Is innumeracy a prerequisite to being an MRA?

These numbers do not add up. A redditor is claiming that women are after men’s precious bodily fluids, because the average annual child support payment is $5,150. “Be careful with your sperm. Your very freedom is at stake,” he says.

But this makes no sense. What woman would steal sperm to get impregnated for a lousy $5000/year payout? That’s nowhere near what it costs to raise a child, not counting the costs in time and worry and all the responsibilities of taking care of the little pain-in-the-butt. Yet somehow, all this guy sees in women is venality — that they’ve got a way of milking $5K/year out of him, as if having sex with him is like buying a lottery ticket for her.

I had no idea that child support costs were so low, though. Women, you are being robbed by this system. Don’t you wish you could just have a baby, then pay up a measly $5000/year to greet a well-adjusted, mature, interesting young adult 18 years later?

Also, warning: be careful with his sperm. Pregnancy is just the start of a lifetime of servitude for you, and you should only do it willingly and with some appreciation for the non-monetary rewards.

No one should be embarrassed to speak the truth

Peter Higgs, the physicist, has spoken out against Richard Dawkins’ views.

“What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”

You know, whenever I see people babbling ignorantly like this, I have this urge to strap them down Clockwork Orange style and force them to watch an hour of James Dobson or Tony Perkins or Ken Ham or Bryan Fischer, and then ask them, “Do you still think Dawkins is a fundamentalist?” The only way you can make this ridiculous comparison is by cultivating a near-total ignorance of what fundamentalists are actually like. But then I have to confess that forcing someone to correct their folly and putting them to the question is exactly what a fundamentalist would do, so I can’t. (I notice in the article that Dawkins simply refused to respond to Higgs.)

He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.

Higgs is an atheist. He agrees with Dawkins that religion has lead to some ugly outcomes. But speaking out about them? Actually saying out loud in public that religion is wrong, faith is a delusion, and that there is no god? Oh dearie me, how embarrassing. Not the thing a proper gentleman would do at all.

And that’s really the problem. Society has so thoroughly beaten the default assumption of respect for religious lies into our heads that even many atheists are made deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of openly rejecting faith-based nonsense. But criticizing fellow atheists? That’s easy. That’s thoroughly sanctioned by culture. You can freely make stupid accusations against atheists without suffering the pushback you’d get if you made honest statements of fact about priests.

What I learned from this interview is mainly that Peter Higgs is an intellectual coward who retreats from his convictions in the face of potential social disapproval, and will cheerfully join in the mob in kicking a fellow atheist. He should be…embarrassed.

Problem-solving 101

I have a question for you all. I was reading this article about our terribly violent cultural surroundings, which includes both the Bible and American movies.

Whether history or mythology or some fusion of the two, the Bible stories, when tallied, include an estimated 25 million violent deaths. And yet, like any people, the internal narrative of God’s Chosen Ones is one of yearning for peace and prosperity, the dream of an idyllic past in which the lion lay down with the lamb; an idyllic future in which men will beat their swords into plowshares and the lamb and lion will lie down together again.

The Bible is a collection of stories about nasty genocidal people, with a message of peace that they pay lip service to while slaughtering their foes. American movies are all about brave heroes killing people to protect the good and kind.

So, the question: have you ever in your entire life settled a personal problem with violence? Have you resolved any conflicts by taking out your opposition, just destroying them to remove the obstacle to your life or happiness?

If you did use violence to fix a personal problem, did it work?

Just curious. I can think of only one time that I tried it; I hauled off and punched a grade-school bully in the face. It didn’t change anything, but it did make it worse, because a teacher (one who was a bullying jerk himself) decided to discipline me with a little corporal punishment — an hour of deep knee bends that left me barely able to walk afterwards.

Ever since, though, I’ve experienced nothing where I was tempted to resort to violent action, and nothing where I could believe that violence would help. There’s no situation that can’t be made worse by adding a gun, no opponent who will respond to a normal civic conflict by being cowed by the guy with a baseball bat.

Second question: so why is our media so saturated with bloody-minded simple solutions to problems? Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing up buildings with two-fisted cannons, Liam Neeson smashing heads and knifing evil-doers, superheroes solving every difficulty by applying force…it’s ludicrous that anyone imagines that these are effective answers to anything.

Not at all clear on the concept

Ah, what a lovely example of theistic incomprehension. Did you know that the reason Christians go to church is out of a sense of civic duty, even when they think church is godawful tedium?


Why do atheists think that just because they are atheists that they don’t have to go to church? I don’t like standing in line at the DMV. I’m not a car, but I do it anyway. I don’t like standing in line at the grocery store either. I’m not produce, but I still do it anyway! I am a responsible citizen and I do the right thing, so should atheists!!!

Responsible citizens attend science classes and learn. Have you been keeping up with your obligation to understand the complex world we live in?

(via FAILblog)

(By the way, if you start babbling about poes, I will cut you. I really really hate all the telepathic scrying people do to discern poeishness.)

Fishing for meaning in a dictionary of genes

I’ve constricted my anus 100 times, and it isn’t helping! I’m still feeling extremely cranky about this story from the NY Times.

Scientists intend to sequence Adam Lanza’s DNA. They’re looking for genetic markers for mass murder. Why? Because some scientists are stupid.

Some researchers, like Dr. Arthur Beaudet, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and the chairman of its department of molecular and human genetics, applaud the effort. He believes that the acts committed by men like Mr. Lanza and the gunmen in other rampages in recent years — at Columbine High School and in Aurora, Colo., in Norway, in Tucson and at Virginia Tech — are so far off the charts of normal behavior that there must be genetic changes driving them.

“We can’t afford not to do this research,” Dr. Beaudet said.

There must be genetic changes underlying this specific behavior? There is no reason at all to assume that. Furthermore, this isn’t “off the charts of normal behavior” — there have been 62 mass murder events in the US in the last 30 years. There are witch-burnings going on in Africa right now. European Americans casually exterminated the native population of the Americas, and now pens the remnant population in reservations where they are kept in poverty. We had entire nations worth of people involved in the mass murder of 6 million Jews in the last century. Hey, shall we round up a bunch of Germans and take DNA swabs so we can figure out what there is that’s unique to their genes that allows them to commit genocide? (I better be clear here: I’m being sarcastic. I really don’t think Germans have a biological predilection for racism or murder, any more than any other people.)

I would ask whether there is any reason to assume that this behavior is a heritable trait. Is there a familial history of mass murder? Are we really going to assume that the diverse individuals who have committed these horrific crimes are all related, or all carry some common marker that isn’t found in people who don’t commit murder?

I can predict exactly what will be found when they look at Adam Lanza’s DNA. It will be human. There will be tens of thousands of little nucleotide variations from reference standards scattered throughout the genome, because all of us carry these kinds of differences. The scientists will have no idea what 99% of the differences do. They will make dubious associations — for example, they might find a novel nucleotide in a gene that has other variants correlated with schizophrenia — and in the absence of any causal link at all, they’ll publish garbage papers that try to impute a signal to common genetic noise. Some idiot will make noise about screening for an obscure mutation that Lanza carried, just because it’s something different.

I wonder if there are neurologists poking around in his brain, looking for differences, too. It’s the same issue; we don’t understand the majority of the functional consequences of individual variations in connectivity in the brain, and we have a population with large amounts of random variation. So how are you going to recognize what’s special and unique and causal about Lanza’s brain (or Einstein’s brain, or my brain, or yours)?

Fortunately, there are some sensible people out there.

“It is almost inconceivable that there is a common genetic factor” to be found in mass murders, said Dr. Robert C. Green, a geneticist and neurologist at Harvard Medical School. “I think it says more about us that we wish there was something like this. We wish there was an explanation.”

I suspect the explanation is going to be more a consequence of individual experience, although of course biology is going to shape how we respond to circumstance. But to go rifling about in a genome we don’t understand to find a simple cause is ridiculous and futile. Sure, freeze some cells down and store them away; maybe some day we’ll understand more and there will be a legitimate and specific hypothesis that can be tested by examining killers’ genetics…but a fishing expedition is pointless and dumb, and at this state of our understanding, only opens the door to misconceptions and ethics abuses.

An insider’s perspective on Dover

Via Ron Sullivan, who posted a link on the Great Blue Evil, an amusing story about a visit to Big Bend National Park in which the ranger in residence turns out not to be from around there:

Bob Hamilton 65, is a retired biology teacher and high school principal from Carlisle, Pa. He works six months a year in Big Bend and five more in Yellowstone.
I ask him where he was principal. He says York. I ask what school. He says Dover.
My eyes must’ve been wide as dinner plates. My insides roiled with barely contained glee.
My unexpressed response: No shit!
What I say: “The infamous Dover High School?”

That’s this Dover, the school district in Pennsylvania where creationists pressured the local Board of Education to introduce “Intelligent Design” into the high school biology curriculum in January 2005. Parents sued the Board, which subsequently got its collective ass handed to it in court. The judge’s 139-page opinion on the case called the change in curriculum “breathtakingly inane,” for instance.

Apparently, the inanity was taking people’s breaths for a few years before 2005:

Hamilton, who retired as principal of Dover High School in 2002, stood on the ground floor of Dover’s Intelligent Design era. He saw the storm brewing.
“Don’t quote me on this, but I knew that board was going to get us in trouble,” he said.
There was no doubt I was going to quote him on this. I think he realized this. I hope so, anyway.
“There are great kids in the community,” he says. “The kids in the community in no way reflect the ideas coming out of that school board. None of those people had any connection to the kids.”
According to Hamilton, then-school board president Donald “Daddy” Bonsell used to haunt his office and harangue him on behalf of the burgeoning wingnut conspiracy. Bonsell badgered Hamilton to do his part to get Intelligent Design into the Dover curriculum.
“He came in one day, and finally I told him, ‘OK, I’ll put Intelligent Design into the curriculum … if you start a petition and get all the local ministers in the community to sign it saying they’ll allow the teaching of evolution in Sunday school,’” Hamilton says.

I like the fact that this guy “retired” by continuing to teach kids about science on the National Park Service’s dime. Good for him.

I wonder what lesson Joshua Becker learned?

Becker is one of those guys who thinks it is fun to sexually harass women over the internet. Only this time, the woman fought back smartly and rationally. And tracked down her harasser and threatened to send Joshua Becker’s mother the screencaps of the chat.

I suspect, though, that the only lesson he learned was to do a better job of concealing his identity when he’s demanding that women give him sexual favors, since his response to being told to stop and that his stupid comments would be made public was “newsflash: your fat as fuck”.

Yeah, I think I can tell who comes off as the intelligent participant in that conversation.