Thursday, June 30, 2005

Second response to Limbaugh

On his show yesterday, he also complained that the AP had the audacity to write their story on Bush's recent speech without hearing it. This, Rush argued, showed a prejudicial attitude (though he didn't use such big words). The reason that the AP can do this, of course, is because they get copies of the speech ahead of time.

Good for the AP. Any politician who has to rely on speech writers deserves that treatment. With someone else writing his speeches, the president becomes nothing more than an actor we rate on delivery. When he starts writing them himself, then we can take them seriously. I tend to think anyone who's in a possition to make decisions on major issues should be able to write speeches about them, no matter how busy he is. Also, it's profoundly depressing to hear a good line from a speaker and think "Awesome point... kudos to his ghostwriters, I guess."

Memo to pundits: this isn't military rule.

I was listing to Rush Limbaugh yesterday. I don't make a special effort to do it, but if I'm in my car at the right time I flip him on, since I figure he's influential enough to be worth paying attention to, and it's fun to listen to someone who occasionally does things like brag about Republicans having better sex lives. (I tried to find the link to that particular story, but I quickly concluded Rush's output is too great for it to be worth finding individual stories).

Anyway, I heard, not for the first time, the line: "You can't support the troops and oppose their mission."

The arguement goes that the majority of the troops are behind President Bush, so you can't support them without supporting him. I'd rather proclaim myself an enemy of our military than sink to such logic. Democracy means that we occasionally do things our military doesn't like, no matter how noble the people that make it up are.

But it doesn't have to be defined the way Rush&co does. Here's how we should opperate: Feel free to support going to war or staying out. Feel free to support escalation or withdrawl. Feel free to argue that an incident of troop misconduct is minor or requires punishment for Pentagon higher-ups.

But always send messages of support. Always unite against those who cheer on the enemy, like Michael Moore and these people. And always honor the majority of our soldiers who conduct themselves honorably.

This is not something that should be a partisan issue.

ADD ON: And to war critics, please drop the rhetoric about only those with children in the military can support the war.

Linkage II

Amba links to my 10 Commandments post.

One commenter: "One's religious beliefs are personal and private, and should only ever be discussed with those who agree to discuss them with you."

I agree with this insofar it's obnoxious to begin talking politics at a social gathering when no one else wants too. Such sentiments regarding religion can go overboard, though. I see no reason why Bush or any other politician shouldn't talk about major points of his world view, religious or otherwise.

Also, thanks to the Mighty Middle for blog rolling me. I think I may succeed getting traffic here.

Linkage I

Sophistpundit: (hosting the Carnival of Vanities:
Christ at the Uncredible Hallq explains a lefty mentality: Contempt a Revulsion good, Hate bad.UPDATE: I have just been informed that the name of this blogger is "Chris" and that, despite rumors to the contrary, he is not the Son of God. I apologize if this caused any confusion.
Great to have a host with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sex can sell ANYTHING

Including animal rights.

Okay, enough nudity stories for awhile.

That's what I'm promising myself. Not that I'll stick to it.

SCOTUS and the 10

The ten commandments ruling generated a lot of buzz on the blogosphere, as well as some great satire. However, I initially thought I wasn't going to post on the 10 commandments ruling, as
1) So many others are doing it and
2) It doesn't really matter
But the second point is worth arguing at length.

Can anyone think of a case where such purely symbolic displays have had any real impact? As an atheist, I'd be perfectly happy if "In God we trust" disappeared from our money and the pledge of allegiance was returned to its pre-50s status (that is, without "under God"). But who pays any attention to the fine detail of what's on their money? When's the last time you thought about the signature of the secretary of the treasury on your bills? If no one stirred up a controversy about "In God we trust," 90% of the population would forget the words are there.

Same with the pledge. Have any school children been ostracize for refusing to say all/part of it? At my high school, the daily recital eventually became a joke as repetition sapped all meaning of it. Most people stood up because they were kinda supposed to, a few got their hand on their chest. Some said the pledge, others turned around, hand on heart, to talk to the guy sitting behind them. Maybe in some hyper-religious schools the pledge is a time to stand up and be counted (literally!), but I doubt it.

So, similarly, will anybody be intimidated by the 10 commandments alone? Unlikely. There may be some problem if a highly religious judge uses them to send a message about this being a "Christian nation" (which we aren't, BTW) to everyone who steps in his courtroom, but that's the weird case, with nothing to do with the mere display of the commandments. Actually, a pretty good solution would be a law mandating their display everywhere, so that their presence says nothing about the presiding judge.

Oh, and what's with the acronym SCOTUS? POTUS has this nice, overstated feel to it, but SCOTUS sounds vaguely gross.


My profile now has a photo, though I wonder if I could've done that without making the photo a separate post. Oh well.

Geez, grew up spending half my life behind a keyboard, and I'm still computer illiterate.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Me Posted by Hello

The Still-Earth society.

In Randi's last commentary, he posted a link to a site promising $1000 to anyone who could prove the Earth is not the unmoving, unspinning center of the universe.

"OOH," I thought, "I'm going to have some fun with these guys."

I decided to begin by e-mailing them the following, on the Friday Randi's commentary was posted:
Question: what would you consider proof? I've read the "direct, observable, physical, natural, repeatable, unambiguous and comprehensive" description, but I'd like an example.

There's an issue with it having to be "scientific proof" but not "simplicity." Without appeal to "simplicity" or a similar doctrine, (say, falsifiablism), it is literally impossible to provide scientific proof of anything. The whole notion of science rests on such concepts. So, what would be proof? If there is nothing you would accept as proof, you are no longer doing the science you have such respect for.

Chris Hallquist
Monday came, and I still hadn't gotten a response. I wonder, "are they checking e-mail, or do they just refuse to answer embarassing questions?" I send a short proof, largely to check this.
Here's a simple disproof of your version of geocentrism, which claims the Earth does not spin:

Geosynchronous satelites work. We know they orbit the Earth, rather than staying in one place, because such a satelite released at rest would fall to the ground. But if they move, they could not stay above one spot on the globe unless it is spinning. Therefore, the Earth spins.

-Chris Hallquist
They responded to this one immediately:
R. Sungenis: No, because a rotating universe around a fixed earth will create the same centrifugal and Coriolis forces as a rotating earth in a fixed universe, so says, Mach, Einstein, Barbour and Bertotti and many others.
And my response:
1)How would this work? I've only had introductory physics, but I know of know way for the universe to balance the Earth's gravity at geosynchronous altitude, except by its own gravity, which should be the same whether or not the universe is spinning. Do you believe the universe's gravity balances out the Earth's in every point of geosynchronous orbit?

2)I want to make sure we're on the same page about a point of rotational motion. Consider a tube with spring scales stuck in both ends. Because circular motion requires an inward acceleration/force, spining the tube about its center will compress both springs equally, relative to what they'd be in a still tube, and spinning it about an end will compress mainly the spring on the opposite end. Is this your understanding of the problem?

3)My question from my first e-mail still stands. What would you, hypothetically, consider disproof of your theory? Is there anything, or are you simply making a philosophical point about the uncertaintly of knowlege?

-Chris Hallquist
It will be interesting to see if they answer the question this time around.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Privileged Planet

The writer of Ambivablog e-mailed me a link to a positive review of the pro-Intelligent Design video, shown at the Smithsonian Institute.

I have to say: is this really what Pandasthumb, Randi, and others got so worked up about? I'm glad the Smithsonian made clear that they do not endorse the views in the film, but after reading the review, I feel like they got spooked by a scarecrow. I was expecting a strong attack on modern biology, claiming that evolution without design could not possibly have happened, talking about irreducible complexity, and giving impressive sounding descriptions of molecular mechanisms that look like pieces of human engineering. Instead, the movie (as described by the Real Physics blog) argues that its a wonderful coincidence that our planet is both habitable and in a position to observe the rest of the universe.

That reminds me of a part of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, in which he argues that God's wisdom is evident in the facts that He made six planets, instead of just one, and all the planets are visible to eachother's inhabitants. Paine might be forgiven his mistake, but I think we should've learned our lesson about such arguments by now. The other argument is that we live in a "privileged universe." How this can be, without any other universes to compare to, I don't know. It may be universes must necessarily have the "fine tuning" loved by the ID folks, though that's just one alternative. The question merits a simple question mark in the textbooks, as I know of no way to test any of the explanations, and our ideas of causality break down when we try to the explain everything that exists (the old "who made God?" problem).

Flag burning

Addendum to previous post. The British religious hatred law, at the potential for seeing something like it here, is there reason I oppose measures like the flag-burning amendment, which the House passed once again to likely rejection in the Senate. Once you start chipping away at free speech and expression, it's hard to know where to stop.

Contempt and revulsion good. Hatred bad.

From PaleoJudaica:
The bill to make illegal the incitement of religious hatred in Britain passed its second reading in the House of Commons last Tuesday. It now "goes to committee" for further review and then to the House of Lords.

Old issue, but this gives me an excuse to write about it. And going to the government's FAQ leaves me with some questions.

My first thought was to e-mail them to ask, "Under this law, would it be okay to say 'Creationists won't accept evolution because then they don't want to admit that masacreing children is wrong'?" It's a comment I once made in a conversation about creationism. I exagerated a bit for comic effect, but not by much. Christian fundamentalists probably wish Biblical passages like Samuel 15:2-3 ("Thus says the LORD of hosts... 'do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and donkey.'") didn't exist, but fundamentalist applogists who know their Bible learn to defend them without flinching. The comment nicely ridicules the claim that evolution is morally harmful.

The government's FAQ defending the bill, unfortunately, contains this line: "The need to take into account all the circumstances of a case means that it is very difficult to give a yes/no answer to whether particular statements will be caught by the new offence." So I probably wouldn't get a response from e-mailing them the above. Time to take a closer look at the FAQ for my question.

The response to a question about a case of two Australian pastors explains that the British law will not, like the Australian law, prohibit inciting "not only hatred against, but also serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, another person or class of persons on the ground of the religious belief or activity." Just hatred, not contempt or revulsion, will be illegal in Britain.

Confused here. Let's see if can help.

-Hatred: Intense animosity or hostility.
-Contempt: The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless; scorn.
-Revulsion: A sudden strong change or reaction in feeling, especially a feeling of violent disgust or loathing, intense aversion.

Somehow, I don't think looking up "loathing" and "animosity" to discover the diference will help. And the FAQ doesn't actually explain the diference. So, what's the story on these pastors?

This story explains the details of the case pretty well. The judge ruled that one pastor, "made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct... It was done, not in the context of a serious discussion of Muslims' religious beliefs; it was presented in a way which is essentially hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in general Muslim religious beliefs and practices... [took the] view that the Koran 'promotes violence, killing and looting'; that Muslims are liars; that Allah is not merciful and a thief's hand is cut off for stealing; and that Muslims intend to take over Australia and declare it an Islamic nation.... preached a literal translation of the Koran and of Muslims' religious practices which was not mainstream but was more representative of a small group in the Gulf states."

Does the FAQ's response mean all these things are okay? Well, that's not stated, it feels more like a dodged question.

What about a case of someone who would fall under the law? The FAQ cites the case of el-Faisal, a Muslim cleric who was convicted of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred against Jews. The FAQ explains that the law would allow someone like him attacking Christians to be prosecuted. However, he clearly did more than incite hatred, he incited murder. If idea was to give these guys longer sentences, they could do that directly, so that's not it.

After going through the whole FAQ, I'm not sure what's allowed under the law. Confused Britons will likely take the most restrictive interpretation to be safe, chilling debate.

Another question I'd like to ask the British government, one that cuts to the heart of the matter: is hating Nazis wrong? Not that Nazism would fit under their definition of religion, but it would clear things up to know if their understanding of "hatred" is something that you should never do to someone based on their beliefs. Ultimately, a religion is nothing more than a belief system involving some supernatural elements (or, arguably, lack therof). Like any other belief system, religions can include repugnant teachings (see above). Before being accused of violating Godwin's Law, I should concede that Christian fundamentalism is not quite the same as Nazism. Fundamentalist beliefs about when it is okay to brutalize people (in the distant past and the afterlife/Hell) are far enough removed from modern reality that Christian fundamentalists are not as dangerous as Nazis. But if you can "incite hatred" agains someone for believing killing Jews is okay, why can't you do so for believing consigning religious Jews (and all other non-Chrisians) to eternity in Hell is okay?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Nude statues unveiled.

See? Gonzales is an improvment over Ashcroft.

Helping with Darfur

With overseas crisis like the Sudan genocide, it's easy to feel helpless. I've seen some calls for action asking for letters to politicians telling them to do something, but I have to ask: do what? What can our politicians do.

Then I read this article by Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald. (I don't know why it's not on their site - he may not write all his columns for them.) The skinny is that the White House recently killed the Darfur Accountability Act, which would require sanctions on Sudan. I don't know if it's revivalbe, but it's worth trying. Sanctions aren't a miracle cure, but at least this would go beyond pronouncements unsupported by action or attempts at a UN resolution blocked by China.

Now I have to live up to my words and write my senators and representative about this.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Someone needs to get out more

The most recent edition of the Skeptic's Circle had this post about the beliefs of society's elites. Quote:
But... is it possible to envisage a situation where the wacko "elite" all believe in God, Creationism, no Global Warming, etc etc, and yet underneath there is a layer of technology that keeps working, keeps creating, and keeps your society ahead? Perhaps, if they let the underlayer alone, but they wouldn't. The creationists would interfere with the schools and universities. Can you really do genetics if you believe in creationism? (this is possibly a testable question: *are* there any genetics researchers out there (of any quality) who are known creationists?).

God and Creationism listed together? Connelly, the author, doesn't seem to be aware of the gulf that separate religious fundamentalists from more liberal believers. He should try reading Andrew Sullivan or a similar writer who is devout but not a fundamentalist. Our country has done okay through over 200 years of presidents who all, as far as I'm aware had some kind of religious belief. Even if there was a significant advantage to having the country run by atheists, that's rather unrealistic, with 90-95% of the population believing in a god.

Political skepticism

A few days ago, Slate ran an article on James Randi, one of my heroes. Embedded in the article was a discussion of how the skeptic's movement has changed from targeting TV psychics to focusing on issues like intelligent design, global warming, and stem-cell research. "Skeptic," then, becomes a bit of a misnomer; I think activists on such issues would be more likely to call themselves "pro-science" rather than take up a name used by paranormal debunkers.

There's a bit of a problem with this, though. Each of the three issues mentioned above have two components: "What does the science say?" and "What should we do?" The ID issue is uniquely open to a single "scientific" position because the "What should we do?" part is non-controversial: we should teach good science. The debate is about whether ID is good science, and the evidence says no.

Global warming is trickier. Much of the debate centers on people who say it's happening so we should cut back emissions and those who say it isn't and we shouldn't. Here, the evidence favors the former. But there's a serious argument to be had about what the best response to global is. This requires not just scientific analyze, but also economic analysis about the impact of various proposals as well as subjective judgments about what we're willing to sacrifice for what benefits.

Preventing the main effects of global warming would probably require a 60% cut in emissions, and to prevent what? Things like a 1-3 foot rise in sea levels, which would cause problems with flooding, but is something we could deal with. One example of an answer: in The Skeptical Environmentalism, Bjorn Lomborg argues a 10% cut could be worth it, if we do it efficiently, and that Kyoto would be inefficient. One could argue for a different balance of prevention and adaptation, but the point is the question can't be answered by science alone. We can't simply label support for Kyoto as the scientific position. Of course, people who care about good science still should go after politicians who distort the relevant science.

Last, stem cell research. The idea of formulating a single scientific position here is bizarre. There's no large faction centered around denying what we know. Sure there are some individuals who, say, don't realize that stem cells could be taken from fertility clinic embryos that would be destroyed anyway. However, many realize this and still don't think the research deserves government funding. The ignorant aren't a faction unto themselves. Trying to educate the public about the relevant science is admirable. Arguing that, based on the facts of the situation, we should support the research is fine (I take that position). Claiming that supporting the research is the scientific position abuses and ultimately tarnishes the name of science.

PS: I forgot to thank Orac for bringing the article to my attention in the first place.

Introductory Post

Hmmm... maybe the info I'm about to post should be in my profile, oh well. I recently graduated from highschool, and in two short months I ship off to a state university, one of the last great refuges of Stalinism in the world (or so the right-wing pundits tell me). This blog will definitely focus on politics, probably as it relates to science and college education, but I'll see what happens with that plan. First question on my mind: can I pull off an Instalanche with my first post?... Er, with my second post...