92.2 per cent) have a clear link to one or more CTTs -either via author affiliation (62 books) or because the book was published by a CTT (five books) or both (63 books). Furthermore, most of the remaining 11 books clearly reflect a conservative ideology, but are not connected to a CTT and are not coded as such here. Indeed, it appears that only one of the 141 books was written by a current self-professed liberal - Greg Easterbrook (1995).

Our analyses of the sceptical literature and CTTs indicate an unambiguous linkage between the two. Over 92 per cent of environmentally sceptical books are linked to conservative think tanks, and 90 per cent of conservative think tanks interested in environmental issues espouse scepticism. Environmental scepticism began in the US, is strongest in the US, and exploded after the end of the Cold War and the emergence of global environmental concern stimulated by the 1992 Earth Summit. Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement coordinated by CTTs, designed specifically to undermine the environmental movement's efforts to legitimise its claims via science. Thus, the notion that environmental sceptics are unbiased analysts exposing the myths and scare tactics employed by those they label as practitioners of 'junk science' lacks credibility. Similarly, the self-portrayal of sceptics as marginalised 'Davids' battling the powerful 'Goliath' of environmentalists and environmental scientists is a charade, as sceptics are supported by politically powerful CTTs funded by wealthy foundations and corporations."

One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to see how this works. People in industries with an economic interest in the status quo with regard to environmental issues fund groups to attack the science behind whatever threatens their profit margins. This strategy depends on the scientific illiteracy and political loyalty of their audience, which sadly, looks like a safe bet in modern America. It is the exact same strategy used by the cigarette companies to deny the cancerous nature of their product, and indeed, as has been shown by others, often involves the very same people. Conservative think tank is quickly becoming an oxymoron. They have become shills for anti-science.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Great Obama Speech on Religion

If Mike Huckabee's comment that the constitution should be amended to be closer to the Bible scared the shit out of you as it did me, and seemed absolutely ridiculous in a country with a first amendment such as ours, watch Barak Obama get it right. This video should be required viewing for everyone who has bought the Republican propaganda machine's lie that Obama is all fluff and no substance. If they disagree with Obama's views, they need to be intellectually honest and say so.

Here is the meat of the speech:

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church, or invoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. This is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, but in a pluralistic society we have no choice.

Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims, based on a common reality. It involves compromise: the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion doesn't allow for compromise. It is the art of the impossible. If God spoke, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's own life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our public policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing."

You can watch the entire speech here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Landmark Scientific Finding, and Behe's Denial Hits a New Low

In his book The Edge of Evolution Michael Behe makes the argument that certain kinds of evolutionary change are beyond the ability of evolutionary mechanisms to accomplish. Behe argues that some of evolutionary history involves the development of traits that would require multiple mutations, and thus would be so unlikely to occur as to be dismissible. It is a probabilistic variation on his old argument from irreducible complexity.

Unfortunately, as with so much ID theorizing, it doesn't square with experimental evidence. One of the most important experiments in evolution, undertaken by Richard Lenski, which has been running now for over 20 years, revealed the evolution of a novel ability in bacteria (eating citrates), that required three mutations to occur. This happened in a way that IDers/creationists always dismiss from consideration: variation in genes which did not confer an advantage, and simply drifted through the population until later mutations combined with them to confer the observed advantage. So the next time you hear an evolution denier claim that every mutation in the link must convey an advantage in survival, you can reference this study in response. Another pillar of creationism destroyed by evidence. For detailed analyses of the study, go here, here, and here. This is scientific history.

For the comedy side of the issue, you can read Michael Behe's response. It is typical of IDer/creationist epistemology: do no research, and claim everyone elses' supports your position, even when, as in this case, it flat contradicts it. In evolutionary terms, this experiment involved a minute amount of time. 20 years of experiment is nothing in comparison to the 3+ billion year history of bacteria. Likewise, the population of bacteria in the experiment is, pardon the pun, microscopic compared to the entire world. Yet Behe has the audacity to say this:

"The major point Lenski emphasizes in the paper is the historical contingency of the new ability. It took trillions of cells and 30,000 generations to develop it, and only one of a dozen lines of cells did so. What’s more, Lenski carefully went back to cells from the same line he had frozen away after evolving for fewer generations and showed that, for the most part, only cells that had evolved at least 20,000 generations could give rise to the citrate-using mutation. From this he deduced that a previous, lucky mutation had arisen in the one line, a mutation which was needed before a second mutation could give rise to the new ability. The other lines of cells hadn’t acquired the first, necessary, lucky, “potentiating” (1) mutation, so they couldn’t go on to develop the second mutation that allows citrate use. Lenski argues this supports the view of the late Steven Jay Gould that evolution is quirky and full of contingency. Chance mutations can push the path of evolution one way or another, and if the “tape of life” on earth were re-wound, it’s very likely evolution would take a completely different path than it has. I think the results fit a lot more easily into the viewpoint of The Edge of Evolution."

He then goes on to reassert his now-disproved hypothesis as if this experimental evidence didn't exist. We have now proven two things in the evolution debate:

1) Traits can be created by evolutionary mechanisms, in both relatively short time and small population, even if one or more of those mutations did not confer a survival advantage.

2) Michael Behe will claim any and all experimental results support his hypothesis.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Presidential Electoral Preview: Early Small Lead for Obama

I know there is still a lot of time until November, but if you want a preview of how the electoral vote count for the presidential race is shaping up, there are several good sites out there. Here are the latest electoral counts up according to several, based on state-by-state polling:

Presidential Polls: Obama - 303, McCain - 235.

Electoral-Vote: Obama - 299, McCain - 239 (counting ties as half each).

Election Projection: Obama - 304 , McCain - 234.

FiveThirtyEight: Obama - 273, McCain - 265 (rounded).

Real Clear Politics: Obama - 272, McCain - 266.

Worse yet for Republicans, if we deduct the state where the polls are close, that widens Obama's lead. His lead on RCP goes from 6 to 38 when the toss ups are tossed out. The polls also show up to 9 Senate pickups for the Democrats. And in a final troubling fact for the GOP, if nothing changes, this will only get worse. People are more likely to go to the trouble of voting, or working to get their friends to go vote, if they think their side is going to win. So the longer it looks like a Republican defeat, the more likely Republicans won't bother.

Republican advisers no doubt understand this as well, which means if they have a few scandalous bombs to drop, they are likely to drop one soon. I'm pretty curious to see what they have. So far all anyone has really done is shoot down his associates, and most of them were pretty low anyway. No one has really taken a shot at him yet, and I think they are going to have to if they want anything to stick with independents.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

4th Grader Suspended for Shell Casing: Once Again Zero Tolerance Means Zero Intelligence

In yet another example of the stupidity of zero tolerance, and of the almost comical hoplophobia in some segments of American society, a 4th grader has been suspended for 5 days for, brace yourself, bringing to school an empty shell casing from a blank. It was given to him by an officer at a Memorial day service. The child is from a multigenerational military family, and was proud to have the souvenir. Now he gets this as a reward:

"According to the family, a school official said on Tuesday that the shell would not be returned to them. The family said they were also told that the next step might involve assigning a probation officer to Bradley."

Now isn't this a great moral message to send a child? This gift, which might have served as a reminder and an emotional connection to the service of his family and the military in general, was basically stolen from him by what is supposed to be an authority figure to be respected. And now that authority figure has given him a Draconian punishment for basically nothing. His mother summed it up nicely:

"Ordinarily, I try to think ahead about things, but to me, this was something good, not bad. It was just an empty shell, not even from a real bullet. A sharpened pencil would be more dangerous than this piece of metal."

Now, now, ma'am, what in the world are you thinking? Using logic when it comes to guns, or anything associated with them, is obviously pointless.

The New York Times on The Cons of Creation

How nice to see our beloved Texas Board of Education getting called out nationally by the New York Times for participating in the "strengths and weaknesses" denialist scam. It's brief and to the point, with a great finish:

"Scientists are always probing the strengths and weakness of their hypotheses. That is the very nature of the enterprise. But evolution is no longer a hypothesis. It is a theory rigorously supported by abundant evidence. The weaknesses that creationists hope to teach as a way of refuting evolution are themselves antiquated, long since filed away as solved. The religious faith underlying creationism has a place, in church and social studies courses. Science belongs in science classrooms."

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mike Gallagher: Another Fictional Chapter in Obama's Book

I continue to be amused by the flap over the sermon delivered unto Trinty Baptist Church by Father Pfleger. It was, dare I say it, boring. All we have here is a white priest who, for reasons unknown, has decided to parrot all the flawed white entitlement affirmative action arguments as fervently as might Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, who have uttered near identical words more often than I care to remember. Anyone who was shocked by this rhetoric needs to get out more.

Of course, desperate to get something, anything, horrible and mean and nasty to stick to Barak Obama, the right-wingosphere went nuts over this. But where is the substance of the argument? Some, like Mike Gallagher, seem intent to recreate the situation in his own fictional image:

"The only reason [Pfleger] referred to Hillary Clinton as basically a white supremacist is that he thought the cameras weren't working...Is it possible that Sen. Obama condones such ugly language?"

Wow. Ironclad innuendo there. It is an especially dismissible argument since Pfleger did not call Hillary a white supremacist. Again, if you watch the clip, all Pfleger did was say what practically every black activist in the 80's and 90's said when promoting affirmative action: that whites enjoy so many benefits of past racism that they've come to feel entitled to them, thus Hillary crying about Obama coming in and "stealing" the nomination from her.

That anyone thinks this is something Obama needs to explain shows just how warped our political system has become, and just how desperate the Republicans are to "get something" on Obama. They'll have to do a lot better than this.

As an aside, I have a simple solution for politicians who wish to avoid such situations. Stop aligning yourself with ministers. They all, at one time or another, say something completely absurd. That is, after all, the playing field they've chosen. Leave them to it, and get to the job of governing all of us, not just those that share your faith.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama to Get Clinton Endorsement at Event on Friday

According to Reuters, Hillary Clinton is going to appear with and endorse Barak Obama for President of the United States on Friday, after an apparently very intense and hastily called conference call between Senator Clinton and eight senators. It looks like even Democrats can get balls if you push them far enough, and she did.

Now that Hillary has finally been set aside, as she should have been long ago, we should cogitate on the significance of what has happened. For the first time in American history (and that includes both the Northern and Southern varieties), less than 150 years after slavery ended here, less than 50 years since the civil rights act, a black man is a major party candidate for president. This is a rare gem these days for America in the eyes of the world. No longer can our talk of the freedom of movement in this country: politically, economically, socially, be ignored as just so much talk. Now we've put our votes where our mouths were, at least 40% or so of us, and nominated a black man for president.

This puts us ahead of many curves. Barak Obama shows, nay, proves, that behavior matters more than race in America. That's certainly not to say we are finished repairing race relations in America. We still have much work to do. But this is certainly a huge landmark of progress. Regardless of what one thinks of Barak Obama as a president, we can all celebrate this. It certainly has not always been true here, and it remains untrue in many places around the world. In that we can take pride.

Texas Science - Here Come the Stealth Creationists!

Now that they've finished rewriting how we read, the State Board of Education aims its duplicitous rhetoric at the science standards, with the agenda of sneaking creationism into biology classes. But don't expect them to be honest about it. Board Vice Chairman David Bradley demonstrates:

“I hate to take the air out of their balloon. They're going to be very disappointed if they come for a fight. The only thing that this board is going to do is ask for accuracy. It's all going to be in the Texas anti-Freedom Network's mind. They are working themselves into a frenzy,”

Ah yes, a "frenzy", exactly the kind of scare word you apply to an opponent you wish to smear, not a tangential group completely off track worrying about a nonexistent problem. AS for accuracy, sure, and Pravda was really all about truth. It's all about accuracy, as long as you take "accuracy" to be something that only applies to biology, and accepts long-debunked ignorant nonsense. This is the new face of creationism folks. Ken Mercer demonstrates:

"We want our children to be able to think and understand the strengths and weaknesses of any theory. Some ultra-radical groups have not evolved to the point where they realize that the ‘theory of Evolution' is just that — a theory. Any real scientist understands there are major weaknesses in evolution...If we truly believe in intellectual debate, let's discuss those weaknesses."

There you have it, pure creationist canard first word to last. Allow me to translate the Creationese:

1) "understand the strengths and weaknesses" means "hearing debunked creationist arguments appearing nowhere in the scientific literature, and flawed either logically or factually as if they were legitimate scientific concerns". Take note that those promoting this position never ever elucidate the strengths of evolution, or the weaknesses of any other scientific theory. For people supposedly concerned only with accuracy, their focus seems a tad narrow.

2) "Some ultra-radical groups" means "people who defend and practice the scientific method." They are in a "frenzy" too. Again these are just smear words, intended not to enlighten, but to win points with a political audience.

3) "the ‘theory of Evolution' is just that — a theory" is simply a way to appeal to the ignorant. There is no kind way to put this one, because anyone who has taken a basic science course knows that "theory" in science does not mean "a wild-assed drunken guess", but rather "a hypothesis with broad explanatory power and evidenciary backing". It is equivocation, plain and simple, the same as if someone had asked "If Jesus is the lamb of God, then where is his wool?". Yet Mercer has a degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin. Mistake or lie? You do the math.

4) "Any real scientist" means "a scientist, or at least someone who sounds like one to ignorant ears (ie Kent Hovind), who gives debunked creationist arguments credence". Creationists love the argument from authority, for it fits right in with the authoritarian religious viewpoint they are always denying. They parade around any PhD they can find who agrees with them, even if they don't really have expertise in the relevant field. Yet we are supposed to give their views credence because of the credentials. Yet when I raise the point that 99.9% of scientists in the relevant fields think their hand-picked PhDs' views are a steaming pile, suddenly it is evidence, and not credentials, that are supposed to interest me.

5) "there are major weaknesses in evolution" means "there has not been a complete, detailed, step-by-step evolutionary explanation demonstrated for each and every biological circumstance", and that is when they are being honest and not holding evolution responsible for explaining gravity and time as well, things far outside it's purview. Again, letting their absolutist religious viewpoints show, creationists have a very hard time dealing with the uncertainty and step-by-step process of science. To them, any lack of knowledge implies total lack of knowledge. It's akin to dismissing any doctor as incompetent who cannot cure every condition.

6) "If we truly believe in intellectual debate, let's discuss those weaknesses" is another equivocation. The intellectual debate scientists promote is done in the scientific journals, not school-room debate teams, and for good reason. It takes far more knowledge to form a good case worth debating than it does to learn basic material. Good pedagogy has debate at the top of the knowledge food chain, instruction at the bottom. Tae Kwon Do students do not debate the master, they learn from him. Creationists want to turn this system on its head because they know they stand a far greater chance with an audience of ignorant and disinterested school kids than they do with people who will see through their nonsense.

One sees these arguments over and over again from creationists and their supporters. It is a rhetorical fingerprint. As they used to say about a certain dissembling president, ignore what he says, watch what he does. Thusly deal with politicians on the subject of biology when you hear them say something like this:

“There are issues in the evolutionary process that have been proven wrong...”

Since neither Bradley nor anyone else claiming to have disproven an aspect of evolutionary theory has won the Nobel Prize lately, as such an accomplishment would warrant, it is safe to assume the statement is just more hogwash. And if all that fails to persuade, consider Bradley's Freudian significance in this choice of words:

“Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions.”

Yes, that is exactly what these guys want. They want students to jump to conclusions on the subject of evolution, because those conclusions are liable to be wrong, as most such conclusions are. A studious, patient, evidenciary approach is the last thing these guys want. Why in world have we put people so antagonistic to good science in charge of science education, I will never understand. But that's no reason we should allow them to get by with all this deceptive language. Make no mistake, the agenda is to get creationism into science classes, one tiny step at a time. Don't let them get away with it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Why Conservative Arguments on Gay Marriage Fall on Deaf Ears: Kevin McCullough Demonstrates

Obviously the social conservatives are up in arms about the gay marriage ruling. But their arguments don't seem to have any effect on those who don't already agree with them. The reason for this is simple: they refuse to deal with reality, and instead insist on basing their views on premises that are laughably ridiculous to anyone who actually knows anything about gay people, or the animal kingdom at large. Garbage in, garbage out. If you refuse to deal with people as they are, and treat them instead as you wish they were, it is easy to see that results will be poor. Ironically, that is the very argument conservatives throw at liberals on issues like reform of prisoners, and here it comes home to bite the conservatives on the ass on the issue of gay marriage.

Enter Kevin McCullough, to give us a nice walk-through of all the fictions and inconsistent reasoning social conservatives hide behind when it comes to gay marriage. Right out of the chute McCullough hits us with a cornucopia of confusion.

"The sexual behavior that one chooses to engage in, will never be equal to the status of a person's race. Confusing these two truly different concepts is dishonest. And those who claim otherwise do so for manipulated outcome to redesign society.
Normal people have understood this since the beginning of time."

It is a testimony to the resistance social conservatives have to acknowledging facts that conflict with their ideology that someone in 2008 could still think gayness is based on chosen sexual behavior. One could make quite an effective case that homosexuals were all insane based on such a premise, given the drawbacks of such a choice. Oh, but then there's that little problem of a complete lack of evidence for that.

It is also a testimony to their logical deficiencies that they'd think it matters. The issue at hand is the attributes society decides should be off-limits with regard to discrimination in the law. There is nothing about this that requires said attributes to be immutable. After all, religion is another trait deemed so off limits. It would seem it is McCullough and his crew that are dishonestly confusing different concepts for a manipulated outcome.

And as if to cement the case that McCullough's is an ignorant, almost childish description of the issue, we get his "normal" crack at the end of paragraph one. I confess I don't think I've seen an appeal to "normal people" since the 3rd grade. Needless to say, McCullough and his cohorts have had no better luck over the years in defining such a term as my cohorts on the playground did. It's use is a confession of a lack of intelligent argumentation. The rest of McCullough's ill-thought out article follows in similar regard, using Coulteristic histrionics and worn out social conservative canards.

We get the civic court canard, as we are told the California court is an activist one, tyrannically forcing its view on society. Earth to Kevin: that's what courts do in a constitutional democracy. That's what the "constitutional" part means: limiting what the majority can do. McCullough and crew no doubt know this, since they never scream "activist court" when the courts rule in their favor. It's pure politics.

We get the "preventing my force is force" argument. McCullough would use force to prevent homosexuals from being married. The court now said this is not allowed. Thus, in typical theocratic style, McCullough and crew interpret this as inflicting force on them. The way he talks, one would think the ruling said that all people MUST enter homosexual unions. The idea of just leaving people alone to enter unions of their choice is anathema to McCullough.

We get the slippery slope canard, where this decision is going to lead to polygamy and/or group marriage. The questions never answered are "why, and what would be the harm?" Over and over again people like McCullough jump up and down about the horrors of having marriages other than one-man-one-woman, yet they are never, ever, able to objectively describe what those horrors are. Don't expect any different in this article, he never gets there either.

We get more of the lack of understanding of what it means to be a homosexual:

"Choosing to act on those urges - defines the individual's sexual orientation."

No, no, a thousand times no. It is the desire, the urge, the attraction to others of the same sex, that makes one homosexual, just like it is the attraction to those of the opposite sex that makes one heterosexual. A priest who is attracted to women but stays true to his vows of celibacy is just as much of a heterosexual as I am. On the other hand, an actor (say Heath Ledger) playing a gay character in a movie may make some of the choices in question, but that doesn't make him gay. This really is very simple, but again, the dishonesty abounds on the right side of the debate, simply for political purposes.

We get the immutability-from-god argument, with the usual scientific ignorance we've come to expect from the crew that thinks Intelligent Design is science:

"A woman who is African American, can no more be a white woman the next day regardless of how much she wished to (if she even would). Likewise a Latino man could not go to bed one night at 5'8" and wake up the next morning to find he was black, 7'2'', and the starting center for his local NBA franchise. Race and other truly genetic based parts of life - skin color, height, shape and forms of features are pieces of ourselves that only God Himself had the choice in determining."

McCullough, as he's shown in other articles, is completely DNA ignorant. The fact that it is conceivable that a black woman would undergo genetic manipulation and be a white women the next day is unfathomable to him, as is the medical operation done to potentially 8 foot tall people to keep them at a more common height. McCullough still lives in the dark ages, where animals have divine essence, and any tinkering with them is "playing god".

"Yet one overwhelming fact stares them in the face at every turn. God designed it so that only the sexual union of a man and a woman can create a life - and therefore extend society and civilization."

Ah, the ignore-reality canard. I guess McCullough has missed all the medical advances in the last, oh, 50 years or so that allow people to produce children with a variety of sexual unions, or none whatsoever. Or perhaps it is just another case of ignoring them because they run counter to his ideology. All it takes is an egg and a sperm and a warm place to grow, and even those barriers are liable to come down in the near decades.

Even granting the premise, perhaps McCullough forgot the fallacy of composition, that what is true for individuals is not necessarily true for groups, and vic versa. Human society only needs SOME people to form egg-sperm unions to extend society and civilization. Having some couples form that cannot bear children does not impede that, and given the problems with overpopulation the earth has, having more such couples might be optimal to the survival of the species.

And finally, in the spirit of Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Ted Haggert, and the many other rabid anti-gay proponents who turned out to be gay themselves, we get the ubiquitous "down the throat" analogy:

"Ultimately the citizens of California are smarter than the four arrogant black robes who sought to push an agenda down the throats of the voters."

I note with great interest the frequency of such vivid analogies in anti-gay screeds. It ranks right up there with Ann Coulter's obsession with anal sex and sex with animals. Perhaps they need to be told that if someone with an attraction to the same sex pretends it doesn't exist and instead chooses to engage in heterosexual activity, that does not make one a heterosexual. It makes one a homosexual in denial of reality. They've certainly got the latter down.