Friday, March 30, 2007

Egnoratic Dialogue

Neurosurgeon and ID shill Michael Egnor has been riling up the reality-based blogosphere for some time now. His latest is a twist on the Argument by Technobabble that I discussed in an earlier post. He calls it "citation chaff."

It works like this. Egnor asserts that something stupid and untrue about evolution, and asks "Darwinists" to explain it. He is pointed to the volumes of scientific work explaining why his assertion is wrong. He then dismisses all that work as simply being "citation chaff" meant to confuse and distract him.

That's real tactical brilliance there. Whereas those of us who are... what's the word? ... sane are more likely to accept a proposition if there is a great deal of evidence to bolster it, Egnor actually makes having a lot of evidence into a detriment to the argument!

I think this form of discussion should be called an Egnoratic Dialogue. It's just like a Socratic Dialogue except that the questioner accuses you of knowing less the more you answer his questions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Your Tax Dollars Gone Wild

Apparently, the Justice Department started an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force last year. Yep. While the so-called Global War on Terror is such an emergency that we're supposed to sacrifice our most essential freedoms so we can "win" it, we apparently need to make sure no one looks at nudie mags or dirty DVDs too, or else the terrorists win.

According to The Nation, the leader of this task force is one Brent Ward. Mr. Ward has apparently been bugging the crap out of USAs (US Attorneys) to try to get them to prosecute flimsy cases involving consensual porn involving only consenting adults. This while, as one USA is quoted as saying,

"There were countless child obscenity cases crying out to be prosecuted," the
source told me, "but [Brent] Ward wanted to focus on cases involving consenting
adults. That's just not a good way of dedicating resources. When you have so
many children being harmed, why not allocate your resources towards that?"
Jeez, I thought it was all about protecting the children. Apparently not if an adult is watching adults having consensual sex.

In any case, failure to prosecute some of these bullshit "obscenity" cases is now being floated as one of the reasons that some of the USA 8 were dismissed. Despite the fact that the dismissals took place before Ward complained to Justice about those failures.

But this isn't an obvious sop to the religious right. No.

But the best part of the article, for me, is this little gem about our friend Brent Ward. When he was a USA himself in Utah, he -- and I am not making this up -- tried to force nude art models to wear bikinis. That's right. Nude art models. Wearing bikinis. Nude art models posing in... well, the nude ... was important enough on the agenda of a freakin' US Attorney for him to use the full power of the Federal government to stop it.

Nude. Art. Models.

That this disgrace has any position in the government, frankly, is a travesty, as is wasting money and resources on an Obscenity Task Force dedicated to taking resources away from prosecuting child porn to go after consensual adult porn.

Will this regime never stop finding new ways to sap my will to live?

William Jefferson

William Jefferson, as you may or may not recall, is a Democrat and the US Representative for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District. He also was videotaped by the FBI in 2005 receiving money as part of a bribery and fraud case. The money was subsequently found in Jefferson's home stuffed in a freezer. He also had his Congressional offices searched by the FBI, setting off a Constitutional debate about the separation of powers. Two of his associates have pleaded guilty.

Despite being pretty much nailed, Jefferson refused to step down. He then managed to keep his seat in November in a runoff election. As of now, the FBI has still not charged Jefferson with a crime.

Due to the charges swirling around him, Jefferson was stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways & Means Committee in 2006. According to The Hill, Jefferson was subsequently appointed to the House Homeland Security Committee, but has not been able to take his seat, as Republicans threatened to force an embarrassing vote on Jefferson's appointment.

It's a sticky wicket, to be sure. It would have been best if Jefferson had stepped down before the election. But now, what is the Democratic leadership to do? Jefferson hasn't actually been indicted of a crime, unlike Tom DeLay when the Republicans kept him in a leadership position in violation of their own ethics rules. So, I can see the argument being made by some Democrats that barring Jefferson from Committees when he hasn't even been indicted of a crime sets a bad precedent. It's far from impossible, given the USA (US Attorney) scandal, to imagine Rove or other Republican political operatives trumping up alleged crimes and investigations just in order to force the Democrats to strip Congress persons of Committee assignments.

But, on the other hand, it's pretty damn clear Jefferson did it. Certainly, there are questions why, given the evidence they have in hand, the FBI hasn't indicted him yet. One might begin to suspect it's political, that they're holding off so that Jefferson can continue to be an embarrassment to the Democrats. But still, given the Democratic emphasis on being more ethical than the Republicans, whether the Justice Department is playing (more) politics probably isn't that important.

In the end, though, the fact is that I don't want a corrupt politician sitting in the House at all, let alone on the Ways & Means or the Homeland Security Committees. Even though Jefferson hasn't been indicted yet, there is no innocent until proven guilty right for sitting on House Committees. If there were some reason to think Jefferson was the victim of Rove's dirty tricks, then maybe it would be different, but there just isn't enough reason to think so.

I think it is best for Congressional Democrats and the more important goal of trying to right this sinking ship of state that Jefferson not be given any positions of responsibility while he is under a cloud, or until it becomes clear the FBI is not going to indict him. It might be unfair to Jefferson, but the fact is that what is important here is not how this affects Jefferson, but how it could affect the nation, and that's just how it has to be.

USAs and Pleading the 5th

I am not a lawyer, but I play one on TV. Okay, I don't play one on TV either. As far as you know.

But still, I have a pretty good understanding of what protections are offered by the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution. And I'm pretty sure that the reasons spelled out in Justice Department White House Liaison Monica Goodling's response to Patrick Leahy's request that she testify don't qualify.

Here are some of the reasons she cites:
...certain members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have already reached
conclusions about the matter under investigation...

And? The 5th Amendment protects one from testifying against one's self, not from testifying to hostile Senators. If this were a legitimate use of 5th Amendment protections, then no one would ever have to testify before Congress about anything. Just claim that some of the members have "already reached conclusions" and you're scott free! That's an easy claim to make with no way of disproving it. Bravo!

Of course, I fail to see how testifying in front of those who have "already reached conclusions" means that you are testifying against yourself. In fact, I'm sure it doesn't.

Second, the Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Specter, has suggested that
Senator Schumer is using the hearings to promote his political party. That is not a legitimate reason for the Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings.

Hmm. Where does the 5th Amendment say one has the right to refuse to testify if one feels that there is "not a legitimate reason" for the hearings? I don't see it. Plus, of course, since members of the opposing political party always claim anything the other party does is politically motivated, taking the word of a member of the opposing party as prima facie evidence that an action is politically motivated would, once again, mean no one has to testify before Congress ever. Which is also not a right enumerated in the 5th Amendment.

Third, and related to the second reason, Senator Specter has publicly raised questions about the the basic fairness of the Committee's inquiry and lack of

Specter's statement coming from a Fox News broadcast, of course. Once again, I see nothing in the 5th Amendment enumerating a right not to testify before Congress if one simply feels the inquiry is unfair or lacking in "objectivity." And, of course, we once again cannot take a partisan politician's word as prima facie evidence of such, since the opposing party always questions the fairness and objectivity of hearings called by the other party, whether there is basis for such a claim or not.

But then, there's this bit of legal craziness:

It is not uncommon for witnesses who give testimony before the Congress to face
criminal investigations and even indictments for perjury, false statements, or obstruction of congressional proceedings...

Accordingly, Ms. Goodling will not answer questions before the Committee or its staff under these circumstances. The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real. One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby.

First off, the 5th Amendment protects one from having to give testimony against one's self. It does not let witnesses off the hook just because they are afraid of the legal consequences of the act of giving the testimony itself. The content of the testimony is the important factor: Is she being asked to give testimony that will incriminate her due to actions she took in the past? If not, she must testify. The 5th Amendment does not have anything to do with whether testifying, in and of itself, will lead to legal consequences, since if that were true, we would once again be saying that no one has to testify under oath ever, because jeopardy of charges of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice are always attached.

Cutting through the bullshit, she is arguing, in essence, that she won't testify because she can't lie without fear of being brought up on charges of lying. That's what happened to Libby: he lied under oath and got charged for it. If she has evidence of a vast conspiracy to charge her with perjury or making false statements even if she tells the truth, then she should present it. If she has no evidence on which to base such a claim, then she has no leg to stand on.

There is only one legitimate objection listed: that she is one of the people named as failing to give a "senior Department of Justice official" information that would have prevented that official from giving incorrect testimony to Congress. Of course, this is not sufficient reason to refuse to appear before the Committee at all, since she can answer questions unrelated to this issue while invoking her 5th Amendment rights if she is asked questions relevant to this issue. This is her real objection.

The other objections are entirely about public relations and an attempt to make the entire proceedings look illegitimate. Her accusation that the Committee is playing politics is nothing more or less than playing politics with the Constitution and a rank attempt to abuse the important rights enumerated in the 5th Amendment.

Conservatives for Freedom

Via Dispatches, the American Freedom Agenda is a group of conservatives calling for a return to the protections and balances provided by the Constitution that have been tossed aside over the past six years by the Bush regime. They are asking all presidential candidates to sign a ten-point Freedom Pledge with which I agree 100%. Check it out.

It's good to see some old-fashioned conservatism in the right instead of the faux conservatism of the neocons. Keep it up!

Monday, March 26, 2007


According to a website that discusses the religious beliefs of various comic-book heroes, including Superman (apparently a Methodist), there is this little tidbit I found fascinating:

...[T]he weekly newspaper of the SS - Das Schwarze Korps - responded to Superman taking on Der Fuhrer [in the comics]. The article slammed Siegel [Jewish co-creator of Superman] as "intellectually and physically circumcised," said Superman was "lacking all strategic sense and tactical ability," and accused the costumed hero of sowing "hate, suspicion, evil, laziness, and criminality" in the "young hearts" of American children.

Wow. In my extensive readings on various aspects of the Nazi regime, I'd come across a lot of description about how the Nazi propaganda machine worked to destroy its enemies, foreign and domestic. And I knew that Superman socked Hitler one in the jaw in a WWII-era comic. But I had no idea that Das Schwarze Korps actually took time out from its invectives against the Jews, Churchill, Roosevelt, and communists to blast... Superman.

Jeez. Those Nazis really knew how to pick the losing horse, didn't they? Superman's 'S' is one of the most recognized symbols on the planet today. I've read that people in some of the most remote villages in the world know it when they see it.

Superman 1, Hitler 0.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Dissent Over Gitmo

According to an article at TPMmuckraker, there is a division in the Bush regime over the future of the detention center at Gitmo. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, shortly after succeeding Rumsfeld,* began advocating for closing it down and was apparently -- surprisingly -- joined by Condi. The side of Evil, as usual, being advocated by Darth Cheney and Alberto "what are these 'civil rights' of which you speak?" Gonzales, who think it should stay open.

Why do the Dark Lord and his new apprentice want to continue showing the world America's hypocrisy in both human rights and rule of law? They have two objections:
  1. Closing Gitmo down would mean bringing the detainess onto US soil and thus making them subject to -- gasp! -- American law, and
  2. The regime would be admitting it was wrong.

Let's think about this for just a second. The whole reason the detainees are at Gitmo is that they were "unlawful combatants." Emphasis on unlawful. The regime's argument is, essentially, that because these guys broke the law (in this case, international law), the US can hold them forever without having to try them or give them habeus rights as required by US law. In other words, disregarding the law makes these guys so bad that the only way for the US to deal with them is... uh... to disregard the law?

Hello, pot? This is the kettle...

You're black!

Hell, I don't know why the regime bothers anyway. They violate the law on US soil all the damned time. Why would holding these guys in violation of the law be any different?

But the second reason is a real gem. Apparently, actually being wrong doesn't matter much to his Cheney. I guess he must be used to it, since he's been wrong in every damned thing he's said or done since the regime took office. "We'll be greeted as liberators." "The insurgency is on its last legs." "The British leaving means things are going well." etc., etc. What really bothers him is admitting to being wrong.

No matter that the whole goddamned world knows that trusting Cheney's judgment is worse than just flipping a coin. Or that Gitmo has been a foreign policy and domestic political disaster. Or that our enemies use it as a prime example of the arrogance and power-madness of the US to stir up resentment and hatred. None of it matters to Cheney, as long as he never has to say "I was wrong."

Or even "I'm sorry for all the damage I've done."

Nope. Never happen.

Well, let's hope that Gates and Condi will win one, and I can say to Darth Cheney, "Your powers are weak, old man!"

History will mention Gitmo in the same breath as the Trail of Tears and Manzanar. Let's put it behind us as quickly as possible.


Wow. Just... wow.

Michael Kinsley has written one of the most self-deluded posts I have ever seen outside of evangelical-land.

Kinsley doesn't understand why liberals find "preposterous" the comparisons between Clinton's replacing all 93 US Attorneys (USAs) at the beginning of his term and the Bush regime's recent dismissal of 8 USAs. 231 commenters have taken him to task on this issue at the time I wrote this post, but I'm going to do it too.

The comparison is utterly preposterous, Mike, and here's why: New administrations generally replace most, if not all, political appointees at the beginning of their terms.

Reagan replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. George HW Bush replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. Clinton, as conservatives keep pointing out, replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. George W. Bush also did so. Pointing out 'Clinton did it!' as if it's an anomaly is disingenuous. It wasn't supicious because it's standard procedure. The Clinton administration did nothing different than the administrations before and after.

But firing 8 USAs in the middle of your second term, then lying to Congress about the reasons? Firing USAs that had either recently indicted Republicans or failed to indict Democrats due to lack of evidence? Sending e-mails back and forth trying to make up reasons why these USAs should be fired? All of that is why the comparison is preposterous and inapt.

But Kinsley, who once could put two thoughts together, now tries oh so hard to back up the ridiculous comparison:

If Karl Rove had gotten his way and Bush had fired all 93 US Attorneys at the beginning of his second term, would you (that’s you, Brad DeLong, and Kevin Drum, among others) actually have shrugged it off as no big deal? If Clinton had fired just eight, would you have been hammering him for corrupting justice? Would the fact that the firings came in the middle of the president’s term loom quite so large? If one of the prosecutors had just sent a Democratic Congressman to jail, would you be totally untempted by the White House explanation that the real cause was, say, a reluctance to prosecute abortion-clinic protesters under RICO? Or is there a humongous, crucial distinction between firing prosecutors in in your first term and doing it in your second?
It would, indeed, have been odd if Bush had fired all 93 USAs at the beginning of his second term. Why? Because administrations rarely dismiss USAs they themselves have hired. In fact, a Congressional report tells us that it has only happened a total of 10 times in the past 25 years before this scandal broke. And, the report tells us:

Prior to December, for example, only two U.S. Attorneys were outright fired for improper, and in one case criminal, behavior. The CRS report identifies six
other U.S. Attorneys who resigned during the 25-year period who were implicated
in news reports of “questionable conduct.” For two others, the CRS was unable to
determine the cause.
So, yes, it would have raised eyebrows if Rove had gotten his way, because it would have been very strange. Of course we would have been curious to know why, even if there was no implication of foul play involved.

If, on the other hand, Clinton had fired just 8 USAs? That would have been pretty odd too. But in a completely different way. Because Presidents don't usually do that. I doubt anyone would have thought Clinton was obstructing justice by keeping the other side's prosecutors on the job. But we would, of course, have wondered why he would do that, since it is standard to put your own people in place. But, since that would have involved firing USAs the previous administration appointed, it wouldn't be at all the same thing.

I don't understand how Kinsley can write such preposterous ramblings, let alone publish them.

But then Kinsley displays a naivete that is surprising in a Beltway insider:

I do tend to think that the solution is in electoral politics—punish liars by voting against them -- and not in subpoenas and hearings and special prosecutors and impeachment talk and all the other paraphernalia of scandal.
Er... I think I just lost some neurons. When those "liars" are lying about using the power of government to subvert the electoral process, then you really can't fix things by just "voting against them." Remember, Michael, that some of these USAs were dismissed because they wouldn't trump up false charges against Democrats in order to help Republicans win in the last election. Also, how do people know who the liars are to vote against if they aren't exposed through, oh, I don't know, subpoenas, hearings, and special prosecutors? Let us not forget that some of these USAs were dismissed for doing just that, investigating Republican corruption.

Jeesh. According to Kinsley, I guess we shouldn't bother sending election monitors out to Third World countries to make sure the elections are fair. After all, if the ruling party rigs the election and lies about it, then the voters should just vote them out, right? Why bother to speak out about human rights abuses or censorship in other countries, because if people don't like being tortured and kept in the dark, they should just vote those leaders out.

Amazingly, amazingly stupid. The electoral process lets us replace leaders whose policies are unpopular. But the founders recognized that the electoral process can't protect the electoral process itself, and that's why they created the separation of powers and gave Congress oversight and impeachment authority over the President.

This isn't rocket science here. If A = 1 and B = 2, then A and B aren't equivalent no matter how many times you assert they are. I just can't understand how Kinsley could possibly miss the distinction here. I really can't.

This is Weird...

Every year since I was seventeen, I have attended the yearly AmberCon convention in Michigan. It's a small roleplaying game convention dedicated to Amber Diceless Roleplaying, based on Roger Zelazny's famous Amber Series.

That's eighteen continuous years I've gone.

It's happening right now, and I'm not there.

And it feels really weird.

I can't think of much of anything else that I have done consistently since, what, 1989?

But, I guess it was time. The Con had gotten pretty stagnant, since the game isn't in print anymore and there's not much new blood. Most of the people I liked to hang out with aren't there any more, and most of the games I liked playing in have long since gone south.

But it's still weird not to be there, even if it is a shadow of what it once was.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fuck! They Really Do Think This Is a Dictatorship!!!

This is what Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary, said on ABC this morning:

The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because
Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability.
Holy fucking shit. That's it, it's official: the Bush regime thinks this is a banana republic and that Bush is El Presidente. We already knew Bush doesn't think he is bound by the laws passed by Congress, as evidenced by his use of extra-constitutional "signing statements" to tell Congress to fuck off whenever he doesn't like part of a bill he just signed. And he doesn't think he has to go to the courts for authority to violate civil rights by wiretapping Americans, despite Congress' passing a law stating otherwise. But now he's claiming that the Congress has no oversight ability at all?

What, exactly, is the function of the fucking Congress under Bush's view of the Constitution. If the President gets to decide what the law will be, regardless of what Congress says, and if Bush doesn't think the Congress has oversight ability, then why have a Congress? How is that any different than ruling by decree? Who, exactly, has oversight if not the Congress? Not the courts, since they can only exercise their authority in the context of a legal case, and there's no way to develop a case to bring to a court if no one has oversight to find out what the Executive Branch has been doing!

"No oversight ability" my ass! Why does the Constitution give the Congress the authority to impeach and remove the President if not to provide "oversight?" If the President never has to tell Congress anything about what the hell the Executive Branch is doing, how, exactly, can they know when they should impeach the President, Vice President, or other "civil officers for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors?" Are they just supposed to guess?

The Constitution also vests in Congress the responsibility to: "to make all laws which
shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all
other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any
Department or Officer thereof." How can Congress know what "necessary and proper" laws to pass regarding how the Executive Branch executes the powers of the Federal government if they have no right to know what the fuck the Executive Branch is doing?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

They Begin Eating Their Own

One of the fired US Attorneys (USAs), David Iglesias, has an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times titled, "Why I was Fired." In it, he details how Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) called to "ask" him about whether he was going to prosecute Democrats on corruption charges before the November elections. This is in violation of Congressional ethics rules which forbid members of Congress from contacting USAs to discuss particular cases.

Shortly after those calls, in which Iglesias told Wilson that he can't discuss indictments -- it's illegal -- and told Domenici he probably wouldn't be filing any corruption charges before the election, Iglesias was put on the list of USAs to be fired.

USAs aren't paid by the taxpayers to pursue partisan indictments against political enemies of the administration. They are there to prosecute criminals fairly and impartially. Sure, the adminstration and the Attorney General get to set general priorities for USAs. I don't dispute that. But they can't be used for partisan witch-hunts and shouldn't be removed from their jobs for upholding their ethical obligations.

I don't see why anyone would support the Bush regime at this point. They have no sense of honor or loyalty and turn on their own at the first chance. The lesson here is that the regime cares nothing for ethics or standards of conduct. They believe the entire Federal government exists as an instrument to keep the Republican party in power by using its reach to destroy any opposition. And, if you aren't willing to divest yourself of any shred of integrity to do the regime's bidding, you'll be dropped faster than acid at a Grateful Dead concert.

That's what Nixon thought, too. I thought we'd have learned something since then.

Iglesias, a loyal Republican, got fired for being ethical and doing his job properly, as did the other USAs. Bringing a case against someone just in order to affect the outcome of an election is improper, wrong, and illegal. USAs have an obligation as Officers of the Court to bring charges only when the facts support a crime having been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. Not when political masters tell them to.

In Which I Try to Demonstrate I'm Not Just a Partisan Hack

According to NPR's All Things Considered yesterday, the Democrats in Congress are now doing what the Republicans have been doing for the past umpteen years, charging rich people for access with $2000 a plate dinners and the like.

Quoting The Who, the reporter said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Here's what I have to say:

Knock it the fuck off, Democrats.

You promised to clean things up in Washington and make government accountable and transparent. Letting the same interests who were buying access to the Republicans last years buy access to you now is not the way to do it. There are a lot of people in this country who think both major parties are as corrupt as each other and it doesn't matter who is in charge. A lot of people who would be Democrats if you stopped proving them true all the damned time.

So, once again, stop it.

After all, it's for the children.

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I know you are, what am I? That's essentially what Bush said at his press conference yesterday in regards to the US Attorney (USA) firing scandal when he accused the Democrats in Congress of playing politics by "trying to score political points."

What a fucking crock! The White House and the Justice Department fire a bunch of outstanding USAs for political reasons -- like being upset that one had the temerity to indict corrupt Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- and when Congress investigates, they are the ones playing politics? Holy fucking crap.

There's a lot more shady stuff going on than I realized. Just check out some of the stuff coming to light over at Joshua Micah Marshall's TMPMuckraker (great tag line: They have muck. We have rakes). Looks like the regime stopped an investigation that might have led up to Gonzales by refusing investigators the security clearances they needed to do the investigation. And it's entirely possible a lot of these firings were done in order to prevent investigations of corrupt Republicans, which is a crime: Obstruction of Justice.

Bush, of course, also told Congress to fuck off at his press conference yesterday, saying that Harriet Myers, Karl Rove, et al will only testify in private, with no transcriptions, and not under oath. Great government transparency there. Hmmm. Let's think a minute... why wouldn't the regime want them to testify in public and under oath? Hmm...

Oh! I know! Because these hacks are going to lie through their damned teeth, and they don't want to do it in public and where they can get charged with perjury. It's funny that the Republicans thought it was appropriate to subpeona Clinton, a sitting President, about whether he got a blowjob from an intern, and have him testify under oath in public, but fucking Myers and Rove testifying in public is somehow beyond the pale? Give me a break.

Okay, so I wasn't all that pissed off about this story before, just weary. Well, I've gotten my pissed-off back on after hearing Bush yesterday.

This is going to lead to subpeonas, for sure, and an assertion of Executive Privilege which will likely lead to a Constitutional crisis over the separation of powers. Let me tell you, though, I wish so bad that the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate, because then they could do what should be done and show Bush how the goddamned separation of powers works by impeaching that bastard. And Cheney too.

Not that I'm terribly excited about the prospect of President Pelosi. I don't like her that much. But fuck, we could get a kid with Down's syndrome in the Oval Office to do a better job than Bush. And I'm not even kidding with that. Seriously. A kid with Down's syndrome couldn't possibly do more damage than the Bush regime has done and will do in the next two years.

I can only imagine how much this must suck ass for Al Gore. First, the guy actually wins the popular vote and doesn't end up President. That's gotta be tough, like having you boss and the other managers tell you that you should have gotten the promotion, but they gave it to someone else anyway. But then, seeing what damage this regime has done over the past six years? How could you not sit up at night thinking that if you'd run a better damned campaign that all this could have been avoided? How could you not feel that you are responsible for all this by your failure to win by a big enough margin that recounts in Florida didn't come into play? That's gotta haunt a guy.


Monday, March 19, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Hiding Place of the Grail...

So, I've been reading some books about the Knights Templar and the crusades recently. For those who have been living under a rock the past few years, the Templars are the guys who supposedly have the Holy Grail, knew that Jesus had kids with Mary Magdalene, have the head of John the Baptist, hid away treasure (that's still out there!) beyond the dreams of Avarice, and probably cured cancer in their free time too. The Templars are part of the whole conspiracy in The DaVinci Code and have been conflated with the Knights of the Round Table for hundreds of years now.

But the fact is that some of these guys couldn't find their asshole with a map. Really.

For instance, take one particular Grand Master of the Templars, the supreme leader (one might say, "The Decider") of the Templar Order, by the name of Bernard de Tremelai. He was leading the Templars at the siege of city called Ascalon. The wall was breached, and de Tremelai charged in along with 40 other Templars. He then ordered the rest of the Templars to turn their backs to the city and keep all the other Christian troops out.

Let's be clear. This guy thought he and 40 other Templar knights could subdue the entire complement of Egyptian troops in the city, thousands in all, by themselves. He was so sure that he was more afraid of the rest of the Christian army stealing the glory and plunder away from him than of the thousands of Egyptian troops.

It should come as no surprise de Tremelai and his men got wiped out.

But that's just one example. Throughout these narratives, the Templars make terrible decisions, both military and political. They ally themselves with idiots and follow those idiots to their doom. When the Muslim leaders are divided and would expend their energy fighting each other if just left to self-destruct, the Templars attack the Muslims, causing the Muslims to unite to fight the Christians. They flout the authority of just about everyone, because they are legally only answerable to the pope, to the point that they piss just about everyone off sooner or later (leading to their eventual destruction). They let dumbass secular leaders who have just arrived in the Holy Land and don't know jack about what's going on bully them into campaigns they know are doomed from the start. And on and on.

Now, to be fair, the secular leaders across Christendom at that time are pretty damned stupid too. But most of them haven't been mythologized into some order of amazing superheroes who kept huge secrets for hundreds of years.

The chances of the Templars keeping secret that they have the Holy Grail, to pick one common myth, is about the same as the Bush regime keeping secret that they fired a whole bunch of US Attornerys for purely political reasons. And you know how that worked out.

Security Clearance and Valerie Plame

Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has it just exactly right in his letter to the White House regarding last week's testimony from James Knodell, the White House Security Director. Regardless of whether or not Karl Rove or others involved with the leaking of the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame committed crimes -- though Rove is about as likely to be innocent as OJ -- there's no way under the sun that they should still have security clearances.

Us regular folks can have our clearances pulled for any reason or no reason at all. When I worked for the Air Force's National Air Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, I had a colleague who had her clearance held up for almost a year because she'd seen a therapist for a while. This was Secret-level clearance, not the super-duper Top Secret clearance without restrictions I'm sure Rove has, and we worked in a program where the classified information we worked with was old, like over twenty years old, and was of no value to anyone. No one would have payed for it cared about it. Almost all of it really should have been declassified long before we saw it.

And still we got to go through all kinds of training courses where we were exorted to be careful with information, watch who we dealt with, and of course, the harsh penalties to violating the law and revealing any information. We were let know that clearance is a privilege, not a right, and that it could and would be pulled at any time for even the appearance of a question about our trustworthiness.

I would have been put in jail for revealing any of the useless information I worked with. Rove and his cohorts haven't even lost their clearances for disclosing the identity of a covert operative and destroying whole intelligence networks she was involved in.

I know that the big fish play by different rules than the rest of us. But the fact that no one has even lost his or her clearance on account of this just makes a mockery of the whole practice of protecting classified information. The public trust placed in someone like Rove with access to a whole array of information that could compromise US national security if revealed is orders of magnitude greater than that placed in me or my co-worker. And the standards by which the big fish are judged should be stricter, if anything, in this regard.

Someone who is a proven security risk -- someone who has already compromised a covert CIA operative to the press -- being allowed to keep his clearance is a huge threat to national security and should not be allowed to stand.

Attorney Purge Scandal

Because of Talking Points Memo, I've known about the Bush Justice Department's purge of US Attorneys for some time now. I didn't post on it because I am, I guess the best word would be weary of thinking about the myriad of ways that the Bush regime is misusing its power.

I don't know why anyone would be surprised by this latest scandal. I think the only reason it is getting so much more play than some of the other naked power plays committed by the regime is that there is now a Democratically-controlled Congress to investigate it.

But there is one damning element here that I decided to overcome my weariness of tilting at the windmill of the Bush regime to mention: Even if the regime's core supporters never seem to realize what the regime is doing is wrong, the regime itself certainly does. They wouldn't have bothered to lie about something that wasn't illegal or in violation of the Constitution otherwise.

After all, White House and the Attorney General have the right to dismiss US Attorneys at any time for any reason.* Typically, Presidents do this at the beginning of their terms, when they often dismiss all the US Attorneys if they are taking over from a President of the other party, rather than in the middle of a term, but still.

It's unseemly to dismiss US Attorneys just because they aren't clinging tight enough to the President's political objectives. It hurts the independence of the US Attorneys and thus further undermines our legal system. I suspect it creates great difficulties for the US Attorneys themselves, since they are Officers of the Court, and have legal and ethical responsibilities that must sometimes conflict with the political goals of their masters. And I think there definitely should be laws limiting the President's power to dismiss or attempt to influence US Attorneys in the performance of their duties, including preventing them from being dismissed on political grounds.

But still, the regime did something that was within its rights and powers as they now stand. As such, the only reason for Gonzales and other Justice Department officials to lie about the whole thing is because they knew they did something wrong. Under the regime's extremely dangerous "unitary executive" theory, after all, neither the President nor the Attorney General has anything to apologize for in exercising their power in this fashion. If they didn't think they did anything wrong, they should simply have been open about how and why the firings took place, and point out they have the right to do so.

But that's not what they did. They lied and tried to cover things up. Why? Because they knew they'd done something wrong, whether or not they were technically within their rights. They covered it up because they knew they were doing something they shouldn't, whether or not legally they could.

* Have you ever heard the phrase "serve at the pleasure of the President" used as much as in the past couple weeks? I've really gotten tired of it, so I'm going to try to avoid using it unless absolutely necessary. Though it is kind of fun, since it sounds dirty.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More Anonymity

NOTE: Scroll down for update responding to Anon's reply to this post.

(Anonymous has taken me to task yet again.

Unfortunately, it took Markiarchy a whole page of arguing with himself (I wasn't
here) to boost his self-esteem after I simply asked him to take me at my word
and TRY what I suggested.

I do take you at your word that you believe the things you say you believe. You have not given me the same courtesy. But I don't try out every irrational idea someone presents to me. Remember when you were a kid and your parents said, "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off it too?" I'm not giving up my reason and jumping off the bridge.

And, even if I do argue against theism to boost my self-esteem, my arguments are neither weakened nor strengthened by that fact. You can't win by attacking my motivations. You have to address my arguments.

We must either accept that Jesus was 1) Exactly what he said he was or 2) Either
a madman or an idiot. However with his highly charged rhetoric, we aren't left
with thinking him merely a good teacher. His teaching was so radical that the
this viewpoint would be irrelevant. I might have gotten that wrong, but pick up a copy of Mere Christianity. Markiarchy's afraid to read it, because he would lose an argument with a dead guy.

I not only have read Mere Christianity, but my well-worn copy sits on my bookshelf right now. It isn't doing your arguments any good to continue to assume that I haven't read the books you have read. You don't know what I have or have not read.

Secondly, Lewis is presenting a false dichotomy. Jesus could be any number of things other than the Only Begotten Son of God, a madman, or an idiot. For instance, he could simply have been wrong. Not a madman, not an idiot, but just wrong. He could have been misled: maybe a bunch of people told him he was the Son of God and he believed them. Or, he could have simply been very prideful and he liked the attention claiming to be the Son of God got for him. For that matter, he could have just been a liar. There are lots of other possibilities, including that Jesus wasn't anything like how he's portrayed in the Bible and is, in large part, a biblical fiction.

Also, Jesus' teaching was anything but radical. About the only new thing in his philosophy is the idea that only through him can one come to God. Everything else he says is cribbed from the Old Testament, various Rabbis, and Greek and Persian thought.

But I would agree that it makes little sense to call Jesus "merely a good teacher." I don't think he was a very good teacher at all. His parables were obtuse, his teachings were impractical, and a lot of his ideas were, frankly, immoral.

Unlike Markiarchy, who labors in obscurity, but thrives on self-adulation C.S. Lewis was an accomplished scholar and a one-time atheist who logically convinced
himself that there was no other alternative save Christ.

C.S. Lewis' fame relative to mine does not mean his arguments were right and mine wrong. Argument by Authority isn't going to fly here, so you can stop trying.

Oh and by the way, Markiarchy does believe in God, or he wouldn't waste so much
time arguing against nothing.

Now, you have to realize that this argument doesn't make any sense. As Paul correctly pointed out, and as I have said explicitly before, my arguments are attacks against theism, not God. You are correct in one thing, that there's little reason for me to attack God since God doesn't exist. But theism does, theists do, and theocrats do, and there's much to be argued against there.

But, Anon, if you know that I really do believe in God, why are you bothering? You don't need to convert me or ask me to seek after God. According to you, I'm already there, so what, exactly, do you have a problem with?

in Markiarchy's world view I guess where all destined for worm food.

Unless you are cremated, yes. You may believe that your soul is going elsewhere when you die, but that doesn't change the fact that your body will decompose and end up as "worm food." My worldview isn't based on what I want to be true. It's based on what is likely to be true, and it is very likely that there is no life after death. That's not necessarily how I would like it to be, but just as it does no good to squeeze one's eyes shut to avoid reality, denying the likely fact of our eventual nonexistence does us no good either.

That's the hope I speak of, that this life and the moral code we choose was for
something other than the moment.

I can understand that hope. But I think that a lot of people waste their lives on that hope. And, if is likely true, this existence, here, now, is the only one we ever have, I find it very sad that people fail to live now because they're too focused on what happens next. It might seem to you that, even if it turns out that we really are just "worm food" that the belief that there is an afterlife provides comfort, or, as you call it, hope, and is therefore good whether true or not. But belief in an afterlife affects people now, in this life, and I'm not sure the comfort some get is balanced by the damage it does. People kill and die in the belief that it's okay because there's an afterlife. People give up on their lives because they want to get it over with and go see Jesus. My uncle is an example of this. Facing up to reality may deprive some of comfort for a short time, but it will force people to live this life, now, as if it is the only one they have, because it probably is.

And that's what I hope for.

So tell me why I should be a Markiarchist, what benefits does your religion offer? Give me a list of the pros and cons of following you and I'll consider it. You've obviously put a lot of thought into it, so I'll consider it. You like to poke a lot of holes in my religion, which you clearly have no understanding of. Show me yours.

I don't have a religion. I'm not advocating that people replace one religion with another. I don't think religion is necessary. I advocate facing up to reality without leaning on belief in the immaterial and supernatural. The benefit is in seeing things the way they are rather than how we might wish them to be. The benefit is that we can spend our time and effort making this world a better place than worrying about what will happen in some other world that likely doesn't exist. That no one would blow themself up or fly themself into a building on a mistaken belief that they will be going to Paradise. That's all. Non-theism can offer only one thing: reality. It may not seem like much, or be exactly what you want, but it is real and true.

You're mainly a braggart who believes his own hype to the extent that any other belief just couldn't be right because you're so damn smart. I'm going to hedge
my bets and go with God on this one okay? You just haven't convinced me that
you're bigger than him yet. Your arguments are just too charged with Me-ness to
sway me.

I'm not bigger than God. But I am real, and He is not. I can't stop you from hedging your bets and going with God, but I will still say that you are almost certainly wrong in your belief that He exists. Not because I am so smart, but simply because there's no evidence that He does.

Atoms and plasma, you know what I meant. Of course, I guess you were there when
the big bang happened too. How's that Cold Fusion paper coming? Yes that's a cut
on you, but you probably don't know what the hell you're talking about when it
comes to physics beyond the discovery channel so I'm giving you a pass here.

I did and do know what you meant. You were wrong. Impugning my scientific knowledge or lack thereof does not change that fact.

The fact that I don't know what happens we leave this mortal coil and yet still
believe that God is there is why it's called faith. You might want to look that one up.

Yes. I know. One the principle arguments I have made on this blog is that this sort of faith is not a virtue.

Yes we as Christians are persecuted. Why can't our children pray in school? ... We'd hear outrage, but every year Christmas displays are disallowed in schools, Christian prayer is banned and stores aren't allowed to say Merry Christmas when I shop there. Why else would I be in there with all that wrapping paper in my buggy? We call it Winter Break and let's face it there's only one reason everybody gets a day off in December and it's not Eid.

As Paul noted, prayer isn't banned in public schools in the US. Organized, government-sanctioned prayer is banned. Kids pray in school every day, especially before tests. Not being allowed to use the government to promote Christianity does not make Christians persecuted. If it did, then I would be just as persecuted, because I can't use the public schools as a staging area to deny Christianity either.

And you must know that there is no prohibition on whether stores choose to say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." They make that choice on their own, in light of what they think will be best for business. You have to blame the open market for that.

The reason we get a day off in December is because it's the winter solstice. No one knows when Jesus was born, but pagans were used to having a winter holiday. To make it easier for pagans to convert to Christianity, Christians chose to claim December 25th as Jesus' birthday to placate them. December 25th was chosen because it was the birthday of Mithras, a Roman/Persian sun god, and so putting Christmas on the same day made it so that the pagans didn't even have to change the day they celebrated their holiday.

I believe that Jesus was in fact the son of God and did pay a price not just
for my ancestor's sins but my own as well. Faith is believing in something you
can't prove. Salvation is the reward of faith in this case.

Believing in something without sufficient evidence is a bad idea. That's why I argue against it. It is unlikely that you will gain salvation through it, but it is certain that people will suffer and die for it.


In response to Anon's latest comment...

He takes me to task for editing one of his paragraphs:

In fact, hit does make great copy whenever any other religion is discriminated
against. Markiarchy knows it and that's why he chose not to include it. He
didn't have a response.

I will post the original paragraph with the bits I edited out in italics:

Yes we as Christians are persecuted. Why can't our children pray in school? If a Muslim child, and I'm not singling them out I'm using a different religion as an example so don't get uptight on me here, were to be barred from praying it would hit the news like something else hits the fan. We'd hear outrage, but every year Christmas displays are disallowed in schools, Christian prayer is banned and stores aren't allowed to say Merry Christmas when I shop there. Why else would I be in there with all that wrapping paper in my buggy? We call it Winter Break and let's face it there's only one reason everybody gets a day off in December and it's not Eid.

I edited out that part of the paragraph because it wasn't relevant because it wasn't true. Muslims are no more banned from praying in public schools than Christians. Muslims are just as much proscribed from using the public schools to preach their religion. The reason that most establishment clause cases involving school-sanctioned prayer are brought against Christians is not persecution, but the fact that Christians are the majority and they are the ones trying to use the public schools as a pulpit. Pure and simple. If there were a public school in the US in a place with a Muslim majority (I'm not sure one exists) in which the administration or teachers used the school to promote Islam, that school would get sued too, for the exact same reason.

There is a difference between being denied the right to practice your own religion and being denied the right to have the government support it. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, and adherents of every other religion can all pray in school. The school simply cannot endorse one of these religions for exclusive endorsement and support. Being denied exclusive status as the one government-endorsed religion is not persecution. Being denied the exclusive right to force those of other religions to participate in your religion's practices and beliefs is not persecution.

Persecution is when your rights are circuscribed. Persecution is not being denied the right to circumscribe others' beliefs. The latter is all that Christians are denied.

I just warned you about claiming knowledge about me that you don't have, Anon, such as that I "didn't have a response." In every case your assumptions have turned out to be untrue and they only weaken your arguments.

Insofar as Lewis' argument. ANY other argument that he was not who he claims to
be could in fact be lumped in with 2) Madman or idiot. Idiocy implies that he might have been wrong here.
Since you bring it up again, it occurred to me that I believe Lewis' argument was that Jesus was "lord, lunatic, or liar," and so I think he actually includes one of the possibilities I mentioned above that you left out. I will check to be sure this evening when I have a chance.

However, I think you are wrong here as well. Being wrong does not make one an idiot. Being prideful to the point of willingness to believe one is the Son of God does not necessarily make on a lunatic. Asserting that unlike things are equivalent does not actually make them so.

I would also like to know here what immoral teachings Jesus was responsible for. Have you read the old testament? You do realize that Jesus put away so much of
the old testament ritual and belief that this is in fact why the pharisees sought to kill him? He healed on the Sabbath, he claimed to be able to rebuild the temple in 3 days (he was referring to himself) and when he died the veil to the temple was torn, symbolically proving to the reader that they could access God directly and bypass the rabbi. He chased the moneychangers from the temple, and saved a condemned woman from certain death by stoning. He stood in the way of a great deal of "old" teaching. If that isn't radical (for the time) I don't know what would be. This was during a time that the church was law for the jews, and he stood often against it.
You know I have read the Old Testament. Or you should, since I have told you before that I have read the Bible cover to cover a number of times.

What you have said above is a selective reading of the New Testament. While Jesus did seem to rebel against some aspects of the Law, he also said, "I come not to destroy it, but to fulfill it." He said that not one jot or comma in the Law could be changed. The Sermon on the Mount cribs liberally from Old Testament values and Law. And much of what Jesus preached is taken from extant critiques of the law. His interpretation of some of the rules, such as the rule about not working on the Sabbath, differed from the majority interpretation of the day ("The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath"), but he wasn't preaching a radical new rule. He was one of many who critiqued the conservative interpretations of the Law as being too strict and most of his critiques were made earlier by the Rabbis' commentary at some point or another.

I would also point out that the portrayal of the Pharisees in the Bible is very inaccurate and so using any examples of Jesus' position relative to the Pharisees' as evidence of Jesus' radicalism is problematic. In reality, the Pharisees' position on most issues was similar to, if not identical, to Jesus'. Later writers of the Gospels portrayed the Pharisees as critical of Jesus' teachings because, at the time the Gospels were written, the Pharisees were the main competitors with the followers of Jesus for setting the direction of Judaism. It was to the Gospel writers' advantage to portray the Pharisees in a bad light. (For references, since you, Anon, will claim I have none even though I have been able to back up everything I have said, please look to Abba Eban's My People as well as Isaac Asimov's Asimov's Guide to the Bible).

Off the top of my head, some immoral teachings or acts of Jesus are that you should maim yourself rather than allow yourself to doubt him (the part about plucking out an offending eye and cutting off an offending hand), the idea that you have hate your family to follow him (generally ignored by Christians), that he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit for him even though it was out of season (blaming others for things out of their control), refusing to cure a woman's son because he wasn't Jewish, threatening people with eternal torture for disagreeing with him, saying that being a good person or doing good things (good acts) isn't really important to him (since salvation is dependent on faith in him, not in good acts), and that people should continue to live together married even if they're miserable or being abused ("what God has put together let no man pull asunder").

If your argument is against theism rather than God, then do you acknowledge God?
If there is no God, how can there be theists? What do they worship? Why call them theists? They could just be crazy people who talk to thin air. Theists imply something else. Your very argument reveals something that you did not expect.

You have to realize this argument makes no sense whatsoever. Theism is defined as belief in the existence of a god or gods. Theists, therefore, believe in a god or gods. It is not necessary for the object of a belief to exist for the belief itself or its believers to exist. You must see the distinction.

What do theists worship? An idea. A fiction.

Why call them theists? Because they believe in a god or gods.

I think that theists do talk to thin air whenever they think they are speaking to God or praying. While I have argued in the past that, technically, this should be considered a delusion and therefore a type of mental illness, I was being somewhat facetious. While there are mentally ill theists, all theists are clearly not mentally ill. They are, however, wrong, and hold an irrational belief.

You mention a soul. Doesn't that go outside your world view? What's a soul? According to you we shouldn't have one, we're just a collection of nerve bundles
that act on impulse and several million years of instinct.

I do not believe in such a thing as a soul. I do, however, know what theists mean when they say "soul" and was using it in that context.

Markiarchy, if what you speak is true then why bother? Why doesn't true Anarchy
reign supreme? The proof of God's existence rests squarely with you I'm afraid.
You're going to have to come up with a fact that God doesn't exist in order to challenge my belief. The only way that the belief that the earth was flat was challenged was with the fact after observation that it wasn't. Beliefs are only
changed after facts. Give me facts that God doesn't exist. You can call the
Bible a pack of lies, but I could call the Kuran or any other religious text the same thing and what would it prove? These are texts of ancient society and quite frankly, in less you were there that is all we have to go on. So I read the Bible and I take it to be true. What scientific evidence do you possess other than your dizzying intellect to prove to me and everyone that there is no God? You could make a great deal of fame and fortune on this evidence. Do you have a picture from Hubble with a blank corner of the universe where heaven should be? I know that sounds ridiculous but come on!

Anon, you know that I have addressed this issue before, so I know you know why this line of thinking is wrong. The one making the claim is the one who has the burden of presenting evidence. If I tell you that bigfoot exists, it is not incumbent upon you to prove that he doesn't. You would, correctly, ask, "What evidence do you have?" If I couldn't present any, you would correctly decide that my claim has no merit and not accept it.

Theists claim there is a god or god(s). Just as if someone wants to convince me that bigfoot exists, I need evidence commensurate with the claim in order to accept the claim. Otherwise, I must reject it as unfounded. You, yourself, Anon, do this as well. I know because you asked me for evidence that Einstein wasn't a theist before you would accept it. I didn't respond by saying, "Prove to me Einstein wasn't a theist." I offered evidence. That's how it works.

Whether you accept it or not, the burden is still squarely on you to present sufficient evidence of God's existence before anyone should accept your claim.

In addition, as I am sure you know, it is generally impossible to prove conclusively that something doesn't exist. That does not mean we have to accept all claims, however. We can still discriminate and reject those unlikely to be true. For instance, Anon, you cannot prove to me that there is not a teapot orbiting Jupiter. That doesn't mean that you therefore have to accept that there is, in fact, a teapot orbiting Jupiter. Since the likelihood of an intact teapot somehow getting into orbit around Jupiter is vanishingly small, you can safely reject the claim. By demanding proof that God doesn't exist, you are assuming in your argument that he does. But you have to provide evidence before you can jump to that assumption. Otherwise, all claims have to be accepted as true and therefore meaningless.

What I'm trying to point out and have been trying to point out the whole time is
that you have evidence of none of this. You believe God doesn't exist and I do. We could leave it that, but your antagonistic, smarmy attitude won't allow it. You boast across this blog like you're a scholar with a line of degrees 10 miles long. You label others as stupid because of their difference of opinion. I don't think that you're stupid I think you're wrong. You assume I'm an idiot and mock my magic sky god. That isn't a debate, it's Monomarkiarchy or the rule of one Mark. That's no better than the crusades or the inquisition. When it's all said and done, you have no fact, no evidence that God does not in fact exist. You have a belief that he doesn't. That's fine, but stop trying to pass it off as science. You are obviously intelligent but a Jack of All Trades and Master of None it would seem.

I label others as stupid when they say or do stupid things. Disagreeing with me is not, in and of itself, stupid. But the arguments theists often use are, indeed, stupid, as are the conclusions they draw from them. But the main point of this blog isn't to point out stupidity, but to refute it. I don't just ridicule people or their arguments: I refute them. Calling them stupid may be unnecessary and gratuitous, as Paul argues, but it doesn't relieve you or other theists of the responsibility to actually refute my arguments. You can't just complain about how I present them and think that in any way challenges the arguments themselves.

I don't assume you are an idiot. I know you cling to an irrational belief. I am beginning to suspect you are quite irrational otherwise as well, since you continue to repeat arguments I have refuted and continue to assume knowledge of me that you can't possibly have, neither of which help your position.

I do mock your beliefs and your God, or magic sky fairy, as I have often called Him. I do so because I think religious beliefs have somehow been granted an unearned and unwarranted status in human culture that puts them beyond the reach of criticism, which is wrong. No belief should have special status and be protected from criticism, religious or otherwise. It is hypocritical of theists and many others who cannot abide any criticism of their own special beliefs but freely criticize the beliefs of others. It is wrong to expect your own beliefs to have special exemption from scrutiny but not to extend that courtesy to all other beliefs, religious or otherwise.

I think theists are wrong, and I say so. I don't give religious beliefs a special exemption any more than I do any others. I don't hold back in saying that conspiracy theorists or UFO abductees are wrong either. But for some reason society thinks it is okay to criticize conspiracy theories or UFO abduction stories, but not religious beliefs. That is wrong.

Oh and when you quote me, include the whole context. It only proves you're clutching at straws at this point.

Let's make one thing clear: this is my blog. I allow you to post here. I haven't moderate, edited, or deleted any of your comments. I have never edited them in any way that distorts their meaning. I have never had to, because they have not refuted any of my arguments successfully.

If you do not want me to edit your comments for brevity when I quote them, or if you don't want me to "dissect" your comments -- otherwise known as "responding to them" -- then don't post here. I haven't taken anything you have said out of context. I will not do so. If you falsely accuse me of doing so again, I will ban you from posting here.

My point is this. You aren't arguing a fact here. You can't prove God does not exist, I don't have to. I've offered my belief as simply that, a belief that I want to share with you. What you are arguing here is in fact your own belief and no more significant or accepted than mine, but you advertise it as the truth. That is what makes you wrong. I've said time and again that faith is believing in something you cannot see. Facts could change that but you don't have any.

I have never challenged your statement that faith is "believing in something you cannot see." I have challenged your assumption that this is a good thing to do. It is unwise and dangerous to believe in things in the absence of compelling evidence. The religions of Abraham -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- have turned faith into a virtue in order to defend themselves from those who point out the lack of evidence for their claims. I do not subscribe to those religions and I do not accept the assertion that faith is a virtue. It is not.

I have my doubts that any facts could actually alter your faith. Faith is generally impervious to facts and evidence.

Refusing to Dribble

From a post at The Panda's Thumb comes perhaps my all-time favorite description of what it is like to debate an ID proponent (and most theists, I would contend, as well):

It’s like trying to play basketball with someone that refuses to dribble
and shoots at whatever basket he is closest to.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reality Isn't an "Assumption"

Here is a really good example of a really dumb argument I have encountered a few times before.

Let's demolish it, shall we?

Why is it [what the author calls "Darwinism"] so stoutly defended? Mainly for religious reasons, actually. Darwinism is the creation story of materialism. "In the beginning was natural selection, acting on random mutations" - a creation without design.

The probability that one assigns to a given account of the origin and development of life - apart from evidence - depends in large part on one's preexisting assumptions. [emphasis mine]

That is, a materialist - and most of the members of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States are materialists - knows that a materialist account of origins is true. So the facts must be made to fit.

Please understand: He has not, using the methods of science, discovered yhat [sic]materialism is true. He has assumed that it is true. To him, science is applied materialism. And he will fit any evidence he does discover into his materialist view.

Hmmm. There's a whole load of incoherence right off the bat here. She says that one's assumptions will determine what probability one assigns to various explanations for the origin and development of life, but makes the caveat that this is true apart from evidence. Which, if true, would mean that evidence can be the deciding factor, presumably if it is compelling enough to trump our "preexisting assumptions."

In that case, then, the author would have to show that the evidence for the theory of evolution is lacking before she can attack it on the basis of a "materialist" bias. But, as usual, she sidesteps the issue as if the mass of evidence for the theory of evolution is not compelling. Additionally, if evidence is really an important factor, then the author's preferred theory -- intelligent design -- would need the balance of the evidence to weigh in its favor in order for us to accept it based on evidence rather than "preexisting assumptions." But, of course, intelligent design is nothing more than a critique of the theory of evolution that presents no actual claims of its own.

In fact, in the realm of intelligent design it is axiomatic that evolution is wrong. This is proven by the fact that intelligent design proponents, when presented with evidence proving that their critiques of the theory of evolution are wrong, refuse to accept the evidence. As such, we can conclude that evidence is irrelevant to them, and thus that the proponents of intelligent design, by the author's own logic, accept it as true based solely on their "preexisting assumptions." Her argument actually works against the point she wants to make.

In addition, her definition of "evidence" is incoherent. She says that a materialist "will fit any evidence he does discover into his materialist view." What sort of "evidence" is she talking about?

If she is speaking about material, physical evidence -- the sort of evidence that buttresses the theory of evolution -- then she is trying to shift frames of reference on us without cause to do so: why would one interpret evidence discovered in the physical, material realm as anything but indications of what happened in the physical, material realm? By what measure could we take a piece of material evidence and determine that it points to some non-material cause? It isn't an "assumption" to interpret physical, material evidence in terms of physical, material theories and causes. Unless we adopt solipsism, we know that physical, material effects can result from physical, material causes, and that they are of the same type and kind -- not even intelligent design advocates refute that physical, material causes can result in physical, material effects.

Whereas supernatural effects or causes would be of a different type and kind and, logically, would leave evidence of a different type and kind than natural ones. Specifically supernatural effects or causes would leave evidence utterly different than evidence left by physical, material causes, effects that could not possibly be explained by a physical, material explanation. Therefore, such evidence would obviate the "assumption" problem, as it wouldn't matter if one is a "materialist" or not, as the evidence would be of a kind beyond explanation without a supernatural or spiritual cause.

Alas, the evidence for evolution is not such evidence, as it has, in fact, been explained without needing resort to a supernatural or physical cause. In fact, logically, non-material causes would be evidenced by non-material evidence (whatever that means), just as material causes are evidenced by material effects. It is only through an unproven, unwarranted "assumption" can one conclude that physical, material evidence is the result of a non-material cause, since there is no evidence of any mechanism by which the non-material can interact with the material in the first place, even if we "assume" that the non-material exists. We have no evidence that the non-material can affect the material or vice-versa, and, as such, no reason to believe it does. Thus, without reason to think otherwise, we have no reason to think that non-material causes would leave behind material evidence. Rather, non-material causes would leave non-material evidence, just as material causes leave material evidence. Without a mechanism for the material to interact with the non-material, we would expect never to see evidence of a non-material event. And, guess what? We don't!

And thus, to say that science has not "discovered that materialism is true" is a non-sequitir. Once again, unless intelligent design proponents are solipsists, there is no argument between them and scientists about whether the material world exists, based on the evidence of our senses. In legal terms, both sides agree to that fact as stipulated.

Science is the process of examining evidence, proposing theories to explain that evidence, and testing those theories to determine which one is most likely true. Since we have evidence only that the physical, material world exists, and no evidence of the existence of the non-material (which would, in any case, manifest non-materially anyway), and can only observe material causes and effects, science is naturally limited to those.

When and if we can observe non-material effects, then we can base on theories on the non-material. But, until and unless a mechanism for the non-material to interact with the material is discovered, scientists have no basis on which to propose theories involving non-material causes, and they are therefore disallowed. In effect, in order to propose a non-material cause without any known mechanism for the non-material to interact with the material, any theory of non-material causes would fail, since there would always be a missing step: the step that explains how the non-material interacted with the material.

As such, material evidence cannot be explained by theories of non-material causes, and physical, material evidence is therefore interpreted as having physical material causes because that is the only known method of creating physical, material evidence. As such, scientists never need to "fit... evidence into [their] materialist view," because they know that physical, material evidence can result from physical, material causes, and thus the evidence always fits the so-called "materialist view."

In other words, reality has a well-known material bias, and scientists do not ignore this fact as intelligent design proponents wish them to. And, thus, the theory of evolution is defended because the physical, material evidence indicates it is true, and no coherent theory allowing an alternate, non-material cause has been presented. It is not for "religious reasons." After all, positing a material, physical cause for an event is not to say that the non-material does not or cannot exist, but rather that no evidence exists that the non-material can interact with the material, and thus, without such evidence, we must choose material explanations for material evidence.

Even where the evidence fits badly and inconsistently, as Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I show in The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007), the materialist prefers to live with the problems rather than to consider that materialism might not be true. Agnostic philosopher David Stove showed brilliantly where all that leads, in his systematic examination of Darwinism in Darwinian Fairy-Tales.

So when you hear people say that the evidence for Darwinian evolution is overwhelming, you might be wise to wonder whether a materialist could possibly
view the evidence in any other way. Even a straw of evidence that supports materialism is, for the materialist, of much more account than a mass of evidence identifying problems with it.

The author is changing frames of reference again, hoping through sleight-of-hand we won't notice it. She's conflating evidence for non-material causes with evidence for the theory of evolution. Even if the evidence for the theory of evolution did fit "badly and inconsistently," that would be evidence that the theory is wrong. But evidence that fits "badly and inconsistently" with one particular theory requiring a physical, material cause is not the same as evidence that a physical, material cause couldn't have left said evidence. We can only reasonably shift frames of reference from the material to the non-material if we have reason to do so, and the author's sleight-of-hand in conflating evidence conflicting with a particular physical, material theory and evidence conflicting with any physical, material theory is flawed.

Could a so-called "materialist," what sane people call a "scientist," interpret physical evidence any other way than with physical, material causes? Sure. We can posit that fairies or leprechauns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it. But, unfortunately, since we have no valid or testable theory by which a non-material cause can leave behind material, physical evidence, and, thus, no evidence that non-material causes leave material, physical evidence, we interpret physical, material evidence as caused by the only events we know leave physical, material evidence.

How would we do otherwise? The author does not say. She only points to what she perceives as flaws in how the theory of evolution explains the extant evidence and then leaps to the conclusion that the evidence does not support a physical, material explanation. But she does not posit any theory by which non-material actors can interact with the material nor does she give us any criteria by which we could distinguish material from non-material causes. Without such criteria, all non-material theories are equally valid and therefore explain nothing and allow us to learn nothing.

As such, once we leap to non-material explanations, science stops. And that is the real crux of the author's argument: she knows how life came about a priori without need of the evidence, so she wants us to stop looking at the evidence because she thinks she already knows what it says. Because scientists don't simply trust her word for it and instead stubbornly continue to gather and examine evidence -- what nerve! -- she accuses them of making "materialist assumptions" when what she is really upset about is that they don't adopt her own assumptions.

Merely by looking at the only evidence available -- physical, material evidence -- and then explaining it by the only demonstrable type of causes that create such evidence -- physical, material causes -- we are simply doing science the only way it can actually be done. Being restricted by the very nature of the universe in which we live to examining only material evidence means that there is only one way to learn anything in this universe, and it is not an unwarranted "assumption" to choose the possible the impossible. Or to choose to look at the evidence rather than just making shit up. "I reject shit that's just something someone made up" is not a crazy "materialist assumption."

When we come to understand the thing "that is not well explained" - human consciousness, for example, or the bacterial flagellum - we will see that there is no design. So if we think we have uncovered design, we must admit that we have not worked hard enough, and devote our efforts to explaining it away.

Er... no. She's very, very confused. Allow me to clear things up. In the past, we have looked at things and thought, "Wow, someone must have designed that!" Then, someone else came along and looked at it a bit closer, Darwin for instance, and said, "Whoa, wait a minute! I thought this was designed too, but when you look a little closer, you can see the signs that it wasn't." Through this process happening over and over in human history, we (some of us, at least) have learned that, though we thought we had compelling evidence of design many times in the past, we actually just hadn't examined the evidence sufficiently. As such, we have learned that we are often wrong when we assume design, and that it is therefore wise not to jump to the conclusion of design without very, very convincing evidence. In regards to speciation, that evidence is lacking, and trying to pick holes in the theory of evolution does help one bit in discovering evidence of design.

ID proponents like the author would have us act like some dumb squirrels I once heard a comedian talk about. He said there was a squirrel sitting on a branch. It sees an acorn further out on the branch and goes to get it. As soon as it does, a kid shoot sit with a pellet gun. The squirrel runs back to safety. But the pellet didn't hurt that bad, and it soon forgets it got shot, and sees... the acorn. So it goes for the acorn and gets shot again. And so on. As soon as the pain from the pellet fades, it forgets about the kid, and does the same thing over and over, never learning. That's what the author would have us do. Even though, over and over, we have learned that apparent design doesn't hold up under scrutiny, she would have us act as if we'd never learned this lesson, never been shot by the pellet gun, and just keep walking out on that branch.

We don't keep looking even when though something appears to be designed because we are "materialists" working on our "materialist assumptions." We do so because we've learned that there often is another explanation when one looks a bit deeper. If design were really to be found in the evidence around us, looking further wouldn't always result in our finding evidence that disconfirms design. We'd find evidence of design, which we haven't.

ID proponents don't have any, and that's why they persist in tearing down the theory of evolution rather than doing their own research and presenting their own findings. The author is essentially complaining that we don't stop investigating when she says, "It's obviously designed." But, the fact is, that scientists challenge and test every theory, not just theories of design, and so they don't just "identify evidence that looks like design" but then stubbornly "seek an 'explanation' that rules out design, even if it doesn't really work well." If the design explanation really were the best explanation, it would be confirmed by further investigation. If the alternative theory to design "doesn't really work well," then it will be further investigated and either modified to fit the evidence or discarded. Every theory is challenged and expected to hold up under scrutiny. The author wants to carve out an exemption for her pet theory, design, but she gives us no reason to do so other than her assertion that to do otherwise is somehow "materialist" and wrong.

You have to do better than that. Jeesh.

Weird, Wacky World

Check this out. A former Long Island teacher, dismissed in 2001, is claiming the school fired her because they "decided she was a witch."

I just keep thinking about the witch trial scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail...

Maybe, in court, they'll weigh her against a duck...

Friday, March 02, 2007

If You Think I'm Bad, Get a Load of This Guy!

Take a look at this video (not work safe; has cursing and dog feces). I may not be the most respectful person in the world towards the beliefs of Christians, but at least I don't do stuff like this:

David Mills video.

This is part of the Blasphemy Challenge, where non-theists were challenged to post videos of themselves denying the Holy Spirit. Not quite sure what the point of that exercise was other than to piss Christians off. Though I did see posts from a few non-theists who felt it was good for them, because they were actually a bit nervous about doing it, owing to lingering inculcated religious fears, and this helped them to finally put God away forever.

BTW, no, I didn't do a video. I didn't see much point. I don't make videos denying Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny either.

Death Penalty in North Carolina

My readers not living in North Carolina (read: all of them) probably aren't aware of the interesting legal tussle going on over the state's rules for performing executions.

It seems that state law requires a doctor to be present at all executions. From what I gather, the law doesn't actually spell out any duties the doctor must perform, but only that one must be present. The problem is that the state medical ethics board has ruled that doctors may not ethically participate in executions, or even be present to fulfill the statutory requirement, without risking sanction by the board. In essence, the board has ruled that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in the taking of a human life.

So, there's a bit of a stalemate going on, and executions are on hold in NC until it can be resolved.

The issue was referred to the NC Council of State, a body of statewide elected officials that is chaired by the Governor, which, according to a state law that I believe dates from 1909, must approve changes to capital punishment procedures in NC. The Council of State, however, has chosen not to deal with the issue, almost certainly for political reasons, since I can't see how any solution they posed would not alienate a large segment of the electorate.

The Attorney General's office has apparently gone to court, but the courts have said that they aren't the place to resolve the issue. A period of negotiation between the Attorney General's office and the medical board followed, but that apparently has broken down, and so the Attorney General's office is saying it will "pursue legal avenues" or something to that effect, which seems to mean going back to court. Which, according to the NC Public Radio analyst is unlikely to go anywhere, since the court has already said it isn't the place for this issue.

The analyst predicted the issue would eventually end up in the state legislature. If so, the legislature will have to resolve the conflict between two laws it enacted: the law requiring doctors to be present at executions, and the law granting authority to the state medical board to determine medical rules and policy in the state.

The easy answer appears to be dropping the requirement for a doctor to be present at executions, but there's a problem with that idea. Judging by recent rulings in Federal courts in other parts of the country that halted executions by lethal injection -- the method used in NC -- on grounds that it may constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" if the prisoner isn't fully sedated during the execution, it seems necessary to have a doctor present to sedate the prisoner and ensure he or she isn't aware and feeling any pain. Dropping the requirement will thus not solve the stalemate, as it will likely lead to a Federal injunction against executions in NC.

But it also is going to be difficult for the legislature to do anything about the medical board's decision, in my opinion. For one thing, I doubt the legislature wants to be seen as trumping the decisions of medical professionals about how doctors should conduct themselves. That would likely draw a lot of criticism for interfering in something the legislature has no business interfering in. Plus, of course, doctors have a lot of money and form an important lobby, and alienating them by overruling and embarrassing the medical board is unlikely to be good for the legislators' careers.

So, really, I don't know what is going to happen. As an opponent of the death penalty, I am glad that there is a moratorium on executions for the time being. Plus, it seems to me, even if I set aside my bias against capital punishment, that the medical board has a very strong case for it being unethical for a doctor to assist in someone's death, even if it is legally sanctioned.* But I also don't see how executions don't fail the "cruel and unusual punishment" test if there isn't a doctor there to ensure the prisoner is unconscious.

So, it seems to me the only way the issue can be resolved is to somehow force the medical board to allow doctors to participate in executions. And, even if the legislature strips the medical board of its jurisdiction over this matter, I doubt the state can force doctors to participate. I'm sure there are doctors who don't feel that participating in executions is unethical, but I don't know if they will want to participate if the legislature strips their profession of some of its rights. They may close ranks against any such move. I don't know.

In any case, I do think this is an interesting dilemma that points out another incoherency of the whole idea of capital punishment in this nation. I hope that, in the end, everyone decides that it isn't worth it to have a big fight over this issue, and they just stop executing prisoners. I don't know if that will happen, but I can hope.

*Even in cases of assisted suicide, which I think should be legal. I don't just think so because I oppose the death penalty.