A small step for a scientist…

DFLers, today is the day for the precinct caucuses. Here in Morris, we’re meeting in Old Number One Southside at 7 PM—be there! Most importantly, Pete Wyckoff is running for the chairmanship of the Stevens County DFL party. We need to get a scientist elected for the position, since this is our first step in American domination, which will culminate in the election of a philosopher-king to run the country.

First Stevens County, Minnesota…then the world!

Black & White

I was just thinking there was something especially weird about that Wilkow rant against abortion. He’s asked whether life begins at conception, and he replies with an irksomely stupid question of his own: “…scientifically speaking, when a sperm and egg comes together, what happens? Is death created?” The caller who asked the question is stumped and avoids it, unfortunately, but it’s an interestingly bad reply.

I was a bit baffled by it at first myself, until I realized what Wilkow is hoping for: that the person would answer “no”, and then he could triumphantly declare that therefore he was right, life is created at fertilization. It’s a beautiful example of the bifurcation, or false dichotomy, fallacy—and it’s given an extra special dash of pretentiousness with that clause, “scientifically speaking”. I thought of a few ways it could be answered.

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Those crazy politicians, aren’t they funny?

Minnesota had a vampire running for governor, which was pretty messed up…but Pandagon has found a couple of real prizes among the new crop of candidates, Merrill Keiser and Larry Kilgore. Keiser is anti-abortion and anti-homosexuals—he thinks homosexuality should be punishable by death. Kilgore wants the same thing, and also thinks adultery warrants execution. Just crazy stuff, huh?

There is a difference between our Jonathan the Impaler and these two Christian wingnuts: the vampire is a joke without a prayer of victory, but Keiser and Kilgore are typical excrescences of Christian Fundamentalism, with endorsements and money and a voting population that contains enough insane people who will pull the lever for anyone calling themselves “Christian” that they’ll get a number of votes. I don’t think they can win, but they’ll be taken seriously by far too many people.

They’ll also have a loud segment of the media behind them. Talk radio has kooks like Andrew Wilkow (whose rant you can hear at Crooks and Liars). I don’t think Wilkow is an isolated case; I’m an NPR kind of guy, but flipping around the radio dial here is a frightening experience.

And, of course, there is the current definitive example of the inmate running the asylum: Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota. There is a tendency to dismiss people like Keiser and Kilgore as mere radical outliers, weirdos who really aren’t at all indicative of what’s actually going on in the body politic. They’re out there, though, and what they’re accomplishing is to give cover to people like Rounds; they can always point to the people who want to kill doctors and women, and say, “See, I’m not such a bad guy after all—I just want to throw doctors and women in prison!”

Give it a few more years. We’ll have politicians who will try to highlight their deep humanity by arguing that they want to kill the homos and adulterers with a painless lethal injection, rather than the stoning method advocated by the real wackos.

Science disproves Christianity

We’re going to have to rethink all monotheistic religions, actually, since a study now proves the universe was created by a committee.

The most extensive analysis yet undertaken of the structure and contents of the universe conclusively proves the universe was created not by a single entity, as has been widely suggested, but by “a fractious and disorganized committee or committees given to groupthink and petty infighting”, according to Drs. Karl Pootle and Yumble Frick, co-authors of the study. The analysis is expected to have profound implications on the theoretical underpinnings of many popular religions.


You don’t have to be smart to be a biologist, in a formal sense

One wonders exactly how desperate or deluded a young biology graduate would have to be to accept this job?

Position: Biology
Salary: Unspecified
Institution: Liberty University
Location: Virginia
Date posted: 3/6/2006

Biology: Liberty University invites applications for: Faculty member with Ph.D. and compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy. Teaching expertise in Microbiology and supervision of undergraduate research expected. Experience in molecular genetics helpful. Send letter of interest, resume, and statement of personal Christian faith commitment to Dr. Ron Hawkins, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Liberty University, 1971 University Boulevard, Lynchburg, Virginia 24502.

Wow. They want a microbiologist who is also a creationist and young-earther. How does one get doctoral level training in microbiology and come out rejecting evolution? I think Tara would have to slap ’em silly.

McEwan on the afterlife

Seed sent me a copy of this book, What We Believe but Cannot Prove : Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and I’ve been browsing. It’s a collection of short essays (sometimes very short) on assumptions held by individual thinkers without solid evidence. It’s thought-provoking, even where I think the writer is a dingbat (Ray Kurzweil) or blithering banalities (Kevin Kelly). I rather liked Brian Goodwin’s essay on the fallacy of the nature-nurture problem, but so far, my favorite is one by the author Ian McEwan:

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Work expands…

This Spring Break thing is overrated, I think. My usual day is so cleanly circumscribed and planned that I have a feeling of liberty: my PDA goes off to tell me I have a class or meeting, my little to-do list warns me of impending deadlines, and when I’m in between tasks, I at least have the illusion that it is my time.

Right now, my PDA says it is Spring Break, and will be Spring Break for several days to come, with nothing else in there. It is blank and unstructured. I am lost.

So today I polished up and submitted an in-house grant proposal, and then went to town on some substantial university paperwork I’ve been postponing (PDAs are also good for telling you that there is an immediate, high-priority thing you must do, making it easy to justify putting off the big nebulous jobs). 15 pages of bureaucratese, 12 copies, in the mail. I got about a centimeter of the evil box done. Since I’m home alone, I did the few dishes in the sink and am thinking about hitting up the grocery store and fixing a respectable dinner.

I don’t feel very relaxed.

Is it true that we’re supposed to take it easy on vacations?

Amy Sullivan’s bad advice

Amy Sullivan is not one of the people I want advising the Democratic party…unless, that is I suddenly decided I wanted to be a Republican, and was feeling too lazy to change my voter registration. She’s got one note that she plays loudly over and over again: Democrats need to be more religious. Why? So we can get more religious people to vote for our candidates, and so we can steal the Republicans’ identification as the party of faith.

Nationally, and in states like Alabama, the GOP cannot afford to allow Democrats a victory on anything that might be perceived as benefiting people of faith. Republican political dominance depends on being able to manipulate religious supporters with fear, painting the Democratic Party as hostile to religion and in the thrall of secular humanists. That image would take quite a blow if the party of Nancy Pelosi was responsible for bringing back Bible classes—even constitutional ones—to public schools.

By golly, she’s right! If the Democrats led the way in abandoning the principle of separation of church and state, if we institutionalized the teaching of Christianity in our public schools, and if we out-preached and out-prayed the Republicans and put up bigger crosses ad bigger flags in our front yards than they do, we’d win!

Let’s keep going with this. If we also pandered to big business more and did things like endorse strip-mining national parks and ditching those annoying safety regulations in the work place, we’d get more money and could fund bigger, bolder PR campaigns. Why not? Sullivan is simply endorsing the strategy of racing to the (religious) right, with the winner being the one who gets there the fastest and the farthest. Screw liberal and progressive values—all that matters is winning.

And it’s so easy. If we embrace faith-based policy, we can just ignore that hard reality stuff and believe whatever we want. For example, Sullivan seems to buy into that abstinence nonsense:

A sign that Democratic leaders are beginning to get it is the plan—promoted by leaders such as Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton—to lower abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Full-throated support of this effort, and a recognition that abstinence education plays a role in lowering teen pregnancy rates (along with birth control), puts Democrats alongside the majority of voters on this difficult issue, and it is especially appealing to moderate evangelicals.

Well, our current abstinence programs don’t work and people are
urging that the programs be abandoned. Birth control works, abstinence programs don’t. That’s one difficulty, that awkward suggestion that we should be on the side of programs that actually accomplish something. For another, it’s delusional thinking to believe that the reason abortion is such a hot-button issue is because of some desire to help babies: it’s mainly about controlling women and controlling sexuality. I would like at least one political party in this country to be willing to say that sex is fun and an important part of being human. Two sets of prissy prudes shaking their withered fingers at me and vying for leadership is just too much to take.

Kevin Drum is smart enough to recognize what he’s being asked to do, but doesn’t seem to be willing to think about what it means.

Religion has been a big topic in liberal circles for a while now, and I have to admit that I always feel a bit like a bystander when the subject comes up. It’s not like I can fake being religious, after all. Still, no one is really asking people like me to do much of anything except stay quiet, refrain from insulting religion qua religion in ways that would make people like Brinson unwilling to work with us, and let other people do the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading moderate Christians to support liberal causes and liberal candidates. That’s not much to ask, and Amy makes a pretty good case that it would make a difference.

Yes, Mr Drum, that’s correct: we freethinkers are being asked to sit down and shut up and stay away from politics, and allow the evangelicals to shape the party. Let’s let both political parties be vocally religious and give up the whole idea of a secular America.

Not much to ask, huh?

No thanks. I’ve got another suggestion. How about if we reassure the evangelicals that they will always be free to worship as they please, there will be no interference by the government in their religion, but that in a nation with so many different religions floating around, we must and always will be a secular state and religion must stop interfering in government. Your belief in Jesus or Odin or the FSM is not a qualification for service in government (nor is it an obstacle), and isn’t even a testimonial to the quality of your character. The small-minded bigots who would like to see the non-religious effectively disenfranchised are not the solution to the Democratic party’s problems: they are the problem.

I’m not alone in this opinion—Atrios picks up on some of the same things.