Friday, February 29, 2008

Calling all Political Comics

I know it's juvenile, but to Hell with the politics of the story, just think of what a skilled political cartoonist could do with the title:

Mukasey refuses probe of Bush aides

And we thought the Muslims reaction to the Mohammed cartoons was intense.

Federal Cuts in Drug War - It's a good start

In an announcement sure to be met with mixed blessings from defenders of civil liberties, the biggest waste in the federal budget, the drug war, is about to experience significant budget cuts.

"Congress in January cut funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant by two-thirds, from $520 million to $170 million for fiscal 2008. Local agencies say that's a threat to the officers who do much of the law enforcement spadework.

The Byrne program is not without controversy, having drawn allegations of abuse. But many enforcement organizations consider it essential to their local efforts."

Of course they do. But those officers are asking the wrong questions. It's not how we should fight the drug war, but whether we should fight it, and if so, what sort of emphasis should each of the drugs get. One comment in the news story sums up the problem nicely, albeit inadvertantly:

"The Bush administration has argued that the program should end because crime is down and the money is needed elsewhere. That assessment clashes with reports from many states of record hauls of drugs, especially methamphetamine and marijuana, and increased activity by drug gangs."

Talking about meth and marijuana in the same sentence is like talking about rats and elephants. Yeah, they're both mammals, but one can do far more damage than the other. Marijuana is, by any medical measure, comparable in risk to alcohol and cigarettes, and in some measures is safer. Alcohol is far more likely to elicit violence in the user for instance. Every dollar spent trying to stop the marijuana trade makes the situation worse, the same way prohibition of alcohol did.

Federal officials need to stop pretending "drugs" is meaningful, and focus on the meth epidemic, which is unlike anything this nation has ever seen. As usual, we have to have priorities. We can't afford to control everything we don't like.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

President Peter Pan

Sometimes reality is funnier than fiction. This morning on yahoo news, the stories read:

Bush: US is not headed for recession
Economy slows to near crawl

If we just keep wishing hard enough...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Legend is Gone: William F. Buckley 1925-2008

Bill Buckley is gone.

William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right's post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.

Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, TV talk show star of "Firing Line," harpsichordist, trans-oceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor's race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.

Yet on the platform he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent's discomfort with wide-eyed glee.

"I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition," he wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1986. "I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."

Buckley was the kind of conservative I ache for now, one whose opinions were clearly born of much thought and intellect, rather than slander and the off-topic snarks and half arguments so preferred by conservatives these days. He even went so far as to have left-leaning Michael Kinsley moderate his Firing Line debates. Try to imagine Fox giving a real liberal control of, say, The O'Reilly Factor.

But more than anything else, I'll remember Buckley for his amazingly fast mind, and the one-liners he could uncork on queue:

On why he retired from Firing Line: "You've got to end sometime and I'd just as soon not die onstage"

On what his first act would be if he won his run for mayor of New York City: "I'd demand an immediate recount!"

On the American Revolution: he wrote to the king of England, demanding payment of the British war debt, at age 8.

On why he wouldn't debate communists: "there isn't much to say to someone who believes the moon is made of green cheese

On being told a reader would trust a snake before him: "What would you do if I supported the snake?"

Responding to Jesse Jackson's argument that legalizing marijuana would send the wrong message: "We must dispense with this notion that allowing a thing implies we think it is a wise thing to do. We might be allowed to vote for Jesse Jackson for President, but that is not necessarily a wise thing to do."

When called on the carpet during a PBS debate for voting "guilty of manslaughter" a hypothetical vigilante Buckley had been cheering on: "Well sometimes my instincts are reprehensible".

When being asked to repeat a question loaded with $50 words in a debate on bilingual education: "Would you understand it better if I asked in Spanish?"

We shall not look upon his like again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lynxes Hanging Out

Check out this great photo of Lynxes hanging out.

Hat Tip: Grrrlscientist

Monday, February 25, 2008

Religious Freedom in America: for everyone but Atheists

The failed presidential bid of Mitt Romney, and to a lesser extent Mike Huckabee, brought to the fore the role of religion in American politics. We are a nation dedicated to freedom of religion, as the first amendment makes clear, and one that does not allow (at least de jure) religious tests for public office. However, this does not make someone's religious views irrelevant to their politics, or our voting decisions, as people like Rebecca Hagelin imply. Indeed, she and many Americans get the issue completely bass-ackwards.

First, she glosses over a very odd fact about American political life that should get far more press than it does in a country with 15+% of it's citizens professed to be without religion. In discussing the history of John Kennedy's political difficulties with his Catholicism, she writes:

With Catholics serving alongside Protestants and the adherents of other faiths (and no faith) for years, the furor almost appears quaint. You would think the “faith” issue was settled once and for all.

Whoa! Serving alongside those of no faith? Hagelin needs a little history lesson here. Recently, after over two centuries of elections, the United States finally has its first openly atheistic politician in Pete Stark of California. Yet at 75 and nearing retirement, Stark runs little political risk in coming out of the atheist closet. Other politicians are not so priveleged. So despite the near statistical certainty that some of them are also nonreligious, they are forced by the sheer anti-atheist bigotry of the American public, former presidents, and ironically enough Mitt Romney himself to make token gestures of faith to get elected. This amounts to a de facto religious test for office. Atheists are simply not allowed to be elected.

So no Rebecca, the issue is not quaint, nor is it settled, not by a long shot.

However, what Hagelin and many other Americans don't seem to understand is that freedom of religion and a lack of a religious test for office do not give one carte blanche to believe any fool thing one wants under the guise of religion and get a free pass from the voters:

"Like Kennedy, Romney had to tell voters repeatedly why his faith didn’t disqualify him for the Oval Office. Are we really still asking such questions in America?"

Well of course we are. In Kennedy's, and any Catholic's case, voters are right to wonder if the candidates loyalties are to the United States constitution first, or his religious leader. It is not only a voter's right to wonder if the Constitution or Papal edict would hold sway in such a circumstance, it would be a case of civil negligence not to so inquire. Likewise, the Mormon church has many bizarro beliefs, even by religious standards. Voters would be derelict in their duty to not ask those questions of Romney, just like they should wonder whether Mike Huckabee's embarrasing rejection of biological science would negatively effect the way a President Huckabee would govern, or even if it indicates a serious lack of mental health. Obviously Hagein is confused on this issue as she blatantly contradics herself:

"Of course, every voter should feel free to NOT vote for a candidate based on any reason -- their politics, their ideology, their position on this issue or that ... even their faith. But if a potential candidate is loyal to America, to say that he is unfit to run for office or unfit to govern because of his faith is just plain wrong -- and the Constitution makes that perfectly clear."

So we can feel free to not vote for someone because of their faith, but we can't think them unfit because of it? And of course screw the atheists, right Rebecca? Clearly she hasn't really thought this through, or even considered the reality of the political exlusion of atheists. She apparently is one of these right-wingers living in LA La land when it comes to who is and is not religiously discriminated against. How else can one explain comments like this:

"Al Smith lost, of course, and by 1960, such sentiments seemed to be changing. But the media just loves to beat people up over faith. "

That's right, the media just jumps all over people like Huckabee and Romney when they say idiotic things in the name of religion, but have someone say they don't buy all that religion BS, and the American electorate falls at their feet. Tell me Rebecca, what color is the sky in your world? Apparently it is purple.

"As talk-show host Hugh Hewitt says in “Article VI,” 95 percent of the electorate just wants to know whether someone is a good person, not what his theology is. Otherwise, Hewitt notes, we wouldn’t have elected Abraham Lincoln, who “wasn’t remotely an orthodox Christian.” Lincoln read the King James Bible and spoke openly of God, but he belonged to no specific domination.

...there’s a First Amendment in this country. People of all faiths are equal citizens of this republic."

There you have it, laid bare, the unstated religious test for political office in America. Belong to any denomination or none, but you MUST speak openly of God, period. Atheists need not apply. Hagelin apparently is so sheltered and unworldly that she doesn't even realize that atheists exist. She sounds like the bartender in The Blues Brothers, who when asked what kind of music they played, answered "We got both kinds. We got country, and western." To Hagelin, 15+% of the population simply don't exist. That is a distortion bordering on the grotesque for someone supposedly educated and publicly opining on political issues.

It's time we made the Hagelin's of the world recognize our existence at the ballot box until the day comes when an American can stand up and say: I worship no gods, vote for me. Until then, religious freedom is a fiction.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Most Moronic Political Column Ever

I know, with the talentless hacks that populate the internet, such a title is one just waiting to be passed on to the next more deserving candidate. But still, the title belongs to whoever deserves it most at the moment, and that distinction goes to this amateurish piece of dreck by Jon Sanders, yet another right-wing hack determined to persuade people that Barak Obama's message is empty. His method? This has to be read to be believed:

"'Hope' and 'change' are magical ingredients; they taste differently to each person. The formula wouldn't work with any other ingredient.

Granted, the preceding is a strong statement; it needs defense. Let me demonstrate. Take a typical Obama speech and replace 'hope' with something else, something more substantive. Peanut butter, for example. Would it work?"

Uh, no, it won't. So? This proves Obama is saying nothing? Oh brother, this is truly pathetic. It actually proves the opposite! If Obama's use of the words "hope" and "change" were truly meaningless, "saying nothing" as Sanders puts it, then substituting another phrase would work just fine! Observe:

"De do do do, de da da da, is all I want to say to you"

Meaningless, right? Now substitute "blah" for "do", and we get:

"De blah blah blah, de da da da, is all I want to say to you"

No effect! Just as meaningless as before. Now let's take something that is meaningful, if not deep:

"How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood"

Now substitute "blah" for "wood", and we get:

"How much blah could a blahchuck chuck if a blahchuck could chuck bla"

It destroys the meaning, doesn't it? Of course it does, because if you substitute a meaningful word with nonsense, it becomes nonsense! This ain't complicated.

This is getting truly, down at the bottom of the barrel, embarrassingly pathetic, and more than a little disappointing. I've now seen over a dozen anti-Obama columns from the Republican pundits, and only one had any substance to it at all (calling Obama on an apparent contradiction with his position on gun control, an issue I will be watching carefully). All the rest smack of either complete desperation or (more likely) complete intellectual laziness. Are Obama's positions on the issues THAT factually and logically airtight? That sure is the impression the Republicans are giving me.

How about some substance people? It is the election for leader of the free world and all, and it is not like we lack for substantive issues. I was really looking forward to seeing how the Republicans were going to respond to the young challenger, and this pussified dodging of, well, everything, is all I'm going to get? Once again it looks like the Republicans already know they are going to get their ass kicked, and aren't even interested in putting up a fight. If that's the case, then write about basket weaving, sports, and the weather, or maybe even the odd children's song, rather than pretending to write about politics.

Chuck Norris' Clueless Analysis of School Shootings

One thing I have never understood is why celebrities in nonacademic fields are granted de facto intellectual respect on the various issues of the day. What makes the opinion of an actor, or an athlete, or a singer, on world events any more valid, and worthy of our attention, than the opinion of the average guy at the bus stop?
From the nonsensical jabber spewing from some of thier mouths, we might easily conclude that the opinion of the guy at the bus stop has more value. Chuck Norris's recent screed on the recent school shootings is a perfect case in point.

Much of the criticism of society from the religious right follows the same pattern: take any tragedy that occurs and, without any kind of data or cross cultural analysis, proclaim that if everyone would simply believe as they do, said problem would disappear. Their thought process models exactly the lunatic who tells you to wear a tinfoil hat to avoid the sickness rays of the aliens, and then when you do get sick, proclaims "I told you so". And of course, never mind that he gets sick too.

With that perspective in tow, take in Chuck Norris' brilliant analysis of the school shootings:

"As I've said in different ways in different settings, we teach our children they are nothing more than glorified apes, yet we don't expect them to act like monkeys. We place our value in things, yet expect our children to value people. We disrespect one another, but expect our children to respect others. We terminate children in the womb, but are surprised when children outside the womb terminate other children. We push God to the side, but expect our children to be godly. We've abandoned moral absolutes, yet expect our children to obey the universal commandment, 'Thou shall not murder.' As James Madison once wrote, 'Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as the abuses of power.'"

Gee, where do we start? How about noting all the countries in Europe and elsewhere who want little to do with Norris' god and its moral absolutes, who teach evolutionary science unapologetically, and who have safe legal abortion, and yet have nowhere near the kinds of problems with violence that we do? We might also remind Chuck that the nobel ape does not kill it's own at near the proportions we do, especially compared to the murder rates of the pious. Morally speaking, they should be offended at being compared to us, not the other way around. Norris is experiencing ape hatred.

And just where does Norris get the idea that "Thou shall not murder" is a universal commandment? Yahweh had Moses and his merry band murder by the thousands, and that was after Yahweh asked Abraham to murder his own son, and of course let's not forget Yahweh murdering every non-Noahan on the planet, and finally, having his own son murdered to pay a blood price Yahweh set up in the first place. Yahweh would get along well with that character from Dark Angelwho chants "I come in peace" while murdering everyone in sight. What's next, a person whose fortune and fame were made from committing, or pretending to commit, multiple acts of violence calling for nonviolence?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sadr's Extended Cease Fire, and what it means for Coalition Fatalities

While we are all happy that the death toll from Iraq has declined, giving all the credit to The Surge may be a bit off the mark given the influence of al-Sadr's cease fire, which has now been extended for six months. Over at Thoughts from Kansas, Joshua has a geat chart showing the deaths over time, complete wth various regressions, including ones for post-surge and post-cease fire. The regression for the post-cease fire is a better fit than the one for post-surge, which indicates the reduction in deaths is due more to the cease fire. As some commenters have also noted, just what might we be doing to encourage this behavour from al-Sadr, and what that might cost us in the long run, remain to be seen. There's a call for optimism here, but an even stronger one for caution.

2008 Presidential Election Preview

For those curious as to what the 2008 Presidential Election might look like, it is important to remember (think Al Gore 2000) that it is electoral votes that matter, not popular vote. For a preview of how the electoral votes might fall, check out this site with recent polls by state for various hypothetical matchups. As of their 2/20/08 polls the results would be as follows:

Obama - 274
McCain - 253

Of course there are always margins of errors in these polls (think New Hampshire), so to get a feel for the robustness of these results, I took out all the states where the margin was 5% or less and categorized them as "Up for Grabs". Those results are:

Obama - 267
McCain - 218
Up for Grabs - 53

So it looks like an uphill climb for McCain, but there is a lot of time left, what with the assignment of the vice presidential candidates, as well as Obama officially sealing up the Democratic nomination.

Oh, and for those still holding out hope for Hillary, she matched up with McCain as follows:

McCain - 327
Clinton - 176

This puts Republicans in an odd situation. If they really want McCain to win, they need to root for a miraculous comback by Hillary. Now THAT'S cognative dissonance.

Prager, Assertions, Love, and Homophobia

Homphobia is a very interesting psychological ailment. It can inflict the most well-meaning, otherwise sane, polite and loving person, and cause him to be unable to see any reality that falls outside his preconceived notions of romance, love, and sex. Dennis Prager's recent article about love is a perfect example.

Prager, like so many of the pious who cannot defend their outdated social views with any science, is a master of the unsupported assertion. "State it and it will be true" seems his credo. How else can one explain comments like this:

"The love relationship between a man and a woman is unique. There is no love like it for two primary reasons: First, it is the love of equals -- all other love relationships (except same-sex friends) are between unequals. Second, it is sexual."

One can be forgiven if one rereads that paragraph 10 times trying to find the catch. The love between man and woman is a love between equals, but say, a love between homosexual men isn't? This strains credulity to say the least. How can a love between radically genetically different beings be one of equals, but love between beings far more alike not be? The fact that Prager includes same-sex friends as equals exacerbates the point. Does Prager simply deny the existence of homosexuals? Or is he claiming tacitly that they cannot have love relationships?

Added to the mess of an assertion is that the religious institutions that Prager so consistently defends make a point of saying that women are NOT equal to men, lacking the authority to teach over them per the Bible, and being refused the higher positions in most of the churches.

His second point, that the man/woman relationship is sexual, only makes his omission of homosexuals that much more glaring. This is typical of Prager, and of so-called religious thinkers: merely assert things that are either absurd (men-woman relationships are of equals) or obvious (that they are sexual) and pretend it is some grand insight. One might as well prattle on about how the crucial issue with regard to Jesus was whether he was indeed God. Perhaps Prager will clear this up.

"Because it is the only love relationship between equals (again except for friends), it is the only relationship in which it is a good thing to seek to be loved. In other relationships, it is bad to seek to be loved. Parents who seek to be loved by their children will inevitably do a poor job as a parent. They may even damage their child. Leaders who seek to be loved by the public will be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. One can only lead if he does not yearn to be loved. A teacher who tries to be loved by her students will likewise fail. Parents, leaders, teachers have jobs to do, and seeking to be loved compromises their ability to do those jobs properly. They should seek to do the right thing, and doing the right thing often means being not loved, even hated. If they seek any response from those they lead, it should be respect, not love. "

Assertion, assertion, assertion. Where is the evidence, nay, even any ad hoc reasoning, to support any of these contentions? Again, where are the homosexuals in all this? Further, why doesn't seeking to be loved in man-woman relations, or among friends, cause people to be ineffectual in those roles as well? What is Prager's explanation?

"But in the love of equals -- i.e., the love between a man and a woman and the love of friends -- it is not only all right to seek to be loved, it is a good thing. Taking the love of a spouse or friend for granted is perhaps the single greatest cause of marital divorce and the breakup of friendships. "What can I do to ensure his/her continuing love?" is a wonderful thing to keep in mind.

But seeking to be loved is not the same as taking the love of someone else for granted. This should be obvious, but apparently to Prager it is not. Could he be twisting logic into a pretzel and saying it is OK to seek to be loved in these circumstances because one's mate should not take your love for granted? Apparently.

The rest of his article is equally contentless, logic-free, and completely homophobic in its tacit presumption that homosexuals do not exist. As I have asked previously, what planet does this man live on, and why do people on this planet give him forums to display such gibberish?

Mary Graber: Another Conservative Ignoramus Against Evolution

You really have to admire the uniformity of rightwing resistence to evolution. No matter how learned a person might be on other matters, if they are a conservative these days, one can see denial of evolutionary theory coming as sure as the next sunrise, and with all the same flawed reasoning and ignorance of the facts. It will be interesting to see, as the evidence for evolution continues to pour in over time, whether conservatives like Mary Graber will stick to their ignorant positions like this:

"Pundits are now having a field day attacking Mike Huckabee’s stance on evolution. Democratic strategist Paul Begala reportedly remarked on CNN on Super Tuesday, “Nobody is more conservative than Huckabee. He doesn’t believe in evolution or gravity or photosynthesis.” Those who love to lob such oversimplified charges imply that those who do not accept the doctrinaire theories of evolution as set forth by one explorer named Charles Darwin, a century-and-a-half ago, are relics of the Dark Ages."

No Mary. It is those who think the content of modern evolutionary theory was set forth by Charles Darwin in a doctrinal manner that are relics of the Dark Ages. Darwin lived in a time where the earth was considered millions of years old, the sun was thought to burn itself out relatively soon, and things like DNA and atoms were unknown. It is because Darwin's theories, like all science, were NOT doctrinaire, that we (well some of us anyway) understand the world so much better than he did. For people like you to imply that science has simply marched in lock step with Darwin's theories as if he were a god, despite the evidence, is projection at its finest, and intellectual dishonesty at its worst.

Speaking of intellectual dishonesty, that describes most of Graber's column, which focuses on Clarence Darrow, the defense attorney in the famous Scopes trial. Creationists and their supporters are under the impression that if they can slander the promoters of a view, say by associating Darwin with Hitler, that that somehow will cause the view to fall out of scientific favor. This, along with doctrinairal adherance, may be the norm in religious circles, and indeed aptly explains that arena's intellectual stagnation. However, science simply does not work that way. Evolution is true, whether Darwin or Darrow be Sinner or Saint, and as a consequence, 90% of her article is entirely irrelevant to the issue, and I dismiss it as such, while focusing on her gross errors such as this:

"Similarly, in the play, Darwin is presented as a bold thinker, a daring scientist, whose new, daring truths frighten Bible-thumpers. But what Darrow and Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (authors of the play) and most promoters of Darwinism don’t know is that the “bold” and “new” theory of evolution was being promoted more than 2,000 years ago by the Roman philosopher Lucretius. "

Apparently Graber is among the critics of science that don't seem to understand that it is not a religious exercise, where Truth (tm) is handed down, complete and perfect, all in one swoop. Ideas get their birth, often crudely and generally as intellectual musings (Lucretius), gain some specificity and clarity to become scientific hypotheses (Darwin, Wallace), and then, upon passing a plentitude of rigorous testing (the last 150 years that she apparently missed), become solid scientific theory. I suppose she would dismiss Einstein because Newton got 99% of the naure of motion correct before Einstein came along. Science progresses, one step at a time. Darwin may not have originated the idea, but he did give it a giant step forward.

And what would a rightwing bromide be without those cowardly scare quotes:

"In short, Weaver reveals that the two sides were arguing two different things, with Darrow’s side using rhetoric to promote the “fact” of evolution. As Weaver points out, rhetoric fulfills its function of persuasion only if the two sides agree on the “facts.”"

Well Mary, do you believe it to be a fact or don't you? It is cowardly to put scare quotes around the word "fact", implying it is not true, without being honest enough to make your case for it not being so. I will not be so cowardly. Evolution is a fact, and if you claim otherwise, you are, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently put it, either ignorant, stupid, dishonest, or wicked. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and go with dishonest. She makes that clear later, where she admits that she really doesn't care about what's true, but rather what she believes the social consequences of teaching various views is:

"What was at stake for communities in Tennessee was whether it was good that schoolchildren be taught that they descended from apes, rather than being made in God’s image."

I'll not waste time with the details of Graber's stale objections to evolution. They have been debunked since long before either of us was born. I will simply say this: our prisons are not exactly overflowing with scientists and the scientifically literate laymen, even accounting for their small relative numbers. But they are overflowing with people who believe they were made in God's image. Another fact to be ignored, eh?

"And that was what the Tennessee lawmakers objected to: the promotion of Darwin’s ideas as moral guidance."

Well good Mary, because we in the reality-based community don't want that either. We want modern evolutionary theory, including the small bits Darwin contributed, taught as science, not morality. Ms. Graber is attacking a very old, very lame, very dishonest, strawman. And yet her ignorance goes even farther:

"Euthanasia and infanticide, commonly accepted practices before Biblical times, illustrate most starkly Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” In 1925, the eugenics movement was catching on, especially among the progressive intelligentsia."

Darwin never used the term "survival of the fittest". He preferred "descent with modification", and for good reason. Evolutionary theory simply says that traits that survive to be passed on to future generations effect the general makeup of the species, and can accumulate over time. There is no target, no goal, nothing that can be "more" or "less" evolution. So traits passing down through a eugenics movement are no more, nor less, evolution, than anything else, unless one decides that humans are outside the realm of "nature", in which case eugenics resembles intelligent design far more than it does evolution.

Besides, if these practices were indeed common long before Darwin, how is it that he gets the blame for them? Is this one of those time anomalies like the predictions of the Intelligent Design crew that are made AFTER the fact? But then we all know Graber isn't interested in facts or she'd not have robbed us of the time it took to read her ignorant drivel. She nails this point home on her final comment:

"But like all scientific theories, the jury is still out on this one, as many learned proponents of intelligent design affirm. But that theory is not likely to get a fair hearing, as are not the moral ramifications and implications of a strict Darwinian view of humanity."

[Yawn] "Many" Mary? Since when is 0.1% (and I'm being kind) of scientists considered many? Did you flunk basic statistics as well as basic logic? Intelligent Design got its fair hearing, and flunked badly. It has no theory, no peer-reviewed work, no research, and 10 years after Darwin's Black Box, they are still saying EXACTLY the same things. Science it ain't. As for a Darwinian morality for society, the only one discussing such a thing here is you, so perhaps you should go argue with yourself. That would make the perfect metaphor for this mental masterbation of a column.

Friday, February 22, 2008

How do you spell Desperation? H-I-L-L-A-R-Y

There are a lot of Americans that absolutely hate Hillary Clinton. Just the mere mention of her name is enough to send them into fits. I have never been one of them. But after watching the good Senator from New York through this election season try every dirty, underhanded trick, from dancing on the edge of the rules in Michigan and Florida, to her mealy mouthed insinuations throughout the campaign, and now to the lowest of the low in accusing Obama of being a plagiarist, I must say I find it hard to remain "fair and balanced" towards Hillary. She seems to embody everthing that is wrong with American politics, a win-at-all costs mentality that sees power as an end in itself, and ethics as mere suggestions to be discarded at the first sign of difficulty. Rather than lose with class, she is failing in a classless, embarrasing display of pure unadulterated egomania.

It looks like Hillary's ride has finally ended, we Texans are going to end it, and we can finally have some Clinton-free politics. Good riddence.

Bush to Pakistan: Have democracy, but only if you vote a certain way?

We all want Democracy in the Middle East. Or do we?

You see, when people vote, there is no guarantee they are going to vote the way we want them to. Witness Hamas' electoral success. Too many, President Bush among them, seem to be under the impression that democratic elections will necessarily result in leaders more sympathetic to our way of seeing the world. Not so. People, any people, are going to vote for leaders that represent their way of thinking, and as Pakistan just demonstrated, that is often going to be the opposite of what we Americans might have in mind.

And what we absolutely positively cannot do is decide, after these countries have elections, that those elections aren't valid if they don't match with our desires. Yet this is exactly what President Bush is doing:

"The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid. U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, said this week that they think Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, should continue to play a role, despite his party's rout in parliamentary elections Monday and his unpopularity in the volatile, nuclear-armed nation."

Obviously this is not going over well with the newly elected leaders:

"In principle we have agreed to stay together," Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who leads her party, said at a news conference in Islamabad. "We have to support each other," echoed Sharif, seated beside him.

Zardari ... has not ruled out allowing Musharraf to serve out his five-year term as president. He appeared to indicate, however, that his party would not ally itself with the remnants of Musharraf's.

"We're not looking at pro-Musharraf forces" to help form a government, he said. "I don't believe pro-Musharraf forces exist."

This is a critical moment for the Bush administration, and indeed the whole world. We cannot oppose the rightfully elected leaders in a country simply because we wish someone else had won. This is especially true given our agenda of spreading democracy. If we come across as hypocrites, not only will it erode our support in Pakistan, it will make it that much more difficult to establish democracies in other nations. Like them or not, Pakistan has newly elected leaders, and our foreign policy will have to adjust to that.

Just What the Republicans need, another loony running for congress

Just what Republicans need to shore up their reputation, another loony running for congress:

"Republicans will have a contest to choose a challenger to Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., this year. Evansville resident Paul Abramson announced Monday that he will seek the GOP's nomination in the 18-county 8th District represented by Ellsworth.

Abramson is the founder and editor of, which promotes 'creation science' and calls evolution 'primarily a spiritual deception.'"

Way to thoroughly research your subject Mr. Abramson: two major errors in four words. Evolution is not spiritual, and it's not a deception. Oh well, I guess we can't expect all of our politicians to be up to speed on science, since their job is really to know the law.

"Abramson said he also would introduce a bill to require display of the Ten Commandments in federal courthouses."

[Sigh]. Ever hear of something called the First Amendment Mr. Abramson? I know you are busy being a hypocrite for Christ and all, but before you get all morally superior on us, perhaps you should go back and review those commandments, particularly #9, you know, the one about bearing false witness.

Let's hope Indiana sends this yahoo packing. America needs to look forward, not back.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another IDer takes on the NAS, demonstrates ignorance of science.

Just when you thought the Discovery Institute had hit it's lowest point, here comes Cornelius Hunter to spell out explicitly, just how ignorant of science they are. In his criticism of the new NAS science booklet he shows once again that they have no understanding of the scientific process, and instead desperately try to drown it in pseudointellectual philosophical prattle because of science's limits in dealing with predictable naturalistic explanations, as the guidelines spell out:

"In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena. Natural causes are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations. (p. 10)"

Now this should not require much explanation. Spectral forces, as they were called several hunred years ago, were forbidden from courts for very practical reasons. They could not be examined, or cross examined, or disproven. There is no way to confirm or deny that God said "X", or a demon made me do it. That is not to say that there aren't gods or demons. It just means that until they are understood suffciently to be able to make predictions based on them that can be confirmed or falsified, they cannot be used as evidence. That goes for science, as for law. But for some reason creationists can't seem to grasp this very simple basic point, and instead ramble on like this:

"Evolutionists have always been dogmatic about naturalism. They believe that science must, in principle, be absolutely constrained to naturalistic explanations. This is a philosophical position — there is no scientific evidence that could make evolutionists think twice.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Scientists (not "evolutionists", a dishonest term made up by creos) are pragmatic about methodological naturalism, not dogmatic. It works, plain and simple. It has proven itself in the remarkable progress humanity has made since its inception as the standard method of inquiry. Notice that while the creationists whine about MN, they have nothing of substance to offer in its place, no guidelines for how to deal with and test for unpredictable entities, no way to discover error, and most tellingly, no accomplishments of their own using alternative methods. Science not constrained to falsifiable naturalistic explanations would become as impotent as the conjectural prattlings of the creationists.

Claiming this as philosophical position not amenable to scientific evidence is just more equivocating from the creationists. When they, or anyone, produces workable theories with reproducable falsifiable data using some other epistemological method, then their criticisms will have some weight. Until then they sound like the football fan who never played the game screaming that his team would win if only they'd use his strategy he devised while playing Madden 2008.

But creationists do not understand the concept of falsifiabile testing, as Hunter's criticisms reveal:

Like the creationist who mandates a particular interpretation of the scientific evidence (according to scripture), the evolutionist also mandates a particular interpretation of the scientific evidence (according to naturalism). All explanations must be thoroughly and completely naturalistic, no matter how contorted those explanations become.

Nonsense. Religion is about interpretation. Science is about hypothesizing and TESTING. This is the part the creos always conveniently leave out of these little diatribes. Scientists make predictions and then TEST those predictions. They say "my theory predicts if we dig over there we will find a fossil of an animal that is between an amphibian and a land walking animal", and then they go dig and see if they find it, as they did with Tiktaalik. They either find it or they don't, there is no interpretation, no "forcefitting to preconceived notions, none of that nonsense. This is projection, plain and simple.

Hunter then goes on to wallow in another creationist quagmire, their inability to understand tentative and incomplete views.

"For instance, how did life evolve? The booklet explains that there are no consensus hypotheses for this remarkable event, and that evolutionists are searching a variety of ideas. "Researchers have shown how this process might have worked," write the authors. For "if a molecule … could reproduce … perhaps with the assistance … it could form … if such self-replicators … they might have formed … could lead to variants" and so forth. (p. 22) The evidence for the origin of life is packed with question marks."

Of course it is you jackass. Would you prefer scientists speak with religious certainty despite not having the evidence to do so? Reality is quite a bit more messy and complicated than your simple tales of everything in the world appearing in a puff of smoke via the whim of a mysterious supreme being. Sometimes "if"s and "could"s are the best we have.

While this certainly is true, scientists also need to evaluate theories according to what is known. We can always hope our favorite theories will be saved by future findings, but this is no substitute for accurate theory evaluation according to the known data. It is simply misleading and irresponsible to state that it is a scientific fact that life evolved from non-living chemicals.

I don't see anyone saying it is a fact that such occurred. But given the evidence to date, it is the best explanation we have, and the contrary evidence offerred by creationists amounts to a giant goose egg of wishful thinking based on 2,000 year old parchments. Hunter cannot accept this however, and continues to lie about the process of scientific investigation:

While some legitimate evidences are presented, the booklet repeatedly presents speculations and interpretations according to the theory as strong evidences for the theory. And it consistently ignores the many negative evidences.

Wrong, and wrong. The booklet presents verified experiments according to the theory as strong evidences. They are NOT speculations and interpretations. The claim Hunter would have you believe, that there must have been a supreme intelligence that made the first life, THAT is a speculation. And there are no negative evidences. There are unanswered questions, but that is not negative evidence. A question answered wrong would be, but no one in Hunter's little pseudoscientific cabal can produce any.

But that obviously won't stop them from repeating these lies and distortions of what scientists do ad nauseum.

Salute! Navy Shoots Down Dying Spy Satellite

Congratulations to the U.S. Navy for it's spectacular success in shooting down the dying spy satellite.

The USS Lake Erie, armed with an SM-3 missile designed to knock down incoming missiles — not orbiting satellites — launched the attack at 10:26 p.m. EST, according to the Pentagon. It hit the satellite about three minutes later as the spacecraft traveled in polar orbit at more than 17,000 mph.

Because the satellite was orbiting at a relatively low altitude at the time it was hit by the missile, debris will begin to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere immediately, the Pentagon statement said.

"Nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days," it said.

The use of the Navy missile amounted to an unprecedented use of components of the Pentagon's missile defense system, designed to shoot down hostile ballistic missiles in flight — not kill satellites.

Of course, the motivations for shooting down the satellite went beyond protection of life and property, as it no doubt contained information we'd rather not fall into enemy hands. But there is nothing wrong with a little motivated self-interest, and our fighting men and women deserve a big salute for a job well done on this one.

Religious School refuses to allow female referee, burkas are next

For everyone who thinks the debates on religion are so much academic fluff, and how the REAL religion people practice in the REAL world is so different from what all we mean and nasty atheists criticize, take a gander at this story about a school official who prevented a basketball team from participating in a game because one of the referees was [gasp] a WOMAN!

"The Kansas State High School Activities Association said referees reported that Michelle Campbell was preparing to officiate at St. Mary's Academy near Topeka on Feb. 2 when a school official insisted that Campbell could not call the game.

The reason given, according to the referees: Campbell, as a woman, could not be put in a position of authority over boys because of the academy's beliefs.

The Activities Association said it is considering whether to take action against the private religious school. St. Mary's Academy, about 25 miles northwest of Topeka, is owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X, which follows older Roman Catholic laws. The society's world leader, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in the late 1980s.

St. Mary's Academy officials declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"This issue was going to come up eventually," said Campbell, 49, a retired Albuquerque, N.M., police officer who now lives in Ozawkie, Kan. "I just happened to be the person who was there this time.

"It's kind of a sticky situation. It needs to be looked at carefully, slowly, with all the facts."

All the facts are that we have yet another group of bigoted nutcases hiding behind religion to act it out. Again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ben Shapiro: Fake Political Analyst

Just when I thought the Republican MSU machine had hit rock bottom, along comes Ben Shapiro to prove me wrong. Sadly for Ben, it's the only thing he proves in this pathetic impersonation of a political analyst.

In it, he claims Barak Obama is a fake, and is having people perform staged faints at rallies. For what purpose? Who knows, Shapiro doesn't say. His evidence? Well, this really has to be read to be believed:

"At no less than six of Obama's recent rallies, fans have reportedly fainted. Those incidents were caught on video or audio. In each, Obama -- who never even thinks to put down the microphone or ask a campaign aide to take care of the matter -- narrates to the crowd as medical volunteers show up to minister to the stricken. In two of the videos, he picks up a bottle of water and offers it to the poor, overcome admirers."

But wait there's more? Nope, sorry, that's it. Ben Shapiro, based on the fact that Obama doesn't put down the microphone, but does offer a bottle of water a couple of times, concludes that six faints, out of doubtles dozens of such rallies, are staged. I know. I'm still scratching my head over it too. I wonder if Shapiro believes 9/11 was an inside job and that the moon landing was a hoax too, because the evidence for those goofy theories exceeds his "fake fainting" theory by orders of magnitude.

To show how mindnumbingly moronic Shapiro's analysis is (and I'm being kind calling it that), consider what it would have looked like if Obama had done as Shapiro suggests. Would this have made it look more realistic? Hell no. Obama making a big ordeal over it by freaking out and dropping the mike - THAT would look staged. Obama's reaction is what most anyone in that situation would do that wasn't a polished politician numbed to such things.

Let's be clear: in large groups crushed together, over long periods of time, in heat, and with a lack of available water, as is often the case in events like this, fainting is commonplace. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if there were many such fainting events that Obama didn't even notice, and at events for other politicians as well (including Republicans). I have personally witnessed several such fainting events at outdoor rock concerts that were less crowded, and less energetic, than some of Obama's rallies look to be. Love him or hate him, there is no denying the fervor with which his followers cheer him on. The fervor + heat = fainting theory is hardly radical or new.

Funny though, having watched most of Obama's major speeches over the course of the campaign, I've never seen such a fainting incident. Perhaps that is because I've just seen the ones at the major events, where sun, shortages of water, and the presence of A/C, are less of an issue. Of course, if Obama was going to fake a fainting incident to maximize media coverage, wouldn't he do it at these huge events rather than some of these rinky dink ones to which Shapiro refers? (see the video link below) Nah, don't confuse Ben with the facts, or logic. He's got a conspiracy theory to weave, and shit to make up.

Shapiro instead rambles on about pheromones, Pamela Anderson's breasts, and pedophiles (interesting choices, dontcha think?), and then spends half his article on an analogy of Obama and JFK, as if analogies prove anything. Obviously Shapiro didn't do too well in logic class. But in straining to condemn Obama via JFK he reveals his bias in screaming bold for all to see, with this humdinger from La La land:

"JFK never shied away from debating Nixon -- Obama refuses to take on Hillary, knowing he'll be cut to pieces."

Uh...what? Hello, Mr. Shapiro, Earth calling. The Democrats have had more debates than I can remember, and can stand to watch, and no doubt more than you can count, and in several Obama whipped Hillary's bulbous behind, most prominently, the one where they were one-on-one. I guess Shapiro was down in his bomb shelter for that one. For Shapiro to claim Obama is ducking Hillary he has to be either: 1) Blind, 2) on the Clinton payroll, or 3) a bold-faced fucking liar. I leave it to the readers to decide which, if not all, it is.

Or perhaps it is just sheer, unadulterated jealousy. Take this comment from his closing, and revealing, remarks:

"Obama is inauthentic. His creepily similar responses to the fainting incidents are too identical to be spontaneous. The rash of swooning, star-struck supporters at Obama's speeches smacks of insincerity. "

First, I invite anyone to view the videos for themselves to see if Obama's responses are identical. In only two does he offer water, in one he directs a paramedic from the crowd to move to the scene, and his wording is different in each. Further, two of the events are outside in the sun, and in two of the indoor ones people can be seen in the background fanning themselves with their posters. Gee, people fainting in the heat, IT'S A CONSPIRACY!

Yet to Shapiro, having star-struck supporters getting a little too excited about their candidate smacks of insincerity. Could that simply be because it has been a long time since anyone on Shapiro's side of the aisle has had a candidate worth getting that excited over, and this year is one of the more stark examples? Shapiro might be one of these guys that thinks everyone who beats him at poker is cheating, and every girl who turns him down for a date is a lesbian. Perhaps he just doesn't take defeat too well, and he sees it coming in spades. Well Benny ol' pal, you'd better get used to the idea, because if your embarrasing conspiracy theories are the best the Republicans have to throw at Obama, you are in for a whole lot of defeat, on the order of Clinton over Dole. Obama isn't the fake here Shapiro. You are.

I Wish Every Suit was this Empty

You could almost see them all clap their hands and yell "BREAK!". No sooner had Barak Obama taken the lead for the Democratic party nomination for president then suddenly, all at once, Republicans and their supporters started implying that Obama is all talk and no substance. His talk of hope is a "slogan", according to John McCain, or a superficial gimmick, or worse yet, a slick, smiling, substance-free empty suit who is selling snake oil.

If this is the Republican strategy, it is going to be a dark gloomy November for the pachaderms. Their charges have as little substance as they claim Obama has. They sound like the creationists that chant "scientists have found no missing links" as if stating the thing made it so. The strategy is the same: When the facts tell a different story than you want, ignore them, or deny their existence. Obama actually has quite a bit of substance, which is why some of the more honest Republicans complain that he is too liberal. Perhaps those that think him contentless should debate those that think he is too liberal. Those that think both, well, they can't be helped.

Perusing the legislation Obama has been involved in: prevention of nuclear proliferation, making government information such as contracts, and who is getting them, available to the public in order to reduce waste, cronyism and fraud, avian flu, homelessness among veterans, and integrity in elections are hardly lightweight issues. If Republicans pretend that they are, and have McCain say little else about them, they'll have a rerun of Clinton/Dole, with a young agile Democrat clobbering an old Republican chanting outdated slogans of his own.

Victory in Florida: for now

The Florida Board of Education met on the new science standards and decided on wording that may begin the slow process of educating the populace about evolution and science. The evolution deniers kept claiming evolution was being taught as a fact rather than a theory, so in a good example of malicious obediance, the board decided to make sure to always refer to evolution as "the scientific theory of evolution", which is exactly what it is. But they didn't stop there. On page 74 of the standards we get this:


Standard 3: The Role of Theories, Laws, Hypotheses, and Models The terms that describe examples of scientific knowledge, for example: “theory,” “law,” “hypothesis” and “model” have very specific meanings and functions within science….

Explain that a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer…."

I'd say that is an excellent summation of what "theory" means in science. But here's the good part. Rather than battle over whether "theory" was applied to evolution, the Board took a cue from Ken Miller and applied the term to ALL the sciences. Thus, the children will be taught about the "scientific theory of cells", the "scientific theory of atoms", the "scientific theory of plate techtonics" and so forth.

I know it is a little optimistic, but it would be great if this led to other school boards following suite and making "scentific theory" a common phrase in science classrooms. Then cries of "but it's only a theory" will more often get the appropriate response that scientific theory is a whole different animal. Way to go Florida.

Leatherback Marathon

So you think you are a a strong swimmer? Scientists tracked a leatherback turtle from Indonesia to Oregon and back to Hawaii. That's 13,000 miles, all just for food.

The 9 foot turtles, largest in the world, are facng extinction. The reduction of their natural food sources forces them to forage further and further, exposing them to more and more hazards. Many are caused by humans, such as ingesting debris like plastic, to traveling through areas that are used by multinational fisheries.

Because these powerful swimmers travel all over the Pacific, and that there are estimated only 5,000 females left, it will take an international effort to save the endangered species, which could be extinct in the next 30 years if nothing is done.

"It will be the responsibility of many countries to ensure the species survives in the Pacific Ocean for future generations," said Scott Benson of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service in California . "It's an animal that doesn't recognize international boundaries. You can protect the nesting beaches but if you can't protect the animal in the water, you haven't done anything."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michelle Malkin on Talk Radio

There are few voices in the politicosphere more shrill and irrational than Michelle Malkin. In some ways she, even more than Ann Coulter, represents everything that has gone wrong with American politics in general, and the Republican party in particular. Her recent screed defending talk radio is a perfect example, as it contains all the bromides of Dittohead nation:

"Outraged that conservative talk radio has succeeded in the marketplace while liberals have bombed, and unnerved that new media outlets have upended mainstream journalism's monopoly apple cart, liberals have long crusaded against the medium."

Having been a caller and guest on talk radio on several occasions, I can testify to one inexorable fact about talk radio. Brevity is king. If you can't express yourself in 10 seconds or less, you are doomed. What this does is effectively ban any idea or position that takes some time to explain. Complicated positions will lose to simple ones every time in such a forum, regardless of which is better supported logically and factually. And which side of the American political spectrum has the simpler positions? Why the conservatives of course:

Economics: Lower taxes
Science: God did it
Geopolitical conflict: War
Teen pregnancy: Just say no
Drug use: Just say no

One promoting a thoroughly modern economic program, or modern evolutionary theory, or a strategy for war leading to peace that takes into account all the societal nuances (like that whole Shiite/Sunni thang), or a program for dealing with the realities of sex and drug use, hasn't a chance on such a forum.

Conversely, those offering such simplistic nonsense as Malkin supports have no chance in the open written forums of the blogosphere, and just as surely, get their asses handed to them on a regular basis on such forums, at least where they allow comments to their posts. And not coincidentally, it is conservatives like Bill O'Reilly and the Discovery Institute that are far more likely to disallow comments than are liberal sides. I have yet to see a liberal blog that did not allow comments. The blogosphere is choking on the conservative ones that do.

So it's real simple. People like Malkin dominate talk radio because it is the only forum where reasoned, factually based refutations of their simplistic nonsense simply cannot be elucidated (that means "stated" for all you Malkin fans reading this).

Malkin then goes on to make one of those asinine comparisons over long spans of time that politicos on both sides of the political spectrum are too eager to do. I call it "The Who's a Bigger Hypocrite Game". It goes like this: Members of political group A once supported position X, yet those same A's are now supporting position Y, and I claim X and Y are contradictory (they never are), therefore the A's... Well, they never really complete the argument, because like so many comments made by the Coulter crowd, they are really only half arguments, with little logic, and fleshing them out to their full conclusion would expose this irrationality, so better to leave the point hanging. A common example is "How can you be for abortion but against the death penalty". Observe Malkin as she defends conservative talk radio's attacks on John McCain against Republicans with the courage to call attention to it:

"These trash-talking GOP politicians and pundits had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their 'ego and power' to help kill Hillary Clinton's massive government health care takeover in 1994. They had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their 'ego and power' to galvanize support for the Republican revolution, two Bush presidential campaigns and the war in Iraq."

They didn't Michelle? And how, pray tell, do you know this? Did you take a survey of them? Or did you just follow the lead of too many conservatives these days and simply speculate rather than gather facts? A bit of thought will show it is clearly the latter. First, 1994 was 14 years ago. 14 years! The term for a house member is two years and for a senator it is six, and we've had quite a few incumbants bite the dust over those years. Malkin is implicitly assuming that the congressional roll has been constant over that time, when we know it has not, not by a long shot. Does Malkin cite even ONE specific congressman, and quote him changing his position? No, she does not. Why bother with facts that might overturn one's position when one can make shit up and hope no one notices? Sorry Michelle, I noticed.

Second, who says one cannot have a political philosophy that opposes Hillarycare, supports the Republican revolution, President Bush, and the Iraq war, and still opposes viscious personal attacks against John McCain? By what reasoning does Malkin determine that these positions are inherently contradictory? She offers none of course. She just tosses it out there as if it were self-evident, except for one very revealing snark:

"Were they nothing more than empty-talking hairdressers then? "

Yes Michelle, I hate to burst your bubble head, but they were, and you are. You don't disseminate information, and you sure as hell don't deal with facts. You simply make shit up, sort of like this:

"The Republican talk-radio bashers did start having problems when many national hosts harnessed popular grassroots opposition to help kill last year's Bush/McCain/Kennedy illegal alien amnesty bill. GOP Rep. Lindsey Graham dismissed them as 'loud folks.' In other words: They were making a difference. Then-Sen. Trent Lott lamented that right-wing talk-radio hosts were a 'problem.' In other words: They were effective. McCain's defenders have made common cause with the likes of ethnocentric, open-borders groups like La Raza in redefining all conservative talk-radio opposition as unacceptable 'hate' beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse.

In other words: They must be shut up. Bill Clinton approves."

Indeed Michelle, and so would George O. Orwellian indeed. In the true spirit of talk radio, Malkin reduces three opinions to four, count em, four words, and procedes to claim they really mean something else. This is conservative talk radio in a nutshell. Thanks Michelle for giving such a perfect example of why it deserves the criticisms it gets.

Oh, and btw, the surest way to tell a conservative has nothing intelligent to say is when they invoke the name of Bill Clinton, a man who hasn't been in the White House for 7 years now, whose presidential record is superior to the current officeholder's in every objectively measureable way but one (being impeached over lying about a blowjob), and yet whose name seems to end all conversation among conservatives as if he were Satan.

This is what passes for thought among Republicans these days. How pathetic. My loyal Republican grandfather of the century past is rolling over in his grave at what his party's become.

Egnor, O’Leary and Cowardly Pseudoscience Predictions

One of the most common, and piercing, critiques of Intelligent Design proponents is their unwillingness, or inability, to make testable, falsifiable predictions specific to their claims, using their theory. Two recent articles by Michael Egnor and Denyse O'Leary illustrate this problem.

Egnor waxes sophomorically about the brain and consciousness often. I shan't get into the details of brain function, that has been covered better by others more qualified than I. What caught my attention was this comment by Egnor:

"...dualists propose that the mind is in part caused by matter, and in part caused by something else. Mental causation is dual."

An interesting hypothesis, one worthy of study. Yet where in all Egnor's gibbering about materialism is a falsifiable specific prediction made by it? You won't find one. But you will find this:

"What is genuinely remarkable is what hasn't been found, and it's a real problem for materialism. "

This is the tell tale sign of a crank: refusing to discuss in detail one's own theory and instead attacking one's opponents. This is exactly what HIV denialists and global warming denialists do, and Egnor is true to form, rambling on speculatively about what has and has not been found in brain research to end on what he apparently considers a prediction that qualifies for what I'm searching:

"In fact, the inability to find a unique material cause adequate to completely account for each mental state is a fundamental prediction of dualism."

Sound familiar? It should. It is the close cousin of creationist claims that the inability to flesh out a step-by-step evolutionary pathway for the eye or the flagellum is a fundamental prediction of creationism. It has no more substance than "You couldn't prove your case to the nth degree, therefore hobgoblins exist." I could "prove" any manner of foolishness in similar manner.

Creationist cranks cannot seem to get it through their supposedly intelligently designed heads that one must predict what will be, not what will not be, to earn scientific muster.

Few illustrate this problem better than Denyse O'Leary, as her pathetic attempts to list ID predictions shows:

"1. No good theory will be found for a random origin of the universe, either by the Large Hadron Collider or anything else. The universe will consistently behave more like a great idea than a great machine."

A random origin of the universe? I never heard of anything like that in physics class. And just what does "behave like a great idea" mean? For a prediction to be scientific, it needs to be specific and objective, not some bit of pseudo poetry that can be molded to fit any preconception.

"Positive prediction: An end to unfalsifiable ideas about zillions of flopped universes and a focus on how we can best explore our own universe, as per The Privileged Planet."

An end to an idea is a positive prediction to Denyse.

"2. No good theory will be found for a random origin of life, though there will be plenty of huffing and puffing in favour of bad ideas. All theories that exclude purpose and design fail because they leave out the key driver - the purpose that life should come into existence."

"Good" here no doubt means "impressive to Michael Behe".

"Positive prediction: We will learn more about the real nature of our universe and our place in it, and how best we can explore it when we accept the fact that it didn't 'just happen.'"

Learn "more" than what Denyse? How is this to be objectively measured? And who, exactly, believes it "just happened"? No one I've ever read espoused such nonsense, well, except for creationists.

"3. Complete series of transitional fossils will not usually be found because most proposed series have never existed. Eventually, researchers will give up on ideologically driven nonsense and address the history that IS there."

There is a good reason scientists dont't phrase their theories in terms of what "usually" or "eventually" happens. One cannot falsify such claims, since "eventually", like "tomorrow", never comes.

"Positive prediction: Discovering the true mechanisms of bursts of natural creativity may be of immense value to us, especially if we need to undo some significant harm to our environment. "

MAY BE? That's worse than "usually".

The rest of her "predictions" follow the same pattern. They are cowardly pseudoscience pretending to be real science. There is not one prediction in any of her or Egnor's writings in the same league with the kinds of predictions scientists made when they found Tiktaalik right where they risked their time and efforts digging for it. Creationists simply do not understand science at the most basic level, which is, of course, why they do it so poorly.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kayaking with a Shark

When a scientist who takes a lot of photos says it is "the most amazing wildlife image I've ever seen", take notice. The guy looks like he's about to become shark food, but apparently he survived.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Florida Oranges and Looking forward to a Heavenly Death

Via Dispatches comes this gem of a quote from a creationist speaking at the Florida science standards debates.

"Now I have in my hand an orange. I was about to eat this orange yesterday, but before I did I sat down and read about this evolution stuff. I learned that this orange is actually my first cousin. I didn't want to eat the orange no more. So now I'm going to give it to you people on the committee, and you can eat it if you want. But if you do decide to eat it, it shows that you don't believe in this evolution either. And we shouldn't be teaching our kids something no one believes."

I wonder if he puts peanut butter on his oranges and bananas? It fun when all you have to do to win a debate is to let your opponent talk, and since that's all this took, I won't bother with the science side of this. But I will show how the speaker doesn't apply his argument consistently.

For example, good Christians believe they go to heaven after they die, and that paradise is far more pleasant than what we have here. So if I take a loaded gun and place it to your head and threaten to kill you, this is going to make you happy right? You'll be glad to be going to heaven, right? No? Then I guess you don't believe in this heaven either. And we shouldn't be teaching our kids something no one believes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Davescot unwittingly reveals why we must inquire as to the nature of the Designer

In yet another case of Intelligent Design proponents unknowingly destroying their own argument, Davescot blathers on about how one can make a "design inference" with regard to a change he made in a URL of an article that made the link not work:

"We all know that bits can flip at random in computer data from various causes just like they can flip at random in DNA from various causes. This wasn’t a complex mutation. A single letter changed. Yet the Darwinist STILL made a design inference. That’s the power of specification. The mutation that occured was specified in that it served a purpose. In this case it served to make the offensive article inaccessable from Uncommon Descent. Even with a very small level of complexity to work with the commenter successfully employed the concept of CSI - complex specified information - and reached a correct design inference.

Here we have classic "seeing what you want to see" reasoning. The design inference wasn't drawn from an analysis of purposefulness. Even completely random errors can serve a purpose, especially one that prevents a process like a link from functioning. For all we knew it was a simple typo.

What tipped people off here is what Davescot and the IDers have banned from the discussion: the nature of the designer. Those who drew the design inference did so based on extensive knowledge of the designer, in this case, that he's a clueless hack who is not above trying to censor or make access difficult to information that counters his arguments. Once one is aware of Davescot's distaste for the article, his history of memory hole use, and the fact that the typo in question was more than one key away from the correct one, one can easily and logically draw the conclusion that Davescot was monkeying around again. No pseudoscience of CSI was necessary.

This is similar to what archaeologists do when determining the uses of ancient tools. Their knowledge of the designers is crucial in their analysis. One cannot infer that a sick with bristle on the end is a toothbrush without first understanding the designers had teeth that needed cleaning. Likewise, a situation like that with Davescot could easily be interpreted as a simple error coming from another designer, whether it served a purpose or not.

It is also important to point out that despite the logic of the design inference drawn, it could easily be in error. There could simply be a mindless, nonpurposeful, cause for the perceived design, of which we are ignorant. One cannot draw a design inference based on one's inability to think of an alternative explanation. Yet this is exactly what the IDers ask us to do.

The hypocrites here are not scientists who make design inferences. That is so common it is passe'. The hypocrites are the ID proponents who insist they can draw reliable design inferences without knowledge of the designer, who is, of course, the Christian God, which is why they so desperately cling to the notion that we should not inquire into the nature of the designer. It gives their religious agenda away.

Bat Flight Preceded Bat Sonar

In more of that pathetic level of detail that scientists are so keen on, a recent fossil find shows that bat sonar came after bat flight. That makes intuitive sense to me (not that that's a requirement), since echolocution would be far more effective for a flying being than a walking or stationary one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Big shark

For those of you who enjoy large aquatic carnivores, check out this shark film.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abe Lincoln: Arch Liberal Traitor!

The next time you wonder why Abe Lincoln is held in such high esteem, consider his prophetic letter, as a congressman, to his long-time law partner William H. Herndon, explaining his opposition to the Mexican-American war.

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, -- 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent: I see it, if you don't.'

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood. "

A leader impoverishing his people in wars by invading countries suspected of planning an attack...sounds eerily familiar. I guess Lincoln was just another bleeding-heart liberal, and a traitor, and all the other idiotic names the pro-war crowd likes to hurl at anyone who dares question the wisdom of a war high in cost and low in tangible anyone possessing a lot of Haliburton stock anyway.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oreskes on Global Warming Denial

It's almost an hour long, but historian of science Naomi Oreskes gives an interesting talk on the history of the global warming denialist movement in America. In the first half of the talk she goes through the history of the issue as science, which went at least as far back as the 1930's, particularly showing confirmed predictions over the years. In the second half of the talk, she goes through the denialist groups and their tactics. Once again I was struck by the similarities in tactics between the global warming denialists and other forms of denialists, such as:

Use of outdated sources. She quips at one point that Fred Singer was challenging them using 500 year old science.

Use of fake experts - people with credentials, but in irrelevant fields.

Focusing on creating and sustaining controversy and doubt of science, rather than creating a full blown scientific alternative.

Making charges of bias and unfairness when a 50-50 time allotment is not given to a point of view held by less than 1% of the scientists.

Making their arguments, not in scientific journals, but in books and the popular press.

This is exactly what the evolution-deniers do, and once again it is no shock that there is great overlap in the two groups. Bill Dembski's Uncommon Descent site has times where it is as much global warming denialism as evolution denialism.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gambling Deal Classified

For anyone who still doubts the absurd abuse of executive privelege of the current administration, take a look at this article. A backroom deal to salvage a cowardly and ill-informed act of legislative interference in the lives of millions of law-abiding poker players warrants treatment as an item of national security? It'd be funny if it weren't real.

Berlinski Exposes the Insanity of ID

The Intelligent Design slide into insane crankery continues, as revealed by their glowing featuring of David Berlinski's reality-averse rantings. As usual, we can't help wondering whether people are deranged/stupid, or think their audience is, who would say things like this:

The idea that science is a uniquely self-critical institution is of course preposterous. Scientists are no more self-critical than anyone else. They hate to be criticized… Look, these people are only human, they hate criticism — me too. The idea that scientists are absolutely eager to be beaten up is one of the myths put out by scientists, and it works splendidly so they can avoid criticism.

Scientists are no more self-critical than anyone else? On what basis is this statement made? It sounds like plain old vanilla egalitarian ideology, unsullied by observations of the real world. All one need do to see the self-critical level of scientists compared to, say, alternative medicine/science practitioners, is look at their writings. Scientific writings are filled with qualifiers on their knowledge, corrections of errors, and vigorous debate over even the most extreme minutia. Read an alternative medicine journal, say one of energy massage, or a quack science/religion site like, oh I don't know, Uncommon Descent, and compare it to something like Panda's Thumb, and the differences are obvious. PT readers will tear into each other over the smallest disagreements, whereas intense debates are almost nonexistent in those other forums. Disagreement with cherished notions, such as who designed the designer, get you banned from the pseudoscience sites, not the science ones.

Now it is of course true that scientists are not eager to be criticized, but this is merely a straw man Berlinski introduces to have something easy to knock down. What makes science special, and what is responsible for much of its unparralleled epistemological success, is the willingness of its actors, not to be criticized, but to criticize each other.

We’re asking for standards of behavior that would be wonderful to expect but that no serious man does expect. A hundred years of fraudulent drawings suggesting embryological affinities that don’t exist — that’s just what I would expect if biologists were struggling to maintain a position of power in a secular democratic society. Let’s be reasonable… the popular myth of science as a uniquely self-critical institution, and scientists as men who would rather be consumed at the stake rather than fudge their data, is okay for a PBS special, but that’s not the real world; that’s not what’s taking place…

And who can argue with a man who thinks the drawings of Haekel, nearly 100 years dead, is relevant to a discussion of science today? Worse yet, Berlinski gets his facts wrong (I know, shocker). While Haeckel may have fudged his drawings, the embryonic affinities do exist, as photos of embryos clearly show, and his flaws and misdeeds are covered in textbooks precisely as flaws and misdeeds. If Berlinski thinks Haeckel is relevant to our discussion of modern biology today, it is he who is not dealing with the real world.

One of the reasons that people embrace Darwinian orthodoxy with such an unholy zealousness, is just that it gives them access to power. It’s as simple as that: power over education, power over political decisions, power over funding, and power over the media.

Conspiracy theories are the last refuge of cranks: when all the evidence goes against you, invent a conspiracy that suppresses evidence and keeps you down. Invent a motivation for all those people to be against you. Never mind that, as any practical analysis shows in minutes, such a conspiracy would collapse rather quickly were someone to attempt to form one, whether it be to fake a moon landing, or evolution. Berlinski apparently forgot his economics lessons on cartels, which can survive only if there is little to be gained from breaking from the group, and knowledge and a control mechanism for the group to keep would-be scabs from breaking ranks. An intellectual cartel on evolution could not survive because there is too much to be gained in fame and fortune for the hypothetical scientist who could overturn evolution with evidence, for him to choose silence. That and never mind the millions of us that recognize the truth of evolution and receive no economic benefit or power from doing so at all.

"…appraising Darwinian theory in the context that realistically portrays it for what it is: a kind of amusing 19th century collection of anecdotes that is utterly unlike anything you see in the serious sciences… Yeah, biologists do agree that this is the correct theory for the origin and diversification of life — BUT, here are some points you should consider as well: 1) the theory doesn’t have any substance to it, 2) it’s preposterous, 3) it’s not supported by the evidence, 4) the fact that biologists are uniformly in agreement could as well be explained by some solid Marxist interpretation of their economic interests."

Doesn't have any substance to it? The man is truly daft. Evolution says my ancestors, were I to travel far enough back in time, were not much like me, certainly not what we'd call human, and yet over time the accumulation of changed and selected traits produced me. To say there is no substance there is again to thumb one's nose at reality. For the ID folks to trumpet this pathetic, ignorant denialism reveals just how desperate for supporters they are. For their expert to wave away 150 years of experimental data as "preposterous" again shows just what sort of fantasy world they occupy. Finally, biologists are not in uniform agreement, as the creationists are eager to point out every chance they get. The debates on evo-devo, neutral drift, junk DNA, and other aspects of evolution are debated endlessly. Berlinski is again simply denying reality.

When people haven’t been criticized in a long time they react with a great deal of indignation when they’re criticized for the first time. It’s human nature. Put yourself in the position of a Daniel Dennett or a Richard Dawkins who are used to being the regnant priests of a powerful orthodoxy, and for the first time in their lives someone says, “Hey, you guys are simply not credible.” Of course they’re going to react with outrage and indignation, hurl imprecations at others, resort to objurgations…

What they are indignant about, of course, is not that they are criticized, but that they are criticized by ignoramuses who don't understand evolution, have not examined the evidence, have obvious religious motives for their views, and most important of all, have never produced any evidence of their own. Would a carpenter be indignant to get criticism of his building? For sure if it came from someone who had never built anything in his life, quoted opinions of carpenters who lived hundreds of years ago as authorities on what designs and materials should be used now, and didn't understand even the basics of carpentry. This is the IDer/creationists in a nutshell, and Berlinski is a shining example.

Let's hope the IDers continue to put such obvious cranks at the forefront of their sociopolitical movement. It will help speed their inevitable demise.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

John McCain supports intelligent design?

Is John McCain a creationist? It sure looks like it from this article:

McCain told the Star that, like Bush, he believes "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.

It’s old, but the thumbscrews should be put to him on this. The first question of the first debate in the general election ought to be "Senator McCain, you've stated that 'all points of view' should be made available to students studying the origins of mankind. Aside from the mainstream scientific theory of evolution, what other points of view do you think need to be taught?". Then when he tries to weasel out of it by saying something vague like "we were put here by God", he should be asked a followup like "So you mean children should be taught that one moment there was nothing, and the next moment a man appeared as if by magic?"

If he wants the religious crazy vote, then let him earn it by stating their ridiculous positin publicly and unambiguously.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Mike Adams asks Feminists to Convert to Christianity: this is NOT Satire

Yet again we get from the Christian Right another argument that reads like satire. Mike Adams thinks feminists should convert to Christianity. His reasons are, well, amusing, to say the least.

"There was a time when the important question of “when life begins” was in dispute. Now that films like “In the Womb” have become widely available to the public, visual evidence forces reasonable people to answer that question by moving further and further back towards the moment of conception. I believe that since conception is the moment when one’s genetic endowment is established, that is when one’s life begins.

OK Mike, it's fine and dandy that you believe that. But you see, your choice of the genetic endowment line as the moment (which really isn't a "moment" at all) when life begins is completely arbitrary, and thoughtful people might disagree. Many of us, for example, have decided that genetics is not enough. Sure a zygote potentially could become a walking, talking person, but then again so could a hair follicle. And since few would argue for rights for a "person" with no brain, and thus no desires, and no ability to feel pain, many of us are pretty comfortable with the idea that life begins when one's brain forms.

But, of course, for feminists, the debate on abortion involves more than just the question of when life begins. It also involves the question of whether there is a right to life once it begins. Fortunately, our Founding Fathers settled that issue long ago by stating the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Um, no Mike, aside from psychopaths there is no discussion of whether there is a right to life once it begins. I know it would be the death of you to actually accurately represent your opponents' position, but you could at least humour us once in a while.

That this view of the sanctity of life was inspired by the Bible is now lost among many self-proclaimed liberals.

It's lost on us because it obviously isn't true. There is little sanctity of life to be found in the Bible. Moses and his merry band roamed murderously for 40 years with Yahweh's blessing, nay orders for same. God asked Abraham to murder his own son. The old testament lists quite a few crimes for which the punishment was death. Further, when life is mentioned in the old testament, it is associated with the taking of the first breath. It says nothing whatever about the moment of conception. Nada.

Much of that has to do with the work of propagandists like Christopher Hitchens – a man who asserts falsely that Christians supported slavery until it became unprofitable. He ignores (intentionally, I believe) the contributions of Christians like William Wilberforce and John Wesley. Without them slavery’s demise would have been long delayed.

OK, time to brush up on our logic. The statement "Some X are A" is not refuted by a member of X that is not A. Of course Christians supported slavery, since nothing in the Bible opposes it. It doesn't come right out and say slavery is great, but there are Biblical rules governing disputes with slaves that assign a lesser punishment for crimes against them than against free people. Why does this have anything to do with feminists converting anyway? Because Adams is going to pull a favorite trick of Christian apologetics: anything good that Christianity touches is credited to Christianity:

"The Apostle Paul wrote in Galations 3:28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is a quote that planted a seed of sedition in Western culture, which makes it so easy to understand why Wilberforce did what he did. It also makes it difficult to understand the fierce anti-Christian rhetoric and actions of those who claim to be “liberals” and “human rights activists.”

A seed of sedition? Planted prior to about 1800 years of slavery? You've got to be joking. There is nothing in there about a right of liberty or happiness or property, just typically vague religious happy-talk. If anything, the phrase condones slavery, since it recognizes the distinction between free person and slave the same way it recognizes the difference between man and woman. They might be one in Christ, but here on earth they are not one at all.

"Before the Bible was written, women were deemed inferior to men throughout the world – just as they are today throughout the Islamic World. But the early Christian church stood up for women as no other institution had before. The church denounced divorce, incest, adultery, and polygamy. Christian men were expected to be devoted to one woman within the framework of lifelong marriage."

Sure, as long as the men were the head of the family, the women learned "in all silence and submission, Eve being deceived" and all that. Let's also not forget women could not and still cannot hold the highest offices in that church. And what is so great about denouncing divorce and denying a woman's ability to exit an abusive marriage? Adams is truly blinkered here.

"But, nowhere was the defense of women greater than in the early Christian opposition to abortion and infanticide. In the Roman Empire – not to mention China and India – female babies were sacrificed while the lives of male babies (seen as future warriors) were preserved. "

Let us remind Adams that the Bible promotes punishments for disobedient children of stoning and being deafened by having one's ear punctured with an awl. Christianity is hardly the place to look for enlightened views of childrearing.

Adams then reels off several non sequitors comparing feminist comments with supposed efforts of Christians in noble causes, as if that means anything. His completely lack of logic is best illustrated by this comment:

"While NC State’s Deb Luckadoo fights hard to impede the spread of Christianity, she simultaneously fights to promote homosexuality in a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Center. Meanwhile, many Christians – not just famous ones like Franklin Graham and George W. Bush – dedicate valuable time and resources to the global fight against AIDS, particularly in Africa."

Let us remind Adams that it is unprotected sex, not homosexuality, that helps spread AIDS. You know, its the same unprotected sex insisted on by Christian churches who fight against distributing condoms to those at risk for AIDS, thus exacerbating the problem. Let us also remind Adams that lesbians have the LOWEST rate of AIDS transmission of any group, so how can helping lesbians get comfortable with who they are conflict with the fight against AIDS? It doesn't, it's just another leap of illogic from the Religious Wrong.

Once again we see that these apoligists for Christianity are simply out of touch with reality. I await Adam's commentary on how blacks would be well served to join the KKK, and how vegetarians should frequent more steak restaurants, any day now.