Racial composition does not imply a group’s ideology

Listening to Keith Olbermann in the car this morning made me deeply annoyed. He ran one of those signature “special comments,” this time on racism in the Tea Party. That’s fine with me. I mean, when you have images like this

and this

Then yeah, I think it’s not unreasonable to speculate that there is some latent racism going on in the Tea Party movement.

But he didn’t stop there; he went on to say that the tea party protests are mostly composed exclusively of white guys. Then he said something to the effect that if they aren’t racist, how come there aren’t more black people?

And I say: MEH. It’s not as easy as Keith imagines to get a diverse group to support an activist cause, and it’s a terrible fallacy to conclude that the movement is racist because it doesn’t attract more black people.

I’ve been through seven years of college with a computer science/engineering background, okay? There were not many women in the programs. Why? Beats me. I wish more women would be computer nerds. I have worked in many companies where there was a good mix of genders, but I’ve noticed that the women in the companies far more commonly fill non-techie roles: testers, administrators, office assistants, HR, some managers. Stuff like that.

This is not a sexist claim. It’s basic statistical observation. It is not a statement of “ought,” it is a statement of “is.” It’s also obviously not universal, as I knew several women who made up, I’m guessing, 5% of my Master’s program; and I know plenty of female engineers, including Jen and Elze in the ACA. But still, as I look around my cubicle area at my job, almost everyone within view is male.

By Olbermann’s logic, computer software development must be a fundamentally sexist undertaking. The entire practice must espouse some core values that hates and derides women.

It doesn’t stop there. The Atheist Experience has a relatively good mix of men and women… by which I mean that among the hosts and cohosts are only twice as many men as women. There are also only twice as many heterosexuals as homosexuals, which is actually overrepresentative of gay people. We have no African-Americans (or “black people,” if you’re not keen on politically correct language, which I’m not). From my ten year memory of the ACA, I can think of two black women and no black men who were members. (Deepest apologies if you are somebody I left out.)

Edit: There are seven total hosts and cohosts, not six as I first thought, making the ratio of male to female 5:2, not 4:2. Same with sexual orientation.

From what I’ve heard, black atheists are really quite rare, and activist black atheists are rarer still. They’re out there, of course, and Reginald Finley (who is the most famous one I know) has helpfully compiled a list of famous black atheists — and I recognize almost none of them. (Sorry!) In the last few months I’ve heard the topic of come up at least twice on the show, prompting a string of black callers from around the country to offer their two cents on the nature of the problem. This puts us white hosts in the uncomfortable situation of having to speculate about what it is about either race or culture that makes it more difficult for black people to come out as nonbelievers.

Lest you think it’s just our tiny minority group that shares this “racism,” I’ll point out that Yearly Kos, the convention for liberal activists sponsored by the liberal blog Daily Kos, has received similar pointless criticism that they are “diversity challenged.” That because they can’t attract more black members, there is some unspoken whites-only principle in the ideology of the group.

Which is stupid, and should be transparently stupid to someone like Keith Olbermann, who loves Daily Kos and has founder Markos Moulitsas as a regular guest on his show. And yet here he is committing this rotten fallacy on the tea party movement, which only serves to undermine the (IMHO) accurate message that many people in the movement are bigoted asshats.

If there’s a lesson to draw here, it’s that you can reach the right conclusion for very wrong reasons. Like a person who becomes an atheist because Zeitgeist convinced them of the truth of some very dubious claims about Christianity; once a person finds out that the underlying arguments are terrible, they’re likely to dismiss the conclusion.

Stay classy, Pat

We’ve gotten an email at the TV show address alerting us that on today’s 700 Club episode, Pat Robertson has gone into his usual “blame the victims” spiel regarding the Haitian earthquake. Apparently God decided to level Port-au-Prince, kill untold numbers (estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands), and displace at least 3 million people, because in the 19th century the Haitians “made a deal with the devil to free themselves from the French.” Setting aside the native Vodou religion (which is where Pat gets his debbil from), let us remember that the Haitian Revolution is the only successful slave revolt in history, bringing to an end a minority rule by the French that was enforced — in the way slavery is always enforced — with an oppressive caste system and violence. I guess that’s the way Pat prefers things.

Pat has clearly created his God in his image: they’re both despicable douchenozzles. Decent people, on the other hand, are encouraged to help.

Here it is right from the scumbag’s mouth.

Brannon Howse, racist asshole

Back to the loonybin otherwise known as the Christian Worldview Network. Bask in the unapologetically racist language Brannon Howse uses to distort Barack Obama’s reaction to the Fort Hood shootings.

On the day of the Ft. Hood murders Obama walks out and acts like a classless, inner-city, gangster giving shout outs to people in the audience. What is also with his trying to sound like a gangbanger when he is in front of certain groups of people? Why is this a poor example to America’s students? We take your calls including calls from two black Americans who agree with what Brannon is saying.

Gotta love the way he throws a variant of the “some of [my best friends/our show’s callers] are black” line over the transom at the end there. Of course, it doesn’t save him any more than it does any other racist.

I’ll be writing in depth on the Fort Hood shootings here soon. This all happened just up the road, about an hour from Austin, so it resonates locally. I’ve been to both Fort Hood and Killeen many times, and have friends there.

Anyway, I’ll sign off with a link to Obama’s actual response to the shootings. You know, as it happened in the real world and not the one between Brannon Howse’s redneck ears.


From the odious Billy Graham:

Jesse Helms, my friend and long-time senator from my home state of North Carolina, was a man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals and courage to faithfully serve God and country based on principle, not popularity or politics.

In the tradition of Presidents Jefferson, Adams and Monroe — who also passed on July 4th — it is fitting that such a patriot who fought for free markets and free people would die on Independence Day. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, I thank God for the blessings we enjoy, which Senator Helms worked so hard to preserve…

From a comment following Graham’s disgraceful encomium: “Jesse Helms fought for FREE PEOPLE??? (emphasis mine) Would those be the white people who wanted to be FREE of having to associate with black people?” Uh huh. Seems fitting that a homophobic, racist piece of shit should be eulogized so fulsomely by an anti-Semitic piece of shit, eh?

Whoops, there goes our Cuss Rating.

Johnny B. Goode Stoopid: the Discovery Institute keeps the laffs coming!

They can’t offer any peer-reviewed research, but they can publish indignant tirades against “Darwinism” in various forms, the latest of which is a sure-to-be-laff-a-minute diatribe entitled Darwin Day in America, written by John G. West. West’s main schtick is to attack evolution by Godwinizing it; i.e., blaming it for eugenics and, in turn, the Nazis. An indication of the emotionalist, rhetorical word salad this book is sure to be is suggested by the wording of its online press release, a paragraph from which is excerpted below. And remember, when dealing with creationists, you can always expect at least one 20-megaton irony blast; I have highlighted it.

Based on extensive research with primary sources and archival materials, John G. West’s captivating Darwin Day in America tells the story of how American politics and culture have been corrupted by scientistic ideology. Marshaling fascinating anecdotes and damning quotations, West’s narrative explores the far-reaching consequences for society when scientists and politicians deny the essential differences between human beings and the rest of nature. It also exposes the disastrous results that ensue when experts claiming to speak for science turn out to be wrong. West concludes with a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts.

Don’t you just love that highlighted bit? Especially coming from a clown who’s been a poli-sci and history professor, and never, you know, a biology professor. I can’t think of anything similarly head-smackingly dishonest, except for the day O.J. got acquitted, and immediately announced he was going to launch a search for “the real killers.”

But get a load of the sentence after the highlighted one. Another of West’s obsessions is that he cannot stand that there are people in the world who are “experts” in a field, who have an annoying tendency to correct uninformed regular folks who just want everything to be “fair and balanced.” When West makes “a plea for the restoration of democratic accountability in an age of experts,” he is essentially admitting that he is not an expert in the field he has decided to criticize, and his only way of dealing with this is to try and discredit the idea that there can or should be any experts at all, and that “democracy” ought to reign. And by “democracy” he means, like all religious ideologues, “mob rule,” the idea that if the majority doesn’t like how reality works, they can just vote it different.

Bad news, Johnny. Science is not a democracy. Facts are what they are, and they don’t care what you believe or what ideology, religious or political, you’ve chosen to embrace. None of the experts whose expertise you resent (because you lack it) deny that evolution takes place, any more than they would deny the sun rises in the east. And tell me, if evolution is “racist,” why is it, I wonder, that the KKK burns Christian crosses instead of, say, giant wooden Darwin fish or effigies of the double helix? Why do white supremacists call themselves things like “World Church of the Creator” and “Church of Jesus Christ, Christian,” instead of “Darwin’s Badasses” or “Chuck D.’s Master Race Society”? Why is it that Darwin’s works were banned in the Third Reich, as we see in this list from 1935 (scroll down the page), in which, among works promoting pacifism, bolshevism, communism, and liberal democracy, the Nazis also gave the thumbs-down to…

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

Hmm. Could it be, John, that you are simply full of shit? Why, I think it could!

But hey, writing this crap is at least easier than actually producing research that offers scientific (or is that “scientistic”) evidence for intelligent design, right?

For more debunking of nonsensical creationist attempts to link Darwin (who opposed slavery, for instance) to the Nazis, here’s some worthwhile reading over at Panda’s Thumb.

An ig-Nobel fellow, but one to be censured, not censored

By now many of you have heard or read about how the distressingly-zombielike Nobel laureate/DNA co-discoverer James Watson made an ass of himself by publicly opining on the supposed intellectual inferiority of black Africans. This led to worldwide condemnation, the cancellation of at least one sold-out speaking engagement, and now the termination of his chancellorship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Now, Watson has actually gone and made things worse by trying to apologize, but doing so in the most intelligence-insulting way possible. (Perhaps he thought the hundreds of millions of black people he offended would be too dumb to notice.)

“To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief,” he said.

Watson has just one little problem here. His original remark is on record and still very fresh, and so it’s going to be a little hard for him to sell the whole “I didn’t mean to say black people were stupid when I said they were stupid” pitch.

The question which will arise now is: Is the inevitable piling-on going to go too far? PZ Myers has already weighed in on Watson’s getting the heave-ho from Cold Spring, pointing out that “it’s a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges (even stupidly).” The case is similar to the Don Imus firing, back when he made racist jokes about that African-American girls’ sports team. That speech can and will be offensive is a fact of life, but should those who engage in offensive speech be automatically stamped with “pariah” on their foreheads and sent to the bleachers for good, no longer to participate in public discourse? Or should their asinine views be aired openly, the better to thus engage them?

Goodness knows, I’ve inveighed here against neocons and Christian conservatives who say stupid things, and have not been shy about being inflammatory myself in castigating them. Most recently, Ann Coulter’s anti-Semitic ravings. But as loathsome as I find Coulter or Rush or Falwell (well, okay, we don’t have him to kick around any more) or Robertson, I’d never want to see them barred from public speaking. Free speech, like free anything, is a two-edged sword. You cannot have a culture that nurtures and develops the highest and most noble ideas without the freedom that also allows for the most pathetic ignorance and arrogance. And as Watson’s case reminds us, it’s not always necessarily the religious fanatics, or the Coulters of the world, who lose their marbles (not to mention their fundamental human decency) and shoot off their mouths without first loading their brains.

So yes, we have to put up with racism, and anti-science, and religious fanaticism and intolerance, because that’s the price we pay for the privilege of living in a freethinking society where we can openly critique those ideas and, with luck, educate people away from them. Yes, Watson has become a senile old asshat. But even in his intellectual decline, maybe he can still teach people something.

A sterling example of the moral bankruptcy of religion

Recently, Richard Dawkins wrote a piece called “Logical Path from Religious Belief to Evil Deeds.” In it, he proposed that the reason religionists can consider themselves morally superior to absolutely everyone who doesn’t share their beliefs is that religious belief “changes, for people, the definition of good.”

This is how, for example, the 9/11 terrorists were able to do what they did, and still believe themselves and their actions to be as “good” as it was possible to be. This is how psychotics like Fred Phelps and Donald Spitz can do what they do — the former staging his unspeakably vile protests and the latter claiming to be a “pro-life” champion while lionizing a murderer of an abortion doctor on his website as an “American hero” — and think they are the paragons of all that is good in the world. If there’s one concept religion — especially as practiced by Christians and Muslims — perverts beyond all hope of recognition, it’s the rational understanding of good and evil. To a believer, if you’re doing it for your God, it’s good, even if it’s the most backwards and disgraceful of bigoted beliefs, or the most inexcusable of crimes, including mass murder. It’s classic Orwellian doublethink.

This fact has been made clear once again by the latest blatherings of the mentally ill Ann Coulter. Yes, I’m sure all of you are poised to roll your eyes and go “come on!” at my choice of such an easy target. After all, Ann has never said a sane (let alone sensible or remotely factual) thing in her entire manufactured career. Isn’t pointing to her idiocies like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel?

Well, maybe. But that doesn’t invalidate the basic point, which is this: Ann is a deranged and hate-filled individual. And yet, she embraces Christianity quite fervently, a religion whose proponents repeatedly insist is all about love. But notice: Christianity, contrary to another claim of its adherents, does not in fact give Ann a foundation from which she can understand just how vicious and ignorant her beliefs are, and change them for the better — which is what it would do if it were a belief system founded upon sound moral precepts that provided comprehensible moral guidelines for living. Rather, it simply gives her a comfort zone from which she can continue to hold those beliefs, and then label them moral.

Look at this truly bizarre exchange between Ann and CNBC host Donny Deutsch. On Deutsch’s show last Monday, Ann made some of the most outlandishly anti-Semitic remarks to be publicly aired since April of 1945. And yet, with all apparent sincerity, she insisted that these statements were in no way anti-Semitic or the least bit hateful.

COULTER: Do you know what Christianity is? We believe your religion, but you have to obey.

DEUTSCH: No, no, no, but I mean —

COULTER: We have the fast-track program.

DEUTSCH: Why don’t I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can’t believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, “Let’s wipe Israel” —

COULTER: I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: “Let’s wipe Israel off the earth.” I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we’re all sinners —

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued — when you say something absurd like that, there’s no —

COULTER: What’s absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I’m going to go off and try to perfect myself —

COULTER: Well, that’s what the New Testament says.

Wow, huh? Now, keep in mind, as part of the very same exchange, Ann is able to say this with perfect conviction.

DEUTSCH: You said — your exact words were, “Jews need to be perfected.” Those are the words out of your mouth.

COULTER: No, I’m saying that’s what a Christian is.

DEUTSCH: But that’s what you said — don’t you see how hateful, how anti-Semitic —


DEUTSCH: How do you not see? You’re an educated woman. How do you not see that?

COULTER: That isn’t hateful at all.

DEUTSCH: But that’s even a scarier thought.

Once your brain stops reeling, you may be given to wonder just how a person can hold such 1984-ish, contradictory attitudes and not have one’s head explode from cognitive dissonance. The answer is: religion. Religion redefines “good” to accommodate, legitimize and justify whatever the believer already believes. It is not a rational process in the least. If it were, then yes, it would impossible to make the pronouncement that, compared to you, an entire race of people is imperfect (and, by unavoidable extension, inferior), and simultaneously think that that is not only not a hateful comment, but one that embraces diversity. The moral and intellectual wasteland that is religion is never made more clear than when some religionist openly and proudly espouses these “war is peace, freedom is slavery” attitudes, and then gets all agog with confusion and denial when someone points out just how demented and hateful and just plain wrong they are.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times: religion provides no basis for a system of morals. It simply provides a smug sense of superiority for its adherents, in which the word “moral” is applied to the flock, and “immoral,” “imperfect,” “sinner,” and other divisive and harmful sobriquets are applied to everyone on the outside, irrespective of actual deeds.

David Vitter and his white-supremacist creationist chums

I’m sure some of you remember David Vitter, the Louisiana “family values” senator who was caught whoremongering. You might have also heard that he is attempting a desperate act of image rehabilitation by giving $100,000 to a creationist organization called the “Louisiana Family Forum”. (Isn’t it offensive the way conservative Christians keep wanting to turn the word “family” into a synonym for “stupid,” “superstitious,” “reactionary,” and “uneducated”?) This organization will presumably use the money in what will be Failed Attempt #72,408 to get creationist twaddle taught in biology classrooms alongside actual biology.

Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars reveals some interesting facts about the “Louisiana Family Forum.” It is run by one Tony Perkins, who also heads up the “Family Research Council,” affiliated with James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” Both the “Family Research Council” and “Focus on the Family” have promoted the anti-gay “research” of one Paul Cameron, a raving homophobe who heads up the Colorado-based “Family Research Institute,” which has been formally identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

More links between Vetter, the creationist idiocy he espouses when he isn’t soliciting, and radical right-wing Christian hate comes to light when we find that Perkins paid KKK wackjob David Duke over $80,000 for his mailing list for the “Family Research Council”‘s use!

But…but…but…haven’t all of these Christians been trying to tell people that “Darwinism” is what makes you a racist?

Gee, guess not.

This isn’t just the pot calling the kettle black. It’s the pot calling the kettle a pot.

Religion. Creationism. Racism. Homophobia. Ignorance. Hate. Fear. What an impressive list of “family values” and “morals” Christians are offering trailer-trash America! Gawrsh, where do I sign up?