Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oral Roberts: God Finally Took Him

Oral Roberts, preacher and beggar of divine funds extraordinaire, pulled off the lowest of the low cons some years ago when he claimed if his followers didn't give him sufficient funds, God would "call him home".

And people gave. A lot. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Oral Roberts is dead. Good riddance. Aren't you all so glad you gave?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Great Debunking of the God-could-have-done-it-that-way Argument

If you get as bored as I do with the bad math and biological ignorance of the creationists who constantly claim some mutation or another is too improbable, check out what happens to Cornelius Hunter when a commenter named Duke goes to the trouble of doing the calculations for the evolution of a mitochondrial protein for him. Hunter just yanks a "million million" figure out of his ass, and then gets confused when Duke actually takes the time to put together a lower bound for the number of corn mitochondria:

Just to give an idea of the scale of numbers we're talking about here. Let' say that every corn mitochondrion has the minimum number of genomes, 2 (although that number will probably vary, since having more or fewer genomes is a common genetic abnormality, even in humans), and let's say that every corn cell has 100 mitochondria in it (Google "How many mitochondria in a plant cell" and take the first result), which is the low estimate for plants. Let's also assume that each corn plant has a millions cells in it, which is ridiculously low, but I'm making a point here. That means we have

2 genomes/mitochon. * 100 Mitochon/cell * 1e6 cell/plant

That means 2e8 mitochondrial genomes per plant, and that's a ridiculously low estimate. Even so, that takes you to one five-thousandth of your legendary "million million" number.

But wait! There are 4e12 corn plants grown every year. That means there are 8e20 (that's 800,000,000,000,000,000,000) separate mitochondria, every year, each one ready to randomly stumble upon a simple protein in that tiny 1e12 haystack.

Hunter's only reply after a lot of obtuseness by design is to declare the comparison "apples and oranges and not making sense".

Hunter also reveals that he doesn't understand that genomes do not copy themselves perfectly:

Hunter: You can have as many copies of the mitochondria as you like in that line of corn, they share the same genome.

Duke: Um... Reference? You're saying that mitochondria copy themselves perfectly? With no mutation at all? You'll have to show your work on that, I'm afraid.

Nor does he understand how common gene duplication is:

Hunter: And finally, the vast majority of the de novo gene we're talking about has high similarity to two existing segments in the genome. You're saying that unguided mutations just happened to create a new gene that mimics two existing sequences?

Duke: Um... Yes? This sort of thing is common and observed. Part of the genome is copied and added onto the genome twice. It's like some unguided copy-editor added two versions of Chapter Four to a book.

And for the best moment, one of Hunter's fans named Natschuster tries to come in and save him:

Natschuster: I'm not convinced that it could turn the corn into a new species. If I make small random changes to my car, I might get lucky, and one of the changes will improve my cars performance, but I don't think that it will ever turn my car into a truck.

Duke:Really? You can't see turning your car into a truck in small steps? Your car into a truck? Really?

Are you serious?

Of course, your thought experiment of turning a car into a truck is wildly wrong, betraying a gross misunderstanding of what your opponents believe. What you'd actually be doing is copying your car, repeatedly, thousands upon thousands of time, with minor variations. Those copies in the second generation that cease to function are destroyed; those that are better at performing whatever you need them to do are kept (in the case of the car-to-truck transition, this might be hauling cargo rather than carrying passengers) to breed the third generation. Repeat as necessary. This sort of thing does happen and has been demonstrated happening.

Ideological denial, meet reality, courtesy of Duke. Check out the entire exchange, it's a howler.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

House Panel OKs Bill on College Football Playoff

A House panel has given the OK to a bill proposed by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington (that would be very close to TCU), which would prevent the BCS from calling its title game any form of a "national championship game" unless it were the result of a playoff system.

"What our friends and fans need to know about the Bowl Championship Series is that it is not about choosing the champion or competition on the gridiron," Barton said. "It is about revenue sharing for the schools that are in the BCS conferences."

The BCS, which started in 1998, was supposed to diminish controversy over determining a college football champion. But critics say the format has only muddled the situation further and left many schools at a disadvantage. BCS officials and other defenders of the system say it has a good record of producing a championship matchup and is constantly being adjusted for fairness.

Barton and others reiterated concerns about the system, though, during a jocular hourlong hearing that featured a number of references to team loyalties. Tradition-rich schools and conferences receive the bulk of the BCS' multimillion-dollar payouts, they said, and smaller schools, such as TCU and Boise State, have little opportunity to participate in the title game.

That's putting it too kindly. By eliminating point spread in the computer ratings which make up 1/3 of the BCS rankings, the BCS system has made it mathematically impossible for a team from a small conference, like Boise State, to reach the top even it defeated every opponent 100-0. Middle-of-the-roaders like TCU could do it, but it would require a crazy year like this one where many top teams lost games they were heavily favored to win.

Let's hope this fundamental disparity triggers some principle in anti-trust law to break up the BCS oligarchy and allow a playoff and a champion decided on the field, as happens in every other college sport, including lower division football.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Uncomfortable Question for Young Earth Creationists

From Raven:

The other question some YECs hate is, “Do you believe Noah had a boatload of dinosaurs?”

The YECs that are trying to look intelligent and educated will waffle around and refuse to answer it. They know it makes them look silly.

Be sure to ask it often and don’t let them evade the question.

It is a central story of their religion. God ineptly creates humans in his own image so they are also inept. Then he genocides all but 8 in an attempt to improve them. That didn’t work so he sent his kid down to be nailed to a tree. So how did that work? The next step in god’s improvement program to fix his original design flaws is another genocide.

For an all powerful being, he certainly seems to have trouble getting things to work. Someone tell me again, why the fundie god is worth worshipping?

Indeed, why? We've all been so immersed in this lunacy, many of us have lost the ability to step back and see just how loony it is.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nice Quote on Creationist Doublethink

'Creationists are the only people in the world who could simultaneously think that 6000 years is the entire history of the universe but that the 70 million years of the Cambrian Explosion is “sudden”.' - Reinard.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Designer's Goofs

For quick rebuttal to the notion of a designing intelligence being the only logicl explanation for the complexity of biology, I give you The Designer's Goofs, all 96 of them (bonus points for finding more). The most persuasive IMO are those where the supposed designer made the same exact mistake in many species. Rather odd sense of humor he has.

Primate dietary requirement for vitamin C

Apes and humans require vitamin C in their diets... which is rather odd, because most mammals synthesise their own. Yet although we humans cannot; we do have the same gene for this that they do... but it is broken! And it is rendered non-functional by precisely the same mutation in all the great apes. Coincidence? And how loving of the creator to give people without adequate diets scurvy!

Cat taste

Unlike most mammals, cats are uninterested in, and presumably are unable to taste, substances that are sweet. 'So what', you might say, 'they don't need to'. Well perhaps. But if they don't need to taste sweet things, it is odd that they possess the same requisite genetic machinery for sweet detection that other mammals have... but one of the two receptor genes is broken, rendering it non-functional.

What's more, the exact same deletion and stop codons are found, not just in domestic cats, but also in tigers and cheetahs, which means the designer gave superfluous sweet-taste genes, and then broke them identically, not just to one design, but to several.

Monday, November 30, 2009

This Week in Palinology: Book Signee's Speak, America Groans

For a blogger like me, always looking for the scientifically comical and idiotic about which to write, Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time she, or her sycophantic followers, open their mouths, blogworthy idiocy belches forth. I couldn't keep up with the woman during the 2008 election, and I fear for my fingers if she has the audacity to run in 2012. She is without peer.

But I've decided one Palin post a week is plenty, so here is the first of what will undoubtedly be many Palinology posts. So cringe along with the rest of thinking America as Palin book signees speak, babbling nonsensically about czars, common sense, realness, atomic bombs and all that.

Here's a great description of Palin, and explanation of why she is more popular with men than women:

It's very simple why women don't like her as much as men. Women saw through Sarah Palin and we saw through her quickly. Men are literal and are more likely to say what they mean and mean what they say. Women are more nuanced and better able to persuade and manipulate others with their words. So it's quite natural for us to be able to look below the surface of another woman's words and grasp the intentions behind them.

Sarah Palin is the peppy cheerleader in high school all the boys thought was so sweet but the girls knew was really a vicious shrew. She's the new girl in the office who wears tight shirts and three-inch heels, is super-friendly to her male superiors, ignores the other women, and gets promoted sooner than her more capable and hard working peers. She's the outgoing PTA mom all of the other women are scared to cross because they will find themselves put on the worst committees. Only a woman knows how to give another woman a sweet smile and at the same time cut her down to size with an artfully crafted "compliment" without male observers having a clue about what just happened. It's like a dog whistle.

And what would a Palin post be without some wisdom from the Grand Dame herself:

I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the, um, the, ah -- kind of spineless -- a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with elite Ivy League education and -- fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private-sector, free-enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

No, it doesn't have to be you, whatever "it" one can glean from that babble. Qualified to be President? She's not qualified to be the president's aid.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Perino: No Terrorist Attacks During Bush's Term

You have to watch this to believe it: Dana Perino actually says there was not a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term. Even worse, neither Sean Hannity nor Stuart Varney who were in the clip with her noticed or corrected her. This is akin to making a speech circa 1869 and claiming there hadn't been any war in the last 8 years. It is quite possibly the most untrue, inexcusable statement in the history of American politics. And of course it happened on Fox. Shocker.

Now to be fair, it's possible that Ms. Perino meant something else, and simply misspoke. After all, I think it's clear Barak Obama doesn't think there are 57 states, nor does Sarah Palin think Canada and Russia are in Alaska, because both misspoke when they said so. So if Dana Perino comes forward clearly correcting herself, I'll note it. Until then, she stands accused of shameful propagandizing.

The AGW Denialist Mindset Examined

More discussion at fivethirtyeight on the hacked global warming emails reveals the standard denialist mindset:

Your blog arguments basically boil down to the scam artists are following a standard scientific protocol which lay people are too stupid to understand. Bull feces.

Yeah, believe it or not, specialisits in scientific areas know a great deal more about them than does Joe the Plumber, or you, and in the hands of untrained or unscrupulous people (see below) they can be easily misrepresented or misunderstood. I know that offends your egalitarian ideologies, but tough noogies, reality doesn't care what you think. Every argument the AGW deniers put forth validates this hypothesis, and your ignorant rants are no exception. To wit:

The "idiots" to which Mann is referring are Steve McIntyre - the mathematician at Climate Audit, and Ross McKitrick, the economics professor

First, note the good counseler's assumption of facts not in evidence. Mann did not refer to McIntyre or McKitrick as idiots, not did I. I merely posed an obvious and plausible interpretation of Mann's words that was not the least bit conspiratorial. I never said it was an exhaustive list.

Another far more plausible interpretation of Mann's words is that people with an ax to grind, or cranks working outside their fields, might misuse and misrepresent the data and commentary to their own ends. McIntyre and McKitrick are perfect examples. We see this all the time in the evolution denial of the Intelligent Designers. The modus operandi of the AGW deniers is identical, and often involves the exact same people.

BTW, do you accept the Modern Theory of Evolution? How about that HIV causes AIDS. Just curious. Hey, no complaining that these are off-topic. The party that supports so much AGW denialism is also the party that thinks it is so important to be judged by the company you keep. So pardon us if we find it necessary to toss the flat earthers, creationists and germ theory deniers in your face once in while to remind people that's the company you keep.

Here he runs completely off the rails:

There appear to be three varieties of responses to my posts on the email evidence of fraud: (1) attorneys are evil,

Not even remotely true. What people said was that attorney's a) are not trained in science and scientific protocals, and b) attorney's are paid to defend the side that hires them, not to seek truth. That's not a criticism at all. In fact, it is a position I wholeheartedly support as critical to every defendant getting a full hearing. It's one of the things that makes our country great. It's just not the sort of mindset I'd want studying scientific ideas. Reality is not a negotiable entity. It is what it is.

2) lay people are too stupid to understand the manmade global warming religion (MGWR) and should rely upon their priests like Jones and Mann,

Again, not remotely accurate. The point was, and remains, that global warming science, like any science or complicated intellectual profession, is going to have protocals, behavior, and information that will be unintelligible, or badly misundestood, by laymen. That an attorney would attempt this argument, given that law is one of the best examples of such a field, reveals the political nature of this argument. This intellectual egalitarianism, the same promoted by Sarah Palin and embodied in Joe The Plumber, is politically necessary for their agenda to succeed. Acknowledge the superior understanding of science by scientists and you find yourself on the wrong end of every political position favored by those whose support you so desperately need - all those angry twits clinging to their guns and religion and wondering what happened to "their" America. So one must absolutely deny the connection between study and understanding. Thereby can being a Harvard Graduate be presented as a negative character trait.

3) allegations without evidence that the science behind the MGWR is overwhelming and proven.

It is a simple fact, easy to look up, that a near unanimity of the world's scientific organizations support the AGW hypothesis, and there is zero evidence of any sort of conspiracy. The conpiracy theory is also completely implausible, because if the motive is money, any scientist supposedly on the dole could make far more with book deals and speaking engagements, and with far less effort. This, btw, is what dooms most any conspiracy theory based on greed - there is simply too much money to be made being the one guy that goes against the grain. It is cartel economics, and cartels cannot exist in an arena with traits like those of the scientific community.

The first two slanders are the product of deficient upbringing and do not merit a reply.

In other words, these attack basic ideological assumptions I make about the world, and I am therefore unwilling to give due consideration to the possibility that they are correct. Now consider that he may also have, as an ideological assumption about the world, the view that it was put here for man to enjoy by God, and there is no way we could destroy it or make it uninhabitable for us, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shocker: Palin's a Creationist

In case you missed it, Sarah Palin now jons Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and others in the GOP in denial of the reality of evolution:

For those of you not up to speed, saying you believe in microevolution but not macroevolution is like saying you believe I can walk across the house, but can't walk across the street, without bothering to identify what exactly is the barrier preventing me from doing so. It's ignorance or dishonesty at best, lunacy at worst.

Palin's now officially a loon as well as an ignoramus. Her allegiance to the ideas of her witch-hunter minister takes away any benefit of the doubt. BTW, wasn't there a major party who was all about judging people by their associations recently?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

College Football and Free Markets

As the logic-defying, anti-fair-competition college football bowl season approaches for one more frustratingly dissatisfying end to the year, it is worth noting to all of those who have called for a national championship playoff (like they have in every single other sport, including lower level football), that this mess of a non-system has been produced by none other than a free market. No government forced this process to be what it is. No law rigged the game so that schools from small conferences like Boise State, TCU, and Cincinnati would be disqualified from the national title game before it started*. You all want free, unfettered, laissez-faire capitalism? Well look what it got us.

College football, I'd argue, is a natural monopoly, as are most of the major sports leagues. Competition in the form of alternative leagues or systems does not increase the quality of the product, it reduces it. But as a monopoly, it cannot be allowed to function according to market principles, or something like the bowl system is what we are going to get. Once certain entities, like the Big Ten and PAC-10 get enough power within the system, they will arrange things to their benefit, not to the benefit of all. A playoff, which would be better for everyone overall, is kept from happening because those with the biggest share of the pie under the current system refuse to change. An oligarchy of the major conferences has cut off a disproportionate share of the pie for themselves, and the remaining conferences and teams have no power to stop them. This is inevitable in such a situation, and as such, requires more government regulation than an ordinary market.

We should support any efforts on the part of politicians to bring a playoff to college football by breaking up the monopolistic stranglehold of the antiquated bowl system. This is one of the things government is for. IANAL, but I suspect there is merit via anti-trust laws to force a system that, at a bare minimum, gives equal opportunity to every competitor to reach the championship game.

In the meantime, fans should do the only thing they can to help facilitate this change: boycott the bowls. Go ahead and watch the conference championship games, and the national title game (a one game playoff is better than none). But as for the rest, they are nothing more than exhibition games, for money and recruiting and little else. We should place no more importance on them than we do NFL preseason games. Don't buy tickets, and if you must watch them on TV, DVR them so you can zoom through the commercials and cut off the value of that funding. This annual travesty must end.


*When the BCS system forced the computer ratings to not use point spreads in their analysis, it effectively made them a measure of strength of schedule only. No more could a team with a weak schedule make up for it by consistently winning impressively. Winning by 1 point and winning by 50 points make no difference now to the computers. Thus, a team in a weak conference, like Boise State, cannot possibly earn the top spot in the computer ratings, even if they beat everyone 100-0. they are 7th now in the computers, and that is as high as they could possibly get.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Analysis of the Hacked Global Warming E-mails

I'm sure everyone has heard about the hacked emails of the scientists are RealClimate and the University of East Anglia, and the charges that they reveal some sort of conspiracy to manufacture a crisis and hide the truth. However, the emails I've seen do nothing of the sort. They simply show ignorance of the process of analyzing and presenting data on complicated subjects, and attempt to portray out-of-context quotes in a manner that belies their actual meaning. As an actuary who deals with this sort of thing all the time, I recognize the language well. Let's go through some examples touted by a commenter here as smoking guns:

"I’ve attached a cleaned-up and commented version of the matlab code that I wrote for doing the Mann and Jones (2003) composites. I did this knowing that Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future, so best to clean up the code and provide to some of my close colleagues in case they want to test it, etc. Please feel free to use this code for your own internal purposes, but don’t pass it along where it may get into the hands of the wrong people."

I must say, after the intro to this as clear documentation as fraud, I was very let down. What exactly is the issue here: cleaning up code, testing it, anticipating criticisms, preparing for same, sharing information. All part and parcel of data analysis and presentation. I can only guess that the problem is with the last sentence, which the conspiratorial-minded might automatically assume means "hide the truth from all but those in on the scam". In actuality, it's far more likely to mean something like "don't let morons who won't understand what they are looking at get ahold of this, or we'll be answering stupid assed ignorant questions til the cows come home, and we won't get anything productive done." Contrary to the worldview of the Palinists, some subjects are far too complicated for untrained laymen, and data analysis is one of them. Making sure one's data is properly limited and presented properly is par for the course. It's no evidence of anything except people doing their job.

"Perhaps we'll do a simple update to the Yamal post, e.g. linking Keith/s new page--Gavin t? As to the issues of robustness, particularly w.r.t. inclusion of the Yamal series, we actually emphasized that (including the Osborn and Briffa '06 sensitivity test) in our original post! As we all know, this isn't about truth at all, its about plausibly deniable accusations."

All I can say about this one is that it doesn't do much for the charge that conservatives have no sense of humor. Anyone who can't see that last sentence is sarcastic is seriously deluded. It's no surprise that the preceding context is left out, it no doubt makes that even more clear than it already is.

"Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC [] Rein any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we’ll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include."

Again, I ask, "where's the beef?" Surely no rightwinger is going to claim that moderating a site is ipso facto evidence of dishonesty, given that conservative sites that heavily moderate dwarf those of the left by an order of magnitude. There's nothing here to indicate fraud or suppression of data. Now of course if one is already convinced that is the case, then it will look damning, but otherwise it looks like nothing more than a discussion of how to handle responding to comments, and being careful to properly screen them. I could see myself saying the exact same things.

"The Korttajarvi record was oriented in the reconstruction in the way that McIntyre said. I took a look at the original reference – the temperature proxy we looked at is x-ray density, which the author interprets to be inversely related to temperature. We had higher values as warmer in the reconstruction, so it looks to me like we got it wrong, unless we decided to reinterpret the record which I don’t remember. Darrell, does this sound right to you?"

This one is even more of a mystery to me. This looks like a standard (and rather dull) discussion of results and modelling of data. I can only surmise that this is considered revealing by those who are completely ignorant of the process of guess and test that is the core of science.

"I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."

As has been explained in many places already, "trick" in this context means "useful technique", not "deception". Another word that springs to mind is "reach".

"The skeptics seem to be building up a head of steam here! ... The IPCC comes in for a lot of stick. Leave it to you to delete as appropriate! Cheers Phil
PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!"


"If FOIA does ever get used by anyone, there is also IPR to consider as well. Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people, so I will be hiding behind them."

I know this may come as a shock to people who don't work in information-related, politically controversial, regulated fields, but all this FOIA stuff is easy to explain: no one, at any job that deals with complicated subject matter, willingly gives up all of their data. It makes life harder, even when you are 100% correct and proper. Overzealous regulators, politicians, or activists, will misrepresent or outright lie about what the data is/says, and you get stuck cleaning up the mess. This fiasco over what we are seeing is really nothing is a perfect example! This is just creationist quote mining techniques applied to global warming.

"The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."

I find it amusing that scientists are on the one hand condemned for supposedly thinking they know everything, and then when they make qualifying statements about their limited knowledge, or openly admit when data is missing or contradictory, they are expected to pretend that means they know nothing. What is this quote but such an admission, in a very limited sense? Again, there is no there there.

All these emails prove is that scientists are human. The deniers and their ilk see all this as damning because they begin with the assumption that there is some sort of fraud going on, so to them anything like screening of comments is automatically assumed to be to keep the truth out, rather than, say, keeping morons and trolls from dragging the discussion down. Let's also keep in mind that this all comes as far back as 12 years ago, from a second-rate university better known for its literary programs than its science. It's akin to arguing that we should reject evolution because some researchers somewhere said doubtful things about it and their analysis of it. That doesn't change all the evidence. Bottom line, there is nothing here that will persuade the ideologically unencumbered or the statistically educated. Sadly, that isn't who they are playing to.

I found the Realclimate response very well written, and I'll close with what I thought was the crux of the issue as they put it:

"More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking."

Indeed, none of it should be. The deniers would have us believe they've scored big points because they've shown scientists have all the same foibles as everyone else: biases, self-interests, emotional attachment to ideas, and a desire to avoid conflict. What they don't understand is that the scientific community has always assumed this to be the case, which is why they so emphasize public publishing of data and research, so others can have at one's biases. So in the end, the AGW deniers have proved only one thing: they don't understand science in the abstract, or the modern scientific enterprise as practiced.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The GOP Sinks further into Insanity: 52% think ACORN Stole the Election

According to a new poll 52% of Republicans think ACORN stole the election for Obama. Apparently the GOPers are slipping on their math, as this would require each ACORN registered voter to vote about 10 times, and in the right states, to make up the nearly 10 million vote margin that was Obama's victory. The GOP has once again demonstrated that it has become everything it used to criticize the left for being: whining losers chanting "woulda shoulda coulda" instead of dealing with reality.

One commenter over at Ed Brayton's blog illustrated the new GOP attitude perfectly:

Perhaps they Shanghaied people and compelled them to vote for Obama. I don't know and neither do you. I am just a guy asking questions. And there is no such thing as a dumb question. Is there?

There they are, the articles of faith among the new Republicans:

1) Treating speculation as evidence
2) Assuming everyone shares their ignorance
3) Claiming dishonest partisan political gamesmanship is merely "asking questions"
4) Reliance on grade-school platitudes as insulation against criticism and identification of their stupidity

And they wonder why they've driven those of us with educations from the party in droves. Can they sink any lower?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Texas Freethought Convention: It's a Miracle!

The Texas Freethought Convention was held this past weekend in San Antonio. There were over 200 attendees (twice last years' inaugural figure), quite varied racially, and by age, to hear talks and commentary by:

FFRF president Dan Barker
Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis
Kathleen Johnson, VP of American Atheists and investigator of the Fort Hood shootings
Stuart Bechman, President of AAI
Clare Wuellner of the Center for Inquiry

It was an energized and excited group, miraculously (via "no morality is possible without gods" arguments) conflict, and crime free. It's an amazingly easy result for those of us without the immoral impulses so many Christians brag of needing their god-belief to quelch.

There were many great t-shirt slogans and comments by the speakers, which I'll be blogging periodically. One of my favorites came from Bechman, which I paraphrase, in response to the argument that atheism needs to not be so negative:

That sounds strange coming from people whose religion has 10 Commandments all starting with "Thou shalt not...". We need "Thou Shalts".

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jon Stewart on Fox News and Glenn Beck

Watch this brilliant video by Jon Stewart exposing the fake news process on Fox News (speculate on the opinion shows, then report that speculation as news on the news shows), and the cowardice of politicians (and frankly most Americans) to call it like it is.

Then here he is showing how insane the Foxiest of the Fox Friends, Glenn Beck, is.

Honestly, I don't see how the Republicans hold onto anyone with an IQ over 120. It's gotten to where they are so ridiculous they can't be parodied. Well, for those of us less talented than Stewart anyway.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Catholic League Misses the Joke

The Catholic League, in promoting Bill Donohue's new book, lists the following totally predictable list of approving (and unbelievable given Donohue's penchant for spewing nonsense) comments, but with one surprise:

· “In these dispatches from the culture war, the indefatigable president of the Catholic League fires on all cylinders. With passionate prose he re-creates many of his hard-won religious battles and offers an urgent warning about what lies ahead.” – Raymond Arroyo, bestselling author of Mother Angelica, host of EWTN’s “The World Over Live”

· “In this bracing, brutal exposé of the anti-God movement, Donohue delivers a common sense smackdown that is both informative and entertaining.” – Laura Ingraham, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and bestselling author

· “Like the man himself, the book is feisty, controversial, impassioned, and important.” – Michael Medved, nationally syndicated talk show host

· “Bill Donohue is right on target. Every Christian needs to read his book.” – Donald E. Wildmon, founder and chairman, American Family Association

· “SECULAR SABOTAGE is an absolute must-read for anyone who believes the Judeo-Christian ethos is the very heart and soul of civilized society.” – L. Brent Bozell III, president, Media Research Center

· “Wake up, America! The secular minority has cut the brake cables on America’s In-God-We-Trust-Mobile™! Not even all 43 of our Christian presidents can save us now.” – Stephen Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report”

I've heard that 30% of the people who watch Colbert don't get the joke, I guess the Catholic league is among them. Either that, or Bozell and Medved really are parodies. Either way, it explains a lot.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Your God Delusion Index

It's a little slow to get going, but this video is worth a few laughs, and is refreshingly blunt.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Study Confirms Palin, not the Economic Crisis, Sank the McCain Campaign

A new study of detailed polling supports what I've said here from the beginning: it was Sarah Palin, not that economic meltdown, that sank McCain:

John McCain’s August 29 announcement of Palin as his running mate surprised the Republican establishment, the media, and especially voters. She made a strong first impression: she enjoyed high approval ratings after her acceptance speech, and the percentage of voters saying that they intended to vote Republican skyrocketed. But within days of the speech, her ratings began a precipitous slide from which she—and the McCain campaign—never recovered. Throughout the rest of the campaign, vote intentions were closely tied to Palin’s approval ratings: each major Palin approval drop was followed, within a day or two, by a drop in McCain vote intention. No other factor moved McCain support with such precision. Comparison of the correlation between running mate approval ratings and vote intentions from 2000 and 2004 confirms Palin’s peculiar importance in 2008.

Yeah, "within days of the speech" was when all the information about what an ignorant loon she is came to light. The only question left isn't whether she cost the GOP in 2008, it's whether the GOP will sink itself with her in 2012.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More Fantasy from Bozelland

What do you get when you mix Brent Bozell and Bill Donohue? A representation of America that is unrecognizeable:

...why can't we celebrate Christmas? Why can't our children pray in school? How did we just elect a president who insisted the United States ought not to be considered a Christian nation?

We can't celebate Christmas? Funny, I saw an awful lot of Christmas trees in my neighborhood, and one of them was in my house, surrounded by presents. Our entire society stops on Christmas day. Just how far up their asses do Bozell and Donohue have their heads to write such twaddle?

As ridiculous as that is, claiming kids can't pray in school is even worse. We couldn't outlaw prayer in school if we wanted to. One might as well attempt to ban teenage boys' thoughts about girls. As long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school.

Our president recognizes that our nation is not JUST a Christian nation, and that our pubic discourse and policy should be based on "what we all see", not on a particular faith. This should not be difficult to understand. The violence between religions around the world is a constant testimony to its wisdom.

But then we can't expect comprehension from people like Bozell and Donohue, because they have a faith-based view, not only of what the world should be, but of what the world is, and they are not interested in the progress of our society towards greater enlightenment than the scrawlings of bronze-age sheepherders.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Odds of Earth Being Hit by an Asteroid

From a recent story on asteroids hitting earth as they recently hit Jupiter:

So far 784 near-Earth objects (NEOs) more than a half-mile wide (1 km) have been found.

"If an object of about the same size that just hit Jupiter also hit Earth — it was probably a typical cometary object of a kilometer or so in size (0.6 miles) — it would have been fairly catastrophic," explained astronomer Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Scientists have ruled out the chances of an Earth impact for all of these 784 large NEOs. Still, lesser objects also pose a risk, and researchers estimate more than 100 large NEOS remain to be found.

Currently just one NEO of all the objects scientists are tracking poses any significant chance of hitting the Earth — 2007 VK184. If this roughly 425-foot-wide (130 meters) asteroid hit our planet, it would strike with an energy of roughly 150 million tons of TNT, or more than 10,000 times that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Roughly 100 telescopic observations made so far suggest that 2007 VK184 has a 1-in-2,940 chance of hitting Earth 40 to 50 years from now.

Great, so what they see poses no threat, but there is a lot we can't see. And if that doesn't make you nervous, try this on for size:

Of remaining concern are the NEOs that we do not see. Researchers suspect about 156 large NEOs 1 kilometer in diameter or larger remain to be found, and when it comes to dangerous NEOs in general, "when we get down to 140 meters (460 feet) or larger diameter objects, we think we've discovered about 15 percent of them, and with 50 meters (164 feet) or larger diameter, we've discovered less than 5 percent of them," Yeomans explained.

In other words, if one does head right for us, we may not get much warning. Let's hope our 500,000 years isn't up just yet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jon Stewart's Great Skit on Race and Health Care

John Stewart hits one out of the park with a masterful skit on race in America. Larry Wilmore comes on to matter-of-factly describe the health care issue as "a racial issue like all issues are racial issues" and "about white fear". Then after showing the usual suspects (Hannity, Beck) ranting about losing the America they grew up in, and a crying woman at a townhall meeting saying she wants her America back, Wilmore goes for the jugular:

"She wants HER America back? Go tell that to the Indians. No one gives America back. You keep it until someone takes it away from you."

His prescription for dealing with white fear that they are literally losing their country?

Wilmore: The first step is to acknowledge that they are literally losing their country...Look, white people had a good run but it's over...Sorry. We've got a black president, a booming Hispanic population, in a few more decades whites won't even be the majority anymore. Thanks Octo-mom.

Stewart: So whites are right to be worried?

W: Yeah, but hey, don't get mad. It's white people's own fault. "All men are created equal"? How'd you think that was going to turn out? Or how about the poem on the statue of liberty: "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses the wretched refuse, the homeless"? Did you think "wretched refuse" was just the Irish? Sorry, John, this is what happens when you have a melting pot. The stew gets darker.

It exposes brilliantly the hypocrisy of the descendants of those who immigrated here and took the country by force whining about the same historical pattern coming around in a way they don't care for now that the immigrants don't look like them, as well as the barely hidden racism in statements like "this isn't the America I grew up in". It also shows that the principles espoused by the founding fathers were bigger than them, going where none thought they would go (freed slaves, women's suffrage, etc.). Wilmore's satire is a testimony to them, and it finishes with a flurry:

Stewart [scared]: Will you be good to us?

Wilmore: Nope...I'm just kidding John. Relax white people, being a minority's really not so bad. Think how excited you'll feel when young white people start talking like you. It's fun. And think about hockey. It'll finally be dominated by minorities!

S: Will our kids be able to be into Ivy League schools with a "B" average?

W: What are you trying to say man, that is so racist John! Which by the way soon you'll be able to say to me. Go ahead, try it.

S: That was so RACIST!

W: Feels good, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Barney Frank Demonstrates the Power of Ridicule

In case you haven't seen it yet, watch Barney Frank demonstrate how lunacy is properly dealt with. After being told Obama's policy proposals were the same as the Nazi's, complete with a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache, he responded with:

On what planet do you spend most of your time? ...It is a tribute to the first amendment that this vile contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Madam, trying to have a conversation with you is like trying to have a conversation with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing so.

This is the proper response to intellectually dishonest wackiness. Chop them off at the knees. Deny them the respect they need and crave. Whether it is a LaRouchian, a cdesign proponentsist, Bill Donohue, or Glenn Beck, the answer is ridicule, not rational respectful argument. Otherwise, they stretch the Overton Window to their advantage.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Humorous One Liners

"It bears mentioning that it's also 'digital information to give someone the finger." - Pierce Butler responding to an IDer's claim that DNA was digital information.

"If I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini, then let me go" - Monsignor Charles Fahey

"The difference between a million and a billion is the difference between a sip of wine and 30 seconds with your daughter, and a bottle of gin and a night with her" - unknown

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Love Your Guns? Support Legalized Marijuana

It occurred to me that those of you who so fear the government coming to take your guns really should get behind the legal marijuana issue. Why? It's a chain reaction from marijuana user imprisonment to a greater call for a gun ban. It' no secret our prisons are overcrowded and huge, constituting over 1% of our population, and 25% of the world's prison population. It's also no secret that every large scale shooting is going to be used to argue that handguns should be banned, where otherwise intelligent people will say idiotic things like this:

Handguns have no uses other than to a) kill and b) be the object of hobbyists collecting fetish. We can ban the handguns without any ill effects and only good effects.

Please, don't tell me their logic is flawed. Of course it is. But it is also politically effective, since many people share the same irrational fear of guns that treats gun deaths as worse than deaths from swimming pools or mop buckets, and makes people blind to the obvious refutations of such erroneous thinking. So the
fewer gun deaths for them to get excited about, the better. Yet every time we lock up a nonviolent offender, and a huge proportion of those are for marijuana possession, the more likely a violent offender (think Willie Horton) will be released, only to commit a crime again, and again the cry to ban guns will be raised. This is a time of limited resources, so picking our battles is key. Keep the violent people in prison, keep your guns, and let the marijuana users go.

I'll not mince words. Those who rabidly defend their 2nd amendment rights while defending the war on drugs are hypocrites at best, and ignoramuses at worst. There is no right to regulate drugs in the constitution. On what philosophy does one defend the one and not the other? We have a right to put bullets into other people's bodies, but not certain substances into our own? Drugs cause criminal behavior you say? You hypocrite! That's the same argument used by those who wish to take away your guns, and its just as baseless.

When you've got 1% of your population in prison, something is amiss. When we spend valuable political time arguing over a tool used to murder 0.004% of our population, or 1 person in 25,000, something again is amiss. Solve both problems. Legalize marijuana.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I Don't Blog Much About Lying Politicians

A commenter expressed concern over my "denial" of Obama's status as a liar, and despite my windy response there, the fair-and-balanced BS keeps coming in. So I've given my response it's own post, with some additional editing.

What I deny is that the claim that "X is a liar" is worthy of much attention. It is childishly simplistic, as are so many arguments coming from the right these days. This is one of the traits of partisan Republicanism that can be directly attributed to their anti-intellectualism. Never mind the details that matter in the real world: what they lied about, in what context, based on what principles, and the evidence that what was said constituted a lie and not a mere mistake or misstatement or simple change of mind. You know, changing your mind, what you are supposed to do when evidence presents itself contrary to your views? If you rarely change your mind, it's not because you are brilliant, it's because you don't consider evidence objectively.

Pretending reality is binary, and therefore all misstatements are equal, is one way people do so. Those that do so to try to win political arguments are particularly insidious. If you think Obama's "57 states" comment warrants the same level of intellectual/moral condemnation as the 10 dumbest/most dishonest things Sarah Palin ever said, I'm looking at you. When the Nazis show up asking if you have Jews in the basement, you lie. Gee, I guess that makes you a liar.

Grow up. Life is not as simple as you so desperately want it to be. I'd be happy to entertain the notion that Obama lies about things he shouldn't lie about, it's just that:

1) This isn't a political blog. I have zero interest in partisan political "gotcha" whose-the-bigger-hypocrite parse-every-syllable wanking, whether it's "57 states" (Obama) or "Russia and Canada are in Alaska" (paraphrase of Palin). Unless there is some humor or science involved, I'm not that interested in it. I didn't blog a lot about Sarah Palin because it was politics, or that she lied. I did so because the things she said were so comically absurd and frightening coming from someone running for the second highest office in the land. So sorry, I'm not going to blog much about anyone in politics unless they cross the absurd line, liar or not, president included.

2) Too many GOPers trust sources that I consider completely unreliable, and I dismiss their claims on that basis. If you can't back your case with something that isn't from a GOP politician, Drudge, or Fox news, I'm looking at you. It isn't that I don't consider any of the claims. I just can't ever find evidence for the claims I consider blog worthy outside the GOP echo chamber.

3) "Politician Lies" is about as interesting a post title as "Player in Violent Sport Arrested for Violence". So is "Politician's Actions Deviate from His Campaign Promises". There's got to be more to it than that.

4) The fact that a post mentions politics in some fashion does not make any of this birther, deather, paranoid lunacy concerning the president relevant, nor does it make relevant a tit-for-tat attack on him. There are plenty of places on the net where you can go hog wild doing such things. This is not one of them.

So sorry, I'm not in denial about anything. I've just accepted unpleasant facts of life that you haven't. My initial intrigue with Obama had little to do with my opinion of his honesty, and that hasn't changed much. With apologies to the "Sunscreen" composer:

Accept certain unalienable truths. Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, and politicians were noble

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Militant Atheist Cartoon

Everyone else has to actually be violent to be called militant. We atheists get the label merely by making an unapologetic counter argument.

It's the quickest refutation of all the intellectual dishonesty from the appeaser wing of atheists, like this long overdue piece of garbage in response to a simple request for actual evidence of the claims made against the "militant atheists:

And you'll continue to get nothing.

This is what I think of as the "You haven't read the right Heinlein" game, from my days on Usenet. People would turn up, and comment that they didn't like some book by Heinlein, only to be told "No, no-- that's not the one you should read, you should read this other book." And when the original poster didn't like that one, either, there was another one, and another one, and another one... The man wrote a whole lot of books, so this could go on for quite a long time.

The same bullshit game has been going on with Mooney and Nisbet and "framing." They write a perfectly clear post, and people make a big show of not understanding it. They follow up with another perfectly clear post, and it's still somehow mystifying. They give examples, and the examples aren't specific enough. They give more examples, and those don't apply for some reason. And on, and on, and on.

The game never ends. I'm sure the Hoofnagles have a card for it when this crap is pulled by global warming denialists-- it's the same pathetic routine. No mountain of proof, no list of examples will ever suffice, and at the end of the day, the person being beseiged has spent hours battling picayune objections, but still "hasn't given any evidence to support the claim."

The only way to avoid losing is not to play. So feel free to skip right to the part where you tell everyone I'm an irrational meanie who hates Myers and Dawkins for no good reason, and stop wasting my time.

I know its dated, but it is representative of that mindset today. Oh yeah, Mooney, Nisbet, Kirshenbaum make lots of perfectly clear assertions. But we in the scientific world like to get a little evidence. It's no game, and representing it as such marks you as intellectually dishonest. One cannot claim no amount of evidence will suffice when none is ever presented. Yet watch the appeasers babble on and on, rhetoricians all on the subject of outspoken atheists, whatever their day job might be. It's pathetic.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cal Thomas on Killing Grandma

Never happy to leave the intellectual low ground to others, Cal Thomas wades in on the issue of killing grandma, and in typical fashion, completely misrepresents those he is criticizing. Few are more consistent in demolishing straw while dodging the actual arguments presented:

The debate -- OK, the shouting match -- we are having over "health care reform" is about many things, including cost, who gets help and who does not and who, or what, gets to make that determination. Underlying it all is a larger question: Is human life something special? Is it to be valued more highly than, say, plants and pets?

Really? Someone in the health care debate is questioning whether we should value human life more than plants and pets? Someone is doing this in the mainstream, not just on the fringe of PETA and the proportional phone booth their followers could meet in? Why then doesn't Cal Thomas name these people and quote them? Simple. As usual, Cal is making shit up. The "larger question" that our limited supply of health care foists upon us is not "are humans more valuable than plants and pets?", but rather "are some humans more valuable than others?".

When someone is in a "persistent vegetative state" do we mean to say that person is equal in value to a carrot?

A person in a persistent vegetative state is not a person in any way that we use the term, in the same way that a blastocyst is not a person. As evidenced by the many references to the subject in our popular culture of movies and books (ie Freaky Friday, and many many Star Trek episodes), when we think of a person, we do not think of a body, or of DNA. We think of a consciousness, a mind. If we didn't, the notion of noncorporeal possession would be nonsense.

Are we now assigning worth to human life, or does it arrive with its own predetermined value, irrespective of race, class, IQ or disability?

We assign it in our personal lives through our own personal values, and collectively through our government and other public entities' actions. Anything that applies to some people but not others makes a value judgement on the value of human life, whether it is the rules to qualify for medicare, or the rules that limit medical procedures in free-market insurance policies, or the scale of monetary refunds for particular body parts in most workers compensation insurance. Thomas again misses the fundamental question, which is not whether to assign value, but on what values we should do so.

The bottom line is not the bottom line. It is something far more profound. Our decisions regarding who will get help and who won't are more than about bean-counting bureaucrats deciding if your drugs or operation will cost more than you are contributing to the U.S. Treasury.

No shit Sherlock, welcome to the debate. The rest of us started here. But wait, Cal's not finished demonstrating he has no idea what he is talking about:

The secular left claims we are evolutionary accidents who managed to crawl out of the slime and by "natural selection" stand erect and over millions of years outsmart our ancestors, the apes. If that is your belief, then you probably think health care should be rationed. Why spend lots of money to improve -- or save -- the life of someone who evolved from slime and has no special significance other than the "accident" of becoming human? Policies flow from such a philosophy, though the average secularist probably wouldn't put it in such stark terms. Stark, or not, isn't this the inevitable progression of seeing humanity as maybe complex, but nothing special?

No Cal, it isn't, and the reason the average secularist doesn't put it that way is because that isn't what we think. Statements like this are what put the nail in the coffin of any argument defending the intellectual integrity of people like Thomas. He has made such straw man arguments in the past, and no doubt will do so again, despite being corrected over and over and over again by the very people he supposedly knows so well. One can only say "no, that's not what I believe" so many times before one is left with no logical option except to conclude that the person speaking is making shit up. Cal and his ilk are the king of MSU.

Secular morality concerns itself with what humans are, not how we came to be what we are. This is the point Cal cannot get through his thick skull. We wish to save other humans because we empathize with them, or care about them because they are friends and family. We share a common life experience. This should be obvious, but listening to Thomas talk, one would think that learning about evolution (which is supported by far more than just the secular left) causes a complete loss of emotional and psychological attachment to other people. It's the exact same mistake that people like Thomas make when the wonder why atheists don't go on murderous rampages when they realize there is no god to punish them. The notion that we simply lack the impulse to do so eludes them. They also ignore the fact, independent of our views on our ultimate origins, that there are real world consequences to our actions, and that we have decided biases towards some of the results (say, keeping my sister alive) and not others (letting her die).

The opposing view sees human beings as unique creations. Even Thomas Jefferson, identified by historians as a Deist who doubted the existence of a personal God, understood that if certain rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) do not come from a source beyond the reach of the state, then the state could take those rights away.

I seriously doubt Jefferson actually said such a thing (providing a quote gets in the way of Thomas' MSU), since it is so obviously false. Thomas speaks as if the power of the state immediately evaporates when divine support is acknowledged. Look around our world Cal, especially at the Muslim countries that you fear so, and how easily they acknowledge a divine source of their morality, and yet remove those rights we hold so dear.

Those who believe that God made us and also makes the rules about our existence and our behavior will have a completely different understanding of life's value and our approach to affirming it until natural death.

Perhaps. Unfortunately, you also have completely different understandings of life's value from each other. The fantasy world in Thomas' head, where all the religious folk live in peaceful harmony due to their common understanding that God made us, stands in stark contrast to the reality that is religious violence around the globe.

It is between these two distinctly different worldview goal posts that the battle is taking place. Few from the "endowed rights" side are saying that a 100-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor should be given extraordinary and expensive care to keep the heart pumping, even after brain waves have gone flat. But there is a big difference between "letting go" and "snuffing out."

Indeed, there is Cal. Everyone seems to already understand that except you, since no one on the "subjective rights" side of the argument is talking about snuffing anyone out. Of course, the fact that your worldview has those snuffed out ending up in a better place, would never encourage such a thing, right?

The unnatural progression for many on the secular left is to see such a person as a "burden." In an age when we think we should be free of burdens -- a notion that contributes to our superficiality and makes us morally obtuse -- getting rid of granny might seem perfectly rational, even defensible. But by doing so, we assume an even greater burden: the role of God in deciding who gets to live and who must die. Anyone who has seen the film "Bruce Almighty" senses how difficult it is to play God.

[yawn] Equivocation anyone? The "secular left" doesn't invent the financial burden the infirmed elderly (or the deformed infants) represent, nor does it invent the reality that our desires exceed our resources. Reality does that. The notion that it is "playing god" to acknowledge this and attempt to optimize our efforts better than insurance companies do now is childish at best and blinkered at worst. Playing god would mean magically fixing the problem through divine fiat. That the decisions we limited beings must make can be difficult doesn't make them go away.

And no one thinks we should be free of burdens, and reducing them makes us neither superficial nor obtuse. Thomas is just babbling here. If Thomas thinks giving up our modern burden-reducing conveniences like cars and vaccinations, computers and washing machines would make for better people, he's more than free to get a group together and see how that goes.

We are now witnessing some of the consequences of attempting to ban people with a God perspective from the public square.

More made-up bullshit. The vast majority of people in the public square have a god perspective. However, most of them understand that when making public policy for believers of all contradictory stripes, as well as nonbelievers, demanding that this or that speculation as to what the gods would want should be the law of the land makes for irreconcilable conflict. Faith does not lend itself to analysis and compromise. Reasoning from a common understanding of observable reality works much better. The Founders understood this. Why doesn't Thomas?

If there are no rules and no one to whom one might appeal when those rules are violated, we are on our own to set whatever rules we wish and to change them in a moment in response to opinion polls. Any appeals to a higher authority stop at the Supreme Court.

Yes Cal, and maybe you haven't noticed that the Supreme Court is an appointed body not subject to opinion polls, and how well that system has served us over these many decades. The day the gods show up to set us right for all to see, I'll be right there to listen. Until then, such talk of appealing to them is so much fantasy jibber jabber. Thomas sounds like he's sitting next to Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

The explosive town-hall meetings are indications that Americans are trusting government less and less.

No they aren't. Does the phrase "self-selected sample" mean anything to you Thomas? By your reasoning, the vast number of people at UFO conventions indicates that aliens are visiting us. All the tantrums being thrown at these townhalls indicate is how much attention a few disgruntled people living in an echo chamber of woe-and-doom propaganda can generate by following politicians around and being very loud. We are not fooled.

So where should we go? The answer is in your wallet or purse. It's on the money. Right now it is little more than a slogan, but what if it became true: in God We Trust.

Ah yes, we should trust the gods, like Iran does. That would make for peace and harmony, because after all, it has a long history of doing so. Talk about obtuse. Thy name is Cal Thomas.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Nice Takedown of the Carlin AGW Denial Paper

If you've seen all the hullabaloo about the Alan Carlin paper on global warming, here's a nice take down. It reveals that Carlin:

1) Is not a scientist
2) Did no research
3) Lifted cherry-picked and erroneous commentary from denialist sights.
4) Presented data collected by scientists to support a conclusion those very same scientists deny.

Sound familiar? It's the standard behavior of creationists as well. Denialists of a feather...

Be sure to pay attention to the analysis of the graphs from about the 4 minute point of the youtube clip, where the Carlin's dishonesty is thoroughly exposed. As always, the denialism devil is in the details.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul RIP

Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, as well as multi-track recording, died at 94 years old. We can only imagine what rock n roll would be without him.

Please observe a moment of highly amplified sound in his honor.

The Low Point in Health Care Propaganda

We've heard them all: Darwin's death bed conversion, Einstein believing in a personal God, countless scientists quote-mined as being against evolution when they weren't, or were good Christians when they weren't, all the made up shit told about scientists in an effort to mooch off their well-earned credibility.

But this guy who made shit up about Steven Hawking forgot the rules about quoting scientists to support propaganda:

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

No, no, no! You missed the class on misrepresenting scientists! You lie about the dead ones, not the live ones! Dead men issue no corrections! Live ones might come correct you and make you look like an idiot.

"I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," [Hawking] told us. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."

That's got to be the all-time low. I just hope plenty of people get the message that most of the stuff they are hearing in the debate over health care that is scaring them to death has no more basis in fact than that quip above about Stephen Hawking. These people are the kings of MSU, and you should doubt anything they say when 1) their political purposes are served and 2) you cannot verify their claim from a source whose purposes aren't. So dispense with this baseless bullshit. No one is coming to kill grandma. All health care systems, including the one we have now, ration care. ACORN is not, well, whatever it is that has you so obsessed you cannot seem to discuss any issue without mentioning them. Get out of the politically-constructed echo chambers once in a while, you might be surprised what you'll learn.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meta Analysis Confirms Sexual Orientation Change Unlikely, Dodges Role of Religion

From an APA meta analysis of 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007:

...there is little evidence that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective...[and] such efforts may cause harm.

The study goes on to say they either supress their urges or just plain fake it. You don't say. For more in that category, consider that those is such programs often experienced "loss of sexual feeling, suicidality, depression and anxiety...emotional and spiritual distress and negative self-image"

Yes, all the sorts of experiences you'd expect from someone being told that what they are, not merely what they do, is immoral and evil and must be changed. This flies in the face of the claims by those pious pricks who run these programs that sexual orientation is a mere choice. But then anyone who has known gay people for who they are knew that already.

The task force noted that some people attempt to change their sexual orientation because it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and recommended that their mental health care providers help them "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client's religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life."

"In other words," said Glassgold, "we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality."

In other words, your agenda is contradictory and doomed to failure because you are suggesting feeding the very beast that caused the problem in the first place: religion. Respecting their religious beliefs means ignoring the reality of their orientation! This is one of those places where science and religion are saying completely contradictory things:

Though all mainstream health and mental health organizations concluded years ago that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, the American Psychological Association formed the task force to work on the report two years ago after noting a resurgence of groups that identified homosexuality as a defect or spiritual or moral failing.

Yes, and you people with the science on your side need to make it crystal fucking clear that the evidence implies that homosexuality is not a spiritual or moral failing in any way that can be measured, and that people making such proclamations are simply wrong. They do not have "another way of understanding the world". They have a bunch of bronze-age made-up crap, and there is no reason people living in the modern world with a modern understanding of it should give any credence to those bringing a knife to a machine gun fight. It does real damage in real people's lives. Keep your comfy baseless thoughts inside your heads where they belong and out of everyone else's lives.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Centralia Pennsylvania

I just watched an amazing story about the former city of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a city that became a virtual ghost town because of a mine fire. The fire is thought to have begun in the early 60's, and burned as something of a local oddity/annoyance until the late 70's, accompanied by problems with the poisonous carbon monoxide released. In the years after that, the heated ground, open pits, and increased smoke drew political attention, and nearly everyone was relocated. The fire is still burning under the ruined town, and is expected to burn for another 250 years.

It's a nice illustration of how vast geological time is, where events are measured in units that exceed human life spans. We forget sometimes just how brief our time here has been. A quick comparison:

The universe: 14,000,000,000 years
The earth: 4,500,000,000 years
Modern humans: 200,000 years
Agrarian humans: <13,000 years

We are but the paint on the top of the Eiffel tower of the universe's history.

Monday, August 10, 2009

High School and Dealing with Bullies

If your experience in high school was anything like mine, one I wouldn't repeat for $1 million, go read Mark Chu Carrol's explanation of why he won't be attending his 25 year high school reunion and the many comments that follow of similar stories.

The way we deal with high school kids in our society is one where we have much opportunity for improvement, and as social (vs academic) issues go, the way we handle bullying has got to be near the top of the priority list. How many Dylans and Klebolds and Chos do we have to have before we accept that the torment some children inflict on others is not healthy, borders on criminal, and cannot be hushed up or dismissed with "boys will be boys" rhetoric without serious consequences. Healthy boys do not seek out weaker boys with the intent of causing them pain, and those weaker boys are scarred forever as a result in dramatically negative ways.

As a tiny, brilliant, emotionally and socially challenged, attractive child that moved every couple of years growing up, I dealt with my share of bullies. The new kid will always attract them, especially if he's way smarter than they are, pops off about it on occasion (that would be the socially-challenged part), and gets too much attention from the girls (not that I had the slightest clue what to do about it). I dealt with bullies in several ways. I was small, but very strong and a skilled wrestler. If I got a firm grip, it was only a matter of time until I ended up on top of you, or had you in a very uncomfortable hold, whining for your mommy. I once put an older kid in a triangle to end a fight, though I had no idea then that it had a name, I was 8. By high school I had perfected a shoulder twisting technique which was very effective.

If I felt outmatched, (which was often, I had no real interest in fighting, and bullies usually pick on younger, smaller kids), I simply tried to end the conflict as quickly as possible. Usually this would involve ignoring their taunts and other fight-starters. They'll push you, get in your face, hit you in the arm, but very few bullies will just walk up and cold cock their victims. They provoke you to give them the justification they need in their mind to pound you. I didn't know or care about that at the time. I just found (hit tip Ghandi) that if I just ignored them, and didn't react, they would get bored and leave me alone. They wanted a scene, a crying, whimpering, victim, a verbal reaction to their taunts. I wouldn't give them what they wanted. I'd look at them like they were nuts. I didn't care what they called me. Like I care that you think I'm a pussy? I think you're a moron, and that matters a lot more. Complex social interactions were beyond my comprehension. All I cared about was getting this fool away from me. It usually worked pretty quickly.

Lot's of kids aren't so lucky. They can get tormented to the point of committing murder, and they all carry those scars with them. Look at Chu-Carrol's reaction. He's still as bewildered by these people's behavior as he ever was. And obviously from his writing and passion, it was a very dark time for his life. It was for a lot of us. And it doesn't have to be that way.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nate Silver of 538 Challenges AGW Deniers

Nate Silver over at, one of the best sites for political trends and polling (he predicted the 2008 election with uncanny accuracy) has a challenge for all the anthropocentric global warming deniers who think they can legitimately criticize climate science by looking at daily temperatures: put your money where your mouth is, $25/day for a month or more.

It will be interesting to see if he gets any takers. I've found science deniers strangely resistant to engage in any specific predicting without being allowed massive wiggle room to reinterpret any results in their favor.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jon Stewart Clobbers William Kristol on Health Care

Watch Jon Stewart shred William Kristol on health care simply by following the logic of Kristol's assertions. The military deserves the better health care that it gets, according to Kristol, more than does the general population. But, as Stewart notes, the military health care plan is run by the government, which Kristol argues can't do the job as well as our private sector system. Game set and match.

Of course, scientifically, this argument was over long ago. By any objective measure, health care in the US is inferior to so-called socialist systems: We have lower life expectancies, higher rates of infant mortality, less satisfaction, and at significantly higher costs. Just choose a WHO statistic and cringe at the nations that outperform us. The opponents of reform have nothing to offer in rebuttal except evidence-free assertions (higher costs from crack babies), misrepresentation about our present system (we don't get to choose our doctors now, the HMO does that), and anecdotes.

The one card Kristol had to play in the above exchange was that the health care the military receives is expensive, but the reason for that is obvious, and essentially the same reason Medicaid and Cobra are so expensive: they cover the worst risks we have. Applied to the entire populace, average costs would be lower. But opponents of health care reform aren't interested in a reasoned analysis of the problem, as Kristol demonstrates by pulling out two favorite canards: pre existing conditions, and rationing.

When someone talks about eliminating preexisting conditions, what they really mean is eliminating an insurance company's ability to turn down a potential new insured on the basis that the insured already has a medical condition qualifying for payment. However, this need is essential: If people were allowed to wait to buy insurance when they were already sick, that's what everyone would do, and the insurance part of the equation would collapse. Insurance, any insurance, depends on the small premiums of the many to pay for the large unexpected costs of the few. With only the few, costs are not mitigated, and needed premiums would skyrocket. It would be like allowing homeowners to buy wind insurance as the hurricane approaches.

The real issue is portability: allowing insureds on a medical plan with their employer to not be treated as a new insured if they change employers, or lose their job. Change that, and the legitimate problems with the pre-existing conditions go away. When someone like Kristol neglects to mention portability and instead makes it sound like the problem is that the big bad insurance companies won't let you wait to buy cancer insurance until after you have cancer, he is demonstrating either gross ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.

Likewise when you hear people like him prattle on about rationing. Any time there is more demand than supply for a commodity, there will be rationing. It's just brute arithmetic: if there are 6 items, and 8 people want them, 2 people are going without (the real-life complexities complicate the argument without altering it meaningfully). The question is not "will there be rationing?" The question is "by what method will we ration?" Our current system does so poorly and expensively. People like Kristol attempt to avoid the legitimate discussion of the problem by implying the problem is created by government. Rationing is part of the equation, whether government is involved or not.

We need an honest debate of the myriad problems we face with our health care system. Our population is aging, and our financial status is poor. The challenge is great, and the situation is only going to get worse. We don't have time to waste on the prattlings of obfuscating twits like Kristol, who, aside from the dubious distinction of predicting the nomination of Sarah Palin, has been pretty wrong about nearly everything lately.

Friday, August 7, 2009

News One Liners

"You want to hear something positive about Sarah Palin? I'm positive she's an idiot" - CNN emailer

"If at first you don't succeed, redefine what you did as a success" - Stephen Colbert

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The New Guitarists

There is a whole new breed of guitar players out there who are using innovative techniques to get sounds out of their instruments that would make Jimi Hendricks envious, so I thought I'd give a few of my favorites a plug:

Andy McKee
Antoine Dufour
Don Ross and Andy McKee
Antoine Dufour wth Tommy Gautier,
Dufour and Gauthier getting a wee bit silly with an old Jerry Reed tune,

and possibly the best of the bunch, Erik Mongrain, here and here.

They were all apparently influenced by a guy named Michael Hedges, who was experimenting with tapping/slapping techniques and harmonics back in the late 80's, and is absolutely mesmerizing to listen to.

"I feel I can always hear his heart when he plays. He respected my playing too, and that simply thrills me." – Pete Townshend

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Evolution Revealed in Excess Butterfly Sperm

In the best example of creationism-inconsistent evolution since the stab-raping bisexual bedbug:

The sperm of male butterflies has a strange property. About 90% of it is non-fertile -- essentially filler for the females' sperm storage organs that tricks females into thinking they have all the sperm they need to fertilize their eggs. The males' ploy reduces the likelihood that their mates will take another suitor, thereby ensuring their own paternity.

It's tough to imagine the creator god saying "gee, I think I'll design this butterfly so that the female won't be satisfied until she's full, so I'll give the male 10 times as much sperm as he needs, and 90% worthless sperm at that." Still, as good scientists we must always be ready to challenge our assumptions, and this is no exception. The science does have a bit more research left to solidify the case:

...the interpretation of Wedell's results requires some assumptions about the costs and benefits of non-fertile sperm production and storage that have not yet been confirmed, cautioned evolutionary biologist Darryl Gwynne of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the work. The nutritious gifts that females receive upon mating are likely to be a high incentive for them to mate many times, but there are often costs associated with mating as well. It is therefore unclear how often females should mate to maximize their fitness.

"This paper addresses a really neat potential conflict situation in these butterflies," Gwynne said, "[but you] need to show [that] by filling her sperm storage organs with these non-fertile sperm and increasing her refractory period, you're actually impacting her fitness." In other words, demonstrating that this is a case of sexual conflict requires showing that females incur a cost by storing non-fertile sperm.

Notice however that there is no promise of salvation for the creationists in these criticisms. They only address the issue of whether the cause of the excess sperm is sexual conflict, not whether the excess sperm exists, or that it is nonfertile. It doesn't matter what the natural explanation turns out to be, or whether this one is correct, "god wanted it that way" will never fly as a viable alternative.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who's Irrational Now? The Same People That Always Were

A reader sent me this article in the Wall Street Journal (a Murdock production) about a study which gathered data confirming something I considered a given: that fundamentalist Christians believe in nonreligious paranormal events (Atlantis, the Loch Ness monster, ghosts) less so than do nonreligious people.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

This is not a new finding.

Indeed, it isn't. I recall reading the same study they reference years ago:

This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely.

Of course they are, and the reason should be obvious. The more fundamentalist the Christian, the more binary their view of the world: something is either consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ as written in the Holy Gospel of the Bible, or it isn't. Those things that aren't are rejected. Naturally, this is going to lead to the rejection of practically any other viewpoint or epistemology, the good and the bad, science and nonreligious pseudoscience alike. You'd get the same exact results polling a guy with brain damage who could say nothing but "no".

Oh, except for all that baseless nonsense about talking burning bushes, a virgin giving birth, and dead people coming back to life after being dead for days. Somehow those ideas, and the intellectual mess that comes with it are given a pass from being labeled "superstitious" because, well, just because. So the study tells us that people immersed in an exclusionary belief system reject other belief systems. Color me amazed.

Instead of recognizing this, Murdock's writer Mollie Ziegler Hemingway decides it somehow validates criticizing atheism through an attack on Bill Maher. Maher supposedly said the following:

"You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god"

Cute, and on point with regard to putting people following irrational belief systems in positions of power where their decisions will be influenced by said irrationality. But sadly, generally, his statement is wrong. How nice it would be if the world were that simple. However the same creationist that would be a nightmare as a biologist might do just fine as a carpenter or mathematician, where his religion and reality would rarely conflict. Compartmentalization is the norm in humanity, not the exception.

So it is with Bill Maher, who holds his share of goofy beliefs, mainly having to do with medicine (he's a Big Pharma conspiracy guy as well as a supporter of PETA). He does OK with science until it gets near that subject, and then he gets goofy, just like anyone with a hole of irrationality in their cognitive processes. It doesn't make him any less astute an observer of religious irrationality. In similar vein, a believer in a risen Jesus may have no trouble seeing Maher's medical irrationalities for what they are.

Ms. Hemingway hopes her readers won't notice this inherent contradiction in her argument, which is why, as so many do on the right these days (a la Coulter), she doesn't make it explicit. She's trying to give religion points in the "who is more rational" wars by implicating Maher as an irrational person. But the only way to do that is to claim that his one set of irrational views brands him entirely irrational on all others, which is exactly what Maher is wrong about. If Maher's PETA support merits the irrational badge, then so does your support of Jesus, Ms. Hemingway. If you can compartmentalize (which is obvious), then so can Maher. You can't have it both ways.

Oh, and Maher doesn't claim to base his entire life and view of reality on his pharmacrap the way you claim to with the Bible. So that sort of gives him a leg up on you, as it does for everyone who believes in bigfoot (fight over Michael Medved if you must), and similar cognitively isolated views. As long as the people who believe in Atlantis and martian abductions don't start thinking their beliefs can save them from death, while all others will burn in torment for all eternity, they're still more rational than you are. One doesn't have to be perfect to be superior.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In Case You Still Don't Believe O'Reilly is an Idiot: Life Expectancy with Billo

In case there was any doubt left in your mind that Bill O'Reilly is an idiot, watch this video of him explaining away Canada's greater life expectancy than ours by noting that:

"we have ten times as many people as you do, that translates into ten times as many accidents, crimes, down the line."

Yes you blithering idiot, and it also translates into ten times as many people in the denominator of the calculation of life expectancy. You don't increase an average just by changing the number of people in your sample. Add "life expectancy" to the terms O'Reilly, and apparently his viewers, don't understand. Is it any wonder that we can't have a reasoned debate on these subjects when so many people are grossly ignorant of the most basic aspects of the issues?

Let's also note that this is another classic example of substituting conjecture (if our population was the same size as Canada's, so would our life expectancy) for actual data. So much for "the party of facts".

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Science is in: Organic Food Not More Healthy

In what had to be a a major blow to the natural-is-good crowd, "a systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years...found there was no significant difference" between organically grown food and food created by other means. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said:

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

I had always wondered about organic foods, and what exactly the supposed benefits were. The most common response is that they are "natural", but so are cyanide and botulism, so I found that argument entirely unconvincing. Now we find the science is lacking for alternative nutrition (at least this piece of it) just like it is lacking for alternative medicine.

This once again shows that conservatives don't have a monopoly on pushing pseudoscience. Leftwingers like The Huffington Post do their share of misinforming, and politicians like Tom Harkin waste millions in taxpayer money on pseudoscientific nonsense. Conservative nuts are just more numerous, and more mainstream.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Will of the People and the Tea Party Mentality

For a look inside the mentality of the Tea Party crowd, check out this video, apparently made as an advertisement for one:


In some ways its a nice historical tribute to America's opposition of tyranny, be it King George's taxation without representation, or Hitler and Japan threatening the world's freedom, and of course the ultimate cowards, the Islamic terrorists who committed the mass vandalism known as "9/11" and now proudly hide in caves.

But sadly for the Tea Partiers, their effort completely departs from reality when it tries to include the current administration and congress as tyrannies defying the will of the people. In a representative democracy such as ours, the will of the people is measured every 2-6 years, depending on which segment of the government we are discussing. We call these measurements "elections", and the Teapartiers have been losing a lot of them lately. Those now in power were elected to do exactly what they are doing, via the will of the people. When you lose, you don't get your way, no matter how revolting you find the other side's opinions, or how wrong you think they are. That's not tyranny, that's democracy.

Yet losing has turned the supposed party of facts-over-feelings into the party of woulda, shoulda, coulda. We woulda won had ACORN not cheated. The media shoulda been harder on Obama. We coulda won if Sarah Palin had been the candidate. It's a sad day for the GOP that so many have been reduced to this, but then so many haven't tasted minority status in their lifetimes, so in part its understandable. Few people are able to change their paradigm so radically in so little time, regardless of how rational we'd like to think we are.

Some of the Tea Partier's arguments (when they can be wrested from the jingoisms) have validity (such as the goals of having lean, efficient government). It's also entirely possible that the Tea partiers are right about a lot of the issues they have with the direction the President and Democrats are taking us. After all, truth is not determined by popular vote. Time, as always, will tell. But any Tea Partiers clinging to the notion that they represent "the will of the people" are deluding themselves. Right or wrong, you are now the minority, and every demographic indication is that the situation will get worse, not better, as long as you cling to the same old positions and arguments. Those immigrating to this country, those getting a college education, and those under 30, overwhelmingly reject your worldview. All the tea parties and snazzy videos in the world won't change that.