Saturday, December 29, 2007

Motivating People to go Green

In more inspirational news, many cities are offering financial incentives for their citizens to "go green. Low flow toilets, low-flow shower heads, more efficient lighting, hybrid cars, less environmentally demanding lawns, and of course installing solar panels on one's home could all earn you some cash, depending on where you live.

I applaud the politicians of those cities for these efforts, and ask them to do more. Telecommuting is far more technologically possible than one might glean from observing businesses. There should be incentives to have more employees telecommute. Those that can't ought to be encouraged to car pool, and highway expansions ought to be a much higher percentage of HOV lanes. What a statement about our society and traveling habits that in America, "high occupancy" means "more than one person". Get rid of those concrete barriers that prevent shoppers from driving between store parking lots and force them to drive halfway around the block. Up the ante on the requirements on drive-thrus.

Of course there is a ton we can all do to be more green with our lives, and much of it doesn't cost us anything but a little effort and awareness? When did it become necessary in America for everything to be triple packaged? I buy an item on Amazon and it shows up in a sealed box in a sealed box. Stop that crap. We buy a bag of bread on put it in a bag. We drive to the mailbox. We take an item that is free, water, and package it in plastic bottles we use up by the millions each year. We have disposable cameras.

Government can only do so much with an issue like this. In the end, real change will only come with a change in the culture. When climbing mountains in remote areas of the US, there is a culture of preservation among climbers. "Pack it in, pack it out" is the standard, and most keep it, to the benefit of all. We don't need litter cops out there enforcing the rules. We like the results, that is enough motivation. Humanity needs a similar attitude about the planet, and the need becomes more acute as more and more of us come to be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Hooray for Terri Irwin

In the spirit of science, Terri Irwin, widow of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irvin, has challenged the argument by the Japanese that their whaling is necessary for scientific research, in the most direct way possible: getting a group together herself to go demonstrate that the research can be done without killing the whales.

"The widow of TV "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin announced Thursday she will launch non-lethal research of whales in Antarctic waters next year in hopes of showing that Japan's scientific whale kill is a sham.

Tokyo has staunchly defended its annual cull of more than 1,000 whales as crucial for research, saying it is necessary to kill the whales to properly gather information about their eating, breeding and migratory habits.

Environmentalists and anti-whaling nations say the slaughter is commercial whaling in disguise, because much of the meat from the whales ends up being sold commercially.

Japan had planned to kill up to 50 endangered humpback whales this season, but backed away from the plan in the face of strong international condemnation.

Japan had planned to kill up to 50 endangered humpback whales this season, but backed away from the plan in the face of strong international condemnation.

'We are determined to show the Japanese they can stop all whaling, not just humpbacks,' Irwin said."

Terri ought to be saluted for her efforts. Those efforts also should be considered by stark contrast to the behavior, or lack thereof, from various groups skeptical of mainstream science. Whether they are denying relativity, evolution, global warming or heliocentrism, the pattern is the same: all rhetoric, no research, and no competing theories. Way to show them how it's done Terri.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Beast Most Loathsome of 2007

The Beast 50 Most Loathsome of 2007 is out, and is good for many a belly laugh as rich and poor, Republican and Democrat are skewered mercilously and colorfully. Some of my favorites are below. Pay special attention to #9:

"43. Sherri Shepherd

Charges: Perfectly illustrated the Creationist's level of intellect when she declared her disbelief in evolution, and was immediately stumped about the shape of the earth, explaining her ignorance was due to the fact that she was too busy feeding her children to acquire rudimentary knowledge about... well, about anything, presumably. Further compounded her astonishing lack of basic knowledge when she authoritatively declared that Jesus Christ came before the ancient Greeks, and that she didn't think "anything predated Christians." Judging by these statements, Sherri probably thinks there are dragons on the other side of her desk.

Exhibit A: Accurately reflects the intelligence of her viewing audience.

Sentence: Pushed off the edge of the earth.

29. Dinesh D'Souza

Charges: Wrote a book blaming 9/11 on -- who else? -- liberals, because if we didn't live in a free society, then fundamentalists wouldn't dislike us so. Even conservative nuts blasted D'Souza's empathy for poor al Qaeda. Lately, he's been engaging prominent atheists in debates, revealing himself to be a pseudointellectual ass, and then declaring victory. D'Souza's master plan for attacking atheism is the ridiculous Pascal's wager: Atheists could be wrong, and then they'd go to hell, but if the religious are wrong, then they suffer no ill effect -- aside from living their lives in delusion, of course. And possibly going to someone else's hell for believing the wrong religion. D'Souza seems to think that if he speaks more loudly and rapidly than his opponent, he is winning, but his arguments are weak and idiotic, and he never even attempts to truly debate the existence of any god, which is the ostensible point of these debates. Instead, he likes to compare body counts -- Stalin and Mao killed more than the religious leaders of their time -- rather than actually debate whether there is a God, or for that matter a Jesus. This, of course, is because there is no case to be made.

Exhibit A: "[Atheists] are God-haters... I don't believe in unicorns, but then I haven't written any books called The End of Unicorns, Unicorns are Not Great, or The Unicorn Delusion." But what if everyone you met did believe in unicorns, and not only that, but worshiped a unicorn, held a book about unicorns to be the divine truth of the universe, invoked unicorns in political contexts, and speechified about how non-believers were indecent people waging a war on morality, which could only be predicated on the unquestioning belief in unicorns? Then, maybe, D'Souza would think about writing that book. But of course, that's not really true, because if that was the world we lived in, then Dinesh D'Souza would believe in unicorns.

Sentence: Spanish inquisition.

27. Britney Spears
Charges: Never was talented; now she's not even pretty. Look, it's okay to say someone's getting chunky when the only reason she was ever famous was her ability to make people horny. Let's face it: fat Britney don't sell units. In the end, it doesn't bother us that Britney is human wreckage, what bothers us is that she is always, always on television being wreckage. What the hell is with this media trend of hounding the sickly until they finally expire? It's not interesting; it's not informative; what it is is a sick shot in the arm for people who hate themselves and revel in the misfortune of others -- and, ahem, that's just not our thing. We don't care if she shaves her head, or shows her snatch, or turns up in a dumpster. It's just too easy to kick this rapidly frumping swamp slut while she's on the nod and not even pretending to care that her kids are being taken from her. In the immortal words of that fucked up youtube queen, Leave Britney alone!

Exhibit A: And this goes for all you fucked up superstar bimbos: You're rich, bitch! Get a fucking driver! Then you can knock back all the oxy you want and wash it down with Grey Goose, and nobody will arrest you. Get it? Sheesh!

Sentence: Obscurity, children returned.

23. Bill O'Reilly

Charges: If judgmentalism were sugar, anyone in the same city as this paragon of intellectual overconfidence would lose their teeth within five minutes. O'Reilly is everything that's wrong with America: Won't ever admit he was wrong about anything (and will lie repeatedly rather than correct himself), accuses all who disagree with him of treason or insanity, attacks all who criticize him, and glories in his own troglodytic bluster. Anoints himself an authority on morals, despite common knowledge that he is a sexual harasser. Pretends to be an "independent" who just happens to look, sound, and act exactly like a Republican. Hasn't engaged in a valid exchange of ideas in his entire career, because he knows he'd be crushed in seconds by an average college freshman. O'Reilly wins by interrupting, shouting, and if all else fails, cutting off his opponent's microphone. A tiny, scared child of a man.

Exhibit A: "And this is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think that the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg." Gee Bill, where would they get that idea?

Sentence: Marinated, barbecued, and served at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, where the blacks eat just like real people.

14. Glenn Beck

Crimes: If Fox News isn't quite asinine enough for you, just click on over to Headline News, where the CNN brand is eagerly defiling its vestigial credibility by giving an hour a day to the dumbest dumbfuck in dumbfuckistan, Glenn Beck. A white-knuckle, dry drunk, closet case man-child with apparent xenophobia issues and a penchant for end-times theology, Mormon convert Beck is palpably horny for the apocalypse, passive-aggressively accusing even the world's most benign Muslims of plotting America's destruction and likening withdrawal from Iraq to slavery. Beck's combination of faux everyman persona and deliberate misinformation -- The hottest year on record was 1934 (actually 2005), tax cuts increase revenue (patently false Reaganomic mysticism), Antarctica is cooling, Scooter Libby went to jail -- seems increasingly insane, as his whole persona seems to be a frantic pantomime of how he thinks an even-keeled, "smart" bigot would act. Thinks Al gore is "like Hitler." May actually be in love with the president of Iran.

Exhibit A: "I don't know if the Muslim community will ever step to the plate like the Japanese-American community did during World War II. You know, it was absolutely disgraceful how we rounded innocent people up then and, sadly, history has a way of repeating itself no matter how grotesque that history might be. The Muslim community can prevent this if they act now."

Sentence: Anchored to the Florida shore, Beck is forcibly compelled to vigorously deny the gradual rise of water levels around him as boats full of gay, Marxist Muslim illegal immigrants arrive and disembark nearby. Eventually, after two decades, Beck drowns.

13. Anne Coulter

Charges: A skeletal freak who hates the world and lives to anger people into buying her books. Says Jews need to be "perfected," as if Christians are in better shape. Is against her own right to vote. Called John Edwards a faggot, when really he's just a little swishy. Is about as sexy as a preying mantis. If Coulter were a man, she'd never be allowed on TV.

Exhibit A: "Faggot isn't offensive to gays; it's got nothing to do with gays."

Sentence: Forced marriage to Osama bin Laden.

9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump.

5. Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid

Charges: Graduates of the Neville Chamberlain school of appeasement, the Democratic leadership continues to ignore the constitution-and the American people-by keeping impeachment "off the table" and refusing to defund the war. True pushovers, they're too stupid, cowardly, weak and outmatched politically to accomplish anything substantive, their "strategy" essentially boiling down to whining a lot while handing Bush whatever the hell he wants. There is just no way that appearing this weak and ineffectual could be any better for them politically than impeachment. Everything that the White House gets away with, it gets away with because congress allows it.

Exhibit A: Failure to woo the two thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto is moot: They could defund the war with a 41-senator budgetary filibuster. But that would take guts and conviction.

Sentence: 2 cups anthrax bisque.

4. Seung-Hui Cho

Charges: A useless fucking nerd who shot a bunch of better people because he couldn't get laid. Take note, all you pent-up losers out there: If you think you're about to go on a murderous rampage, either take up a drug habit, find a hooker, or just kill yourself. Your inability to cope with a comfortable life in a developed nation is nobody else's fault, except maybe your parents. Nothing says "I have a tiny penis" like a douchebag taking pictures of himself with a gun.

Exhibit A: Cho's infamous "disturbing" stories are only disturbing in how completely terrible they are, but now every kid with an imagination is going to be hauled off to the nuthouse if he expresses himself.

Sentence: Used as kindling at bonfire kegger for rich, popular kids."

Hat tip Stranger Fruit

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hooray for the Humpbacks!

"Giving in to U.S. pressure and worldwide criticism, Japan's government on Friday announced a whaling fleet now in the Southern Ocean for its annual hunt will not kill the threatened species as originally planned."

Sadly however, some other species of whales, not quite so endangered, will be hunted. The Japanese insist the kills are for scientific research. Sadly, there was nothing in the article to suggest the Japanese position was invalid. It seems to be a matter of differences of priorities between Japanese scientists and conservation groups intent on increasing the humpback population to it's pre-modern-whaling level of around 100,000. The population stands at aroud 30,000 to 40,000 today, qualifying it for a "vulnerable" rating by the World Conservation Union.

The Austrailian government has taken a much stronger view:

"Australia, meanwhile, announced this week it was launching a new push to stop Japan's annual whale hunt, including sending surveillance planes and a ship to gather evidence for a possible international legal challenge. Late Friday, Australia led some 30 other countries in lodging a diplomatic protest with the Japanese ambassador to Australia over the whaling program.

'The Australian government welcomes the announcement by Japan that it will suspend its plan to kill humpback whales this season,' Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement. 'While this is a welcome move, the Australian government strongly believes that there is no credible justification for the hunting of any whales.'"

Let's hope we get to see the scientific debate of that last point.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

You want Christmas Lights? You got em

If you like Christmas light displays, you are in for a treat. Check these out:


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is responsible for the background music.

And if you prefer more traditional Christmas music:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

John Kwok vs William Dembski

With the release of Dembski and Wells' latest foray into pseudoscience, "The Design of Life" came the inevitable battle of the Amazon reviews, with the champions of each side of the debate lending their opinions to the efforts. An early entry was a scathing review by John Kwok, which detailed Judge Jones' ruling on ID, exposing the scam. Shortly after that, the review disappeared, leaving only the 5-star reviews of Dembski and Wells' sycophants. This caught the attention of the crew at Panda's thumb, and the poor ratings on the book followed by the truckload. Kwok's review also reappeared, and buried in the comments of that review, on page 11, we get a hint as to why:


Dear Bill:

You have until NOON EST tomorrow to have reinstate my review of the 'The Design of Life'. If you do not, then I will write to Dr. Robert Zimmer (Stuyvesant HS '64), formerly Provost, Brown University, and currently, President, University of Chicago, to insist that he initiate a course of action that will result in having you stripped of your 1988 Ph. D. degree in Mathematics for an ongoing series of actions - of which this is but the latest - which demonstrate that you lack the moral turpitude to retain possession of this degree.

You should also be aware that I have bcc'd copies of this e-mail to two reporters from prominent USA newspapers : The New York Times and The Washington Post. I have also bcc'd a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and a fourth journalist as well.

Respectfully yours,

John Kwok"

Draw your own conclusions, but I for one am overjoyed at seeing someone finally play hardball with the DI propaganda machine. They have gotten away with making asinine false statements for far too long without repercussion, other than further reduction of what little respect they still have in academia. Let's hope we see more of the victims of the DI respond in kind.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Don McLeroy's Letter to the Dallas Morning News

Apparently all the chatter about Intelligent Design, evolution, and his questionable comments on the subject caught the attention of Texas State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy, prompting him to send the following letter to the Dallas Morning News. It is downright embarrassing in its obvious creationist doubletalk, and its demonstrably poor grasp of the basics of communication, coming from someone in a position of authority in our education system. Running through it is a misunderstanding of the difference between science as a working investigative enterprise, and science as a classroom subject. I will now dissect this propaganda with great vigor:

"Science education has to have an open mind"

No sir, it does not. Working scientists must have an open mind, in the sense of being ready to alter their theories based on new discoveries. Students in high school classrooms are not working scientists. They are there to learn how science works, not to be scientists themselves. Before one can hope to make great discoveries in exciting fields, one must first learn what others have discovered. This is what Sir Isaac Newton was referring to when he said "If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants".

"What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith."

An encouraging generality, to which Mr. McLeroy clearly pays lip service, as his following comments attest.

"Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people."

It also accurately represents that you support the promoters of intelligent design, and the basic goals of the rest of the creationists, to water down science education by attacking evolution with scientifically discredited arguments based on your literalist views of the Bible. You don't get to claim you are all about religion in your church and all about science when called on it.

"Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence."

Bullshit. Your own words sir, "...we are all Biblical literalists, we all believe the Bible to be inerrant", make it quite clear what your focus is. It is also given away by your poor choice of language. Science is not about post-hoc interpretation. That is what religion does. Science is about a priori predictions, and the evidence of the falsifiable experiments done in testing them. As head of an educational organization, you should be more versed in the basics.

"In science class, there is no place for dogma and 'sacred cows;' no subject should be 'untouchable' as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student."

Nonsense. Again, Mr. McLeroy is confusing science with science class. In science there is no place for dogma. But in education, science and otherwise, there is every place for it. In math class, there are often theorems presented to the students whose proofs are beyond the scope of the course, and the texts will say so unapologetically. Likewise, in science class, practically everything presented to the students will, at some level, have explanations the students are not equipped to grasp. That is what they are in science class for in the first place!

A student who does not want to accept Einstein's theories of relativistic motion should not be allowed to bog down the entire class debating what is established science. He should be told it is so, and to research the subject on his own time if he wishes. Likewise, a student disputing evolution should not be allowed to bog down the class in similar fashion. Students are in school to learn from those with greater understanding than themselves, not to debate issues and decide amongst themselves what is true.

"What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception."

How in the world did we get a head of an education department with so poor a grasp of the English language? Would Mr. McLeroy have us believe that having refuted preconceptions helps science progress? In his infamous 2005 speech he proudly proclaimed himself to be "united against the fact that that’s a true statement". A man who doesn't understand the difference between a fact and an assertion, or an irrefutable preconception and an unfalsifiable one, isn't qualified to judge science, and certainly isn't qualified to lead an education department.

"Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper.

Gee Don, a limit stops something? Say it ain't so! So might we assume then that you oppose the position of the IDers that we cannot inquire as to the nature of the designer? Or might it only be those sciences that conflict with your literalist Biblical view of the world, and your agenda to get it accepted as science, that receive your scrutiny?

"In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science."

Yes, and in science class the students should be taught what the scientific consensus is on the subjects, how that consensus is reached based on evidence, with the understanding that it is always subject to change as new evidence comes to light. They should be taught how the peer-review process in science works to separate the wheat from the chaffe, and how successful it has been. They should also be taught to be skeptical of anyone claiming to support science who eschews these processes in favor of writing popular books and pursuing political agendas, or supports those that do, like Don McLeroy.

Ann Coulter on Science: Her Latest Joseph Goebbels Impersonation

As regular readers of this blog know, I am increasingly dismayed at the intellectual deterioration of the Republican party, and particularly their media shills. But as bad as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mark Levine, Dinesh D'Souza and Glenn Beck are, as stupifyingly ignorant and obviously so, none of them, or any other neocon hack, can light a candle to the Babe of Bile, the Mistress of MSU (Making Shit Up), Ann Coulter.

Normally I find Coulter's articles impenetrable, littered as they are with unecessary vitriol, cartoon versions of everything she represents, and flat out made up shit. But in this article she roamed into my territory, and once again proves herself to be incapable of intellectual honesty, as she continues to promote lie after lie, in as good a Joseph Goebbals impersonation as I've ever seen. Goebbals put it this way:

"The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous" - Joseph Goebbels"

Well, I guess Ann is English, or wishes she was, as she demonstrates in her article ostensively about Mike Huckabee. She begins talking about the fact that Huckabee, along with Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback, embarrased America by claiming to not believe in one the best evidenced theories in science.:

"The media are transfixed by the fact that Huckabee says he doesn't believe in evolution. Neither do I, for reasons detailed in approximately one-third of my No. 1 New York Times best-selling book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. "

Isn't it cute how subtly Ann promotes her book? Yes you did so Ann, in a book full of ignorant misrepresentations of evolution that biologist PZ Myers described as wall-to-wall error, and for which you were proudly tutored by pseudoscientists like David Berlinski and William Dembski. That's sort of like learning about how to cook Italian food by talking to the food processors at Chef Boy-ar-Dee. But the worst part of Coulter's brainless anti-science screed is not that she is so pompous in her ignorance, nor that she has made millions of dollars feeding ignoramuses more ignorance. No, the most maddening thing about Coulter is how she continuously lies and misleads about the scientific reaction to her book:

"I went on a massive book tour for Godless just last year, including a boffo opening interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's 'Today,' a one-on-one, full-hour interview with Chris Matthews on 'Hardball,' and various other hostile interviews from the organs of establishmentarian opinion. But I didn't get a single question from them on the topic of one-third of my book."

Well Ann, the American popular media is not exactly renowned for their scientific ecuman, which no doubt is part of why she would seek out such venues. Critics of evolution rarely seek out knowledgeable audiences. But she sure got some such questions from Jeremy Paxman when he interviewed her. He asked her if she believed the earth was 6,000 years old, a question she dodged by claiming she was only criticizing "Darwinism", and when he asked her if she had an alternative theory, she dodged that claiming she didn't have to run a restaurant to criticize one. Sorry Ann, but in science things are not matters of taste, and when one criticizes an established theory, one is indeed expected to offer an alternative. It was long known that Newton's theories of motion did not produce accurate results when applied to some astronomical events, but it was not rejected until Einstein came along with a better theory.

Not only that, but the blogosphere, in which Coulter participates, has criticized her anti-evolutionary nonsense in excruciatingly pathetic detail. All one need do is google "coulter evolution" to get more reading material than you'll need for the holidays. For her to claim that there has been no substantive criticism of her screeds is Goebbels to a tee: if you can't address your critics, simply proclaim loudly and consistently that they've given you nothing to respond to, and hope no one checks on your claim.

"If the mainstream media are burning with curiosity about what critics of Darwinism have to say, how about asking me? I can name any number of mathematicians, scientists and authors who have also rejected Darwin's discredited theory and would be happy to rap with them about it."

The answer is simple my dear dissembler. The mainstream media is not burning with curiosity about what evolution-deniers have to say because they are not that versed in science and, sadly, neither is their audience. The scientific media is not interested in what you have to say because they recognize a rerun when they see it, and you people have nothing to say that wasn't said and refuted by scientists decades ago. It speaks volumes that 2/3's of the groups you mention (mathematicians and authors) have no special training or knowledge of biology that would make their opinion any more worthy of attention than your average hot dog salesman. When one looks closely at the evolution-deniers within science, they are overwhelmingly NOT biologists or paleontologists, which makes it all the more clear that you are aiding an intellectual scam.

Project on as shrilly as you like Ann, that your side of the aisle is the one interested in facts. The more you deny science, whether it is evolution, or global warming, or the natural existence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, the more you betray your true, reality-denying agenda, at least to those of us who actually crack a science book now and again. But don't worry, I'm sure the sheep that buy your increasingly vacuous tomes won't bother to do so, and you and Goebells can sleep well tonight.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Civil War in Four Minutes: and how it is relevant today

For those of you who regret your poor American history education as I do, here's your chance to learn more about the Civil War in four minutes than you ever learned in High School history class. Here's hoping this illustration becomes part of many curriculum's across America. We should know our history better. [hat tip Pharyngula]

For instance, I doubt many remember that the fighting continued a bit after the surrender, or just how close the south came to winnning. It is also interesting to see that the Union didn't overun the Confederacy, but sliced it up, first down the Mississippi to the famous battle at Vicksburg, when the tide really turned. Grant then sliced up the remaining portion right down through Georgia to the sea.

It's a bloody part of our history, one we should remember, because it could happen again. If one peruses the last couple of Presidential Electoral maps, and notes the increasingly partisan and divsive political rhetoric, we are setting ourselves up to be two nations: the "blue" Democratic states occupying the northern and western coastal states, and the remaining "red" Republican states. Demonization of "the other" combined with georgraphic seperation is a recipe for civil war. Let's hope the next president breaks this cycle.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two Down, One to Go: Tancredo Drops Out

Following Sam Brownback in the failed creationist presidential bid category comes Tom Tancredo, now the second of the evolution-denying trio to drop out of the presidential campaign. We Americans can take small comfort that two of those publicly promoting bronze age myths as science in an early debate were the first to drop from contention. The third, Mike more-Christian-than-thou Huckabee, has become a major contender, and the potential fourth, Mitt any-religion Romney, remains a major player. That doesn't even consider late-comer Alan Keyes, whose tenuous grasp on reality is a given.

It is truly terrifying that only two of the major candidates from the incumbent party for the highest office in the land, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, qualify as sane. The rest promise little more than the same faith-based, reality-denying legacy of the current occupant of the oval office.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Huckabee, Homosexuality, Necrophilia, and Barry Goldwater

Well, we knew it had to come sometime. Mike Huckabee's scientific and historical stupidity isn't restricted to evolution. He also expands into the arenas of marriage and homosexuality:

"Huckabee is against gay marriage, arguing that “civilization” may not survive if “what marriage and family means” is “rewritten.” As Governor of Arkansas, he “avidly” supported the state amendment banning gay marriage. That wasn’t the only anti-gay public policy Huckabee pushed in Arkansas:

– In 1997, Huckabee requested an amendment to a state Senate bill stating “that it is Arkansas public policy to prohibit sodomy to protect the traditional family structure.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/23/1997]

– In 1998, Huckabee supported banning gay men and women from acting as foster parents because “it is not in the best interest of children.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/29/1998]

– In 2003, Huckabee said “If you ask for survivor benefits to be paid to a same-sex survivor, I think we have a right to say no to that.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/3/2003]

Additionally, in the past, Huckabee has spoken of homosexuality using some of the most divisive and hyperbolic rhetoric possible:

– In a 1992 questionnaire for the Associated Press, Huckabee claimed that “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”

– In his 1998 book, Kids Who Kill, Huckabee compared homosexuality to necrophilia, decrying “publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations–from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia.”

Well, I certainly give the Huckster bonus points for coming up with a shade of ignorance I hadn't seen before in the comparison to necrophilia. Comparing homosexuality to pedophilia is old hat, as is the idiocy of the claim that homosexuality represents a public health risk. Unsafe sex represents a health risk, and a minor one, since those of us who refrain from such practices can easily avoid the problem.

And of course what would a speech with a Republican presidential candidate be without some sort of apocalyptic wail against something, this time gay marriage. Huckabee's claim than redefining marriage would destroy civilization is on an idiotic par with Mitt Romney's claim that freedom requires religion. All one need to do to refute it is read a history book, or travel around the world, and note that the definition of marriage has changed tremendously over time, and exists in many forms right friggin now!. Polygamy was the dominant form for centuries before the monogamous system came along, and still dominates some parts of the world. Some countries already allow gay marriage, and there seem to be no societal collapses on the horizon.

How in the world do politicians get away with saying such demonstrably wrong things and get away with it? Why does no one ask Huckabee to explain the flourishing societies in the world that HAVE ALREADY redefined marriage relative to his view? Just how absurd must these statements get before intelligent conservative Americans wake up and realize that the Republican party has been taken over by, as Barry Goldwater put it, "a bunch of kooks"? For more of Goldwater's views of this subject, consider this comment in 1981:

"However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"

Amen Barry. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Afternoon with Crazy Radio

On a recent business trip, I had the misfortune of getting out of radio range with no CDs, and when that happens, I like to tune in to crazy radio to see what's out there. Brief as it was, it is crazier than even I could have imagined.

First up was an interview with Sean Hannity and the King of Crazy, Alan Keyes. I'll give Hannity some credit for actually trying to counter the crazy, but he gave up what little high ground when he agree with Keyes comment that went something like this (I paraphrase from memory):

"The next president must have the proper position on all of the critical areas of government. Any weakness in any one of them will lead to our destruction."

WHAT?! Lead to our destruction? How? What in the world has gotten into the grand old party that this sort of Chicken Little squeeling is considered reasonable?

Let's put this in perspective. 9/11 was the terrorist's wet dream, the creme de la creme of their, ahem, accomplishments. Now imagine a 9/11 every week. And imagine that Americans stopped reproducing and we managed to stop all immigration. At that rate, America would be destroyed in...

2000 years.

Digest that. A one time event, the worst of its kind, that, were it to happen weekly, would wipe us all out in 2,000 years, has led to mainstream politicians and their wonks agreeing that we live on the verge of desruction. Teddy Roosevelt is turning over in his grave.

Then came a chattering airhead named Mark Levine. I'm told this man has a nationally successful show. If that is true, then America has indeed sunk lower than the low, for his show is all bluster and vitriol, and no substance. He's Ann Coulter with testicals. Among other bizarro claims, he accused congressmen who resist the idea of Americans torturing accused criminals and terrorists of being traitors and other shrill nonsense.

I recommend every left-of-center reader here to go listen to these yoyos periodically. It is important to know what, and if, those people think, because believe it or not, they have a lot of influence on our political landscape.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cambridge Word Scramble Study: It's Fake Already!

It seems the bogus "Cambridge University Study" concerning shuffled words is making the rounds again, and this is one bit of crapola I never tire of debunking. Here is a typical depiction:

"From Cambridge University .

O lny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, t he olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rgh it pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on !!"

That this piece of obvious claptrap continues to impress is testimony not only to the ever sagging education level of Americans, but also to our ever-growing anti-intellectualism that gives more and more benefit of the doubt to anything that promises to validate ignorance and basic intellectual laziness. It is flawed in every way. I've never been able to confirm that such a study was ever done at Cambridge, but if it was, and this description accurately portrayed their findings, everyone associated with the study out to be booted from serious intellectual circles.

If we truly read words as a whole, then why must the first and last letters be fixed? Why can't the entire word be scrambled? And what exactly does "as a whole" mean anyway? How can one see a word as a whole without seeing the letters in it?

In a way this is a cheap magician's trick, because the only reason people can read the scrambled words is because they aren't very scrambled. Fixing the first and last letters means 2 and 3 letter words don't change at all, and 4 letter words just swap the middle letters. That's the bulk of our vocabulary. Try making a sentence with very long words, and our ability to read words "as a whole" mysteriously vanishes. To wit:

Bblaaesl pryleas pnmrrioefg sllaimy aeoulltsby dvrseee clbrpmaaoe tteenmrat.

is incomprehensible, because now every word is truly scrambled, with the first and last letters being an insignificant proportion of the total. So sorry all of you that thought you had academic backing to your poor spelling and grammar skills. They do matter, because baseball players performing similarly absolutely deserve comparable treatment.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Doubting Global Warming? Ask the Walruses

For those still doubting global warming, check out this story on the thousands of walruses killed in stampedes this year.

"Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a 'haulout' for a century, scientists said.

Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water."

The one bright spot of the article was the mention of the worldwide walrus population: approximately 200,000. But these are not encouraging trends.

As an aside on global warming denialists, take a gander at this post by Tim Lambert which answers a denialists claim with a complete graph of the data. I mention this because I think it typifies the difference between people who look at things scientifically, and those who are pushing a predetermined viewpoint. Those with the scientific view tend to want to look at all the data, like Lambert's graph. Denialists, by contrast, almost never do this. They like to pick and choose the data they talk about. Go look around at the global warming denialist sites and see how many complete graphs like this are out there. You won't find many.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Romney's views of Religion and Politics. It's the Null Set!

OK, I've been holding back on this one, but I can't stand it any longer. Mitt Romney is an idiot. I naturally suspected it right away when I learned he was an admitted Mormon. Then came his "null set" answer to whether he would have supported the Iraq war if he knew then what he knew now. But after his speech addressing his religion and the role it would play, or not play, in his presidency, there can no longer be any doubt. Clearly the man who claimed the Iraq question was a null set had no comprehension of the meaning of those big words he had been told to say. We have another smiling, dressed up empty suit approaching the White House, and we can't take 4 more years of that.

Consider this claim from his speech:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

That isn't just wrong, it borders on deranged. One might as well say freedom requires jails, or perhaps slavery. It requires a complete redefinition of the words "freedom" and "religion" to make any sense at all. After all, all those theocracies like Iran have so much more freedom than relatively atheistic nations like Sweden. It fits right in with the rest of 1984's slogans: War is Peace; Freedom is Religion; Ignorance is Strength. The more absurd the lie, the more persuasive I guess.

That someone who could utter such nonsense could be in serious running for the highest office in the land is more frightening than 100 terrorists. That otherwise intelligent people could treat it as anything other than the fantasy it is, is equally so. Are we as a nation so afraid to call bullshit on anything wearing a religious cloak that this sort of nonsense is considered acceptable in what should be the most serious of arenas? Apparently so. The rest of Romney's speech was the usual claptrap: religions all share a moral compass (which of course is why some of the pious think the others deserve death for their views), freedom of religion only applies to the religious, and of course how the founders envisioned this as a Christian nation.

In practically any other civilized nation, this man would be laughed off the stage and be finished as a serious candidate. America better wake up, before it elects another clown and becomes an even bigger laughing stock to the educated world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Christmas Story: My Little Airport Evangelist

I was sitting in an airport at the end of a gruesome business trip, and was in a very foul mood. Several of us were scattered across the chairs on the aisle, down which this little blonde girl was skipping. She looked to be about 5, and she was stopping by each person and asking them if they knew about God, and chatting about it before moving on to the next potential convert. Her mother was watching from a short distance, beaming ever so proudly.

Not being in the mood for this in the slightest, and ever annoyed at people who let their lovely children bother those of us who clearly chose not to have our own, I concocted a plot Mom would like none too much.

When the little girl got to me, and asked me if I knew about God, I smiled and said "Yes, I do. Do you know about Santa Claus?" She smiled and nodded her pretty little head. "Good" I said. "They kind of go together don't they?". More nods. "Santa and God, Santa and God, just remember that."

About this time it dawns on Mom that her baby was speaking to an evil evil man, and swooped in, took the little girl by the arm, and whisked her away with a glare and a soft admonition to her about not bothering the man. A gent near enough to hear chuckled, another huffed at me.

"The man" had a mighty laugh, and returned to his nap, secure in the knowledge that the seeds of doubt had been planted, and that one Christmas some 15 years hence, a young girl home from college was going to announce over Christmas dinner, to her stunned Christian family's amazement, that she is an atheist, and she doesn't believe in God or Santa or anything like that any more. And Mom will think of the man in the airport.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rabid Anti-Gayness = Gayness?

It's a theory that just won't go away, what with all these wide-stanced politicians screaming "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" by day and screaming "Oh Adam! Oh Steve!" by night. Is homophobia, especially the rabid fire-and-brimstone variety, just repressed homosexuality leaking out? The evidence in the political arena is starting to get voluminous enough to matter.

And consider this beauty of a post on the American River Christian Club website (hat tip Pharyngula):


The lifestyle being pushed down our throats? Sin being thrust upon us and there is nothing we can do? Sodomites running around? This guy isn't complaining, he's fantasizing. As one of the most heterosexual guys around, I have never, not once, concerned myself with the fact that some guys are attracted to other guys, and I've always wondered about those that do so to such an obsessive degree. I know, it's a sin according to the Bible. So what? So are various ways of cutting one's hair, working on the sabbath, eating shellfish, and a whole host of other offenses, depending on which parts of the book one arbitrarily decides to interpret literally. Yet no one is going stark raving bonkers over people doing any of those things. Why homosexuality then?

Let's examine some comments left me here by Little David, who I consider a good example of this obsessive attitude towards homosexuality. In an article responding to some commentary of mine on Intelligent Design, he responded with:

"The Science Avenger evidently believes in evolution. Well, then let us examine just how much he is willing to bow to 'science' and 'evolution' and how willing he is to sacrifice the bullshit 'liberal' viewpoint.

What does the Science Avenger think about homosexuality?"

Nice transition eh? And what is it with conservatives and their scare quote tourettes syndrome? None of the words he put quotes around needed them. It's just a dishonest rhetorical trick to cast doubt on a concept without having to do the hard work of doing so with evidence. He also treats us to this gem:

"What Is Wrong With Huckabee

Alternatively I could have titled this post 'I'd Vote For A Flaming Faggot Before I Would Vote For Huckabee' except the title would have been too lengthy."

Cute huh? I count no less than 8 articles on his site citing homosexuality in one fashion or another. His justification for his attitudes? Well, he was kind enough to leave them on another thread of mine, one about a different topic of course, atheism in this case. This is where it gets good, because nothing brings out the stupid (and the MSU) like homophobes trying to rationalize their views:

"Homosexuality is not as prevalent in other species as it is in the human species. There are occasional examples of homosexuality even amongst birds for example. However these examples are fairly rare. Many of the instances I have read about only describe a platonic relationship (best friends?) without any sexual activity."

This ladies and germs, is what we in the reality-based community call MSU, Making Shit Up, a favorite pastime of too-many conservatives these days. Homosexuality is prevalent throughout the animal kingdom, as any biologist, or farmer could tell you (google "freemartin"). There is even a species of bedbug that procreates via homosexual stabbing rape. Examples are plentiful, and no one has any excuse for missing them when the facts are easily ascertained.

But homophobes aren't interested in facts, they are interested in maintaining their view, and they'll keep moving the goalposts to do so. They used to claim that there was no homosexuality among animals at all, until the weight of evidence against that position made it untenable. So they moved the goalposts to "it's not as prevalent", as if any of that matters.

And indeed, why does it? There are many traits of human beings that are not as prevalent in other species, such as tool use, culture, bipedalism, and drinking beer. Why is less-prevalence relevant to homosexuality and nothing else? They can't ever answer this question without mentioning more traits that bring even more inconsistencies into the picture, like danger:

"Homosexuality is a threat to society through the homosexual community suffering from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (and I am not just talking about Aids) at higher rates then heterosexuals do."

Just when I thought the Chicken Little award was a shoe-in for those that claim terrorism represents the greatest threat our nation has ever faced, we get this wingding of a claim that homosexuality is a threat to society.

How? Homosexuality has been around as long as humanity has, and here we are. STDs are not a threat to wipe out humanity, and given that 99% of their spread can be controlled by individual decisions (ie wearing a condom, being celibate, or being monogamous), that is not likely to change. It is also worth noting that homosexuality has little to do with the plights of the areas of the world hardest hit by STDs (ie AIDS in Africa). So once again we find the homophobic argument completely at odds with the facts. But then, given the disdain and ignorance with which homophobes address scientific issues, can we really be surprised by comments like that, or this:

"Homosexuality goes against evolution because those who practice it faithfully can not reproduce and this is the purpose of sexuality in our species."

It is sad that in what was once the greatest nation on earth, technologically and scientifically advanced beyond all others, we could have such deep-rooted scientific ignorance. Evolution, as beginner biology students learn, is purposeless. It has no goal, no agenda, no conscious intent. Species simply mutate and are selected and change over time. No trait of a species can be "against evolution", because there is nothing to be against.

Further, even if we assign a meaning to "against evolution" that makes sense, say "threatening he perpetuation of the species", the logic of this argument still does not follow. Consider worker bees and ants. They are born sterile females. Yet they perform a crucial function towards the perpetuation of their species. There is some speculation that homosexuality among humans might have played a beneficial function by giving society a few workers who did not produce children.

Let's get down to brass tacks on that topic. Many, if not most, of the serious problems human beings face right now are caused by the huge population of humans we have. It is beyond question that humanity would be very well served right now by having a lot of people that don't procreate, which means that the good Christian who has 14 children is FAR more of a threat to humanity than is a homosexual.

Finally, note the implicit claim above that having sex for no purpose other than the pleasure of it goes against nature. That's the bottom line with these people. As one famous person put it "A promiscuous person is someone who is having more sex than you are". Homosexuals have a lot of sex, as do we single liberated people, and in the end, that's what really gets the goat of homophobes. Of course, I don't suspect they restrict their sex lives to having children. They no doubt have healthy sex lives with whoever they choose to have sex with, whether childbearing is part of the equation or not. That is as it should be. Now if they can only stop being such hypocrites and let everyone else do the same, despite the fact that some of us see no need to restrain our sex lives as they do, we can put all this nonsense behind us and get on with solving real human problems. I know, I'm not betting on it either.

So my political strategy, and I encourage everyone else to implement it, is to raise the issue of repressed homosexuals ranting about homosexuality. Make the legends of Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, and all the other homohypocrites live forever, and throw them into the faces of everyone who insults our intelligence with bullshit arguments like the above. As to whether or not individual objectors to homosexuality are themselves repressed homosexuals, it is worth considering and suggesting, at least until they give us arguments with even the slightest respect for science and logic. Their individual peccadillo's are not our problem.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The 22nd Amendment and Hillary Clinton

"No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once."

That, less the sections concerning the sitting president at the time of ratification, is the 22nd amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It's most obvious effect is to prevent America from becoming a dictatorship, with one stagnant administration permanently entrenched in power. While it may violate the purity of democratic principles, I believe it is one of the many justifiable limits on those principles. I also believe it should apply to spouses.

It may not fit the letter of the law, but I believe it fits the spirit of it. To understand that, one must first consider the environment in which the 22nd amendment was created. It was 1947 when it was proposed, and 1951 when it was ratified. Much has changed in society in the last 50 years, and circumstances have arisen that those who passed Amd. 22 no doubt never envisioned. A woman president was one. This was 15 years prior to Gene Roddenberry being told he could not have a female first officer on his mythical star ship because it simply was not believable to Americans of that era. For surprisingly many, it still isn't. So it should not seem outlandish to assume those who proposed Amend. 22 never envisioned the spouse of a former president herself becoming president, or that said former president would once again occupy the White House, merely sleeping on the other side of the bed.

Married couples are legally one entity in many respects, and there are many good reasons for that, not the least being that their decisions are often made in a joint fashion which blurs the individual desires. How could this not be the case with presidential decisions? Who doubts the influence of Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, and yes, Hillary Clinton, on the decisions made by their husbands. In the cases of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan, they were able to pursue high-profile campaigns (Nancy against drugs, Hillary for national health care) they would never have had the opportunity to pursue were they not first lady, and campaigns that no doubt required the approval of the president. In a sense, they all were president, at least in part. That's not a criticism, if anything it is complimentary of driven intelligent women that took advantage of the opportunity they were given. Nonetheless, it runs against the spirit of the 22nd amendment to allow both of those people back into the White House on the grounds that this time the spouses will simply reverse their roles in enforcing their dual decisions.

If you find that unpersuasive, consider certain social trends, and you can easily envision a scenario that will seem even more against the spirit of the 22nd Amendment, and for no real reason aside from sheer chauvinism. When legal recognition of homosexual marriage becomes the norm in America, and trust me, it will, that opens up the possibility that a man and his HUSBAND could pull a Bill-n-Hill and occupy the White House for 16 years. Imagine, if you can, Bill Clinton married to George Bush, with Bill as president and George as First Man from 1992 to 2000, and then them flip flopping (I know its tough, but bear with me here) and George being president and Bill being First Man from 2000-2008. There would be protests galore against that, as there should be.

The only reason any of us can entertain the notion that Hillary wasn't really president-in-part before is because there is still a chauvinistic part of us that can buy the idea of a woman being totally intellectually subservient to her husband. Thanks Christianity, that was always one of your worst features. But the idea of a man being married to another man who is president and having no input at all in policy decisions? It's preposterous on its face. Now if we can just get over our chauvinism, we can see how preposterous it is to think of President Hillary and First Man Bill Clinton as being what was envisioned by the ratifiers of the 22nd amendment.

For that reason, I do not think Hillary Clinton should be allowed to become President of the United States. It doesn't matter whether she would make a good one or a lousy one. Billary had their 8 years, the 22nd amendment says someone else gets a shot now. And trust me, I can't be the only person out there thinking this. If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, the Republicans would be fools to not pursue this line of argument, and it will cost votes a polarizing figure like Hillary can ill afford to lose. So not only is a Hillary Clinton nomination arguably unconstitutional, it is also a likely loser, and we could end up with Minister in Chief Huckabee as a result.

And if any of you are thinking we could apply this argument to the adult children of presidents, well, I agree, we could. Maybe we should consider that as well.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Huckabee's Political ID: Goddidit!

At a talk at Liberty University, Mike Huckabee attributed his meteoric rise among Republican presidential candidates to, you guessed it, the Christian gods. This isn't too surprising really, given that Huckabee is a former minister. However, it puts those who subscribe to that theory in a fine logical pickle (not that that bothers them much), because it begs the question of what their opinion is going to be if Huckabee loses. Are they going to recant and claim what success he got wasn't attributable to the gods after all? Will they perversely claim that Huckabee doing well but losing was all part of God's plan?

I am always bemused by athletes who claim, after the fact of course, they looked into the eyes of their teammates at a critical juncture in a game they were losing and "saw we couldn't lose". Funny we never hear about the times that look doesn't come through. People who attribute events to the gods exhibit the same pattern. It was God's will that my daughter survived the hurricane. What about those that died? God wanted them dead? God wants Huckabee to win? Does that mean he wants Romney to lose? Is God saying "The Baptists are right and the Mormons are wrong"?

Unworthy as the concept of gods is, it is made to look even less worthy when portrayed in such a fashion. Mike Huckabee is having success in the Republican polls right now for all the reasons former Republican Pat Buchanen said someone would who was a real social conservative Evangelical. Huckabee is the answer to the Republican desires for a return to the roots that won them the last two elections. Huckabee is a smooth politician with a common man's charm and the backing of the religious right. One need not conjure up gods to explain that one.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bill Maher Nails it: Terrorism is Weak

I continue to be amazed at the enormous amount of time our presidential debates spend on the "War on Terrorism", and the assertions among some politicians that the terrorist threat is the greatest our nation has ever faced. It's a little long in the tooth as these things go, but Bill Maher has an excellent rebuttal to that claim beginning about half way through this clip. The entire show is really worth a view, with priceless moments like one of his guests imagining asking the presidential candidates if they would do what needed to be done to stop a terrorist attack it it meant having sex with a man. But Maher's summary is a priceless, mercilous attack on the idea that these groups pose any kind of great threat to America:

"We are the most powerful nation on earth, with the largest economy, and the best military, and we're made to act the fool by a few thousand cave dwellers who still put out their video on VHS...we have become the most insecure paranoid superpower ever."

I want to attack the claim at the basic level much more than he did. It seems people need a refresher on what makes someone a terrorist, because many seem to have forgotten that terrorists are, by definition, weak.

A terrorist is, roughly, someone who attempts to influence political change by enticing fear in the population. Fair examination of this tactic should make it clear that it is a strategy for people who are weak. Powerful actors do not have to influence political change. They create it through military force. Those without that power must resort to terrorism to effect unilateral change. It is not a coincidence that the side in our war with Al Qaeda that has the least military might is also the side that favors terrorist tactics.

So sure, Al Qaeda and other groups east of Egypt want to enforce their way of life on the entire world, including the United States, and yes, their fervor is comparable to that of the Nazis and Soviets who had the very same goal. But motive and opportunity are not enough: one must also have the means, and neither Al Qaeda, nor Iran, has anything remotely resembling the means that was possessed by the Nazis and the Soviets. It is high time our politicians get called on this fact when they start that "greatest threat this Nation has ever faced" bullshit. It isn't a patch on the ass of the Cuban missile crisis, WWI, WWII, the cold war, the civil war, and that nasty nasty winter at Valley Forge. Sure 9/11 was a scare and an embarrasment and one hell of a big bucket of cold water on our complacency. But a little perspective please.

Maher hit the nail on the head when he said "As a species we are failing at survival trick #1: prioritize the threats" with this all-terror-all-the-time rhetoric. Terrorism is not the greatest threat this nation has ever faced, and it might not even be the greatest threat this nation faces right now. It's time the politicians got that message and started talking about issues besides terrorism and who's got what freaky flavor of piety, because the next president is going to need to understand a lot more than that. A lot more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why Romney's Mormonism Matters

Mitt Romney finally addressed the issue of his Mormonism, and in light of current political tastes, his speech was a good one. But it really doesn't address why it matters that a man who is a Mormon is running for President.

We have freedom of religion in this country, and it is a right I whole heartedly support. But this addresses people's opinions of deities, and that is all it is supposed to protect. Believe in one god, thousands, or none, the government, and the people in civic affairs, should treat all the same. However, religious freedom does not give one free reign to say and do anything, as long as one claims it is part of one's religion. It doesn't matter if one's religion requires ingesting peyote, since doing so is illegal for secular reasons, one cannot do so in the name of religious freedom. Likewise for refusing medical treatment to children. It is insane that there is any tolerance for parents refusing proven medical treatments to children due to religious objections. Likewise, religious freedom does not give one free reign to believe any bizarro thing and be exempt from appropriate character judgements. If you believe a space shop is following a comet, you deserve derision, whether you call it a religion or not.

And here is the problem with Mormonism. This religion goes beyond believing in things unseen and unproven (ie Jesus' supposed resurrection), and leaps to believing things that are demonstrably false. For example, the pre-Columbian populations of the America's were demonstrably not descended from lost tribes of Israel. There is also the issue of polygamy, and apparently the Mormon church was officially racist within the last century. And don't even get me started on the magic glasses and the secret underwear.

But the point is this: A candidate that believes all animal species were created ex nihilo 6,000 years ago shows a grotesque ignorance of history, or astonishing stupidity, to be kind. This matters in a leader, whether he calls his delusion a religion or not. Likewise for believing the "Native American" population is descended from lost tribes of Israel. It matters that a leader be in touch with the realities of the world. If the last 7 years demonstrates anything, it demonstrates that. It's not good enough to have all the right opinions and be surrounded by smart people. Our next leader needs to be an intelligent, educated, reality-based man, and the beliefs of Mormonism, moreso even than Fundamentalist Christianity, runs counter to that goal. If that seems too bitter a pill to swallow, consider if Romney was a believer of Voodoo, or was a Scientologist, or a Raelian? Would you still maintain his religious views were irrelevant? If your opinion changes, then de facto what you believe in is freedom of religion, but only for large politically powerful religions, and tough noogies for everyone else. Sorry, that isn't what America was founded on.

Believe in the gods of your choice, and participate in the religious culture in which you are comfortable. I don't hold anyone who attends a Catholic service to everything the Vatican says. But when you start believing idiotic things about factual subjects, such as the Pope's supposed infallibility, I care, and so should everyone else considering giving you the position of Leader of the Free World. Romney needs to make it clear that he repudiates the idiocy of Mormonism, else he look to support it by his silence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Humans outdone by Rats for causing Extinctions

In case you are one of these people that wants to blame humanity for everything, get a load of this article about the extinctions caused by rats. One island creatively dubbed Rat Island, populated with rats fleeing a Japanese ship, has become completely devoid of the birds that normally would nest there. It's not the only one:

"Rats have all but wiped out the seabirds on about a dozen large islands and many smaller islands in the refuge, which is home to an estimated 40 million nesting seabirds. Puffins, auklets and storm petrels are most at risk because they leave their eggs and young for extended periods while foraging.

Rats have been the scourge of islands worldwide. According to the California-based group Island Conservation, rats are to blame for between 40 percent and 60 percent of all seabirds and reptile extinctions, with 90 percent of those occurring on islands

'Rats are one of the worst invasive species around,' said Gregg Howald, program manager for Island Conservation, which is working with the U.S. government on a plan for Rat Island.."

This has caused a rare turnabout in the scientific community, which is preparing an attempt to wipe out the rats on these islands.

"The state is joining forces with federal wildlife biologists in a multi-pronged attack to drive the rats from Alaska.

State regulations went into effect this fall requiring mariners to check for rats and try to eradicate them if found. Violators face a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Corporations could be fined up to $200,000.

... mariners [are told] to kill every rat on board, have traps set at all times, keep trash and food in rat-proof containers, use line guards — funnel-shaped devices that go around mooring lines — to keep rats from getting off or coming aboard, and never throw a live rat over the side. Rats are excellent swimmers.

The assault on the rats of 6,871-acre Rat Island could begin as early as next October. The plan — which involves the use of a blood thinner that will cause the rodents to bleed to death — still must be reviewed and sent out for public comment.

Scientists want to see how the project goes before deciding whether to try to exterminate the rats on other islands."

They apparently have had success with this strategy on other smaller islands. I hope they have taken the necessary caution to consider the effect removing the rats might have on the wildlife that has lived among the rats for many generations and possibly adapted to, or become dependent, on them. We need only look at the cane toad fiasco in Austrailia for a reminder of how badly good intentions can go when mankind attempts to change the biological landscape. Still, I remain hopeful.

And for those who are determined to blame all of this on humans anyway on the grounds that the rats would never have made it onto those islands were it not for our ships, by that reasoning, we could extend the blame to whatever actions by ancient species led to human beings in the first place. We may have assisted the rats getting onto the islands, but they did the damage.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Huckabee's Brilliant Dodge

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee was asked by George Stephanopolous whether or not Mitt Romney was a Christian. Huckabee dodged brilliantly, saying that no one can make that call for anyone else, and that's up to Mitt Romney to say. This did three things at once:

1) It made Huckabee look oh so kind by refusing to speak negatively about someone else, and oh so tolerant by appearing to grant legitimacy to religion views.

2) In fact, his answer screams "Don't vote for this guy, he's not a Christian" to the Religious Right Huckabee is courting. They know were Romney a Christian Huckabee would say so.

3) He's basically dared the media to ask Romney, something poor ol' Mitt can't possibly come out of smelling well.

Of course, the seriously bad side to this, and the Bible question in the last debate as well, is that it is treading awfully close to a de facto religious test for office. We not only aren't supposed to have such a thing in this country, but we are supposed to believe in the irrelevancy of religion when it comes to civic matters. This is a core American principle that those touting "traditional values" have led the way in destroying. America was founded on the attitude "If the law allows what my religion forbids, I will abide by my religious limits anyway, because that is what I believe", not "If the law allows what my religion forbids, I will change the law, because that is the way everyone should believe." Those who think the President should be a Christian are being more unAmerican that 40 flag burners.

Prager's Circular Reasoning about "The Left"

One of the scare words that many conservatives use to avoid having to make substantive arguments is “The left”. It is rarely defined objectively, but is simply hurled about willy nilly at all those who oppose the speaker’s views. It is used to dismiss arguments rather than refute them, and in some cases, used in a circular manner to avoid the real issues involved. Dennis Prager’s latest screed is a perfect example of this.

Prager attempts to dispel the notion that the world hates America:
”One of the most widely held beliefs in the contemporary world -- so widely held it is not disputed -- is that, with few exceptions, the world hates America. One of the Democrats' major accusations against the Bush administration is that it has increased hatred of America to unprecedented levels. And in many polls, the United States is held to be among the greatest obstacles to world peace and harmony.

But it is not true that the world hates America. It is the world's left that hates America. However, because the left dominates the world's news media and because most people, understandably, believe what the news media report, many people, including Americans, believe that the world hates America. “

Well no shit Dennis. Why would “the right” hate America? The Right, led by Rightist in Chief George Bush, rule America. What we (who use the term honestly) call “left” in America is considered right of center by most of the rest of the world. The “world’s left” hates America because that IS the world, at least the part whose respect we desire.

And why would that be? Simple. By the myopia through which the Pragers of the world see the world, all who are not right are left. And what defines right these days?

Resistance to abortion because of religious views of life.

Support of supply-side economics in defiance of all evidence.

Resistance to good science education including evolution.

Denial of anthropocentric global warming.

The insistence that Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama Bin Laden and had weapons of mass destruction.

There are many more examples, but those will suffice. In other words Dennis, the world appears leftist to you because here in the states, The Right is defined by those who support positions which bely reality. The rest of the world is left because they do a much better (though granted still woefully inadequate) job of recognizing reality, and we in America, particularly the right (and too the left) have a problem with this.
Prager’s only other argument is pathetically illogical:

”There is another obvious argument against the belief that the world hates America: Many millions of people would rather live in America than in any other country. How does the left explain this? Why would people want to come to a country they loathe? Why don't people want to live in Sweden or France as much as they wish to live in America? Those are rich and free countries, too.

For the same reason everyone hates Terrell Owens or Randy Moss when they play for another team, but loves them when they play for their team. Or to put it another way, is it really hard to understand why a kid beaten up by the bully’s gang might want to be a member of that gang? Is it REALLY difficult to understand why an Iraqi who hates America for destroying his country might see America as a good place to live? I guess that’s just another reality that is entirely too complicated for Prager and the Right to see.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Classic Special Pleading for Religion

On another thread of mine Little David left a lengthy comment that I thought was such a perfect example of the special pleading religion gets, and is demanded on its behalf, in our society, that it deserved its own post and fisking. It is also a perfect example of the kind of intellectually dishonest shilling we've come to expect from right-wing pundits, which guarantees to bely attempts at rational discourse. Ever the optimist, I will try anyway.

"Sorry, I think I am starting to see evidence of an almost unreasonable hysteria against anything that hints of religious beliefs. Evidence of this is the statement: 'They may occasionally reach the same conclusions, but they are, at their core, opposed, and they always will be.'"

Here right away we see the standard Coulterish tactic of using baseless inflammatory rhetoric in lieu of sound reasoning. A simple factual claim that science, being driven by evidence, and religion, being driven by faith, are at their core opposed, is "hysterical"? By what standards? None, it is just a good example of the fallacy of poisoning the well: after all, why should the arguments of "hysterical" people be dealt with logically?

To be clear, this atheist has no trouble whatsoever with other people holding religious beliefs, or basing their personal life decisions on them. What I, and many in the reality-based community object to is the use of these faith-based beliefs to make decisions in the public sphere, or the facade that these beliefs are compatible or comparable to science.

"Some atheists are starting to sound as unreasonable in insisting of the 'facts' being something they can NOT prove (God does not exist) as those who insist that every syllable uttered in the Bible is infallible."

Ah, right off the Fox News script: "some people say". What atheists sound this way? Name them. What exactly did they say? Quote them, IN CONTEXT. There is a good reason the right-wing apologists, be they Little David or Dinesh D'Souza, rarely do so: their claims can't stand up to the facts, so all they have to rely on is baseless generalizations. Any why the scare quotes around the word "facts"? It's just another rhetorical trick this crowd loves. Instead of attacking a claim with which they differ head on with logic and evidence, they simply put scare quotes around it. This allows them to treat it as refuted without having to do the hard work of actually doing so.

Once one examines this claim logically one can easily see why all those distractions would be in there. That the Bible is not infallible can be verified, in multiple independent instances, by any person with a sound mind and a dictionary. Anyone claiming otherwise is acting in defiance of the facts. Little David wishes to compare this to the claim that the evidence supports the notion that there are no gods? As Dawkins has illustrated so deftly, all one need do to see the absurdity of such claims is to restate them in terms of other gods, or other, unproven entities:

Some athorists are starting to sound as unreasonable in insisting of the 'facts' being something they can NOT prove (Thor does not exist) as those who insist that every syllable uttered in the Hárbarðsljóð is infallible.

Some aunicornists are starting to sound as unreasonable in insisting of the 'facts' being something they can NOT prove (unicorns do not exist) as those who insist that every syllable uttered in the Holy Book of Unicornism is infallible.

Are these statements any more absurd than the original? The evidence for Thor and unicorns is identical to that for the Christian gods - zero, nada. So why would anyone insist that somehow his gods deserve what others are denied? Simple: it is what he was raised with, as most of us were, and it seems more comfortable and familiar. But to a Hindu, the story that a man was nailed to a tree to save everyone from the crimes of his great-great-great...great-grandfather sounds just as absurd as the story of 1,000 gods and the wheel of life sounds to those of us raised in a Christian society. Thus, when someone says something like this:

"While the infallible Bible crowd might be described as being at one end of the spectrum, atheists who attempt to prove that the evidence already proves God does not exist are at the other end of the spectrum and just as unreasonable to many of us who sit somewhere in the center."

We can see that he is not in the center at all. He is decidedly biased towards the notion that there is some credibility to the claims of Christianity. Thus, anyone who simply recognizes the complete lack of evidence for his gods (be they atheist, Hindu, or Buddhist) will look biased to him, and he will claim they need to give special consideration to his gods that he does not claim for equally evidence-free notions such as Thor and unicorns:

"I think that someone who describes himself as an agnostic (rather then an atheist) is being more then reasonable as long as they will 'reasonably' continue to appraise reality if God seeks to prove that He does exist to them."

[sigh] Once again we see the intellectually dishonest use of scare quotes to poison the well. Never mind demonstrating logically that atheistic views are unreasonable. Just put scare quotes around "reasonably" and run.

On no other subject are people told that reasonableness demands they remain undecided concerning the existence of that with no evidence supporting it. No one says we must be agnostics with regard to unicorns or Thor. Yet with the Christian gods we are supposed to make a special case. Why? Social familiarity, and nothing else.

No, sorry, I am an atheist, as are many others, because we have examined the evidence and it implies quite strongly that the Christian gods do not exist, the same as unicorns and Thor. Show us some evidence, and we'll examine it. Until then, we will follow the evidence where it leads, and conclude there are no gods. In some cases, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence, and whether it is a supposed elephant in my living room, or a supposed infinite god that supposedly created the universe, the complete lack of evidence is solid evidence they do not exist.

"Would you accept this 'statement of scientific truth'? If God does not exist, it is impossible to scientifically prove this lack of existence."

Here we see another tactic of semantic games, equivocation with the term "prove". Strictly speaking, nothing in science is ever proven. It is always conceivable that we might one day find evidence for a mermaid, or a god. Nonetheless, as the evidence piles up and the probability of error approaches zero, in the layman's sense, they are proven to not exist. When someone claims, as apologists for gods often do, that they have logical reasons A, B, C, D, and E for their views, and those arguments are all subsequently shown to be either logically or factually flawed as knowledge progresses, it becomes formidable evidence for the nonexistence of those entities.

So my answer to the question is this: the gods are, in principle, no more, and no less, scientifically provable, than any other concept (depending of course on how they are defined). Further, the level of proof for the nonexistence of gods is comparable to that of the proof for the nonexistence of mermaids.

"If God does exist He should be able to prove His existence so that it would be unreasonable for a person who is not delusional to continue to insist there is no God?"

Everyone put on your irony SCUBA gear for this one, for this is precisely the point we atheists make. Yes, exactly, a god as the one depicted by the old testament should be able to prove himself to me easily. Oh yes, I could be swayed. Bring my great grandmother back from the grave. Make the stars in the sky line up and say "I am the Lord thy god". Tell me exactly where the Dow will close on 12/2/2008. Have one of my gifts under the tree turn out to be Jessica Alba wearing nothing but a bow on her head. Have the world spontaneously ban soccer. I'm not unreasonable, and god could accomplish these and even more wondrous things.

But that isn't what we experience is it? God has done NOTHING whatever to reveal himself, not to anyone with a modicum of intelligence and knowledge. No clear-cut prophecies, no futuristic knowledge, no verifiable miracles, nothing. Just a bunch of vague, question-begging nonsense in the Bible, and lots of creative after-the-fact rationalizing, just like every other fraud. Uri Geller could lay claim to being a god with comparable evidence.

That is nothing at all like what we should expect. The old testament god makes himself known to a level that only the delusional could deny. Why can't the one you claim exists do so? Simple: he doesn't exist.

"If you would accept such an above 'statement of scientific truth' I guess that would make you an agnostic and not an unreasonable atheist."

Ah, how appropriate to end with more well-poisoning. Atheists are unreasonable are they? Why? Are aunicornists unreasonable? Are athorists unreasonable? This is such a Bill O'Reillyism: agree with me or you're unreasonable. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Atheists aren't unreasonable or hysterical. We simply don't extend the special pleading to the gods of Christianity the way some people do. We treat all concepts, all gods, the same way: Unicorns do not exist. Yahweh does not exist. Thor does not exist. Yoda does not exist. There are no evidenciary differences that make any difference. The only difference is that one claim offends many Americans far more than the others, and thus is resisted by them arbitrarily.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hawaii, and the BCS Big Conference Bias

Ever since it's inception, the BCS has been a wonderful case study of human psychology in action, as the college football wonks attempted to create a system of selecting their championship finalists that didn't depend on polls. And every year the process gave them results that differed sufficiently from the polls, they declared it flawed and altered be more like the polls.

This year a flaw in the BCS process comes to light that is more insidious, and shows once again that a good understanding of mathematics can help avoid some undesired outcomes.

The problem has actually been a part of the process many years. It was put there when the BCS succumbed to the complaints of some coaches and commentators that having computer ratings play such a large role in the process (as it did at the time) encouraged teams to run up the score against inferior opponents in order to increase their rankings. Never mind that running up the score helps one obtain superior poll numbers as well, or that no player has ever died or been psychologically scarred by giving up one-too-many touchdowns, or that what constitutes "running up the score" vs "winning convincingly" is in the eye of the beholder, or that good computer rankings (as Jeff Sagarin so patiently tried to explain) have a formula of diminishing returns on score differential. Winning by 100 does not count as 5x as much as winning by 20, but it does and should count more.

Nonetheless, the BCS required the computer rankings to ignore score. And as so often happens with good intentions, what was designed to protect the weaker teams actually hurt them far more than a 70-0 drubbing. It completely locked them out of the BCS championship game, just as surely as if they had been forbidden on paper from participating.

Here's why: with the computer rankings ignoring score, the only component that matters (aside from winnning) is quality of competition. A team from a major conference who is 10-1 is going to rate higher than a team from a weak conference that is 10-1, and that is as it should be, all things being equal. But there is the rub, for what if the major conference team has won by an average score of 21-17, whereas the minor conference team has won by an average of 52-3? Now who is superior? Hard to tell. However, it is not hard to tell who will be ranked higher by the computers - the team from the major conference. Always.

Hawaii is the victim of that this year. They are the only undefeated team in Div I (or whatever it is called now) in the nation. But they are only ranked 12th in the BCS because they play in a minor conference. They've won their games by an average score of 43-24, but it wouldn't matter if they won them 100-0, they could never reach the championship game because their weak schedule guarantees the lame #14 ranking in the computers they have now.

Now some of my more scientific-minded readers might be wondering: So what? It's only football. True, but this is not about football. This about how a lack of a good mathematical understanding in our society can lead to subtle social injustices inflicted by otherwise well-meaning people. I don't think the BCS leaders decided to exclude teams from small conferences from the championship, but they didn't understand the math, so that is exactly what they have done.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hear the Cry of the Wolf

In some rare good environmental news, the gray wolf has reached population figures (over 1,500) high enough for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove them from the endangered species list, which would once again allow hunting of wolves. For some environmentalists, the move is too fast, and should have waited until the population reached 2,000 or 3,000. But there is a method to the madness:

"Federal wildlife officials offer a paradoxical reasoning for their bid to remove the animal from the endangered list. To survive in the Rockies, they say, wolves must be hunted and killed.

By reclassifying them as "big-game," wolves could emerge from centuries of persecution and find a niche along other regularly hunted predators such as mountain lions and black bears. Those predators, too, were once at risk of disappearing but rebounded after their status changed from predators that could be shot on sight to big-game animals with limits on how many can be hunted.

Similarly, if wolves are removed from the endangered list, proponents argue, states could tailor the number of wolf hunting permits around target population levels.

But some wolf experts say managing wolves is not so simple. David Mech, a University of Minnesota researcher considered one of the world's leading experts on wolf behavior, predicted populations in the Northern Rockies could hold steady or keep expanding, even with hunting permitted, if the wily animals prove too smart for hunters. "

Read the full story here. The fact that continually amazed me when reading articles like this is just how low the populations of some of these creatures is. We are so used to the huge population figures of humans, whether it is the millions that live in our cities, or the 50,000+ that fill football stadiums every weekend. It is sobering to learn that in all of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, there are only 1,500 wolves, and just how precarious a population that is.