Thursday, July 31, 2008

Catholic Clergy Clueless on What Freedom of Religion Means

In response to PZ Myers great desecration of a communion wafer, The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy
took this opportunity to demonstrate they have no understanding whatsoever of the concept of freedom of religion. Their statement is factually and logically flawed from beginning to end, a near pure product of misinformation and ignorance.

"The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a national association of 600 priests & deacons) respond to the sacrilegious and blasphemous desecration of the Holy Eucharist by asking for public reparation. We ask all Catholics of Minnesota and of the entire nation to join in a day of prayer and fasting that such offenses never happen again."

Pity the pious never leave it at that. A lot of wars could have been avoided.

"We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech."

OK, from their point of view, reprehensible and inexcusable make sense. But unconstitutional? Since when does the constitution say "the right of wafers to not be tossed in the garbage impaled by a nail will not be infringed". Truly, this statement is daft, and calls into serious question the credibility of this group.

"The same Bill of Rights which protect freedom of speech also protect freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers did not envision a freedom FROM religion, rather a freedom OF religion."

This is nonsense. In order for me to have freedom of religion, I must be free from your religion, and all others, just like everyone else's freedom of religion means they must be free from mine. And of course, the atheist needs to be free of all religions. One cannot have freedom OF religion without freedom FROM religion.

"In other words, our nation's constitution protects the rights of ALL religions, not one and not just a few. Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper. "

To illustrate how idiotic this statement is, consider a religion that required the deposition of communion wafers in the garbage, or any other situation where one religion's view conflicts with another's. Obviously freedom of religion must allow one man to follow his religious predilections even if they conflict with anothers.

The comparison to perjury and libel is poor, and reveals the basic lack of understanding of the broader issues these gentlemen have. Libel and perjury are sensible concepts because they refer to an objective reality, where right and wrong can be ascertained. Religion is not such a subject, which is the very reason we have freedom of religion in the first place. All opinions of the nature and number of the gods are equally valuable, or equally worthless, depending on how one chooses to look at the issue. There can be no right and wrong when the answer is forever unknown.

"Lies and hate speech which incite contempt or violence are not protected under the law."

True, aside from the part about contempt, but irrelevant nonetheless in this case. What lie did PZ Myers tell? What violence did he incite? None that I can see. He threw a wafer in the trash. Sure, the Catholics believe that wafer is the literal body of Christ, but that belief has no more bearing on Myers than the belief by some that teddy bears are living beings would have on my right to toss mine in the garbage if I see fit. This is the point about freedom of religion that these gentlemen can't seem to grasp. Freedom of religion means you can believe anything is holy that you wish. It doesn't mean you have the right to force others to act as if they shared your beliefs.

"Hence, inscribing Swastikas on Jewish synagogues or publicly burning copies of the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran, especially by a faculty member of a public university, are just as heinous and just as unconstitutional."

Inscribing a swastika, or anything else, on a synagogue or church, is vandalism, a violation of property rights, as would be the burning of Bibles or Korans owned by others. But again, your views on the holiness of those books puts no burden on me. I am entirely within my right to burn any book I choose, the Bible, the Koran, or the God Delusion.

"Individual freedoms are limited by the boundaries created by the inalienable rights of others. The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance."

What utter nonsense! So now only Catholics can criticize Catholics? How convenient for them, and how convenient for me. See, I was confirmed in the Catholic church, so I guess I do have the right to burn Bibles, trash Eucharists, and bugger alter boys. Oh wait, I have to be a priest for that, but I digress.

Freedom of religion means that no one has the right to stop you from believing and worshiping as you see fit. THAT is the boundary created by the inalienable rights of others. Your religious rights end when you enter my place of worship, and vice versa.

"The Chancellor of the University refused to reprimand or censure the teacher, who ironically is a Biology Professor. One fails to see the relevance of the desecration of a Catholic sacrament to the science of Biology. Were Myers a Professor of Theology, there would have been at least a presumption of competency to express religious opinions in a classroom."

The Catholic gentlemen's grasp of the facts of this case seem no better than their grasp of the constitution. Myers did nor perform his act as a biology professor in a biology class, but as a private citizen exercising his right to free expression. Just what is the Chancellor supposed to reprimand Myers for, abuse of yeast?

"Yet, for a scientist to ridicule and show utter contempt for the most sacred and precious article of a major world religion, is inappropriate, unprofessional, unconstitutional and disingenuous."

Disingenuous? These guys get better all the time. Are they now claiming Myers did not really mean to trash the cracker?

"A biologist has no business 'dissing' any religion, rather, they should be busy teaching the scientific discipline they were hired to teach. Tolerating such behavior by university officials is equally repugnant as it lends credibility to the act of religious hatred. We also pray that Professor Myers contritely repent and apologize."

I pray to the great trashed bread that in the future, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy make more of an effort to ascertain the facts of a case before bearing false witness against a citizen. I also hope they learn a little about freedom of religion and speech, and that it must, if it is to have any meaning at all, allow for speech and religions we find repugnant.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Democratic VP Will be Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine is just too good a fit for the Obama ticket to pass up. As attractive as cadidates like Kathleen Sebelius might be, one minority on a ticket is plenty given that there has never been a winner with a minority on the ticket. Speaking of minorities, Kaine's fluence in Spanish will aid Obama in that group of ever-growing importance. The cherry on top, of course, is that Kaine is from Virginia, and all important battleground state, and having him on the ticket will make it a strong Obama state.

Obama/Kaine. Get used to it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Right to Offend

Some believe that it's never OK to gratuitously attempt to hurt the feelings of large groups of people. They are wrong. It is not only right, but in some ways incumbant on us to do so, particularly when their feelings get hurt due to a worldview that, were it not shielded from criticism by being labelled religious, would have them in a room with padded walls, and they think they have a right to enforce their views via threats and force.

It is high time such people learn, be they Muslim, Catholic, or any other belief system, that no one else is under any obligation to avoid engaging in behavior that they arbitrarily declare offensive, and the louder they scream that we shouldn't, and threaten us with violence, the more of it they should see. We'll destroy crackers if we want to, draw pictures of Mohammed if we want to, and yes, tear up pages of The God Delusion if we so desire. That's what free speach MEANS - my speech doesn't have to conform to your views.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What's A Breast Going to do to Children?

As I read Brent Bozell's latest screed against all that is nonsqueemish, I ran across this platitude we hear all the time when those of the socially conservative nature get exposed to something that makes them squirm. Bozell is speaking of the brief exposure of Janet Jackson's breast at the super bowl:

"What was not shocking about sudden nudity on the most watched television broadcast of the year, in front of an audience stuffed with millions of children?"

I have a simple question for the Bozell's of the world. What harm, exactly, is going to befall a child who sees a naked breast? It's not as though he saw a man drive a knife into a woman's chest. Oh wait, that would have been allowed, as are all sorts of violence on television. Why can we show a man shoot his wife in the chest, but we can't show him lovingly caress her chest? It seems our concerns are bass ackwards.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Catholics and the Cracker: How can this be Happening?

The friend of the student who took a Eucharist and did not eat it is now facing possible expulsion for the incident.

Incident. Someone took a piece of bread and didn't eat it. I know, I know, we should respect people's right to practice their religions and not crash their parties. But that makes those who do so rude, not worthy of having one's education derailed, possibly affecting this young man for the rest of his life. That this has gone so far is an indication of just how truly crazy the norm of religiosity is here in the United States.

All the flap jabber about Richard Dawkins and other critics of religion supposedly attacking the extremes while ignoring the big reasonable middle sure seems empty now. Where is the reasonable middle to protest and stop this destruction of two young men's lives over a piece of bread? Oh right, they are calling for the young men's heads. So much for the reasonable middle.

Write the president of UCF and let him know just how out of proportion the reaction to Webster Cook's and Benjamin Pollard's actions are. Tolerance means tolerating those who believe differently than you do, whether they are religious or not.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Historic Election and the Implications for the GOP

Here is an interesting article suggesting that the election of a black man as president would destroy the base of the republican party. I'm not sure I buy the argument that the GOP is based on racism, but it's appeal to racists is undeniable. It will be interesting to see what happens as that part of the electorate continues to shrink, and if polls continue to favor Obama.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do Liberals Hate America?

For those who think being critical of America means being anti-American, listen to Roy Zimmerman singing about America. He illustrates the amazing demographic diversity in America, the absurd contradictions, how it all mixes together (Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving paintings in Indian casinos), and how amazing a social experiment this country has been. His description of the founding of this country is profound and amusing, reverant ("America is a conspiracy of genius in sweatstained wastecoats, and powdered wigs"), and critical. It is a patriotic lovefest of the highest order.

Now listen to Thanks for the Support, an angry anti-war song, exactly the sort of thing so often labelled anti-American, and with a shot for the Democrats as well as the Republicans. Yet we already know this guy loves America to his bones. Reality simply doesn't, in this case, support the American-critics-hate-America theory. I contend this case is more the norm than the caricature that people like Bill O'Reilly present as the norm. People aren't critical of America because they hate America. They are critical of it because they love it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Luskin Epitomizes the Intellectual Laziness of IDers

To see just how intellectually lazy IDer/creationists can be, check out Casey Luskin's long winded whine that the mean old scientists keep using "jargon" and won't dumb everything down to a third grade level for him. Check out the great dissections of his nonsense here and here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Difference Between IDers and Scientists on the Nature of the Designer

What is the nature of the designer?

Scientist: I don't know
IDer: I don't care.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flip Flops? Bad Jokes? Obama and McCain Just Show Who They Are, and So Do We

So far this presidential election final has been very disappointing. Here we have history in the making, either the first president over 71, or the first black president. We also have a ton of serious issues on the table. So what is the media talking about? Which wife said what about who, what the candidates think about cats and poker, and of course, whether Obama is a flip flopper and what in the world McCain was thinking when he joked about our exported cigarettes killing Iranians.

"Flip flop" is a word that is tossed around so much these days it has gotten as meaningless as "racist" is when uttered by Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. It used to be a perfectly sound word used to describe a politician whose opinions bounced from pro, then con, and back to pro again, for political gain. Think Mitt Romney on abortion. A simple change of position from pro to con could be explained by other matters, the most obvious being a change of mind, or of circumstance. But going back and forth is a tough sell as an ideological path, and suspicions of political hanky panky are warranted.

However, these days the term "flip flop" is applied to any change of mind, or appearance of same even to the extent of including mere clarification of position. This approach will brand any person who has put a lot of thought into their opinions as a flip flopper, because the popular mediums (driven by our ever-shortening attention spans) demand sound-bite answers, even when it is a six paragraph question. It creates a natural catch-22. Try to squeeze the six paragraph answer into the 45 second space, or god forbid ask for a clarification, and get dismissed as dodging. Give a sound bite that isn't exactly the same as the previous one, and you are a flip flopper.

This is Obama's problem on Iraq, and most of the other larger issues the next president will face that are monumentally more important than gay marriage and flag pins. He's an intellectual, and he has complicated nuanced opinions to complicated issues. He is not going to give the same answer to any complicated question twice in a row. The question "Do you think we should pull of out Iraq immediately?" is not a yes or no question. The world is just not that simple. Obama's opinions, once you trim away the political wrapping that comes with the territory, simply reveal the intellectual he is. Labelling this as "flip flopping" runs the serious risk of excluding from the office anyone with some serious intellect, and will send politicians right back into not answering the questions at all.

Likewise, when we hear John McCain wisecrack about our cigarette exports to Iran being "one way to kill them", we need to be really careful how we react to that. Every election we hear the complaint that politicians are plastic, stiff and insincere, and "Why can't they just be like a normal person?" Yet, when they accede to our wishes, we hammer them for any remark that is slightly off the safe path. Be careful what you ask for.

John McCain is simply showing us who he is. He is not a politician who used to be a soldier. He is a soldier who tries to be a politician. He thinks like a soldier, and he looks at the world like a soldier. And in his mind, as it is in the mind of many, Iran is the enemy in a war where the first shot has not been fired yet. And what do soldiers do to the enemy? They kill the enemy, and they on occasion make jokes about it. Making it anything else is to deny who the man is and make much of nothing.

Now one might argue that a president needs more clarity of vision than Obama does, and needs to appear to be more consistent. And one might argue that John McCain's diplomatic skill is suspect to make such a joke. Those are the arguments we should have, along with [gasp] what the presidential candidates plan to do about the big issues of the day. What we do not need is gotcha games that call every nuance of opinion a flip flop, and brand everyone with a sense of humor as insensitive.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Is America Ready? Of Course

Roy Zimmerman once again nails it. Nice to learn a little amusing history with my entertainment.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Social Conservatives and the Big Abstinence Lie

Any time one engages fundamentalist social conservatives on the subject of birth control and teen pregnancy, one is likely to hear the Big Abstinence Lie ™ and Kevin McCullough doesn’t disappoint:

”Of course logical people everywhere are still scratching their heads at that one, because it is 100% scientifically provable that abstinence - when practiced is always 100% reliable. “

While this may sound reasonable at a glance, it is really a bit of logical sophistry mixed with some basic denial of the complexities of life.

In the first place, the claim is simply empirically incorrect, since an abstinent woman can become pregnant, or catch an STD, from being raped, being the unfortunate victim of a medical mistake (ie Ryan White or Arthur Ashe), or getting too close to a young man who, well, has less bodily control than he will have later in life. But more importantly, this claim ignores the fact that there are two kinds of error in any endeavor: application error, and functional error. For example, with the strategy of wearing a condom, forgetting to wear it is application error. The condom breaking is functional error. Both can result in the unwanted effects of disease and pregnancy, so both must be considered. For people to make the claim that McCullough does they must either pretend application error doesn’t exist, or that for some reason, the ill effects of it are somehow less important than those same ill effects acquired by other means.

To illustrate most starkly how silly McCullough’s position is, just apply the same thinking to an alcoholic trying to stay sober. It is 100% scientifically provable that abstinence from drinking - when practiced is always 100% reliable. “Yeah”, says the alcoholic, “but it is the abstaining I have a hard time with”. Likewise with teens and sex. An Abstinence program does not forcibly keep children from having sex. All it does is tell them to not have sex and hope they don’t. Claiming that the program was a success because all who did so remained disease and pregnancy free is small comfort to those that weren’t able to. It is sophistry of the worst kind.

Worse yet, the social conservatives aren’t consistent in the way they evaluate alternatives to abstinence. Here is Jennifer Roback Morse:

”The advocates of contraception have finally admitted in public what some of us have known for a while: The Pill doesn't work very well. Professor James Trussell of Princeton, one of the world experts on failure rates of various forms of contraception, told a conference in the UK: ‘One in 12 women taking the Pill gets pregnant each year because they miss so many tablets. ….Half of all pregnancies in America are unintended and half of those happen because contraception failed or was not taken properly, the rest were not using any contraception.’”

So to summarize, when someone chooses the pill as their birth control method, and gets pregnant as a result of failing to take the pill properly, that counts as a failure of the method. But when someone chooses abstinence as their method, and gets pregnant through failure to be abstinent, that doesn’t count as a failure of the method. Can you say “double standard” boys and girls? I knew you could.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Laws of Physics for Dummies

The Laws of Physics for Dummies:

1st law: You can’t win

2nd law: You can’t break even

3rd Law: You can’t get out of the game.

Courtesy of Mike Elzinga @ Panda's Thumb.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Now this is a Funeral

Leave it to the Monte Python crew to do it right for Graham Chapman.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hawkins' Made Up World about Liberals

If you want to see why modern conservatism is being rejected more and more by those in the reality-based community, you need only look at an article like John Hawkins “Why Liberals Lie about what they Believe”. One would think with such a serious accusation Hawkins would have done painstaking research, and have multiple factual references to the myriad claims he makes against “liberals”. Instead, all we get is a bunch of vague, paranoid MSU. The article is one long string of unsupported assertions, with nary a supporting fact to be found. He can’t even be bothered to name who these “liberals” are. Typical are fact free rants like this:

”More disturbing is the Left's ever-increasing reliance on what are commonly thought of as fascist tactics. Liberals at college campuses attempt to disrupt conservative speeches and the Democrats want to try to drive conservative talk radio hosts off the air with the Fairness Doctrine. Conservatives like Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter have been targeted criminally for political reasons and there's even talk of trying to jail members of the Bush Administration over policy differences after they're out of office. Ideological soul mates of modern liberals -- like Stalin, Lenin, and Mao -- would certainly approve of those tactics.

What liberals at what colleges? How does this compare to conservatives disrupting liberal speeches? Who wants to drive conservatives off the radio, and what is the evidence? Where’s evidence that the trouble DeLay, Rush, and A. Hart are in is politically motivated? Jailing members of the Bush administration because of policy differences? Who said this? Where? Hawkins can’t be bothered with facts. Once again we see the parallel with the Intelligent Design crew. His article is one long Gish Gallop, no evidence allowed. You don’t suppose it is because he doesn’t have any, and he simply made shit up to rile the faithful for political purposes? Nah, couldn’t be that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Obvious Contradiction of the Resistence to Gay Marriage by the Family Values Crowd

The religious right’s resistance to gay marriage is marred by a stark and obvious contradiction which reveals how out of touch these people are with the realities of modern society. This was perfectly illustrated by Pat Buchanen’s response, which laid the contradiction out so clearly even Stevie Wonder could recognize it:

” With a third of all children born out of wedlock -- 50 percent of all Hispanic kids, 70 percent of black kids -- and half of all marriages ending in divorce, the social indicators have recorded explosions -- in crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, dropout rates, gang membership, and jail and prison populations.
The correlation between prison inmates and broken homes, or homes never created, is absolute. What armies of social scientists with six-figure salaries today tell us, 12-year-olds knew 50 years ago. “

Well, yes Pat, and apparently, a contradiction so large any 12-year-old could see it needs to be explained to those who resist homosexual unions based on bronze age myths. Allowing homosexuals to get married will result in fewer children born of broken homes or homes never created, not more. Perhaps Pat is unaware that many homosexuals have children, and that the very traditional laws he is supporting break these homes, and keep them that way. Allowing homosexuals to pursue relationships true to their hearts will result in fewer divorces between heterosexuals and homosexuals denying their true selves. And perhaps Pat missed his classes in basic biology, but homosexuals in committed relationships are physically incapable of producing children at all without serious medical assistance.

It is absurd on its face to argue that the way to reduce the number of children living outside of stable homes is to deny a segment of the population the opportunity to form a stable home. It is just one more indication that social conservatives are completely out of touch with the realities of the modern world.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy Belated 4th!

Here's a picture worth 1,000,000 words:

Chris Comer Fights Back

Chris Comer, former state science curriculum director fired for darting to mention a talk by Barbara Forrest on Intelligent Design, is now suing the Texas Education Agency:
” Her lawsuit seeks a court order overturning the TEA’s neutrality policy on teaching of creationism and declaring that her dismissal was unconstitutional. The suit also seeks her reinstatement to her old job.”

It is nice that Comer is attacking the core of the problem. The notion that a science department must be neutral on whether a hypothesis is pseudoscience or science is absurd at its core. The timing couldn’t be better, since the battle over the science curriculum in Texas is about to heat up. Let’s hope the crucible of the courts will once again burn away the nonsense the creationists like to toss into the mix to reveal the reality of what is going on in the biological sciences.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Hitchens gets the Walk The Walk Award

Love or hate Christopher Hitchens, you have to give him the Walk the Walk award for this one. He went and had himself water boarded. It is worth reading the entire chilling account, but here are the seminal comments:

”You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered... I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if water boarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

Leave it to the rare atheist hawk to be one of the few to put his drowning where his politics are and see for himself what the process is really like. Now perhaps that we know water boarding is torture, we can get to the discussion of whether we want the US to be a nation known for it, and dispense with the semantic games the administration insists on playing with this issue.

Friday, July 4, 2008

How Low Can Dembski Fall? Josh McDowell?

William Dembski’s new book “Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything you need to know in plain language” is out, amid as much fanfare as a dying movement can hope for. Sadly, there is little expectation that the book contains the answers to all the basic questions scientists have about ID: Who did it, when, how, and where? There is also another indication that the thin veneer of ID as science and not religion is coming off: the forward is written by Josh McDowell, the master of not answering questions.

For the uninitiated, Josh McDowell is the author of several books purported to answer all the questions skeptics have with regard to the divinity of Jesus, and the existence of the Christian God, but which instead merely preach to the choir with arguments that make those not yet saved laugh in disbelief. “How do we know God is God? Because He tells us he is” is a typical example of the level of McDowell’s discourse. This is who Dembski chose to write the forward to his book supposedly on a scientific topic. And we thought the IDers couldn’t sink lower than Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Mother of all Ironies: Craig, Vitter and the Marriage Protection Amendment

This reads like a bad Satuday Night Live skit. Two shameless senators have stood up for the Marriage Protection Amendment: David "DC Hooker" Vitter and Larry "Wide Stance" Craig.
Some can't resist the opportunity for satire.

Conservapedia Brings You the Dumbest Thing You Will Ever Read

I know, I know, picking on Conservapedia is like kicking the shit out of a barking chihuahua. The little shit might deserve it, but it hardly seems sporting. Yet this entry, purporting to explain how Noah's animals got dispersed to such great distances all over the earth after landing on Mount Ararat:

"Another comes from the example of Krakatoa, which in 1883 erupted and destroyed most of the island which remained lifeless for many years. But eventually the same life that was there before the eruption came back.

It is possible that volcanoes in the Mount Ararat region[1] were able to transport the smaller animals over much greater distances than the animals could get just by walking."

Yes, that means what it seems, against all intellect, to mean. The poor critters that needed to travel so far, the kangaroos, penguins and sloths, got on top of Ararat and BLAM! "And they were guided by the hand of God to their native lands, and by a miracle, were not blown into teensy bits".

Much to my dismay, the term "conservative" is slowly coming to mean "reality-denying". These are not my grandfather's conservatives.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ligers and UFC Heavyweights - Same Problem?

I have been watching videos about ligers, crosses between male lions and female tigers. They grow to enormous size, over 1,000 pounds, almost twice the size of either parent. Yet it is the majority opinion that they would not survive in the wild, because they are so large they would be unable to procure sufficient prey to maintain their bulk. With the increased size comes too much of a decrease in speed, agility, and stamina.

This drives home the point of diminishing returns with regard to size and combat, one fans of the UFC have witnessed for years. Despite our instincts to the contrary, huge men (over 300 pounds) fair poorly against slightly smaller men and lose consistently to them, as you can see here. They simply cannot maneuver their huge mass enough to defend themselves. With humans, or nature, there is such a thing as too large.