Repeal of DADT sends right-wingers into apoplexy

I am amazed that it took as long as it has to bring a bit of sanity back to America’s policies with regard to sexuality of serving members, but they finally repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. Yesterday the US Senate voted 63-33 to end cloture, then voted 65-31 (including eight Republicans) to repeal the strange law.

It’s one thing to forbid people from investigating, or discriminating against, gay soldiers. It’s another thing entirely to forbid people from serving while out. There’s a scene in the movie Across the Universe, set during the Vietnam War, wherein someone is expressly NOT refused entry into the army for claiming to be gay. “As long as you don’t have flat feet,” the recruiter says. Reality under DADT, however, expressly forbade any knowledge of a person’s sexual orientation, such that anyone openly gay could not serve, and anyone serving could not come out.

I can kind of understand, in the political climate of the 90s when being gay was only just becoming slightly less taboo — a bit of progress that was slowed with the misinformation around the spread of AIDS. The creation of the law in that climate was obviously intended to allow gays to join, to serve their country alongside straight soldiers — because if someone wants to risk their life fighting for what may or may not be a good cause, it damn well shouldn’t matter what gender or orientation they happen to be.

Except, naturally, to the esteemed and totally sane members of the Party of Family Values.

The new Marine motto: “The Few, the Proud, the Sexually Twisted.” Good luck selling that to strong young males who would otherwise love to defend their country. What virile young man wants to serve in a military like that?

If the president and the Democrats wanted to purposely weaken and eventually destroy the United States of America, they could not have picked a more efficient strategy to make it happen.
Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

“Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military exists for only one purpose – to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military’s ability to fulfill its mission.
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council

If the lame-duck Congress succeeds in ‘gaying down’ our military this weekend, it will take a disastrous leap toward “mainstreaming” deviant, sinful homosexual conduct – not just in the military but in larger society — thus further propelling America’s moral downward spiral.
Peter LaBarbera, president of “Americans For Truth About Homosexuality”, a virulently anti-gay organization

Ain’t that just precious. What is it about the right wing that makes them so xenophobic and self-defeating that they’d deign decree who’s allowed to give their lives for their country? They can’t honestly think that being gay makes you less capable of killing people, can they?

Mormon homophobia, on sale now at Wal-Mart

From LGBTQ Nation:

More than 100 WalMart stores in the Intermountain West are stocking a new children’s book aimed at Mormon families to help in overcoming homosexuality.

Chased by an Elephant: The Gospel Truth About Today’s Stampeding Sexuality, was authored by Janice Barrett Graham, wife of Stephen Graham, President of the anti-gay organization, Standard of Liberty — an LDS-oriented educational foundation.

Chased by a Big Gay Elephant

I’m guessing this illustrated children’s religious tract is in direct response to Heather Has Two Mommies. What surprises me the most is how long it’s taken for someone to make a children’s picture book showing that homosexual feelings will trample you like an elephant. I mean, isn’t it obvious? If you’re not painfully aware of society’s attempt to gay-ify you from an early age, you’ll get trampled and become gay yourself, by this stampeding gay scourge! Because that’s totally how it works! Before Joseph Smith made the Mormons, with the intent of becoming the stalwart guardians of mankind’s sexuality (with their magic underwear), almost all the world’s population was homosexual. Only Joseph Smith and his magic underwear managed to avoid the stampeding gay elephant and single-handedly took up the onerous task of producing the entire next generation.

But I’m being (only a touch) facetious. Sexuality is an emergent property of your genes, not a societally imposed “stampede” that might crush you if you’re caught unawares. You don’t get a choice as to your sexuality; it’s not a binary thing, and it’s not subject to your whims. Even in cultures where sexuality is NOT strictly enforced, and children are NOT exposed to sexual imagery every day of their lives, homosexuality exists. Sexuality is a sliding scale, and if you’re somewhere in the middle, you might have a choice as to how you live, but if you’re near one of the ends, you can’t simply override it any more than you can change your natural hair color just by dying it. You can disguise it temporarily, but your roots will show eventually.

I consider the stampeding elephant metaphor a good one (if you include the “trampled” parties becoming elephants themselves, at least), for discussing rampant memes that spread and transform societies. If you want a good example of such a meme, religion is it. It’s the REAL elephant in the room. Without such religious teachings, people might be more inclined to live and let live. Only in religion will you find the meme that sex is solely for procreation, and that any sexual impulse outside that function is sinful and means you’re a broken individual. Such a meme, when internalized, sets the stage for religion as being your only salvation, and since every one of us is subject to sexual impulses, we’re all in the path of the elephant that is religion. Even those of us that won’t become elephants ourselves, can still be trampled and damaged needlessly.

Again, only in religion, and in societies heavily influenced by those specific religions over very long periods of time, will you find a stampeding elephant of intolerance and deprecation of humanity over something as integral as their sexuality. That Wal-Mart is abetting this intolerance is not surprising, but it is rather disheartening.

How the Pope Learned to Use the Big Lie

In my last blog post, I alluded very briefly and without much detail to Pope Joseph Ratzinger’s recent polemic against secularism, wherein he blamed secularism for the rise of Nazi Germany. I was immediately struck by how patently false and revisionist the claim was, and was honestly surprised to see it coming from such a person as the Pope. I mean, I’m used to hearing from your average theist guttersnipe troll about how Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot and Stalin were all atheists, and how their atheism led directly to the crimes against humanity they perpetrated (every claim being generally easy to knock out, but the Hitler one being the easiest), but to hear it from The Boss, the man who claims the infallibility of God? Well, that’s particularly galling. At least his nonsense is not going wholly unopposed, though I wish people were paying more attention to the anti-secularist hate speech he’s committing.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Ratzinger is not an immoral and grossly misguided man, with delusions of grandeur and an agenda that demonstrably runs roughshod over human rights and the innocent children victimized by the clergy under his protection, merely by virtue of having been a member of the Hitler Youth. Membership was mandatory by law when he was a child, so he didn’t have much choice — it was either be quiet and play along, or speak up and do the right thing at the potential cost of his life. So unless he had some special virtue or uncommon reserve of courage unavailable to the average man, which he evidently did not, one cannot blame him for doing what most of us would likely do in his situation. The lessons he took from this oppression, however, were evidently the wrong ones.

Stephanie Zvan points out how like the propaganda employed by the Nazis, in fomenting the inherent antisemitism prevalent in the mostly-Catholic population, his tactics are. I will take it a step further and say it is an outright lie. Not just a lie, but a Big Lie, a propaganda tactic most famously employed by Hitler himself in scapegoating the Jews for the ills of his society. I contend that Ratzinger knows it is a lie, and has chosen to spread it despite his claims to special virtue.

Being the scholarly sort, or at least being PORTRAYED as the scholarly sort, you’d think Ratzy would have remembered the Lateran treaties between Pope Pius IX and Benito Mussolini, one of the key players in the creation of Fascism as a political movement. Mussolini considered Catholicism to be nothing better than a useful tool in the subjugation of his country’s people, feigning piety only to assert control over the Church. Without his actions in creating the Vatican State, the Pope might today be subject to the laws of the Italy and any treaties they have with others, including extradition treaties that might see the Pope called to account for his roles in covering up child rape cases.

You’d think Benny would remember the Reichskonkordat, the bilateral treaty between the Catholic church and the German state guaranteeing the Church and its clergy rights in Germany, which was signed by Hitler in 1933. The rights afforded, included a guarantee that all schools would teach Catholicism, the right to collect church taxes, and the exemption of all clergy members from all political party functions or membership.

You’d think the ostensibly-infallible Palpatine-lookalike would remember all the expressions of faith in the Catholic religion expressed by Hitler in Mein Kampf, and throughout his political life, or his expressions against atheism as being a function of Communism, his party’s diametrical enemy. His profession that, “[h]ence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord”, should be enough to show the man to be a practicing Catholic. If not that, then his frequent exhortation that “God [is] with us” should be clear. And the extraordinary existing documentation of pictures of Catholic clergy cozying up to the politicos (and I sincerely apologize for who’s hosting those pictures) would show that they’re anything but enemies.

The evidence runs counter to the Pope’s repeated lies about the Nazis. He cannot be ignorant of this evidence, so I have to assume that he is lying in a calculated fashion, in emulation of the lessons he himself learned during the Holocaust. They were not lessons of tolerance and respect for differences — rather, they were lessons in how to sway with gross propaganda an unwitting populace that believes you incapable of lying in such a fashion.

I repeat my previous call to arrest the Pope, as the man is demonstrably covering up actual crimes, all while fomenting religious intolerance against atheists, who are possibly the last acceptable religious minority to slander — and I say this knowing full well that people like to make the exact same claim about Catholics. I don’t pretend that the call to arrest him is not influenced by the emotions behind being told I am responsible for the evils of society. I embrace that anger, in fact, as it adds passion to my words when I say that Pope Ratzinger has covered up more evil done to this society in the name of his deity, than any atheist has ever done in the name of no-deity. And his claims that secularism leads directly to evil totalitarian regimes is, like every other aspect of the Big Lie, directly undermined by reality.

TheoreticalBullshit on morality in absence of a deity

Well argued, TheoreticalBullshit. An excellent summary of the argument between religious folks and secular folks about where morality comes from, and defines my position pretty much to a tee.

Morality is entirely a social construct, for the benefit of that society and the individual members therein. This is not a difficult concept to grasp.

Let love reign supreme

Homosexuality is very likely biological, an emergent property from a confluence of genes that were selected for other reasons. That doesn’t make the people who are homosexual any less fully human, and my heart sings out that a federal judge in San Francisco has struck down California’s infamous Proposition 8 as unconstitutional in that it abridges the rights of those fully human individuals to marry, and to benefit from the same legal protections afforded by the institution as heterosexual couples. Not only did he strike it down, but he wrote several pages explaining all the ways Prop8 is horrid:

Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.

Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes.

Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.

Preach it!

And then, as though to harsh my buzz, along came a certain detestable piece of offal to bloviate about the news.
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Jodi and I Owe Bora

Sadly, I don’t owe Bora Zivkovic (whom I have fondly referred to as William Tockman in the past, if you’ll pardon the geek reference) nearly as much as some of his compatriots in the scientific blogosphere. But he helped with Jodi’s geeky proposal trail that started over at Stephanie’s, and for that I owe him a debt of gratitude. Not for helping me get started as a blogger, or for helping me find my place in the scientific community, or any number of other acts of kindness, both large and small. Nor have I participated in ScienceOnline, at least not yet. But the impact Bora has had on the science community is obviously far-reaching.

Now that Bora has left ScienceBlogs in the wake of the Pepsi blog ridiculousness, he needs to support his family, as their income is severely impacted. Considering how many good turns he’s done the community, the community is understandably speaking up, telling him what they owe him — and showing him, however possible.

I honestly wish I had more to say here, but the man’s largess should speak for itself. The fact that he has been unable to adequately monetize his actions is a failing of society — where merit alone does not win one a decent living. I also wish we had the finances at the moment to be able to show, rather than say, how high my opinion of him is. But if you have benefited from Bora’s kindness, large or small, you could donate and show that you recognize that kindness, and want to do him a kindness in return. Likewise, you could visit their store and see if there’s anything you’re interested in, or anything at his Zazzle store while you’re at it. I’m sure whatever you do will be appreciated.

Is religion compatible with science?

Dan J at Relatively Unrelated posts on a topic near and dear to my heart.

I keep hearing the accommodationist mantra that religion is compatible with science (or vice versa). There have recently been issues regarding a person who happens to be a skeptic, while at the same time being Christian (of the Roman Catholic sect), becoming upset that her religious ideas were openly ridiculed by other skeptics. There have been recent articles attempting to rationalize the “Adam and Eve” myth of the Christian Bible as factual. Now, it seems, there has been atheist-bashing at, of all places, an annual event hosted by The Society for the Study of Evolution.

He expresses outrage at the accusation that atheists “won’t change their minds”, that they are dogmatic and inflexible, that they derive their beliefs from anything other than scientific observation. I’m tired of this accusation, having had it flung at me so often from the creationists’ side of the argument, that every time I hear it from an accomodationist it sets my blood to boiling. No, atheism and science are not the same topic. However, science is a valid replacement for the dogmatic worldview provided by most religions wherein the framework for understanding the world is based on a theistic creation event. Atheism CAN lead to science, but not necessarily. And vice versa — science, with its intelligible, duplicable and well-evidenced answers, can replace dogma and eventually lead to atheism.

That does not make science and religion compatible. Where science, supported by evidence and observation, conflicts with dogmatic belief in unscientific principles, religion falls far short of the mark and will fail of its own accord. Science stands on its evidence. That some people can compartmentalize and accept theism and a personal god and creation six thousand years ago, and also accept the science that says this creation happened much, much earlier and through natural processes that can be identified and tested empirically, does not make the two compatible. It just means humans are really good at rationalizing and pick-and-choosing which parts of which epistemologies they desire and mishmashing them together.

Science has an eroding effect on the dogmatic foundation of religion, no matter which religion, making them incompatible short of an act of will on the part of humans capable of making such an effort. Just because atheists recognize this conflict and believe the religious dogma to be insufficient, does not mean they can NOT be swayed to believe in deities, fairies, unicorns or anything else, provided sufficient physical evidence and repeatable scientific observation.

13 year old Pennsylvania girl home-aborts with a pencil

If you are ending up here thanks to a Google search looking for resources on how to perform abortions at home, please, PLEASE use Planned Parenthood’s resource finder to find your closest available family planning clinic. Don’t try to perform an abortion at home, no matter how desperate you are. You will probably end up dying without proper medical treatment if you try any such “back-alley” treatments.

And I lay at the feet of all anti-abortion religious organizations any deaths that result from your campaign against safe, legal abortions.

This is absolutely heart-rending. A thirty-year-old Poconos man got his 13-year-old “girlfriend” pregnant, and seeing no other recourse, where the local clinics do not provide or refer abortions as they are very religiously oriented, she used a pencil to abort her pregnancy. The action made her sick for three days, after which she went into contractions and delivered the aborted fetus. She had to be hospitalized for complications thereafter.

The reporting is wishy-washy around this case. The man is “believed to be” the father, the couple “were in a sexual relationship”, it is “reportedly consensual”. I, for one, am horrified. Just, absolutely appalled. Rape is a component of many, if not most, relationships with an age disparity that large, especially if it crosses over the age of consent, so I have no doubt in my mind that a 13-to-30 relationship is outright rape. A thirteen year old girl can’t possibly understand the depth of danger she was in, not only in performing the self-abortion, but in staying in the relationship she was in. Call this what it was. Whether she consented or not, she was hardly mature enough to make an informed decision. And the fact that safe medical abortion was unavailable to her, well, that pretty well closed the one avenue back onto the path of sanity after she’d gotten pregnant at the hands of her repeated rapist.

In the aftermath of this horrific story, some people amazingly enough consider this story a success for the pro-life movement. They say that if she had not self-aborted, she wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital, and her “boyfriend” would never have been caught and charged — with statuatory rape and concealing the death of a child, as it happens.

“I am sure this story probably has most people wanting to vomit and cry at the same time as their hearts break for this little girl. I would also guess however that many of those same people would not even bat an eye if her method of killing her child had been a RU 486 prescription from the local Planned Parenthood,” Kemper said.

“I would goes as far as saying many would praise her for making such a brave choice,” he added. “The method of killing the child should not matter.”

About abortion advocates and their reaction to the story, Kemper said: “I can also hear the spin now, ‘this is why we need safe and legal abortion,'” — even though abortions are already legal and are supposed to prevent such self-induced abortions.

Kemper says he’s glad Lisk was arrested and hopes he is brought to justice for his alleged crimes.

“If the girl had gone to Planned Parenthood he would probably still be raping her as I doubt they would have turned him in,” Kemper explained.

She had no access to said safe, legal abortion though, as she lives in Pennsylvania, a parental consent state, which means she had absolutely no path to a safe, legal abortion. Even if she HAD been able to get a legal guardian to consent, she would have had to go through counseling that would have discouraged the act, would have had to pay for it out of pocket as insurance companies don’t provide coverage, and would have had to luck out on finding a health care provider who wouldn’t refuse on absolutely no valid grounds whatsoever (e.g. because the doctor is pro-life, or figures the girl must be promiscuous). She was probably living in a climate of fear with her thirty-year-old boyfriend, on top of that total lack of access to a proper medical option. And considering how her stunt played out, I am solidly of the opinion that she was in grave danger of becoming little more than a second count of “concealing the death of a child” on her rapist’s rap sheet. It’s fortunate that she ultimately ended up in the hospital at all.

Had safe, legal abortions been accessible to her, she might have ended up in the hospital under better circumstances, to have the abortion, and her rapist would have been brought to justice just as quickly and easily. When you provide no access to abortion referral, you’re effectively making it impossible to have abortions, whether they’re safe and legal or not. It’s not a surprise that little girls in these environments, who get raped and get pregnant as a result, end up taking matters into their own hands. A tragedy, maybe, but not a surprise.

I am fucking tired of “pro-lifers” only giving a damn about “life” that isn’t even fucking born yet. What about the life of the thirteen year old? It’s only by mere dint of chance that she didn’t do more serious damage to herself. And that a pro-lifer would spin this deadly incident as a victory for their movement is sickening.

Abortion rights are human rights. It’s not like there’s some kind of shortage of people who can procreate, and who DO procreate, so ability to make a choice about whether to carry your rapist’s baby to term when you’re a mere baby yourself is nothing short of a fundamentally necessary right for any so-called humanistic society.

Why prayer is nonsense – part 5

4 – Even if it IS useless, what’s the harm?

This is the final part in a five-part series. Please see the Master Post if you haven’t already read the previous parts, because this part relies heavily on definitions and arguments that have been set down in those previous sections.

so why pray?

The conclusion to this series is, admittedly, the most difficult to write, as it entails tying together the disparate threads I’ve left in the previous posts in such a way that the tapestry can be viewed from high altitude to get a sense for how well thought-out each argument is, and how the overarching thesis is correct. This is, arguably, the goal of all persuasive writing on abstract concepts, however I feel that simply reiterating or retreading the ground we’ve already covered is insufficient for these purposes.

Therefore, I will employ a visual instead. Below is a matrix of all the types of deity-properties, and the complications presented for each type of prayer. I have touched on many of these contradictions and issues already in the previous parts, so it is important that you are at least passingly familiar with the specific terms and definitions I’ve used.

I will be including a very important property at the very bottom of this list that I have not discussed as of yet, and it will be hidden below the fold so as to avoid spoiling the surprise. To read this graph in reference to a particular deity, select all the properties that you ascribe to that deity and look at the type of prayer you want to examine, then look to see if any property of your deity happens to directly conflict or present significant obstacles for that type of prayer.

As I’ve stated in part 2, many of these properties conflict with one another for some pretty overwhelming reasons. However, even assuming that you can reconcile certain properties with one another, you should assume that a “no” in any category is a dealbreaker for that type of prayer for the reasons previously discussed.


  • checkmark – This type of prayer will almost certainly have an effect (whether good, or neutral, to the person that prays) in the presence of a deity with this particular property
  • questionmark – It’s possible that this prayer may be answered, but may also be ignored. Will depend mostly on other properties of this deity. If no other properties contradict, there’s insufficient information as to whether a prayer would be worthwhile — it could depend on this deity’s mood.
  • red-x – This type of prayer either directly conflicts with, or significant obstacles are posed by, this deity’s property. A prayer of this sort is either worthless and will be ignored, or could get you smote (an obviously detrimental effect).
Interventionary Imprecatory Guidance Sycophantic Redemptive
Omniscience questionmark questionmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnipotence checkmark checkmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnibenevolence checkmark red-x checkmark questionmark red-x
Omnipresence questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x questionmark
Larger than the universe red-x questionmark red-x questionmark questionmark
Being pure good questionmark questionmark checkmark red-x red-x
Has a plan red-x red-x red-x questionmark red-x
Requires active praise red-x questionmark questionmark checkmark checkmark
Alpha and omega questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x checkmark
Reveals self unequivocally checkmark questionmark checkmark questionmark questionmark

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Why prayer is nonsense – part 4

3 – But everyone knows prayer works!

This is part 4 in a series of posts on prayer. Please use the links at the top and bottom of each post to navigate through the parts. The master post is here.

even if it IS useless, what’s the harm?

Despite the evidence that most types of prayer do absolutely nothing, there are still large sections of society that employ and thus validate prayer as a worthwhile action, especially in times of desperation. Some employ it while in direct danger or out of utter helplessness, some employ it for shallow political purposes, and some genuinely believe that doing so intensely enough or in large enough quantities will actually convince their omniscient, all-powerful deity to change his course. As I’ve discussed earlier, the various qualities you apply to your deity, specifically, will flavour how you go about praying and under what circumstances. But what doesn’t appear to vary at all, is how people perceive this so-called “harmless” act. This section of my series on prayer will demonstrate that the baseline for the potential harm of prayer is anywhere on the scale but “wholly harmless”. Prayer is capable of real and tangible harm, as long as you understand that it’s not the praying itself that directly causes this harm.
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