Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Doug Giles' Projected Sexual Obsession

For a good taste of the intellectually vapid, juvenile nature of the retorts to atheistic arguments, one need look no further than the Master of Projection, Townhall columnist Doug Giles.

In this article, Giles pursues one long and unsupported ad hominem argument that surely titillated his prepubescent fans (of which there are no doubt many) beyond repair. One really has to read it to believe any serious journalist or journalistic organization would publish such a thing:

”Atheists would love for everyone to believe that their motive for not believing is an intellectual one. Yes, the atheists ardently suppose that they are wise and the Christians, well, we’re the buckle-shoed buttheads.

Yes, darling, the atheists would love all of us to suppose that they cannot believe because they are so astute and rational, and we theists, heck we’re toads . . . a veritable troop of abecedarian simpletons who believe in God and Christ simply because we’re straight goofy.

I think the atheists believe in not believing, however, not because they’re intellectual little dandies but because they want to be autonomous, loose and randy.”

As one reads such words, one can easily see the rhetorical version of a child holding his breath, stamping his feet, and calling “big poopie heads”, everyone who insists his imaginary friend isn’t real. There is no substance of a rebuttal, no attempt to understand the arguments put forth against his pet belief. There’s just juvenile anger. Oh, and a reference to someone almost as ignorant of atheism as Giles is, that great manipulator of the media, Dinesh D’Souza:

”As Dinesh D’Souza said about the atheist’s faith in no faith in his new book What’s So Great About Christianity: ‘Atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it’s a moral one.’ God, that’s got to hurt you guys because you pride yourself on being so wise . . . so sophisticated . . . and here he/we are saying that your atheism rises out of hedonism instead of intellectualism. Ouch. Need a bandaid?”

Hardly. Christians that ignore the substance of atheistic arguments and argue ad hominem that atheists are immoral is old news, to put it kindly. That Giles thinks this would come as a surprise to us, or otherwise have any effect on our views, only confirms how truly clueless he is with regard to what makes unbelievers tick. One might as well ignore the fact that “Atheists”, by definition, do not believe in any gods, and blithely claim we are just afraid of their judgement.

”Look, I’m not buying that the atheists’ altruistic self-professed pursuit of reason is what undergirds their conclusion that God does not exist; I believe it’s because they want to believe that they’ll never be called into eternal accountability for their temporal actions by a holy God. Talk about an opiate for the masses!

But to heck with what I think, eh? I’m just a hayseed, cross-eyed Christian with an IQ of 50 who believes in Jesus, loves his mama, salutes the flag and collects guns. I’m an idiot.”

Well um, yes, Doug, if the ignorance and stupidity that literally drips from this column is any indication of your intellectual prowess and honesty. Rather than deal with what atheists actually think, you create a straw man to beat on. That might elevate your flagging ego a bit, but for us it’s just the same old boring irrelevant nonsense we are used to getting from, well, hayseed, cross-eyed Christians with IQs of 50.

In the true spirit of intellectually dishonest cranks, Giles then goes on to quotemine atheists, and then distorts the meaning even beyond that.

”Let’s go to the atheists and hear it from the horse’s mouth—or backside (411 taken from D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity): “

Let me get this straight Doug. You think taking Dinesh D’Souzas claims of what atheists think and say at face value, qualifies as hearing it from the horses mouth? Have you been working with the FEMA press people or something? If you want to know what atheists think, ask atheists. Its not complicated, that is, as long as it is truth you seek, and not some narrow socio-political agenda. The latter can only explain his twisted interpretation of the following:

”• Biologist Stephen Jay Gould: “We may yearn for a higher answer—but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating.”

Biologist Julian Huxley, the grandson of Darwin’s buddy and ally Thomas Henry Huxley, put it this way: “The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormous.”

• Julian’s brother Aldous Huxley, not to be outdone by his bro, stated, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption . . . For myself as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation . . . liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

Bertrand Russell: “The worst feature of the Christian religion is its attitude toward sex.”

• Christopher Hitchens: “The divorce between the sexual life and fear . . . can now at last be attempted on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse.”

Sounds like these atheist apostles are simply putting a nuevo twist on an ancient bent. They appear to be humming the Marquis de Sade’s tune more than Sagan’s. Looks and sounds like a moral revolt to me. Yes, this is Epicurus all over again. “

Pointing out the stupidity of religious views with regard to sex, and the damage they do pursuing the enforcement of these views on society, isn’t in the same ballpark as de Sade or Epicurus. Its not even the same sport. Contrast the sexual habits of your average atheist with the likes of Ted Haggert and the rest of the men’s room gropers on the religious right, and it is hard to take Giles insinuation that atheists are the sexually unhealthy ones with any seriousness at all. In fact, if one peruses the writings of the religious and the nonreligious and compares the rate at which they discuss sex, it is pretty clear who is obsessing over sex - the ones overly concerned about what the rest of us are doing. Those looking to ban or limit some activity are almost always more concerned about it than those who participate.

And yes, realizing that one is not under the thumb and cruel judgement of a nutcase like Yahweh is certainly liberating. Does a feeling of liberation at the acceptance of a truth now make it not a truth in Giles twisted world? No Doug, your ignorant irrational rantings do nothing to dissuade atheists, I assure you. They serve only to highlight, yet again, the intellectual dishonesty that pervades the religious right. They are all too eager to drudge through history books grasping at any quote that sounds like it might support their case, searching desperately for anything to stop the onslaught of reason directed at their cherished fantasies. They are willing to do just about anything, except, of course, dealing honestly with what atheists actually believe, and the evidence that supports their view that the gods are fiction.

People like Giles and D’Sousa have to hurl epithets, for they have no substance. They must quote mine, because they can’t deal with what atheists really think. They much make insinuations and ad hominems, because they have no substantive arguments of their own to make. Their every utterance adds to the atheist cause.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ghost Poll

More Americans believe in ghosts than in the job President Bush is doing. That is depressing on so many levels.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

D'Souza's Arguments via Kengor: Hardly Persuasive

In an interview with Dr. Paul Kengor, Dinesh D'Souza lays out some of his major arguments in his book What’s So Great About Christianity. Needless to say, I was neither surprised nor impressed.

"In a way, the atheist attacks on God and religion are a bit odd. I don’t believe in unicorns, but I don’t go around writing books about them."

Well no, that is because there is no group of unicornists running around trying to outlaw ice cream cones because of their resemblance to the Holy Horn, or trying to suppress scientific findings and indoctrinate children with bronze age creation myths, or trying to prevent people from using birth and disease control. Many atheists lack belief in astrology and the Loch Ness monster as well, but we don't attack that nearly as much as we attack religion. Same reason: the astrologers for the most part leave us alone and don't try to force their views on the rest of us. Let Christians develop the same tolerance for differing views, and rest assured, the atheist attacks on them would abate.

This is a Coulteristic non-argument. It's just a smart aleck claim akin to what a 10 year old might conjure up. Why isn't it spelled out logically? Because D'Souza knows how absurd it would sound to say "Gosh, atheists sure criticize belief in God a lot. They must really believe in Him." It is not the stuff of serious scholarship, and certainly not the sort of thing that is going to be a challenge to atheists.

"I suspect what has given atheists a boost is the Islamic radicalism we’ve seen in the wake of 9/11. The atheists glibly equate Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism, and then conclude that religion itself is the problem. "

It is not glib, it is an acknowledgement of the basic similarity between the two. Christians believe by faith, Muslims believe by faith. Christians believe paradise awaits them in heaven, Muslims believe paradise awaits them in heaven. Those Muslim hijackers were driven by the exact same blind faith that Christians so revere, and which so many incomprehensibly believe is crucial for a head of state to have. When D'Souza can explain exactly what is different about the way Christians discover truth and the way Muslims do, then his objection will have some substance. Until then it is just so much reality denial of the dangers of blind faith.

"My book What’s So Great About Christianity is consciously written in the C.S. Lewis tradition...I want to show Christians and religious believers that theism makes vastly more sense of the world and of our lives than agnosticism or atheism. I also want to persuade genuine seekers that they should take Christianity seriously, and give it real consideration. I don’t expect to convince dogmatic atheists, but I do intend to expose and refute and embarrass them."

Well DiNesh, if you follow in the Lewis tradition of MSU - Making Shit Up ("the thing that controls instincts cannot itself be an instinct" - really? Why not?) and playing semantic games (which is all his talk of the Natural Law was), you will have as little success as he did. As long as you pretend there is such a thing as a dogmatic atheist, you have no chance of success, for such reveals a complete lack of understanding of how the opposition thinks. We atheists deal with facts and logic, not faith and dogma.

"There is a whole body of data showing that the world is growing more religious. One reason for this is that religious countries and religious people are having more children, while secular countries and secular people are not reproducing themselves... This is very disturbing news for atheists."

Hardly. While we are certainly not thrilled by the growth of religion in the world, the implication of the argument D'Souza makes here is that the religious are winning the cultural war, not because they are right, or because they have the more persuasive arguments, but simply because they have more children. The conversion rate strongly favors the atheists, as believers converting to atheism outnumber atheist conversions to religion 1,000 to 1. Being angry at the gods doesn't make you an atheist, as so many Christians claim when attempting to refute this. If it were not so, the world would become almost completely religious in short order, since the best correlate of a child's religious view is his parents religious view. Instead, the world is about 30% or so nonreligious, and in some places like the United States, that figure has been steadily growing for decades.

"Not so long ago the typical atheist could be comforted by the idea that as the world became more modern, more urbanized, more educated, it would also become more secular. Religion would wither away. This hasn’t happened, and the trend is actually in the other direction. In fact, religion is booming in rapidly modernizing countries like India and China. Perhaps the new atheism is a backlash against the unforeseen success of religion."

Without a doubt, it is. Religious thinking has plunged us into meaningless wars, denied birth control to millions who need it, and stunted the science education of millions of innocent children. You are damned right it is a backlash against the success of religion in it's superior rate of procreation, and against it's failure in every other aspect.

"There is no sustained historical clash between science and religion. In fact, Christianity was crucial in giving birth to modern science, and the vast, vast majority of leading scientists over the past 500 years have been Christians."

D'Souza is making a very flawed argument here. His tacit assumption is that the social balance between atheism and Christianity has remained constant all these years, and it hasn't. Christianity was the dominant belief system for all but the last couple of hundred years in Europe, even among prominent scientists. So of course there wasn't much of a clash between atheism and Christianity, because there wasn't a whole lot of atheism. To give Christianity credit for advancing science because so many great scientists were Christians would be like crediting slavery on the same basis, or even patriarchy. His argument here is circular, because he does not seem to understand that correlation does not imply causality. The causality he assumed.

" Well, on the Christian side we have Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Brahe, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz, Gassendi, Pascal, Mersenne, Cuvier, Harvey, Dalton, Farady, Hershel, Joule, Lyell, Lavoisier, Priestley, Kelvin, Ohm, Ampere, Steno, Pasteur, Maxwell, Planck, Mendel and Lemaitre. Einstein too was a believer in God as a kind of supreme mind or spirit discernible through the complex and beautiful laws of nature."

More MSU from D'Souza. Newton denied the trinity, and Einstein most forcefully denied believing in a personal god or anything like it. Einstein's religious views were far more compatible with Dawkins' then they are with D'Souza's.

The question that begs to be asked in any case is: so what? Practically everyone was a Christian back then. I would likely have been a Christian then, as would most of you reading this. The question is not what is reasonable for a person to believe based on 17th century knowledge (or less), but what is reasonable for a person to believe with 21st century knowledge. If D'Souza is going to argue that all these men would have been Christians were they alive today, he need to back up that claim, not just tacitly assert it. At first glance, it appears preposterous.

"... science itself, in its assumption that the universe is rational and obeys laws discoverable by the human mind, is based on Christian precepts and cannot in fact be done without Christian presuppositions. "

[Yawn] More MSU. The Greeks, as well as other cultures, made the same assumptions long before Christianity came to be. In fact, it is difficult to see how any sane person could assume anything else. One doesn't have to be too observant to notice regularity in the world around us. It is not as if we find ourselves disappearing and appearing, or walking into invisible walls, or finding ice cream burning.

This is just another of the many numerous occasions where Christian apologists co opt others' discoveries as their own. Thus, they claim to have laid the foundations of the constitution (English common law and John Locke did that), the golden rule (which appears in practically every culture, many predating Jesus), and science. None are the slightest bit true. Science is based on falsifiable experimentation, and collective public evaluation of the evidence. There is nothing in Christianity that comes close to expressing such views.

If this is the best D'Souza has to offer, he will be merely another clanging bell of criticism as the atheist train runs merrily by. What he needs to ask, is not whether many scientists of antiquity, people of their culture and time as we all are, fell for the Christian myth. He needs to come up with a good explanation for why, with modern knowledge of the universe, a tiny percentage of scientists are traditional Christians, or why belief in gods is so consistently correlated with a lack of intelligence and education. Arm waving about what Kepler did or did not believe doesn't change the good reasons why Dawkins, Hawking, and yes Einstein, didn't.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bobby Jindal: Saving the Republican Party?

The Republicans haven't had much to cheer about lately, but now they have Bobby Jindal, new Governor of Louisiana. Some are touting Jindal as the future of the republican party. The fact that he is the son of Indian immigrants doesn't hurt any for countering the GOP's lily white reputation.

Unfortunately too much of Jindal's rhetoric is the same old evidence-averse nonsense pretending to be science. Yep, Jindal is an intelligent design advocate. Worse yet, he seems to have memorized and employed with malice of forethought, all the same deceptive language:

"The reality is there are a lot of things that we don’t understand. There’s no theory in science that could explain how, contrary to the laws of entropy, you could create order out of chaos. There’s no scientific theory that explains how you can create organic life out of inorganic matter. I think we owe it to our children to teach them the best possible modern scientific facts and theories. Teach them what different theories are out there for the things that aren’t answerable by science, that aren’t answered by science. Let them decide for themselves. I don’t think we should be scared to do that. Personally, it certainly makes sense to me that when you look at creation, you would believe in a creator. Let’s not be afraid to teach our kids the very best science."

This is all just code language for teaching creationism. This implies that Jindal is not one of the innocent believers deceived by the dissembling Behe and Dembski, but is in on the scam as well.

Is it too much to ask that the "party of reason" have candidates that accept basic science? I'm starting to wonder.

Happy Belated Bishop Ussher Day! A Walk through Genesis

It's a little late, but October 23 was Bishop Ussher Day, the day that Bishop Ussher, working backwards from Biblical texts, declared to be the day of creation. According to him, it happened in 4004 BC. Of course, the Chinese might have had something to say about that, since they have a history that precedes that date. However, we should be hesitant to be too critical of the good Bishop, for his work was impressive scholarship for his day.

However, there is no excuse for this in a modern society:

"The Bible opens with the description of God creating the universe in six days. That report is accepted as literally true by 60% of the adult population. This passage brought out major distinctions across people groups. For instance, while 73% of the adults who did not attend college believe this account to be literal, just half as many college graduates (38%) hold that view."

With what we know about the world, these results are nothing short of pathetic. To be clear, I am not talking about believing in gods. The Bible is not God. Some believe it is the word of the gods, but they could be mistaken. Criticism of the Bible is not necessarily criticism of god belief. Those beliefs may be lacking evidence, but rarely is there absolute proof that they are wrong (depending on how they are defined), as there is with certain passages of the Bible. Genesis is wrong, plain and simple, and since so many own the Bible, and so few read it, let's get into exactly how wrong it is. To wit (from the Revised Standard Version):

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters"

There was no water on the early earth, that came later. It was literally earth, not formless, not void.

"And God said 'Let there be light', and there was light... and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

Even the most basic of knowledge of astronomy refutes every bit of this. The sun is much older than the earth, so light preceded earth, not the other way around. Further, once the earth is formed and rotating, day and night are inevitable. Interesting, isn't it, that the difference is very arbitrary in the description above, rather than something like "God set the earth in motion, thus making day and night". The reason is obvious: the authors of Genesis didn't know the earth was spherical.

"And God said 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters'. And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."

As our space travels have demonstrated, there is no firmament above the water on earth, and consequently no water above it. Any attempt to interpret this as a description of the water cycle of evaporation and rain would have to explain what was different about the laws of physics then, and where the firmament went.

"And God said 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said 'Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth...and there was evening and there was morning, a third day."

The evidence is overwhelming that the first life forms on earth were single celled organisms, and this was the case for about a billion years. And again, the earth was molten rock first, then came water, not the other way around.

"And God said 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth...And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also...and there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day."

None of this makes any sense in light of what we know about the universe. Stars existed before the earth, as did the sun, they were not created afterwards. The sun of course is the only major light in our sky, with the moon merely reflecting sunlight. Further, the moon existed long before there were seeded plants and fruit trees. And if the sun was made to mark days and years, how were the first three days designated?

"And God said 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth, across the firmament of the heavens. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind..."

The evidence is quite clear that birds were late arrivers on the animal scene, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million years ago, long after the earth had been populated with living things.

"And God said 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures, according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so..."

Cattle too were a late arriver on the scene, along with the rest of the mammals.

There is no nice way to put this. Anyone believing this is literally true is either a moron, or profoundly ignorant, perhaps by not ever having really read the passages. I hope I've at least cleared that up for some. It is the sort of story that was plausible in the time that it was written, but in our modern era, it is the kind only a child could believe.

Friday, October 26, 2007

FEMA Fake Press Conference

We used to laugh at other countries for doing stuff like this. According to Al Kamen, FEMA had a "press conference" where questions were asked by FEMA employees, not the press:

"But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by 'Mike' Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John 'Pat' Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin. "

Apparently their excuse was that they were asking the same questions they had been asked by the press via phone and email. Right, the press was asking about victims of the fire impeding FEMA operations. I haven't felt so insulted since Saddam had his people in the supposed milk factory wear shirts that said, in English, "Milk Factory", on their backs. This is Baghdad Bob shit. It's a serious issue turned into professional wrestling. If FEMA wants to get back the confidence of the American public, acting like they can't handle questions from the press isn't the way to go about it. Do a good job guys, its that simple, then we'll all love you.

Deaths from Staph Infections pass AIDS Infections

In a story to chill the hearts of both the evolution deniers, and their cousins, the ones who don't understand the problems with over prescribing antibiotics, deaths due to staph infections now may exceed those caused by AIDS. We apparently have a new super bug:

"The new study offers the broadest look yet at the pervasiveness of the most severe infections caused by the bug, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA."

I guess the Intelligent Design crowd will attribute this to the gods designing these diseases to frustrate our medical efforts. Nice guys.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Religion Harmless? Tell AIDS victims in Latin America

According to a United Nations official, the Catholic Church's demonization of condom use has caused the AIDS epidemic in South America to be far worse than it would be otherwise.

"The rapid spread in Latin America of the virus that causes AIDS is made worse by the Roman Catholic Church's stand against using condoms, a U.N. official said on Monday.

Some 1.7 million people across Latin America are infected with the HIV virus or full-blown AIDS, and the epidemic is spreading swiftly with up to 410,000 new cases in 2006, up from as many as 320,000 new cases in 2004, according the UN AIDS program, UNAIDS.

'In Latin America the use of condoms has been demonized, but if they were used in every relation I guarantee the epidemic would be resolved in the region,' said Alberto Stella, the UNAIDS Coordinator for Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The Catholic Church, which holds sway in Latin America despite the rise in evangelical churches, opposes all forms of contraception and instead promotes abstinence as a way to avoid spreading AIDS."

So once again we learn that ignorance and abstinence kills. The next time someone talks about how important it is to have faith (ie, belief without evidence), think of all those infected people. Had they based their views on the science instead of bronze age myths, many of them would still be alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's Official: God is a Rockies fan

Just when you thought no one in te media could get dumber than our presidential candidates, here comes Colorado Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd claming God is helping the Rockies win.

"The team's chief executive is a born-again Christian. So is the general manager and the team coach. Their two star players, along with many other members of their regular line-up, are not only believers but attend team-organised Bible studies.

The team doesn't like to talk about it much – mainly because the overlords of Major League Baseball don't think it's good for business – but they have an explicit policy to recruit as many Christian ball players as they can.

In other words, the Rockies – uniquely, even in a country as religion-obsessed as America – play faith-based baseball. And, in their view, God just rewarded them – big time.

'You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make,' general manager Dan O'Dowd said in the only interview he has given on the subject, long before the Rockies' remarkable ascension over the past few weeks. 'You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this.'

Nothing strikes me as more colossally arrogant than to think the supreme creator of the universe cares whether or not you win a baseball game. It is even more arrogant to think that, were such a being to decide to influence our affairs, we could discern it. Worse yet, do we now have a falsifiable theory here? If God is working for the Rockies, should they not then win the World Series? If they lose, will O'Dowd admit he was mistaken? And what took God so long to get behind his team? After all, the Rockies have been a horrible team for many years. Why the sudden divine interest? Having the breaks go your way every season for say 20 of them would look divine. Having all the breaks go your way one year every 20 or so is just sports.

As bad as that it, it gets better. You'd think were God to covertly make a team win, he'd do so pretty subtly. Maybe give each player a slightly better swing, or more speed, or perhaps give just one ball a goofy bounce that works in their favor. But no, according to O'Dowd, God isn't subtle at all. He just has the refs goof a call:

"That line of Dan O'Dowd's about God having a hand in it may have been more prescient than he realised. Anyone familiar with that other, more widely known sporting 'hand of God' couldn't help notice the manner in which the Rockies clinched their tie-breaker against San Diego last Monday night.

The game was a thriller, the score see-sawing until the two sides were tied at six runs apiece after the regulation nine innings. San Diego eventually broke the game open with two runs in the top half of the 13th inning, only to see the Rockies bounce back with two runs of their own, leaving their star hitter, Matt Holliday, just 90ft away from victory at third base.

On the first pitch faced by the next batter, Holliday came tearing towards home plate and collided with the Padres' catcher, who had the ball in time to intercept him and get him out. But the ball flopped out of the catcher's hand, and the umpire quickly ruled Holliday safe. The run was in, the Rockies were up 9-8, and the game was over.

Except that the umpire appeared to have made the wrong call. Close inspection of the replay suggested Holliday never actually touched home plate, as the rules require, because the catcher's foot was in the way."

There you have it. God makes the Rockies win by causing the refs to screw up. In other words, he cheats. Great family values there. I just wonder how we are supposed to tell divine screw ups from normal referee screwups. Or perhaps this has been the problem all along. I've wondered for years how refs can so consistently blow big calls in big games. Now I have my answer: The Dev, er, God, made them do it.

"When Charlie Monfort, the chief executive, talked to USA Today, he was even more explicit about what it means to be blessed with divine favour. 'I don't want to offend anyone,' he said, 'but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those.'

Well, let's hope the Red Sox sweep these arrogant fools, and see what sort of sign they decide that is. [Hat tip Pharyngula]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Faking Faith to avoid Vaccines: Just how does one fake that

Here is a marriage made in Hell. Anti-vaccination loons are pretending to be Christian loons to get out of vaccinating their children.

I have always maintained that religious exemptions are baloney, because they only apply de facto to religions with political power. If your religion says you should do peyote or smoke marijuana, well, that doesn't count. But what I want to know is what keeps everyone from pretending to have religion (sounds like a disease, doesn't it?) whenever it gets them out of whatever it is they want to get out of? It's not like you can prove they don't believe. They could have had a conversion a few moments ago. Hell, maybe the reason they converted really is to get out of vaccinating their kids! On what basis can anyone assert that is not the case? The article speaks of "genuine religious objection". Can someone please enlighten me as to what makes a religious view genuine? It's an absurdity.

The idea of religious exemptions is absurd. Want to avoid a law? Make your claim religious. Sorry, I'm a High Priest of the Notaxist Church, so you can't tax me. It's pandering to a political base, plain and simple.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Maher vs the 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts

In case you haven't seen the video, Bill Maher had some 9/11 conspiracy nuts (people who think our government destroyed the towers) interrupt his program and he had them thrown out, and not nicely. But isn't it interesting that his security guys didn't find it necessary to taze the protesters? I doubt Maher would be the type to let something like that happen on his show, but I hope all security people everywhere have been told to cool it with the tasers because of the famous incidents at UCLA and Florida, which left egg on a lot of faces.

And yes, of course Maher has the right, and in my opinion was right, to kick the protesters out. They were disrupting the show, and that is an area where private property rights trump the first amendment. Besides, it gave him an opportunity to deliver a great line:

"This is not the Iowa Caucuses, OK? It's not a debate. It's a debate [gesturing to the guests] between us. You are in the audience, audience comes from the Latin 'to listen'."

Another Stealth Creationist Talks too Much

In case there was any doubt as to the true motives of Intelligent Design advocates, they once again provide all the evidence we need. The irony is rich that a group so averse to collecting data to support their views (they prefer rhetoric to science) would so generously provide it to expose their scam. Here is the President of Patrick Henry University:

"You don't stand up in the public schools and say, 'We're going to bring prayer into your schools and we're going to do it with this bill right here right now,'" Farris told his constitutional law class, putting on his best faux Southern preacher delivery. "You do something smarter than that. You talk about intelligent design. You talk about teaching evolution and the facts that support it and the facts that negate it and pass a bill that says they shall both be presented in an evenhanded manner. And then you discipline your supporters to keep their stupid mouths shut."

Gotta work on that last part, eh?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Doug Giles: Excited about the Same Old Nonsense

Poor Doug Giles, he was so upset about all the atheist attacks on religion recently. Having such a place of social privilege for so long, where one's inanities are given respect they don't merit, will leave one open for an attack that has been long in coming. Indeed, Dennet, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens have people touting atheism, and challenging religion, like never before, if book sales and the Blasphemy Challenge are any indication.

Now he fancies his side will get their day in the intellectual sun, as pious heroes Dinesh D’Souza and Robert Hutchinson come to counter the atheist swashbuckling attacks with a little swordsmanship of their own. The problem is, it's the same old embarrassingly easily refuted nonsense religionists have been pushing for centuries. D'Souza's and Hutchinson's retort is a rapier-like thrust from an armless D'Artagnion. Giles fancies these arguments will shut atheists up. They are more likely to just make us laugh that anyone would offer such idiocy as something worthy of consideration. Observe:

"1. When the prissy anti-Christs tell you the Bible stands in the way of science, inform them that the greatest scientific geniuses in history were devout Christians—and scientists from Newton to Einstein insisted that biblical religion provided the key ideas from which experimental science could develop."

Giles impresses here, but not for the reasons he thinks. Not only is his premise false, but the logic doesn't follow anyway. Scientists are overwhelmingly atheistic today compared to the population, and that has been the case for decades at the least. If Giles is trying to illustrate a positive correlation between scientific achievement and religiosity, he's going to have to explain why the most scientifically successful era has been an era of record low religiosity. Those great scientists who were Christians mostly lived in times and societies where EVERYONE was a Christian.

Further, I would challenge anyone to produce documentation on Giles' claims about Newton and Einstein. Newton denied the trinity and Einstein denied believing in a personal god, so I find the claim they credited the Bible with much of anything scientifically to be most tenuous. It doesn't surprise me that Giles gives us no cite for this claim.

Now it is the case that many scientists and mathematicians are religious and see science as revelations of a sort. Newton indeed believed the universe would have a discernible order because God would make it that way, and the great Indian mathematician Ramanujan believed he was reading the mind of god. But just as the meaning of the 1st amendment depends on what the framers said, and not what their personal religious views were, a scientist's work is judged by the evidence, not his religiosity. "There is no place for god in the lab" is common refrain for a reason. There may be Christians who do good science, but they behave as atheists would when they do so.

"2. When the pissy God haters tell you the Bible condones slavery, you can remind them that slavery was abolished only when devout Christians, inspired by the Bible, launched a campaign in the early 1800s to abolish the slave trade."

Many apologetic arguments don't really address the issue at hand, and instead reveal the Bible to be so self-contradictory that it can often be used to argue both sides of the same issue. This is such a case. The Bible gives rules about slaves, how to have them, how to punish them, and in some cases the punishment for crimes against a slave are less than crimes against a free man. Nowhere is it outrightly condemned. Whether or not Christians joined the battle to free the slaves is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the Bible condones slavery. It does. One need only be literate, not a god-hater, to recognize this. That Christians can also cherry pick phrases and philosophies from it that appear to oppose slavery only shows how flawed their Bible truly is. By supporting all sides, it shows it's lack of moral fiber.

"3. When the screechin’ teachers tell you the Bible has been proven false by archaeology, hark back and show them that each year a new archaeological discovery substantiates the existence of people, places and events we once knew solely from biblical sources, including the discovery of the Moabite stone in 1868, which mentions numerous places in the Bible, and the discovery of an inscription in 1961 that proves the existence of the biblical figure Pontius Pilate, just to name a few."

This is similar to problem #2. That certain aspects of the Bible are true is beyond dispute. But just like the existence of New York City, as mentioned in Atlas Shrugged, does not make John Galt a real person, likewise the fact that some things in the Bible are true does not change the fact that archaeology does not, in general, support Biblical claims. For example, there is no evidence that a large group of people roamed the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, or even that a person called Moses existed. The sciences of biology and geology are no more kind to Biblical claims, as we know the earth is not 6,000 years old, animals did not appear fully formed ex nihilo, and there was never a worldwide flood. There was no time of darkness when Jesus was crucified, nor did all the dead saints appear. The Bible flunks the science test,and the history test, and it only takes the ability to read it, and only the most basic knowledge, to know this.

"4. When they get sweaty and tell you that the Bible breeds intolerance, refresh their memory with the fact that only those societies influenced by biblical teachings (in North and South America, Europe, and Australia) today guarantee freedom of speech and religion. Period."

This is nonsense. There is no mention of freedom of speech or religion in the Bible. The 10 commandments pretty much rule both out, since saying certain words, or having religious views that differ from Yahweh's claims, are deemed sins of the highest order. Perhaps Giles needs to freshen up on his early American history, from Columbus to 1776, when those good Christians in the new world were apparently completely unaware that freedom of religion was a Christian concept, as they imprisoned those who believed differently. For Christians to claim credit for a concept that appears nowhere in their theology is remarkable to say the least. One could be forgiven for wondering if Giles thinks Christianity ought to get credit for inventing the internet too.

"5. When one of them queues up and quips that the Bible opposes freedom, smack ‘em with the fact that the Bible’s insistence that no one is above the law and all must answer to divine justice led to theories of universal human rights and…uh…limited government."

Uh, no it didn't. Human rights and limited government as it is practiced here in the US grew out of English common law and the writings of John Locke, which had little to nothing to do with the Bible. Perhaps it passed Giles' notice that Christianity was around for many hundreds of years before the concepts of human rights and limited government arose, and it was hardly a bunch of conservative Christians leading the charge.

This is just standard fare for the Liars for Jesus crowd. Just as the creationists like to claim credit for what science finds, Christians like Giles like to claim credit for what secular philosophy and science accomplish. It is intellectual dishonesty, plain and simple.

"6. When they tell you that Christianity and the Bible justify war and genocide, unsympathetically remind them that societies which rejected biblical morality in favor of a more “rational” and “scientific” approach to politics murdered millions upon millions more than the Crusades or the Inquisition ever did. Hello. “Atheist regimes have caused the greatest mass murders in history,” says D’Souza. Inside D’Souza’s book you’ll find little gems like, “The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair, and witch hunts together make up less than 1% of the murders that have occurred during modern atheist regimes like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.”

DING DING DING. We have a winner in the Liar's sweepstakes. Hitler was a Christian, plain and simple. He renounced Darwin, and believed he was doing God's work. The most obvious way you can tell someone is lying is when they talk about Hitler being an atheist. It just goes to show again how these Christian apologists know they can't win the factual analysis, or worse yet, don't care whether they can or not, so they resort to MSU (Making Shit Up.

Stalin, Mao, and one could add Pol Pot to this nasty mix, did not have science-based intellectual freethinking regimes. They simply substituted their own authority, or the party's, for where the gods had been, and that is the proximate cause of the atrocities they caused. One point we atheists constantly make is that it is blind adherence to any dogma that we oppose. Religion just happens to be the most successful model. Communism and Nazism are others.

Atheism is impotent to motivate such behavior. Lack of belief does not inspire, or give direction. Communism had far more in common with fundamentalist Christianity than it does with atheism, because unlike any of you, we can question and challenge our leaders, and our most basic precepts, and indeed are encouraged to do so.

Poor Giles actually thinks this rubbish will be a problem for atheists:

"Senior pastor, college pastor and youth pastor: do yourself and your congregants a favor and teach this stuff to your church. Equip Christians to stand against the BS (belief system) of the atheists. The culture war is heating up, therefore make sure your people don’t stand intellectually naked and neutered before these no-God numb nuts.

Lastly, comfortable and cocky atheists, you had better brace yourselves. Hundreds of thousands of Christians and authors are about to read these books and, as stated, systematically dismember your old and haggard arguments. "

Dream on Douggie. These arguments are a joke, the sort of thing that stopped being a challenge for most of us when we were, oh, around 14. They will persuade no one, but will merely feed the deluded frenzy of your slowly shrinking choir.

To people with an actual education, or the gods forbid, who have actually read that mish-mash of literature you so comically worship, your arguments just demonstrate how truly intellectually vapid you are. You worship a book you haven't read or understood. If anything in the scientific world could be considered a sin, it is that: belief without knowledge. You call it faith. We call it ignorance. And you can't make us pretend it is anything else any more.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Blind Pig finds Slop: Cal Thomas on Global Warming and The War On Terror

Cal Thomas is one of those writers whose agreement with me prompts reconsideration of my position.

For example, imagine finding youself in agreement with someone who could say something like this:

"The Church of Global Warming (CGW) is a cult. A cult has a number of definitions, among them this one from “A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.” Cults wish to control others. Global warming fundamentalists wish to do the same through the power of government."

You've got to love a guy who doesn't even follow his own rules. Those accepting the scientific findings associated with anthropocentric global warming (AGW) are otherwise normal people, they don't constitute anything remotely resembling a church, live among everyone else, and have no leader determining correct doctrine. If you think Al Gore qualifies, you don't understand the issue. AGW is supported by scientific research, not Gorian proclamations. Gore is merely the messenger, albeit a good one.

But towards the end of an otherwise wasteful rhetoric about Jimmy Carter and Al Gores movies, comes a point of view I've often considerd and wondered why it doesn't get dicussed more often:

"Republicans and Democrats repeatedly tell us we rely too much on foreign oil, especially that which comes from a current trouble spot, the Middle East, and that which comes from a potential trouble spot, Venezuela. Might it be possible for the CGW crowd and the Church of Free Enterprise (CFE) to come together for the common purpose of reducing our reliance on foreign oil? CGW fundamentalists would get what they want — a reduced carbon footprint and supposedly lower global temperatures (go ahead and let them believe it) — while CFE parishioners would rejoice that Saudi Arabia’s hold on us (not to mention its use of our money to underwrite terrorism) could be broken.

If we would launch an energy independence program with the intensity of a Marshall Plan for Europe, or a man-on-the-moon project, to liberate ourselves from the petroleum despots by developing synthetic fuels and finding new energy sources closer to home — especially nuclear power — we could strike a blow against the Islamofascists more damaging than bombs and bullets."

Indeed, this is where the Green Party and the Republicans actually come together. The more America goes green, the less we rely on oil from places like Iran, which should reduce the friction between our cultures. So why aren't Global Warming and the War on Terror teaming up on this? The only thing I can think of about the idea is that Cal Thomas likes it, so there must be a flaw somewhere...

Complete Titanosaur Fossil Found

Here is a great story on a new, huge dinosaur species, once again found in South America:

"The skeleton of what is believed to be a new dinosaur species — a 105-foot plant-eater that is among the largest dinosaurs ever found — has been uncovered in Argentina, scientists said Monday.

Scientists from Argentina and Brazil said the Patagonian dinosaur appears to represent a previously unknown species of Titanosaur because of the unique structure of its neck. They named it Futalognkosaurus dukei after the Mapuche Indian words for "giant" and "chief," and for Duke Energy Argentina, which helped fund the skeleton's excavation.

"This is one of the biggest in the world and one of the most complete of these giants that exist," said Jorge Calvo, director of the paleontology center at the National University of Comahue, Argentina. He was lead author of a study on the dinosaur published in the peer-reviewed Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Scientists said the giant herbivore walked the Earth some 88 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period."

This brings up another handy retort to the standard creationist canard about gaps in the fossil record. Here we have a species that roamed the earth no doubt in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and yet we often have only one or two specimens. Sometimes all we have is part of one individual. So of course there are gaps. It would be more noteworthy if there weren't gaps. Who knows how many species never had a member be so fortunate as to become fossilized. To hear creationists talk, one would think fossilization was a common occurrence, instead of one that requires many unusual conditions to be present.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Review of the Nine Inconvenient "Errors"

For those who are all excited about the supposed nine errors in Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth", here is a scientific review of the claims. As usual, it seems the AGW denialists are more interested in slandering Gore and nitpicking at irrelevancies rather than deal honestly with the situation.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leatherback Turtles

Here's a nice story on leatherback turtles, the largest in the world. Sadly their numbers have apparently dropped 90% over the past 20 years, due to being caught in fishing gear and their eggs being considered a delicacy. Hat tip Chris Mooney.

More Amazing Proclamations from Planet Prager

If Ann Coulter's comment on Jews wasn't enough to send all intelligent people running for cover, here comes Dennis Prager's article to add his defiances of reason to the mix. Some of it has to be seen to believe this man occupies the same planet as the rest of us. Consider this blinkered comparison:

"What is wrong with a person believing that it would be better if another person adopted their faith? Is there one liberal who doesn't believe that a conservative would be better -- 'perfected,' if you will -- by embracing liberal beliefs and values?"

It is interesting to note that so many religious righters like Prager feel compelled to imply or outright argue that positions with which they disagree are somehow "religious", implying they are therefore flawed in some way. Thus, evolution deniers refer to modern evolutionary theory as the religion of "Darwinism", and "liberalism" is decried as a religion, by non other than her Arian Greatness herself. Yet these are the very people that think religion is such a terrific thing.

This reveals two things about them. First they only like THEIR religion. Despite all their lip service to tolerance, give them a religion that runs contrary to their views, and that all goes out the window.

Second, they can't really conceive of a worldview that isn't religious. The idea of an intellectual arena dealing in sincere criticism and objective data is anathema to their worldview. To them, all is mere opinion, supported by authority. Ironically, they are as postmodernist as the liberals they so decry for their moral relativism. This is why they have such a difficult time dealing with science in general, and particularly troubling (to them) scientific findings. To them, there is no such thing as an intellectual consensus, thus any consensus, especially one that runs counter to their religious truth, must be some sort of conspiracy.

Thus, a person who desires to change another's mind because of some objective evidence is lumped by Prager into the same category as Coulter, who proclaims one group of people less perfect than another, based on nothing but blind faith to flawed texts and their biased ministrations. So yes Mr. Prager, there are plenty of liberals, and conservatives as well, who do NOT see others as less perfect by virtue of differing beliefs and values. Those of us who base our views on reason and evidence, rather than faith, recognize our own fallibility, and the necessity to change our views from time to time, as more evidence becomes available. Thus, we see value in tolerance of dissenting views, and have the modesty to understand that we might be the mistaken ones.

"Why is it laudable for a liberal to hope that conservatives convert to liberalism, but dangerous and hate-filled when a Christian hopes that Jews or anyone else will go to heaven (that is, after all, Ann Coulter's and most other Christians' primary concern) by believing in Jesus?"

That's like asking how one can think it is laudable to give one's child a disciplinary swat on the behind for lying, but dangerous and hate-filled to murder the child for it. Liberalism and conservatism are political ideologies, philosophies about what rights people have and the proper mores for interaction, at their loftiest, and the side to which one allies ones self every few years at elections at its basest. Prager wishes to compare being believed wrong on such things to a belief that one is going to burn in a painful lake of fire for all eternity, and deservedly so?

Further, even the most closed-minded political opinion has more of an evidenciary basis than the most liberal religion. After all, at least we know politicians and elections exist. And even the most extreme difference in political opinion doesn't approach, by orders of magnitude, the difference between Heaven and Hell.

Prager then wastes a lot of time on a comparison of Jimmy Carter and Ann Coulter, as if any two data points of any two sets can be used in such a fashion to prove some difference between the two. I wish someone would explain to all these people like Prager that to prove an unfair bias against conservatives in the media, or anywhere else for that matter, one must examine ALL of the data, not mere cherry picked subsets. Using the same technique as Prager, I could prove NBA referees were biased against any player you care to name. I'll just examine only the plays where the referees ruled against him.

In an irony unmatched, Prager asks:

"How does one respond to irrationality?"

I'm trying Dennis, really I am. But how does one deal with inanities like this coming from a supposedly intelligent person:

"Liberals not only believe that conservatives are philosophically imperfect, but they often believe that conservatives are bad human beings.(something in no way implied by Coulter about Jews)."

No, she just thinks they are going to burn in Hell for all eternity, and deservedly so, for failing to agree with her views of the infinitely unknowable. But calling them philosophically imperfect? That would have been over the line.

And I've got a news flash for you Dennis. Go read the papers and the blogs and look at what is being said by some of the conservatives who believe that liberals are bad human beings for having different opinions on wars, health care systems, science, and systems of taxation. Hell, Christian conservatives frequently claim we atheists are incapable of having moral systems for JC's sake!

And of course, what would a Religious Right diatribe be without a heaping helping of Making Shit Up:

"Liberals yearn for a world without conservatives at least as much as most believing Christians want a world without non-Christians."

Uh, OK Dennis, I can't speak for Planet Prager, but here on earth, there are large groups of believing Christians, and even larger groups among some other Abrahamic religions, who believe it is OK to murder those who disagree with them, such as abortion doctors for some anti-abortionists, and nonMuslims for many Muslims. There are Christians who believe that those who disagree with them cannot be citizens and patriots. I know of no mainstream liberal groups who hold views anywhere near that level, and those outliers who do are tiny (PETA), or had far more logical cause for such views than Christians do (The Black Panthers). Can you get any more absurd?

"The difference is many liberals are immeasurably more likely to impose their views on others than Christian Americans are. Liberal judges impose their views -- e.g., on same-sex marriage -- on society."

Um, OK, you can. This is a good example of how many religionists have had society so biased in their favor for so long that anything that prevents them from imposing their will on others is interpreted by them as oppression. Thus, the extreme liberal position that whoever wants an abortion should be allowed to get one is interpreted as exactly as oppressive as the extreme conservative position that all abortions be outlawed. Ditto for all the laws conservatives try to pass to prevent people from gambling, having sex with certain people, or in certain positions, or ingesting certain substances. Liberals aren't nearly as interested in that sort of control. That is, in large measure, what makes them liberals in the first place.

To hear Prager tell it, one would think that the gay marriage movement intended to force everyone into a gay marriage. Now THAT would be oppression on the level of what conservatives call for.

As for Ann Coulter, I'll give her all the attention she deserves. She has become the barometer of rationality. If you support her, you fail. That's an "F" Mr. Prager.

Brownback out, Tancredo and Huckabee to go

Apparently Sam Brownback is planning to withdraw from the presidential race Friday. That leaves only Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee among the embarrassing evolution-denying presidential candidates. Let's hope, for the sake of all educated Americans, that they fall soon as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Judgement Day: Nova Special on the Dover Trial

Mark November 13 on your calender for the Nova documentary on the Intelligent Design trial in Dover Pennsylvania, where the Intelligent Designers got their day in court, and their heads handed to them. Bill Dembski bravely ran away, and Michael Behe's testimony ended up being the plaintiff's (the scientific side's) best friend. You can see the trailor here. It's nice to see the good guys win.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Harry Jackson on the Dangers of Getting Science from the Popular Media

In an interesting article about anthropocentric global warming (AGW), science in the popular media, and the implications of Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize, Harry Jackson stumbled upon the interesting truth about one of the favorite AGW denialist lines: the supposed scientific consensus concerning future global cooling leading us into another ice age.

"In my discussions with scientists, I have once again discovered a difference between the words of the scientific community and the alarmist rhetoric of writers and activists. In fact, scientific journals of the 1970s were saying that there would likely be warming because of greenhouse effects, sooner than the return of an ice age. Unfortunately, the complexity of the real scientific story was not easily reduced to a thirty second sound bite or a catchy headline."

Indeed. The ice age theory was nowhere near as scientifically supported as AGW is now, being represented in only a few popular magazine articles instead of thousands of papers in the scientific literature. But portraying it as if it was fuels the fire both for the mass media now, and the AGW deniers. This is something to be cautious of with all media, and all scientific topics.

Most media outlets like TV news and radio programs are very limited (self-limited, but limited nonetheless) with their time, and are therefore unable to discuss scientific matters in sufficient detail. It is inevitable that if one bases one's views of scientific matters on such content, they will be seriously flawed. The mass media is forced to broadbrush the topics, leaving off necessary qualifiers to any statement they make, and ovesimplifying for a nontechnical audience, even when they are otherwise perfectly accurate and objective. Oh, they could do the job right if they were motivated to, but as Jackson explains, they aren't.

"Telling the full story with all of its scientific nuances, would have not produced headlines. For this reason the science was compromised, conclusions were framed in a sensationalistic manner, and the public was entertained – not informed."

Exactly. No one ever sold newspapers with the headline "Everything is Fine". Sensationalism sells, good science bores (the masses anyway). Also, no one ever sold newspapers with debates where one side was declared the absolute winner. Controversy too sells, so it plays to the media's advantage to play up whatever controversies exist.

The lesson remains, if you want to know what people are talking about, read popular magazines and watch local news. If you want to know what scientists really believe, what positions are debated, how much, and by whom, read the scientific literature.

Uri Geller is Back!

Uri Geller, the Israeli magician is apparently back with a new show called Phenomenon. The tagline is:

"The search for the impossible begins...there are those who claim special powers, but only one can be called the greatest. Now, the mind of Uri Geller, and the mastery of Chris Angel will test them all before the world, and everything you see will be live."

I guess they all forgot about him getting debunked by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.

As always, the question to ask when confronted with a supposed psychic is why they never use their supposed powers to do something actually useful, or in the presence of an antagonistic audience.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chicago Marathon Amazing Finishes

After 26 miles, the Chicago marathon came down to the last few feet. Watch the video here. The women's race wasn't quite as close, but was amazing nonehteless. Hat tip Kevin Beck.

Clinton's Proposed Taxes

Hillary Clinton has mentioned several ways she plans on raising taxes were she elected. Dick Morris and Eileen McGann discuss them, and in doing so, reveal an interesting view many seem to have on the subject of taxes.

It's the usual litany of progressive taxes you would expect of a Democrat:

Increase the top tax bracket from 35% to 39.6%
increase the capital gains tax from 15% to 20%-30%
Raise taxes on dividends from 15% to 30%
Keep and lower the minimum for (broaden) the estate tax
Possibly raising or eliminating the maximum on social security taxes

and Morris and McGann summarize it this way:

"Behind her rhetoric about shared values and unity, lies the most far reaching tax increase proposals since the days of the New Deal. And, if she is elected, she will likely carry enough Democrats into the Senate (my current estimate is 58) to pass whatever she pleases. "

Now I'm as big a fan of lower taxes as anyone, and having recently joined the ranks of the top income earners in the cross hairs of Hillary's tax bazooka, I personally would not be too thrilled with the program described above.

Here's the problem though. Nowhere in Morris and McGann's article was any explanation of why we shouldn't do exactly as Hillary outlines. Nowhere is it suggested what we should do instead, and we have many problems that demand solutions. We currently have an enormous debt with a decent sized deficit (around $190B IIRC), which some argue, persuasively in my opinion, unfairly burdens future generations with the bill for what we have decided to do. We have a social security program that will soon see a dramatic increase in liabilities relative to income, and it is running in the red as it is. The so-called "trust funds" are no panacea. They are simply IOUs of income from the general funds to the social security program, which means they still have to be paid for one way or another.

So what it boils down to is this: we must, some how, some way, either reduce spending significantly, or raise more tax income, or our government will find itself awash in debt that will make what is happening now look like a picnic. Talk of not raising taxes isn't worth a bucket of spit if it doesn't come with a solution for these monetary problems that doesn't require doing so. Every politician talking about raising taxes as if it were an evil per se is an intellectual and civic coward, plain and simple.

I hate Hillary's plan. But history suggests it would work. Keeping taxes low and waiting for the Laffer fairy to come trickle wealth down on all our heads is bullshit, as history once again clearly shows. So come on Republicans and free market Democrats! If Hillary's plan is so bad, and I believe it is, then come up with something better "THAT WILL ACTUALLY WORK. It's time our country grew up and dealt with the reality that we cannot afford everything we want.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who Put this Touchy-Feely Crap in my Football Coverage?

I beg the forgivenss of my more scientifically inclined readers for this very unscientific rant.

This morning I woke up for a typical Sunday morning: a little poker, leftover pizza for breakfast, and the NFL pregame shows for my weekly doze of prime male competitiveness. As team sports go, football is tough to beat, a sort of violent chess, and I relish the few escapist minutes I'm allowed to enjoy it.

So what, I wondered, was going on when in the middle of my ESPN telecast I found myself watching Kermit the Frog singing it's not easy being green. I turn to another channel to find a discussion of Howie Long's wife calling the show and berating him about his tie. Last week I was subjected to some moronic skit about how Bret Favre was really a KGB agent.

Has everyone lost their minds? Has it become NFL View? Is this a subtle signal that you guys don't think football is as interesting as, well, I do? Call me a rigid absolutist if you must, but when I turn on a football show, I want to hear about football. I want to hear about injuries, strategies, personnel changes, playoff impications, and the proper technique for reading a zone or picking up a blitz. I do not give two drops of flying rodent droppings what the announcer's wives think of their ties. I do not care to see semi-creative performance art more befitting a junior high talent show. There are shows and channels that specialize in that sort of thing, and the people who want to see that are not only free to watch those shows instead, they are encouraged to do so. KEEP IT OUT OF MY FOOTBALL SHOWS.

I know it's a tough life guys, you who occupy those discussion chairs on Sunday mornings and in the broadcast booth on gameday. But could you please treat the sport, and your jobs, with the seriousness it deserves, and not pollute it with this fluff? One doesn't have to be boring to be substantive - Chris Berman has been pulling it off brilliantly for years. And sure, not everyone can be Chris Berman, but is it too much to ask that you try? We, your fans, and the fans of the game, appreciate it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled scientific reading.

Pelosi's Cowardice on Iraq

In 2006, the United States had a referendum on the war in Iraq, and the people spoke loudly and consistently at the polls: Get us out of there! As a consequence, Democrats were elected by the truckload in one of the worst beatings for a sitting president's party in recent memory.

Yet almost two years later, we are still in Iraq, with no end in sight, and the Democrats are still talking like the minority party, especially Nancy Pelosi. Her recent comments display a shocking cowardice, as she puts politics above doing what she and her party were put in power to do, with men and women far braver than she dying every day for nothing as a result. She knows the base is unhappy, and she has to deal with ever-more-vocal protesters at her door, and yet her words reveal a politico, not a leader:

"The war has eclipsed everything. And while I am very proud of the ratings that Democrats have on every issue you can name, I don't disagree with the public evaluation that we have not done well in ending this war"

Ratings? RATINGS? You were not placed 2 heart attacks from the presidency to collect ratings ma'am. You were put there to enact the will of the voters, which means ending the damned war. Yes your constituents are getting angry about you not doing so, and are likely to turn on you if you do not get your act together. Her response?

"I think it is a waste of time for them to go after Democratic members. They ought to just persuade Republican members who are representing areas that are opposed to the war," she said. "We said we would change the debate; we would fight to end the war. We never said we had the veto pen or the signature pen."

No, you control the purse strings, and that would be enough if you had the courage to do the right thing instead of playing politics. What Madam Speaker is doing here is simple politics. She knows the Republicans made this mess, and as long as the Democrats do nothing, and let the Republicans bumble on as they have, the Republicans will get the blame for whatever goes wrong, and it is only a matter of time before the situation gets completely out of control. Doing the right thing by getting us the hell out of there right now, risks the Democrats getting some dirt, blood and blame on their hands. So like a football team ahead with time running out, Pelosi and company keep kneeling on the ball, awaiting certain political victory, while brave people die. How many are likely to die? Consider this chilling statement:

"It is clear now that the Senate is not going to be able to do much to overcome the 60- vote barrier that would send a bill to the president's desk. But that does not mean the House will not move to … responsible, safe redeployment of our troops, hopefully to end by next year"

The end of next year?! Are you deranged Madam? People are dying in Iraq by the thousands every month, and you want to wait a year before doing anything? How convenient the timing, since that would be right after the 2008 elections, where Pelosi and company hope to have attained control of the White House as well via their inaction today.

No statement of Pelosi's illustrates this pussified attitude than this one:

She agreed with those who say the Iraq war is being fought without equality of sacrifice. But responding to recent legislative proposals for a war tax, she said, "I don't support a draft, and I don't support a war tax."

In other words, you admit there are things that are wrong, but you refuse to do anything about them. Why not a war tax? Why not pay now for what we choose to do with our government. Isn't tax and spend (as opposed to borrow and spend) the way of the Democrats? Why the sudden change of heart? Politics, pure politics.

"This isn't Democrats being concerned about the next election."

Yes it is Nancy, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. And don't complain any more about the reputation Democrats have of being soft. You earn it every day you dodge your responsibilities in Iraq.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Worldwide Abortions on Decline due to Birth Control:Lancet Study Repudiates Abstinance Programs

In another blow to the faith-based communities evidence-free positions on birth control and abortion, two Lancet Medical studies show that abortions are on the decline worldwide, and that the relationship between use of birth control and abortions is a positive one:

"Two studies published on Friday show abortions are declining worldwide due to wider use of birth control practices...

The number of abortions fell most in developed countries where it is legal compared to poorer countries where it is largely banned and considered unsafe, the researchers said."

And what happens in countries where it is banned, as the Family Values crew would like it?

"'Each year, about 70,000 women die due to unsafe abortion and an additional five million suffer permanent or temporary disability,' Paul Van Look, director of the WHO's department of reproductive health and research, said in a statement."

Now there's a great family value: denying safe abortions so the mother of the family ends up dead or disabled. It's just one more fact for the faith-based crew to ignore.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mona Charen on Fat and Global Warming: Not all Consensuses are Created Equal

Rich in irony, as Al Gore receives a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming, Mona Charen adds to the denialist list, with an argument that, boiled down to the essentials, amounts to "science has been wrong before, so we should assume it is wrong now." This is an argument that is horribly flawed logically. The premise is poorly defined, and the conclusion doesn't follow anyway. Yet this is heard so often in so many ways I thought it worth tackling in detail. This is not about global warming per se. It could apply to any finding of science that finds itself under attack with this argument.

The premise is poorly defined because saying "science was wrong" is too imprecise. Perfection is rarely attained, or required, in any field. Quantum physics sees to that. So the relevant measure of a theory is not whether it is wrong: for most theories we know that already. The relevant question is "How wrong is it?". Consider Newtonian physics. It says if I am travelling in a car going 40 mph, and throw a baseball another 70 mph, the ball will travel 110 mph relative to the earth. Believe it or not, this is wrong. Einstein showed with his theory of relativity that the ball would actually travel 109.99... mph. Too picky you say? Exactly. The question isn't "was Newton wrong?" The question is "How wrong was Newton?", and the answer is hardly wrong at all, and hardly wrong at all is a far better view than most any other.

So when someone says "science was wrong", the question is how wrong was it?. Right and wrong are relative. And for the most part, science is rarely substantively wrong, and it's errors tend to decrease in severity within a subject over time. Take the scientific consensus of opinion on the shape of the earth. It was, roughly: flat, spherical, oblately spherical, and slightly on the pear side of oblately spherical with a northern top. Notice that each error was smaller than the previous one (think in terms of average curvature per straight line distance), and that there is a pattern of sorts as it zooms in on reality. It does not oscillate wildly, as if one day we might discover that the earth is cube shaped. This, history clearly shows, is the pattern of science. Note also the historical pattern that while science makes errors, it is almost always science that corrects them. Creationists might trumpet the Piltdown hoax, but it was evolutionary scientists, not creationist hacks, that exposed it with evidence. Science, with apologies to Churchill, is the worst form of epistemology, except for all the others that have been tried.

Second, the conclusion of this horrid argument doesn't even follow if you grant the premise. So science has been wrong before? So what? Whether it is right or not now has to do with the evidence, not history. If LeBron James has missed 10 shots in a row, may we then conclude he will miss the next one as well (with a nod to Bayes), even in the face of evidence that he made it? Of course not.

So if Mona, or anyone else, is going to challenge the scientific consensus of anthropocentric global warming, she needs to do it with evidence, in the scientific literature, not in pop-science op-eds, with cries of persecution and logically poor rhetoric. Whatever science's track record of accuracy on science, it beats the track record of political hacks tenfold. What do you want to bet Mona is an evolution denier too? The two seem to run together. Funny coincidence that.

Charon's article focuses on an article in the New York Times which discusses the changing opinions of scientists regarding the supposed damaging effects of fat in our diet. As it is, the really sad thing about Mona's article is even if we dismissed all of the above, the case she tries to make still doesn't hold up. The situations between the current consensus on AGW and the former consensus on fatty foods (which I have not researched but will accept as stated for the sake of argument) are dissimilar in crucial ways her argument cannot survive.

The New York Times article focuses on a comment by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop:

"He introduced his report with these words: “The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964.”

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007). The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly. The evidence against Häagen-Dazs was nothing like the evidence against Marlboros.

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn’t it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus."

Right away there are glaring differences between this and AGW. AGW is not failing to be confirmed by scientists. The findings are being confirmed repeatedly, and in multiple disciplines. Second, on what was the supposed scientific consensus on fatty foods based if scientists were unable to confirm it experimentally? If it was simply an unconfirmed hypothesis lacking peer-reviewed evidence, then it doesn't qualify as science. That some scientists may have held this to be so as a personal belief is entirely irrelevant to a judgement of the scientific process, as their opinions on politics and sports teams are. No peer-reviewed articles supporting the hypothesis, no scientific consensus, period.

So it was a popular consensus they had, and that is simply a case of group think, or as the article calls it, cascading:

"He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better..."

OK, point taken. But this is not how the scientific process works, and in fact, far from a condemnation of the scientific method, this is an affirmation of the importance of replicable experimentation. It is also worth nothing again, that the truth about a fatty diet was ultimately determined by scientists, not the cynics. It certainly wasn't, and rarely is, found by skeptics working outside their field, as science critics almost always are. And finally, this is not in any way a parallel to AGW, which was not something promoted by a single individual in a position of political power, as the fatty food theory apparently was, but has grown little by battled little from experimentation all over the world.

In a final confirmation of Charon's crankiness, she ends her criticism of scientists supposedly accepting something without sufficient science by, well, accepting hypotheses promoted by Bjorn Lomborg, non-climatologist (denialists are almost universally from fields other than the ones they criticize), and favorite son of the AGW denialists. And of course, he makes his case, just as the HIV denialists and evolution denialists do, in popular books, while avoiding the scientific literature. Charon ends with:

"The consensus is wrong on global warming. Wonder when The New York Times will figure it out? In the meanwhile, Lomborg points the way toward clear analysis."

Really Mona? And your basis for trusting a single individual over the worldwide scientific community is what exactly? Simple: he is telling her what she wants to hear, and her conservative sycophants will no doubt repeat his and her claims, sans understanding, as they have to this point, which creates in that little political subculture the illusion that they have science to back their views. Now THAT'S a cascade.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Supply Side Laffer Refutation

If you still believe lowering taxes has raised revenues, take a look at this chart. It looks like every other chart I've seen of government income, at least the ones made by people who worry about trivia like inflation, which people like Limbaugh always omit when they brag about how Reagan "doubled revenues" with his tax cuts. In fact it is nearly impossible to distinguish the Laffer curve years from any others.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rosenhouse Nails the Neocons

Lately I have been trying to illustrate what I think has gone wrong with the Republican party, or modern conservatism, if you will. In response to a Michael Barone article on universities, Jason Rosenhouse nails what I have been trying to convey. Particularly perspicacious was this excerpt:

"Contrary to popular perception, conservatives, of both the social and libertarian varieties, are a dime a dozen in academe. What is rare is the sort of mindless right-wingery of people like Barone. People like Barone hate academe not for the patently flimsy reasons put forth in essays like this one. Rather, it is the fact that people who make their living from careful thought and deep study of subtle issues are not likely to support the causes so dear to the lunatic fringe represented by Barone.

Thus, religious scientists can be found in virtually every science department in the country. But you will not find very many creationists because creationism is amply refuted by the available evidence. And you will not find many fundamentalists or evangelicals, because those varieties of religion are especially hostile to the spirit of free and open inquiry. Many economists favor low taxes, small government, and limited regulation. But you will find very few who will endorse the lunacy of supply-side economics, with its fanatical emphasis on tax rates as the sole determinant of the health of the economy. And you will not find many who will endorse the economic policies of Ronald Reagan, because those policies are so blatantly in conflict with the basic principles of sound economics. Just in my own experience I know of political scientists and philosophers from a wide range of political persuasions. But you will be hard-pressed to find any who will discuss Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush with the level of obsequity demanded by the Barone's of the world. On issue after issue the right-wing holds views that are at odds with the available evidence. College professors tend to point that out. And then hacks like Barone write essays like this one."

That last part is it in a nutshell. It's not about conservative values, or religion per se, or Republicans vs Democrats. It is about ignoring the available evidence, and characituring one's political opposition in an intellectually dishonest way. The personification of this trend is Ann Coulter, whose content-free, fictional, pointlessly acerbic rhetoric elicits high praises and massive book sales via the converted, but little more than raised eyebrows and embarrassment from everyone else. She, Barone, and all the others like her are destroying the Republican party one ignorant misrepresented epithet at a time.

Confused about Liberals? Try a Reality Check

Burt Prelutsky has an article that is pretty typical of what one can hear about "liberals" from Republicans and those who support them with unwavering vigor. I am going to dissect his claims here for the purpose of showing:

1) The definition of "liberal" shifts conveniently depending on what point is being made.

2) The definition used most frequently is basically a convenient fiction.

3) Much of the bafflement of Prelutsky and people like him originates in his ignorance and insistence on clinging to outdated/disproven ideas, and consequently, on the "liberals" insistence on using the best information science has to offer.

4) Prelutsky, like so many conservatives, confuses speculation and differences of subjective evaluation with facts.

Prelutsky's beginning is revealing, but not the way he intends:

"I’ll come right out and admit that I understand Islamic terrorists far better than I do American liberals. After all, once you realize that young Muslims are taught by their religious leaders that our nation is militarily powerful and technologically advanced because we cut a deal with Satan, you can see where they’d be upset with us. But what is the deal with liberals? I'm serious."

That last part is what really scares me. This is what Prelutsky believes is behind the hatred of America by so many Muslims? Not our presence in and support of hated Israel, not our lifestyle that is radically sinful by their standards, not our multiple invasions and attacks of sovereign nations there (warranted or not), not our multi year occupation of Iraq, not our threats against Iran, none of that, but rather that we made a deal with the devil for our wealth and power? If so, I'd say no amount of confusion about liberals is going to match his confusion of Muslims. He goes on to ask a few questions about liberals:

"Why else would Americans so resent the United States having more influence in the world than, say, Luxembourg or Lichtenstein? Why do they seem to have no rooting interest in capitalism prevailing over all the other isms? Do they think that the reason they live so much better than the typical Russian or Turk is because they, themselves, are intellectually superior? Fat chance!"

This is, for all intents and purposes, a convenient fiction. Who are these liberals? Show me a quote and context for anyone prominent in American politics who believes such nonsense. It is no surprise to me that when people like Prelutsky make such claims there are never any quotes to support his contentions. Oh sure, there are still some out-and-out socialists out there, but they are either politically marginalized, or in Hollywood and should be. I'm sure Prelutsky would be up near the front of the line with me in thinking that entertainers should not be taken seriously per se in politics. He should stay consistent to that position and not use them to smear an entire group.

Far more realistic as to what mainstream liberals (really code for "Democrats" in this context), is that America sometimes overreaches in its influence in the world (a certain disastrous current military venture springs to mind), capitalism needs constraints in some arenas to avoid the tragedy of the commons, and that liberals are intellectually superior to conservatives for, well, the reasons every bit of data I've ever seen (check graduation rates in red vs blue states, for example), would suggest.

Such distortions indicate that Prelutsky isn't so much interested in understanding liberals as he is in demonizing them. If you need more evidence, here are the next round of questions:

"Why is it that liberals seem to believe that recycling cans is an important issue, but defeating terrorism isn’t? Why do they put so much stock in the blathering of Al Gore and Michael Moore? Why do they regard secondhand smoke as a bigger menace than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What is wrong with these people?"

Here we see a conflation of two common conservative errors: confusing speculation with fact, and ignoring facts. Recycling cans, by which I presume he means taking care of the environment, is more important than defeating certain terrorist groups (remember terrorism is a battle technique, not a thing) because a ruined environment could destroy the entire human race. Terrorists are very limited in what they can do to us, that's why they're terrorists.

People put stock in what Al Gore says, again I'll presume Prelutsky is referring to global warming here, because he has the near unanimous support of the worldwide scientific community. The real question here is the reverse: why do Prelutsky and his ilk not put stock in Al Gore's global warming message? The answer comes with the examination of Michael Moore. His supporters support him in large part because he tells them what they want to hear. Likewise, Prelutsky has, I'll warrant, not done an exhaustive analysis of the science of global warming. He simply rejects what Gore has to say because it isn't the message he wants to hear. Ditto with Moore.

The second-hand smoke comparison with Ahmadinejad is another interesting case of a conservative pundit conflating a fact with a speculation and differences of subjective judgement. That second-hand smoke has a deleterious effect on people's health is now no longer in scientific doubt. So people smoking around me (a right I vigorously defend) is a threat to my health, and how much I deal with that is a subjective value judgement. We can argue the facts of the studies and the biology, but in the end the decision to worry about it, and how much, comes down to an intangible process. The same is true for Ahmadinejad, even more so since he has not been proven to be harm to anyone as has secondhand smoke. Sure, he has the potential to be worse, but how much so, and how much emphasis we place on him, is the same kind of subjective value judgement. I emphasize this because I see Republicans make this mistake over and over again, and they seem oblivious to the major category error they are making. The damage of secondhand smoke is scientifically evidenced. So is global warming, and evolution. Denying either is, scientifically speaking, wrong. Denying that Ahmadinejad is a major threat to our way of life is not in the same category at all, and it's high time conservatives like Prelutsky understood this. In the meantime, let's move on (heh) to Prelutsky's confusion of liberal views of immigration:

"Why will the same folks who’d call a cop if someone set foot in their front yard be so unconcerned about 20 million illegal aliens setting up camp in their country? And why will the same saps who work themselves into a tizzy if some small town sets up a Christmas tree in the public square defend a church’s right to provide a sanctuary for foreign nationals who have no business being in our country? "

These comparisons are akin to asking how one can be against abortion but for the death penalty, or for abortion but for animal rights, depending on which end of the political spectrum you want to attack. In either case the question reveals a lack of understanding of the differing underlying assumptions for each view. In the case of immigration, the answer to Prelutsky's comparisons is that many such liberals don't view immigration laws as equivalent to private property laws, or church/state separation, respectively. Do conservatives like Prelutsky really need it explained that an illegal immigrant who otherwise follows the laws and is a productive member of society is hardly in the same league of threat as a trespasser in my yard? It does seem to be the case with regard to church/state separation.

From here Prelutsky goes from asking inane questions to simply making shit up, rapid fire:

"Liberals would like to see us cut and run from Iraq. That’s because they enjoy seeing the American military lose. For them, Vietnam was positively rapturous. Their holy trinity consists of Jane Fonda, John Kerry and Walter Cronkite."

Really Burt? Who enjoys seeing America lose? Name them. I've not seen anyone in the mainstream press, or on the blogs for that matter, say anything like that. I've seen a lot of people who are sick of seeing America lose in Iraq, but none of them seemed happy about it. Are recognizing we are losing and wanting us to lose equivalent to Prelutsky? If so, its no wonder he is confused.

"They keep insisting that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11."

Uh, he didn't.

"What they refuse to acknowledge is that we are at war with Islamic fundamentalism."

Yes, or more to the point, they are at war with us. So obviously the intelligent thing to do was to attack the least fundamentalist nation in the area and destroy it's secular government so the radical Islamicists could move in. Then of course pretend they were there all the time, and that somehow our presence there prevents another 9/11, reasoning so flawed every conservative ought to be embarrassed by it. Speaking of embarrassing non sequitors, at this point Prelutsky launches into a series of them:

"I’m aware that liberals will tell you that the Islamics hate us because we’re over there, violating their sacred turf. But if that’s the case, why are they killing civilians in Holland and Bali, Indonesia and the Philippines, Russia and Spain?"

Uh, many Islamicists tell us that too, and have been for a very long time. However, it is important to remember that Islamicists are not androids marching in lockstep. Different groups have different agendas. The fact that some of them find targets elsewhere doesn't change the fact that our presence in that part of the world isn't helping matters. It's akin to saying "how can you say your dog bit me because I was in your yard when I know other kids who have been bitten by other dogs in the park."

"If we’re not at war with Muslim terrorism, why do I have to remove my shoes before I’m allowed to board a plane?"

So if we let you board with your shoes Burt, the war would be over? Seriously, we have these idiotic standards in airports for the same reason we are in Iraq: some people think we have to do something, even if it makes no sense at all.

"And if we are at war, why can’t airport security concentrate on Arabs of a certain age and quit behaving like a bunch of politically correct fatheads?"

Because Burt, we have a little thing in this country called the constitution, which conservatives are supposed to care about, and in which it explicitly states that we have the right to be secure in our person and possessions barring probable cause with evidence. Some people take the position that being the same race as the enemy doesn't qualify, and that it is inefficient, since 99.9% of the time the searches would turn up nothing. Were we at war with France, would we be justified in searching everyone with French heritage? Some also believe it would be a simple matter for the enemy to learn what standards we are using for the search and recruit agents outside that range.

Now there is certainly room for disagreement about many of those items, and I have my share. But to claim to not understand this line of reasoning borders on intellectual dishonesty.

That's really the core of it. Prelutsky doesn't honestly have a lack of understanding of where "liberals" are coming from. No one could be that dense. He is merely shilling, attempting to present the enemy, in this case the Democrats, as "liberals", a word that in some conservative circles is the end of the debate. It is also a word that conveniently shifts meaning depending on the speakers agenda, narrow when addressing the absurdities at the fringes, broad when attempting to paint everyone who deviates from the neocon agenda as some sort of wacko. Thus, the inevitable discussion of the Hollywood left, an easy target and one sure to rally the base. Of course, when denigrating someone else's intelligence, best not to make moronic comments like this:

"This village is filled with a bunch of idiots who, when they’re not busy getting drunk, shooting up and behaving like spoiled brats, can be found yammering about global warming and poverty in America."

Again, Burt treats differences in opinions and priorities as the equivalent of a factual denial, as if there were some objective analysis that says people shouldn't worry about these issues. The irony is rich, since his denial of the global warming problem is the position with the least objectivity behind it. Then he launches into another favorite red herring of the right, which I think of as the Al Gore gambit: the idea that hypocrisy negates a real problem, or put another way, that an individual promoting a group effort must first individually completely conform to the requested standards, else the problem doesn't exist:

"Oddly enough, those are two problems they could actually do something about. Assuming that carbon emissions actually have an effect on the earth’s temperature, might it not be beneficial if these clucks stopped chugging around in Hummers and limos, stopped heating and cooling houses slightly larger than the palace at Versailles, and grounded their private jets for the foreseeable future?"

Aside from the obvious ad hominem, the argument itself makes no sense at all. The proportion of America's pollution for which Hollywood is responsible is not likely significant. Hollywood could return to the stone age and the globe would keep on warming.

"As for poverty, the plain fact of the matter is that the only poor people these movie folks ever encounter are maids, gardeners, nannies and waiters. Well, if these overly pampered nincompoops were really serious about eliminating poverty in America, all they’d have to do is pay higher wages and leave bigger tips!"

Again, the GDP is simply not so dominated by Hollywood that this would be true.

Everyone like Burt who is confused by "liberals", I make the following suggestion. First, stop using the term "liberals". It means everything and nothing. Challenge individual people's individual arguments. Be specific. You will find the American political spectrum is not a binary conservative vs liberal dichotomy, but a broad mixture of views. Broad brushing everyone who departs from the neocon party line as a "liberal" may make for good guffaws among the converted, but it falls completely flat in persuading others, because it fails to deal with the real views held by real people. Second, deal in facts, not speculation. I find it highly ironic that so many deride "liberals" as being all emotion and no facts, because on so many issues: global warming, evolution, stem cells, the Iraq war, and so many other issues discussed above, the conservatives are all speculation and no facts.