Win P. Z. Myers’s book!

August 12, 2013

Go here to ShelfAwareness, enter to win a copy of P. Z. Myers’s book The Happy Atheist.

They’ll subscribe you to their newsletter list.  But it’s a nice newsletter for smart and happy people who like to read (you, that is).  Plus, you may always unsubscribe, later.  If you use that link, I get an entry in the contest, too.  Selfish of me, no doubt.

Cover of The Happy Atheist; click image to go to Amazon.com and read a few pages.

Cover of The Happy Atheist; click image to go to Amazon.com and read a few pages. (I’m sure they’ll let you buy the book there, too.)

Good luck.

Oh, the book?

In this funny and fearless book, PZ Myers takes on the religious fanaticism of our times with all the gleeful disrespect it deserves, skewering the apocalyptic fantasies, magical thinking, hypocrisies, and pseudoscientific theories advanced by religious fundamentalists of all stripes. Forceful and articulate, scathing and funny, The Happy Atheist is finally a reaffirmation of the revelatory power of humor, and the truth-revealing powers of science and reason.

See Greg Laden’s review of the book, here.  It has a surprise ending, Laden said, in comments.

Myers strongly supports good science education — heck, he teaches biology at a state university.  You know him as the poobah at Pharyngula and one of the cofounders of Panda’s Thumb.  He probably gets a small smackeral of income off of each sale.  It’s probably a great read (I haven’t read it yet).

More:


‘My right NOT to know, and your right to duck my bullets’

April 16, 2013

I like Morgan Freeberg — he’s entertaining.

Politically, he’s rarely right, and he’s definitely afflicted with that virus that strikes conservatives and makes them feel that if they can cover a topic with enough words, and if there is enough snark in those words, they must be right, and everyone else is a fool for not seeing that and making them king.  Or at least a local lord.  You can see this on display at his blog, The House of Eratosthenes.

Morgan waded into the discussion on some of our less thoughtful U.S. Senators, who think a good reason to filibuster a bill is they can’t find their own ass with both hands a copy of the bill they just know they will oppose, before they know what’s in the bill (no bias here).

Specifically, Morgan’s defending Sen. Marc Rubio’s right not to know what’s in the compromise reached by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, because Morgan just knows that those two libruls from those two gun-hating states have put in language on ammunition magazines that will deprive crazy shooters of their sport in shooting babies somehow might “infringe” on the actual ownership of the gun.

I answered in a previous thread — but this really should get more discussion, and perhaps if I make a post out of it, someone will discuss.

This is the post — I won’t put all of it in quotes, to make it a bit easier to read (and I may add a link here and there):

Morgan said:

Alright. First, if you’re trying to make this look like “reasonable” or “common sense” gun “safety” legislation as they call it, it’s a good idea to stay away from this capacity-limitation stuff. To swap out a magazine — not clip — I don’t need eleven seconds, I don’t need half that. I’m not anywhere close to James Bond, or Barney in The Expendables…I merely maintain familiarity and confidence/competence with my sidearm. If I can do it in two seconds, a lot of other people can as well. So you’re counting on a payoff there that you’re not getting. The whole magazine-capacity thing is not only a distraction, it actually highlights for the benefit of the knowledgeable public which loudmouth legislators ought not to have anything to do with gun legislation, or guns either.

Helluva distraction. There’s no such proposal, but you’re so bugged about it you can’t argue straight.

English: Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Pat Too...

Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Candidate Pat Toomey addresses protestors at the Philadelphia Tea Party on April 18, 2009. (He won) Wikipedia image

Maybe we’re being sneaky. Maybe we’re getting you all worked up over something not in the bill so you’ll have a heart attack and be unable to lobby your senators to go easy on baby killers.

Or maybe you guys can’t read. Can’t, won’t, doesn’t make much difference — you’re so sure of your position you not only damn the facts, you damn the existence of the facts and the non-existence of the hoodoos you fear.

Here, tell this guy he got it wrong; you’re barking up a tree on the wrong side of the ocean here: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/powerful-argument-for-limiting-bullets-in-a-clip-colorado-sen-mike-johnston-pleads-to-give-victims-a-chance-to-escape/

[Here's the video at that post:]

Morgan wrote:

It comes down to this: A gun has a certain number of bullets with which it can be loaded, before it becomes an instrument of death — that number is one. Whoever isn’t familiar with that, should be escorted off the range.

Think of all the gun ranges put out of business if we did that!

Of course, that is a comment on the mechanics; as far as process goes, the number is zero, since one of the basic rules of guns safety is “the gun is always loaded.”

I don’t think a crazy guy should be allowed to pump out 150 soldier-killer bullets in 5 minutes, with most of them going into the heads and faces of more than a score of 6-year-old kids. You seem to think that is such a sacred right that we . . . well, I don’t know what you propose.

You seem to think that forcing crazy men to reload is unfair. I think you’re not being fair to those six-year-old kids.

The evidence in Newtown is that the one reload he did took 11 seconds, and a teacher got 11 kids out of the school, to safety, in that time.

It took him five shots to blast through the safety lock on the door — had he been limited to five-round clips, he’d have been out of ammo in one gun just getting through the door.

I cannot imagine why you think we can’t be fair to six year old kids, but we must give crazy men more than a sporting chance to murder 20 unarmed people. I think my rights would be safer if I didn’t go with your defense of the crazy man’s rights.

Now, is it technically impossible to limit the rounds and reduce the carnage? Not according to the record.

Facts are stubborn things. That old John Adams sure got that right.

If I were Sen. Rubio, considering for the moment supporting this gun “safety” bill, and decided to read it all the way through, I’d change my mind and oppose it the first time I saw something about magazine capacity limits, because that would tell me someone wrote it without knowing anything about how guns are supposed to be treated around a public that we don’t want to be hurt by them. Which is the subject of the bill.

We know you’re not going to read the bill, just like Rubio hasn’t. He has a sort of duty to read it — but you’re so cock sure that you’re smarter than every other guy in the country and that you can see the future before God, you can’t be bothered to read even the quick summary of the bill.

It pains me when you reinforce all the stereotypes of the right-wing, can’t-tell-me-nuthin’ nuts, Morgan. If you’re going to pretend to be thoughtful, at least read the stuff, will you?

English: Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Manch...

Gustave Doré drawing: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863 Wikipedia image

You’re so cock-sure that there would be a crazy proposal of the type you fear that you can’t be bothered to read the bill and see that there’s nothing at all like it. Worse than Don Quixote tilting at windmills, you’re shooting at windmills that are not dragons, but behind which children were playing a few minutes ago. See, Quixote was harmless with his lance. Facts again: Guns are not lances.

Sometimes it’s not the things we don’t know that gets us into trouble, but the things we know, that are wrong. It’s not the target practice of the safe and sane occasional hunter that gets gun ownership questioned, it’s the crazy shooting at dragons that don’t exist, in schools and theaters and workplaces, where real people do exist.

Second. The Constitution guarantees me certain God-given rights, which supposedly nobody can take away from me, and I wouldn’t be able to discard even if I wanted to. Conservatives and liberals would agree — with different examples in mind — that We The People have lately encountered considerable difficulty electing representatives who will truly protect these rights.

Quite to the contrary, we’ve succeeded in electing nuts who are so dedicated to protecting those rights, they’ll go overboard to be sure that anything even close to resembling a right of a white male with a gun cannot be regulated rationally. Rex Tillerson‘s right to pour oil in every backyard in Arkansas is defended, Rep. Joe Barton apologizes to the white guys who run BP for all those Cajuns’ having put their Gulf of Mexico where BP could pollute the hell out of it. A white guy wants sex, well, some women “rape easy,” “they’re just good-time-lovin’ football players and football is an American game,” and if he’s an Army or Air Force officer, his superior will dismiss the rape charges. Jeremy Dimon gets to keep his freedom, and all the money banks stole from black families put out of their homes in New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles because his bank and his cronies’ banks screwed up the mortgages.

And if you want to shoot up a theater, or a school, and kill a bunch of unarmed people — well, you know, that’s a right, right?

I cannot imagine what rights you think are not defended, for white males.

Right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Right to quiet enjoyment? Right to be free from assault and battery? Right not get life-saving and cheap medical care for your kid? Right not to have to bury your kid as child? Not all rights are enumerated rights. You seem to miss some of the more important ones, when we get right down to it.

Now, if one worries about rights for anyone of color, or rights of children to health care or education, or rights of women to fair pay — well, none of those people are mentioned in the Constitution, are they? They all look like Dred Scott, to a Congress of white males.

In view of that, I like the idea of a Senator who made up his mind to oppose a gun bill before reading all of it (your headline would imply that he hasn’t read any of it, which is not substantiated by your story).

I see no evidence Rubio wasn’t telling the truth — and Cruz is probably too stupid to understand it, so I believe him when he says he can’t even find the bill that was placed in the middle of his desk on March 22. I swear that guy puts an icepick over his left eyeball every night he can.

This would be in keeping with his oath to uphold the Constitution: If the bill has something that cannot be reconciled with the Constitution, out it goes.

There is nothing in the Constitution which says anyone has to be an inadequate anal orifice. You’re reading it wrong.

Or have you even read it? You haven’t read the gun control bill. Why should you read the Constitution?

In reality, there is nothing in the Constitution that says any Member of Congress must be a roadblock, or should be a roadblock, nor that there should be any roadblocks at all. Filibustering is not a Constitutional right — not mentioned in any way.

After all, there is a period-end-of-sentence after the word “infringed.” It doesn’t say “shall not be infringed, unless something really spiffy is written that makes the infringing seem like a swell idea.”

Funny how you can completely miss the first 13 words of the Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” There are only 27 words in the amendment; you worry about punctuation while completely missing 48% of the text. That rounds to 50%.

But, you don’t read. I forgot. As with most conservatives, you think you know what is in a text without reading it, predudging it from . . . well, prejudging it, anyway.

“Prejudge” isn’t related to “prejudice” in the conservative dictionary, anyway.

This is the way I want ALL guarantees to me, or to anybody else, to be enforced. I want my renter’s insurance to be enforced this way. I want my employment contracts to be enforced this way. It’s only fair.

Can you do what no other gun rights advocate has done, Morgan?

Tell us what infringement there would be if you had to limit your automatics, semi-automatics, or single shots, to a five-bullet magazine. How would that, in any way, infringe on your right to keep arms, or bear them?

After you stumble over that one, tell us how it affects your right at all to fill out a form that lets a gun seller figure out whether you’re being straight about not being a felon, and not being a crazy shooter, and not fronting for a crazy shooter or felon.

How does filling out a form to make sure you’re legal, infringe on your right to keep and bear arms? There’s nothing in that amendment that says you can keep your gun ownership or bearing secret — in fact, in many states, keeping a gun concealed is a crime (without a permit).

Tell us how anyone’s rights are infringed by those common sense proposals, one of which isn’t even being proposed.

If I submit a form to the Social Security Administration, or to the IRS, or to some state agency like the DMV, and the form has 88 blocks in it and I botched something somewhere around the 8th or 9th block, it would be patently absurd for me to stand there and berate the DMV clerk who rejected it with “Why didn’t you read blocks ten through eighty-eight?? What am I paying you to do with your time??”

So you won’t do that anymore? That’s good news. I hope it’s a movement, and it catches on.

Aggravating as the situation would be, such a reaction would be very silly…because once the 8th or 9th block is screwed up, it’s an invalid form, and even though blocks 10 through 88 may be loaded with wonderfully accurate information, in context it’s still a bunch of nonsense until they’re copied on to another form that has been filled out PROPERLY. So reading them would actually be an inappropriate use of that time that I bought through my tax money by paying the clerk’s salary. Well, if that’s true of clerks, it’s certainly true of Senators, who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution.

I don’t think that’s a good analogy. Your paying your taxes is not similar in any way your elected representatives’ lying to you about whether they read bills or not, and using the pretense that they’ve not seen what they know is in the bill, to block the majority from even debating what is the best thing for the nation.

In their constitutional duty to represent you, they don’t have the right to boldly lie about what they’re doing for demagogue points.

It’s not illegal, but it’s dishonest, disgusting, and unpatriotic. It doesn’t represent you well — at least, I don’t think that you’re so corrupt that you can only get by by lying through your teeth and making phony excuses.

Sorta like enforcement of a lease — lying through your teeth about the rent isn’t a good idea, regardless you’re the tenant or the landlord.

Why am I having to explain the above?

Because you’re trying to defend ugly skullduggery on a bill you don’t know much about?

Because you sank all of your retirement funds into a gun manufacturer, and you just realized that rational gun laws might take that gold mine away? Because you’re a conservative, and these days that means “so congenitally unable to tell the truth that, when a conservative shoots a hole-in-one on the golf course, he writes ’0′ on the score card?”

I don’t know.

You’re doing a great job of supporting one of my pet theories, that liberals are people who haven’t actually had to deal with the bureaucracies their ideas create.

And you’re providing ample support for a couple of hypotheses I’ve wished didn’t need to be tested: One, that conservatives really DON’T know what a theory is, especially contrasted to hypotheses; two, that conservatives can’t be bothered to read the book, or the law, or the proposal, or anything else that might inform their arguments, probably out of fear they’ll realize their prejudices are wrong; three, that conservatives really like rules, out of their defense of “traditional” life and “order” — but they think the rules never apply to themselves or their supporters; and four, that the fact that the conservative position is correct should be so self-evident, no matter how half-wit or knuckleheaded the idea, that conservatives will never stoop to actually arguing the issues — keep John Walsh and Candy Lightner far away from conservatives, because they have no real defense for why we treat automobiles as more valuable than children or why we never stick to our guns about criminalizing drunk drivers who kill, especially repeatedly — and so, keep the parents of the Newtown victims far away from Washington, and demonize them as soft-on-crime, anti-patriotic, anti-Constitution liberal fuzzy heads, so we don’t have to look them in the eye and explain why we’re voting to defend the right of the idiot to shoot their children without cause, justification, warning, remorse or chance for retribution.

What’s more important, overarming people (the better to reduce the population), or keeping kids alive? (“We secretly hate children, which is why everyone of our policies is designed to make childhood difficult, cripple children educationally, mentally or physically, or kill them.”)

I do have to say though, I can see an upside to having it work the way you want…it would give me great pleasure, when I fill out a form wrong, to throw a hissy fit about “why didn’t you read the rest of my form?” But realistically, of course there’s no way it can work like that.

I thought you just had a mental burp — but now I see you’re on some tear about filling in forms incorrectly.

What difference could that possibly make?

Apparently there’s another trait of conservatives: The tendency to dissolve into irrelevant rants, instead of facing up to real problems, and making hard decisions about real solutions.

They weren’t your kids anyway, right?

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Quote of the moment: Jefferson, on reason in a republic

August 7, 2012

Bust of Jefferson in the Great Hall, Library of Congress (Jefferson Building) - photo by Carol Highsmith

Bust of Jefferson in the Great Hall, Library of Congress (Jefferson Building) – photo by Carol Highsmith. The plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) is a copy of a work by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828).

In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to David Harding, from Monticello, April 20, 1824; found in The Quotable Jefferson, collected and edited by John P. Kaminski, Princeton University Press 2006, p. 162.

Great Hall of the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building - Carol Highsmith photo

Great Hall of the Library of Congress viewed from the second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building – Carol Highsmith photo. Note bust of Jefferson, opposite


How deep is the stupid in Tea Party and among their fellow travelers?

August 28, 2011

Barack Obama has managed to tack on a bit over a trillion dollars to the national debt, mostly in a successful effort to keep the U.S. and the world from plunging into a Greater Depression.  We haven’t shaken off the harmful effects of the Republican assault on capitalism during the previous years’ assaults on the Constitution, science, education and other American institutions.

But in the alternate universe of conservative thought, Obama’s put $15 trillion in new debts on the books.  Being off by a factor of 10 to 15 is an accomplishment worthy of someone wholly unconnected with reality.  That would be Victor Davis Hanson in this case.  Not sure why, but some search took me to a blog called The Clue Batting Cage — batting away clues to reality is a sport to them, I suppose.  There I found this post:

Here’s some excellent wording from Victor Davis Hanson.

Despite nearly $15 trillion in federal debt, the administration apparently wants to defy the rules of logic and do more of what made things worse in the first place, under the euphemism of “investments.” American popular culture has coined all sorts of proverbial warnings about such mindless devotion to destructive rote: “Don’t flog a dead horse,” “If you are in a hole, stop digging,” and “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

No matter: The administration still adheres to the logical fallacy that the toxic medicine cannot be proven to be useless or harmful, because there was supposedly never enough of it given. And the proof is that the worsening patient is still not quite dead.
:
That there is never enough spending is a seductive fallacy because it never requires any empirical proof: If millions of those supported by the state have lost their self-reliance and self-initiative, perhaps it is because millions supported by the state were not supported well enough, and so in response, some resorted to stealing things they could not afford.

How many others could possibly be with these yahoos, looking through the telescope backwards?

Looking through a telescope the wrong way

Looking through a telescope the wrong way

Here’s what I posted in comments:

It’s difficult to reconcile the idea of someone who recommends Bob Park’s blog, and approves of Victor Hanson’s blather at the same time.

But then I look closer. You missed the boat completely. You didn’t even recommend the right Bob Park, but some imposter named Parks. You missed reality by one letter.

Reality is not an opinion, not that I expect you’ll ever change your opinion on that.

Lay off of Morgan’s blog for a while, maybe read some science or something. You may not feel better in the morning, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

9:38 PM

Delete

The author complains that my comments are too acid, and that the National Science Foundation is a “government site.”

If you call a private foundation the government supports, independent from the government by design to keep its advice unbiased, does that make it a government site?

Or is it still a four-legged calf?

A wise person said that you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t get to by reason in the first place.  That’s the problem with the Tea Party in the first place.  It’s also the problem in the second place, and the third place, and on all issues.

To the Tea Party mindset, they are all five-legged dogs.

Tea Party's five-legged dog, by Esther Derby.com

Tea Party's five-legged dog, by Esther Derby.com


Long time coming: Current insanity

July 22, 2011

I get e-mail from a friend on the high desert plains of the Mountain West:

On the other hand, maybe if we hadn’t been so polite for so long, they wouldn’t have had reason to think they could get away with this sort of thing: holding the country hostage to their latest demands.

Fruitcake is illogical, Robot Spock and Fruitcake holiday card

Fruitcake isn't all that's illogical, Robot Spock!

It’s been a long time coming, no doubt about it. You could say it started decades ago, with that famously loopy math: “Let’s balance the budget by cutting everyone’s taxes and spending more on the military! That’ll work!”

Was it ridiculous on its face? Of course it was ridiculous on its face. And here’s the scariest part: Things have gotten much worse since then! The fringe thinking that gave us the Age of Reagan couldn’t even get a hearing now from those who claim to worship him! Too “moderate.” Not “pure” enough.

They’ve got their own loopy math. Twenty-first-century loopy math. And their own economic theories, too — except that they’re not theories, they’re certainties. Matters of unshakeable faith. And since they’re certainties, why waste time listening to anyone else’s views on the subject? Expertise is overrated.

So they’ve got their own economics. They’ve got their own climate science, of course. They’ve got their own history. (Paul Revere, anyone? Slavery and the Civil War?) They’ve even got their own electoral history. (2008 was a glitch. Barack Obama isn’t really president.) What’s next? Their own geography? Their own gravity?

And we’ve let them get away with it.


Coach the beauty pageant contestants in critical thinking, please

July 10, 2011

Everybody else has to know it, or suffer without it.

Can you tell which of these is the parody?

Is it this one?

Or is it this one?

Stephen Law reports the science geek won the competition — maybe that will be enough to spur other beauty pageant contestants to get hip to reality?

Susana Speier explained what’s going on at Scientific American’s online site:

Last week, self proclaimed “geek,” Miss California, Alyssa Campanella made beauty pageant history…by default. When the interviewer posed a Theory of Evolution question, she was one of only two delegates to use the scientific definition of the word “theory” in her response.

The honey-drenched, colloquial definition that the majority of her competitors clung to was, yes, diplomatic. Miss California, now Miss USA, however, did not aim to please or to appease the 60% of Americans that a 2009 Gallup Poll concluded do not believe in Evolution. Rather than aiming to please or appease an ignorant majority, The future Miss USA delivered a response that supported an empirical evidence based definition of specified phenomena: the scientific definition of the word, “theory.”

Brains is beauty, it seems to me.  We should certainly run our schools as if intelligence and learning are great virtues in themselves.

 

 


That flag you flew yesterday — want to burn it today?

July 5, 2011

Some of the more astute students in our high school classes ask questions about everything.  For example, they ask:  “What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean, when it says, ‘ . . . and to the Republic for which it stands?’”

Is the Pledge all that important?  Is the flag all that important?

Maybe.  How would you answer that question, really?

Penn and Teller offer a demonstration:

What do you think?  Did they burn a flag?  Should that sort of performance be legal?

What if Penn and Teller burned a flag in the White House?

An exercise in ambiguity:  A fictional drama about a sleight of hand, illusionary performance.  (Best line:  The answer to the question, “Did you go to law school?”  For the record, yes, I did go to law school.  I’m an amateur clown.)

Did you fly your  flag yesterday?


End of the end of the world as we know it . . .

May 22, 2011

. . . didn’t happen.

Our friend, The Sensuous Curmudgeon, got it right, I think:

The BBC reports ‘Rapture’: Believers perplexed after prediction fails. It says:

Some believers expressed bewilderment or said it was a test from God of their faith, after the day passed without event.

Meanwhile, the evangelist at the centre of the claim, Harold Camping, has not been seen since before the deadline.

Maybe Camping has gone to his reward. We don’t know — but we do know one thing: This will probably our last Rapture thread for a while.

If only we could get the creationists to make some kind of spectacular, easily verifiable, utterly goofball predictions like the end-of-the-world folks do. But it wouldn’t matter; they’ll continue to be creationists. If 21 May has taught us anything, it’s that true believers never stop believing.

Evidence prevents the need to believe; we should stick to the evidence.  Camping started with a calculation that the flood of Noah, which never occurred as Camping thought, occurred 7,000 years ago, some 2,000 to 3,000 years different from the calculations made from the Bible by most young Earth creationists (but not Ken Ham), and way off the smoke-ring calculations of intelligent design whimsies, who can’t be pinned down to any number at all.

But they never stop believing contrary to the evidence.

Keep them off of juries, if you wish for justice.


Airing the place out

March 22, 2010

Here’s a sign that that conservatives are — finally, but not quickly enough, if they are producing so much — drowning in their own bile.

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation. Image copyright by Chas Geer

Over at Cafe Hayek (“Where orders emerge,” an economist’s joke), Don Boudreaux normally masquerades as a rational sort of guy.

But Sunday night?  He vents:

Watching tonight on television the charlatans who infest Pennsylvania Avenue gaudily pronounce their saintly motives and their deity-like powers to “guarantee world-class health care for every American” (as one creep put it to a NewsChannel 8 reporter here in DC) makes me want to vomit.

These people look like serious adults; the timber of their voices make them sound like serious adults; and their titles are ones that are assumed to be reserved for serious adults.  But, in fact, these people – from Obama to Pelosi to Hoyer to Reid – are nothing of the sort.

If they really believe even a quarter of the things they say, they’re imbeciles.  If they aren’t imbeciles, they’re scoundrels.  No third alternative is conceivable.

Either way, they’re an utterly detestable bunch.

He’s talking about elected officials.  He’s talking about the president of the United States.  He calls them “utterly detestable.”

Dialogue and thought lie broken down this much?  This is a rant one expects of certified lunatics like Orly Taitz.

Boudreaux, of course, comes from that class of the bourgeois where intellect is so congenital that it’s not even necessary to make a case for why one finds honorable people on the other side of an issue to be in error.  To Boudreaux, they’ve gone beyond error.  They are “detestable” people.  You know, abominable.  They are people worthy of hatred.

So, we might imagine, Boudreaux is untroubled by protesters calling Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) a “n—-r,” and spitting at him and on his colleague, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri).  Such racist actions are justified, if Lewis and Cleaver are truly worthy of hatred, no?  Boudreaux probably also finds victims of Parkinson’s disease “detestable,” and so would be untroubled by the mob in Columbus, Ohio, sharing Boudreaux’s views on health care, who mocked and tormented the Parkinson’s victim who expressed a different opinion and sat down.  “Communist!” they called him.

Demonization.  Dehumanization.  Objects worthy of hatred (a definition of “detestable) are not people who deserve respect.  We don’t need to offer them health care, we don’t need to listen to their views, we don’t need to honor their civil rights.

It’s conduct unbecoming.  Is Boudreaux so full of hubris that he cannot even entertain the idea that the bill is a good idea, the idea that Boudreaux may be a little bit in error?

We might also imagine that Don Boudreaux might get a good night’s sleep, wake up on Monday morning and rethink.

Somebody throw them a lifeline.  Maybe they can figure it out.  Churchill maybe put it best:  Democracy is the worst form of government conceived by the mind of man, except for all the others.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you should lose.  Sometimes the people’s wisdom is greater than our own.


Mau-mauing the gullibles: Sirkin on DDT (again)

November 26, 2009

The hard core uneducables who make of the hard knot at the center of the anti-science and anti-environmental movement just refuses to jettison their adored myths about science, regardless how many times those myths are shown to be false.

It’s a religious exercise with them, and their faith in error and bad applications of science won’t be shaken.

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers? Claiming Ruckelshaus an enemy of Africans and Rachel Carson a mass murderer is the new Radical Chic, and constant writing about it the new Mau-mauing.

Natalie Sirkin writes screeds for newspapers in Connecticut, I understand from an odd blog that collects these misdeeds, Don Pesci’s Connecticut Commentary:  Red Notes from a Blue State.

(Pesci has a particular fetish for DDT myths, and Sirkin’s been there, too.  He’s hard-core — no amount of information can sway him.)

Sirkin’s latest screed is “Myths for Fun and Profit,” and includes as one of the myths DDT’s ban in the U.S.  Her complaint is badly worded, but from the brief and grossly wrong explanation, we can see she thinks that DDT shouldn’t have been banned, and that map and calendar challenged, she thinks the ban on using DDT on cotton in the U.S. in 1972 somehow led to a rise in malaria in Africa in the 1980s. (Mosquitoes don’t travel that far, generally, either across the ocean from the U.S. to Africa, nor in time, from 1972 to 1980, nor the other way around.)

Sirkin wrote:

8….DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. “It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,” concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it. Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.

Why, these irrational policy errors?

So I responded:

Banning DDT from agricultural use was an extremely rational act, as vouched for by the summary judgment against the DDT manufacturers in both of the cases brought against EPA for the ban, and as vouched for by the removal of the bald eagle and brown pelican from the Endangered Species List.

Sirkin wrote:  “DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. ‘It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,’ concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it.”

EPA relabeled DDT in 1972, not 1971, effectively banning the use of DDT on cotton.  Under that rule, DDT could be available to fight malaria in the U.S., and DDT was manufactured in the U.S. for export to anyone who wished to use it.  There has never been a ban on using DDT to fight malaria.

But DDT ceased to work well against malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the 1960s.  Africans are not stupid.  Had DDT been a panacea, I’m sure they would have used it.

But while I worry about your implicit denigration of Africans and Asians in suggesting they are somehow incapable of deciding for themselves to use an effective weapon against disease, I am more concerned at your erroneous characterization of DDT’s value.  The National Academy of Sciences made an editing error, so part of your error is understandable.  DDT was never credited with saving 500 million lives.  During the entire time DDT has been available to fight malaria, from 1946 to today, the death rate worldwide from malaria has never exceeded 4 million a year, and since the 1960s the death rate has been about a million year.  At 4 million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 125 years prior to now.  Insecticidal properties of the stuff were discovered only in 1939, 70 years ago.

At about a million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 500 years.

Clearly there was an error in math, or confusion in citations.  About 500 million people are afflicted with malaria annually, noted earlier in that NAS book, which is where I think the 500 million figure came from.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment.  That 1970 publication by the National Academy of Sciences was an evaluation of chemicals in the environment.  That sentence crediting DDT with saving so many lives, erroneous as it was, was in a call to ban DDT as quickly as possible, and to increase research to find alternatives to DDT in order to get DDT use completely stopped.

NAS recognized the value of DDT, but said it was too dangerous to keep using.

Don’t cite NAS’s credit to DDT without noting they said we must stop using it, because its dangers outweigh the benefits.

You can find a more thorough discussion of the NAS report at this blog. [You should go see, Dear Reader -- neither Sirkin nor Pesci will likely ever bother.]

Sirkin wrote:
“Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.”

With the great assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and continued efforts of the World Health Organization, several African nations have cut malaria rates by 50% to 85% with the use of bednets and “integrated vector management” (IVM), usually known as integrated pest management (IPM) in the U.S.

Anyone who reads Carson’s astoundingly accurate book knows that she did not call for a ban on DDT, but instead called for the use of an integrated program of pest management.  Had we listened to Rachel Carson in 1962, we could have saved several million children from death, in Africa, from malaria alone.  It is scurrilous, calumnous, and inaccurate to the point of sin to blame Rachel Carson for deaths caused by failure to listen to her and heed her words.

Ruckelshaus acted with full knowledge of the National Academy of Science’s calling for an end to DDT use due to its harms, known and then unknown.  It is foolish to blame people for acting with hard evidence and careful, rational thought.  It’s particularly ungraceful to then accuse them of acting irrationally.

I doubt that either Pesci or Sirkin will ever change their tune.  They’d have to concede that science works, that scientists are not all evil, and that sometimes environmentalists, and even liberals, get things right.  More importantly, they’d have to concede they erred — and that would be like Baum’s Wicked Witch of the West taking a shower.


Al Gore shows how green investing works

November 3, 2009

Among the more amusing about-faces in conservative knee-jerk politics is conservative criticism of Al Gore for being a successful investor.

No, I’m not kidding.

Back in April, Gore testified to a House Energy and Commerce Committee in April — one of the committees where Gore was a shining star when he was a Member — and he ran into a challenge from Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blakburn who tried to play bad cop in grilling Gore about his investment work.  Since leaving politics Gore has worked to put his money where his advocacy is, backing green industries and energy efficiency projects. Blackburn is a Republican representing Tennessee’s 7th District. Blackburn appears not to understand how cross-examination works.

In most discussions I’ve had on warming issues over the past two months, advocates for doing nothing almost always bring up Gore as as “profiteer” for investing in green businesses.

It’s as if conservatives and Republicans have forgotten how business works in a free-enterprise system, and they think that free enterprise is tantamount to communism.

T. Boone Pickens used to be a favorite witness for Republicans to call at Congressional hearings.  Pickens was, and still is, a staunch advocate of free enterprise, and he advocates a lot less regulation than most Democrats want.  Then Pickens’s investments, especially his vulture investments in dying companies where he’d sell off the assets and put the company out of existence, were touted by Republicans as indication that Pickens is a genius.

A hard look at Gore’s investments shows him to be nothing more than a free-enterprise advocate who leads the way in green investments.  He has made huge gambles in businesses that warming skeptics claim won’t work — and his investments have tended to pay off, to the great consternation of warming do-nothings who understand markets.

This story in the New York Times suggests just how well Gore has done, and how much his leadership in investing might benefit us.  It’s worth bookmarking for your next discussion on what we should do about global warming — because you know somebody will try to make it about Al Gore.  It just galls the heck out of conservatives and anti-science folks that Gore is right so often, and that he is such a practitioner of the Scout Law.

Anti-pollution is good business.  Reducing the dumping of poisons into the air and water makes sense, and it makes a better economy in the long run.  Sometimes it makes a better economy in the short run, too.  Gore stepped into the marketplace, a very capitalist act.  His investments paid off, demonstrating that markets do work, and demonstrating that green business is smart business.  What are Republicans and conservatives thinking in taking after Gore’s business success?

Oh — Boone Pickens? He used to have an office in Trammell Crow Tower when our offices at Ernst & Young LLP were a floor or so away.  We shared elevator rides many times, and he is in person as gracious and smart as he appeared in those Congressional hearings years ago.

His money today?  He’s investing in wind power, because he thinks we need to act now to reduce dependency on oil imports.

Maybe Republican anti-green politics is coming home to roost.

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Use of evidence in science: Homeopathy and nutritionists take a laughable hit

October 9, 2009

Dara O’Briain?  Never heard of him before.

But he’s spot on here, isn’t he?

(Warning:  Not exactly safe for work or school — the “f” word is spoken aloud.]

An ironic tip of the old scrub brush to Gandolf, in comments at Dunamis Word, in an otherwise futile discussion with creationists who claim to have an ounce of rationality left in them.


Happy birthday, Halfway There!

September 8, 2009

I know, I’m over a week late.  But happy fourth birthday to Halfway There, anyway.  (Hey.  I’ve been busy.)

It’s a great math blog, a great teachers’ blog — and I love the Running Guy with Briefcase in the header.

Plus, at least once a year I get to spring Zeno’s Paradox on some unsuspecting young student who makes some silly claim about the superiority of logic to evidence.  And then I send the student packing to Halfway There for serious understanding.  (Anyone who knows there are more than one size of infinity must be a fan of George Gamow, I figure.)

Funny, it doesn’t look like four years have passed.


Why Republicans are going the way of the Whigs

August 23, 2009

It’s not that they’re losing the war of politics.  It’s that they’re losing a war with reality they should not be waging.

A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) illustrates the profound levels of ignorance that currently interfere with the debate over health care.

One question asked: “Do you think the government should stay out of Medicare?” Keep in mind that this is a logical impossibility, as Medicare is a government program, which was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, to provide guaranteed health care to the elderly.

As it turns out, 39% of voters think government should stay out of Medicare, compared to 46% who disagree.

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party nominated a candidate in 1856, but was dead completely by 1860.  Bust of Vice President Millard Fillmore, by Robert Cushing, U.S. Senate Chamber -

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party nominated a candidate in 1856, but was dead completely by 1860. Bust of Vice President Millard Fillmore, by Robert Cushing, U.S. Senate Chamber -

Among Republicans, 62% say the government should stay out of Medicare, compared to only 24% of Democrats and 31% of independents who agree.

Government should get out of Medicare?  Yeah, and the Supreme Court should take the Constitution and get out of law.  Farmers should get out of agriculture.  And God should get out of religion.

If you believe that, I have an island in the Hudson River to sell you, complete with bridges.  No wonder Republicans are so prone to voodoo history.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.


Wiley Drake is an illegal alien

July 19, 2009

Wiley Drake cannot show us his green card, and so, by his standards, he is an illegal alien.

What’s that you say?  Drake was born in the U.S.?  So was Obama, and it doesn’t stop Drake from claiming Obama illegal.  The only criterion Drake offers is that Obama doesn’t have a green card.  On that criterion, Drake is also an illegal alien, since he has no green card, either.

As God is our witness, we could not make this stuff up.

Do  you think Drake is part of the reason California is having such great fiscal difficulties?

Seriously, Wiley Drake does not speak for God, nor even for other Christians.  That was a shameful performance on Drake’s part not least because he didn’t have a clue how shameful it was.  The Bible says Christian elders have an obligation to rebuke false doctrine, false preachers and hooey.  Consider Drake rebuked.

Not that Drake would ever listen to a Christian elder.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Savior Breath posting at Pharyngula.


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