Archive for the ‘critical thinking’ Tag

Canada Free Press – What A Joke!

Every now and then, I stumble across someone (usually an intellectually-barren right winger) who cited http://www.canadafreepress.com to support an argument. Even more amusing is that occasionally people seem to think that writing for this blog is some kind of journalistic credential.

When your tagline is “Because without America there is no free world…” I have to wonder what the “Canada” part is all about. CFP started as a print paper in Toronto, a right wing free birdcage liner, but it’s now rarely about Canada, and more a haven for American conservatives, and frankly, not good ones. There used to be a comedic value to it, but even that’s gone. Now it’s just… well… I can’t describe it. So let’s look at one of their articles, about the evil (well, if you grossly misinterpret it) UN Agenda 21) and its impact on the military, by Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh. The article is here. Read carefully, because some of the hilarity is subtle.

The good doctor’s article is based on a US government directive about sustainability and designs for military bases – to make them more “walkable”, something that’s been, as I understand it, an urban planning concept for a long time. Most military bases I’ve been on aren’t, don’t offer much in the way of incentive for transit or ride share, and are thus often traffic nightmares. A base I spent a lot of time on has three gates fed by a series of collector roads, and it’s not uncommon to spend 15-20 minutes or more trying to get out at the end of the day, sitting in traffic. To travel a kilometre or two. That’s a lot of cars idling for no good reason. But I guess, if you’re a right wing moron, that’s not a big deal.

She wastes little time to turn an architect’s report on the community around the US Air Base at Aviano into a snipe at Italy – suggesting “they can defend themselves”. Which, of course, they do, which a fairly large and well-equipped military. I’m not entirely sure who or what the US base at Aviano defends Italy from, and would guess it primarily serves US and not Italian interests.

I particularly love this paragraph:

The military leadership explains that transit-oriented development reduces traffic congestion and accident rates while encouraging walking, bicycling, and overall healthy communities. This is a ridiculous excuse since a soldier, by definition, has to be healthy and fit in order to serve in the military. Walking and biking actually increase accident rates of hit and run. There are retirees, even young ones, who are handicapped, and biking and walking is not an option for them. We have thousands of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Iran with severe, life altering disabilities.

I literally cannot make any sense of this. Where to begin? First, military communities don’t just include “soldiers”. Bases employ civilians. Military families use their facilities as well. And ultimately, that soldiers have a fitness standard that the general public doesn’t has pretty much nothing to do with this. Increased rates of hit and run? Okay, whatever. Conveniently, the Good Doctor offers no statistical support for this, and I somehow don’t think it’s particularly important. Biking and walking aren’t an option for lots of people, sure, but nothing in the ideas of better urban planning makes it impossible. Thanks to not right wing people, after all, we have laws about making sure that we accommodate disabled people. Of course, if you’re a certain class of conservative, you think those laws are an encroachment on your civil liberties and free enterprise, but we’ll try to leave Paultards out of this, shall we? I also love she says soldiers “returned from Iraq and Iran”, to help build the case that on basically the entire subject matter of this post, she has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Iran? Really?

Another gem of a paragraph:

Because of drastic cutbacks in the military for cost-saving reasons, at a time when the world threat to our country is at an all time high, we do not have money to refurbish and modernize the military capability. We let soldiers fight in Afghanistan and Iraq with scarce resources and protection, having to duct-tape their body armor to non-armored vehicles in order to provide some level of safety.

Well, “we” sent soldiers to fight a way in Iraq without proper equipment because there wasn’t enough of it to go around. By invading Iraq, Afghanistan was neglected with victory declared early, and it was allowed to fester. And the war with Iraq was totally unnecessary. By the way, which political party has members that actually voted against better equipment for soldiers? Ooops.

The military is more concerned with rules and regulations, like a soldier being licensed properly to drive an un-armored SUV through a war zone. Those who make ill-conceived rules from the safety of their offices in Washington, D. C. do not worry that this soldier might be blown off by a roadside bomb because his vehicle is not armored.

Why are soldiers “licensed” to drive UP-armoured (not “un-armoured”) SUVs? In the case of some places, because they’re less conspicuous and easier to maneuvre around cities. Big convoys of armoured vehicles are juicy targets. Consider the attack on the Rhino Bus on October 29, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a big, heavy, armoured vehicle, and a vehicle-borne IED destroyed it and killed all its occupants. It was a clear, significant target. SUVs disappear into traffic, theoretically. Why are they “licensed”? Because they have to pass a driving test that’s a little more than what most people do – how to drive evasively, and maneuvres that increase the safety of the driver and their passengers. Not just anyone should be thrown keys and told to have at it.

“Which would you rather have? Would you rather spend $4 billion on Air Force Base solar panels, or would you rather have 28 new F-22s or 30 F-25s or modernized C-130s? Would you rather have $64.8 billion spent on pointless global warming efforts,  or would you rather have more funds put towards modernizing our fleet of ships, aircraft and ground vehicles to improve the safety of our troops and help defend our nation against the legitimate threats that we face?” (Sen. James Inhofe as quoted by Caroline May)”

I like the solar panels thing. I recently read an article about the US Marine Corps using them on FOBs in southern Afghanistan, saving massive amounts of fuel that would be needed for generators to power the installation. Not only does using less fuel save money, and hey, it’s good for the environment (particularly relevant when the US military is under fire for the air quality on their bases, generator emissions are not exactly good in that sense) – but it saves lives potentially because less fuel consumption means less convoys to transport fuel, means less vehicle movement on the roads, regardless of whether the vehicles are armoured or unarmoured.

Yet we spend billions to needlessly restructure military bases into global environmentalism compliance. It is more important for our executive branch to “sustain” the so-called endangered environment, and please the environmentalist wackos, than to defend our country.

Actually, as I understand it, the directives apply to new base construction and chages thereto. Environmental compliance not only is good for the entire world, it saves money, and in most cases, if you look at what sustainable communities are actually about, it makes them more pleasant places to live. Saving money on defence facilities (the massive of cost of which she references in her article, oddly enough!) leaves more money available for defence, or whatever else. There’s literally nothing bad I can see about that, at all. Unless, like The Good Doctor, you want to make a series of arguments from ignorance to hear yourself speak.

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The Spectacle That Is Politics

Politics of all sorts have been rather interesting lately.  First, there’s been the failure of Manitoba MP Candice Hoeppner’s Private Member’s Bill C-391, which was designed to finally scrap the Long Gun Registry.  It made it through two readings before a number of New Democratic Party MPs were persuaded to switch sides and defeat it by the narrowest of margins.  One of them, Peter Stoffer, is an MP from Nova Scotia, and the number of angry letters in today’s Halifax Chronicle-Herald is interesting.  His riding will be one targetted in the next federal election campaign I’m sure by the Conservative Party.

I’m annoyed C-391 failed, mainly because there are simply no good arguments for the registry that justify spending any further money on it when there are other programs that could be persued in its stead that might actually improve public safety, but I think I’m more annoyed that it’s revealed the true dark underbelly of Canada’s political system currently, and shown that while Stephen Harper is the best guy to be running the show right now, he’s really not great, and should count himself very lucky that there is no credible alternative to him for the time being.

For all his efforts this summer, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned Mr. Harper, Michael Ignatieff is just not resonating with a lot of Canadians (except maybe those damned “Toronto elites” that MP John Baird hates so much), and that suits me fine, as it means that the status quo of a relatively powerless Conservative minority will last.  I’m okay with that.

The next big PMB that seems like it’ll come up for debate is Gerard Kennedy’s C-440, which basically neds the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow American deserters to qualify for refugee status in Canada.  This is probably the most alarming development to me lately.  Since the Iraq War in the US started, there’s been quite a few American military personnel who have deserted and made their way to Canada, where they have tried to claim refugee status.  So far, none of them have been accepted, and they have no reasonable prospect of doing so unless the definition of “refugee” is significantly altered.  Some have been deported already, and prosecuted in the normal maner in the United States, others have not.

So, let’s be clear.  A deserter from a volunteer military in a liberal democractic country like the USA – someone who was not conscripted or otherwise impressed into service – should absolutely not be considered a refugee, period.  The definition of refugee in Canada is taken from the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  A refugee is a person who, “”owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

A deserter is not someone facing persecution.  They face prosecution for the crime, but that is not justification for another country to offer them refuge, particularly when desertion is an offence in Canada as well, under Section 98 of the National Defence Act.

These so-called “war resisters”, all of whom joined the military knowing (or at least, they ought to have known) the risk that military service entails, the possibility of being deployed to a serve in a war zone, whether they agree with the politics of the war or not, have no business in Canada.   They are owed nothing by us, and to bend our rules to process these people is an affront to the process of aiding legitimate refugees.

So, C-440 must fail, and any politician who supports it in any way better not be asking for my vote as they will not get it.  It’s an insult to anyone who has accepted unlimited liability in military service, who has made any sort of sacrifice as such, that some selfish fool who doesn’t want to live up to their end of the bargain should be allowed a pass.

As if Canadian politics isn’t interesting enough of late, there’s the brewing shitshow in America.  I am rather interested to see what will happen in the mid-term elections in November.  My father was musing last night that he wants to make sure he’s at his place in Arizona on November 2 to see the results and listen in on the conversation.  I have to think it’ll be interesting.

I don’t get what the hell this “Tea Party” movement is going to accomplish.  It seems that “their” candidates are nothing but utter wingnuts, people whose only credibility seems to be some hatred of the status quote and little or no knowledge of anything to do with the challenge of running a country.  Most astounding is their disdain for, or avoidance of the democratic process – such as interaction with the media.  In a democratic society, the media has a role to play in getting candidates’ messages out and in holding them to account for what they say.  The recent antics of two of the chief wingnuts, Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle are prime examples.  Both seem to avoid any sort of media contact out of a fear of “gotcha questions” – like, as one pundit put it, “What is your plan when you get into office?”.  O’Donnell comes off as a puritan religious nutter, and Angle, well… she’s certifiable I think, the shit this woman has said in the past makes me astounded that anyone would take her remotely seriously.

Of course, if you think the Republicans have a rational plan for anything, take a look at their “Pledge To America”  and see what you think.  I had a hard time taking it seriously, except for the ideas of not intermixing different policies into single pieces of legislation or tagging controversial matters to “must pass” bills in order to shoehorn them.  This is a feature of the American legislative process I’ve always been appalled by.

The Pledge offers no credible solutions, and sticks to the same nonsense that the GOP has parroted for ages – tax cuts create jobs, a healthcare reform act that won’t work, and so on.  It is the most empty set of policy ideas ever, designed to trade on the fear and lies they’ve promoted since they lost the last election.

For his part, President Obama has failed – not in policy accomplishments – he has gotten a lot done – but he has utterly failed to show the value of his presidency to Americans – he’s not made any real political capital on them.  He’s tried to be nice when the GOP haven’t, and now he really needs to go on the attack, he’s started a little bit, attacking John Boehner (what’s with that guy’s obsession with tanning, by the way) directly, and so on.  He needs to show average Americans that GOP policies are bad for them, and he needs to get on that quick.

Random points on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a cold, lazy Sunday.  I’m really doing a lot of nothing today, except for research on our upcoming vacation trip, one that I wish was going about a month later because I’d have much more of a budget for it given that work has been quite productive lately, I just won’t be able to cash in on it until later in August.

It’s almost August.  We made the move to Nova Scotia in January and it’s almost August.

But I’m glad overall we came.

Last night, my father and I were sitting on the deck in the twilight, he’s been reading Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, and I’m reading Diamond’s fascinating Collapse.  As we sat out, I was watching my neighbours, a Sikh couple – or rather my neighbour and his father-in-law lighting some kind of fire.  I realized eventually that it was a small charcoal barbecue and they were trying to get it going, presumable to make themselves some dinner.  It was not going very well for them.   So, as good neighbours, we wandered over, and started trying to get it going.  They hadn’t used any sort of starter fluid or much for kindling, but eventually I managed to get it going for them.  It turned out that they had made the food already, and just wanted to finish it on the barbecue, and we joked that at the rate they were going they’d be waiting until breakfast.

I wound up sitting and talking with them for at least an hour – I had had a few beers earlier on in the day and they insisted on sharing a bottle of Nicaragua’s finest (Flor de Cana rum) with me, so it’s possible I didn’t sound as smart as I thought, but we had quite an interesting discussion about India, the history of the Sikh people, about Indian food, and all sorts of things, it was really a great way to spend a warm evening under a nearly full moon, around a fire, just talking about all sorts of things.

And getting a couple of pieces of tandoori chicken out of the deal is nothing to scoff at.  I think I’ll have to cater the next lesson on barbecue, but we’ll get them straightened out on how to do it, without the normal starter that is apparently traditionally used in India – cow dung!

It’s amazing how easy it is to get along with almost anyone in such a setting, and I have to wonder if there was some way that more people could do that sort of thing – sit around a communal meal and realize that we aren’t really all that different.  I’ve heard anecdotes from many friends in Afghanistan that the best bonding opportunities they had with the locals and the ANSF people they worked with was over food, when they’d get sick of Army food and go out and trade with the locals for more interesting meals.  That’s some sort of primal bond amongst people I think – it’s sort of the key to a lot of things.  What made me think of that over the conversation last night was the concept in Sikhism of the gurdwara in a temple – a communal kitchen which feeds everyone who comes to the temple – they won’t let you go away hungry basically.

So what else, then, to write about?  I’ve been paying more attention to work than anything else, but was fascinated by the shitshow started when blogger/idiot Andrew Breitbart released an edited, out of context video of a woman who worked for the US Department of Agriculture making a speech to the NAACP in which she appeared to admit to being a racist.  Except, as we all know, the clip was cut and she was actually talking about how she came to realize that perpetuating or reciprocating racism doesn’t help anything.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, you probably shouldn’t be reading this.

Breitbart is a disturbing fool.  This of course is not the first time he’s done something like this, and he’s tried to spin this as him being the victim, then tried to claim the attack was on the response to the story (before the “redemption” part), that it “proves” the NAACP is racist and thus has no business condemning that rather bizarre Tea Party movement in the USA.  None of this actually holds up to scrutiny if you watch the tape, though.  And this ain’t Breitbart’s first “discredited video” rodeo, either.  He does, however, reveal a deluded sense of his own importance, as apparently, and I haven’t see the tape, he claimed his “journalism” was … well, it doesn’t matter what he claimed it was, that isn’t the point.  He’s not a journalist to begin with.  Then he tried to claim he’s “public enemy number one” because of his “journalism”.  Please.  Mr. Breitbart, you’re a piece of shit hack artist that no one of any real importance cares too much about – and I hope you find yourself on the receiving end of a significant lawsuit for the shit you’ve pulled here.

I think I’m just continually staggered that things like this can happen in a country that is supposed to be so advanced as the USA.  The fact that people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul can have any sort of influence on politics like they do just astounds me.  It’s as though on the right at least stupidity is revered as some sort of necessary quality of a politician.  It’s almost as though they think that if they elect the inept that they can’t do much harm.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen that is anything but the case, all you have to do is look at the Lost Decade under Bush – surplus squandered, goodwill squandered, two wars, etc etc.  I think that doesn’t bode well for a country whose trajectory for the last little while has borne some discernable resemblances to the empires of Rome and Britain before they were finished.

Even if Obama, who seems to have gotten more done as POTUS in a year than his predecessors did their whole time in office, is a miracle worker, I often wonder if, as someone on Twitter I saw put it, he just volunteered to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

In which I try to figure out my position on the Flotilla mess

I’ve got to say, whoever it was that came up with the idea of the “freedom flotilla” is something of a genius. The idea of running the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is brilliant, because it put Israel into essentially a no-win situation. Israel was forced to react somehow, and it was pretty clear from the outset that there was essentially no reaction possible that would not result in bad press for them.

In the case of one of the ships – Mavi Marmara I believe it was called, the IDF walked right into the trap. The Manchester Guardian, one of my favourite newspapers, called the reaction what I think it most clearly was – something of an “own goal” for Israel. Likely none of us will ever know what happened on that ship, but we know that when it was over, nine people were dead.

I do think Israel went about the boardings in a reasonable way. The video I’ve seen does very clearly show that the main weapon carried by the boarding parties was an old fashioned Tippman 98 paintball gun, an excellent non-lethal weapon, whether they were shooting rubber balls, pepperballs, whatever. It also shows clearly that the men aboard the ships met them with violence despite several warnings that the IDF intended to enforce the blockade and would not allow them to land in Gaza.

The claims that the IDF committed what amounts to piracy doesn’t seem to hold up.  A military colleague sought the relevant information from the various applicable “laws of the sea”, and it seems that when a blockade is publicly announced, a state has the right to intercept any ships that intend to breach it, even in international waters.  It seems the Israelis knew the rules and followed them.  They have the blockade in place for a reason and it’s no secret.  They couldn’t allow it to be run.  That, of course, is what the organizers counted on I think.

It’s significant to note that only on the Mavi Marmara was their any real violence.  The other ships were boarded peacefully and without significant incident, all were then taken to Ashdod where the Israelis unloaded the cargo and offered to transport it onward to Gaza.  Well, some of it – the banned materials, like concrete, were not going to be forwarded.

The video released from the boarding suggests to me that the Israeli use of force wasn’t unjustified – they went in with non-lethal weapons and were attacked with metal bars, clubs, chairs, and apparently knives.  This isn’t “passive resistance” they encounter on the ship – it was active hostility, and the ship had been duly warned of the impending boarding.  I think the loss of life is regrettable but I don’t see that Israel did anything wrong in that sense.

The broader issue is the long term future for the region.  The Israelis of late – or rather, their current government, as I don’t believe the Israelis have a universal opinion, seem to be bent on prolonging the misery of the occupation.  The fact that Netanyahu allowed new settlements to be constructed while being visited by US VP Biden shows a ridiculous disregard for any effort at a peace process, I would think. 

I take a pretty sharp view of things.  Israel is a dependency of the United States of America when you really consider it.  It has something of a strong economy, but it is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, primarily in the form of military aid.  The second largest recipient is Egypt, which the USA seems to provide support to in order to use their leverage with other Arab states to keep the peace.  Were it not for the support of the USA, I don’t think Israel would last too long at all, it would be driven out of existence if only to restore a state for the Palestinians.

The roots of the conflict are deep and difficult to understand.  I, some time ago, did a lot of reading on the subject trying to understand the different dynamics of the region – not just Israel, but also Lebanon, another hotspot with a complex past and a number of dynamics that make it difficult to understand its interests, its key people, etc.  Lebanon itself is a really strange mess that also needs a long term solution, but that’s fodder for another blog maybe.

The Israel mess, like so many global conflicts, dates to the remnants of colonialism.  To this day in many parts of the world we endure the fruits of various great games, in Africa, in Asia…  The British Mandate for Palestine and the Balfour Declaration which set in motion the Zionist movement to settle Israel created this mess.  I don’t think it was something that was done with any sort of idea that we’d wind up in this situation, but one has to wonder what was expected when an influx of Jewish immigrants showed up in the region and immediately found themselves in conflict with the Palestinians who lived there already.

And so the stage was set for conflict.  I don’t plan to use this blog to rehash the history of the modern State of Israel – I’m neither an expert on it nor is it necessary – the interested reader can simply research it themselves, there are ample sources available.  I’m more interested in the current situation and the prospects for the future.

It, to me, is simple.  There is no viable long term solution but some manner of a two-state solution – a situation where the Palestinians receive statehood, and the ability to build their economy and create prosperity.  Look at recent statistics about the economic disparity between the occupied territories and Israel, and you’ll see what drives the conflict.  It’s not nationalism, it’s not religion, it’s none of these things, though they are tools of those in power – it’s economics – it’s the fact that people who have nothing will fight to get anything.

That’s why this was such a trap for Israel and played right in to Hamas’ hands in Gaza.  It’s something that people just don’t seem to get, and it’s a key part of the tyrants’ playbook.  In order to retain legitimacy in power, tyrants need to be able to control their subjects.  The most effective means to do so is to keep them poor and ignorant.  This is something religions have understood for a long time, and they’re extremely good at it.  To go the next step, tyrants need a great national enemy against which they can cast themselves as the people’s salvation.  Israel has served remarkably well in this role for Hamas, for Hezbollah, for other factions in the area.

To flesh this idea out, I like to point to Cuba.  The United States has had a very robust economic embargo against Cuba since 1962 – though the actual embargo started in 1960.  This tremendous campaign has done absolutely nothing to liberalize Cuba at all, but in fact, one can argue, it actually made Fidel Castro, and now his unofficial successor Raul Castro stronger.  As Cubans experienced continued poverty as a result of the embargo, Castro could point to the USA as an enemy of the people, the source of their misery, and could show himself as leading the revolution necessary to overcome them.

Look then at North Korea, again, poverty and ignorance keep the masses under the control of the Kim Family Regime, more properly described as a cult, I’d say.  The reason that they can maintain their grip on power is an ability again to point to America.  So long as their propaganda machine can keep people convinced that the US is the architect of their misery, the system works.

The Israelis are being trapped by the same mess.  By starving the people of the occupied territories, by choking off their economy, it’s easy for Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah to characterize them as manifestly evil, and to garner support for the continued struggle against the occupation.  It was this that allowed them to rally people to the intifadah in the first place, after all, and it builds tacit support for an undercurrent of religious extremism too.

So what’s to be done?  Well, let’s go back to a parallel – Cuba.  If the Americans really wanted to see Cuba liberalize and the Castro regime fall, then they’d lift the embargo, call by-gones by-gones, and realize what Cuba is to the rest of the world – a Caribbean island with beautiful beaches, lots of resorts, and really friendly people.  Americans would flood into the country to take advantage of it, to see its wonders, and to interact with the people.  The economic growth and actual interaction would disarm most of the claims about the revolution, and I think you’d see Cuba liberalizing very, very quickly, much as we saw happen in Europe.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, it is a little more complicated – but the principle is the same.  Open up – let the economy of Gaza and the West Bank begin to grow – let more cultural exchanges happen, let Gazans interact with Israelis more, and eventually you’ll see that relationships and trust forms.  This happens already all over the place on the small scale, but it needs to be broadened.  If that was the case, eventually Hamas would lose its influence, the ignorance and poverty on which they rely to stay in power would fade, and two states could probably live as decent neighbours.

What’s killing me with the whole thing is deeper than this rather simple premise.  It’s these people who are “supports of Israel” in the USA who tend to be fundamentalist nutcase Christians.  They “support” Israel because in order to fulfill their absolutely insane eschatological views (that’s fancy talk for the end of the world), they need Jews to be in Israel to trigger the great battle, Armageddon.  These sick people actually, really, truly believe this bullshit.  I think that’s why so many of them want to see the USA take on Iran, another country run by a religious nutcase who can point to America as the Great Satan from which he defends Iran. 

These folks, it seems, actually think that war in the Middle East is a “good” thing, because it fulfills the insane “prophesy” of the Bible.  This too is nothing new in the region.  In Thomas L. Friedman’s very insightful book on the region, From Beirut to Jerusalem, he describes the efforts of some of the more crazy Messianic Jews to bring about the coming of their Messiah.  I’m no expert on the story, but the way Friedman tells it is rather simple.  It seems that for the Messiah to come, the Temple of Solomon needs to be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  The trick is, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock) sits on top of the site, rather inconveniently.  Jewish extremists figured that the easiest way to bring about this great event was to, as he put it, “dust off the throne” by blowing up the Dome of the Rock.  Fortunately, Israeli intelligence was wise to them and prevented what would have been a cataclysmic event.

Ultimately, I hate that those folks cannot seem to give any critical thought to the situation.  I think they’re fucking dangerous, frankly, and that’s why being an atheist I cannot see any good reason to be silent and rather have to call them out for their stupidity.  They seem to have bet big on a Bronze Age bullshit story and I think they’re totally, dangerously wrong.

In the end it seems that religion is what fuels this mess – without it there’d be no intifadah – no need for the conflict, because Zionism wouldn’t exist at all.  This is a sad, shining example of how poisonous to civilization religion really is – that one group of people would do violence to another over their idea of of god – the same god, for fuck’s sake!

I’m sure that some might read this and think I’m pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel – or worse “anti-semetic”.  Bullshit.  I’m none of the above.  While I think Zionism meant well it’s been a destructive nightmare in the end, but I don’t begrudge the nationalist aspirations of a group like the Jews, particularly in light of the persecution they’ve endured over the years.  I don’t see how there’s any good end to the situation, simply, without a recognition of the right of the Palestinians to be there too, and some effort to share the land and build a future.  This is something that has to start happening, and it has to start with the youth there.  The government of Israel has to take the lead – and its patron – the piper that calls its tune – the US – needs to motivate them to get on with it, I think – something that Obama has sort of done but not particularly well.  It’s time to stand up to Israel and remind them who pays the rent, as it were.

In the end, 2100+ words later, I’m no closer to really having a position on the flotilla, but I hope at least there’s some clarity for anyone who bothered to read the whole thing as to why I can’t make up my mind on it.  Comments are as always welcome.

The Oil Spill – And The Strange Impacts Thereof

What’s going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster.  Not that that’s a particularly insightful statement, but it’s true.  It’s a demostration of the very, very awful things that can go wrong in modern industry.  As much as companies will say that they plan for every imaginable contingency, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that it’s impossible and unrealistic to assume that indeed we can handle anything.

What’s really shocking is that like so many other disasters, it’s been turned into some sort of perverse political football as well.  It shows a lot about conservatives/teabaggers who hate big government, but curiously have been pleading for government intervention.  Probably the funniest example of this was raving lunatic Michelle Bachmann.   Commandeer boats?  That sounds like tyranny to me. 

Then there was the world’s biggest moron, Sarah Palin, posting on her ludicrous Facebook page blaming “liberals” for offshore drilling, and trying to qualify that when she said “drill baby drill” she didn’t mean that.  Again, the media mocked her, and deservedly so.

These same people are the ones calling this “Obama’s Katrina” and demanding he do something about the hemorrhaging wellhead.  I don’t know what these people figure Obama could do.  I think the comparison to Katrina doesn’t work, either.  I got the impression – though I’ve not looked into it as much – that Dubya simply accepted the administrative incompetence of FEMA in dealing with the aftermath of that event.  In this case, the catastrophe is ongoing, but it doesn’t seem that no one is doing anything about it.  I’m sure BP’s engineers are working long hours trying to figure out how to handle the problems.

The laugh is that it all is coming down to these champions of the free market looking like complete hypocrites.  They’re basically calling for socializing the costs of the mess, when they should of course be advocating for BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, Cameron, and any other firms who might be found to have contributed to the disaster to pay up.  If they are bankrupted in the process, so be it.  Of course, they have to get around the ludicrous liability gap that was another great conservative gift to the world.  I hope that can be done easily.

It certainly seems as though BP’s got lots of resources to fire up the PR machine, and I have to say they are doing a pretty good job of messaging on the whole issue, Tony Hayward and his US subordinates have been visible, and it seems to me fairly candid.  I don’t think Hayward is a bad man, nor do I think anyone in the industry is necessarily intentionally a villain.  Accidents always happen, and it seems like BP is trying to come out looking the best they can and hopefully can do this thing right.

This morning, however, the Nova Scotian magazine that I get with my Chronicle-Herald had a small article about the Niger Delta, and the environmental disaster there.  The amount of oil spilled there annual rivals Deepwater Horizon, apparently, never mind that they flare tremendous amounts of gas, and the companies operate with relative impunity. One source suggested that the equivalent of around 40% of Africa’s total volume of natural gas consumed is flared in the Delta annually.  Never mind the needless air pollution this causes, the release of greenhouse gases, etc, that’s natural gas that could be used for proper, necessary consumption.  The trick is that AG (associated gas) is expensive to separate and put into production, it’s cheap to just burn it off and maximize crude oil production instead.

 Most people in the Delta haven’t got access to any uncontaminated water, and suffer ill health as a result of oil production, and get no real benefit of it.  The terrible story of Ken Saro Wiwa is just one example of the problem. 

That’s not the only story of the misery of oil production – virtually everywhere, it’s the same.  Huge pollution problems, suffering amongst the local population, and a curious absence of direct benefits to those who live in the area in production. 

The only real thing I can see as a solution has been the obvious one for many years – we need to start weaning ourselves off of oil.  We need to work harder to find alternatives and making better use of what we have.  The fact that we’ll have to keep going further and further offshore to find and produce more oil and risk repeats of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the best evidence of that, leaving aside climate change and all the other associated problems.  If we don’t start working at this now, we’re only going to see more problems – and we don’t even see all that are already here.

A Short Musing On Cheap Oil

Between the European fiscal mess, the BP oil disaster, North Korea sinking a South Korean Navy ship, and the fact that the weather in Nova Scotia is just finally starting to get nice, I’ve been unable to really focus on any particular issue or event in the world to really pump out good blog fodder.  (That, of course, assumes that I do in the first place, which may or may not be the case).

I’m on an environmental kick lately though, and I think I have always had that streak.  Right now it’s being fuelled by a few desires – mainly market signals, which are to someone who likes the idea of markets creating allocative efficiency, is good.  I made what I think is a very wise decision a while back to buy a diesel-fuelled car.  At the time I bought it, I had a fairly long commute and ideas about great long roadtrips, and the fact that it gets far better mileage was something I welcomed.  In fact, my biggest grip at the time (October 2005)  was that there were so few diesel models on offer in North America.  Europe has always been far ahead of us there.

Diesel engines, of course, are not really as clean as gasoline engines, litre for litre of fuel consumption – but the advantage comes from using less fuel per kilometre travelled.  I have two Volkswagens – a Rabbit and a Jetta.  The former is gasoline-engined, the latter diesel.  The Rabbit’s a little lighter in curb weight but uses about 50% more fuel for travelling.  I know this because I’ve been using an iPhone app to track it, just out of interest mostly, but also in the vain hope that I’ll be able to claim some of it as a tax deduction.

The whole thing about markets and what I was starting into last night is a belief I have that we don’t pay anywhere near adequate cost for things like fuel – particular petroleum and other non-renewables.  The simplistic solution is to use taxation to adjust the cost to something more realistic and then use the tax revenues toward remeditation.  Great idea, but I can already hear the more reasonable complaints, and I’d echo them – the funds wouldn’t go into remediation or alternatives, they’d go into general revenues and be squandered in the manner practiced so effectively by governments.

I saw the same thing living in Ontario with the Liberal Government’s “OHIP Levy” that “wasn’t a tax”, even though it was determined by income and collected by payroll deductions.  The money didn’t get earmarked specifically for healthcare, it just went into general accounts and disappeared with no real explanation.

Never mind that jacking up the price of a significant input without good alternatives would be economically very destructive and probably counterproductive in the end.  We need to have a little more complex and working solution that that – it’ll take thinking, something that some in the realm of politics seem woefully unwilling to do in any way.

The trick, I would think, lies in expanding the range of alternative fuels available, and alternatives to driving – rail and other mass transit infrastructure.  Until they become more accepted they’d need some subsidization or tax incentives to expand.  This is something that is being tried in Canada, where monthly transit passes attract a federal tax credit – but it’s on the lowest tax rate of 15.5%.  I’d like to see the passes attract a higher credit rate – maybe against the maximum federal income tax rate.

At the same time as this expansion happens, there then can be efforts to disincentivize driving – at least in areas where there’s effective mass transit.  The issue that I can see with the idea of promoting alternatives to driving is that they work well in urban areas, but in a country like Canada – or the United States, too – where there are huge amounts of people living in rural areas where transit simply isn’t an alternative, is that you’ll punish those folks – and the resentment will build quickly.

It’s not an easy thing to think through – how to get us off our addiction to cheap oil, when the alternatives are slow coming and not universally available.  It has to be something one feels in the wallet in order to create incentive to change – but how to make it happen without causing too much adjustment pain.  Or maybe, just maybe, we have to consider that the pain is necessary and just take the big shock at once, get it over with, like ripping a bandaid off – but I don’t think that’s possible given the amount of things that would change quickly.

The trick is to find that sort of balance that allows us to wean ourselves off – the incentives to develop alternatives to oil, and to find ways to maximize what we have – the ways in which we have wasted the resources over the past 150 or so years – making lots of cheap plastic junk, burning off usable gas as a byproduct, building ridiculously inefficient cars because it didn’t matter, all of that has to end and be used as a base point from which to improve.  We’ve put people on the moon, we have to be able to solve this sort of problem, surely.

Deluded Creationists, Atheism A Religion?

Nothing really gets my goat like the lengths to which some religious drones will go to defend their untenable cause.  For whatever reason, they remain to me like watching a trainwreck – I can’t stop looking.  In fact, they’re worse.  Not only can I not stop looking, I find myself unable to resist the urge to intervene, even though I really should know better.  The odds of me ever bringing someone so deluded as to be a Young Earth Creationist into the light is probably somewhat worse than the odds of me walking through a concrete wall, which, incidentally, is possible according to a physics professor I had in first year university.  Possible but highly, highly improbable.  (the secret lays in the gaps between all the atoms in one’s body passing through the gaps in the atoms in the concrete wall.

The thing of it is that all I really want these people to do is actually produce the evidence that leads them to believe what they do – evidence that isn’t readily refutable.  I guess that’s asking a lot since there’s no such evidence and that’s the whole reason that it’s all nonsense.  However, the ones I see (and occasionally for whatever reason engage) all claim that they have volumes of evidence.  When asked to produce it they try to claim that that’s them “doing our work for us”.  I don’t get it.  When asked to produce evidence for evolution I can point to a massive body of work – I can point to books, journals, studies, all sorts of things that show that the theory of evolution might as well be taken as fact because it has never actually been refuted, and it probably never will.

They like to then try to shake me by asking how life appeared.  I don’t know.  There’s quite a few hypotheses that anyone interested could research.  Ultimately, my scientific background isn’t that strong and I defer the question to stronger minds on the subject, but again they don’t know for sure.  I personally accept that we likely will never actually know with anything remotely close to certainty – there will always be a mystery to it I guess.  That mystery, for me, is not explainable by any sort of supernatural deity – it’s just a phenomenon.

One of the more interesting tacks one of these fools takes is making the claim – and wanting us to admit that first of all evolution is equal to atheism.  It’s not, though.  The Roman Catholic Church, which employs a host of scientists and whose universities since the Middle Ages pursued much research, has basically decided that evolution as origin of species is true – and thus has moved the study to their concept of “soul” as the divine creation.  This is the crux of the idea of non-overlapping magisteria that Steven Jay Gould advocated.  I have ultimately no issue with whatever they want to believe so long as they aren’t trying to teach people that the world is 6000 or so years old like young-earth creationists are. 

The most interesting thing about YEC types is that their movement takes the view of science that Mormons take of history – something best not questioned, for lack of a better way to put it.  It’s interesting that some of its leading advocates seem to share an interesting “qualification” – a criminal record.  Funny how that ties into religions so much, isn’t it?  More interesting is that most of them have no actual education, despite the fact that they might claim so.  Kent Hovind, for example, the so-called “Dr. Dino”, holds a “Ph.D” from a dubious sectarian college with no real qualification/accreditation.  He likes to throw around the term Doctor when apparently most people with Ph.Ds – actual ones from real universities, tend not to do so.  I guess it’s to add an air of credibility to the bullshit he preaches.  Despite lofty sounding names like “The Institute For Creation Research”, I don’t see much actual research being done by them.

It seems one in particular, a man who has no evident scientific background, seems intent on trying to make a claim that “atheism is a religion”.  To this end, he’s actually written a book of that name.  While he plugs it endless on the web, in a sort of pathetic, quixotic way which includes whining via Twitter to such lofty characters of Glenn Beck, S. E. Cupp, and Bill O’Reilly, he won’t actually flesh out any of his arguments to us to try to take apart.  It’s an interesting thought though.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines atheism is “the belief that God does not exist”.  The Random House Dictionary expands the definition somewhat, offering two definitions, the first being “the doctrine or belief that there is no god”, the second being “disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.”  The second definition is a little broader – seeming to encompass the rejection not only of a the Abrahamic god, but any supreme beings, monotheistic or polytheistic. 

As for religion, Oxford says it is “1 the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. 2 a particular system of faith and worship. 3 a pursuit or interest followed with devotion.”   Random House’s definition is again different and somewhat more comprehensive, and includes “1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion”.  There are other parts to the latter, but none of them really have any bearing on the matter at hand.

So with these definitions taken together, I don’t see how anyone could claim atheism is a religion, not within the constraints of any definition in the English language, anyhow.  It has no superhuman controlling powers.  It has no system of faith or worship.   The first RH definition might come a little close, in saying that it is a set of beliefs about the origin of the universe, but really, atheism taken alone is not.  I don’t see any set of universal ideas about the origin of life among atheists.  In fact, most like me have no idea how life originated, only a number of hypotheses put forward by scientists which probably can’t progress beyond that point.

Simply stated, it’s quite a stretch to make any definition of atheism fit any definition of a religion.  In colloquial use it’s clearer – we view atheism as the absence of religion quite often.  While not technically correct it is a somewhat fitting description.

The whole thing seems to turn, for these particular type of religious folks on a semantic argument.  If I believe there are no gods, then that is a belief which then is a religious view in their opinion.  Suppose I accepted that to be true – I would then say that my religion is anti-religion – in essence, I believe in the existence of nothing.   How, if at all, does that advance any cause they have.  If I concede that atheism is my “religion”, then I fail to see what the next logical step for them is.  The individual most strongly making the assertion claimed that if we concede atheism is a religion, then “you can’t say you are neutral, unbiased, standing on sideline, but you have a horse in the race”. 

When did I claim to be neutral, unbiased, standing on a sideline?  I’m not.  I’m not neutral, I’m fervently anti-religion and pro-science, rationality, reason.  I’m not unbiased, there’s no such thing.  And the very fact that I aggressively pounce on these idiots is a pretty strong suggestion that I do in fact have a horse in the race (whatever race it is, that I’m not sure about).  I have a stake in this because I do not have any interest in living in a Dark Ages theocracy.  I don’t want religious fools controlling my destiny in any way, shape, or form.  I don’t want them poisoning young minds with their anti-science ideas.  I don’t want their quirky view of the world in any way imposing itself anywhere I happen to be.  I want to live in a society completely free of religion, and I have no problem stating that I want that, and that’s why I engage these people.  I make the exception that those who have some kind of personal religious belief that they keep to themselves and as such doesn’t impose on me, I don’t bother.  There’s no need, it doesn’t accomplish anything further to my stated view above.  If it’s their own ideas and isn’t impacting policy, or my life, then I couldn’t care less really.

So what is it then that drives this guy to make the claim, if I’ve told him now that it doesn’t matter – that his claim doesn’t make sense to begin with?  I’ll have to see, I guess.

Arguing With Idiots, Indeed

If I ever needed proof of how Americans – right winger ones anyhow – are being dumbed down by the media they choose to follow, I got it today in a couple of shining examples on Twitter.  Started when I discovered @Newfederalists engaged in some manner of debate with another tweeter I follow.  This dude said something pretty ridiculous, can’t remember exactly what, but I responded in a little bit of a chirpy way, as I do from time to time, “Says a man evidently chock-full of right-wing bullshit. Move along now.”

Well, obviously, he didn’t move along.  And the exchange just went from there.   And it was just pretty pathetic.  The whole thing was about the rather asinine beliefs that so many right wing nutjobs have about political ideologies.  What I have never really gotten is how these folks like to label Barack Obama as a socialist, Marxist, and Nazi all at the same time.  I frequently like to point out that contrary to the bullshit spewed by their sources, Nazism is not related to socialism at all, that it’s most closely related to fascism and is considered by virtually all scholars, theorists, historians, basically everyone of any intellectual capacity to have been a extreme right wing movement.  Like fascism, though, it is syncretic – drawing from across the spectrum.  In fact, Nazism and fascism to me are pretty good illustrations of why the simplistic ideas of a simple bi-polar linear spectrum don’t really work.

The crux of their argument is the most incredible logical fallacy I’ve ever seen.  The Nazis were actually the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeitspartei, or the National Socialist German Workers Party.   The “proof” that their views are left wing, in the view of these uneducated fools, is that the word “socialism” exists in the title.

My favourite counter to this is to point of that by the same logic, North Korea – formally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, MUST be a democratic republic.  It’s in the name, so it must be correct.  It’s about as logical a statement to make.

I’m not going to rewrite the history of the Nazi Party and their rise to power in Germany.  The “socialist” part of their ideology was a not socialism in the sense that most people in modern times would know – and Hitler detested the concept of it.  The infamous “Night Of The Long Knives” was actually a coup against the SA faction of the party, getting rid of the social issues interests of the party, consolidating Adolf Hitler’s power, and launching Nazism as we know it today.

Alright, alright, I said I wasn’t going to take you into the Third Reich.  Suffice it to say that any reasonable assessment would not at all conflate Nazism with socialism, much less with Marxism, an ideology intensely hated by the Nazis.  The whole discussion, ultimately, in the context of American politics, is ridiculous.  The most extreme interpretations of the platform of Barack Obama would probably fit into right edge of the social democrat/Third Way model, though I’m not totally sure about that.  I could dive into that more, but I again can’t be bothered.

What really got me as we progressed were brilliant tweets from both @Newfederalists, and then the next person to come into the mix, the similarly brilliant @mach1broker.  I couldn’t believe what I saw these people say, it’s so stunning.  It’s like they’re revelling in their own ignorance, almost like they’re bragging about their unwillingness to actually get more information, to go read, study, ask question.  It makes no sense to me.  None at all.

This is the kind of shit my American cousins are going to have to put up with for the next little while.  A pack of vile, ignorant right wingers who’ve suddenly decided to become politically aware – without actually investing any time in learning what they’re so passionate about.  It’s shocking to see this sort of thing.

And the power of this sort of ignorance and idiocy becomes pretty clear when you start to see things like what was shared with me today – about those crazy bastards in Michigan.  Apparently, one of them was primarily motivated in her hatred of President Obama based on a bullshit Facebook rumour.  You simply cannot make shit like this up.

When I read stuff like this, when I see what influences these people, the bullshit they subscribe to, I just feel a lot better that these people are the minority, and will likely never amount to anything – and the more extreme, ignorant, and stupid they sound, the more likely they’ll wind up more on the fringes.

More on Kent Pankow & Ridiculous Right Wing Statements

Kent Pankow’s story is really drawing a lot of attention in the US, and I found what seems to be the source of it, on popular right wing blog HotAir.com. Here’s their posting on the story.

http://hotair.com/archives/2010/03/10/another-tale-of-government-run-health-care-success/

Again, this post erects a strawman comparison of the current reform proposals in the United States, which bear no resemblance to Canada’s system, and throws around the “government takeover” lie that opponents of reform are using in their typical strategy of lying and fearmongering to block any sort of meaningful change.

Again, this blog cherrypicks the story and has no interest in looking at comparative experiences in the United States.

But that’s not the real gem. Oh no, it gets better than the tired rhetoric.

Here’s the killer:

“Some will say that the runaround happens in America, too, with private insurers. And they’d be right. [warriorbanker’s note: that’s probably the most honest thing I’ve heard a right winger say about healthcare] However, people in America have the ability to move to different insurers when they get lousy service, and still get treatment in their own country. They don’t have to flee across an international border to get medical attention.”

Really?

Really? You actually believe that?

Let me get this straight. Let’s assume I’m suffering from a pernicious cancer like glioblastoma multiforme, which has a tragically low five year survival rate and requires either surgical intervention or extremely expensive chemotherapy to treat. The usual chemo treatment is Temodar, which is not a cheap drug (though I think comparatively it’s cheaper than Avastin). Googling Temodar brought up a few sites with American cancer patients and their families discussing struggling with the cost of copayments for the drug. So it’s not as though it’s a rosy picture even without Avastin, which as I mentioned in a previous post, is a sort of “silver bullet” against cancer, it was described by one doctor as the penicillin-level discovery of our time.

Anyhow, back to this insurance claim made by hot air. Suppose I was the theoretical patient I described. My insurer goes to battle with me about the treatment options. Before they would be likely to approve Avastin I’d likely have to go on Temodar and show no progress. The FDA’s approval of Avastin to treat GBM (it’s here: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/CDER/ucm149364.htm ) seems to suggest that it has to be used after other treatment is not effective. I may not be reading that right, though. I’m not a doctor. I’ll get to another point about the FDA in a moment though. So suppose I conclude I’m getting “lousy service”. Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey suggests that I have the ability to move to a different insurer. If you believe that, we need to talk about some real estate opportunities I have to share with you.

Private insurance companies are in the business of making money. That’s what they do. That is their single crucial interest. They do so by trying to take on as little risk as possible, matching premiums to expected payouts, and trying to get as much information as possible about a person before they take them on. That’s why they have pre-existing condition exclusions, which me in this hypothetical state would face. No insurer would EVER take on someone who’s already got GBM or probably any cancer – at least not without excluding coverage for the treatment of that cancer – or anything that could be considered linked to it or its treatment. Like, well, just about anything. Cancer drugs have a lot of really, really nasty side effects – and even minor ones like diminished immune system resistance to simple conditions. Some cancer treatments can actually be essentially carcinogenic. A cynic I know described her chemotherapy radiation therapy as “poison that will hopefully kill my cancer before it kills me”. It’s not hard for an insurer to assess just about anything a cancer patient could claim as being related to pre-existing conditions.

So, the idea that one can shop their insurance is rather ludicrous. By the time one comes to the conclusion that their insurance is “lousy”, it’s probably far too late to shop around. Never mind that if you’re in a group plan, which is tax advantageous and helps get around eligibility rules in the United States, you’re not going to get a choice of who your insurer is – your employer will determine that. This idea of being able to shop insurance around that HotAir is suggesting is what some might call “horsefeathers”. I’m blunt, I’ll just call it bullshit.

What about fleeing across international borders? Americans don’t have to do that? Actually, that’s also not necessarily true. Medical tourism in the US is big business already, and it’s growing. Here’s some great stories:

http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/mar2008/gb20080312_835774.htm

http://www.aishealth.com/ManagedCare/BluesNews/BLU_WellPoint_Medical_Tourism.html

And there’s probably hundreds more sites – these are insurers trying to get people to use overseas services. As costs soar, people will try to keep their premiums down by electing progressively less coverage with higher deductibles/copayments, and that’s likely to push more of them to look at going to Thailand, to India, to other countries to use lower cost services. That’s what the right thinks is an okay system (while they seem to deny it actually even happens? So much for that claim, I don’t think I need to go any further.

Back to the FDA to close out my post. Remember Mr. Pankow, and how the problem is that his treatment for his GBM isn’t being covered by his provincial health insurance because it’s not an approved treatment in Canada yet? Well, it’s not like it’s a huge disparity. Avastin was only approved for treatment of gliomas in the US in May 2009. Not exactly ages ago. While I’d like to see Health Canada have a better process to use research data from the USA to expedite its own processes, there’s processes and they exist for a reason. The sad part of them is that they trap people waiting for the approvals like Mr. Pankow. That’s why I hope that there’s some retroactive coverage for him. Again, I wish him much strength and success in his challenges.

The Wonder Of Creationism

The people I take some of the greatest delight in seeing on Twitter are deluded creationists.  Most of them are hilariously brainwashed and incorrigible, but it gets amusing when a number of them get in on calling them out – some great minds I’ve come across tend to enjoy them too.

What’s funny is looking at the “evidence” they come up with to support their claims.  It’s usually so ridiculously full of logical fallacy that we only need debate which of its claims are most foolhardy.  Usually they revolve around a few tactics.  They’ll present some famous frauds like Piltdown Man in order to claim that they prove the entire concept false.  That is, of course, ridiculous… but they don’t seem to mind that at all.

Another one they’ll use is presentation of debunked pseudoscience.  One of these folks did that lately with a video featuring Dr. Michael Behe, the chief proponent of “irreducible complexity”, which is the “scientific” foundation for Intelligent Design, the creationist movement’s effort to gain credibility to support their “teach the controversy” strategy.  They of course hate the idea of being attacked on the basis that irreducible complexity has been debunked and is not considered to hold scientific merit.

Someone I’ve just encountered posted the Discovery Institute’s list of about 700 scientists who “reject Darwinism”.  What’s interesting is that other than the list there’s little background.  Many of these esteemed academics are in fields totally unrelated to life sciences.  And there’s 700 of them.  Out of hundreds of thousands of scientists who in fact do not find themselves disagreeing.  Or at least, who don’t actively oppose the ideas.  I’m sure many scientists question aspects of the Theory of Evolution and all related ideas, but few scientists simply reject it outright – they use the scientific method to explore their doubts.  It’s quite telling that there is to my knowledge no established, journal-published peer reviewed scientific research which refutes the theory of evolution.  If there was, well, we’d all be forced to reconsider everything with think.  Journals would all be fighting over the chance to publish such a study.

This particular person is one of the more disturbed people completely wrapped up in the fraud of creationism, and to watch her repeatedly try to defend her untenable position is a mix of humour and tragedy.  This is someone who has displayed tragic evidence of being unable to think for herself in any critical manner – but then actually states that it is us, those who reject the idea of creationism, who cannot think for ourselves.  It’s a statement so richly ridiculous I don’t even know how to answer it.

It got better after I posted this entry originally, which is why I decided to come back to it.  I sent this individual, who’s a big fan of YouTube videos, a link to one of my favourite ten minute explanations of evolution and the science that underpins the theory.  Its basic premise is an explanation of why virtually all scientists understand evolution to be true, or at least, to be the best explanation of the diversity of life.  If you’re interested, the video is here: http://bit.ly/dphBpz and I had nothing whatsoever to do with its creation.  I’m just not that smart.

Her response was absolutely brilliant.  Here goes: First she said: “he said some untruths from the beginning- that is a dead giveaway”.  I don’t know which statements she’s referring to, of course.  I pointed out that her videos all start with tremendous, ridiculous creationist bias.

So I wondered, what specific thing are you referring to?  She answered before I even asked: “Phylogenetic Tree does not have to be drawn the same way- many models- Darwinistic faith is used by Darwinists 2 fill in THEIR blank” (note, I’m copying and pasting this from Twitter, the grammar and spelling errors are hers.  Never mind the substance.)  The whole point of the video, if you haven’t watched it, is that the phylogenetic tree – the tree of life, as it were, comes out the same using a variety of methods to assess it.  That’s the wonder of evolution, you see – the evidence, gathered from different sources, in different ways, all points to the same conclusion.

This person, I’ve decided, is so lost in the delusions of her religion, that there’s no real point in trying to show her reality.  She is indeed hopelessly lost, and I may as well abandon her.  I wish it was so simple, because watching these deluded souls is like watching a terrible trainwreck.  You shouldn’t watch, you know it’s wrong, but you do anyhow.  You stare in awe at the tragic mess.  She didn’t disappoint, either.  This next quote, this one’s my favourite: she posted a link to this: “Put your affairs in order, biologists. Your time is nigh!” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/put_your_affairs_in_order_biol.php

Note the author.  P.Z. Myers.  A biologist who believes like most of his peers that creationism in any form is utter bilge.  I think this woman just saw the headline, didn’t realize that the post makes fun of just how stupid creationism, especially “intelligent design”.  Myers in particular mocks the 2004 claim of the Intelligent Design set that evolution will be “dead” in five years.  That obviously has been true.  He then notes the only really truthful thing they point out – that they have no theory that holds up.  They have “intuition” (religious blindness, surely), and a couple of concepts like the totally discredited “irreducible complexity”.  They have nothing at all.  They know this, they know that since Kitzmiller vs Dover Board of Education in the USA they have very little chance of getting their drivel into classrooms, and they are scrambling to assert something, anything of scientific merit.  And they can’t.  They can make all sorts of claims about scientists dissenting, but take a look at that list.  700 or so – up to 2000 I’ve heard claimed.  Look at their fields.  Many of them are not in any field related to life sciences.  None of them that I know of has a single peer-reviewed, journal-published article that takes down evolution.  So I reiterate, they have nothing.

My friend, this evening, made one more amusing tweet on the matter.  “Purpose of science -bring all facts to light-follow evidence wherever it leads- Not so n Darwinism”.  This I think is the very summation of everything that is wrong with creationists.  They don’t follow this process.  Biologists and other scientists studying the origins of life do.  They start with hypotheses, and test them.  The tests become evidence for the theory, or, if applicable, they create gaps or problems with the theories that require further study.  They ask questions and seek answers that fill in the blanks to the best of their abilities.  Creationists seem to follow a completely different, and totally intellectually dishonest process.  They start with their outcomes defined.  They are trying to prove what Dawkins eloquently termed “the origin mythology of a certain group of Bronze Age tribesmen” – at least it was something to that effect, I don’t have the book handy for the exact wording.  They have what they assert to be the “truth” and they will thus try to shoehorn anything they can in to fit the story.   That isn’t science at all.

While we are at it, take a look some time at the story they’re trying to prove.  It’s rather ridiculous, and out of reasonable sequence, at the most basic levels.  If you want a good read, I’ll put in a plug for the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, an interesting project.  It’s at http://www.skepticsmannotatedbible.com .  They have a tremendous amount of interesting, irreverent, and amusing commentary on the supposedly inerrant word of god.  In particular, though, look at this page – Absurdities in the Book of Genesis.  http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/gen/abs_list.html Things like the fact that plants were made before there was sun to support photosynthesis.  That light appeared on the first day, but the Sun didn’t until the fourth, and so on.  It makes absolutely no sense – and this is what these folks want to base the story of our origins on?  Ridiculous.  The whole thing is just plain ridiculous.