Friday, July 29, 2011

QOTD: The centrist cop-out

Quote of the Day:
The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault. - Paul Krugman

Why don't bees go to heaven?

Catchy, isn't it?

Why don't you believe in God?

In the New Statesman, 24 public figures explain why they don't believe in God - people such as Richard Dawkins:
I don't believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity. For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them, and the burden of proof rests with those who wish to believe.

Even given no evidence for specific gods, could we make a case for some unspecified "intelligent designer" or "prime mover" or begetter of "something rather than nothing"? By far the most appealing version of this argument is the biological one - living things do present a powerful illusion of design. But that is the very version that Darwin destroyed. Any theist who appeals to "design" of living creatures simply betrays his ignorance of biology. Go away and read a book. And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.

As for the cosmological argument, whose God goes under names such as Prime Mover or First Cause, the physicists are closing in, with spellbinding results. Even if there remain unanswered questions - where do the fundamental laws and constants of physics come from? - obviously it cannot help to postulate a designer whose existence poses bigger questions than he purports to solve. If science fails, our best hope is to build a better science.

And Sam Harris:
The most common impediment to clear thinking that a non-believer must confront is the idea that the burden of proof can be fairly placed on his shoulders: "How do you know there is no God? Can you prove it? You atheists are just as dogmatic as the fundamentalists you criticise." This is nonsense: even the devout tacitly reject thousands of gods, along with the cherished doctrines of every religion but their own. Every Christian can confidently judge the God of Zoroaster to be a creature of fiction, without first scouring the universe for evidence of his absence. Absence of evidence is all one ever needs to banish false knowledge. And bad evidence, proffered in a swoon of wishful thinking, is just as damning.

But honest reasoning can lead us further into the fields of unbelief, for we can prove that books such as the Bible and the Quran bear no trace of divine authorship. We know far too much about the history of these texts to accept what they say about their own origins. And just imagine how good a book would be if it had been written by an omniscient Being.

The moment one views the contents of scripture in this light, one can reject the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam definitively. The true authors of God's eternal Word knew nothing about the origins of life, the relationship between mind and brain, the causes of illness, or how best to create a viable, global civilisation in the 21st century. That alone should resolve every conflict between religion and science in the latter's favour, until the end of the world.

In fact, the notion that any ancient book could be an infallible guide to living in the present gets my vote for being the most dangerously stupid idea on earth.

And PZ Myers:
I am accustomed to the idea that truth claims ought to be justified with some reasonable evidence: if one is going to claim, for instance, that a Jewish carpenter was the son of a God, or that there is a place called heaven where some ineffable, magical part of you goes when you die, then there ought to be some credible reason to believe that. And that reason ought to be more substantial than that it says so in a big book.

Religious claims all seem to short-circuit the rational process of evidence-gathering and testing and the sad thing is that many people don't see a problem with that, and even consider it a virtue. It is why I don't just reject religion, but actively oppose it in all its forms - because it is fundamentally a poison for the mind that undermines our critical faculties.

Religious beliefs are lazy jokes with bad punchlines. Why do you have to chop off the skin at the end of your penis? Because God says so. Why should you abstain from pork, or shrimp, or mixing meat and dairy, or your science classes? Because they might taint your relationship with God. Why do you have to revere a bit of dry biscuit? Because it magically turns into a God when a priest mutters over it. Why do I have to be good? Because if you aren't, a God will set you on fire for all eternity.

These are ridiculous propositions. The whole business of religion is clownshoes freakin' moonshine, hallowed by nothing but unthinking tradition, fear and superstitious behaviour, and an establishment of con artists who have dedicated their lives to propping up a sense of self-importance by claiming to talk to an in­visible big kahuna.

It's not just fact-free, it's all nonsense.

Well, you get the point. And there are brief statements from 21 more nonbelievers.

Now me, I already wrote a series about my non-belief. But it boils down to a lack of evidence, as it does for most atheists.

Still, there's even more to it than that. Science can't explain everything, not yet, but it's doing a very good job of providing natural explanations - often for things that used to be explained by resorting to the supernatural. And science backs up those explanations with evidence, good evidence.

Religion explains nothing and also has absolutely no evidence to back up its assertions. It's a traditional explanation from a primitive time when we didn't know any better. Never once has anything we thought to have a natural explanation turned out to have a supernatural one. As we learn more about the universe, our discoveries all go in the opposite direction.

Really, none of us would give religion the slightest consideration if we hadn't been inundated with the whole thing since infancy (different beliefs depending on the accident of your specific birth, but each as ridiculous as the others).

And yeah, people want to believe, especially those beliefs that promise eternal life - not only for ourselves, which is appealing enough, but for the people we love. But if you hadn't been raised from infancy to believe such nonsense, it's unlikely that you'd seriously entertain that kind of thing now, no matter how much you wanted to.

Yes, it's very easy to believe what you want to believe, but some things are so ridiculous that you must catch a child while he's still young and gullible. It's harder to give up Santa Claus when you've believed in him all your life, and when your family and friends have, too.

In April, the New Statesman also asked 30 believers why they did believe in God. I think it's instructive to compare the comments there with those from the atheists and agnostics.

Over and over again you see people admitting that they believe because they want to believe. You also have believers who just feel that their religion is true. Of course, other believers feel the same way about their beliefs. And when you go by feelings, rather than evidence, how would you ever know when you were wrong?

There are also variations of the "god of the gaps" argument, that we don't know everything and that they just can't believe that the universe happened by accident. But that's no reason to propose a god, not at all (maybe intelligent aliens did it; or maybe we just haven't discovered the natural process involved). And if we don't know, we don't know. Our ignorance says nothing about whether or not a god exists, let alone which one.

And you see people who can't "believe" in evolution. But they're not biologists. I think it's pretty clear that they're just too ignorant of biology to really understand it. Of course, they don't want to understand it, either. And finally, many of these people find that God gives their lives meaning. Of course, that's not evidence it's not just a pleasant fantasy, is it?

Well, I don't find any of those arguments convincing. But then, I wouldn't, would I? I've already thought about these things - for many years, in fact - and there was never any question where I stood. But maybe you think differently. Well, read both articles and see which makes the most sense to you.

Dodd-Frank update

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A bit depressing, isn't it?

The danger of wind farms

In The Know: Coal Lobby Warns Wind Farms May Blow Earth Off Orbit

This is The Onion. I don't have to tell you that it's a parody, right?

But you never know, do you?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

GOP - Special Victims Unit

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That and the following segment fit together so well that I figured I'd post both. That never worked well when I tried it before, but... hope springs eternal, huh? Let's see what happens.

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Technical difficulties

FYI, I lost my internet access for a few days, but I seem to be back now. Still, it will take me awhile to catch up with email and such. Not sure when I'll get a blog post up.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Newt Gingrich, America's worst historian

Newt Gingrich, America's Worst Historian is the title of this article by historian Michael Kazin in The New Republic. Wow! Worse than Sarah Palin? Worse than Michele Bachmann? Worse than David Barton???

Gingrich does seem to be trying to show that he's America's worst politician, but now he's working on the worst historian label as well?

Here's an excerpt:
I am not qualified to judge Gingrich’s knowledge of pterodactyls or the merits of establishing a colony on Mars. However, I have just completed his latest book of history: A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. And I can say, with absolute confidence, that it may be the most inaccurate, least intellectual book about our nation’s past I have ever read. ...

Gingrich makes some statements that anyone who’s read a high-school history textbook could easily refute. In his view, the Civil War “initially centered around constitutional questions,” none of which he mentions. This is a deeply flawed, and bizarrely mild, way to describe the passions that accompanied debates over the Fugitive Slave Act, expanding slavery into the territories, and accepting Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election.

And how can one respond to the statement, “Every time America has strayed from the proposition that all men are created by God, and that they are therefore equal, great suffering and turmoil has ensued”? As usual, Gingrich declines to offer any examples of such “times.” The fact that, as Lincoln put it, the partisans of the Union and those of the Confederacy “[b]oth read the same Bible, and pray[ed] to the same God; and each invoke[d] His aid against the other” might have given Gingrich pause. But he does not allow facts to get in the way of his dogma.

Gingrich is also fond of making contradictory assertions that seem designed to give the writers for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert an easy day at the office. The welfare state, he announces, “is incompatible with human nature because it does not view American citizens as individuals with inherent dignity and rights.” This comes several pages after the author has praised Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the conservative justice defended a law that forbade any individual in the Lone Star State from having gay sex.

The right-wing has decided that it doesn't like our real history, so it just makes up its own. Well, that's what it's been doing with science for some time. And we all know about "voodoo economics," right? Republicans are faith-based, so they think if they just believe hard enough, they can make a new reality.

And politically, they can. That's the scary thing. All too many Americans are both ignorant enough and gullible enough to believe them.

God urges Rick Perry not to run for President

(photo from Indecision Forever)

From The Onion (of course):
Describing Texas Gov. Rick Perry as grossly unqualified for the position, God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, urged Perry not to run for president of the United States Wednesday. “I prayed last night and asked the Lord to support my candidacy, and He said no,” Perry told reporters outside the Texas Capitol, explaining that God had cited the governor’s rejection of federal stimulus funds to expand state jobless benefits, his irresponsible speculation about Texas seceding from the union, and his overall lack of concrete solutions to the nation’s problems as reasons why He could not endorse a Perry presidential bid. “I believe God made some valid points about my lack of credentials, and He’s absolutely right. My extreme beliefs when it comes to social issues and states’ rights are not only disturbingly narrow-minded, but would also make me a horrible president.”

When reached for comment, God said He would not be present at Perry’s much-talked-about Christian day of prayer on Aug. 6, calling the governor’s use of his public office to endorse a religion both “irresponsible” and a violation of the Constitution.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Calculating God" by Robert J. Sawyer

In Calculating God (2000) by Robert J. Sawyer, a spider-like alien lands a spaceship in Toronto and walks into the Royal Ontario Museum, asking to speak to a paleontologist. From the very first page, the story grabbed my attention - and held it throughout the book.

The alien, Hollus, may look weird (although she's only superficially similar to a giant spider), but she has a great sense of humor. And the paleontologist, Tom Jericho, is an appealing character who happens to be dying of lung cancer, to the dismay of his wife and young child.

Sawyer quickly sets up the central theme of the book. Jericho is an atheist, but the aliens (there are two different species on a ship orbiting the Earth) claim to have scientific evidence of God. They trot out the standard creationist line about how the universe has been "fine-tuned" for life, but they also have additional evidence.

In particular, it turns out that both alien planets suffered identical mass extinction events - five of them - exactly when the Earth did. They speculate that this was God's way of nudging evolution towards sapience. (Hollus is at the museum to study the evidence of this on Earth.)

So far, this might seem to be like something from the publishers of the Left Behind novels - Christian propaganda. But this "God" isn't really anything Earth religions would embrace. Indeed, the aliens think that it's a natural creature from a previous universe which not only survived the end of that one and the beginning of ours, but actually adjusted the parameters when this universe began.

So this might be our creator, but I'm not sure it qualifies as a god. To my mind, one of the fundamental characteristics of gods is that they're magic (or "supernatural," if you wish). A natural creature might have god-like powers, but it's not really a god, is it? If highly-advanced aliens had created our universe, would we worship them as gods? I doubt it. Not most of us, at least.

I also wonder about these aliens leaping to that "God" explanation, just from the evidence that someone or something has been manipulating all three planets. This is evidence, since coincidence is not at all plausible in a situation like this. But an advanced alien species could have done the same thing (and for roughly the same reasons, too). It wouldn't have to be a "god."

Nevertheless, as I say, Sawyer quickly grabbed my interest and held it through the whole book. The situation was interesting, and the characters were appealing. But I must say that I had a real problem with the end of the story.

I don't like to put spoilers in my reviews, but I just can't talk about this book without completely giving away the ending. But I'll put that below the fold. If you think you might read Calculating God, you probably should stop here.

Survival of the funded

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Part 2, covering Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Mitt Romney, is here. (I particularly like the part about Cain, whose knowledge of the U.S. Constitution seems to be horribly lacking, even considering the low standards of Republican politicians.)

Romney is certainly ahead in fund-raising, but I'm not sure if that means he's actually the front-runner. Most likely, he's just the preferred candidate of the wealthy, being a guy who's not quite as crazy as the favorites of the GOP base and who'll be anything his backers want him to be.

Liberal? Conservative? Communist? Whatever it takes to slake his ambition, Romney will be that guy for you. And certainly, Republicans aren't concerned about hypocrisy. Just ask David Vitter or Newt Gingrich about "defending marriage." But Romney might be a little too blatant about it, even for them.

And Romney has "Obamacare" hanging over his head. Not only did the Democrats take that plan directly from the Republicans, but Romney actually implemented it when he was governor of Massachusetts. So it makes it a little harder for him to join the others in claiming that it's vile socialism, the worst thing that's ever happened to America.

Yeah, he still claims that, of course. It's just even sillier when he does it. And since he's got a record from when he was governor of trying to seem liberal enough for Massachusetts, there's more than enough ammunition for his political enemies to use, now that he's trying to convince GOP voters his positions are all just the reverse.

But then, who else is there? Romney might win the nomination by default, since at least he's white and at least he's a Republican. I never thought his chances were very good, but... look at the competition. You couldn't get any weaker by trying to elect George W. Bush again.

Oh, wait, they're going to do that, too, aren't they?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Voter fraud

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Four instances of fraud out of more than 9 million votes? It's no wonder Republicans are up in arms!

But, of course, Republicans are faith-based. That means they believe what they believe, regardless of the evidence. And when they can disenfranchise 178,000 Democratic voters - just in South Carolina alone - they're quite willing to make that sacrifice.

Well, minorities vote "wrong," huh? And so do students. And the poor. And,... well, all those people who tend to vote Democratic. If only it were just evangelical Christians and the rich who were allowed to vote...

Personally, I'm so disgusted with how few Americans vote - or even bother to register to vote - that I'm almost willing to congratulate those four people who voted fraudulently, just for being willing to do their civic duty.

Stephen Colbert out of character

Great stuff, isn't it?

I hope these "it gets better" videos can convince kids that their current situation isn't their whole life. (And I'm not just talking about gay teens here.) Things can seem so important when you're a kid, things that completely lose their importance when you get older.

And when you're bullied, it's not about you. Seriously. It's entirely about the bully. Bullies feel the need to bully someone because of the way they are. It really has nothing to do with you. If they didn't have you as a target, they'd pick someone else.

Of course, it's not fun to be the target of a bully. But it's not as personal as if feels, either. Bullies generally need to pick on someone in order to try to feel better about themselves. And they will pick anyone they can. It's not really about you. It's about them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The internet as the greatest threat to faith

Christians are worried.  Now they can't raise their kids in a bubble, protected from any contrary information that might make them think:
“The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have... whether you like it or not,” said [Josh] McDowell...

It used to be that most American kids were surrounded with Christian thinking, encountering no one who'd even express doubts about the adult version of Santa Claus. I know when I grew up, I never knew a single other person who wasn't a Christian, at least as far as I knew.

Of course, I always read a lot, so I did have access to other ideas. But people who didn't read could be remarkably ignorant about anything that believers didn't want to acknowledge.

But this is why religion overwhelmingly depends on where you are born. A child born of Muslim parents in Iran or Saudi Arabia is highly likely to believe in Islam when he grows up. A child born of Hindu parents in India is highly likely to be a Hindu as an adult. And a child born of Christian parents in America is quite likely to believe in the Christian mythology later in life.

...But not as likely as it used to be, apparently. Or that's the Christian fear, at least. You see, Christianity just can't compete with evidence and rational thought. If children aren't brainwashed at a young age, they'll start thinking for themselves - especially when diverse views are so easy to find on the internet.

Now I think of that as a good thing. Hmm,... doesn't that tell you something? After all, shouldn't I be worried that children of atheist parents will find Christian or Muslim thinking online? Shouldn't I want to shelter impressionable atheist children from such things?

But no, I'm confident enough of my own opinions that I'm willing to compete in an open forum. If believers think they have something to say, let them say it. It's only believers who worry that they just can't compete on a level playing field. Gee, I wonder why that is?

Obviously, all parents want to teach their children what they themselves believe. There's nothing wrong with that. But religious believers want to block off any diverse views. They often send their children to religious schools, so that their kids encounter no one different, no one who disagrees with their own pet dogma.

Diversity is a danger when you can't support what you believe. It's not a danger at all when you can. That should tell us something.

I don't know if the internet is actually such a threat to believers, since most people won't bother looking for contrary opinions - and won't believe it if they do encounter something contrary to church teaching. But just knowing that there are other people - many of them - who think differently might help to deprogram them.

Still, I'm sure most people will continue to believe what they've been taught since infancy. After all, it's very easy to believe what you want to believe, and who wouldn't want to believe that they're never going to die - and, more importantly, that the people they love will never die, either?

I know I'd like to believe that, myself. There's only one reason I don't: there's absolutely no evidence to indicate that it's anything but wishful-thinking. And I prefer the truth, even a difficult truth, to a pleasant lie.

The Muslim-Nazi-Vietcong conspiracy

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Yeah, I know I posted one clip from The Colbert Report already this morning. But this was too good to pass up.

Really, with the right-wing around, these comedy skits must virtually write themselves, don't you think? I mean, tell me that Rush Limbaugh isn't deliberately going for the laughs. But it's not so funny when you think it's our country we're talking about.

Isn't our economy in enough trouble already? (And note that it was the Republicans who got us into this mess. So why is anyone still listening to them?)

Rick Perry/Yahweh 2012

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Another right-wing evangelical Republican governor from Texas in the White House, faith-based and letting "God" make all the decisions? What could possibly go wrong with that?

The piling on

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This is the second part of Jon Stewart's "Horrible Bosses" segment (the first part is here). I just enjoy seeing Fox's hypocrisy displayed so clearly.

And I enjoy seeing them play defense, too. Fox would be easier to take if they were always on the defensive. They still wouldn't be admirable, of course. But their hypocritical outrage is kind of fun.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fox News circles the wagons

This is Steve Doocy on Fox and Friends going all out to defend his boss in that News of the World hacking scandal. But it's really hilarious how he does it, don't you think? Could anyone but a regular Fox "News" viewer buy any of this?

First, he and his guest, Robert Dilenschneider, argue that we should move on. Nothing to see here, right? "We know it's a hacking scandal. Shouldn't we get beyond it and really deal with the issue of hacking? Citicorp has been hacked into. Bank of America has been hacked into. American Express has been hacked into."

(Note that all of the quotes here are from Dilenschneider, unless I specifically note otherwise.)

You see what they're doing? These companies were all the victims of hacking. Rupert Murdoch's News of the World was the perpetrator of this hacking scandal, not the victim. Fox is deliberately trying to confuse their viewers in this matter.

And yeah, everyone gets hacked, right? So what's the big problem? This tabloid was hacking into the phones of family members of 9/11 victims. They were hacking into the phones of the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, to prey on their grief.

They not only hacked into the phone of a missing girl, so they could publish the anguished appeals of her parents, they also deleted messages when the phone's voicemail got full, giving the parents (and the police) false hope that their child was still alive!

And yeah, they were bribing police officials, too.

"So we have to figure out a way to deal with this hacking problem. That's what we have to do." Um, maybe arresting the people who commit this crime is a good start?

And Rupert Murdoch has apologized. My God, why isn't that enough? Heh, heh. It's funny how quickly that right-wing "get tough on crime" meme disappears when it's one of their own, isn't it? Hey, we committed a crime. Oops, my bad. But now that I've apologized, can't we just move on?

"For some reason the public, the media, keeps going over this, again and again." Gee, you think media outlets grab a scandal like a dog grabs a bone? Wow, that's unusual isn't it? Imagine not wanting to give a scandal a rest! These two guys must not actually watch Fox, themselves.

But he's still trying to make Rupert Murdoch the victim in this. And at the same time, he's reinforcing the Fox "News" message that conservatives are under constant attack by the liberal media. The right-wing has this victim mentality anyway. Even when they're at fault - maybe even especially when they're at fault - they imagine themselves as the victims, battling valiantly against oppression.

"But I think the bigger issue is really hacking, and how we as a public are going to protect ourselves and our privacy, and deal with it."  Er, by arresting those responsible, perhaps? That would be a nice start, don't you think? And by making a BIG DEAL out of a serious matter like this?

"And I would also say, by the way, Citigroup - great bank - Bank of America - great bank. Are they getting the same kind of attention for hacking that took place less than a year ago that News Corp. is getting today? (Doocy says, "Right.")

Heh, heh. Again, these "great banks" were the victims of hacking, not the perpetrators of it. We really do tend to focus our attention on finding and catching criminals, not their victims.

But note that Doocy's guest is a PR executive. He knows exactly what he's doing, and so does Doocy. They're trying to confuse Fox "News" viewers - not a difficult problem, I'm sure - by equating News Corp. with the victims of hacking, rather than as the organization responsible for it.

Doocy randomly throws out China and government secrets and debt, in a desperate attempt to change the subject. "Where is that as a big story?" he asks. Heh, heh. Well, you know, Fox does claim to be a news network, so why is Doocy wasting his time defending his boss when he could be covering something important?

Dilenschneider again: "It's really very, very scary. And I think that we should be very concerned as a public about our privacy and about people getting access to what we have, and we have to find ways to defend ourselves." Right, which is exactly why this hacking scandal is big news.

But what Fox "News" viewers will pick up from this is that Fox is being picked on (again) by the "lamestream media." Doocy presents Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. as the victims here. Yeah, it's insane, but his viewers are conditioned to believe that kind of thing.

Doocy complains again about the media "piling on." Heck, you'd think that Martians had landed or something! Yeah, Fox "News" never does that, does it? Whoever heard of the media piling on to a juicy scandal? (And Fox is always one of the worst perpetrators, provided only that it's not a right-wing scandal.)

Doocy: "We've got some serious problems in this country right now. We are teetering on default. And what do they do? They talk about this." Yeah, they talk about a serious crime - ten people have been arrested already - and a horrible scandal that preyed upon grieving people (and also bribed the police). How foolish of "them," huh?

More from Doocy: "And Mr. Murdoch himself has said that he's going to cooperate, he's going to show up at Parliament next week, and now news this morning that Rebekah Brooks, who headed up that unit, is calling it quits."

But what Doocy doesn't tell his viewers is that Murdoch initially refused to testify before Parliament, until the scandal just got so serious for him that he was forced to change his mind. And Rebekah Brooks isn't just "calling it quits." She was actually arrested on suspicion of illegally intercepting phone calls and bribing the police.

Should a simple apology and resignation be enough restitution for that? As I say, whatever happened to getting tough on crime?

"It really should get put behind us. Investigators, the courts, should deal with this, and we should move on and deal with the important topics of the day." Heh, heh. That's certainly a change of attitude for Fox, don't you think? What's next? Will Fox "News" join, then?

How do these people sleep at night? More to the point, why isn't Fox "News" the biggest laughing-stock in the world, instead of making money hand over fist?

Monday, July 18, 2011

QOTD: Communicating skepticism

Quote of the Day:
Sure, there is [an] irrational, unbreakable core to the opposition, but there are also great masses of people with mere leanings one way or another, who must be approached as honest actors, and where the best tactics for winning them over are open, polite communication and appeal to their values, rather than a full body tackle. ...

But I am also troubled by it all.

What they were talking about is politics. I'm no good at politics, I freely admit, but I can at least look and observe and see what's going on. And here's what bothers me: the other side doesn't follow Sadie [Crabtree] and Carol [Tavris]'s advice, and they're doing great. The Republicans in congress aren't negotiating honestly; they're sticking to an absolutist ideology. The god-botherers aren't negotiating with us; they want to club us over the head with dogma. And while we can point to those tactics and see that they clearly don't work on us, the kind of people who'd come to TAM, they clearly do work to win over a great many people.

And then I look at the president of the US, and I see a smart man who represents many of the strategies discussed here, somebody who is a fantastically skilled negotiator and compromiser who can achieve many partial victories...but I also see a Democrat who has been steadily worming himself closer and closer to conservative ideals. Maybe he'll win the next election and explode into a liberal socialist superhero, but that's a more audacious hope than I have.

Let's not ignore that unswayable core on the other side. That is a great strength for them: there is no doubting that when Sadie and Carol come calling and make their sincere, rational and often effective appeals, the target of their persuasion can look to the right and see the giant figures of Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Perry standing like rocks in the tide, unmoving and impenetrable, and be comforted.

And then I've talked to a great many people who have left religion behind, which includes quite a few people here, and you know, many of them weren't coaxed into joining us. I have met so many people who became atheists after reading Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, and in case you haven't read it, it's not a diplomatic book. It was like a thunderbolt from the sky. What won people over wasn't subtlety and gentle appeals, it was clarity and strength. While strength alone is tyranny, kindness and charity without confidence and resolve behind them become nothing but weakness and surrender. [my emphasis]

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we must endorse only our rock-ribbed heroes of godless skepticism, or that they can do no wrong. I'm saying we have to do it all, embracing a wide range of tactics, including the proximate tools of psychology and holding high a coherent and strong set of principles. ...

So here we are, once again talking about how to communicate, and I fear that we'll lose is the sense of what to communicate. Don't forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we'll lose our way. - PZ Myers

Friday, July 15, 2011

Murdoch is in the toilet - time to flush

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Murdoch's Media Empire Might Go Down the Toilet
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Rupert Murdoch has also been paying off Scotland Yard officers, apparently. And, well, we know how many politicians he's bought.

But we've let Murdoch buy so many media outlets that all too many of us get our news from him. How can you expect to learn the truth, when your news comes from people willing to do anything to make money and to push their own right-wing political views?

Murdoch's media empire - including Fox "News" - has been in the toilet for a long time now. It's time to flush.

Are we giving up on the dream?

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Final Countdown
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See if you can find Nebraska

That's a map of the United States as seen by a New Yorker, from Funny or Die. Click on the map to embiggen.

Of course, I had to post it here because of the treatment of Nebraska. (At that, we did better than Iowa, huh?)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The first gay couple in the White House?

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Field of Dongs
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"Pray the gay away"? And these are the people we want in the White House???

I don't usually speculate on anyone's sexual orientation. It's none of my business. And if you're milking it for laughs, that seems to imply there's something intrinsically wrong with homosexuality. There's not.

But when it's one of these repressed loons like Ted Haggard or... Marcus Bachmann, that's another matter. Humor is appropriate here. Ridicule is appropriate. I think the difference is clear, don't you?

Incidentally, Jon Stewart followed this segment with a visit from Jerry Seinfeld for "comedy repression therapy." It continues the theme from this clip, and you can find it here if you wish.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rick Perry's prayer event

Nice, huh? These are the people Texas governor Rick Perry has speaking at his loony prayer event - you know, the one he's invited all the other governors to?

Note that Perry is welcoming these religious loons at least in part because he thinks that's his ticket to the presidency. Yes, the GOP base is really that crazy.

But I hope the rest of us remember that George W. Bush was also the evangelicals' preferred candidate. We all know how that turned out. We're still trying to dig out of the hole he dug for us.

Republicans just can't help themselves

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Incredible, isn't it? Even as obsessed with homosexuality as these right-wing loons are (what does someone else's sex life matter to me?), they can't help but bring race into it, too.

Think these people aren't racist? Then what does this preamble have to do with gay marriage? Sure, they try to be politically-correct by using the term "African-American" - and I'm sure they're very proud of themselves for that - but just bringing up race all the time shows their racist mindset.

Slavery wasn't so bad, right? Slaves had mommies and daddies, too, didn't they? (After all, someone must have raped slave women in order to produce more slaves.) And we white people know slavery, too. After all, we have to pay taxes! Yeah, think of that! And you think your ancestors had it bad...

That's like the widespread belief these days - and I'm sorry, but I hear it from white men all too often - that white men are the real victims of discrimination in America. Yeah, we've got all the good jobs, and our bosses are all white men, and we live in good neighborhoods, and our median income is ten times the median income for blacks (and we're paid more than white women for doing similar jobs),...

But that's just because we deserve it, right? Yeah, we had to work for that, not like those lucky minorities who get everything they want. Gee, I sure wish I was a minority. Lucky bastards!

Republicans would oppose any Democratic president, of course. And there was no shortage of crazy conspiracy theories when Bill Clinton was president. But the real hysteria today, the complete gibbering lunacy on the right, has a lot to do with the fact that Barack Obama is black.

The right continues to do things like this which clearly show that. But I doubt if they understand why that is. Well, that's because they think it's natural to be obsessed with race, just like being obsessed with homosexuality.

Tax cut religion

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"You call it murder. I call it the market regulating the brother supply."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Debt ceiling minefield

The Harry Potter Book of Mormon parody

Yeah, it's another YouTube video, and another parody, in fact. But isn't this clever?

And the same girl plays all the parts. Really, I had to laugh. She did a great job with this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The key of awesome

I'm not very musical, but I tend to like parodies. And yeah, I know I've been posting a lot of video clips the last couple of days, but what can I say? I post what I feel like posting.

This video is just one of many in the "Key of Awesome" playlist at barely political. Here's the first, if you want to watch them in order - though I wouldn't say it's one of my favorites. Well, I'm not sure I have a favorite, actually. I like a lot of these.

Um,... note that these aren't exactly safe for work. But then, you shouldn't be watching music videos at work anyway, right? :)

The Manosphere

Sorry, I just think this guy's really funny.

3D printer

Neat, isn't it?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fox News admits bias?

LiberalViewer does a great job, doesn't he? And so does Media Matters.

Johann Hari on free speech and religious fundamentalism

Great speech, isn't it?

There's a post on Pharyngula (where I got this video clip, too, actually) that's not directly related to this video, but it's still about "making the argument," as Hari says. If you think you've got something to say, say it.

"Fine, make the argument. If you disagree, if you don't like what someone says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. Get it right. Do it better. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it."

But don't keep other people from saying their piece. And don't huddle in secret meetings, afraid to let your ideas meet the light of day:
The Intelligent Design creationists have been having a secret meeting in Italy, where they claim to be challenging Darwinian orthodoxies. Well, semi-secret: they brought in David Berlinski's daughter to pretend to be a "journalist" and throw gentle little softballs in youtube interviews, but many of the attendees are anonymous, the meeting program is not available, and the place is stocked with devotees of religious orthodoxy who are singularly clueless about science. What it really is is a great big creationist circle jerk where everyone is free to say stupid things and not have one of those annoying evidence-based scientists in the audience asking difficult questions, and also avoid real journalists who might publicly expose their inanity. ...

Yes, their careers are in danger, because disciplines that value rigor and evidence and science are not going to be impressed at all by deluded cowards who hide in closets and whisper oft-debunked stupidities at one another. If you've got the goods, stand and deliver; show us your evidence, explain your reasoning, persuade people who disagree with you with the strength of your argument. They can't, so they scurry off to picturesque villas in Tuscany, shoo away those difficult criticisms, and sit and reassure each other that they are very clever indeed while mangling information theory and biology.

My favorite quote from Darwin's Origin is so appropriate here.
It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the "plan of creation" or "unity of design," &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject the theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for thus only can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.

There was an orthodoxy in Darwin's time, too, and it was the dogma of creationism. Darwin's advice to young scientists was to conscientiously express their convictions, and to get out and publish, publish, publish their observations. That's how science progresses, by wrestling with disagreement and confronting it with evidence and experiment.

OK, I didn't originally intend to combine these two things, but I thought they fit. There's a culture that believes in free and open expression, a clear-eyed, courageous, stand-up face-to-face look at our ideas and our beliefs,... and then there's a culture of dogma and faith, afraid of other ideas which might prove better.

I know which culture I prefer.

Black economic gains reversed in the Great Recession

The headline in The Washington Post says it all: "After decades of hard-fought progress, black economic gains were reversed in the Great Recession."

But the figures are just astonishing:
Economists say the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Algernon Austin, director of the EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, described the wealth gap this way: “In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents.”

Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen from 9.4 to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen from 14.7 to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

After generations of slavery, segregation, and institutional bigotry, blacks had started clawing themselves out of desperate poverty. Keep in mind that these were often people raised in poverty, people who knew no other life, poorly educated in bad schools, raised in crime-ridden slums, and still suffering from widespread bigotry.

Look at those figures again. Look at the difference between white and black households. Even before this economic collapse, the difference was incredible - and shameful. And now, with giveaways to the wealthy (overwhelmingly white) paid for by cuts in social programs and jobs,... well, as an American, I'm deeply ashamed.

Is it any wonder that people give up?

You know, we didn't lose the war on poverty. We just quit.

Friday, July 8, 2011's "hidden gems" sale

So, now is having a "hidden gems" sale. Every day for the next 18 days, they'll have a different "lesser-known" classic computer game on sale.

It's not exactly what I need, since I'm currently (re)playing both X-Com: UFO Defense and Fallout, two of the greatest games of all time. But it's hard to resist...

Today's game is Sanitarium:
A frightening look into the mind of madness, you find yourself continually wondering, as you make your way through the five worlds that your insanity takes you to: is this encounter real, or only the product of a fevered imagination? You are a recent victim of a car crash, and one who has complete amnesia. You awaken in an insane asylum, and immediately you must fend for yourself in a world gone mad—unless it’s you who’s gone mad, and the world is just a reflection of that.

I've never played that one before. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard of it. Well, that's the whole point of these "hidden gems," I guess.

These are old games, of course. This one was first released in 1998, so it's not as old as many of the games sells. But like all the rest, it's cheap. On sale, it's less than $4. How long would you have to play that game to get your money's worth?

Sanitarium is a point and click adventure game, not normally my favorite kind of game, but it certainly looks like it would be fun for a change. But as I say, I'm already playing two games (actually, far more than that, if you consider all the games on my computer that are half-finished).

But I wonder what's going to be on sale tomorrow...  :)

The new "bridge to nowhere"

Payback time for Sen. James Inhofe?

From TPM:
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is pushing a bill that would protect pilots from "agency overreach" by the Federal Aviation Administration, in response to his own experience at the mercy of the FAA after he "scared the crap out of" airport workers last year when he landed his Cessna on a closed runway. ...

Inhofe agreed to and completed a "program of remedial training" in place of legal action in December of 2010, according to an FAA report, after he landed his plane at Cameron County Airport in South Texas last October on a closed runway marked with a large X. ...

Audiotapes of a call from Sidney Boyd, who was supervising runway construction, to the FAA identify Inhofe, and describe how he "sky hopped" over six vehicles and construction personnel on the runway, before he landed. The landing "scared the crap out of us," Boyd said.

Any other pilot would have lost his license right there. But Inhofe is a powerful Senator. So, not only is he still flying, he's trying to punish the FAA for objecting to his reckless actions at all.

Well, I've never understood how Oklahoma could elect an ignoramus like Inhofe, anyway.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weevils evolved a screw-and-nut joint

From Science News:
Back when hardware meant bony plates and flesh-rending teeth, a living version of the humble screw evolved naturally in, of all places, the leg joints of weevils.

The legs of at least 15 kinds of weevils have tapering, threaded, somewhat pointed ends where their legs meet their bodies. As the leg shifts position, the threaded tip tightens or loosens along a ridge on the inside of a rounded hollow structure, researchers in Germany report in the July 1 Science. “This is the first description of a true screw and nut in an organism,”...

Neat, huh? Of course, their legs don't unscrew completely, since they've got muscles attached to them. But apparently, this screw-and-nut joint allows for some real flexibility in leg positions.

As one scientist notes, "It does confirm my notion that just about anything that is possible, insects will have evolved."

(This reminds me of the g'Keks, who are aliens with biological wheels instead of legs, in David Brin's Brightness Reef. Of course, that's science fiction. And it actually wasn't clear that they'd evolved that way naturally.)

Michele Bachmann surging in the polls

"Bachmann surging" is not a headline you want to read if you care about America, and indeed the world. But here it is in the latest poll from Public Policy Polling:
When PPP polled New Hampshire in April Michele Bachmann was stuck at 4%. She's gained 14 points over the last three months and now finds herself within single digits of Mitt Romney. Romney continues to lead the way in the state with 25% to 18% for Bachmann, 11% for Sarah Palin, 9% for Ron Paul, 7% for Rick Perry and Herman Cain, 6% for Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, and 4% for Newt Gingrich. ...

Romney's starting to show some signs of weakness in New Hampshire. His support is down 12 points from 37% on the iteration of our April poll...

OK, so it's not the Apocalypse yet, but who else is there? I'm not surprised Romney's support is fading. He's such a phony that it's hard to believe even Republicans would go for him. (Of course, that's not actually the problem. The problem is that his health care reform plan has now become "Obamacare.")

And look who else is in double-digits: Sarah Palin. But Palin is unlikely to run - and give up all of that loot? no way! - and all of her fans are likely to switch to Bachmann. (Can you believe there are that many loons in America?)

Leaving aside the gut-wrenching implications for my country, this poll also shows other interesting results:
Usually a 12 point drop would qualify you as the biggest loser in the poll but Romney's still in first place so that designation probably deserves to go to Gingrich, who's at 4% and in 9th place now after being at 14% and tied for 2nd place on our previous poll. He's the only candidate besides Romney who's seen a double digit drop in his net favorability. It was +9 at 45/36 in April and it's now gone down 27 points to -18 at 33/51, making him the least popular out of 17 people we polled on.

Another big loser on this poll is Tim Pawlenty. His name recognition has sky rocketed from 48% to 72% with New Hampshire primary voters over the last three months. But his horse race support has only gone from 5% to 6%.

So the Gingrich campaign has been a complete train-wreck, right from the start. I don't think I've ever seen a campaign crash and burn so quickly. Hey, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, huh?

And Pawlenty's name recognition has surged, but when people get to know him, they apparently don't like him. That's never a good sign for a candidate. Really, if Pawlenty could run using just his campaign ads, without voters ever seeing or hearing the guy himself, he might have a chance. But the man in person is just hilarious - inadvertently - if you've come to expect anything like the video clips.
It's hard to really identify any 'winners' on this poll other than Bachmann.

But there are sure plenty of losers, including the entire American people. Really, this is the worst bunch of lunatics I've ever seen run for public office - any public office. George W. Bush might even look good compared to most of them.

As far as I can tell, the only one who isn't completely crazy is Jon Huntsman, and he's sitting at a whopping 6% (PPP notes that it's "better than he's done anywhere else we've polled"). Of course, even Huntsman would have to act crazy in order to keep the support of the Republican base. For better or worse, every candidate runs with party backing.

What depresses me is that the Republicans don't seem to be losing support among ordinary Americans. With extremists like this leading them, why not? Has all of America gone completely batshit crazy? What has happened to us?

I'd hoped we might have learned something from the Bush Administration, but instead, we seem to be doubling down on right-wing crazy.

Abstruse Goose - history of flight

(Abstruse Goose)

If you're a fan of space exploration, check out History of Flight at Abstruse Goose.