The poor are lazy, the rich are selfless, says Ben Stein

I had almost forgotten that Ben Stein existed — Expelled seems to have been the last sad gasp of his marginal cinematic career. But he still lives on, whining on the virtual pages of wingnut webzines like The American Spectator. His latest is a discussion of all that is wrong with poor people.

My humble observation is that most long-term poverty is caused by self-sabotage by individuals. Drug use. Drunkenness. Having children without a family structure. Gambling. Poor work habits. Disastrously unfortunate appearance. Above all, and counted in the preceding list, psychological problems (very much including basic laziness) cause people to be unemployed, have poor or no work habits, and enter and stay in poverty.

Impoverished people have personal problems. They may have had terrible childhoods. They may have been the victims of abuse. They are often the victims of their own abuse of drugs and alcohol. But they are not the victims of corporations or of the Federal Reserve. Their sad backgrounds lead them into self-destruction.

It is all their own damn fault. Also, they aren’t actually poor, because they have indoor plumbing. How can they be complaining about their situation if they’ve got a working toilet?

Meanwhile, rich people are good.

But there are just some people who are better with money than others and will wind up with a ton of money. There will be people who strike oil, who create new Internet toys. They fund symphonies and ballets and schools for inner city kids. They are a bulwark against tyranny because they can afford lawyers to fight overweening government.

We want for there to be a high number of rich people who function as a brake on government just as the nobles did on the crown in long ago England.

They fund symphonies! Without rich people of good taste, all those inner city kids might have to listen to is that godawful rap crap, you know. Rich people have a mission to dictate taste as well as to set an example for the poors.

Why is it that I think that the rich are paying lawyers not to fight for equality and fairness and justice, but mainly to make sure that they don’t have to pay as many taxes as they should?

Don’t warry, though, Ben Stein has a solution.

What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.

Jebus. What an idiot.

Brilliance and brainlessness — that’s the interwebs

I just want to point you at this beautiful graphic illustrating the depth at which the Malaysian Flight 370 black box rests. The ocean is really, really deep, you know. And sometimes a well-designed visual communicates the magnitude of the problem well.

The other side of the problem: read the comments, and you’ll suddenly appreciate of the conspiracy wackaloon problem, too. Here’s one sample:

This is a fantastic graphic and just to make you think about this problem logically….

what are the odds that a middle-aged 3rd world pilot would:

1) Know how to knock out virtually every tracking system on the plane
2) Fly a route that missed every satellite and every ground tracking station
3) Crash Land the plane in 3 miles of water
4) In the remotest area of the globe, with almost no chance of recovery.

To pull this off would have taken the resources of a modern, 1st world country with extraordinary technology, and the military skills to pull it off.

It makes you wonder what was in that cargo hold, and why somebody didn’t want it to arrive at it’s destination.

Don’t you just love the casual racism/ageism of the premise? A Malaysian pilot couldn’t possibly be as smart and well-trained as an American pilot, and it takes a freakin’ First-World Genius to be able to crash a plane in the Indian Ocean. And of course it had to be intentional, there’s no way a serious error in a modern plane could cause a mere accident.

Seriously, just look at the lovely graphic, and don’t read the comments unless your blood pressure is a little low.

Charles Murray speaks

Salon was supposed to have an interview with Charles Murray, notorious racist and conservative ass, but he backed down at the last minute, saying he didn’t think he’d get a fair shake from them. So Salon instead posted a series of quotes from Murray’s new book.

He really should have gone with the interview.

On Tattoos: “As for tattoos, it does no good to remind curmudgeons that tattoos have been around for millennia. Yes, we will agree, tattoos have been common – first among savage tribes and then, more recently, among the lowest classes of Western societies. In America, tattoos have until the last few decades been the unambiguous badge of the proletariat or worse – an association still acknowledged in the phrase tramp stamp.”

On Pronouns: “The feminist revolution has tied writers into knots when it comes to the third-person singular pronoun. Using the masculine pronoun as the default has been proscribed. Some male writers get around this problem by defaulting to the feminine singular pronoun, which I think is icky.” Instead, “Unless there is an obvious reason not to, use the gender of the author or, in a cowritten text, the gender of the principal author. It’s the perfect solution.”

On jobs: “Here’s the secret you should remember whenever you hear someone lamenting how tough it is to get ahead in the postindustrial global economy: Few people work nearly as hard as they could.”

On subordination: “But in all cases when you have problems in your interactions with your boss, there’s one more question you have to ask yourself: To what extent is your boss at fault, and to what extent are you a neophyte about supervisor-subordinate relationships? … What you see as arbitrary, insensitive, or hostile behavior on the part of your boss may be nothing more than the way in which supervisors have been treating subordinates from time immemorial.”

On “problematic”: “For example it is appropriate to say that a proposed voter ID bill is problematic because it risks disenfranchising more eligible voters than it prevents fraudulent votes, but not to say that it is problematic because it is racist and offensive. That may be your sincere opinion, but people on the other side can be just as sincerely convinced that it is not racist and offensive and neither side can prove the other wrong.”

On “flaccid nonjudgmental nonsense”: “If he says instead, ‘Marriage works for some people, not for others; it’s no big deal what people choose,’ then my point about artistic merit is unchanged, except more emphatic: You mustn’t indulge yourself in that kind of flaccid nonjudgemental nonsense … To say something like, ‘Marriage works for some people, not others; it’s no big deal what people choose,’ is as idiotic as saying that it’s a matter of opinion whether a Titian painting is superior to artistic dreck, except that in this instance there is a moral dimension to your obligation to think through your judgments that doesn’t burden your judgments about art.”

On marriage: “For ninety-five percent of the population, showing up for family means making oneself available for marriage.”

On manners: “The two who have embodied great manners for me have been William F. Buckley, Jr., the late conservative writer, and his brother James, a former senator and retired judge.”

Ignoring the scientists, part 2

We’re not doing anything about slow, steady climate change, and we’re also not dealing with acute, local environmental risks, like the recent Washington mudslide.

The Snohomish County officials who control land use permits asserted last week that there was no way of knowing a giant mudslide would ever happen there.

In fact, the area was primed for just such an extraordinary event, according to geologist Daniel J. Miller, who twice surveyed the area for local Native American tribes who rely on the river’s health for fishing and for the Army Corps of Engineers. He wrote in his 1999 report that the Hazel Landslide, as the mountain is known, was constantly shifting, experiencing landslides and would one day suffer “a catastrophic failure.”

“This landslide moves every year when it gets wet, and pieces fall off,” said Miller, a consultant in Seattle, in a telephone interview Friday.

It was a nightmare waiting to happen.

An ancient glacier is jutting out of the mountain, making its flat plateau unstable, Miller said. The Stillaguamish River was eroding it from below. Rows of conifer trees that helped to mitigate erosion by sucking water through their roots and releasing it into the atmosphere were chopped down by loggers. Rain fell on the bald spots they left, drenching dirt and sand, making the mountain even more precarious.

March 2014 has been a ­record-breaker, the wettest in Seattle’s history.

Miller realized his warning was not heeded when he visited the site following a major landslide in 2006 that did not do nearly as much harm. He could not believe what he saw.

“There was new construction,” he said. “The sound of hammering competed with the sound of [destabilized] trees snapping after the mudslide. I can’t believe that someone wanted to build their home there. It was a very bad idea.”

Damn warmists and catastrophists — they keep hurting the economy, like homebuilding, with these warnings that the mountainsides have been made unstable by melting glaciers, logging, and heavy rains.

But don’t you worry. People will keep working along, because they’ve got Someone to tell them everything will be OK.

We’re a little logging community, she said. There are so many missing, so many dead. We definitely feel God protected us. My neighbor’s house is gone. My husband’s out there digging for bodies.

Thank God that God especially loved a few people so that they can dig for the corpses of those other people he really hated.

That woman, I hope, has read that article and had a moment of awareness in which she realized what a stupid thing she said. But nah, it won’t happen.

The biological species concept is not an anti-choice argument

Oooh, I have annoyed Secular Pro-Life so much. I disagreed with the confusion they sow by equating status as a human being with being members of the species Homo sapiens; the former is a property of an entity, the latter a property of a class. It is highly problematic to freely switch between the two, and it is especially misleading to use a class definition to assign rights and privileges to a subset, particularly when it involves denying the existence of clear distinctions between members of the group. It is also dishonest to declare that the authority of science specifies a sharp, clear boundary line in development, when what science actually says is that there is a continuum, and cannot define the instant when a clump of human cells makes the transition into having “fully equal” human status.

Here’s their complaint:

If PZ could give a commonly accepted definition of "species" that debunked the idea that human organisms–including zygotes, embryos, and fetuses–are part of the human species, he would. If he could give a commonly accepted definition of "organism" that did not include zygotes, he would. But he doesn’t give those definitions. He can’t. Because zygotes are organisms, and human organisms are part of the human species. PZ can do a bunch of hand wavy complaining about how he’s not sure what Kristine means (and try to assert that his alleged lack of understanding equals her dishonesty), but that’s all he’s got. There’s no substance here.

He’s right that there are many ways of thinking about the concept of "species." But Kristine’s perspective doesn’t rely on some obscure, slippery definition. How about a group of organisms having common characteristics and capable of mating with one another to produce fertile offspring? You can find that description on the lying, anti-woman, secretly religious website: Biology Online.

Kristine claims "science defines a fetus as a biological member of our species." PZ tries to brush off Kristine’s perspective as "traditional and colloquial" (as if those attributes, in themselves, make an idea anti-scientific), but in reality Kristine’s assertions rely on a very common–and scientific–species concept: the biological species concept. UC Berkeley’s "Understanding Evolution" website describes the biological species concept as the concept used "for most purposes and for communication with the general public." How dare Kristine fail to define that for someone like PZ–he only has decades of background in developmental biology. That must have been very confusing for him.

That’s exactly what I mean! You cannot cavalierly apply a definition appropriate to populations to individuals. Here’s that definition: “The biological species concept defines a species as members of populations that actually or potentially interbreed in nature”. If you take that literally, then sterile individuals are not members of the human species. No one takes it that literally. Even the site they link to spells out problems with the BSC, and lists a small subset of other species concepts.

Another problem with the BSC is that it doesn’t address development, and this really is a problem in developmental biology. What does “potentially interbreed” mean? Are embryos part of the gene pool? How about menopausal women? Do men with vasectomies lose their ontological status with that little snip? If you’re going to say that embryos have the potential to reproduce, then you can’t deny that sperm and ova also have that potential, and SPL’s distinction that sperm don’t count is invalid. Scientists are also crystal clear in defining human sperm and human ova; does the use of the label imply that sperm therefore have all the rights of a human being?

The biological species concept doesn’t apply to this problem, and it is not only scientifically invalid to try and use it that way, it is offensive. We do not and should not define a person’s status in society by their reproductive potential. We do not measure the broader social and familial relationships of individuals by reducing them to biological abstractions — having the right number of chromosomes, complementary sperm-egg recognition proteins, matching genitalia for efficient intromission and docking. The species problem is a whole different problem from the humanity problem! And when your argument rests on a willful conflation of two completely different issues, you’ve got a credibility problem. And claiming that science decrees a simple clear answer when it actually says the answer is murky and complex and ambiguous on multiple levels means you’ve got an honesty problem.

But yes, please do try to imagine a world where your status as a human being was determined by applying the biological species concept to individuals. Dystopias are fun logical exercises, if not so fun to live through.

When your name is prefixed by “reality star”…your ideas are immediately suspect

From the first sentence, I could tell that the opinions of Kristin Cavallari were garbage.

Experts warned against the dangers of following celebrity advice after reality star Kristin Cavallari acknowledged Thursday that she and husband Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler decided not to vaccinate their children.

When directly asked whether she was opposed to vaccines during an appearance on the Fox Business Network program, The Independents, Cavallari said, “we don’t vaccinate.” The reason? “I’ve read too many books about autism and the studies,” she said.

Also, “Chicago Bears quarterback” does not confer any credibility in matters of medicine on Jay Cutler. These are people that should be laughed at.

But then the article cites a doctor:

Homefirst Health Services, meanwhile — if that’s what Cavallari meant — is a Rolling Meadows-based pediatrics practice that embraces home births and shuns vaccines. Dr. Mayer Eisenstein and his practice were the subject of a 2009 Chicago Tribune investigation that shed light on the use of potentially dangerous alternative autism treatments. On the Homefirst website, Eisenstein maintains that “personal religious convictions, not scientific studies, are the main reasons, upon which to base your vaccination decision.”

Is there no accreditation process for medical clinics? How does one that refuses to carry out basic preventive medicine for “religious” reasons, manage to stay in business without the medical establishment — or at least the insurance companies — stomping on them?

The only sensible words in this article…

Alexander said Cavallari’s comments illustrate the problems with celebrity spokespeople, namely that they often have their facts wrong. “Celebrity status does not indicate scientific expertise,” he said.

Weapons-grade projection

Wow. Some loon yelled at me on twitter that it’s progressives who are really the racists here, not conservatives, and to prove it, he sent me this mind-blowingly stupid article. It’s textbook projection: he lists a series of progressive issues, recites what we say is the reason, and then carefully explains what he claims is our actual reason.

So, under gun control for instance, he says that our claimed reason is Gun violence is a scourge on society; easy access to killing machines unnecessarily facilitates murder and crime, which is actually pretty close to what I think…but then, at length, he expounds on our True Reason:

White urban liberals are deathly afraid of black gangbangers with guns, but are ashamed to admit this publicly, so to mask their racist fears they try to ban guns for everyone, as a way of warding off the perception that their real goal is to target blacks specifically.

There aren’t any black gangbangers where I live, and even when I lived in Philadelphia, I could point to crime-ridden areas I avoided that were totally white. You know who really scares me? Wayne LaPierre. I had no idea that maniac was black.

He’s got the most twisted ideas about everything. Did you know opposition to global climate change is a racist plot?

The civilizational “white guilt” motivating the voluntary wealth transfer to undeveloped nations derives from deep racist assumptions about the innate shortcomings of backward peoples.

Don’t ask me to explain that. Don’t ask me to explain anything on that guy’s site — he’s so nuts, he has to hide out of fear of squirrels.

I was just reminded that today is the day of the White Man March. Who knew that the slogan “Diversity = White Genocide” was liberal?

Abraham Lincoln had no sense of humor. Well known fact.

Obama appeared on the awkward comedy show, Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, to plug the affordable care act. Fine; it’s an angle.

The right wingers are cranky about it, as represented here by Bill O’Reilly:


Because, as a published historian like O’Reilly knows, Lincoln had no sense of humor and never told a joke.

More like the Dork Enlightenment, am I right?

I am told I’m supposed to take The Dark Enlightenment seriously. I can’t. I just can’t. What it is is mostly a bunch of pretentious white dudebro computer programmers with a fascist ideology who write tortuous long-winded screeds off the top of their heads, with most of their ‘data’ coming from pop culture movies like The Matrix, and a few similarly clueless nerds who think it’s neat-o. I take it seriously only in the same way I take Libertarianism seriously: it’s a nucleus for idiots to coalesce around.

They also throw the term HBD around a lot. If you’re not in the know, HBD is short for Human BioDiversity, and it’s the hot new sciencey word for racism. The only people who use it are racists.

Human biodiversity is the rejection of the “blank state” of human nature. Creepily obsessed with statistics that demonstrate IQ differences between the races, the darkly enlightened see social hierarchies as determined not by culture or opportunity but by the cold, hard destiny embedded in DNA. One blogger calls it “The Voldemort View” (adding Harry Potter to the Star Wars/Matrix mix), claiming that, “mean differences in group IQs are the most likely explanation for the academic achievement gap in racial and SES [socioeconomic status] groups.”

Oh, please, fuck the whole “blank slate”, nature/nurture dichotomy. Biology affects everything human, and everything human is affected by the environment.

The knights errant sally forth against the Hitchens dragon, end up toast

Some columnist named James Knight has decided to strike back against New Atheist tyranny by rebutting their major claims, and he’s starting out by picking on Hitchens and Dawkins, who, he says, make terrible arguments.

As you’ll see, Dawkins and Hitchens have ready-made methods for twisting meanings and distorting logic in a way that the more pliant and impressionable individuals don’t seem to notice.

Prepare yourself; that’s from a guy who’s about to launch into a series of theological arguments. Self-aware, he’s not.

Knight has a whole series of excerpts from the Hitch he warbles about, and I’m just going to pick two of the more famous arguments he’s made, and I think that will be enough to see that Knight is all pompous puffery. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Hitchens’ theistic challenge.

Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.

Now read Knight’s pratfall:

To me that is the sort of pliable question that sounds intelligent but isn’t really. I think Hitchens’ question shows a lack of understanding of what religious belief entails, and also the overlooking of something that should be trivially obvious. The short answer is, the question is as meaningless as asking whether quenching thirst is better than feeding oneself. It is true in most cases that there is no ‘statement’ or ‘action’ that a theist can make or do that others cannot, but that tells us nothing meaningful about the God debate, because a proper analysis involves much more than just the statement or action – it involves analysing the beliefs, intentions, humility, motive, and other psychological factors that do not come out in a mere action. Naturally we could name good moral actions taken by both religious and non-religious people that have produced the same results, but that does not tell us anything about what is directing the action, or whether the person is living a Godly life, and it certainly has no bearing on whether there is a God.

That’s not a reply, it’s an evasion! We don’t understand what religious belief entails? Then tell us what it does. Throughout his replies, he does this constantly: you just don’t understand, he whines, implying that there is some great deep thought behind his claims, while never illuminating exactly what it is.

But most importantly, it’s an abject concession. He can’t cite anything a believer does that could not be done by a non-believer — there is no special grace granted by faith. We have good moral actions taken by both religious and non-religious people that have produced the same results, is one concession, but this is the bigger one: that does not tell us anything about what is directing the action. Exactly! You cannot discern the presence of a guiding moral force outside of any individual person, and Knight agrees…so how can he talk about a Godly life? How does he know?

It certainly does have bearing on the argument about the existence of gods. I have never debated anyone who doesn’t eventually get around to an argument from consequences: How can you be good without god? Aren’t you worried about Hell? Society will fall apart without god! Yet here is Knight, admitting that there are no moral consequences to disbelief, while also implying that goodness is a Godly life. He wants to simultaneously argue that unbelievers can be morally good, while predicating the standard for moral goodness on a god.

Here’s another famous Hitchism that Knight dislikes:

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Watch out, here comes the egregious relativism, which sounds like something straight out of Answers in Genesis.

To express fully what is wrong with this statement would take a whole essay in itself. But briefly, it grossly caricatures religious faith to state that it is ‘asserted without evidence’, when, in reality, evidence is in the eye of the beholder, and different people accept and interpret different evidences differently. Maybe some people are too easily seduced by interpretations that shouldn’t ever be offered as reasons for belief in God, but equally there are going to be lots of people whose psychological agitations predispose them to a scepticism that demands too much evidence, or the wrong kind of evidence.

I suspect Christopher Hitchens’ main problem is that he’d never thought through properly what evidence for God actually means, and how it might be different from the more simplistic evidence found in empirical science. Never once did I ever hear Christopher Hitchens tell us what he thinks good evidence is, what makes good evidence good, how belief in God differs from knowledge of the empirical world, and what he thinks would be satisfactory evidence for God.

I really despise the vacuous Well, we just interpret the evidence differently argument — it’s a lie. Over and over, I see it said in order to defend ignoring the bulk of the evidence.

I see a pad of post-it notes next to my keyboard on my desk. This is clearly evidence that tiny invisible elves from 3M climbed up the wall outside my window, translocated extradimensionally through the glass into my office, and left me a present. Or is it evidence that I picked up a pad at the central office and put it in a convenient spot near my phone? You don’t get to say that the existence of this pad is equal evidence for both claims; you have to ignore the consilience of phenomena that provide better explanations. There is a cabinet of these things just down the hall from me; it’s a mundane object with obvious utility; there are torn-off post-it notes with scribbled comments attached to my phonebook. At the same time, 3M elves have no evidence for their existence, have posited powers with no known mechanism, and are arbitrary, ad hoc, bizarre explanations for a perfectly ordinary object. It is not demanding too much evidence to expect some independent corroboration of the mechanisms of the phenomenon that aren’t more simply explained by my ability to walk 50 feet to a collection of supplies.

In the same way, believers like to say they do have evidence for their supernatural phantasm…and then they point to their Bible. Sure, it’s evidence. Evidence backed up by documents and history that over the course of many centuries, human beings collected stories and legends and hectoring homilies and poetry, all written by people, and assembled them into a clumsy compilation, and stamped it all with the imprimatur of religious authority. Meanwhile, you’re trying to tell me this hunk of cellulose and ink was magically transported into the world of Catholicism by the equivalent of invisible elves.

Who actually has evidence for the origin of the object?

Knight’s second paragraph is a complaint that Hitchens’ didn’t tell them what evidence for their god would be acceptable, which is a fair complaint. Or it would be, if there weren’t another problem: define God. I can’t tell you what would be evidence for or against it if you’re not going to settle down and get specific about this god’s properties and nature. Is it an anthropomorphic being with a penis that can impregnate human women? Is it a vast eternal cosmic intelligence that encompasses the entire universe and manipulates matter and energy with its will? Is it benign fluff, a happy feeling of love that permeates us all? I suspect he’d tell us some meaningless noise about a “ground state of being”, which seems to be the universal bafflegab right now to avoid answering the question.

You know, this is the big difference. If you tell a scientist that their evidence doesn’t distinguish between two alternatives, it’s the scientist who thinks hard about the problem, comes up with what would be differing consequences of an experiment if his hypothesis was valid or invalid, and does the work. We actually love this part of theorizing, thinking through the implications of a hypothesis and then testing them. And that’s a process that involves getting specific about the details of our hypothesis.

Theologians, on the other hand, hate that part. We can ask them what the difference would be between a universe that had a god and one that didn’t, between a god that answers prayers and one that doesn’t, between a Christian god and a Muslim god, between a Catholic god and a Protestant god, and they love to tell us that the differences are profound, but not anything specific. And then they yell at us that we haven’t given them the criteria that we could use to discriminate between the alternatives. And then, most aggravatingly, if we go ahead and make some predictions ourselves about what the universe ought to be like if there is or isn’t a god, they yell even more that their god isn’t like that, we used the wrong premises, we didn’t address their idiosyncratic view of a god…which is always conveniently tailored to circumvent whatever test we propose.

Do you theological wankers even realize that as the proponents of hypothesis about the nature of the universe, it is your job to generate testable hypotheses about how it all works? And that we, as agents in opposition to your nonsense, would be overjoyed to have you say something explicit about an implication of your ideas that we could test? Actually, I think you do know, because you so invariably avoid presenting any useful descriptions of what your philosophy entails. We keep waiting. And right now, your silence and the vacuity of what few feeble replies you make are just added to our stockpile of evidence that you’re all farting theology out of your asses.

James Knight ends with what he thinks is an insightful comment about the nature of god debates.

The God one accepts or denies is only likely to be as intellectually tenable as the intellectual tenability of the person holding those ideas.

I will therefore take the lack of intellectual competence of his arguments for gods as evidence of his own, personal intellectual emptiness.

Don’t worry, James. You’re in the company of a great many idiots, so you’ll just blend in.