Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Irony, Thy Name Is David Wells...

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, a certain David Wells from the ID-supporting Discovery Institute (DI) has an essay in which he says:

I recently found myself in a conversation with two college undergraduates, both of them seniors in the natural sciences (physics and biochemistry, respectively). At one point we were discussing alchemy, which they knew as a pre-modern attempt to transmute lead into gold. I asked them whether they could name any famous alchemists. They could not, though one of them dimly recalled hearing of "someone whose name began with A."

I then predicted that Darwinian evolution would eventually fade into the same obscurity that now shrouds alchemy. Although I knew from previous conversations that my young friends were skeptical of Darwinian theory, they expressed considerable surprise at my prediction, if only because Darwinism is presently held in such high esteem by their professors.

Mr. Wells, you've made a mistake here. Ironically enough, your analogy works, but only if you replace all instances of "evolution" with "creationism," as creationism is clearly the equivalent of alchemy, not evolution.

For one thing, creationism and alchemy are both based on how some people think the world should work, rather than on any evidence about how it does work. In fact, they are more alike than that, because both are based on what some people want to be true rather than what is true. Alchemists wanted it to be true that they could transmute lead into gold, for obvious reasons. Creationists want it to be true that species were all specially created instead of evolving from common ancestors, because it would support their belief in God.

Alchemy was once held in high esteem by the supposedly learned because they wanted it to be true and they had texts in which supposed "authorities" told them it was true. Creationism is held in high esteem by creationists because they want it to be true and because they have the "authority" of a text telling them it's true.

Neither alchemy nor creationism have been borne out by the evidence.

Likening evolution to alchemy is just stupid.

Also, Mr. Wells, I can name at least one famous alchemist off the top of my head. You may have heard of him:

Isaac Newton.

He was wrong about alchemy, of course. But maybe, Mr. Wells, the reason you haven't heard of Mr. Newton is because you not only reject alchemy, as do I, but because you also reject gravity in favor of "intelligent falling," where, when you fall, God is really pushing you down. That makes about as much sense as creationism or intelligent design, or alchemy, for that matter.


The Best and Brightest

I heard on NPR today that Bush is threatening a veto of a bill that would give collective bargaining rights to airport screeners working for the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This just doesn't make a damned bit of sense to me.

The regime seems, to me, to essentially be claiming it needs the power to move around or fire Homeland Security workers (the TSA is under the Dept. of Homeland Security) at will so that it can get rid of the bad apples and change things up to respond to emerging threats. This is pretty dumb for a number of reasons.

For one thing, no huge Federal government bureaucracy is nimble and able to adjust easily to new circumstances, with or without collective bargaining. An inability and unwillingness to change is almost the definition of bureaucracy. In 2004, Homeland Security had 183,000 employees. Yeah, a bureaucracy bigger than the entire population of Salt Lake City isn't going to have any inertia. Uh-huh.

And, of course, employees at the CIA and the FBI have been denied collective bargaining rights since the 60s. That's certainly ensured they are nimble and quickly change to adapt to threats, right? That's why the thwarted Al-Qaeda's plan to fly some planes into the World Trade Center, right? Oh yeah, they didn't. But that's why they've adapted and learned since 9-11, right? Oh, wait, the 9-11 Commission said they haven't done that either. Hmmm.

In fact, all the CIA has really done since 9-11 was fail the country by allowing itself to be bullied by Cheney and the Bush regime into changing its intelligence estimates during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. In fact, it's almost as if the CIA couldn't be independent and actually do its job, couldn't actually tell the Bushies the truth even if it wasn't what the Bushies wanted to hear, because, oh, I don't know, they were afraid for their jobs... As if they were easier to bully and ignore because they could be transferred or fired on a whim. Interesting.

It's almost as if denying collective bargaining rights does nothing for making an agency or department more nimble, but rather just gives the White House more power to force employees to do whatever they want in furtherance of a political agenda. It's almost as if that power is what the Bush regime is really after...

Further, don't we want the best people we can get doing important jobs like the ones at, say, oh, Homeland goddamned Security? Is denying Homeland Security employees collective bargaining rights enjoyed by many other government employees really the way to attract the best and brightest? I mean, if you have a choice between a less stressful, less critical job in, say, the Department of Education where you have collective bargaining protections, and a more critical, stressful job in Homeland Security where you don't, why would you pick Homeland Security? Why, if you had a choice, would you choose to work somewhere that you could be summarily transferred or dismissed if you don't parrot the political agenda of whomever is in the White House? Why does it make sense to make the most critical jobs in government the least attractive?

I used to work at a big Defense Contractor at the tail end of the tech boom. I was in a group that tested software updates for a certain jet fighter's computer. We had an in-house software group that wrote the software. Because it was a government contract, and good software people could make a ton more money in the private, non-government contracting sector, the software our group got from them suuuucked. It was buggy, it didn't work, and it was always delivered behind schedule. My company couldn't attract good talent with the kind of pay a government contract could offer. Now consider that contractors usually make more than actual direct government employees. And consider that non-critical government employees generally have collective bargaining protection.

And then consider how many of the best and brightest are not only going to forgo a bigger salary in the private sector, but also choose to work in the government agency where they are denied collective bargaining and can be fired or transferred on a whim? Is it any wonder that agencies like the CIA and FBI are having trouble attracting talent?

It's no mystery. Make the most critical jobs the least attractive in government and the best people won't be in those jobs. That's how it works. You're going to end up with the caliber of people who wrote the buggy software that made me wonder why US fighter planes weren't constantly falling out of the sky. Believe it.

Those Pesky Daily Bombings

On last night's The Daily Show, they played a clip of an interview with Laura Bush where she said that lots of good things are happening in Iraq but we're just not seeing it because we're distracted by pesky "bombings" happening "every day."

Seriously. She's trying to convince us the fact that there are daily bombings in Iraq is somehow obscuring the fact that things are actually going very well. But, with our short attention spans, we can't get past those silly little explosions to see it.

Here's what I would consider an indicator that things are going well in Iraq and Afghanistan: There weren't fucking bombings every day!

An unreasonably high standard, I know. It's not as if the Vice President just almost got blown up by the Taliban, who we supposedly defeated years ago, for God's sake. Oh, wait, it is just like that.

And, of course, there was the article in the New Yorker this weekend about how, while the regime is denying that we're getting ready to attack Iran, we really are, just like before we attacked Iraq. Yay. That's a great idea. It'll be just freakin' wonderful.

I think Jon Stewart called it a "fucktastrophe" last night. That's about right.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Fundamentalist" Atheists and Other Things That Go "Boo!"

There's an interesting post over at Pharyngula about supposed "fundamentalist" atheists, along with an interesting comment thread that displays some stunningly illogical and irrational arguments for theism.

First off an article quoted in the Pharyngula post that was published in the UK newspaper The Guardian quotes a Britsh theist as saying:

Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as
the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank
and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each
other as destined to fry in hell.

Okay. First off, on the nitpicky side of things, the term "fundamentalist" doesn't make any sense at all when applied to an atheist. At they have three definitions for the term, and the one that doesn't relate specifically to Christian fundamentalism is: "[S]trict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles."

For the umpteenth time, folks, atheism is not a set of ideas or principles. Atheism is lack of belief in a god or god(s). Period. Just because religions attach a bunch of dogmas to the basic truth claim that a god or god(s) exist doesn't mean the same is true of those who reject that truth claim. There are no precepts of atheism, no dogma, no principles, no churches, no belief system. Without some fundamental set of beliefs to try to return to, like fundamentalist Christians try to return to a more literal, inerrant interpretation of the Bible, there is no fundamentalism. Period.

Now, of course, this guy in the article actually means something else. He means that Dawkins and atheists like him are just as strident and crazy in their beliefs as fundamentalists who have blown up trains and persecuted gays.


That is a totally false analogy, because Dawkins and others like him haven't blown up trains, haven't persecuted others in the name of their own irrational beliefs, and haven't claimed a divine right to some piece of land currently occupied by someone else. Until and unless Dawkins and other atheists start doing things like this, there is no valid comparison between the two. Being committed to rationalism and being willing to blow something up for your God are not even comparable.

No, in fact, what this guy really means is that Dawkins and other atheists should shut the fuck up. That's what he's opposed to: that some atheists have dared to speak up and say something about the batshit craziness going on around them. Standing up and saying, "The Emperor has no clothes!" is not the same as beating up anyone who is willing to point out the nakedness of the Emperor.

And then there's the whole stupid issue of how we all have to "respect" each others' beliefs. Well, for one thing, that's rich, coming from theists whose contempt of other faiths is only trumped by their complete disdain for non-theists. And theists, particularly monotheists, have very little respect for beliefs much different than their own. I have rarely seen theists show anything close to respect to Wiccans, neopagans, or others whose beliefs they are quick to characterize as "barbaric" or "Satanic."

Believe whatever you want. I'm not stopping you. But when you bring crazy beliefs into the public square and want your crazy beliefs reflected in public policy, I am going to criticize them. That's what happens in the public square.

And, for another thing, just because a person holds a belief, that means we should respect it, no matter how insane? Why? People believe all kinds of weird things. None of them can be dismissed for lack of evidence? Because theists include questioning the truth claims implicit in their beliefs as disrespecting their beliefs. Do we really have to respect every bizarre dipshit thing someone believes in? Do you really think theists would respect my belief that I am the reincarnation of Napoleon? I doubt it. Disrespecting someone's beliefs is not the same as disrespecting them, and conflating the two is a favorite tactic of theists to try to keep criticism of their beliefs off-limits.

Then the article quotes some professor of "European Thought" (I wasn't aware that was a discipline) trying to play the old, "No one really believes all this crap, you fools!" argument:

"It is not just in the rigidity of their unbelief that atheists mimic
dogmatic believers. It is in their fixation on belief itself."

Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: "The core
of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some
strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing
to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and
(sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the
existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western

Re-e-e-ally? Hmm. I guess someone forgot to tell all the people who do actually believe in God and do believe that their religion is about "subscribing to a set of propositions?" Because there are a lot of them out there. If what Gray says were actually true, then the article in which he is quoted would never have been written, because, if whether or not God exists was beside the point for Christians, they wouldn't care about atheists denying God's existence. Christians wouldn't spend so much time and effort (fruitlessly) refuting non-theist arguments against God nor would they spend so much time trying to knock down any science that might conflict, in their perception, with the truth of His existence. The very fact that Christians get worked up over what "fundamentalist" atheists say is proof that Gray is full of shit.

In the comments to the Pharyingula post, a commenter says:

I like what John Gray said. I find it ridiculous/amusing/sad how PZ and Dawkins thinks that they get to define what religion is, so they can keep attacking it. If religionists want to "redefine" what they believe in so that it doesn't conflict with science, this pisses PZ off. Why? Because he's got fewer occasions for self-rigteous mockery and easy laughs?

I'm calling this line of argument a "reverse strawman" argument. The reverse strawman is where you make up a more defensible version of your position that bears little resemblance to the thing itself. Then, on top of making the indefensible defensible, you also get to accuse the other side of trying to set up straw men to knock down. This is a great strategy, and would work, if only there weren't so much damned evidence in this case that Gray's characterization of religion isn't one many theists would recognize and agree with.

In fact, theists have a great double-whammy they use on this front: First, the strawman, where they wrongly characterize atheists as "hating God" or "just denying what they know to be true," and then also pull the reverse strawman by claiming that their religion doesn't make the truth claims it actually does make. Awesome.

Great argument in comment #85, in an attempt to defend the idea that all the people who go to church every Sunday really just go for the ritual:

Yes, "going through the motions" (ritual) adds meaning to the lives of many.
That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Yeah, 'cause no Christian has ever argued that life is meaningless without God and an afterlife, which are doctrinal facets of Christianity, not ritualistic. No.

But I like this "deal with it" argument. Okay, Christian bigots, guess what? Homosexuality is inherited and natural. That's just a sociological (and biological) fact. Deal with it.

Most people in the world don't believe in your God and never will. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Safer-sex education is vastly more effective in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease infection than abstinence-only sex education. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Countries where abortion is legal have lower rates of abortion than countries where it isn't. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Countries where drugs are legal have lower rates of use and addiction than countries where drugs are illegal. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Hey, this "deal with it" argument is fun!

And I love it when theists follow this line of argument, as evidenced in comment #101:

Sorry, I'm not buying it. People murder and wage war for a lot of reasons and justify it all kinds of ways. Whatever the justification, the result is often far more pragmatic: the acquisition of stolen lands and property. Simply removing religion isn't going to remove bigotry, and even removing bigotry is not going to eliminate competition over resources. People are always going to come up with a reason to kill each other.

The old, "Religion isn't the problem, human nature is, and getting rid of religion won't make human nature any better, so why bother?" argument. Which is interesting in light of the fact that theists also make the argument that morality is only possible through religion and that only religion keeps us from just acting like barbaric apes and killing each other indiscriminately.

So, the theists' argument basically goes like this: Human nature is terrible and can't be changed, so when people kill each other, even when they do so explicitly in the name of God, it isn't really religion's fault. Nothing, after all, can curb our human nature.

But man, we're lucky we have religion around, because otherwise, human nature would take over and we'd be having a huge sadomasochistic orgy of sodomy and murder faster than you can say "Bacchus!" It's lucky religion can curb our human nature!

Either religion has influence on how we act, and thus we can measure that affect and see whether, on the whole, it is good or bad, or else religion has no influence on how we act, in which case theists' claims that religion is necessary for morality and order are meaningless. If the former, then theists can't avoid the claim that religion is, over all, bad, destructive, and the cause of great suffering by blaming our unalterable "human nature." If the latter, then, while religion has no negative influence on our behavior, it has no positive influence either, which calls religion's utility into question.

It's fun when theists use incompatible arguments. It demonstrates the fundamental incoherence of their position.

Also, if we were to accept this poster's argument, then there is no point to any attempts to better mankind or improve society. As such, if theists accept this argument, there's no point in condemning or banning gay marriage, or murder, or abortion, or any of the other things they campaign so stridently against. After all, if people are "always going to come up with a reason to kill each other" and there's nothing to be done, then they are always going to do all these other things, and there's nothing to be done about them, either.

But some of the best wingnuttery comes at comment #144:

I really don't understand this obsession with evidence. I have no evidence
that Attila the Hun ever lived, but I believe it. I have no evidence that there
are spatial objects orbiting the sun that are thousands of millions of miles
away, but I believe that. I have no evidence that there is a city in Australia
called Perth, but I believe that, too. Almost everything I believe, I believe on
the basis of authority, not of evidence. That is true of you, and PZ Myers, and
Dawkins, and all human beings.

Ah, now I see. I just have a crass "obsession with evidence." It's not like evidence has any value or means anything in and of itself. It's just a weird thing some people do, demanding evidence, and using evidence to determine the truth is no different than the one where you don't have any evidence... what's that called... oh yeah, making shit up.

They're both the same. You can just as easily figure out if a medication works by just deciding it does as by gathering stupid old evidence. Just make shit up. Nobody ever died that way, by taking medication that was actually poisonous or detrimental. No, never.

Why bother investigating crimes and gathering all that dumb evidence? Just go with your hunch. No chance you'll be put innocent people in jail. It'll be fine.

And we don't need any evidence that a new plane will actually fly. Just hop on board and it'll be fine. The engineers kinda think maybe it'll fly, but they didn't want to be accused of having an "obsession with evidence," so they didn't actually run any simulations or do any test flights. Where can I stow your bags?

This dipshit actually believes all these things on the basis of evidence, not authority, but he's too deluded to understand the difference.

For instance, since Perth, Australia, is a place you can actually go and see, and there are pictures in books, there are maps, you can see it on Google Earth, and even talk to people who have been there, the balance of the evidence is that it does actually exist, and therefore we should accept that it does.

Since the existence of Perth, Australia, is a very ordinary claim rather than an extraordinary one, and to deny the evidence of its existence would require us to believe something extraordinary -- like a vast conspiracy to make us believe Perth, Australia exists when it doesn't -- it is more likely that Perth exists than doesn't. Therefore, we don't need faith or authority to accept this fact, we need only see that the alternative is vastly less likely and accept what is indicated by the balance of the evidence.

But, on the other hand, while a lot of people have made a lot of claims about God and written books on Him and detailed supposed miracles, this extraordinary claim is not backed up by the extraordinary evidence we would need. When a bunch of people say, "I've been to Perth," since the claim is modest, on the balance it is more likely they are telling the truth than lying, since there's not much obvious gain in them all telling the same lie about Perth.

But, on the other hand, when a few people tell us that Jesus rose from the dead, for instance, we have to consider a couple of things. One, the claim is extraordinary and utterly outside our experience. But being lied to or misled, on the other hand, is common and not very extraordinary. As such, on balance, it is more likely, based on the evidence we have about how things work, that we are being lied to or misled than that someone actually did rise from the dead.

And two, is there motivation for us to be lied to or misled, or do we have evidence that people have often lied about this topic in the past? Well, I have no particular reason to believe that a bunch of unrelated people all have cause to lie to me about Perth, while I know that many people have such an emotional investment in the existence of God that they will not only lie to convince me, they will kill me if I disagree. As such, I have much more reason to believe I am being lied to or misled by a person claiming that Jesus rose from the dead than I do a person telling me they've been to Perth.

So, on balance, I can safely say it is likely that the evidence I have been presented that Perth, Australia exists is authentic, because it would be far more extraordinary and unlikely for it no to be than for it to be. But, on the other hand, with extraordinary claims like those made by religions, it would be much more extraordinary if the claims were true than if the accounts of those claims were falsehoods, mistakes, and delusions, so on that basis, I can safely conclude that the evidence for those claims is insufficient for me to rationally accept the claim.

Or maybe I should believe any crazy-ass thing anyone tells me so as to end my "obsession with evidence."


More Conservapedia Wackiness!

According to Andrew Schlafly (Conservapedia username Asschlafly, emphasis mine), Conservapedia represents "a new way of learning about history and science."

That is to say, a wrong way.

There's giving a conservative view of things, and then there's just lying. Conservapedia does the latter. Most of the shit on there -- even before the parodists starting rewriting the articles for humorous effect -- is just bullshit. Lies. Despite what some evangelical right-wingers would have us believe, being lied to is not "learning."

Making shit up then presenting it as if it's true isn't "teaching" either.

I find it deeply ironic that the same people who curse the left's "moral relativism" and like to tell us that "there are absolutes" don't think that reality is one of them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cheney -- Crazy or Bat-Shit Crazy: You Decide

I imagine most of my readers have already heard about Dick Cheney's spin on the British draw-down of troops in Southern Iraq:

I think they believe that in southern Iraq, that Basra region where they've
been most active, we have made significant progress. And I think that's one of
the reasons they feel that they can draw down their forces there...

I look at it, and what I see is an affirmation of the fact that there are
parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well.

I talked to a friend just the other day... [he] found the situation
dramatically improved compared to where it was a year or so ago, sort of
validated the British view that they have made progress in southern Iraq, and
that they can therefore afford to reduce their force posture.

Hmm... let's see. The same Bush regime that keeps telling us that reducing our troops in Iraq is a "cut and run" strategy, and is telling us that we need a surge of 20,000 more troops to be thrown into the grinder, thinks it's okey-dokey that the British are getting the hell out? Huh?

I don't know who this guy Cheney has been talking to about how well things are going down in Southern Iraq -- probably another intelligence person that Cheney bullied into saying what he wants to hear -- but the consensus view is that things are shit-tastic there. The word leaking out is that the British don't have control down there at all. Reporters who were there in 2003 and then again recently talk about how the British rode around openly in unarmored vehicles then but now hardly venture outside of their camp. And, according to one report I heard, something like two-thirds of Basra is now considered "no-go" areas for the British.

Yeah. It's going great. If the Brits were really pulling out because things are "going pretty well" there, wouldn't it be a big help if they brought some of those unneeded troops up to help out as part of the surge? Yeah, you'd think someone would ask them if they'd do that, if what Cheney said is really true.

Obama pretty much nailed it in a speech in Austin this weekend:

Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British
Prime Minister
Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a
recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.

"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George and Dick
Cheney understand that?"

"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as
liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he
forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign
signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing,
you know that you've probably got some big problems."


And, I swear, Cheney's flawed "the Democrats are doing what the terrorists want" logic is driving me up a freakin' wall. It's perhaps one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. In a conflict, Mr. Vice President, you do not define your own moves and tactics by what the enemy wants or does not want you to do!!! By that stupid logic, we would be puppets on a string, always doing whatever Al-Qaeda doesn't want us to do. And, pray tell, what if Al-Qaeda wants us to do ever turns out to actually be the right thing for the US to do, because, oh my!, they might make a miscalculation? Well, I guess Cheney would pass that opportunity by and not even consider whether that would be the right thing to do, simply on the basis that Al-Qaeda wants us to do it.

That's a damnfool stupid way to conduct a war, an occupation, or a foreign policy. Guess what, Dick? The US should do what is in the best interests of the US, and not give a damn about what the terrorists do or don't want. Who the hell cares what they want? Why do you care so much?


This is what you get, America. This is what you get when you elect a guy who is obviously an idiot because "he'll have good advisors to help him make decisions," as conservatives told us in 2000. Well, Dick Cheney is an example of the kind of idiot you get when an idiot gets to pick his own advisors.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Sunni and Shi'a

Do you know who the Sunnis and who the Shiites are? Take this quiz and find out if you know more about what's going on in the Middle East than most Congressmen do.

FWIW, I got 8 out of 8, but it was a hard 8 out of 8. I wasn't 100% certain of the answers to at least two questions.

While I'm on the topic, do you know how Islam split into these two competing sects? The split came about due to a disagreement about who should succeed Muhammad and how that successor should be chosen. Muhammad died without formally naming a successor. After Muhammad's death, a meeting was held on the issue and Abu Bakr, Muhammad's father-in-law, was chosen to lead the Muslims.

According to Sunni Muslims, this was proper and thus Abu Bakr is the first of Muhammad's successors (caliphs). According to the Shi'a, there was some foul play and intimidation afoot to prevent Muhammad's, and Allah's, true, chosen successor, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali, from taking over. They believe that only Allah can choose the successor, and thus, even though Abu Bakr was chosen by consensus, it was illegitimate, and Ali is therefore the true first caliph.

This all happened in the 7th century CE.

While the West tends to see both as "Muslims" and part of the same religion, Sunni and Shi'a don't necessarily see it that way. Just as some fundamentalists in the US believe that Catholics (and often other protestants) aren't Christians, in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia Shi'a aren't considered Muslims at all.

Just preachin' a little information at ya.

Is That Oil On My Desk or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Via Dispatches, here's a bizarre story from the WorldNutDaily. Apparently, to help some kids do well on some standardized tests, the principal of a school in Florida, along with some other Christian staff members, went around after hours on a Friday and prayed for the kids to do well on the test.

Oh, yeah, and they anointed the kids' desks with oil.

A teacher quoted in the article, not one of the anointers, said, upon returning to school on Monday, "We thought it was vandalism. It was greasy. It was oily."


Apparently, this teacher was offended by the residue of the Christians' orgasmic prayers, and the ACLU said that the staff members had "crossed the line" and that they "did leave tangible evidence of their religious activity, and that was troubling to people."

Hopefully, that's the worst "tangible evidence" of "activity" those students ever find on their desks. (I couldn't resist!)

I have to say this is pretty laughable. I don't think I would be offended that the oil was some Christian thing as much as I'd be weirded out to come and find something oily on my desk. In fact, in the post-911 world, I'm surprised a HazMat team wasn't called in! Nonetheless, I don't think I see this as a violation of religious freedom as much as a disruption of class that should have been avoided, either by praying without the oil or by wiping the oil off afterwards. But I don't see people praying for the kids in the classrooms after hours as any kind of problem, minus the oily residue.

However, I think this Christian WorldNutDaily reader is being pretty disingenuous:

"Give me a break…does it really matter which 'God' was prayed to? Fact is,
the state has put sooo much emphasis on FCAT, the teachers are looking to prayer
to help their students. I am Christian, but would NEVER be offended if a Rabbi
prayed for me," said dumbfounded.
Perhaps some Christians, the one who don't think Jews are Satan's helpers, the ones who don't agree with Falwell that the Anti-Christ is alive today and is a Jew, wouldn't be offended by a rabbi praying and spreading oil around the school. But I'd bet that a lot of Christians, especially the sort that read the WorldNutDaily, would freak the fuck out if Muslims did the same thing, or if Wiccans did chants in the classrooms and left pentagrams on the students' desks, or if witches went around casting spells on the students' desks and left ashes on them.

Christians accuse non-theists of being the sensitive ones, but that's only because these sorts of religious behavior generally come from their own and so it doesn't disturb them. I'm not particularly disturbed -- more amused, really -- by this story, and I would if another religion did the equivalent. But I doubt Christians would be as sanguine about it.

Criticizing a Faith

At the TPM Cafe, there's an interesting article that touches on the same issue I touched on earlier in response to Anonymous' bitching about my criticizing his faith. The author of the piece, Amanda Marcotte, was hounded by James Dobson and Bill O'Reilly because of her feminism and negative remarks she made about the Catholic Church's views on women's issues, to resign from the Edwards campaign. The article itself was triggered by Mitt Romney's telling reporters that "We need to have a person of faith lead the country" in response to a criticism that he doesn't know "the Lord" because he's a Mormon.

Which was, essentially, saying, "Don't worry about the fact that my sky fairy is different than yours, just be happy that I'm not one of those evil atheists." But that's another topic.

On the topic at hand, of criticizing faith, Ms. Marcotte, herself an atheist, correctly notes:

Problems arise because people think that their right not to be mistreated
because they have a faith extends to a right not to have their faith itself

There is, in fact, no such right. And, in fact, even theists only extend that right to themselves: Christians have no problem criticizing Muslims, Wiccans, or atheists, but think their own version of the magic sky fairy is off-limits. But, again, as I said to Anonymous, if you believe in crazy shit, I'm going to say something about it. There's no free pass in the marketplace of ideas for irrational ideas lacking a shred of evidence, and I'm not going to give one either.

But then Marcotte makes an interesting point. She quotes blogger Ed, who said:

[M]ocking the religious underpinnings of some political position is one
thing; denying their sincerity is another.

Here's how the regression from mockery of politics to mockery of
religion to mockery of religious sincerity tends to work: Some people hold
abhorrent political positions that they justify with religious principles you
happen to consider a bunch of atavistic Hooey. You attack the positions on their
dubious merits. You then go over the brink and attack the underyling Hooey. But
since you think it's Hooey, you go on to suggest that the Hooey, being Hooey, is
just a mask for very different motives (e.g., misogyny) that can be deplored
without discussion of religion.

At first blush, I agree with Ed. I do try, as best I can, not to impute motives to religious folk I argue with, because it really pisses me off when they do the same, by claiming that I "hate God," for instance. But Marcotte has a strong case why that view is not always correct, noting that:

The tip-toeing around religious sensitivities has created this bizarre situation
where people can say with a straight face to judge someone's sincerity by their
Jesus-loving words rather than their woman-hating actions, and we as a society
need to find a way to get past that.

I think she has a point. When white American Southern Christians used the Bible to justify the institution of slavery, is there any doubt that racism, not religion, was the real basis of their views? After all, the Bible never says that white people should be slave owners and blacks slaves. It just gives general rules for how slaves, in general, should be treated. (For that matter, it really assumes that Jews will be the ones owning the slaves and Gentiles will be the slaves, but that's a whole other thing). Would it have been wrong to go past their religious arguments and point out the racism that underlied them?

I don't think so. When religion is being used a sham to support some other agenda, which is laid bare by the actions the believer takes being consistent with that agenda, I think we can point that out. We must be careful not to do so too quickly or self-servingly to create straw men, but one should not be able to hide sexism or racism under the cloud of religion and be therefore exempt from criticism.

Evidence, Shmevidence

Following up on my previous post, I thought I'd mention another tactic irrational people use to avoid accepting evidence: asking for one piece of evidence that is impossible to obtain, and then claiming that the failure to present that evidence proves that they are right.

In regards to the theory of evolution, creationists and ID proponents use this tactic by asking scientists to "Show me a cat evolving into a dog." They ask this in the full knowledge that, for one thing, evolution happens at rates too slow in multicellular animals to show it happening in real time, and secondly, that the theory of evolution never claims that cats evolve into dogs in the first place. They avoid dealing with the mountains of evidence for the theory of evolution this way, sidestepping it all to claim victory.

Holocaust deniers do exactly the same thing. A classic Holocaust denial demand is: "Show me one order signed by Hitler ordering the Holocaust." When that order isn't produced, they claim victory: "Hitler didn't order it, then." In this way, they attempt to ignore all other evidence that indicates Hitler did, in fact, order the Holocaust, and the evidence of why no such order exists.

No such order exists because Hitler was protecting himself from association with the Holocaust. He never ordered it in writing because he didn't want a written record. Now, a critic would say, "Well, that's easy enough to say. You could say that about anything." Which is true. But this isn't just a theory: there is a vast amount of other evidence that indicates Hitler did protect himself this way, such as numerous letters and diaries in which those close to Hitler wrote down some of the orders Hitler gave them verbally in regard to the Holocaust, the many orders signed by Hitler that authorized things now known to be part of the Holocaust, and by the fact that Hitler used the same "code words" to discuss the Holocaust as those who carried it out: there is vast evidence that Hitler knew that "Final Solution" meant exterminating the Jews, that "police actions" meant shooting Jews, and so on. He never said, "Kill the Jews," but he did say, "Implement the Final Solution," which was the term they used for the Holocaust.

Taken separately, perhaps each of these various lines of evidence have weaknesses: though the evidence does indicate that Hitler knew what all those euphemisms meant, it's possible he didn't. But it's not possible that he didn't know what all those euphemisms meant, that he didn't know what any of the orders he signed to help implement the Holocaust meant, that all the people who separately recorded Hitler speaking about the Holocaust and getting orders about the Holocaust not only lied, but did so in a coordinated fashion, so that their recollections would all fit together in a consistent pattern. The evidence, as a whole, is too great to deny.

Unless you're a Holocaust denier. Then, you ignore all of that, in favor of repeating your demand for "one piece of paper" that "proves" Hitler ordered the Holocaust. Since you know there isn't one, you know no one will ever be able to produce it, and you can ignore all that other evidence and continue to believe what you wanted to believe in the first place.

Evidence doesn't matter to these people, and, as I noted before, when they request it, they are acting in bad faith, because they wouldn't care even if you gave it to them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

'Ole Occam and His Razor Strike Again!

In this post at Underwhelming Evidence, called "Argument by Technobabble," ID proponents try to simply ignore evidence that Behe's claim that mammalian coagulation (clotting) system is Irreducibly Complex (IC). Which demonstrates why ID is not science, despite the claims of its proponents: denigrating evidence by calling it "technobabble" is not the same as refuting or the same as actually presenting evidence of your own.

I especially liked this little bit of craziness:

One of the great things about Intelligent Design is that it simplifies things.
Unlike the theory of evolution it passes the test of Occam's razor the
universally true scentific [sic] axiom that given a choice between a complex theory
and a simple one, the simple one has the greatest probability of being right.
It's another way of saying that tall-tales and just-so stories are usually
false. ID is so simple that even people who are un-trained in biological
sciences can make great and astounding progress. What could be a greater
indicator of it's [sic] truth than that?

First off, Occam's Razor is not a "universally true scientific axiom." It is more like a guideline or, as stated in the Wikipedia entry on the subject, "a basic tool" for use in applying the scientific method. But it's not a perfect tool, or else scientists could simply look at all the theories that fit a particular set of data, pick the "simplest" one, and bingo!

It doesn't work that way. For one thing, Occam's Razor actually says:

All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.

So, the simplest solution isn't always the correct solution, as the author would have us believe, but rather it tends to be. Further, determining what theory is actually the simplest is no easy task either, since all things are often not equal.

For instance, here the author wants us to believe that since, "an unknown intelligence did it!" sounds like a simpler concept than "gradual speciation through natural selection and other factors," it must, in fact, be simpler.


The underlying assumptions in the ID position are enormous. First off, though they deny the identity of the "designer" is important, and claim that it could be aliens, that's not what they think. It's God, specifically the Judeo-Christian God. Well, except for a few Moonies in the ID movement, but otherwise. So, in order to accept the "simpler" theory of ID, we have to accept a mass of other ideas that aren't simple at all. In fact, Christian theology is full of complicated ideas that have caused gallons of ink to be spewed over the past 2000 years, like the Trinity, Original Sin, the problem of free will, the problem of evil, and others just as unlikely and incoherent.

In fact, it's pretty ironic that one of the criticisms of Dawkins from Christians and ID proponents is that he doesn't understand the complexities of theology well enough to critique them, but then claim that ID is the "simpler" explanation, though it rests on those very theological complexities.

And then there's the classic bit of ID irrationality:

And the theory they use to "disprove" IC - it's the most absurdly complex idea
of all: They claim that irreducable things are not irreducable because the
components have other uses in other possibly unrelated structures in life. Of
course the fatal and obvious flaw in this argument is that the other structure
must by definition be also IC. Instead of having just one IC structure the
darwinists have actually proved that there are two! There is the precursor IC
structure and also the originally observed newer IC structure. If only they
taught that in schools!

Let's see how many logic flaws we can spot here. For one thing, we've got the classic moving the goalposts: they just move the IC claim back one step when something is shown not to be IC. Very nice. It's the exact same logic they use when they ask for "transitional" fossils: when you show them one, they just move the goalposts and claim that now that you have put a fossil in the middle of a gap, there are now two gaps! This way, they just keep setting the bar higher and higher, hoping no one will notice that the bar will never stop moving and can never be met.

In simpler terms, ID proponents are simply saying, "Show me X and I'll accept the theory of evolution." But, when you show them X, they just say, "Well, now I want to see Y." If someone did that to you in regular life, you'd get pissed pretty quickly.

For instance, imagine that you go pick up a package, and they ask you to prove your identity. They say, "We just need to see some ID." (Pun unintended). You show them your driver's license. They say, "Well, that's not enough. Driver's licenses can be faked. If you had a Social Security card, we'd believe it was you." So you show them your Social Security card. They say, "Well, we're still not sure."

Naturally, you'd say, "You said you'd believe it was me if I showed you my Social Security card!" Then, they say, "Well, we're just not sure. We'd believe you if you had a passport." When you then whip out your passport and they still won't give you the package, you'd realize they were just stalling and that no amount of identification is going to get it for you. You'd realize that they weren't requesting further evidence in good faith: they never cared about or intended to consider the evidence anyway.

And you can tell the author of this post is acting in bad faith because he pulls a little switcheroo when he says: "Of course the fatal and obvious flaw in this argument is that the other structure must by definition be also IC." Did you notice it? How do we know these other structures are IC? Because they're defined as IC. Why are the defined as IC? Because they are IC. It's a tautology. IC doesn't actually mean anything. Things don't become true just because you define them as true. I can't just define "my property" as anything I want, can I? Would you give me your car just because I said, "By definition, your car is my property, so hand it over?" I doubt it.

"If only the taught that in schools," indeed, except the author doesn't understand why what he just wrote should be taught in schools: to demonstrate errors in reasoning and how to avoid them.

What a total crock.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Our Bullshit is Better than Your Bullshit

I wasn't posting back when the row was going on about the fight a woman was having with the Defense Department regarding her husband, who was killed in Iraq. He was a Wiccan, but the DoD refused to put a pentagram on his headstone, though, of course, Christian crosses and Stars of David are just fine.

Now, as reported by the Washington Post, an Army chaplain who tried to switch from being a pentecostal chaplain to a Wiccan chaplain was withdrawn from Iraq and removed from the chaplain corps. As the Washington Post reports:

For Wiccans seeking public acceptance, obtaining a military chaplain is the next
major goal. More than 130 religious groups have endorsed, or certified,
chaplains to serve in uniform. But efforts by Wiccan organizations to join the
list have repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon.

Lt. Col. Randall C. Dolinger, spokesman for the Army's Chief of Chaplains office, said the Sacred Well Congregation has met all the requirements to become an endorser, except one: It has not presented a "viable candidate." The group's previous nominee was turned away because his eyesight was not correctable to 20-20.

Fair enough. So, when Army chaplain Don Larsen decided to become the first Wiccan chaplain, it looked like things were moving ahead. But not so fast. You see, since, as noted above, chaplains must be "endorsed" by a religious group, and those groups can cancel that "endorsement" at any time. Picking up the story:

When the Sacred Well Congregation applied on July 31 to become Larsen's new endorser, the Army initially cited a minor bureaucratic obstacle: It could not find a copy of his previous endorsement from the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, a Dallas-based association of Pentecostal churches.

And so, the Army, to resolve this obstacle, contacted the Full Gospel Churches to get the form, and also, you know, by the way, happened to mention that Larsen was planning to switch to being a Wiccan chaplain. Because, you know, pentecostals are so very tolerant of those with other faiths, and never think that even other Christians, like Catholics, are actually being deceived by Satan and going to Hell, and of course would never do anything to try to make sure no devil-worshipping Wiccans ever were allowed to be Army chaplains. No, never.

So, of course, here's what happened:

The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches immediately severed its ties to Larsen. The Sacred Well Congregation could not renew his papers, because it was not yet an official endorser. Lacking an ecclesiastical endorsement, Larsen was ordered to cease functioning immediately as a chaplain, and the Pentagon quickly pulled him out of Iraq.
So, let me get this straight. Sacred Well is not an official endorser because it doesn't have a viable candidate. And it couldn't endorse Larsen, obviously a viable candidate since he was already serving as a chaplain in Iraq, because it wasn't an official endorser.

Right. That makes sense. No discrimination there. It's not as if the reason Full Gospel pulled Larsen's papers was because the Army conveniently couldn't find Larsen's papers all of a sudden, and then used the lack of papers as an excuse to contact Full Gospel and happen to mention to them that he was going to become a devil-worshiping Wiccan, is it? It's not as if the Army essentially called Full Gospel and said, in essence, with a wink, "If you don't pull this guy's papers, we'll have to let a devil-worshipper become a chaplain." No, of course not.

But, if not, then why mention what Larsen was planning to Full Gospel at all? Couldn't the Army have just called them up and said, "We can't find Larsen's papers. Can you send us a copy?" without telling them about Larsen's Wiccan intentions? Apparently not.

But hey, there's no discrimination here. The Army says so:

Dolinger, the Army Chief of Chaplains spokesman, denied that any discrimination
was involved. "What you're really dealing with is more of a personal drama, what
one person has been through and the choices he's made. Plus, the fact that the
military does have Catch-22s," he said.
Oh, well, that completely explains it. It's not as if the Army knew about this particular Catch-22, and actually took advantage of it by informing Full Circle about what Larsen intended to do. Oh, wait, that's exactly what they did. This Catch-22 wasn't unavoidable; in fact, it would only come up if and only if the Army made sure that Full Circle pulled Larsen's papers before he could switch his endorsement.

But, you know, military Catch-22s trump the freakin' Bill of Rights, don't they? At least when it benefits one religion over another, apparently.

It already pisses me off that my taxes go to pay people to preach their fantasies to our troops. But it pisses me off even more that the military is shitting all over the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by trying to keep fantasies they don't like out. Guess what? You don't get to pick and choose which fucking fantasies to allow in. You don't. That's the whole fucking point of the fucking First Amendment, get it? Get it? When assholes like this righteously claim they are fighting for my freedoms with one breath and then try to destroy those freedoms with another, it really pisses me off.

And that's despite the fact that I don't believe in Wicca any more than I believe in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Last-Tuesdayism, the FSM, Santa Claus, or the Force. The Wiccan religion is bullshit just like all those others, and it's just as silly too. And I'd just as soon see Wicca thrown on the dustbin of history as any other religion.

But if you're going to allow one person's bullshit in, you have to let them all in.

That is what the fucking Christian majority in this country don't understand. And the passive acceptance of Christians -- even most moderate ones -- that it is okay for government to endorse Christianity by forcing it on kids in school, putting its tenets up in courtrooms, and by legislating it into law, is why I label them as theocrats and why it is they who are anti-American and want to destroy the Constitution and everything America stands for, not liberals, not American Muslims, Jews, agnostics, or atheists. American Christians are the ones with no respect for democracy, for our Republic, or for the ideals this nation is based on, and they are the ones who would tear everything America stands for down in the name of their nonexistent God.

Muslims who want to establish Shariah law across the Muslim world are the ideological brothers of American Christians. They both want exactly the same thing: to rule in the name of their God. The only difference -- the only difference -- is which God's name they want to rule in. They are both equally dangerous to democracy, to the Western world, and to freedom.

Make no mistake.

What the Army chaplain corps has done here is nothing less than an assault on the Constitution they swore to protect and defend. Those who have done this are oathbreakers, without honor, and have betrayed America and its Constitution.

Wikiality! (Or, perhaps, Conserviality?)

On The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert invented the term "wikiality" to describe how, through sites like Wikipedia, simply make reality whatever we want it to be. Colbert said that we could all just decide that African elephant populations have been increasing over the past decade, and say so at Wikipedia, and then it would be true! How do we know? Easy! Go look it up on Wikipedia!

The result was that Wikipedia to had to lock down all its elephant pages.

But, of course, Stephen Colbert is making a joke when he suggests we should really accept "wikiality" as reality. There are some, however, who didn't get the joke:

Thus sprach Conservapedia! The "conservative" answer to Wikipedia.

'Cause, you know, reality has a well-known liberal bias. (This line blatantly stolen from Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars).

On its main page, Conservapedia says:

Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses.

Ah. In other words, not endorsing Christianity is "anti-Christian." A.D., after all, means Year of Our Lord, which is specifically Christian, while C.E. means simply Common Era, which isn't pro- or anti-Christian. It's just neutral. But, you see, to Christians, anything that doesn't specifically endorse their particular brand of zaniness is an affront. There seems to be no difference in Christians' minds between religiously neutral, like C.E., and outright anti-Christian. For instance, if we went from A.D. to, say, A.S., Anno Satanis, or, in the Year of Satan, that would be anti-Christian. C.E. is no such thing.

How, exactly, using C.E. instead of A.D. is "anti-American" I have no idea either. After all, Jesus wasn't an American. He was a Middle-Eastern Jew. Unless you're a Mormon, and I don't think the people behind Conservapedia are, Jesus never saw America and never spoke about America. The fact is that being anti-Christian is not being anti-American, because the US is not a Christian nation but rather a secular nation in which each person is free to practice (or not) his or her religion as he or she sees fit.

And, apparently the creators of Conservapedia are unaware of the concept of irony, as they proclaim on their main page...

Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America. Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of "political correctness".

...even as they then accuse Wikipedia of bias. This is where Ed Brayton's line that "reality has a well-known liberal bias" is particularly apt.

The definition of bias, according to, is: "a particular tendency or inclination, esp. one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice." Hmm... let's think about this for a second. Conservapedia's editors "favor Christianity and America."

Hello, pot, this is the kettle. You're black!

Conservapedia may just as well say at the outset, "You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of 'truth' or 'reality.'"

On Conservapedia's irony-meter destroying page Examples of Bias in Wikipedia, there are some gems like:

The entry for the Renaissance in Wikipedia refuses to give any credit to Christianity.

Uh... so? First off, it's a freakin' wiki, for the love of... If you think Christianity deserves credit, do your research, get your arguments in order, and amend the article! The only reason to crawl into your own hole, plug your ears, and say "Lalalalalalala!" as Conservapedia is doing is if you know that the facts don't back up your case, so you need to go somewhere where no one will question you. It's kind of like how creationists and ID proponents never put their papers out for scientific peer-review but instead publish them in magazines devoted to creationism: because they know the facts won't support what they're saying and so there's no point.

Secondly, this complaint serves simply to highlight the bias of Conservapedia, not Wikipedia, since there's no actual reason given for why credit for the Renaissance should be given to Christianity. This is a pretty transparent plea to the already-converted, who will naturally agree that Christianity should be given credit for anything without needing a reason, so why supply one? Substitute any topic X for "Renaissance" and it would make no difference to most conservative Christian readers, I suspect.

Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English
speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it
automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured
Nation", even there there are far more American than British users.

Good Lord! Someone call the President!

Who gives a freakin' shit? I think we could just copy-and-paste this text in for the definition of xenophobia and it would be right on. I don't see what the hell this has to do with anything. And, in any case, do these idiots not realize that Britain is far and away closest to the US in Europe and much of the world in terms of being closest to the US in terms of conservatism? Do they not realize that they are the biggest supporters of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq outside of the US? That they are the biggest supporters of the Global War on an Abstract Concept in the world?

I accuse Conservapedia of anti-American bias! How dare they call our langauge "English!" Obviously, they're in bed with British atheist communists! Just like anyone who fails to call fries "Freedom" fries, anyone who calls our language "English" is a traitor! Our language is "American," and anyone who says differently is clearly a liberal cut-and-runner.

Gossip is pervasive on Wikipedia. Many entries read like the National Enquirer.
For example, Wikipedia's entry on Nina Totenberg states, "She married H. David
Reines, a trauma physician, in 2000. On their honeymoon, he treated her for
severe injuries after she was hit by a boat propeller while swimming." That
sounds just like the National Enquirer, and reflects a bias towards gossip.
Conservapedia avoids gossip and vulgarity, just as a true encyclopedia does.

Uh... er... I don't think that sounds like the National Enquirer at all. That sounds like an interesting little tidbit of trivia. If it said, "Nina Totenberg has Threesome with Britney and Christina!!!", that would be gossip. If this is the best Conservapedia has to offer in support of the need for its existence, well...

Edits to include facts against the theory of evolution are almost immediately censored. On Conservapedia, contributions that meet simple rules are respected to the maximum extent possible

Wait, wait, wait... Facts? They have facts? Because I've never seen them. Is Wikipedia the only place they've ever tried to present them? Because none of the normal creationist/ID websites, such as Uncommon Descent, have ever presented an actual fact refuting the theory of evolution. They present false dichotomies, flawed logic, tautological arguments, and arguments from authority a'plenty, but not facts.

As such, I am going to have to call bullshit on this one: I don't think a creationist or ID proponent has ever posted a fact on any website, ever, "against the theory of evolution." This is just an outright lie. And, as such, it is also a lie that Wikipedia has ever censored such, since these supposed "facts" don't actually exist!

Often key facts are missing from Wikipedia entries in favor of meaningless
detail. Wikipedia's entry about Indentured Servitude is massive, but it omits any reference to Bacon's Rebellion, which was the turning point for the use of indentured servants in the New World!
Er... I have no idea if this is true or not. But, once again, nonetheless, it's a freakin' wiki! It depends on users to update the articles to include important facts. If this is true, then edit the damned article! And how, exactly, is having an incomplete article an example of "bias", liberal or otherwise? It's an example of incompleteness, and that's about it, assuming this is true.

Now, for some awesome bullshitting. First, by way of accusing Wikipedia of bias, the creators of Conservapedia say:

For example, even though most Americans (and probably most of the world) reject
the theory of evolution... Wikipedia editors commenting on the topic are nearly 100% pro-evolution.
But then, they turn around and use the following quote to bolster their "bias" claims as well:

Robert McHenry, former Editor-in-Chief for the Encyclopedia Britannica, wrote
about Wikipedia's bias and included this observation: One simple fact that must
be accepted as the basis for any intellectual work is that truth – whatever
definition of that word you may subscribe to – is not democratically determined.
Huh wha-? Which is it? I mean, in the same virtual breath, Conservapedia's creators are claiming that Wikipedia should reflect what the majority believe about evolution, rather than the truth, and thus is biased, but also that Wikipedia is biased because its truths are arrived at democratically?

If evolution is true -- it is -- and the evidence supports it -- it does -- but Wikipedia's "truths" were "determined democratically," well, Wikipedia's evolution pages would be full of bullshit creationist and ID proponent objections to evolution, wouldn't they? But they aren't: They reflect the evidence and actual reality rather than the fantasyland of creationists and ID proponents. And, as such, if Robert McHenry is right, that "truth... is not democratically determined," Wikipedia's evolution pages do, in fact, contain the truth, and as such there is nothing for Conservapedia to complain about.

Do you suppose these jokers even realize their arguments are contradictory and incoherent, or do you think they actually think they've made a point?

Then, the creators of Conservapedia offer up one of the worst conservative canards:

Unlike most encyclopedias and news outlets, Wikipedia does not exert any
centralized authority to take steps to reduce bias or provide balance; it has a
"neutral point of view" policy but the policy is followed only to the extent
that individual editors acting in social groups choose to follow it. For
example, CNN would ensure that Crossfire had a representative of the political
right and one from the political left.

To slightly alter a quote I posted before from Bill Maher,:

New Rule: You don't have to [present] both sides of a debate, if one side is a load of crap.

And that's the "problem" Conservapedia is whining about here. The arguments against evolution are, in fact, a complete "load of crap." But conservatives and Christians have managed to twist the "equal time" idea into a ghastly version of openness and fairness. They've managed to convince us all that both sides have to be shown as equal options, even when one side is a load of crap.

The media has become egregious in how they fall for this. Every story has to have two sides to be "fair," so they find someone to present "the other side" even when that side is manifestly untrue. That's not fairness, that's dishonesty and disingenuousness. Just because you have someone on talking about how the Earth is round doesn't mean to be "fair" you have to find a flat-Earther to provide the opposing opinion.

The interests of "fairness" weren't served by the media when everytime a Democrat mentioned that Iraq wasn't linked to 9-11 and wasn't part of the War on an Abstract Concept, they found some member of the Bush regime to say it was. The result, as I have mentioned before, is that a huge proportion of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein did have a role in 9-11, even though he didn't.

When one side is lying through its teeth, then "fairness" is not served by giving that side the chance to repeat their lies endlessly. What the creators of Conservapedia are upset about is that they can't use Wikipedia as another outlet for those lies, and that's the basis of their actual complaint here.

Some other fun things on Conservepedia:

On the Index page, under World History, they list Ancient History as being from "Creation-500 AD." Nope, no bias there at all. Just throw out Cosmology and the whole dumb Big Bang idea as if there were no evidence behind it.

On the main page, under This Day in History for February 2, Conservapedia asserts:

Did you know that faith is a uniquely Christian concept? Add to the explanation of what it means, and how it does not exist on [sic] other religions.

Nope. No bias there. Christians not only like to claim that atheists don't really exist, as Anon did, but now this. Jews and Muslims will be pretty surprised to learn they don't have "faith." In fact, since Jesus was, himself a Jew, and never said the word "Christianity" once, I guess the creators of Conservapedia think neither he nor any of the apostles had "faith" either.

Bias? What bias? Is is biased to say what everyone knows, that goodness, light, truth, and faith are all unique to Christianity and that everyone else is a godless, hell-bound tool of Satan? Of course not. Lying for Jesus isn't an example of bias. Anything done in the name of Jesus is inherently good, and anything that conflicts with that is bad, and nothing that is good can ever be biased. See?

More of the unvarnished "truth" on Conservapedia:
  • Washington was a devout Christian, and this is a undisputable as his patriotism.
  • The scientific definition of a miracle is "a net decrease in entropy". (Emphasis mine).
Washington went to church and prayed and all that, but he didn't believe in Jesus as his personal savior and was tolerant of other religions. He did, in fact, write a letter to the Jews of Newport Rhode Island in which he guaranteed their religious freedoms. I suspect that most of the fundamentalist Christians who read Conservapedia would have trouble describing anyone who didn't accept Jesus as his personal savior as a "devout" Christian.

I'm also surprised to learn that science has a definition for something that, by definition, is not explainable by science. Very interesting.

No bias in the suggested debate topics on Conservapedia either, such as:

  • Is it even possible to install democracy in a Muslim country?
  • Crusades... Good or Bad?
  • Is the theory of macroevolution true?
  • Does bias impair Wikipedia's reliability?
  • Should creationism/intelligent design be taught as a scientific alternative in public schools?
  • Which is a more powerful ideology, Islam or communism?
  • Should public displays of the 10 Commandments be allowed under the constitution?
  • Were the Puritans right to banish (expel) people for religious reasons?
Hmm. Interesting questions. Kind of like asking someone, "How long did you beat your wife last night?" or, "How exactly does Satan give you your orders?" But no bias there, no...

Last but not least, the articles themselves are just laughable. Let's take a look at one a commenter on Dispatches pointed up as a particularly good example, the entry for Kangaroo:

Kangaroos have large ears on top of their small heads, a long snout, and short
arms with clawed fingers. Their legs are strong and powerful, designed by God
for leaping.

Let us not forget, that even though God is "unknowable" when Christians can't explain something, they do actually know exactly what God was thinking when He made kangaroos' legs.

Like all modern animals, modern kangaroos originated in the Middle East and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood.

All modern animals originated in the Middle East? Yeah. Because ancient texts mention kangaroos all the time. And there are tons of cave paintings of kangaroos. And, of course, genetic testing shows that they are related to animals that inhabit the Middle East, right?

After the Flood, kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia.
There is debate whether this migration happened over land -- as Australia was
still for a time connected to the Middle East before the supercontinent of Pangea
broke apart -- or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding
flood waters.
I'm pretty sure this debate involves about as many facts as debates about when the Elves migrated to Valinor from Middle Earth, and has about as much relevance to actual history as well.

I think we should coin a term for the reality in which conservative Christians like these live, as demonstrated by the fantasies posted on sites like Conservapedia: Conserviality. It's like reality, only with a conservative bent, and not actually real.

Awesome. Why bother with actual "facts," "research," and "evidence?" It's so much easier just to make shit up, after all.

Obama's "Blackness"

Okay, I'm going to weigh in on this whole issue of whether Barack Obama is black. A couple of disclaimers to start with: I am not, myself, black, so take my opinion on this for what you will. Also, at least in the primaries, I think I will be supporting Dennis Kucinich and not Obama.

For those not familiar with the issue, many African-Americans feel that Obama is not "black," or part of American "black" culture. They feel that African-American or American black culture is based on being descended from West Africans who were brought to the US as slaves. Since Obama's father was actually from Africa, and he is not descended from slaves, he does not qualify, according to this theory.

A couple of things about this don't make sense to me. First off, whether Obama actually was descended from slaves or not, he was born in the US and grew up in the US, and since he looks black, he would have been treated by the culture in general as if he were a descendent of slaves, since that's pretty much the default assumption in the US. In other words, his actual experience as an American wouldn't be any different, because he doesn't have "not descended from slaves" tattooed on his forehead, so no one would know to treat him differently.

And, secondly, I don't think that the people promoting this theory have thought through what it means overall. If one's ancestry, that is, one being descended from slaves, and not one's actual experience, determines whether or not one is a participant in black culture, then wouldn't only those descended from slave-owners be responsible for the injustice of slavery? Should those not descended from slave-owners therefore be completely exempt for being included in the "white" category, at least as it relates to oppression of blacks, and any responsibility to do anything about it?

For instance, I do not have any Southern slave owners in my ancestry. Both sides of my family were Northerners, with no branches in the South until after the end of the American Civil War. As such, since my ancestry has no slave-owners in it, can I thus be completely unsympathetic to the problems of African-Americans, because I'm not at all responsible for it? For instance, should I be exempt from being considered "white" for purposes of Affirmative Action? I mean, I don't have any slave-owners in my ancestry, so by this theory, I bear no responsibility for the status of blacks, and thus I shouldn't be included in those formulations.

I doubt that most blacks would be okay with a 2nd-generation, say, Dutch immigrant using the "N" word. They would likely not care that he isn't descended from slave-owners or racists trying to enforce "separate but equal", and therefore (by this reasoning) not one of those whites who oppressed blacks and not therefore forbidden to use the "N" word. He would be a white person using the "N" word, and though it's okay for blacks to use it with each other, I doubt a white person's ancestry would really matter, as it should if this theory were true.

Now, I don't actually think all this is true, of course. I actually do live in this culture and what I do, say, and think affects those around me, including African-Americans. Though my ancestors never owned slaves, I am part of a culture which has a past based in slavery, and which is still dealing with the after-effects of it. Though Obama's ancestors never were slaves, he is part of the same culture with a past of slavery and that is still dealing with the effects. He grew up in a culture where people who looked like him were once owned by people who looked like me. Whether his ancestors or mine were actually any of those people doesn't really have much to do with it.

I just don't think this theory makes a lot of sense if you carry it through. I'm not at all telling blacks who they should support and how they should vote: if Obama isn't their guy, that's fine. I just don't think the logic by which it is being claimed Obama isn't black makes a lot of sense.

Not that I get a vote, of course. I also can't tell blacks whether to accept Obama or not. But I can, I think, point out that the logic now being bandied about is flawed, in my opinion.

Monday, February 19, 2007

As If There Weren't Enough Reasons Not To Be A Teacher

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, a woman in Connecticut has been convicted of showing computer porn to 7th graders while substitute teaching, despite the huge amount of evidence that she was the victim of malicious software already on the computer before she used it.

The school in which the teacher, Julie Amero, was teaching in a school which was running Windows 98 (!) and had let the school's firewall/internet filtering program license lapse, leaving the computers open to attack, and the computer she was using was, in fact, infected with adware, spyware, and malware, likely from the regular user visiting questionable dating sites (!) as found in the computer's history.

In addition, the computer's history indicated that the user had done a search on hair styles that led to a site that locks the computer in an infinite loop of porn sites that is difficult for the casual user to break out of. A defense expert witness testified at trial that this was how the porn ended up on her screen and why she couldn't get away from it.

Despite all this exculpatory evidence, she was convicted of multiple felonies.

For the record, no action has been taken against the school despite the fact that it is against Federal law for public schools to provide internet access without filtering software.

No wonder no one wants to become a teacher in the US. Jeesh. Low pay, high educational and licensing standards, poor treatment by teachers, students, and administrators, long hours, poor facilities and equipment, increasingly impossible-to-meet Federal standards, plus the chance to spend the rest of your life in prison because of poor computer security in your school.

Awesome. Sign me up.


Anonymous Strikes Again!

It's as if Anonymous hasn't read the rest of this blog at all. I'm going to respond here to his latest nonsensical comment.

He begins:

Besides arguing with someone whose best defense is "I'm right and you're wrong"
isn't really much of a debate.

I couldn't agree more. When are you going to stop using that defense, then? After all, I've written over 250 articles on this blog and you have yet to actually refute a single argument I have made. Methinks he doth protest too much.

You still can't disprove the existence of God any more than you can prove the
big bang (it remains even when taught in school, a theory).

I'll take theist canards for $500, Alex! For the umpteenth time, the one making the claim is the one who must provide evidence for the claim. I can't disprove the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or a teapot in orbit around Mars, but I can safely discount that any of these things exist until sufficient evidence is presented. Note I did not say "proof." Proofs exist only in mathematics. In science, everything is provisional.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Until and unless anonymous can offer some extraordinary evidence for his extraordinary claim that a magic man lives in the sky and that his son will save me from sins that my ancestors committed, I will continue to discount his claim. Until and unless some extraordinary evidence is offered, Anonymous is simply offering no more to support his claim than, "I'm right and you're wrong." I'm not the one making a claim here. I am simply applying the same rational filter to his claim as I do to all others, and rejecting those claims with insufficient evidence.

As it was once said, "It's important to keep an open mind, but no so open your brains fall out."

In regards to the Big Bang, there is vastly more corroborated, valid evidence of the Big Bang than of any supernatural forces or entities including the Christian God. It is true that we will never be able to "prove" the Big Bang without a time machine, but we can collect sufficient evidence to make it reasonable to believe such a thing happened. The evidence is commensurate with the claim in the case of the Big Bang, unlike the claims made by theists.

Also, let me remind my readers that a "theory" is the highest state of knowledge in science. Theories do not graduate to become facts. Anonymous is attempting, as theists often do, that theories are somehow lacking compared to the facts and truth they hold. Wrong.

I believe in the big bang by the way, I just think there was more to it than a
random interaction of atoms and plasma. My little degree in physics is worth
something after all.

Here, we have it all. Passive-aggression, Argument by Authority, and bad science to boot. First off, I think Anonymous might want to get his money back on that "little" physics degree. There was no "interaction of atoms and plasma" involved with the Big Bang, my friend. Atoms and plasma didn't exist until after Big Bang occurred. And whether or not the "interactions" that caused the Big Bang were random or not has yet to be determined.

I've got to tell you and your buddies that if you view Pat Robertson and Jerry
Falwell as the pinnacles of Christian teaching, you are booing the wrong team.
They certainly don't represent the morals and beliefs I have any more than Osama
bin Laden represents the values of mainstream Islam. Every religion has it's
share of kooks, and I think that is mainly due to the man becoming larger in his
own mind than the belief which drives him. We call that fanaticism.

I don't really view anyone as the "pinnacle" of Christian teaching. But they are symptomatic of what can happen when one accepts irrational beliefs. They are Christians and they do represent the beliefs of millions of Americans. They are symptomatic of the perils of irrational belief, and I hold them up as such. If Christians don't like what Falwell and Robertson represent, they have to clean their own house. That's not my job as an outsider and critic, nor is it my job to try to tell the "good" Christians from the "bad" ones. All Christians hold irrational beliefs, and it is in a breeding ground that encourages those kinds of beliefs that Falwell and Robertson have sprung.

And, in any case, I think mainstream Christians are pretty fanatical too. States have been passing amendments banning gay marriage right and left, generally by huge margins, and on what basis do those voting think they should deny civil rights -- rights they themselves enjoy --to others?

The answer, overwhelmingly, is because of religious objections. And the vast majority of those voters are Christians. And when Christians start legislating their morality into law, especially in regards to denying freedom to others, that makes them religious fanatics in my eyes, so I have little sympathy for Anonymous on this count.

One thing I cannot figure out is why we cannot be anti-semitic, we can't be
anti-gay, and we musn't be racist nor can we offend any religion save one. Why
is it okay to mock my God and call Christians idiots and write all sorts of
drivel about them when we can't do all of these other things? My short answer is
that we're right and just ticks everybody else off.

How wonderfully self-serving. Of course it's how right Christians are that ticks everyone else off. Oh, wait. Then why do atheists and Muslims tick American Christians off so much?

Now, for a little lesson. Anti-Semitism isn't the same as being opposed to Christianity because Judaism is a religion and a race. Anti-Semitism isn't about whether the central tenets of the Jewish religion -- that Yahweh, the God of the Torah, is the one true God -- are true or not. It's about thinking that the Jews are an evil, conniving, backstabbing, money-grubbing race out destroy Gentile society and culture and take over the world. It's a whole other pile of beans.

Criticizing Christianity and saying that the Jews are vermin to be wiped out are two very different things and they are not at all comparable.

Further, victims of racism, anti-gay bigotry, and anti-Semitism have one thing in common: they are all minorities being terrorized by the power-wielding majority. Christians are the majority. They are the ones in power. Christians are governors in all 50 US states, are the majority in all 50 US state legislatures, are the majority in Congress and the US Supreme Court, and hold the Presidency. They are the ones trying to legislate their morality into law, they are the ones trying to tear down the separation of church and state, and they are the ones who want their religion to be supported by government over all others. And then they still have the gall to complain, as Anonymous does here! The persecution complex some Christians have developed despite overwhelmingly having the power in the US is quite amazing.

In a democracy (really, a republic), it is important for minorities to be free to criticize the majority, to criticize those in power. Jews, racial minorities, and gays aren't the ones in power, and racists, anti-gay bigots, and anti-Semites aren't criticizing the dominant power structure to keep in check and protect their own rights: they're picking on those weaker than themselves.

Also, I would point out that criticizing Christianity is criticizing some beliefs some people hold, but, once again, since race and sexual orientation aren't choices but are inherent, it's the difference between criticizing someone's beliefs and criticizing them. I criticize Christians and Christianity because their irrational beliefs make them do crazy things. But it's not what Jews, racial minorities, and gays do that draws the criticism of bigots: it's what they are.

But unlike Islam or Judaism or even the reincarnation cycles of Taoism and
Buddhism there is no human act which can bring us closer to God save faith in
Jesus Christ.

Am I right? Well I don't know, ask me when I'm dead. I'll have to
get back to you on that one.

If you don't know, then you shouldn't believe it. If the only way for me to know is to ask a dead person, well, that's pretty much an unprovable claim, isn't it? It's pretty convenient to set a claim up there way, so that you always have a reason not to present any evidence.

My only beef with you is to blatantly call my belief phony when you've never
experienced it. That's just kind of insulting and deserves a response. That's
the only reason I'm here.

No, I didn't every call your belief "phony." I take your word that you sincerely believe. But wishing something is true doesn't make it true. Just because you believe in something doesn't mean a damn thing about whether it is true or not. Unless you can provide me some extraordinary evidence to back up your extraordinary claim, I have no reason to accept it.

And I don't need to experience your "belief" to know that the claims you are making, base don those beliefs, are almost certainly wrong. I don't have to try crawl inside the experience of every UFO nut, Muslim extremist, neo-Pagan, New Ager, Branch Davidian, Heaven's Gate cultist, Moonie, Jehovah's Witness, Scientologist, or Christian Scientist to discount their claims either. Either their claims have objective evidence that gives me a reason to accept them, or at least look into them further, or they don't. They don't. And neither do yours.

I did call your belief "irrational," however. It is irrational to believe any claim in the absence of sufficient evidence, and thus your beliefs qualify until and unless you can support them.

Did you do what I asked? Did you genuinely ask God to focus on one thing in your
life and change it for you? Probably not because that's just stupid isn't it?
You see, it's easy to discount what you've never tried. You can even start a
prayer with "This is lame but I'm doing it for science." Approach it as
empirical research. But don't knock it till you've tried it. That's all I ask.
If you don't it changes nothing, you still don't know what you're talking about
because you've never done it yourself.

No, I haven't, and I wrote an entire article on why your request is ludicrous. Did you read it? Further, I doubt that you have "tried" all the other kooky religions, such as the ones I mentioned earlier, before "knocking" them. Because, from the standpoint of a rational outsider, your religion is no more or less likely to be tre than any of theirs. So, tell you what. Send me a picture of yourself with Reverend Moon and Tom Cruise and then maybe we'll talk.

It might take the rest of your life, but I promise you that something will
change for you.

I suppose it's possible that if I spent the rest of my life trying to brainwash myself into believing things irrationally, I could, and then something would "change" for me. Why, exactly, would I want to do that? I have no more desire to delude myself with your superstitions than I do anyone else's.

God understands doubt and He wants to change it. Denial is another story.

If He wanted to change my doubt, He could do it any time He wanted. He's supposed to omnipotent, right? He could send an angel down to me like he did for Paul or take me up to Heaven like Elijah. Or He could just make it so.

If, on the other hand, He doesn't exist, then He couldn't rid me of my doubt. And I'm not rid of it.

And before you start up with all the, "you have to want to believe" and "God won't force you" and "free will" bullshit, don't bother. It's bullshit. All those arguments are transparent for what they really are: backwards justifications for why things are the way thay are despite your omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent sky fairy. Those arguments make your case worse, not better, and if you go into them, I will dismantle them one by and one and show you how and why they fail.

I'd have more tolerance and respect for you if you believed in anything other
than I'm just a stupid kook with no proof.

Well, I'm not going to abandon reason and start believing in fairy tales to earn your respect or tolerance, so if you were hoping, you can stop.

Are you just a complex chain of proteins and molecules or are you something

Just a complex chain of proteins? A pretty amazing, self-aware chain of proteins, thank you very much. Why do I have to be more? And further, even if I wanted to be more, wanting it wouldn't make it true. (Argument from Negative Consequences again).

Oh and if you think Christianity is a magic religion that bestows sugar and love
on you after you believe apparently you haven't read the bible at all or you
would realize that Paul wrote most of his letters from prison and that most of
the remaining disciples were hunted down and imprisoned or killed for their
beliefs. Magic Fun Always Happy Christians? Never heard of one. You let me know
when you find one. God never promises anyone a bowl of cherries. In fact, Jesus
Himself promised adversity for belief in Him.

...and that should make we want to become a Christian why? Those seem like pretty powerful arguments not to adopt your beliefs. They are also more backwards rationalizations for why your God, despite his immense power, doesn't actually ever do anything. And, further, either your God can't deliver a "bowl of cherries," in which case he's not much of a god anyway, or else he chooses not to, in which case he's a sadistic madman. Take your pick.

You have once again failed to engage any of my arguments with anything resembling a coherent response. Arguments from personal experience seem to be pretty much all you have in your arsenal, and they are unconvincing. Please try to come up with something a little better before you post again.

Friday, February 16, 2007

If I Were A Legislator...

...I would constantly submit bills just like this one from the Kentucky legislature (I did not make this up):

HR256 - T. Burch

Encourage the purchase of a submarine to patrol the waters of the
Commonwealth and search and destroy all casino riverboats.


Costuming Minutiae

While I'm dealing with frivolous topics like The Knights, I may as well throw this in the mix too.

Did you know that wool is something of a wonder fabric? Neither did I, before I got into costuming and sewing. It turns out that wool can hold around 30-40% of its weight in water without feeling wet. That is to say, it's good at keeping you dry. (And most modern wool fabrics don't shrink when they get wet, either, so you can take advantage of this fact).

Also, wool is the best natural flame-retarding fabric available. It doesn't smolder, doesn't burn easily, and burns out quickly. Pretty cool, eh?

Of course, having learned this, I am perplexed by a scene in Attack of the Clones. During the scene where Mace Windu (Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson) confronts Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), Jango Fett hits Mace with a wrist-mounted flamethrower. Mace's robe (made of wool like most all of the Jedi outer robes) catches on fire a little, and once he's gotten away, Mace shrugs the now-smoldering robe off. I always assumed he did so because it was on fire and was going to burn him, but it turns out that it wouldn't have.

But I have to question the wisdom of discarding your most flame-retardant piece of clothing during a battle where at least one enemy is using a flamethrower. Isn't that kind of like taking off your bulletproof vest in the middle of a shootout?*

Also, did you know that silk is much cooler to wear in layers beneath wool than cotton? It is. Silk, in fact, is a natural version of the popular Underarmour brand of sportswear. Underarmour keeps athletes cool by drawing or "wicking" sweat away from the body to keep the athlete cool. Silk does the same thing, as it turns out. I discovered how much cooler silk is than cotton the first time I wore my new Jedi costume, a replica of Qui-Gon Jinn's. My previous Jedi costumes generally had inner and outer tunics of cotton, with the wool outer robe on top, and were hellishly hot. But I did my Qui-Gon 100% screen-accurate, which meant the inner tunic was knit silk (it's like T-shirt fabric only made out of silk) and an outer tunic of raw silk. I usually wear a layer of Underarmour underneath to keep cool, but I forgot to put it on the day I first wore my Qui-Gon. It was a reasonably warm (upper 70s) day. Usually, even with the Underarmour, I burn up in costume, because I'm a cold-weather person and I generate tons of heat. But, on this day, I was comfortable, while the other Jedi costumers, wearing cotton, thought it was terribly hot. I'm going all silk from now on, you can rest assured!

In other costuming news that no one cares about, I have learned to make pants! Yes, even though I have been sewing for about 5 years now and made a lot of costumes, I never actually made a pair of pants. I never needed to. I always just found some pants that worked, which was often very easy, as, for instance, prequel Jedi in the films actually just wear slacks or riding pants, so I just bought some of those. But I couldn't find pants that were right for the costume I'm working on now, Corwin from Roger Zelazny's Amber novels, so I had to make some. Not big news to anyone else, but it was kind of a big hurdle to cross, and it was making me put off doing some stuff for my girlfriend** that will require me to make pants for her as well. Anyway, I'm pretty darned pleased with myself at the moment.

I have also purchased a professional guide to film and theatrical makeup, wigs, and (especially) cosmetic appliances, and hope to be able to make my own pretty soon. I need to make myself a wig for my Qui-Gon, because his hair is straight and I just can't get mine to stay that way, even with gels, hair spray, and straightening treatments, and I want to make some latex appliances for this alien Jedi I want to do. I got a full-face mask for that character, but it doesn't fit well over my face, so I've cut out the face, leaving the top and back of the head and the horns. Now I need to make some appliances for my nose, cheeks, and chin to go with it.

In another bit of news exciting only to me, I discovered that the received wisdom about the costume Alec Guiness wore as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV (the original Star Wars) is wrong. It is said that his tunic was made of raw silk, as was Qui-Gon's later when they made Episode I. When I made my Obi-Wan Episode IV costume, I used raw silk, since that's what everyone online thought it was, and what the book Star Wars: The Magic of Myth actually said it was. But my costume just never looked right to me. The silk used for Alec Guiness' tunic is much thicker and heavier than typical for raw silk and also had a pronounced grain (see pics of the actual costume on display here) that raw silk lacks. Of course, there are heavier suit-weight raw silks, which I thought maybe were closer, but I never saw a raw silk with grain like the actual costume had. I began to wonder if perhaps they made raw silk differently back in the seventies or something.

But, lo and behold, while screwing around looking at fabrics online, I found the correct fabric: Indian Tussah, a suit-weight silk with exactly the grain I was looking for. I was very excited. And a little annoyed, admittedly, because I knew that I would have to make a new Obi-Wan Episode IV tunic, as I am obssessive about accuracy in my costumes. The fabric has arrived and I must say, it really is the right stuff. Since I'm doing that upgrade, I also got a 100% silk filament mock turtleneck to replace my (hot) cotton one, and will be making a new robe because the one I have now isn't the right color and whenever I dye it, the dye washes out the first time I wash it.

I also recently discovered that the very authentic-looking acrylic Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf I wear with my 4th Doctor costume does not match any of the scarves actually worn in the show. (I compared the order of the stripes on my scarf to the patterns for the scarves Baker actually wore that I found on this site). I'd already kind of been itching to replace my scarf with a more-accurate wool scarf anyway, and this is just another excuse to do so. Of course, I have to learn to knit first, but I was already going to have to learn to knit to make my 5th Doctor (Peter Davison) cricket sweater, since it had unique stripes on it so I can't just buy one.

I also have recently become more proficient at leatherwork, to the point that making a Jedi belt is now pretty much a breeze. I am a good way finished with my leather Anakin Episode III glove, and I just recently learned to turn short boots (Wellingtons) into tall riding-type boots or Renaissance boots myself.

Pretty clever, eh little chum?

*For the record, if you're thinking, "Maybe he just took it off so he could fight more easily without those floppy sleeves getting in his way," which I know you're not because no one cares enough about this subject to read this far, he probably didn't. How do I know? Well, it turns out that the sleeves on the prequel Jedi tunics, which the outer robe goes over, have lining in the arms, even though the rest of the tunics are not lined. The reason for this is that the lining allows the sleeve to slide back over the narrow, tight inner tunic sleeve, taking the outer robe sleeve with it, and keeping them out of the way when you're fighting. You can see this quite clearly in Revenge of the Sith when Mace Windu fights the Emperor. And it's not just Hollywood magic, it really works, as I personally can attest.

**If you're curious, I'm making her Padme's "Taupe Action Outfit" (I didn't make the name up, that's what the costume designer calls it in her book Dressing A Galaxy) from Revenge of the Sith, a regular (non-costume) outfit from a Vogue pattern she liked, and, eventually, Darth Maul.