Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In Which I Vomit in My Mouth Just a Little

I suppose most of my readers are aware of this bizarre story by now, but I thought I'd bring it to your attention if not.

Back in 2004, Ashcroft, then still the Attorney General, was sick in the hospital, desperately ill. He'd turned over authority to then Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Well, the Bush regime was at that moment trying to get the Department of Justice to sign off on the NSA domestic wiretapping program, which, apparently unbeknownst to the White House, both Comey and Ashcroft had decided had crossed a line and become illegal.

Yes, you read that right, but to repeat (cue vomit): The Bush regime's domestic wiretapping program had gone so far over the line that true-believer John motherfucking Ashcroft thought it was over the line. The guy who is so conservative that he covered up the bare breasts of a statue of Justice was the one on the side of civil rights against the regime. That is just goddamned amazing to me. How far to the right do you have to be when both John Ashcroft is to the left of you? Somewhere between Hitler and Attilla the Hun, I think.

But the story gets even more bizarre. When Comey told the White House he wouldn't sign off on the wiretapping program, the White House sent Abu Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft's hospital bed to overrule Comey even though it wasn't clear at the time if Ashcroft was going to fucking live or not. That is to say, the White House wasn't satisfied that the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, the 2nd-ranking legal official in the US government, thought the wiretapping program was illegal, so they wanted a second opinion from the highest ranking official, even though he was in the hospital so incapacitated he'd handed over his authority to his deputy.

Which shows just exactly how much the Bush regime cares about the "rule of law" that conservatives like to crow about. They were so ideologically driven to violate the rights of Americans that they were willing to lean on a sick man to get the answer they wanted rather than accept the right answer.

Anyway, Comey heard about how Abu and Card were on the way to the hospital, so he hurried there and got there first. He had some FBI agents with him and when he entered Ashcroft's hostpital room to join Ashcroft's wife, he told the FBI agents not to let anyone from the White House remove him. That is to say, the acting Attorney General of the United States was worried the White House might bring guys (presumably Secret Service guys, since they're under Treasury and don't report to the Attorney General) to physically remove him from the room while they tried to do an end-run around his duly-delegated authority, worried enough that he was willing to order FBI agents to confront other government agents in order to prevent it.

Sort of like what happens in the Third World or a banana republic, not the US, no?

Anyway, basically, Ashcroft was totally out of it in pain, but when Abu and Card arrived and pressed him on the wiretapping issue, he first explained to them -- apparently coherently, despite being incoherent moments earlier -- why the wiretapping program was illegal, and then said, "But it doesn't matter what I think. I'm not the Attorney General. There's the Attorney General," and pointed at Comey before becoming incoherent again.

And then, when the regime showed its utter disregard for the rule of law by ignoring the opinion of the Department of Justice that the wiretapping program was illegal and renewing it anyway, Comey told Ashcroft he had to resign over the issue and Ashcroft decided to resign as well.

Yes, folks, the Bush regime is so wacked that an authoritarian nutjob like John Ashcroft decided he had to resign because the regime had gone too far in violating Americans' civil rights. John Ashcroft is a libertarian compared to these assholes.

This story, as crazy and movie-like as it is, which probably should depress me with its look into how close to a banana republic the US really is, and how easily it could become one, somehow gives me a little hope instead. If even extremist ideologues like John Ashcroft can be pushed far enough that they have to stand up for civil rights and the Constitution, then maybe there's hope. Maybe not everyone, even on the extreme religious right, is completely devoid of scruples like Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Gonzales are, and maybe this was just the perfect storm of utterly amoral people being in power at once. Maybe, as bad as another far-right administration would be, it won't be as bad as this one, because there just aren't enough completely amoral conservatives out there. I mean, Ashcroft sure looked and acted like one, but when the chips came down, he did the right thing, in at least this particular instance. Maybe there just won't be enough of the utterly amoral religious conservatives around to give us another Bush regime.

One can hope, right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Case You Missed It...

Voter fraud is Rovian Republican bullshit meant to discourage poor and minority voters from going to the polls because they tend to vote from Democrats. Not only did the Bush Department of (In)Justice look and look and look for cases of voter fraud to prosecute and even fire US Attorneys who weren't aggressive enough in hunting cases down, without finding even "a single prosecutable case across the country," but -- under Rove's orders I am certain -- the Republicans even set up a bogus think-tank called the American Center for Voting Rights to legitimize the notion that voter fraud was widespread. Having served its function, the think-tank has now shut its doors, as does any front organization once the scam has been perpetrated.

Republicans like to talk about all the fake names that people register to vote and how the voter rolls don't get purged enough to keep fake names off them. Fair enough. There are fake and fraudulent names on voter rolls. But that doesn't mean those fake names are actually being used to vote. That's a whole other thing. Sure, you can be a wiseacre and register Mickey Mouse to vote, and you'll never get caught and it'll be funny. But if you show up at a polling place and try to vote as Mickey Mouse, you're going to get arrested. There's no risk to putting in a false registration, and it's easy. That's why it happens a bunch. But actually trying to vote on a fraudulent registration involves actual risk for almost no gain -- unless you've got thousands of people to do it with you it won't really accomplish anything -- and so it just doesn't happen.

As the article referenced above points out, showing up at the polls to place a fraudulent vote just doesn't make any sense. If you were going to try to swing an election with fake voters, you'd do it with absentee ballots, since the risk is so much lower and one person (or a few) can send in hundreds or thousands of fake ballots. A few people can't go to the same polling place dozens and dozens of times, even without strict identification requirements, without getting noticed. And, in fact, absentee ballot fraud has been found in the US while voter fraud at the polls hasn't.

But, of course, all this is beside the point to the Republicans. They're going after voter fraud and not absentee ballot fraud not because they're not actually worried about either, but because they can intimidate minorities to keep them from voting by passing strict voter ID laws. They aren't pushing absentee ballot fraud laws because they won't help intimidate minority voters.

So don't fall for the line that the Republicans care one whit about voter fraud. They don't. In fact, they know it doesn't happen. It's just a useful tactic in their game of trying to jimmy the system so that the US is no longer a Republic (if it even still is) but a Republican oligarchy.

After all, the Republicans don't seem at all concerned about all the problems with the new voting machines losing votes, mistabulating votes, and failing to register cast votes, even though those allegations are actually widespread and backed up with significant evidence. Why? Because most of these problems happened in Democratic-leaning districts and helped the Republicans. They don't care about fraud. They care about rigging the system so they can keep power.

Oh, and it's not like it's any accident that most of the voting machine errors happened in Democratic-leaning districts where Republicans were in charge of the elections commissions. But that's another story.

Monday, May 21, 2007

It's True: I Look Upon Christianity With "Distain"

I now know that atheists want society to "distain" Christianity, thanks to Chuck Norris! I don't know what "distain" means, but I assume it's like when PETA threw fake animal blood on fur-wearers. Maybe we use wine instead (because it's the blood of Christ, see?)

We also, according to the Chuckster, want to make Christianity's "components" illegal. I'm not entirely clear what that means, but I must be for it, 'cause Chuck said so, right?

Eroding and erasing theistic language in culture is a growing trend.
Really? Wow. It seems to me that I hear God mentioned, thanked, praised, and worshipped on TV, in movies, whenever an athlete is interviewed after a big game, in almost every political speech, on our currency, on the street, and on business signs all the time. Hmm. What am I missing?

Oh, right. For fundamentalist wackos like Chuck, "culture" is the same as "government," and it isn't enough that there's a church on every corner in most cities and towns across the US and that every other car on the road has a Jesus fish on it. No, everyone, all the time, has to be constantly exposed to Chuck's religion, and if government isn't explicitly doing so, then his religious "freedoms" have been violated. 'Cause, you know, religious freedom really just means the freedom for Chuck to use the power of the government to coerce those dirty atheists into believing the Truth. Right, Chuck?

Earlier this year George Washington dollar coins were not only inscribed with the words "In God We Trust" on their edges, but many excluded them entirely! Such minting modifications are a flagrant defiance against theism and a public reflection of the place God is now relegated – to the fringes of society.
Yeah, because having your God explicitly mentioned on the currency every citizen has to use to conduct his or her daily business isn't enough... it has to be on the face, not the edge, because otherwise Christians might forget about God when paying for ice cream and become an atheist, all because they had to look at the fucking edge of the coin to see His name! The barbarity!

And there were not "minting modifications" resulting in some coins lacking the inscription. It was a mistake. Not a fucking conspiracy. Sometimes the post office prints stamps with airplanes upside down. No one screams bloody murder and accuses the post office of being anti-gravity. (Well, not that I know if, anyway...) In truth, I believe it is unconstitutional for the US Mint to put "In God We Trust" on our currency, but the Mint isn't secretly run by atheists leaving the motto off the coins and trying to legislate atheism. I venture to guess that most employees of the US Mint, along with the political appointees and politicians above them, are, in fact, Christians, and not particularly disposed to the destruction of Christianity in the US.

Secularists of course have made repeated attempts to rid "under God" from "The Pledge of Allegiance."
Only since 1954, when theists got those words added. Was the US a nation of atheists before then, Chuck?

I was also grateful to read in the Dallas Morning News May 1 that the House also embraced legislation "that seeks to clarify the rights of Texas public school students to offer public prayers at football games or graduation, hand out religious messages or hold religious meetings during the school day if they want."

This legislation and your gratitude, Chuck, are just pieces of political theater, and I suspect you know it. The rights of students to pray and engage in religious expression are already clear. They're allowed unless they disrupt learning. It's called the 1st Amendment. What is not allowed, Chuck, is for the school to endorse a particular religion. That's all. Prayer has never been banned from schools in the US. Coerced prayer is.

Another example of atheistic advocacy can be found in the 10,000-member Freedom from Religion Foundation initiation of a Supreme Court case, which asserts that President Bush's faith-based initiatives pose a violation of the wall of separation between church and state.
Just "culture" is the same as "government" to nutjobs like the Chuckster, a "constitutional challenge" is the same as "atheistic advocacy." Chuck may or may not know that some of the most fervent supporters of the 1st Amendment, the foundation on which the wall of separation between church and state, was built, were Baptists. They didn't like being discriminated against by other Christian sects through the power of the government. So, I guess they would be atheists too, eh Chuck, since they were engaged in the "atheistic advocacy" of supporting the wall of separation between church and state? I suppose the Jews of Newport Rhode Island, who Washington wrote a letter to while President guaranteeing them freedom of religion in the US, were also advocating atheism? And Washington, too, for his guarantee? In fact, Chuck, by your logic many of the Founding Fathers were engaged in "atheistic advocacy" by signing onto a document including the 1st Amendment. That kinda works against your side's whole "the US was founded as a Christian nation" theme, doesn't it?

Oh, and by the way, whether you like it or not, Chuck, faith-based initiatives are a violation of the 1st Amendment, and trust me, lots of religious folk, like all those who aren't getting any of the plum guv'ment money because they don't have the right faith, agree with me.
Atheists also received a proverbial shot in the arm by locating a representative and advocate of sorts in Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who "is the first member of Congress – and the highest-ranking elected official in the country – to make known that he is a nontheist."
Lordy, lordy, ma, get the shotgun! The world's a-commin' to an end! They's an ah-theist in them 'thar Congress!

First off, Stark isn't an atheist, he's more of an agnostic. Also, since atheism isn't a religion but rather lack of belief in a god or god(s), there's not much to give a "shot in the arm" to. But, even if we define militant atheism of the sort practiced by Dawkins, Sam Harris, and to a lesser extent myself, as a movement, it's hard to see how it's a big shot in the arm to find out that one of 435 Representatives, that is, 0.0023% of that legislative body, is willing to openly admit to being a non-theist. And that's not even considering that the percentage in the US Senate is still... zero, as is the percentage on the Supreme Court, and the percentage of openly non-theist Presidents. Don't worry, Chuck, the world ain't comin' to an end just because one guy in the legislature doesn't believe in your sky-fairy.

One more point, Chuck: Stark almost certainly isn't the first, or last, non-theist in the US Congress. But the narrow-minded intolerance of religious bigots like you keep such politicians from being open about their beliefs, since you'd like to stone them if you could, and certainly wouldn't vote for them. In fact, Chuck, in terms of bigotry and hatred of those who don't believe as you do, I'd have to say Christians in the US take the cake. You're complaining that 45% of Americans might consider voting for a non-theist as if they wanted to rub shit all over the Bible, but almost every atheist who votes has, does, and will vote for theists. You see, we understand that one's belief or non-belief in a sky-fairy isn't the most important thing to consider when choosing leaders. When you make it the most important thing, you end up in the kinds of clusterfucks our good friend "God speaks to me" George Bush has created.

But yes, Chuck, one freakin' non-theist in the Congress is surely the beginning of the end for Christianity being legal in the US. Right.

By the way, Chuck, one point of order. I'd like to see theism and belief in the supernatural fade away like the belief that bleeding someone with leeches will cure them of cancer. But I don't want nor do I intend to advocate for laws forcing theists -- or anyone else, for that matter -- from giving up or changing their beliefs to suit me. I want to convince theists they are deluded, certainly, but I don't want to tear down the 1st Amendment that protects Christians as well as atheists to do it. Take your strawman caricature of atheists as evil people who want to torture and burn Christians at the stake somewhere else, Chuck. We ain't buying it here.

His election stands in stark contrast to the wishes of our Founding Fathers, who
encouraged American citizens to vote Christians into public office. As John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, wrote to Jedidiah Morse on Feb. 28, 1797, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians
for their rulers."
I am going to show a bit of... faith here, or perhaps just laziness, by not taking the time to look this quote up to ensure it is genuine. Many similar quotes have turned out to be Christian and/or creationist inventions, but I will take this quote as accurate for the sake of argument.

So what? Madison thought it was a violation of the separation of church and state for there to be a House or Senate chaplain. The Founding Fathers weren't a homogeneous bunch, Chuck. The words of one Founder can't just be taken as the views of all the Founders. That's why, above, when I discussed the Founding Fathers, I said "most," because certainly some of the Founders were not in support of the separation of church and state. As a whole you could say they were for at least a certain level of separation and freedom of religion, since they included the 1st Amendment in the Constitution, but even those in support of the 1st Amendment varied greatly on what they thought it should mean, to whit Madison on one end and those who thought it just prohibited a national, government-backed church on the other.

And, in this case, Chuck, history is clearly against you, since the Founders put into the Constitution a clause preventing any religious test for holding office in the US. Certainly, if the Founders, as a group, wanted only Christians to be able to hold political office, they wouldn't have made a point of disallowing religion being used as a test of worthiness. Perhaps John Jay felt it best that the US elect Christians to office, but apparently not enough to ensure it by making it mandatory. But to say that the thoughts of John Jay, one of the Founders, in this one letter constitute the "wishes" of the Founders as a whole is ludicrous given what they actually decided to put into the document upon which the law of the land is based.

Chuck then goes on a screed against hate crimes legislation, claiming that it would allow clergy to be "accused as an accessory to a hate crime, after he preached to his church on Sunday about the woes of same-sex marriage and discovered on Monday one of his congregants got in a fight with a homosexual co-worker as a result of a moral altercation?"

That's just stupid. Most members of Congress are Christians, dumbass, and they aren't out to pass laws that would criminalize a sermon condemning homosexuality as immoral, less charge such a clergyman of a crime. Further, while I think such a sermon is bigoted and immoral, as would be the preacher who gave it, I still don't think it should be a crime. You see, Chuck, I don't just pay lip service to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I actually believe it. So, while you would like non-Christians silenced and pushed out of public life, to use the power of government to further your faith and coerce others to accept it, and to institute religious test for holding public office, I don't want the government to silence even speech I find offensive.

The guy who started a fight with a homosexual co-worker, however, should be charged with a crime, and further, don't you dare try to make it seem that it is okay to attack others whose lives you think immoral by calling it a "moral altercation." It isn't moral to discriminate against, physically assault, or denigrate homosexuals for their homosexuality, no matter your moral feelings on the subject. The cause of morality isn't furthered by committing immoral acts, no matter how justified your bigotry makes you feel. Unless you are willing to call white racists getting into fights with blacks "moral altercations," then shut the fuck up. Because racists are just as sure of their moral superiority as you are, Chuck, and just as wrong.

Further, I doubt you'd buy it if I got into a fight with a preacher for preaching hatred of homosexuals, despite my strong moral conviction that spreading hatred is wrong. I'm sure you'd be the first in line to laugh in my face if I called it a "moral altercation." Well, Chuck, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so if fundamentalists fighting with homosexuals isn't assault but just a "moral altercation," then when I bitch slap the next Christian who says gays shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else, it won't be an assault. It'll just be a "moral altercation."

The Earth Revolves Around The Sun and Other Atheist Lies

According to this blogger, writing in support of right-wing presidential candidate (and, it appears, possible Holocaust denier) Sam Brownback, we commie pinko atheists who hate America are also the ones perpetuating the lie that the Earth orbits the sun rather than the other way round. A lie clearly falsfified by "empiricism," the author tells us, since "If it [the Earth] moved, we would feel it moving."

Plus, did you know that math can magically make things happen? It's true: "The earth moves only thru [sic] abstract, abstruse, and esoteric mathematics invented to make it move." Just by inventing new mathematics, we can apparently push entire planets around! Who knew?* I should have spent more time on my calculus classes...

Then, in the comments, this blogger gives us a gem, by way of responding to a comment that literally interpreting the Bible to mean that the Earth is stationary would also mean accepting that bats are birds: "Bats are birds, they fly. They may be mammals in one sense, but in the sense that they have wings, and all winged non-arthropods are birds, they are birds." Priceless!

The jury is out on whether this site is parody or not. I have to say it is disturbing how hard it is to tell loonies from satirists on the internets. Maybe I'll ask teh Goggle.

* All right, dumb question. The Logopolitans, of course.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Money Quote

“You’d have to be remodeling your kitchen.”

--Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense

That's how blatant your earmark of Federal funds for a project that benefits you personally would have to be in order for the House Ethics Committee to rule your actions unethical.


Not Just Wrong, But Utterly Wrong...

I read a post in some blog yesterday that was so utterly wrong that I'm not going to dignify the blog by linking to it. The post said something to the effect of, "But, of course, lefties are so busy hating President Bush instead of the terrorists who want to kill us, just because Bush hasn't been a great leader..."

The stupid! It burns!

All right, all you neocons out there, let me explain something about reality to you: The terrorists are going to keep hating me and wanting to kill me whether I hate them back or not. The fact is, nothing I feel about them is going to change how they feel and what they want one way or the other. So, whether I hate the terrorists or not really doesn't matter a damned bit in the real world.

Secondly, hate isn't a limited resource in this world. Trust me. There's more than enough to go around. And the production of hate isn't on the decline. The Bush regime is creating gobs and gobs of it in Iraq even as I write this. Even if hating the terrorists were important, which it isn't, I'm perfectly capable of hating them and Bush at the same time. It's not like walking and chewing gum, for the love of...

But the reason many of us on the left, including me, focus most of our ire on Bush rather than the terrorists is because Bush's job is to make me safer from the terrorists, but instead, he's made things worse, created more terrorists, and put the US -- and Americans like me -- at greater risk. And, at least in theory, since the President of the United States represents the people of the US, people like me, and is acting in my interests, I have a definite stake in what he does, how he does it, and in making sure he knows when I think he's fucking up. I am not the terrorists' boss and I know they aren't going to listen to me. But I am one of Bush's bosses, and even though it is clear he isn't going to listen, I have a duty to make my voice heard when he is acting against the nation's interests. And I'm not responsible for what the terrorists do, but I am, as a citizen of this republic, responsible for what Bush does in my name.

The terrorists were never responsible for acting in the best interests of the people of the US. Bush was, and he failed utterly. I can't hold the terrorists responsible myself; I don't have that power. I can only hold them responsible and act through the government, through President Bush, and as my representative he has done more to help the terrorists than they could have dreamed with his disastrous policies. For failing to do what needed to be done to protect the US from the terrorists, for failing to hold them accountable, for getting us into a war that had nothing to do with terrorism and has created a failed state which is now a breeding ground for more terrorists, Bush has failed the country and failed me. In my name, he let the terrorists win. And that's why I focus my ire on him: The terrorists were never going to give up and stop hating and wanting to kill me, but Bush could have made me and the US safer. And he didn't.

Hating the terrorists is just something bullshit neocon pseudo-patriots do to make themselves feel better about how badly they have fucked up this country and the world. But it's meaningless, useless, pointless, and it is nothing more than mental masturbation. Only speaking out against the failed policies of our government is it possible to change course and hope for things to eventually get better, and if the left "hates" Bush, it is only because he was the one who carried the responsibility to use our collective power to make things better and he didn't. He acted in his own self-interest instead and fucked the rest of us over. And he's still in charge, still fucking things up right fucking now, and I hate him because he won't change course, won't do what is right, won't do anything to make things better, and worst of all, won't admit his failures and incompetence and step down (along with Cheney) and get the hell out of the way.

But maybe, just maybe, if I complain enough, speak out enough, voice my ire enough, something will change. Not likely, but it's way more likely than my hating the terrorists will change anything. The chances of that are exactly zero.

There is no logical reason to care about whether the left hates the terrorists or not. As long as the left doesn't want to be killed by the terrorists -- we don't -- that's all that matters. Not to see that is willful stupidity and logically incoherent.

I Told You That You Should Really Avoid Magical Thinking...

Here's a perfect example of what I have been talking about, how accepting one bullshit thing on faith can make you more apt to start accepting other bullshit things too: As part of his campaign to get the same suckers who send him money to buy his energy drink, Pat Robertson -- 76 year old Pat Robertson -- claims that his drink allows him to leg lift two-thousand pounds.

That's right. 2,000. Two, comma, and three zeroes. Two-thousand. A 76-year-old man.

Notwithstanding that the world record is 1,335 pounds, and the guy who did that burst the capillaries in his eyes doing it. But Robertson claims he can beat that record by 665 pounds and not burst a single blood vessel.

Who would possibly believe that? Oh, that's right. The same people who believe he has a direct line to God, that God tells him things like how hurricane Katrina was God's judgment because of "the gays" or how soon the apocalypse is coming, even though he's never right, or that he can heal you by touching you. Once he gets you to believe he has Jesus powers, why not believe he has super-strength too?

And yes, Robertson is a loon and a con-man and would be with or without religion. Christianity didn't make him a loon and a con-man, I'm willing to concede. But it's kind of like the first person to try to open a stubborn jar: It loosens them up. Makes them more credulous, more willing to believe. And also gives a false sense of authority and credibility to someone who shouldn't have any: He's a man of faith, a man of God! He couldn't be lying to me!

Or else Robertson really is a superhero. I can't wait to see him in spandex.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Right Decision

I'm not fan of the British royal family. Not a big hater, either. Don't care about 'em much either way. And I'm certainly not a fan of the rich and powerful getting out of military service while the less fortunate don't.

But I think it's the right decision not to send Prince Harry to Iraq. For one thing, though all the troops in Iraq are in harm's way, he'd be such a big target that I have to think he'd almost certainly end up getting killed. It's fair for the rich and powerful to share the risk, but not necessarily to take a vastly greater risk like Harry would be doing.

Plus, he'd be such a danger to his comrades. He would put them in much greater danger as well, and that just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

I don't like letting someone get out of his responsibilities just for being rich or famous, but in this case, I think I have to agree that, on balance, it wouldn't be fair to Harry or his compatriots to send him to Iraq. I could be wrong on this one, but that's how I see it.

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Ass On The Way Out...

According to CNN, Wolfowitz's tenure at the World Bank is about to end, and, to quote Yoda, "Not short enough it was." I don't have the slightest bit of sympathy for this asshole, even if I ignore the fact that he was the principal architect and proponent of the ongoing disastrous clusterfuck in Iraq.

Just focusing on his World Bank adventures I still can't stand this asshole. First off, he was appointed to head up the World Bank by Bush, even though he was vocal in expressing his feeling that there was no need for the World Bank, for the same reason Bush appointed Bolton as his ambassador to the UN: To destroy it from inside. Wolfowitz's job was to grind things to a halt at the World Bank and weaken it to make it an easier target for being done away with. And he did a good job, too, since he spent most of his time going around the world telling everyone how the World Bank had fucked up and how it wasn't making things better but rather making them worse, without detailing any plan for fixing it.

Oh, wait, he did have one stated goal apart from his unstated one of destroying the Bank: To end corruption. I guess he got his girlfriend a plum job at the State Department, with a huge tax-exempt raise and a guarantee she'd get good performance appraisals no matter her actual performance, by way of demonstrating his crack-down on said corruption, things like nepotism and giving personal favors. Yeah. Because the best way to show that you're against corruption is to violate ethics rules in setting your girlfriend up in a cushy job.

If you come in on an anti-corruption platform, you have to be totally clean. That's the gig. You can't even brook the appearance of a conflict of interest, let alone use your position to get favors for your girlfriend. And you certainly can't talk tought about ending corruption and then whine when you get caught doing something inappropriate. You can't expect others to follow the rules, respect ethical boundaries, and take responsibility for their actions when you don't take any responsibility for your own. I already knew Wolfowitz was a horrible liar and self-deluded fool, but now we can add hypocrisy to his list of selling points. It's hard to run an organization on an anti-corruption platform when you're revealed to be a huge fucking hypocrite.

Some of the Western European nations have threatened to stop letting the US pick the World Bank president over the whole issue of how the Bush regime has supported Wolfowitz despite the obvious need for him to be fired or step down for the good of the Bank. I think they're right and should stop letting the US pick the World Bank president. The only way to curb abuses of power by future US administrations is to start reigning in this one. I think it will be good for everyone, including Americans, for the US to have get a smack on the nose with a newspaper for our arrogance.

With Wolfowitz, I think we should kick him in the balls. A lot.

Polls Are Like Guns... They Don't Lie, People Do

This poll supposedly shows that 35% of Democrats believe that Bush knew in advance that the 9/11 attacks were going to happen and that, therefore, Bush was "in on it," in the words of Jonah Goldberg, and that "a majority of Democrats in this country are out of their gourds."

If it were true, I would say that the Democrats who truly believe Bush was "in on it" are, indeed, batshit crazy. Further, I would tell them that they are as deluded as the right-wing "faith-based community" and to get their heads out of their asses. The Bush regime scheming to cause or allow 9/11 to happen would not only be freakin' impossible to keep secret for this long, but would be too big a political gamble even for Rove and his gang: If they got found out, they might be literally crucified, tarred-and-feathered, or drawn-and-quartered, and it would probably be the end of the GOP. No, even if I believed that Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld were so evil they would actually do such a thing, which I don't -- they're evil, but not that evil -- it would just be a political risk beyond risky and desparate, and the regime didn't need to make such a desperate move in 2001. They just didn't.

However, I don't have to say any of those things, because the poll doesn't actually tell us what Goldberg wants us to think it does. It doesn't tell us whether even a single Democrat thinks Bush was "in on it" or whether his regime conspired to cause or allow 9/11 to happen. Because the Democrats polled weren't asked about that. Here's what the respondents were actually asked:

Did Bush Know About the 9/11 Attacks in Advance?

Which, Mr. Goldberg, I'm afraid is not the same thing as asking them if Bush conspired to cause the attacks or allow them to happen. No, this poorly-worded question only tells us that 35% of respondents to the poll who were Democrats think Bush may have known something that related to the 9/11 attacks at some point before they happened.* Respondents could easily interpret the infamous pre-911 Presidential briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike inside America" as "advance" knowledge, for instance, and not be even vaguely considering that a 'yes' answer would be used to imply they believed in a conspiracy. In fact, in that sense, I do believe Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and may well have answered 'yes' myself if asked that question without further context.

Or, one could believe that Bush knew about the attacks before the planes hit the towers but after the planes were in the air, and that it was too late for him to do anything when he learned.

Since the question does not specify what the respondent thinks Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks prior to the attacks nor when the respondents thought he knew it, Goldberg is out-and-out making shit up and lying through his teeth when he claims that the "most common" reason respondents answered 'yes' is that they think "Bush craftily enabl[ed] a terror attack as a way to whip up support for his foreign policy without too many questions." Goldberg doesn't know if this was the reason anyone answered 'yes,' let alone that it was the "most common" reason.

Simply put, he's full of shit.

Later in the article, Goldberg tries a sleight-of-hand to make himself look less like a lying sack of shit and more reasonable. He says:

So then there's [the] option... [that] the poll is just wrong. This is quite plausible. Indeed, the poll is surely partly wrong. Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent or that he failed to connect the dots or that they're just answering in a fit of pique. I'm game for [this] option...

Wait, you say. Didn't he just agree with you?

No. Notice the sleight-of-hand. He admits that the Democrats might have said 'yes' for a different reason than the one he asserted earlier, but he doesn't admit that the poll doesn't support his claim and that he just made it the fuck up... No, he says that maybe "the poll is just wrong," [my emphasis]. The poll can't be right or wrong on this issue, because the poll doesn't say anything about it one way or the other! Why is Goldberg trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Because otherwise he couldn't use it to call other polls, polls he doesn't like, into question:

But if we're going to throw this poll away, I think liberals need to offer the same benefit of the doubt when it comes to data that are more convenient for them. For example, liberals have been dining out on polls showing that Fox News viewers, or Republicans generally, are more likely to believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Now, however flimsy, tendentious, equivocal or sparse you may think the evidence that Hussein had a hand in 9/11 may be, it's ironclad compared with the nugatory [?] proof that Bush somehow permitted or condoned those attacks.
Oh, snap! Oh, wait, no! He's full of shit again. We don't have to "throw this poll away" to reject the notion that 35% of the Democratic respondents believe Bush was "in on" 9/11, because the poll doesn't fucking say that! Goldberg did! As such, the amount of evidence that Hussein had a hand in 9/11 compared to the evidence that Bush did is utterly irrelevant and we do not, in fact, have to give the "benefit of the doubt" to results of the polls Goldberg wants us to ignore.

Further, even if this poll said what Goldberg claims, his argument is just stupid, because we can reject the results of a single, unverified or duplicated poll without calling into questions the combined results of the dozens of polls that all indicate that Republicans and Faux News viewers believe, after the Bush regime repeated the lie in the media thousands of times, that Hussein was involved with 9/11. You'd need a bunch of polls all indicated that Democrats think Bush was "in on" 9/11 with an amount of data commensurate to that supporting the 9/11 Hussein polls for us to even consider this argument.

Goldberg is a lying bag of ass.

Also, it bears noting that the pollster who conducted the poll, Scott Rasmussen, is a right-winger and has written articles for WorldNut Daily. We cannot, of course, commit the ad hominem fallacy of ignoring his data out of hand because of who he is. However, since we also know from vast amounts of research on polling that polls are very sensitive to factors that don't show up in the numerical results, factors like the inflection or tone of voice the pollster uses when asking the question or how the pollster determines who to call for his sample, and since we already know Rasmussen asked a poorly-worded and vague question -- not a good sign for a professional pollster -- I think we are right to be cautious about anything we draw from this poll.

Hat tip to denialism.

* Goldberg also falsely implies that "most" Democratic respondents said 'yes' to the question, thus trying to mislead us about the actual numbers presented by the poll results as well as what they mean. Plus, he later just makes up a number that isn't presented in the poll data when he says that "61% of Democrats polled consider it plausible or certain that the U.S. government would let [9/11] happen." That's bullshit. 35% of Democratic respondents said "yes" to the question about whether Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and 22% said that the CIA had advance knowledge of the attacks. Neither are a majority nor do they match Goldberg's magic "61%" number he got from his ass, presumably.

It's Not My Fault I Don't Believe in God, Since There's No Free Will

I wasn't aware that "Darwinian orthodoxy denies the reality of free will," but thank god those wise intelligent design (ID) creationists revealed that well-kept secret. A secret so well-kept, in fact, that apparently the Freemason-like secret Darwinian society must only give that information out to the Darwinist Grand Masters, people like Dawkins and Gould, since I wasn't aware of it. I guess I'm just a poor dupe of the the "evilutionists."

Oh, wait. It isn't scientists, by and large, who claim that the theory of evolution is incompatible with free will. Theists are the ones who generally make this claim, based not on any evidence, but on philosophical arguments (or, perhaps, sophistry). Scientists, favoring making judgments based on evidence rather than faith (read: wild-assed guess), have debated the issue of whether humans and other organisms have free will, but have, by and large, held off on drawing conclusions until more convincing evidence was obtained.

The study the ID creationists cite shows evidence that free will may, indeed, exist in fruit flies, and thus possibly in other organisms. This is in no way in conflict with the theory of evolution. And, if it were, scientists would have to rethink the theory in accord with the new evidence, not abandon the theory entirely, as evolution is a robust theory that does not hinge on any one piece of data. The results of this study certainly give no support to intelligent design creationism.

Further, as I have argued before, free will is, in my opinion, incompatible with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic idea of God. In a material universe, things can be undetermined and random, since no one is determining what happens. But in a universe whose existence is contigent, from moment to moment, on an omniscient and omnipotent God who exists outside of time and both knows and determines the state of each molecule and particle in existence, and sets all the factors that could affect the behavior of creatures living in that universe, including the personalities, abilities, and propensities of every living being, nothing can happen that is against God's will. As such, everything that happens is God's will and only God's will, because His will cannot be abrogated, and so there can be no free will, as all beings living in such a universe must always do as God wills and can never do otherwise. While theists like to argue that we can, in fact, do things that are not what God wishes us to do, that just pushes things back one step and postulates a God that has dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), as we can only do something God does not wish us to do if God wishes us to, so God would have to both wish and not wish us to take that action. Of course, since nothing can happen that an omnipotent being does not wish to happen -- as being all-powerful necessarily entails the power to prevent anything one does not wish to happen from happening -- this is logically impossible. As such, either there is no omnipotent God or there is no free will. Both cannot exist.

Trumpeting evidence of the existence of free will does not actually help the ID creationists at all, though they don't realize it. Because a material, non-supernatural universe is consistent with free will or lack thereof, but the Christian God who is the unnamed "designer" of intelligent design theory isn't.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We Fired You For Stuff We Didn't Know About When We Did It

Representative Chris Cannon (R-UT) is a big fan of time travel, apparently, because he thinks Justice Department officials traveled back in time to fire someone for something they didn't know about when they actually fired him.

Cannon is claiming that the Justice Department was right in firing US Attorney David Iglesias because a couple of weeks before they fired him, he received inappropriate calls from members of Congress who pressured him to bring indictments against Democrats prior to the November 2006 elections, in order to influence those elections -- but Iglesias didn't report the calls, as apparently required by Justice Department regulations.

However, the Justice Department supposedly didn't know about the calls when they fired him. According to Cannon's logic, if you do something for an inappropriate reason, and then later you learn something that would make a better reason, it doesn't matter why you did it in the first place. The reason you dug up later trumps the actual reason you did it.

Naturally. I mean, if a cop shoots someone just because he doesn't like him, but later it turns out that the guy the cop shot was a criminal, then it's okay that the cop shot him, right? Perfectly reasonable.

But Cannon's logic is even worse than that. The reason Iglesias was fired in the first place is because he wasn't willing to violate his professional ethics and Justice Department regulations by bringing politically-motivated indictments at times beneficial to Republican politicians. And part of the case against him in that regard is that he didn't bow to the pressure put on him by the members of Congress who called him, and causing those members of Congress to complain about him to the Justice Department.

So, in essence, Cannon's argument is that even though Iglesias was fired for not bowing to inappropriate political pressure, his failure to report that inappropriate political pressure to the people who fired him -- for refusing to bow to that pressure -- puts Iglesias in the wrong and he should be fired.

What?!? I almost need a diagram to make that even make sense.

Can it be any clearer that the Republicans don't live on the same planet as the rest of us? How did Cannon even come up with this tortured rationalization anyway? To paraphrase Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, "No human would argue like this."

Torturing for Intelligence

I was watching Boston Legal with my girlfriend last night (yes, dumb show, but kinda funny, and it has Shatner) as they had a military guy on the stand making the standard argument the neocons have been making for several years now: We must kidnap and torture people to get intelligence that will save American lives and prevent then next 9/11.

And something occurred to me. Something other than the well-known flaw in this logic that information gained through torture is extremely unreliable. Something other than the fact that experts and those involved in "interrogating" prisoners have come forward and admitted that no actionable intelligence has been gained in this way.

No, what occurred to me is that we actually did get the intelligence we needed to prevent 9/11 and torture wasn't necessary to do it. The 9/11 commission's report as well as media investigations have shown that the FBI had the intelligence but that it was ignored by those who could have done something. 9/11 didn't happen because we weren't kidnapping and torturing people to get intelligence. It happened because we didn't do a good job of interpreting and acting on the intelligence we had.

So the argument that we can only prevent another 9/11 and save American lives by torturing people for intelligence doesn't make any sense at all even in a practical sense, leaving aside any bleeding-heart issues of morality or law. Our existing intelligence gathering methods prior to 9/11 worked. That's the bare fact of it.

Torture wasn't necessary then, and it isn't necessary now. Even the utilitarian argument for torture fails utterly. When you add back in the fact that torture doesn't produce good intelligence, that torture and extraordinary rendition are against the law and violations of the Geneva Conventions, and that torturing prisoners and stripping them of their civil rights is morally wrong and against the values on which the US was founded, there's just no excuse at all.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Talk about "Tools..."

I think maybe violence isn't the last refuge of the incompetent. I think maybe it's religion. Check this blog post out: a Christian unable to refute the logic of an atheist's argument about why people should get to follow their own consciences with regard to abortion replied by saying, "LOGIC IS THE TOOL OF SATAN!!!"

That's right. Logic, one of the most basic tools in the toolbox of discriminating what is true from what is complete bullshit, is casually rejected as an invention (or at least "tool") of an invisible evil red guy with horns and a tail. By someone whose holy book includes a bunch of nearly incomprehensible stories called "parables" supposedly told by the son of the all-powerful ruler of the universe, who is also the god himself, stories which rely on... wait for it!... logic to make what little sense they do. If logic were really a tool of Satan, then why did Jesus use it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Also, if some Christians want to reject logic wholesale, I would like to know what they intend to replace it with. Because very little makes sense outside the realm of logic. How would one make decisions or determine what is true and what isn't? I suppose one could hope God would let you know, but even fervent Christians who aren't schizophrenics don't get advice from God on whether or not it makes sense to, for example, eat potato salad that's been sitting out in the sun for a few hours. Without logic to rely on, how could one come to realize that one's previous experience of eating potato salad that was sitting out and later getting sick is a good indicator that the same will happen this time? One has to make a logical inference to make that connection. Is Satan trying to keep Christians from eating perfectly good potato salad by making them think it has gone bad, perhaps?


Maher and Hitchens: Twin "Ed Renner" Award Winners!!!

I Tivoed a recent episode of Charlie Rose where he had on Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens (in separate interviews). Both interviews were very frustrating because both men went from being perfectly rational to going off the rails of sanity and saying things that were just batshit crazy.

Maher made a lot of good points about the irrationality of trusting Bush's and Cheney's predictions about what would happen if the US pulled out of Iraq, given that they have been 100% wrong in every other prediction they've made about what would happen there. And about how Bush is a "uniter, not a divider" only in the sense that he is uniting people who normally hate each other in hatred of the US.

But then he went on a screed about modern medicine, how 90% of all medications prescribed aren't necessary, how Western medicine ignores the "holistic" (ie, non-evidence based) approach to its detriment, how surgery (apparently in general) is a Bad Thing, that Western medicine has made no progress in the fight against cancer, and that most medical problems are caused by lifestyle and eating habits.

But the most nutty thing he said was something to the effect of, "Lack of aspirin isn't the cause of a headache," by way of argument (I can only assume) that you shouldn't take aspirin for headaches. That's pretty close to the stupidest I've ever heard. Lack of morphine isn't the cause of pain in gunshot wound victims either, but it sure helps. Drugs aren't just replacements for the "lack of" something in the body... they do lots of other things, like stimulating the body to produce things it needs, like preventing the body from producing things it doesn't, and regulating bodily processes that the body is failing to regulate itself.

As someone who has frequent headaches, sure, I wish I knew what was causing them so it could be corrected. But, in the meantime, when either the cause of someone's headaches is unclear or curing the headaches would involve too great a risk, pain relievers are not a completely irrational way of dealing with the problem. And lifestyle and bad eating habits are not, in fact, the cause of many ailments, despite what Maher would have us believe, though they are certainly the cause of many. Cancer appears to be endemic to our species moreso than others, for instance, even factoring for lifestyle, eating habits, and whatever carcinogenic effect the modern environment has. Most people who get cancer get it because humans appear to be particularly susceptible to cancer. End of story.

The fact is that doctors and medical schools, at least in the US, are more and more embracing holistic and homeopathic remedies, despite what Maher is claiming. Too much so, in fact, and the reason that Western medicine is skeptical about those things is because there's no evidence that most of it works. If most homeopathic or holistic remedies worked, trust me, doctors would be on them in a New York minute. And we know most of them don't work because researchers are studying them to find out. Researchers working on grants to do these studies who get no more benefit from showing that these remedies don't work than showing that they do and have no particular reason to lie.

Most of these remedies just don't work. When herbs and such have some therapeutic effect, however, Western medicine admits it. Studies have shown that echinacea has some immune system benefit and that St. John's Word does act as a mild antidepressant. It wasn't covered up or ignored by Western medicine the way Maher claims. Though, I am sure, there are lots of Western doctors who do dismiss holistic medicine and homeopathy out of hand, regardless of the evidence, but if those things worked, Western medicine would eventually embrace them.

So, to you, Bill Maher, I reluctantly bestow the not-so-covered Ed Renner Award.

Then, there was Christopher Hitchens. Oh so rational with respect to why religion is bunk and why no one should believe in it. Oh so irrational with respect to the Bush regime and the war in Iraq.

Hitchens still, despite all evidence to the contrary, believes that we were justified in invading Iraq, that the invasion was a good idea, and that the US can somehow still salvage the situation if it doesn't pull out. I just can't imagine by what logical process he could possibly arrive at these conclusions. I mean, they're all just so wrong that I don't even feel I need to repeat the myriad of reasons why at this point.

I did agree with him that the Iraqis who have supported the US and democracy in Iraq are going to be ass-fucked when the US pulls out. But where Hitchens is nuts is that he actually thinks there's something the US can do to help them at this point. We can't. Those Iraqis were fucked the moment we deposed Saddam and there's no way we can set things right now. He's right that the US will be at fault for what happens to them to its eternal shame. But he's wrong that this can be avoided at this point. We can't.

So, for his steadfast idiocy in continuing to support a war that is obviously one of the biggest disasters in modern history, I also have to reluctantly award Christopher Hitchens with the Ed Renner Award as well.

Maher and Hitchens: So close to being great minds, and yet so far.

School Uniforms and Compulsory Military Service

Whenever stupid shit like this happens, someone brings up the idea of school uniforms. I have a similar problem to school uniforms that I do to universal compulsory military service: one-size-fits all solutions inevitably screw anyone who the solution doesn't actually fit.

When someone proposes school uniforms, I always want to know what are these uniforms going to look like? Will girls' outfits and boys' outfits be different? What fabrics will they be made of?

There's no better way of teaching boys and girls stereotypical ideas about sex roles and that they shouldn't try to adopt the roles of the other sex is by making girls wear dresses while boys wear pants. If a little girl isn't allowed to wear pants, then why should she think she can be a scientist either?

And I want to know what the uniforms will actually look like and be made of, because I grew up unknowingly suffering from what psychiatrists term "tactile defensiveness." In my case, what that meant is that certain fabrics and types of clothes drove me (and still drive me) absolutely batshit crazy. For instance, for most of my life, any piece of clothing that touched my neck made me crazy. I just couldn't stand it. It was just the most damned uncomfortable feeling you can imagine. And before someone says, "No one likes wearing a tie," for a long time I couldn't wear a shirt with a collar at all because I then couldn't do anything but worry about the collar brushing against my neck.

The difference between how I felt wearing something touching my neck and how most people feel is like the difference between tickling a ticklish person and a non-ticklish person. To the ticklish person, the exact same sensory impulse that doesn't bother the non-ticklish person at all is extremely uncomfortable, solely based on how the brain interprets the sensation.

I went through a long period in high school where I could only comfortably wear two particular T-shirts I owned and nothing else. I've gone through other periods where I couldn't wear T-shirts at all, because of how they touched my neck (and to this day before I don a T-shirt I stretch out the neck). When I worked at a job where I had to wear a tie every day, I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night because I was so disturbed by the thought.

And lots of fabrics have been issues for me at different times. I have never been able to comfortably wear stiff cotton, including stiff or heavy cotton T-shirts. I had a denim jacket in high school that I had to stop wearing because the feeling of the denim against my arms started driving me crazy.

For these reasons, before I even consider solving the "problem" of kids wearing inappropriate clothing to school by instituting school uniforms, I want to know what, exactly, the uniforms will physically be like. And I want to know how the school will deal with kids who have issues or problems (including ones I didn't have, like allergies to certain fabrics) with the uniforms. I don't think it is right to solve the problem of group of kids X wearing inappropriate clothing to school on the backs of kids Y, who weren't the problem, who now have problems because of the solution, the uniforms themselves.

We always forget that when we change things, we often just shift the burden of who suffers from one person to another.

In the same way, those who advocate compulsory military service of the sort required in Israel, where most everyone* is required to serve two years in the military, are only considering the good it will do for some, not the harm it will do to others. Because, the fact is that the military is a very particular kind of environment in which only certain people thrive and others wilt. And you're going to have people who can't function in that environment and end up getting into trouble they never would have had otherwise, and that can ruin lives. Getting jailed for insubordination or getting a dishonorable discharge follows you forever. And some people who would have been able to function perfectly well in other settings will not deal well with military life and end up being marked for life because of it.

Not everyone is cut out to be a surgeon, or an air-traffic controller, to be in customer service, or to work in retail. We don't expect everyone to be able to do any job in the civilian world. Why would we expect everyone to be able to adapt to the military, which is really just another particular type of job?

So I'm very wary of these one-size-fits-all solutions to our problems. Typically those proposing them are people who either would do well in the new regime, or who never had to discover whether they would but assume they'd do great. They don't take into account the variability in peoples' dispositions and consider what the solutions they propose can do.

Maybe this is just me and I'm whining from personal experience of having trouble fitting in when faced with various circumstances in life. But I still think it's important to say, so I'm going to say it.

*Certain religious groups, such as Orthodox Jews who believe fighting is a sin, are exempt, but there are only a few such exceptions and temperament, as far as I know, isn't one of them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Good Resource for Global Warming Skeptics' Arguments

In case you end up talking to a global climate change skeptic/crank, here's a good site that lists most of the major denialist arguments and why they're bullshit.

Court Ruling on Religious Objections

Via Dispatches, the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on one of those asshole pharmacists who claim they shouldn't have to fill prescriptions for birth control pills because they have religious objections to birth control.

But this fucker was really up on his high horse: Wal-Mart tried to accomodate what this guy thinks a magic sky fairy wants from him by allowing him to only assist male customers or female customers not of child-bearing age, reducing the chance he would even be asked to fill a birth-control prescription. But that accomodation -- which Wal-Mart, much as I hate them, shouldn't have to make in the first place -- wasn't enough for Fuckstick McFuckerson. No. He thought he shouldn't have to work the counter or answer phones at all unless the customers were pre-screened by other workers!

That's right. His delicate religious sensibilities are such that he thought he shouldn't even have to risk coming into contact with the pure evil of a woman who has the nerve to take control of her own reproductive health. And get this: When he answered phone calls asking about birth control, this fuckwad would put the customer on hold and not tell anyone else about the call so that the customer wouldn't get served.

Fuck this guy. The 7th Circuit ruled appropriately, as far as it goes, in saying that Wal-Mart had indeed attempted to make reasonable accomodation for this guy's beliefs, but the what this guy wanted was an undue burden on his employer. But they didn't go far enough, in my opinion. Why the hell should Wal-Mart have to accomodate this guy's beliefs at all? I still don't understand by what right this guy can choose a profession that has duties -- to dispense medications, one of which is birth control pills -- that conflicts with his religious beliefs and then expect his employer to accomodate his choice. I mean, he didn't have to become a pharmacist, and moreover, he could have found some Christian pharmacy to work at where he wouldn't have to dispense birth control pills or at least some place willing to accomodate his extreme requirements. But he didn't. So fuck him.

Civil rights are a big deal to me, but I just don't see this as a violation of this guy's rights. And it's not just because it's a religious objection, either. I support equal rights for gays and lesbians, and I think they should be protected from discrimination based on sexual preference. But I don't think a gay or lesbian should be able to become, say, a priest in a church opposed to same-sex relationships then expect to be "accomodated" by not having to pastor to anyone who might say something mean about gays or lesbians. Dealing with people who oppose homosexuality would be part of the job in that case, just like dealing with those seeking birth control is part of a pharmacist's job, and in both cases the person shouldn't choose a job that has duties that conflict with his or beliefs or sexual orientation.

Fuck this guy. Wal-Mart should have been allowed to and should have fired him the first time he refused to serve a customer and that's the end of it, in my opinion.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Henry VIII and the Modern Republic

So, my girlfriend and I have been watching The Tudors on Showtime. It's a show about Henry VIII as a young man, before he got fat, when he was athletic (to a degree*) and vital. While watching this recreation of a feudal society, albeit a post-Magna Carta one, with the King holding such vast power over the life and limb of his subjects and those with royal blood looking down on those without, regardless of the relative merit of each, I kept thinking, "Boy, I'm glad I'm living in a free society where things aren't like that anymore."

But then, an important politician's business here in NC burned down. And, despite the fact that this is the politician's private business matter and he or she should not get service from the state that anyone else wouldn't get, he or she clearly is. And I remember when I was in Massachusetts and they told me about how big the operation to find JFK, Jr. was after his plane went down, far in excess of what would have been done if, say, my plane had gone down.

And I wondered: How different, really, is the society I live in from a feudal one? I may, in theory, be free with equal rights to everyone else, but if, say, Oprah wanted to use my land for something, wouldn't she probably be able to use her money, power, and influence to get it? Didn't the Duke lacrosse case demonstrate the disparities in how the rich and poor get treated in the legal system, no matter your opinion on the ultimate outcome? Given that they had habeus corpus back in Henry VIII's time but it has been discarded here in the US for anyone the president labels and "enemy combatant," does the government and the president not have as much or more power over my life and limb than the King did in that day?

Am I less of a serf, more of a serf, or pretty much exactly as much of a serf as I would have been then? I'm not sure that I am less of a serf. I'm not sure that my freedom and "inalienable" rights aren't as contingent upon the goodwill of the government, the rich, and the powerful, as they would have been in the day, and aren't just illusions.

And somehow, I don't feel quite as superior when I watch the show anymore.

*He's actually kind of a loser. He gets his ass kicked in a wrestling match by the King of France -- France!, tries to pole vault over a river and ends up falling on his face into the river and nearly drowning, almost gets killed in jousting when he forgets to put his visor down, and loses in an arm-wrestling match to one of his Lords. He pretty much loses every athletic/physical contest he's in, despite the ads for the show showcasing how young and athletic he is.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Drugs and Informed Consent

There's an article on the Denialism blog discussing whether or not drugs should be approved and regulated by the FDA or whether they should be unregulated to let informed consumers make their own decisions. One of the points of argument is whether or not the average person can be expected to really know enough about drugs to be truly informed. If not, some argue, then there is need for the FDA approval process to weed out harmful drugs.

Here's my take: Uninformed consumers of drugs are screwed, with or without the FDA.

Doctors make mistakes all the time. They have biases and blind spots like everyone else. They are also susceptible to the same marketing as consumers.

I've been to at least three doctors who completely botched diagnoses and prescribed inappropriate drugs. I have had doctors who were set on using a particular medication to the point that I had to change doctors to get a new medication, even after informing the doctor of the debilitating side-effects of the drug. I can't imagine what would have happened to me if I hadn't done the work and research to know when those doctors were wrong and when not to take the medications they prescribed.

Personally, I don't go to the doctor without being fairly certain of what is wrong with me. If the doctor has a different theory, I explain my theory to him or her and expect the doctor to defend his or her theory (if he or she doesn't accept mine). So far, I have always been right.

But the fact is that most people are not inclined to put in the work necessary to become informed consumers of drugs. And many people, in my opinion, wouldn't be able to make informed choices even with research. Many people just don't have sufficient critical thinking skills to make such decisions. That's a fact. I'm not sure I would encourage those people to take matters into their own hands: I personally know a lot of people who would probably end up killing themselves if they did. Those people have no choice but to rely on the expertise of doctors and agencies like the FDA.

But they're still screwed. A little less screwed with the FDA than without? I'd say so. I don't think the invisible hand of the market works well in areas where consumers are not well informed and so the idea of letting consumers decide which drugs should be on the market is likely a disastrous idea. It was pretty disastrous when we tried it before, and that's why we have the FDA.

But still, the issue of FDA drug approval or not is pretty insignificant next to the problem that most people don't know crap about what the hell is in all the colorful little pills they're taking.

The Pottery... Good God, The Pottery!!!

Utterly off-topic, but I just have to share my anguish with the wider world. My girlfriend made me go to a pottery festival this weekend.

Let me be clear: Before the festival, I had no interest whatsoever in pottery.

After the festival, I now think I hate pottery, at least as an art form.

There were, I think, three types of pottery on display:

  1. Stuff that looks like you could buy it at Wal-Mart. Boring, probably functional, and not at all worth wasting all of Saturday to go see.
  2. "Face" pottery, that is, potter that has faces on it. Ugly-ass faces. Usually done in red. This is apparently some kind of North Carolina tradition, likely invented to keep people from moving here by convincing them North Carolinians are fucking nuts.
  3. Weird-ass shit that isn't cool or interesting. Stuff obviously inspired by Cthulhu but not quite Cthulhu, and not different in an interesting way. Stuff that just looks like shards of broken pottery (that's what makes it cool, you see?) but is boring and mundane otherwise. And other such things.

The only thing worse I have been taken to, that I can think of off my head, was when my grandfather took me to a sauerkraut festival when I was a kid. It was worse primarily because sauerkraut made my vomit when I was younger. Literally.

I told a co-worker that the only way it could have been worse is if someone had been with us who punched me in the nuts every ten minutes or so.

Good god, the pottery!!!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thanks, PZ!!!

I haven't really done much -- okay, anything -- to try get visibility for this blog or to increase its readership. In some ways, I've never been entirely certain I want anyone but those I have invited here to read it, for fear I might censor myself out of fear of offending people if my readership were wider.

But I have taken the plunge, in a small way. PZ Myers at the excellent Pharyngula blog has graciously added Markiarchy to his blogroll! Pharyngula is an A-list blog and it might help bring some readers to my humble spot on the interwebs.

Of course, as PZ himself noted, his blogroll links to half the internet, so the gains will likely be modest. But, hey, every little bit helps, right?

My Uncle: Still a Crank

I was on the phone with my ailing grandfather the other day. He doesn't hear well and talks to me on his speakerphone. My uncle Ed, who never moved out of my grandfather's house, lives up in the attic smoking weed, has given up on life, and sits around waiting for Jesus to come to take him to Heaven, overheard. He decided it was a good time to prove to me that, even after all these years, he can still bring the crazy.

I mentioned to my grandfather, unaware that Ed was listening, that I had attended a global warming rally. Ed took this admission as a throwing down of the gauntlet and he jumped right in. He asked me, "So, global warming is all because of humans and it's George Bush's fault, right?"

Now, since I tend to be much more reasonable in live debates than I am here, I said, "Well, I don't know that global warming is entirely caused by human activity. But, even if other factors are at play, a significant portion is, and that's the portion we can do something about. And no, it's not George Bush's fault. The problem preexisted his presidency, though he hasn't done anything to help."

Then he said something incomprehensible about albedo (he clearly didn't know what albedo meant but had heard Rush or Hannity mention it or something), before repeating, "So, global warming is all because of humans and it's George Bush's fault, right?"

I figured there were two possible explanations for this: He has alzheimer's, or he only knows the talking points of the conservative nutbags he listens to and so he needs my arguments to conform to the strawman they argue against or he's got nothing. That's a sign you're talking to someone who really understands the issues, when he or she desperately gets you to try and agree to his or her strawman characterization of your position! He obviously hasn't yet mastered the right's rhetorical trick of simply asserting that you agree with the strawman position no matter how often you point out you don't.

He then claimed that the left thinks the world would be better off "without people to mess everything up." That is to say, he thinks that liberals -- you know, those of us who spend so much time trying to defend others' human rights, promote equality, end racial injustice, end poverty, make sure the elderly get the medications they need, prevent and end genocides around the world, and help the disadvantaged get educations -- want to do away with humans entirely. Why, exactly, would liberals care so much about helping other people if they really thought humans were just a blight on the planet? Coming from my uncle to me, that comment was kind of like Genghis Khan telling Mother Theresa that she thinks the poor should be exterminated.

Then, he started in on -- and I am not making this up -- that maybe the Earth is closer to or farther away from the sun now than in the past, and that's the reason for global warming. When I told him that the Earth's average distance from the sun has been pretty constant for most of recorded human history, he said, "How do you know?" I started explaining to him that we have records remaining about the Earth's position relative to the other planets and the sun from various sources throughout the history of people gazing at the sky. But he didn't even wait for me to finish my explanation (proving that he didn't care about the answer in the first place, and only brought up the objection to try to stump me, not because he actually believed it) to move to his next point, the old saw of, "It's just part of a natural cycle."

I still don't understand how global warming deniers think either of these arguments help them. If, indeed, the Earth has moved closer to the sun and that is the cause of the increases in global temperature we are seeing, of if the Earth is just naturally heating up, does that somehow ameliorate the negative effects of the warming? It really doesn't. Natural processes can still destroy human civilization as we know it or cause mass extinctions that would wipe out humanity too. Were the citizens of Pompeii wiped out by the eruption of Vesuvius better off or any less dead because they were wiped out by a natural process? Not really.

I guess they hope that, by proving that humans aren't causing global warming, that human action can't do anything to curb it either. But that's crap too. If a natural process is moving the Earth toward a state where it will be difficult for human civilization to continue to exist, then we just have to sit around and say, "Oh, well. Them's the breaks"? If human contributions to the greenhouse effect are heightening or enhancing a natural process that is dangerous to human civilization, that means somehow there's no reason to do anything about the human contribution to the problem? We just have to say, "Well, it's bad anyway, so we might as well make it worse"? That's like deciding to take up smoking after you've been diagnosed with lung cancer.

(Aside: What's funny about global warming deniers is that we absolutely positively know that a runaway greenhouse effect can result in unlivable conditions on a planet of similar size as ours orbiting a sun like ours: It's called Venus, bitches.)

But then was the piece d'resistance, is one of the defining characteristics of the crank: Belief in a conspiracy theory. When I told my uncle that I accept the evidence that climate change is happening and likely caused by human activity, he asserted: "That's just because scientists are extreme left-wingers who want you to believe in global warming."

Now he's bringing the world-class stupid. This is like Michael Jordan flying from half-court to dunk the ball level stupid. According to my uncle, millions of scientists, working at hundreds and hundreds of universities, government agencies, private research facilities, and non profit groups, who have never met, come from all different linguistic, ethnic, ideological, backgrounds, in disparate countries around the world, have all somehow gotten the super-secret memo telling them to push the fantasy of global warming on the unsuspecting throngs. That the entirety of evidence compiled that indicates that global climate change is a reality was all faked for some reason by people who won't release the real data in order to continue the charade. And that they have faked up data that has fooled millions of very intelligent people like me who understand logic and science much better than my uncle or the right-wing blowhards he listens to.

Plus, what, exactly, would be the motive for this conspiracy? If global climate change really is just a conspiracy, who thought it up, and why? It couldn't be a simple explanation like that scientists are tree-huggers, because lots of scientists are working in the fields producing the chemicals, toxins, and machines that are destroying the planet in the first place. There's really no coherent motive you could ascribe to millions of scientists to fake a global climate change panic. Especially since there isn't agreement, even on the left, about what the hell to do about it! If this really were a conspiracy, you'd think the guys in charge would have disseminated a more coherent plan and that the good little conspiracy soldiers would all be pushing it, right?

Not withstanding that he's just arguing by authority: "Scientists are extreme left-wingers and therefore nothing they say matters." When the evidence and the truth aren't on your side, smear your opponents. Page one of the Karl Rove playbook. Not that my uncle would know that. I'm sure he's just parroting Rush or Hannity again.

It's funny how perfectly my uncle fits the definition of a crank. According to wikipedia, one of the nearly universal traits of the crank is that they "overestimate their own knowledge and ability, and underestimate that of acknowledged experts." My uncle (I may have mentioned this in a previous post, if so, sorry!), after two semesters of a junior college program in GPS, an Associate's program, started lecturing me about GPS and how it works, as if he were an expert. At the time, I had a degree in electrical engineering and had worked on military GPS systems for the Air Force and designed communications/navigation systems for in Alaska for use by emergency management personnel up there. But his two semesters of junior college made him the expert, of course. (He did not, unsurprisingly, finish the program).

I think I shall pilfer an idea from some other blogs I like to read and create a special award I can hand out to the most stupid people that come across my transom. I will bestow upon my uncle the first of these awards named for him. I will make future awards as I see fit.

So, congratulations, uncle Ed, the first recipient of the Ed Renner Award! Let's give him a hand!

The Wisdom of Qui-Gon

At a staff meeting the other day, the director of the agency I work for bestowed upon us workers some words of wisdom he got from his dreams. Some may have been cribbed from other places too. I wasn't quite sure. (His explanation was confusing and vague).

In any case, one of them was a long, only somewhat coherent rambling aphorism.

It took me a few seconds to tease out what he was trying to say, but when I did, I turned to a co-worker who is also a Star Wars fan, and said, "Did he just basically say, 'Your focus determines your reality?'" (Qui-Gon Jinn to Anakin Skywalker on a Coruscant landing platform, The Phantom Menace).

My co-worker started laughing. "That's exactly what he said."

Maybe next time he'll tell us that sometimes when you get scared, it can make you mad. And when you're mad, you can really start disliking other people. And disliking others leads to people getting hurt.*

*Yoda, also in The Phantom Menace: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Engineers: Do They Deserve The Bad Rap?

So, there's been a lot of talk across the scientific blogosphere -- particularly blogs dealing with evolution -- about how engineers tend to accept creationism at a much higher rate than scientists. The fact that many of the mouthpieces for the intelligent design creationism movement are engineers doesn't help things much.

The main theory of why engineers tend to be suckers for creationist arguments is that their work is primarily focused on design, in designing buildings or power plants or airplanes, or in analyzing existing designs, and that they therefore see design everywhere and thus fall for the Argument from Design almost as an occupational hazard. (A similar argument is made in regards to medical doctors).

I'd like to defend engineers. After all, engineers are trained in logical thinking and making decisions based on evidence, right? And, though I don't work as an engineer anymore, I have an engineering degree and have worked as an engineer and don't like my brethren besmirched.

But I don't think I can defend them. Because I have found that many, if not most, engineers tend to be logical and use critical thinking skills in their field, but abandon them like a case of gonorrhea in every other area. They say the most amazingly illogical, flawed, and poorly-reasoned things. They ignore logical arguments in favor of whatever their preferred belief is and are impervious to evidence.

Just like everyone else.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that engineers don't actually buy into creationism or other crazy ideas at a rate any higher or lower than other comparable groups, like scientists. If this is true, then why are they so castigated in the evolution community?

I suspect that it is because engineers think they apply the same critical reasoning skills outside of engineering as they do within engineering. They think they are more qualified to make judgments even outside of engineering and thus think their opinions are better than others'. As such, I think this breeds a certain arrogance that causes engineers to be more likely to forcefully voice their opinions and be willing to defend them to the death, no matter how little sense they make.

As such, I suspect that a study would find that engineers are not just better represented in the creationist community than those in some other professions, but also in the pro-science community. However, I suspect that, like doctors, engineers on the creationist side, the facts being against them and needing to employ any rhetorical trick to try to win arguments, are more likely than those in some other professions to argue by authority and say, "Well, I'm an engineer, and as an engineer..." to try to legimitize their craziness.

Creationist engineers aren't the problem. It's the 'creationist', not the 'engineer,' that drives the craziness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More Jedi Stuff

Well, I haven't talked about Jedi in a while, and since they take up a significant amount of my brain power on any given day, it's about time I get back to them.

I was at a costuming event recently where a guy who is part of a Jedi stagefighting group told prospective members that, in lightsaber combat, "Jedi fight defensively, mostly blocking and not attacking. They just have to survive a fight to win. Sith are the aggressors. Jedi don't start fights, Sith do."

My immediate gut reaction was that he was wrong. When I thought it through, I was sure he was wrong. Let's first consider the claim that Sith usually start conflicts.

Episode I:

Darth Maul does start the first fight with Qui-Gon on Tatooine. One for the opposition. However, even though Darth Maul does stand in Qui-Gon's and Obi-Wan's way in the hangar on Naboo, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan actually attack him first and do start the fight. One for me.

Tally: Tie.

Episode II:

Obi-Wan and Anakin chase Dooku down with the intent to kill him. Anakin starts the fight. Obi-Wan protests, but not because he didn't want to start the fight, but because he wanted to move in more slowly. One for me.

After Dooku tries to crush Yoda and hit him with Force lightning, Yoda and Dooku leap at each other to begin the duel. I'll call this one even.

Tally: One for me.

Episode III:

Palpatine attacks Mace Windu and the other Jedi who have come to arrest him. One for the opposition.

Obi-Wan goes to Mustafar to kill Anakin and activates his lightsaber first, but technically Anakin does leap at Obi-Wan and attack him first. I'll give this one to the opposition.

Yoda attacks Palpatine in the well of the Senate. One for me.

Tally: One for the opposition.

Episode IV:

Once again, while Vader does confront Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan actually is the first to strike. One for me.

Tally: Even.

Episode V:

While Vader has lured Luke to Cloud City to capture him, Luke strikes at Vader first. One for me.

Tally: One for me.

Episode VI:

Though the Emperor does provoke Luke, he does attack the Emperor first (prompting Vader to parry). Two for me.

Tally: Two for me.

So, on the whole, we actually see Jedi start fights with Sith more often than the reverse. And, in many of these fights, the Jedi aren't the ones on defense (the Duel of the Fates, Anakin's and Obi-Wan's battle with Dooku, Yoda's battle with Dooku, Yoda's battle with Palpatine, Luke's battle with Vader in Episode VI). Jedi are certainly the aggressors in a number of these fights as well.

On the second point, that Jedi just have to survive to win a duel but a Sith must kill his or her opponent to win, is exactly backwards. Since there are lots of Jedi and only two Sith, and since the Jedi's loyalty is to preserving peace while the Sith's is to gain more power for him- or herself, the Jedi can die and still win if he or she eliminates the Sith and the threat he or she poses.

All of a Sith's plans, which are selfish and for his or her own aggrandizement, come to naught if he or she is slain by a Jedi. The Sith must, at all costs, survive in order for his or her goals to be realized, and therefore can win just by surviving. Slaying one Jedi won't help the Sith cause that much -- there are more -- but that Sith's cause is lost if he or she dies. But a Jedi who puts his or her own survival before stopping a Sith from escaping to do more evil has lost. A Jedi can win by sacrificing him- or herself for the greater good, but not by putting his or her life before the good of others.

I think the guy I was talking to let his preconceived notions of what a good-guy should be overcome what we actually see of the Jedi in the films themselves. Jedi can be aggressors without being aggressive. A Jedi can attack a Sith as a necessary act to preserve the greater good without being angry or succumbing to aggression, without flirting with the Dark Side. Professional detachment, one might say. And a Sith can fight a defensive battle to save his or her own skin while simmering with hatred and fear.

I probably spend too much time thinking about stuff like this. :^)

What's a Little Swooning Between Friends?

Check this out (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars). A woman in Michigan is suing her charismatic church because she swooned and fell down in a fit of religious ecstasy and "no one caught her."

Apparently this is related to speaking in tongues and to being "slain in spirit," in which one falls to the ground as if slain (I think).

I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, she worked herself up into a fit and fell down, which is really her responsibility. And she knew that she was in danger of swooning if she went up to the altar, so if there wasn't anyone to catch people swooning, as she claims there usually is, then she shouldn't have gone up and risked herself.

Of course, on the other hand, the pastor is intentionally trying to get these people worked up into fits and encouraging them to writhe and fall down, and so the church should take precautions to make sure those who actually do so will be safe.

In fact, I don't think I'm ambivalent at all. I've just been falling for the false dichotomy. The fact is, both sides are wrong. Just because our legal system requires a winner and a loser doesn't mean there really is one. The woman is dumb for working herself up into a fit and falling down in the first place, and the pastor is dumb for encouraging people to swoon without sufficient safety precautions.

I say we send them both to the Island of Misfit Toys never to be seen again!

All those in favor?

Low-Functioning Pinheads?

On the second episode of Bill Moyers Journal, Jon Stewart said something interesting:

There is I used to have a real disconnect, I think, with the administration, I couldn't figure out what was going on. I think it's suddenly become clear to me. They would rather us believe them to be wildly incompetent and inarticulate than to let us know anything about how they operate. And so, they do Constitutionally-mandated things most of the time, but they don't — they fulfill the letter of their obligation to checks and balances, but not the intent.

For instance, Alberto Gonzales, and you've been watching the hearings. He is either a perjurer, or a low-functioning pinhead. And he allowed himself to be portrayed in those hearings as a low-functioning pinhead, rather than give the Congressional Committee charged with oversight, any information as to his decision-making process at the Department of Justice.
To an extent, I think Stewart is right. I don't think Gonzales is quite as low-functioning as he appeared during his testimony last week. He almost certainly was lying at least some of the 60+ times he said he didn't remember something.

But I've also heard leaked reports that he's such an idiot that he couldn't keep his story straight even in the two months of practice sessions leading up to his appearing before the Senate. That his advisors despaired of how he would come off because he just doesn't really know what the hell is going on most of the time.

So, I have to say I see it more like this: Members of the Bush regime are low-functioning pinheads who are willing to appear even lower functioning than they actually are rather than give any information to Congress or the people. But they think they're doing what Jon Stewart thinks they're doing. They think they're just pretending to be low-functioning pinheads, because they don't realize that even low-functioning pinheads can act stupider than they really are.