Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ann Coulter Breaks Jaw, Quality of Political Discourse Skyrockets!

Apparently Ann Coulter's jaw was broken and had to be wired shut. It's so poetic it seems rigged, like a South Park episode writing itself. It's a festival of schadenfreude among thinking, honest people everywhere. To steal a phrase that was once all the rage, I've never seen people enjoying someone else's misfortune so much.

Joe Klein Gives A Nice, but Sad, Summary of Bush the Lesser

Joe Klein has a summary of Bush the Lesser's presidency that does a pretty good job noting the criticism, and yet sadness, many of us feel at the end of the 43rd presidency:

It is in the nature of mainstream journalism to attempt to be kind to Presidents when they are coming and going but to be fiercely skeptical in between. I've been feeling sorry for Bush lately, a feeling partly induced by recent fictional depictions of the President as an amiable lunkhead in Oliver Stone's W. and in Curtis Sittenfeld's terrific novel American Wife. There was a photo in the New York Times that seemed to sum up his current circumstance: Bush in Peru, dressed in an alpaca poncho, standing alone just after the photo op at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, with various Asian leaders departing the stage, none of them making eye contact with him. Bush has that forlorn what-the-hell-happened? expression on his face, the one that has marked his presidency at difficult times. You never want to see the President of the United States looking like that.

Indeed, we don't. Whatever we may think of our president, he is still our president, and we'd like him to portray confidence, vigor and intellect to the world, respected, and feared. Instead, we got this:

So I've been searching for valedictory encomiums. His position on immigration was admirable and courageous; he was right about the Dubai Ports deal and about free trade in general. He spoke well, in the abstract, about the importance of freedom. He is an impeccable classicist when it comes to baseball. And that just about does it for me. I'd add the bracing moment of Bush with the bullhorn in the ruins of the World Trade Center, but that was neutered in my memory by his ridiculous, preening appearance in a flight suit on the deck of the aircraft carrier beneath the "Mission Accomplished" sign. The flight-suit image is one of the two defining moments of the Bush failure. The other is the photo of Bush staring out the window of Air Force One, helplessly viewing the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. This is a presidency that has wobbled between those two poles - overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence.

The latter has held sway these past few months as the economy has crumbled. It is too early to rate the performance of Bush's economic team, but we have more than enough evidence to say, definitively, that at a moment when there was a vast national need for reassurance, the President himself was a cipher. Yes, he's a lame duck with an Antarctic approval rating - but can you imagine Bill Clinton going so gently into the night? There are substantive gestures available to a President that do not involve the use of force or photo ops. For example, Bush could have boosted the public spirit - and the auto industry - by announcing that he was scrapping the entire federal automotive fleet, including the presidential limousine, and replacing it with hybrids made in Detroit. He could have jump-started - and he still could - the Obama plan by releasing funds for a green-jobs program to insulate public buildings. He could start funding the transit projects already approved by Congress.

In the end, though, it will not be the creative paralysis that defines Bush. It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy. He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness. He is less than President now, and that is appropriate. He was never very much of one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Transitional Form to Ignore: the Turtlelike Odontochelys

PZ Myers treats us to a nice writeup of yet another transitional fossil for the creationists to pretend doesn't exist. This one is called Odontochelys, a turtlelike creature that had teeth modern turtles lack, but no shell, and lived 220 million years ago.

I know, I know, it's still just a turtle. And people who say that are still ignoramuses.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dawkins Blamed for Suicide - So Much for Personal Resonsibility

Richard Dawkins now blamed for a suicide. It is amazing the power some people put in this man's words.

Wasn't this the book that supposedly didn't deal sufficiently with theology? Yet it cracked this kids faith. Yeah, when you learn that all the people you trusted your whole life were lying, or just plain ignorant, one would think depression would set in. Never mind laying the blame on those that filled his head with nonsense though, no sirree bob. Shoot the messenger.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christian Aerobics

Yes, its serious, and yes, it's hilarious. And if you think he is funny, think about the people working out with him. Tammy Fay in tights?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mountain Range that Shouldn't be There

Here's an interesting article on a mountain range that current evidence suggests that it "shouldn't be there" at all.

An Antarctic mountain range that rivals the Alps in elevation will be probed this month by an expedition of scientists using airborne radar and other Information Age tools to virtually 'peel away' more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of ice covering the peaks.

The researchers hope to find answers there to some basic questions about the nature of the southernmost continent, including the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet. For instance, it is unclear how Antarctica came to be ice-covered in the first place and whether that process began millions of years ago in the enigmatic Gamburtsev Mountain range.

Working every day at extreme altitudes, in 24 hours of sunlight and at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, the researchers of the Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province (AGAP) team hope to learn whether the Gamburtsevs were born of tectonic activity in Antarctica or date from a period millions of years ago, when Antarctica was the center of an enormous supercontinent located at far lower latitudes.

Robin Bell of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, who shares the leadership of the U.S. science effort, said AGAP will help scientists understand one of Antarctica's last major mysteries.

"Because the heart of East Antarctica is so difficult to get to, we know very little about it," she said. "We think also that there's a strong possibility that the mountains are the birthplace of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

One can note the stark contrast between what scientists do when confronted with a mystery - do research and gather evidence - versus what anti-science cranks like the IDers do - toss up their hands and proclaim the mystery beyond science.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

There's Hope: Kathleen Parker Nails It

More and more Republicans are getting it. Here's Kathleen Parker spelling it out clearly:

"As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh...

Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

Here's the deal, 'pubbies: Howard Dean was right.

It isn't that culture doesn't matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party -- and conservatism with it -- eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one's heart where it belongs.

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they've had something to do with the GOP's erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University's Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.

Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can't have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting. "

The entire article is worth a good read. The Republican party is going to have to change to survive, and at a, ahem, fundamental level. Ironically, it was Obama that gave them the recipe for recovery here. It is not, as people like Mike Huckabee and Jonah Goldberg misrepresent, about kicking Christians out of the GOP. How ironic that they would respond to the charge of being intellectually dishonest to please stupid people with an intellectually dishonest argument that would persuade only stupid people.

The needed change is for evangelical Christians, and anyone else of any religious bent, to understand that they must have secular justification for their political positions in order to be persuasive to the ever-growing citizenry that is not so religiously inclined. They must refer to what we all see, not just private religious views that only they see. They must abandon the contradiction they have managed to balance over the last few decades: claiming their religious views were faith-based and therefore should not be subjected to scientific scrutiny, but then expecting those views to be given the force of science when arguing in the public square.

Evangelical politically active Christians have tried to have it both ways, and now that they are a shrinking minority, it simply won't do. Either your religious views are private, faith affairs, not to be exposed to or challenged by others, or they are external claims on reality with political and scientific implications, good enough for the public square, and open to challenge by all. Too many of you think criticism of your views violates your first amendment rights. Get over that.

If you are going to oppose abortion, stem cell research, evolution, and gay marriage, and promote abstinence only sex ed, Bible classes, and sectarian holiday displays, you are going to have to come up with arguments that are not based on your faith-based religion. There aren't enough of you any more to win like that, and the rest of us don't care what your religion says. You may have won some minor victories in 2008 (Prop 8 in Cal.), but there are no demographic trends in your favor for the future. Change, or become a minor, ignored, party.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Demographic Election Maps

For those of you that can't get enough of electoral maps, check this site out, where the electoral results are recalculated by gender, economic status, education, race, and political affiliation. While the results all mirrored to some extent the same pattern as the total, there were some revealing scores:

College graduates: Obama - 337, McCain - 198
Independents: Obama - 367, McCain - 168
Earners over $50k annually: Obama - 271, McCain - 267
Whites: McCain - 316, Obama - 222
Over age 65: McCain - 341, Obama - 120

Some of the totals are short for lack of data in certain states. Nonetheless, the pattern is clear: Obama won educated independents, McCain's base was older whites. It's yet another negative demographic trend for the GOP.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hugh Hewitt's Predictions

Take a look at Hugh Hewitt's predictions for the Obama Presidency:

"Flash forward to the summer of 2011: President Obama is beleaguered and his approval numbers are in the low 30s. Taxes are high, inflation is high, unemployment is high, and the markets have never recovered from the post-election sell-off. Oil is back in triple digits, and the Taliban have seized large portions of Pakistan and threaten the central government there. Iran went nuclear in 2010 and threatens Israel on a weekly basis. President Obama's press conferences are painful to listen to, his inability to act decisively has earned him the title 'ditherer-in-chief.'

The GOP is eager for the primaries to begin, and a strong field has emerged that includes the return of Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney to the hunt, but which also includes Jeb Bush, Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels. (Sarah Palin has decided to wait until the conclusion of the second term she won handily in 2010 before deciding on a future course.)"

In a way this is refreshing to have a GOP pundit actually make specific predictions in time and content. In the summer of 2011:

1) Obama approval ratings below 35%
2) Taxes higher than they are now
3) Inflation higher than it is now
4) Unemployment higher than it is now
5) Dow below 8,000
6) Oil over $100/barrel
7) The Taliban controls large segments of Pakistan
8) Iran has nuclear weapons

My money says that no more than 3 of these will be true, and certainly if most of these came to pass, I'd have to rethink the way I saw the world. I'm sure Hewitt has many in agreement with him, but the important question is will they rethink the way they see the world if few of them come true? What if instead, everything improves under Obama? Will they make excuses, ignore the evidence of the failure of their worldview, and find increasingly contorted reasoning to give credit to George Bush?

One of the most interesting aspects of the election to me was the consistent failure of many partisan GOPer predictions, and the equally consistent failure of them to alter their views of the world. When reality conflicted with their theories, it was reality that was rejected. In an ever changing world, that cannot continue.

Michelle Bachman's Integrity is the Urban Legend

You know your position is indefensible when Alan Colmes nails you to the wall. Watch her lie through her teeth.

Earth to Michelle Bachman and all the rest of the politicians out there who think they can lie on camera and not get caught. Get with the program! Everything you say is going to be recorded and reviewed forever. This lying dog won't hunt any more. We'll catch you every time. Why do you think the storm of MSU that McCain/Palin threw at Obama didn't have any effect? It wasn't because of any bias in the mainstream media. About half of us don't get news from TV. We get it from the internet, where we can fact check everything to our heart's content, and what we found was that McCain/Palin were consistently full of shit.

Michelle Bachman is full of shit too. She said what she said, and its there for all to see. Welcome to the new era politicians.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Obama Birth Certificate Flap: Textbook Crankery

For anyone interested in the issue of Obama's birth certificate, I found this post and comments on Ed Brayton's blog most illuminating and entertaining. The facade of legitimate concern for constitutional government as motivation for the accusations was revealed by one poster going by, sickeningly enough, John Adams:

"Obama is on the record saying that he was born in a hospital in Hawaii. The long form version would list the hospital and the doctors names that were present during the delivery. If it turns out that Obama's long form birth certificate says he was popped out at home, or in a taxi that is going to raise questions that will need to be asked of Obama as to why he would lie about that. That will require further investigation."

It would? Why? The issue is not "Did Obama lie about anything?". The issue is "Is Obama qualified to be president?". We've got a long history of liars as president (Clinton, Nixon), with mixed results. /snark But seriously, clearly the agenda is not protection of the constitution. The agenda is to take Obama down, whatever it takes. It's the same strategy that brought us the nonissues of Ayers, ACORN, and flag pins. They are just taking their strategy into extra innings. The problem is, they went into a hornets nest. The best retort was this one:

"Note the ['If']. It's the most important part of the entire sentence. As in 'If a starship enters Earth orbit from the Galactic Center and her commander produces a birth certificate saying Obama was born on a planet whose name can't be pronounced by humans, that is going to raise questions that will need to be asked of Obama as to why he would lie about that.'

Until the 'if' condition is proven true, the wackaloons have nothing to their name but a lot of empty 'what if' speculation, with ZERO evidentiary backup, which no decent court has time to deal with."

The problem that becomes readily evident in the referenced thread is that the wingnuts are not used to dealing with the scientifically inclined, who tend to ask annoying questions like "Where is your evidence for that?", to which, through over 300 responses, an answer never appears. They aren't used to that. In their little secluded corners of the internet, all that is required is assertion linked with suspicion. No need to be specific enough to, say, wager on the outcome. Stay vague, must have wiggle room. No need for internal consistency either. It doesn't matter if some aspects of your theory are contradictory, just keep repeating the assertions.

You see the gamut of conspiracy techniques, and seeing them run headlong into the buzzsaw of an audience with sharpened thinking skills, and an appreciation for evidence gave me no shortage of schadenfreude. Here are some selected responses for your enjoyment:

"I also love that the same people who used Obama's full name as a slur during the campaign now want us to believe that's not really his name. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to eBay to shop for a new irony meter!"

"What this means, in simple terms, is that Alan Keyes has gone right off the deep end and will be laughed out of court. I've started reading the brief and it appears Keyes is trying to argue standing by claiming California's Electoral College members have a constitutional duty to examine each candidate's "Original vault copy long form" birth certificate. It's a tactic that's guaranteed to fail by virtue of the fact no such verification has ever been required before. Either every Elector in every election since the adoption of the constitution has been derelict in his duty or Keyes is full of shit. Guess which one the court will choose."

"I think I know the wingnut's next line of criticism, 'Ok fine, there *was* a Barak Obama born in Honolulu, but how do we know this man's name is really Barak Obama *and* that he's the same Barak Obama as in the certificate?'"

"Just to summarize for those who have difficulty reading,
a) Obama's mother is a US citizen thus her son is too (no matter where he was born)
b) Obama born on US soil (HI) thus he is a US citizen
c) Even if b) is false, a) is true, thus he is a US citizen
d) Short form of birth certificate has always been sufficient to prove citizenship*
e) Birth announcement is further evidence of HI birth
f) HI authorities have confirmed details of birth
g) Relevant Federal authorities have confirmed details of Obama's birth
h) the burden of proof IS ON YOU, unless you can PROVE IT no amount of speculation changes anything
j) IF (and such a probability is SO LOW as to be non-existent) Obama IS NOT a US citizen - all hail President BIDEN (at least, in your eyes, he's WHITE). -DJ
*None of the other [white] candidates has been set this high a level of burden of proof,
wonder what would raise the bar now? Hmmm, let me think...."

"The 'short form' birth certificate is a real birth certificate, and valid as legal proof of his place of birth.

The only ones who seem to have a problem with that are a handful of whackjobs who got their legal education at the Imperial Klan University of West Nutlick, GA.

The specific question was 'where was he born', and the answer, found on the 'short form' certificate, is 'Honolulu'. Whether he was born in a hospital, home, or taxi, and whether he was delivered by Dr. Feelgood or Dr. Frankenstein, has absolutely no bearing on his citizenship."

"of course they lied about his place of birth in the advertisement and on the short form birth certificate because their commie, race-mixing conspiracy to put a Muslim terrorist in the White House was already under way back in 1961."

"There is only a crisis in your paranoid little mind. You act as though this is a serious issue - rest assured that it isn't. Several paranoid loons, some of whom have filed in court, a case doth not make. I'm sorry, but a very, very few folks actually give a shit about this.

Show me the evidence that what you assert is true. Show me the evidence that the parties who actually certify anything, are being given a line of bullshit. Show me the evidence that Obama is hiding anything from the actual people who will certify this election. Until you can, until you can prove that something nefarious is going on, you don't have a leg to stand on."

"[wingnut]Obama's birth certificate can't be real, both them Hawaii state officials who say they seen it is just Japs and it's still part of the whole Pearl Harbor conspiracy, and the 14th amendment don't mean nothing cause it's right after that there 13th amendment that lets them uppity nigras vote, and I don't agree with that, so everything after it don't count, and it don't matter that Obama's mother was a US citizen cause she done give up her citizenship whin she done had sex with a black man in the first place.[/wingnut]"

"Well, it seems perfectly obvious to me...

In some sort of Manchurian Candidate sort of way, Barack's parents KNEW that he was destined to become President. So they had to overcome the mistake of allowing him to be born in Kenya by forcing the Hawaiian authorities to create a new American birth certificate for him.

In my humble opinion, they should have also had enough foresight to change his middle name too.

/tin foil hat mode"

"This Obama trip to see Grandma 'Toot' was put together with ABC and Good Morning America as a two-fold attempt to, 1) legitimize a Publicity stunt to gain sympathetic favor for Obama and, 2) provide a cover for Obama to solicit a legal story and affidavit from Grandma 'Toot' as to his claim of having been born in Hawaii.

'One of the things I want to make sure of is that I had a chance to sit down with her and talk to her,' Obama told Roberts on GMA. 'She's still alert and she's still got all her faculties. And I want to make sure that I don't miss that opportunity right now.' 'And then we're going to find out what chores I can do, because I'm sure there's been some stuff that's been left undone,' he said.

Yes, there was good reason that Obama needed to 'talk with her and find some chores that need to be done!' And it's very important that you the voter decipher his words 'she's still alert and she's got all her faculties.' He keeps repeating this mantra because that's an absolute requirement for a valid affidavit. And Grandma 'toot' was the only American relative left that could cover-up his birthplace."

"On a practical note, does anyone really think that it is remotely possible that a woman with limited financial resources, in her ninth month of pregnancy, is going to say to herself, 'Yes, I think it would be a fabulous idea to fly to a third world country where I don't know a soul and give birth!'??? And then, having had the child, would arrange for the newspaper in her hometown to announce the birth, but lie and pretend it happened in Hawaii? Then fly home, without anyone noticing that she had been gone, with a newborn in tow? Does this make any sense at all to anyone?"

"they're not just good citizens asking for evidence. They're scum who blatantly ignore evidence and facts and who will never, never, be satisfied with anything they receive, even if Obama were to give them everything--because their goal isn't the truth. Their goal is to overturn the election.

They are attacking American democracy, and they are attacking the rule of law. They, and you, are enemies of America. Fuck you. Go die. I'm an American, and you are my enemy because you want to destroy democracy and the rule of law just to get at Obama."

I'll end with my contribution to the mix, that all you conspiracy nuts think you predict everything, because you reinterpret everything to fit your misconceptions. Conspiracy theories are always nonfalsifiable, as you guys keep demonstrating.

Show some documentation that you've predicted anything over the last 10 years and then we'll talk. Or better yet, how about enlightening us on what's going to happen in the next ten years? Claiming you made a prediction after the fact sort of leaves off the "pre" part.

And indeed, it shows how these conspiracy nuts are not interested in good science, or good epistemology at all. And they sure as hell aren't interested in Democracy. Trying to change the outcome of an election with conspiracy theories is every bit as anti-Democracy as an armed coup, just with less balls.

Novak's Lame Case for God

Michael Novak has written a book intended to make the case of God to the godless. If Ken Blackwell's summary is indicative of the content, Mr. Novak will fail miserably. His book seems a simple rehash of the same old misrepresentations and flawed arguments that atheists have been swatting like flies for centuries:

"In the book, Mr. Novak discusses faith and compassionately engages, with great charity and respect, the new atheist movement. This is a movement led by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. From my readings of their work, the answers they give to metaphysical questions are frequently lacking and often consist only of mean-spirited insults hurled at the reportedly 92% of us who believe in God. Mr. Novak, however, sees the positive in the popularity of these anti-religion books, as they challenge believers to question and carefully exam their own faith."

Blackwell's tired first claim, that the New Atheists' (tm) arguments are merely mean spirited attacks, is refuted by Novak himself. Personal attacks are hardly the means by which one challenges believers to question their faith. Obviously there is a lot more to the atheists' writings than personal attacks, and Blackwell is just another apologist who refuses to deal logically with the arguments made. Instead, he charges into battle, ignorance flying high:

"Modern atheists, with their supposed adherence to the ideals of the Enlightenment and scientific inquiry, can be surprisingly irrational in their suggestion that all we see on earth, from simplest forms of life to the greatest products of human intellect, is out of total randomness and is therefore without meaning or purpose."

This is wrong in all respects. There is nothing irrational in noting the evidence, from fields as disparate as geology, astronomy, chemistry, and of course biology, that life began long ago on this planet in very simple forms, and gradually became, through descent with modification, the teaming life we enjoy today. Rejecting all of this because of the scribblings of ignorant desert tribesmen writing before we even knew the world wasn't flat - now that would be irrational.

Second, the history of life is not one of randomness, but of a cruelly absolute, discriminating environment killing what lacks the ability to survive and replicate itself. In Blackwell's world of total randomness, we'd expect six eyed dogs and children born with skin that isn't able to contain water. The man simply has no understanding of what "random" means in this context.

Finally, the notion that life as currently understood is without meaning and purpose is either trivially true, or blatantly untrue depending on what exactly Blackwell is getting at. It is no coincidence that people spouting this "meaningless" gibberish rarely explicitly explain what they mean. For if "purpose" and "meaning" mean "created with intent by someone", then obviously our lives are lacking. How is this negative? Would being created for the purpose of being a slave somehow be superior? Such an argument is a nonstarter, refuted completely by a simple "So what?" Perhaps this lack of length and complexity is why so many backers of this bilge categorize atheistic arguments as "frequently lacking". If so, they are taking away exactly the wrong message. If your entire argument can be refuted so succinctly, the problem is with you, not your critics.

Nonetheless, the final nail in this delusional coffin is provided by the facts of atheists' lives being full of purpose and meaning. I know it is unrealistic to expect pious people to actually note observable reality, but Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett's lives hardly consist of them sitting in the corner, sad, dark, and lacking in motivation. They certainly had the purpose of writing books. The simple fact is that none of the negative claims made about atheists stand up to even the slightest critical scrutiny. Blackwell is living in a fantasy world.

"Mr. Novak correctly understands, as did many of America's founders, that it is divine providence from which freedom and civilized society flow. And for any faults one may find with Christian regimes throughout history, they pale in comparison to the abhorrent atrocities of the dogmatically atheists regimes of China and the former Soviet Union. Without the guiding moral compass that faith provides, those regimes slaughtered millions. And modern society, without a Judeo-Christian ethics, would have little reason to oppose, for example, to the despicable eugenics movement as espoused by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger."

[Yawn] One wonders how many times this ridiculous argument must be shredded before people like Blackwell will stop repeating it. China and the Soviet Union were not atheistic regimes: they simply substituted the state, the party, Mao and Stalin as gods, to be obediently unquestioningly followed. The modern western European states are the closest things we have had to atheistic regimes, and their record of slaughter pales in comparison to that of the religious regimes of the Middle East, and recently, America. After all, the great conflict of our time involves, not atheists, but competing religious factions. But as usual, these inconvenient facts are ignored. Again, far be it for me to insist Blackwell check with reality before spouting off about what atheists do, but many of us have no difficulty opposing eugenics programs, or any of the traditional moral boogie men people like Blackwell like to toss at atheists. Novak and Blackwell are simply making shit up.

"Mr. Novak proclaims that those who claim to adhere to science and reason owe a great deal of gratitude to the Christian church, as it is the home of the scientific method. And great scientists such as Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein were anything but atheists. In fact, Einstein once described atheists as "creatures who-in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses' cannot hear the music of the spheres." Mr. Novak poignantly states new atheists do not seem to accept that a vast majority of intelligent, highly-educated people are quite religious."

Bullshit. The evidence suggests that the more intelligent and highly educated people become, the less religious they become. Scientists are far more atheistic than is the general population, and it only takes a cursory view of the world to see the very strong correlation between religiosity and ignorance. Again, Novak and Blackwell are making shit up.

What about those scientists? Well, it is foolish to ever take opinions of people who lived hundreds of years ago as relevant to what is reasonable for a person living today to believe. Kepler lived 400 years ago, Newton 300 years ago. Sure they believed in God. Practically everyone alive then did. Newton also believed in alchemy, and that angels kept the planets in their orbits. One can only imagine what he thought of women's rights, slavery, and the possibility of man-made flight. It is beyond foolish to assume these people's opinions would be the same were they alive today. Einstein also had no sympathy for traditional religion, and did not believe in a personal god. Why, might you ask, don't people like Novak and Blackwell make references to more recent scientific geniuses when making this point? Because the atheistic makeup of modern scientists refutes their claim, so they dishonestly ignore the data.

Speaking of ignoring the data, Blackwell and Novak do so in the most blatant way, parroting the baseless claim that US citizens are not free to express their religious views in public:

"Influential English writer and Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton once opined that 'Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. But in practice, it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.' This is clearly the intention of the ACLU and other anti-religious campaigners, who file lawsuits at the mere mention of Christmas in our public schools or the sight of a courthouse daring to display the 10 Commandments."

What sort of delusional world are these people living in? The United States is a country where piety is de facto required to hold public office, where athletes regularly thank invisible beings for aiding their victories without rebuttal, and where a huge proportion of issues (abortion, stem-cell research, evolution science education, etc.) are filled with religious arguments and adherents. Of course, the important detail left out of Blackwell's summation is that it is the government that many of us fight hard to keep from making laws respecting religions. Privately, and in the public square, religious people have and exercise the same 1st amendment rights everyone else has. That some of them are under the erroneous impression that said right comes with an exemption from criticism does not change the facts.

It also does not change with the 1st amendment requirement that government action requires secular purposes. This protects us all, religious and nonreligious alike.
It is a pity people like Novak and Blackwell cannot understand this. Perhaps if they spent more time examining the real world, instead of making up shit in their head (commonly called "faith"), that would change.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Einstein Proven Right...Again

Einstein proved right yet again.

It's taken more than a century, but Einstein's celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated, thanks to a heroic computational effort by French, German and Hungarian physicists.

A brainpower consortium led by Laurent Lellouch of France's Centre for Theoretical Physics, using some of the world's mightiest supercomputers, have set down the calculations for estimating the mass of protons and neutrons, the particles at the nucleus of atoms.

According to the conventional model of particle physics, protons and neutrons comprise smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons.

The odd thing is this: the mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks is only five percent. Where, therefore, is the missing 95 percent?

The answer, according to the study published in the US journal Science on Thursday, comes from the energy from the movements and interactions of quarks and gluons.

In other words, energy and mass are equivalent, as Einstein proposed in his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

The e=mc2 formula shows that mass can be converted into energy, and energy can be converted into mass.

By showing how much energy would be released if a certain amount of mass were to be converted into energy, the equation has been used many times, most famously as the inspirational basis for building atomic weapons.

But resolving e=mc2 at the scale of sub-atomic particles -- in equations called quantum chromodynamics -- has been fiendishly difficult.

"Until now, this has been a hypothesis," France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said proudly in a press release.

"It has now been corroborated for the first time."

For those keen to know more: the computations involve "envisioning space and time as part of a four-dimensional crystal lattice, with discrete points spaced along columns and rows."

Einstein is always a good counterargument to the claim that counter-establishment science can't get a fair hearing. All it takes is specifics. Show the math, make objective predictions. The problem with things like Intelligent Design and global warming denial isn't that they run counter to the scientific establishment. It's that they never present, as Einstein did, a fully developed theory complete with solid math.

Begley on GOP Anti-Intellectualism

Sharon Begley writes in Newsweek about the deep anti-science hole the United States has to dig out of:

"The truly poisonous legacy of the past eight years is one that spread to much of society and will therefore be much harder to undo: the utter contempt with which those in power viewed inconvenient facts, empiricism and science in general.

Look at how Bush justified inaction on greenhouse gases. Not by arguing that cuts would have cost too much, a stance that would at least have been intellectually honest, albeit debatable. Instead he had political appointees eviscerate scientific reports on climate change, censor climatologists and exaggerate scientific uncertainties, with the result that tens of millions of Americans think that the existence and cause of global warming are matters of opinion. The same mind-set governed abstinence-only sex education. The administration could have argued that any curriculum other than one teaching "no sex before marriage" was immoral. Again, intellectually honest. But no: instead it manipulated "scientific" evaluations of the programs to make them seem more effective at preventing teen pregnancy. The justification for limiting embryonic-stem-cell research was even more insidious. The White House and its allies could have taken the morally sustainable position that 32-cell embryos are human beings and thus cannot be destroyed. Instead, they claimed, falsely, that adult and umbilical-cord stem cells can treat 72 diseases and conditions, no embryonic cells required.

It turned out that the Bush administration had about as much respect for scientific facts as it did for facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As one official explained to author and journalist Ron Suskind in 2002, the administration had nothing but disdain for what it called "the reality-based community," people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." That would be science. Instead, said the official, "we create our own reality." That translated to such things as filling federal health-advisory boards with doctors who claim, against all scientific evidence, that low levels of lead are not neurotoxic to children. The message that expertise and facts do not matter has had a poisonous effect on young people's desire to go into science, which has played no small part in America's losing its competitive edge in R&D.

It has also undermined public trust in the integrity of science. That gives Obama a steep hill to climb as he tries to seize opportunities that Bush wasted, whether it's to convince Americans that climate change is real and man-made, that embryonic stem cells offer avenues to cures that adult stem cells do not, or any of the other science-based issues he'll grapple with. But Obama has shown, through his policy positions and choice of advisers, a respect for the values of scientific inquiry, for experts and expertise, for reaching conclusions based on evidence and disinterested empiricism rather than wishful thinking. The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts. We will soon have an administration that agrees, freeing science to make the contributions to the nation's health, energy security and prosperity that only it can."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Out of the Mouths of GOPers: What They Didn't Learn in 2008

Poor Carol Platt Liebau. She tried to take a sober look at why the GOP got hammered in 2008, and while her efforts still miss the boat (she lists the biased media, campaign finance reform, immigration, and maverickiness as the main causes), her efforts were Solomonlike compared to the avalanche of wingnuttery in the comments to her article, which I reproduce for your amusement:

"The biggest mistake for Republicans was having open primaries in many states, leading to the disastrous victory for John "Mr. Amnesty" McCain. Otherwise, Mitt Romney could have won and been a much more formidable opponent to Barack Obama.

McCain became the party's presidential nominee by landing numerous votes from Democrats, Independents and, most likely, illegal immigrants"

Of course, in typical GOP fashion, the data supporting this contention is nonexistent.

"John McCain still could have won but for the financial meltdown and bailout. He was leading in the polls just before the financial meltdown."

No he wasn't. He was leading until the Palin interviews surfaced, then he tanked. The meltdown came later.

"The democrats ran a crooked campaign full of lies. It's time 'WE THE PEOPLE' demand answers before Dec 15. Write to these Judges and demand the law suits for Obama Birth cert be honored."

"I have called members of congress and stated flat out that they should no longer speak with the NY Times, LA Times, WASH Post, networks, etc, etc. They should be considered operatives of the Left."

"It is time to shut down the Democratic Party's unethical workings. The crimes against our voting procedures and proud traditions of this country were shameful this election. I really do not believe OBAMA is the president because of all of the cheating that went on."

"Public schools, through progressive domination of curriculum development and teacher training, have become indoctrination machines for progressive politics. Until this is broken, America is not a Democratic nation, but increasingly a neo-Stalinist, Marxian nation."

Paranoia - 4, supporting facts - 0. These people need a basic history lesson on Stalin and Marx.

"The infestation of our country by the latinos is the #1, overriding reason why Republicans are doomed."

Nice to see some of the racist GOPers be honest about it.

"McCain was the wrong candidate ...he was not a true conservative and bragged about opposing his own Party ...only Sarah Palin kept his campaign from being a complete disaster and embarrassment"

Now there's the definition of delusional. Palin 2012! Please!

However, just when we could be forgiven for thinking all is lost, one commenter saved the day with some refreshingly realistic insight:

"How many more a** whuppins will it take? Or, to put it another way, how long will the GOP wander lost and forlorn in the wilderness? Judging by Liebau and many responses to her piece, it may yet take a while, perhaps decades...assuming the party will survive in such a decrepit state for that long(which is doubtful)...

The Goldwater/Reagan model of traditional conservatism, which espoused limited government, separation of church and state, and emphasis upon private initiative, has been hijacked by a fanatical band of social conservatives who are hellbent to ram their agenda onto the people of our Beloved Republic.

Goldwater never had any use for social conservatives, period. It was not for nothing that he is the father of true American conservatism. Reagan enraged social conservatives when he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Court. He knew they would pitch a hissy fit, but did it anyway. This party has to come to grips with where it wants to go.

Increasingly, social conservatives are out of sych with a majority of Americans, who view them as intolerant and extreme. The party can choose to placate the ones who make the most noise, the social conservatives, or it can expand its vision, addressing the concerns of most Americans. The moment of truth has arrived. "

Indeed it has. Let's hope the GOP gets back to its conservative, intellectual roots, and says "thanks but no thanks" to the likes of Sarah "know nothing" Palin, Mitt "Freedom Requires Religion" Romney, and Mike "I didn't come from no monkey" Huckabee.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Which Came First? The Egg of Course

The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is one of those questions that reveals the religious bias many of us still carry with us into these issues. Only one with an ex-nihilo view of creation could consider the question a challenge. From an evolutionary perspective the answer is obvious: going backwards through the chicken lineage will eventually come to egg-laying creatures which aren't chickens. Martin Rundkvist explains:

"Biologically, a member of the chicken species could be defined by a list of alleles that must be present in its DNA if we're to call it a chicken. And somewhere, sometime, the first bird that fulfilled that definition hatched. It hatched out of an egg laid by a non-chicken. As an adult, the first chicken (being lonely) probably mated with a bird that did not quite fulfil our definition of chickenhood, and so the first chicken probably laid non-chicken eggs. Out of these eggs hatched birds that almost, but not quite, fulfilled our definition of chickenhood. In subsequent generations, chicken eggs became more and more common. Later, after the geologically instantaneous speciation period, birds fulfilling the chicken species-definition became common and so chicken eggs were reliably produced generation after generation."

Monday, November 17, 2008

David Limbaugh's Ostrich Impersonation on the Palin Effect: A Recipe for Disaster for the GOP

For a perfect example of the gut-over-facts, anti-intellectual mentality that has infected the GOP, look no further than David Limbaugh's latest article, which begins thusly:

"God bless Sarah Palin, and shame on elitists from both sides of the aisle who have denigrated, demonized and dissed her. I don't care how many 'smartest people in the room' types offer pseudo-sophisticated analyses to prove she was a drag on the GOP presidential ticket. They are all manifestly and embarrassingly wrong -- and woefully out of touch -- which is par for the course for elitists."

There you have it folks, ironclad sophistry. Ignore the data, label your opponents "elitists", denigrate the value of sophisticated analysis, and simply assert that which you wish to be true. Polls (read "the facts") consistently showed that Palin was perceived by a majority of Americans to not have the qualifications and personal qualities a president should have. McCain's polling numbers, buoyed by the Palin announcement, started crashing the minute her gut-wrenching interviews hit the airwaves. She became the joke that kept on giving to late night talk shows everywhere. Yet Limbaugh, and many others such as Pat Buchanan, still refuse to accept the data, and go instead with their gut. That gut will get the GOP killed again in 2010 and 2012 if they Palinize another campaign.

Not satisfied with being completely immune to data on one issue, Limbaugh shoots for another:

"Speaking of elitists, it's time to address their contempt for rural and southern America, particularly their ongoing smear of the South (and, truth be told, rank-and-file conservative Republicans) as racist."

Gee David, where in the world would people get the idea that the rank-and-file southern Republicans were racist? Maybe because so many of them tell us they are. Maybe it's the 99% white crowds we see at Republican rallies and conventions.

The Republican party is at a crossroads. It can stay stuck in the ignorant racist past, follow Sarah Palin, or someone like her, remain a minority party and rob America of the strong conservative voice it needs. Or it can dispense with this willful ignorance, get with the modern world, deal with information rather than propaganda, reason rather than half-arguments and innuendo, respect the value of intellect and education, and help us solve the very complicated and real problems facing this country.

At this point, it does not look hopeful.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kristof on Obama and Brains

Nicholas Kristof has a great article on Obama being our first intellectual president in a while. As he explains, an intellectual is not identified by his IQ, but by his attitude towards knowledge:

"An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity...

Mr. Obama, unlike most politicians near a microphone, exults in complexity. He doesn’t condescend or oversimplify nearly as much as politicians often do, and he speaks in paragraphs rather than sound bites..."

Among the many views I hope America began to repudiate with the election of Obama is the notion that all knowledge can be expressed in two sentences, that any nuance to opinion amounts to waffling, and that flexibility in the face of new evidence is a strength rather than a weakness. If the Bush administration taught us nothing else, it is that simplistic "for us or against us" thinking simply will not do in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world.

Kristof is also quick to remind us that being an intellectual is no guarantee of success as a leader. However, it's a good start, and a damn sight superior to the alternative.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bill Donahue is an Ignorant Fool

The American Humanist Association ads asking people to be good for goodness' sake has gotten the attention of the Catholic League's Bill Donahue, who appeared on Foxnews with the apparent purpose of making himself look like an angry, ignorant fool. After hearing from the AHA representative, who said outlandish things like "people shouldn't need a god to be good", Donohue went into this amazing rant:

"Frankly there is an agenda here. They always choose Christmas don't they? If this guy had any guts they'd choose Ramadan and explain it to the Muslims. Quite frankly we've had a rash of militant secularist activities through books through movies. Last Sunday in Lansing Michigan gay terrorists stormed a Church that Christians that church. Look these guys are sticking their nose in where they don't belong and this is a cheap way of trying to take a shot at Christmas. They don't have any guts, if they did, they'd go after the Muslims."

What is this obsession with Muslims? What exactly is wrong with an atheist in Christian-dominated America taking up his grievances with the Christians around him without involving Muslims? This is another of those frequent half-arguments we hear all the time from right-wingers. Earth to Donahue: we argue with Christians more than Muslims because the Muslims aren't the ones causing us the problems we debate. It's the same reason we pick on creationists but not astrologers. Let some Muslims and astrologers start messing with our science, our schools, and our political rights, and we'll attack them too. This all sails over Donahue's head. He talks as if this is some sort of contest of bravery. It is akin to responding to MLK's marches to protest racism by saying "If you had any guts, you'd go to Germany and take on the Nazis". Besides, the ad says "god", not "Jesus", so in every way that matters it DOES address the Muslim god, and any other god. Regardless of the gods, you don't need them to be good. Deal Bill.

Then there is the "militant secularist" red herring. Putting up an ad is militant now Bill? What in the world does the AHA's ad have to do with the incident with gays in the church? This is another of those William Ayers arguments: tar by association, make no real argument, and hope the pinheads in the audience put the pieces together the way you want them to.

Sticking their nose in where it doesn't belong? Atheists don't belong in the public square exercising their right of free speech along with everyone else? Donahue is in sore need of a civics lesson, and apparently a history lesson as well. After being reminded that atheists have rights too, Donahue went into an ignorant gallop that would make Duane Gish proud:

"They shouldn't be so profoundly ignorant though. Sociology 101 says morality has always been grounded in religion. They're trying to say no it's grounded in individual's. Well Jeffrey Dahmer had a conscience know what? He destroyed his victims, and then he ate them. We saw what happened with militant secularism in the twentieth century. Over a hundred and fifty million people dead because of this man's philosophy: Pol Pot, Hitler, Mao, and then Stalin. The only reason he has freedom of speech is because Christianity is the foundation of liberty in this country and western civilization. The Judeo Christian ethos allows for this man to be alive, not dead as he would if he voiced the same sentiment someplace else."

Profound ignorance, thy name is Donahue. Sociology 101 says nothing of the sort, since there are societies all over the world that get their morality from nonreligious sources. To hear Donahue speak, one would think the entire world was the Middle East and the Americas, with Western Europe, China, and Australia missing.

OK, so Jeffrey Dahmer was a nasty guy. So? Once again one can be forgiven for being unable to discern Donahue's point, except another Ayersism to tar all atheists as Jeff Dahmers waiting in the wings. Donahue's narrow worldview just can't grasp that millions of people all over the world, and indeed in the United States, get along just fine without any cannibalistic tendencies for religion to restrain.

Then we get the boilerplate Christian apologist revisionist history. Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin were not secularists, militant or otherwise. Hitler was a Christian who believed he was doing the Lord's work. If we are to compare sins, Dahmer's are dwarfed by Hitler's. The others were totalitarians, setting up the state as a religion, and broaching no deviation from the status quo. That is not secularism. Donahue is being intellectually dishonest. I know, shocker.

Bill also needs another history lesson. When Christianity ruled what was to become the United States, there was no freedom of speech. Making statements at odds with the ruling religion of your city or state could earn jail time. It was only when a diverse group of Christians, deists, and atheists drew up our constitution, a completely secular document, did freedom of speech come to be. After all, even the most cursory reading of the Bible reveals an ideology completely at odds with the concept of freedom of speech. "Though shalt not use the name of the Lord in vain", and "he who says 'though fool' is destined for hellfire" hardly imply an attitude tolerate of dissenting speech. It's Thomas Jefferson, not the pope, that we have to thank.

Finally, where besides the Middle East would our freethinking friend be dead for voicing his sentiment? Again, Donahue seems to have blanked out 75% of the earth in his view of the world. Sadly, his is typical of right wing Christian reactions to atheist arguments: revisionist history, guilt by association, red herrings galore, and above all, shout every syllable. And of course, never address the argument.

Tell us Bill Donahue, why are you so angry? I'll tell you why. The real world encroaches on your little fantasy world all the time. People like the AHA rep: polite, well-spoken, well-behaved, atheistic, threaten your little tinker toy world where the solution to all problems is more Christianity, and the enemy is always the unbeliever. The fact is Bill, YOU are free and alive today because of a secular document, without which you'd likely be in the clink yourself.

Cartograms of Presidential Election Results

Well, we have our final electoral map, and here it is:

Funny, glancing at that map doesn't give one the impression of a big Democratic victory, because the red states are disproportionately large relative to their populations. This is where cartograms come in handy: maps in which the sizes of states are rescaled according to their population. When we do this by state, we get this:

Much bluer, and much more representative of what happened. The same thing can be done with the county map made famous after the Bush election. Not surprisingly, that map in this election doesn't look all that different, or all that blue:

But here comes the cartogram:

That's much more indicative of what happened. And if you dislike the all-or-nothing approach, here is the same cartogram with shades of purple for counties by proportional mix of blue and red votes:

One thing is clear: it is a very purple nation. For more cartograms and explanations, go here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

First Exoplanet Pictures?

It seems like just yesterday that we had no evidence of planets outside of our solar system. Now after many such planets have been found, the race is to get the first image of one. This may be it.

"Today, two teams of astronomers announced new exoplanet images, and in each case, I think they have the real deal. Only time and future observations will let us know for certain, but these objects have the look and feel of bona fide planets. One group found a planet orbiting Fomalhaut, the 18th brightest star in the night sky, and one of the Sun’s nearest stellar neighbors. The other team appears to have imaged three planets around a more obscure star known as HR 8799."

There is some great astronomy in there, my favorite being the debate over the dividing line between low-mass brown dwarves and high-mass planets, which may apply to one of these cases:

"...there is still no universally accepted definition of what distinguishes a high-mass planet from a low-mass brown dwarf. According to some astronomers, the line should be drawn at about 13 Jupiter masses — the mass at which a gaseous body can briefly fuse deuterium atoms in its core. According to that definition, Fomalhaut b is clearly a planet.

But other astronomers think the distinction should be based on formation. If a 3-Jupiter-mass object formed like a star from a collapsing gas cloud, it’s a very-low-mass brown dwarf. If it formed inside a disk, then it’s a planet. Since it’s unclear how Fomalhaut b formed, one could argue either way."

It's a pity more people don't understand how arbitrary a lot of astronomical terms are. If they did, they wouldn't have responded to some of the anti-science snarking that went on when Pluto's status was changed. That irony was knee deep: a moment forced upon us by substantial scientific progress portrayed as a sign of scientific impotence. Let's hope the same thing does not happen with the exoplanetary discoveries.

Election Trivia: The Most Universally One Party States

Quick, in how many states did one presidential candidate get the majority vote in every county?


Alaska and Hawaii were gimme's for their candidates. The third? Oklahoma, 100% for McCain.

The real message of that map is that the culture war in America is between the city folk and the country folk. In almost every state dominantly red with a few dots of blue, the blue is the cities. Want to know where Dallas, Houston, San Antonion, and Austin are? They are 4 of the 5 blue dots off the Mexican border in Texas. Upstate New York is red, so is the middle of Pennsylvania, and all the eastern, citiless borders of the otherwise solid blue west coast cities.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Limbaugh's Great Speculation

For those who doubt the speculative nature of partisan GOP rhetoric, just check out Rush Limbaugh's latest:

"The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen," Limbaugh told his radio audience of 15 million to 20 million on Thursday. "Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression."

Apparently the tanking of the real estate market, record losses in the auto industry, and massive failures in the banking and investment industry have very little to do with our problems. The economic system is collapsing, Rush wants us to know, because it anticipates the tax increases Obama has pledged on capital gains and for the highest income earners.

But maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, because radio's Biggest Big Man also assures us that the Democrat welcomes "economic chaos" because it gives him "greater opportunity for expanded government." In a time when the nation calls out for cool leadership and rational discussion, Limbaugh stirs the caldron, a tendency he proved in a particularly grotesque way last week when he accused Obama's party of plotting a government takeover of 401(k) retirement plans.

"They're going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund, whatever the hell that is," Limbaugh woofed. "Trust fund, my rear end."

The evidence for all these assertions? Nada, zippo. Rush is simply making shit up. It doesn't matter if you agree with him or not. What matters is that he isn't dealing with data. He's not dealing with reality. He's simply trying to blame Obama for the GOP's sins, and he's being pretty blatant about it. Shame on those who let him get away with it.

And mark my words. In 4 - 8 years, there will be a group in Wingnutland that will revise history and claim the financial meltdown happened BEFORE Obama was elected. And Rush will be egging them on.

Be Good for Goodness Sake

The American Humanist Association unveiled a provocative holiday ad campaign that asks "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake", and will appear on buses in Washington DC. A spokesman for the group explains the reasons:

"... there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."

For those who argue for more religious freedom in the public square, this should be a welcome addition. After all, it's a very positive message: be good for its own sake, you shouldn't need a reason. Indeed, to many of us, this falls on already practicing ears. Yet that is decidedly not the reaction coming from some religious groups like the American Family Association:

"It's a stupid ad," AFA president Tim Wildmon said. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."

Earth to Wildmon. Millions of people all over the planet define good and bad and right and wrong just fine without referencing the Bible. That's because we are not just random assemblages of atoms with completely random desires. Human beings have a lot of common ground, with similar abilities and desires: wanting a long life, avoiding pain, and loving our families, are but a few of the literally thousands of cultural universals among human beings. Just like it doesn't take a divine decree for a group of dogs to decide on dog food for dinner, we humans are very capable of coming up with moral codes all on our own.

Take a look at the world around you once in a while, instead of assuming that little fantasy world in your head bears any resemblance to the genuine article. You might notice that the flip side of your argument also has a problem. Those who define "good" according to the Bible are far from harmonious. Despite your claims of an absolute moral code, your moral codes vary enough to cause many a war. Your world is every bit as crazy as ours, if not more so.

But as bad as that reaction was, that's nothing compared to the response of Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group.

"It's the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ," said Mathew Staver, the group's chairman and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. "Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want but this is insulting."

Ah yes, of course. We have a right to express our beliefs, but because they differ with Mr. Staver's, they are insulting. What, might we ask, about the reverse argument? Since millions of Americans do not believe there was ever a birth of a Christ to celebrate, why is not Mr. Staver's view just as insulting? This is yet another question for which people like Staver have no answer. They just pretend those who disagree with them are an insignificant minority, as if that would matter even if it wasn't so ridiculously inaccurate. Their real view is clear: you have the right to your religious views, so long as they don't conflict with ours.

Merry Christmas guys. Be good for goodness' sake. Why do you Christians need more justification? We atheists don't.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Discovery Institute Attempting Scam in Texas Science Standards

The Discovery Institute, with the cooperation of creationists in the Texas Board of Education, led by Don "I didn't come from no monkey" McLeroy, are attempting the same scam in Texas that they attempted previously in Ohio.

The scam goes like this: claim you aren't pushing intelligent design creationism, but instead just want a fair-and-balanced critical analysis of evolution. Then, supply as that critical analysis, all the bogus arguments and misinformation that comprise ID. Be sure to get sympathetic members on whatever board must approve the plan, proclaim them to be scientific experts, and viola! You've got creationism approved for use in the schools. Then recommend a book that follows that plan which was, by complete coincidence, written by the very same people who approved the plan in the first place. Cha CHING!

The DI's Robert Crowther has shamelessly pimped this strategy in an article that would offend readers of 1984 plenty. In Crowther's world, black is white, religion is science, and creationist lackeys are science experts.

"Three of six experts selected by the Texas State Board of Education to review a proposed update of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science have recommended that the TEKS retain controversial language calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories in order to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills."

DIspeak to English translation:

"The three creationist shills planted into the TSBE review group to review a proposed update of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science have implemented their predetermined plan and recommended that the TEKS retain controversial language calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories in order to insert through stealth, creationist arguments posing as scientific criticism."

DI hack Casey Luskin weighs in with his doublethink:

"Some activist groups are pressuring the State Board to cut that language from the TEKS in order to artificially shield Darwin’s theory from the normal process of scientific inquiry. However, as these three experts point out, examining the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories is a core part of the scientific process, and abandoning such critical analysis merely to satisfy ideological demands of Darwinists harms students by giving them a false view of scientific inquiry."

Again, we translate the DIspeak into English:

"Scientists strongly object to the ideological insertion of creationist pseudoscience into the curriculum, so we'll employ projection as our strategy to win the political battle. We'll paint their objections as attempting to shield evolution from real scientific scrutiny, and of being ideologues themselves, and hope no one can tell the difference."

If you think that is bad, wait for Luskin to shamelessly take projection where no one else has gone with it before:

Luskin noted that despite efforts by Darwin-only activists to inject religion into the discussion of the TEKS for science, the expert reviews of Meyer, Garner, and Seelke all focused on scientific and pedagogical concerns, not religion. "None of the expert reviewers are calling for religion in science classes, and any suggestions to the contrary show just how bankrupt the Darwinists’ arguments are for insulating Darwin’s theory from honest analysis. Whenever Darwinists can’t respond to scientific or educational arguments, they try to change the subject to religion. Students in Texas deserve better."

Again, we translate:

"We will hide the religious underpinnings of our recommendations by speaking only sciency-sounding language. When scientists object to that, we'll accuse them of bringing religion into the discussion, refer to them by a religious-sounding name like 'Darwinists', and hope no one notices."

Make no mistake, this a major scam. Texas has allowed religious pseudoscientists to infiltrate the review process and skew the process to recommend books written by those same people! This will undoubtedly lead to a Dover-style lawsuit, from which the DI folks will run like arsonists from a burning building, and which will end up costing the Texas taxpayer millions of dollars. Indeed, students in Texas do deserve better!

Wesley Elsberry, who was involved in the Dover Trial, summed it up nicely in a retort to Robert Crowther:

"But “intelligent design” isn’t anything in itself, it is simply a collection of objections to evolution that have been made by religious antievolutionists for decades or centuries. “Irreducible complexity”, “specified complexity”, and various “anthropic principle” arguments have explicit expression of the concepts in the work of the Reverend William Paley in “Natural Theology” from 1802. If you want to impress folks in Texas, Rob, tell them that the Discovery Institute has repudiated those arguments entirely and doesn’t want anyone to use them anymore. Teaching children falsehoods, like the arguments made under the “intelligent design” label, has no secular purpose. We’ll wait for your clarification that the Discovery Institute thinks that all the arguments that were made under the “intelligent design” label were wrong and teachers in Texas should not use those as bogus “weaknesses” of evolutionary science.



Yeah, I didn’t think so.


Rob, you must think that the folks in Texas are significantly more stupid than the folks in Ohio who the DI hoodwinked for almost four years. When the Discovery Institute says that they want “weaknesses” taught, they mean the same old arguments that they used to call “intelligent design”."

Founder of Dartmouth Review: The Republican Party has Become the Stupid Party

Jeffrey Hart, founder of the Dartmouth Review, and speechwriter for Reagan and Nixon, proclaims the GOPthe 'stupid party':

So here we are in 2008. With its indispensable Southern and, more widely, evangelical base, the Republican Party has become the stupid party.

In the election, the McCain-Palin ticket received the highest percentage of votes in South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. The Southern Strategy succeeded. It succeeded in facilitating a Democratic landslide. This can not be good for the nation. We need two viable parties.

Sarah Palin is now the heroine of the Republican base. Scary. During the campaign it became obvious that she is completely ignorant on the principal issues. It never became widely known that she is a religious nut: she believes in the imminent End of Days and the “Rapture,” in which the saved will be suddenly wooshed up to heaven—a notion that has no basis in scripture or anything else. She believes she was elected governor because of a laying-on-of-hands by an African clergyman who had run a witch out of town for causing automobile accidents.

This stuff makes William Jennings Bryan look like Martin Heidegger. I think the recent electoral disaster will energize reasonable Republicans to form a caucus with the party. Eisenhower was a prudential, common sense Republican, who loathed extremism and arrogant ignorance. He knew the New Deal could not be repealed. He once said that Senator William Knowland “tested the limits of human stupidity.” Despite Watergate, Nixon was a successful center-right president, and first-rate on foreign policy. Reagan too was a successful center-right president. It is no accident that in the election, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower supported Obama.

In its embrace of the religious right under George W. Bush, the Republican Party became the stupid party. And committing suicide along with it has been the conservative movement. The party united around god, guns and gays is finished.

Hart rightly sees that the GOP is fighting on the wrong side of history on many issues such as women's rights, abortion, stem cell research, homosexuality, and many others. And in doing so, 'conservatism' has morphed to essentially mean 'ignorant rebellion against social progress'. The GOP is certainly finished as the majority party until it comes up with a way to attract newer voters without antagonizing those it has catered to these last decades. Given the support that Sarah Palin continues to get, that day doesn't look like it will be any time soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Suing God? Why Not, Unless He Isn't Real

Ernie Chambers is suing God. His point appears to be that the courts have to be open to all, even those who file completely frivolous suits. My point is something very different.

If God was real, then suing God might be foolish, or even futile, but it isn't frivolous. It would akin to filing a suit against someone who now lives on another planet and is forever beyond our grasp. It seems Chambers' point is only made if we agree that God isn't real. He could have made the same point by suing Santa Claus. Now that's frivolous. But with a real God, we have to consider the following seriously:

"The lawsuit accuses God 'of making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent.' It says God has caused 'fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like.'

The suit also says God has caused 'calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.'

Chambers also says God "has manifested neither compassion nor remorse, proclaiming that defendant will laugh" when calamity comes."

Well, is God real or isn't he? If he did these things, does he not deserve out criticism and condemnation, or not? If not, why not? Again, the humorous way this is all presented implies that it's all fiction! I agree, but be consistent about it. If we can't take suing God seriously, then why should we take praying or swearing to God seriously?

Let's just not take any of it seriously and see what happens. Where there is a lot of God talk, there tends to be a lot of new things that elicit the God talk in the first place.

Presidential Music to My Ears

After suffering 8 years of a president who can't say "nuclear" while he's speechifying, hearing Obama in his first press conference rattle off terms like "hypoallergenic" without breaking a sweat was music to my ears. My his presidency be half as pleasing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Onion on Obama Supporters

If you think conservatives can't be funny, watch this. Howard Stern wasn't the only guy that knew people like that. I imagine they feel like sports fans feel the week after their team wins the championship. Time to get a new hobby.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Guide on Choosing a Specialty for Confused Medical Students

Over on Denialismblog, Mark has a nice article on choosing a medical specialty, including this handy dandy chart:

If that doesn't clarify things, there is always the goo index, to see what specialty matches best with your tolerance for various forms of bodily goo. That would have done it for me right there, as my tolerance is pretty much zero for all goo.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Election: The Onion has the Final Word

The Onion nails the election:

"After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome.

Faced with losing everything, Americans took a long overdue step forward and elected Barack Obama. Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

"Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, 'Things are finally as terrible as we're willing to tolerate," said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. "To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you."

Added Obama, "It's a great day for our nation."

Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama's victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American."

There are many great lines in there, noting we finally figured out that the economy and the waste of life in Iraq are more important issues than abortion and gay marriage. And then there is this doozy:

"Obama's victory is being called the most significant change in politics since the 1992 election, when a full-scale economic recession led voters to momentarily ignore the fact that candidate Bill Clinton had once smoked marijuana."

This stuff wouldn't be so funny if it weren't so close to the truth. No doubt thousands of people reading this article would argue that abortion, gay marriage, and whether Clinton inhaled are indeed more important than those other issues. The article finishes with a flourish:

"As we enter a new era of equality for all people, the election of Barack Obama will decidedly be a milestone in U.S. history, undeniable proof that Americans, when pushed to the very brink, are willing to look past outward appearances and judge a person by the quality of his character and strength of his record. So as long as that person is not a woman."

Are they begging for Clinton vs Palin in 2012? Say it ain't so!

What the SC Halloween Shooting Suggests About our Gun Laws

Some say Quentin Patrick is a poster boy for gun control. Patrick shot 29 times through his door at some trick-or-treaters and their father, killing one of the kids. He sounds like the poster boy for better drug and mental health laws to me. If this event says anything about gun laws, its that they need to be aimed specifically at the problem, not be some blunt instrument which effects millions of people who are irrelevant to the problem.

What sane, sober person responds to a knock at the door by launching an attack? Put another way, which rerun of that scenario would result in more deaths: Patrick armed only with a large steak knife, or a healthy person as the owner armed with the AK-47? Gun deaths are not random events like diseases that hit the population uniformly. They are very concentrated among young males, the suicidal-mentally ill, and of course criminals. Let's see how Mr. Patrick scores:

"An ex-convict who thought he was being robbed gunned down a 12-year-old trick-or-treater, spraying nearly 30 rounds with an assault rifle from inside his home after hearing a knock on the door, police said Saturday. Quentin Patrick, 22, is accused of killing 12-year-old T.J. Darrisaw on Friday night."

Wow, a young male ex-convict. Color me shocked. There is also this:

"Police said they also charged a 19-year-old in his home, Ericka Patrice Pee, with obstruction of justice when she was caught trying to run away after the shooting with $7,500 in cash. Patterson did not give an explanation for the money."

I'll give you one: he's got some sort of criminal enterprise going there, probably drug dealing. Patrick has prior drug convictions.
So the lesson here is not to ban guns. The lesson here is get the damned guns out of the hands of criminals and people not sufficiently psychologically stable to handle them.

Let's have stiffer penalties for crimes committed with guns, or for possessing a gun where it is illegal. How about a higher minimum age for purchasing certain weapons? Might not pass constitutional muster, but it's worth a shot. More sensible drug laws would surely make a big difference, as would better mental health care. Stop filling prisons with people convicted of nothing more serious than drug possession, and start filling them with people who use guns to commit crimes, and let's see how the data changes.

Accidental gun deaths are tragic of course, but all death is tragic. That's not what is relevant when setting public policy. We simply do not outlaw causes of death that cause as few accidental deaths as guns do. We'd be outlawing swimming pools, mop buckets, and various models of transportation, were we to take that attitude. Freedom carries risk, we knew that going in.

For what its worth, I don't have a big problem with banning assault weapons, but my reasons have to do with my reading of the constitution*. I just don't think its where we should focus our energies, because I don't think there is much societal gain to be had there. We know who is abusing their gun rights. Curtailing their freedoms is the way to handle the problem in a supposedly free society, not infringing on everyone else's.


* I do not think the founding fathers could have possibly understood the concept of weapons which could not be controlled sufficiently by the average person to effectively attack a single, deserving target, and consequently I do not think the term "arms" in the second amendment applies to such weapons. Thus, nuclear weapons can be banned, but 22's cannot. In between there is room for disagreement, and automatic weapons tread on the line.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Palin Didn't Know Africa was a Continent, O'Reilly Suggests Tutoring

You gotta love Bill O'Reilly's reaction in this video to learning that Sarah Palin's ignorance was far worse than any of us imagined. Apparently she didn't know that Africa was a continent, not a country, or what the countries in NAFTA were. O'Reilly's solution was that she could be tutored on how the government works.

Are you serial Bill? Nominate a person for the second highest government office in the land who needs tutoring on the basics? Would you support hiring a man for NFL head coach who needs tutoring on the basics of football? Would you submit to surgery by a doctor who needs tutoring on the basics of surgery? Fair and balanced indeed.

But then, if you listen to the entire clip above, O'Reilly actual asks with a straight face what went wrong with the Katy Couric interview. Bill, if you have to ask, I doubt any explanation will make sense to you. To use a phrase that's all the rage, what an incredible pinhead. You guys need to let her go.

Obama Considers Anit-Vax Nut Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for EPA Post

President Elect Obama is considering RFK Jr for the head of the EPA. This would be a horrific start for a presidency supposedly interested in being pro-science, and not falling prey to the politicization of science so endemic to the Bush administration, and scorned on this and many other science blogs. RFK is an anti-science anti-vax crank, and prone to Pr-damaging histrionic misrepresentations of his opponents as Nazis and such. Orac has a detailed summary.

Obama had better make these decisions very carefully. The scientific community which was so excited by his candidacy will turn on him like a pack of rabid wolves if he starts this nonsense. Ours is a very data-driven support.

US Infant Mortality 29th in the World

For those who like to tout our supposedly great health care system, some facts to break up the bravado: Our infant mortality rate ranks 29th, closer to that of Costa Rica than of the Top 5, and is worse than Cuba. So what exactly is so great about that?

This is a classic example of a topic conservatives dismiss with speculation masquerading as facts. "That's because the crack mothers and those irresponsible and on welfare bring down the averages". Of course, there is never any data submitted to support this claim, and even if there was, it isn't like other countries don't have poor people to take care of too. That merely begs the question: why are they so much better at taking care of their worst off than we are? And if we restricted the data to the well-off, would we necessarily be at the top.

I await with great eagerness and little expectation for someone to show me, using actual data, not speculation, why the United States health care system should not be changed to more closely match what is done in other countries. Novelty can be a good thing, when it comes with superior results. Novelty in the face of inferior results begins to more resemble simple stubbornness than anything as noble as defense of liberty.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Our Proud Democracy

When they had the first votes in Iraq, some said that showed they had accepted democracy. But voting is the easy part. Everyone likes to vote. After all, they had votes in Soviet Russia. Everyone likes democracy ... when they think they are going to win. What proves one's commitment to democracy is one's willingness to acknowledge the authority of those who win even when you didn't support them. Richard Nixon, of all people, set the example, when he refused to challenge the results in 1960 when he lost to John F. Kennedy by the slimmest of margins. He could have fought the outcome, called for recounts, gone to court; but he didn't, for the sake of the nation. Al Gore could have fought the results of the 2000 election far harder than he did. Some even think he might have won in the end. But at what cost to the nation? He too ended his quest, rather than attack the very foundation of democracy. These men truly put country first.

Those on the losing side of this presidential election have been very frank about their greater love of country and the principles of America. Well, now they have the greatest opportunity to show it that one could hope for. They can demonstrate, rather than merely pontificate, their love of freedom and democracy by accepting fully the results of this election and the political power that goes with it. They can show the world, which they so dearly wish to convert to democracy, just how well we do it here in the United States of America. They can show that they truly respect the office of the President of the United States of America, even if they don't like, and even perhaps criticize harshly, its current occupant. They can recognize that the election is over, we have a new president, and show that they are truly worthy of the word we have for lovers of country and democracy: Patriots.

Today I've read comments by Americans saying they won't accept Obama as their president. Their reasons? They use lots of words and phrases: socialist, Marxist, and others that mean essentially the same thing: He doesn't agree with them politically. Well, my fellow Americans, those kinds of disagreements are decided at the ballot box in democracies, and we just did that. You lost. Accept it. That is what being patriotic is all about. It's not about who wears flag pins, or puts yellow ribbons on their car, or who says "God bless America" the most. Anybody can do that. That's easy. Accepting the vote when you lose is hard. That's what it's all about. Without that, there is no democracy. People who can't do that don't deserve democracy. They are unworthy of it. They say the word, but they don't grasp its meaning. They resort to violence when the vote doesn't go their way. They challenge the very authority of the office. They give up on winning at the ballot box and decide to try to effect political change through violence, and threats designed to instill fear. It's nothing new. It's an old tactic that has been tried all over the world for centuries by thousands of people. We have a name for them too:


The GOP Pundits Reaction: Most Still Don't Get It

One would think after getting one's ass handed to you in an election as just happened, it would cause a lot of soul searching among the losers: What did we do wrong? What do we need to do more? How do we better convey our message? What in the message needs to be changed.

There are some that get it. Cal Thomas, surprisingly, leads the way, suggesting the Christian Right do the radical thing and follow Jesus' example, give to Caeser what is Caeser's, and try persuasion by example socially, rather than via politics. George Will warns of the dangers of becoming a regional party with "no intellectual seeds of intellectual rebirth".

But on balance, they just don't get it.
Rich Galen wants to pretend that it was all about the economy, which is the easiest way to avoid responsibility for the loss. It's like a football team that gets beaten badly and blames the rain. Ben Shapiro, never to be outdone for the intellectual low ground, and master of MSU, Ben Shapiro claims it's all about 'Americans’ puerile need for unity through self-congratulatory, cathartic membership in a broad, transformative political movement.' This guy should write a psycho horror novel series called 'DENIAL'. Michael Medved pretends the Obama victory had nothing to do with values. It's just another version of the "we lost because we are better than them" argument, which solves no problems, and thus guarantees further failures. Many of them join Robert Knight in clinging to the notion that there was anything relevant about William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? There is nothing you are going to tell America about those pseudo issues that we don't already know. Boring. Knight pours salt into that rhetorical wound by implying that it was the media's fault there wasn't much substantive discussion of "judicial activism, marriage, abortion, gun control, cultural depravity, and illegal immigration", when it was the McCain campaign raising pseudo issue after pseudo issue, and made an incompetent loon from Alaska the story, first by nominating her, and then by pretending she should get a pass from the media test every other candidate for VP had to pass.

The Republican party had better get it through its head that it lost because it ran a horribly weak candidate, a la 1996, insulted the country's collective intelligence by nominating someone completely unqualified to be his running mate (a la Ross Perot), and is simply out of step with America on many serious issues. The anti-abortion, abstinence-only, prayer-in-school, science-denying faction is going to shrink in the next 4 years, and right now that's all you appeal to. Keep that attitude, pretend "Palin 2012" is anything but a sick joke, you'll suffer a McGovern-like wipe out, and America will lose the conservative check on liberal excesses we desperately need. You just have to stop catering to the reality-deniers.