Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I <3 Amanda Peet

The very first blog post I wrote (on MySpace of all places) was inspired by Jenny McCarthy and her idiocy regarding vaccination. The driver, as I recall, was a story I read regarding the increased incidence of measles outbreaks. Now another public figure has stepped up to take the counterpoint. Amanda Peet has offered her visage to help educate the public on the importance of vaccination.

This may be old news for some, but I think it's important to keep it out there because Jenny McCarthy just keeps pumping out the stupidity. Also, NPR did a nice segment last week talking about this very subject. What I took away from the NPR story was this:
But Peet says parents shouldn't look to her as a scientific expert. She defers scientific questions to Offit, who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital.

Wow. Deferring to experts on the subject. Maybe Jenny should take a few lessons.

Be well


Friday, December 12, 2008

I feel special today

It's been quite a week.  First, someone flagged my blog (I'm so proud).  And now, Ray Comfort deep-sixed one of my comments. 

This calls for a drink...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A sincere mea culpa

I think when you are wrong, the direct approach is the best.  So to that end, I want to apologize for my last post on the FFRF sign in the Washington State Capitol.  After reviewing that post, it clearly has a whiney, "look at how mean the christians are" tone.  When I wrote it, it seemed justifiable; but after reading Martin's post over at the Atheist Experience, I realize that it is FFRF's sign that is the issue.  It reads in part, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."  Whatever my belief regarding the accuracy of that message, this the wrong venue and the wrong time to deliver it.  At a time when the prevailing opinion is that christmas is under attack, to put up a sign that aggressively denigrates the opposing position is counterproductive and mean spirited.

So I say to my christian friends, celebrate the birth of your saviour; and to everyone regardless of your faith, enjoy your families, be good to each other, practice charity and kindness, and have a very merry christmas.

Be Well,


Friday, December 5, 2008

FFRF Sign Stolen

FFRF seems to be getting a lot of push back lately.  First the billboard in Rancho Cucamonga, now it appears someone has taken issue with atheists having equal time in the Washington State Capitol.  The placard that was placed in the Capitol Building as equal representation to a nativity scene vanished, only to be turned in later to a local radio station.  Apparently, a passerby found the large, heavy placard laying in a ditch.  There is no clear explanation as to how someone could have spirited it out of the building unnoticed, but the police are said to be reviewing surveillance videos.

I'm not surprised.  There is a trend here.  

Christians, though, seem to be surprised when we point out that:
  • People were celebrating the winter solstice as a natural holiday for millennia before christmas came along
  • Jews, you know those "pre-christians," were celebrating Chanukah, the festival of lights too.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was born anywhere near the winter solstice. Celebrating his birthday at that time was a clever way to co-opt what was already a celebratory time for early pagans.
  • Christmas is a relatively recent invention and the christmas tree was once a forbidden symbol by early christians due to its pagan roots.
So when we demand equal time, please don't tell us we're taking the christ out of christmas.  We're just reminding people that "the reason for the season" is a quirky combination of the earth's revolution on its axis, its elliptical orbit around the sun, and a slight tilt of the axis with respect to that orbit.  That's it.  

Be Well


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's funny what some people find offensive.

I am a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the country's largest group of freethinkers.  One stated purpose of this organization is as watchdog over church/state separation issues.  So I find the following story quite ironic. is reporting that it's first billboard to go up in California was taken down after less that one week despite the fact that they had pre-paid for 2 months of time.  You can see the billboard above at its short-lived location in Rancho Cucamonga, located in Southern California's lovely Inland Empire.  Details are sketchy as to exactly the sequence of events, but apparently the city received complaints about the billboard and decided to contact the billboard company owner to see how it could be taken down.  It may be that a single city employee was the driver behind the effort.  Either way, FFRF has filed suit against the city for unlawfully interfering with free expression.  I can't express the basic sentiment of the suit any better than what is written in the filing.
"The principal function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute, and such speech may best serve its purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions are (sic) they are, or even stirs people to anger.

"The bedrock principle underlying the scope of the free speech protection of the First Amendment is that government officials may not interfere with the expression of an idea simply because some persons allegedly consider the idea offensive or disagreeable to their views."
Of course, the local news stations covered the "controversial" billboard and interviewed with local residents.  One common theme heard in some of the interviews was the idea that the billboard should be taken down because it is offensive.  

First of all, I'm not sure why someone would be offended by this billboard.  It is simply suggesting that maybe without the petty sectarian differences incited by religious beliefs, there might be more common ground for dialogue.  Personally I believe that without religion people would find some other criteria for creating in-group and out-group thinking.  Irrespective of my opinion, this is not a particularly offensive message.  What is offensive are the billboards I see throughout the country that tell me that I, regardless of how good a person I might be, will be immersed in fire to suffer eternally for not bowing down the favored sky fairy of this particular country.  How rude.

Secondly, why would anyone think that they are entitled to be shielded from speech that they disagree with?  The very fundamental founding principles of this country ensure that they will be exposed.  As difficult as it is to hear someone deny that evolution is one of the most solidly established scientific theories that exists, I would never deny anyone the right to make such a claim and to pronounce it from the highest mountain (edit: as long as that mountain isn't in a science classroom).  

Ultimately, I think Rancho Cucamonga may have bitten off more than they can chew.  In essence they have challenged the one group in the US that has the most experience litigating state/church issues (all the way to SCOTUS).  I look forward to the resolution and will let you know as things develop.

Be Well


Friday, November 28, 2008

Rock and Roll Means Well

Drive By Truckers, The Hold Steady, Wiltern I went to see The Hold Steady and Drive By Truckers at the Wiltern on Tuesday night.  I've been a fan of DBT for quite a while now, but I wasn't expecting a tremendous show from them.  The Truckers are a band for whom the crowd is extremely important.  Unfortunately, LA just doesn't have the fan base that they need to really get the ball rolling (damned LA posers).  I've seen them in LA twice now, and both times they were technically excellent but the magic wasn't there.  I enjoyed every minute, nonetheless.  Now when I saw them in July at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach...well, that was a special show.  It cost me a $150 pair of Ecco's, but was well worth it (and is another story altogether).

For The Hold Steady however, LA is filled with fans, and they came out in force for this concert.  I've only recently really started listening to their music, and I like it; but for me the live show clenched their place in my playlist.  What a powerful performance.  The music was performed perfectly, the energy was high, and the crowd was pumped up.  I highly recommend seeing them live.

The highlight for me was the finale where both bands came out on stage.  Now, DBT rocks no less than three guitars, The Hold Steady adds two more, plus Shonna Tucker picked up a six-string for a change for a total of six guitars.  (BTW, Shonna if you read this, I have a huge crush on you.  Just so's ya know.)  Not once, though, did the six guitar thing get out of control.  The combined bands performed a version of DBT's Let There Be Rock and covered Robbie Robertson's Look Out, Cleveland.  But for me the highlight was the cover of AC/DC's Ride on, which was spectacular.

All in all, a fantastic show.  If you get a chance to see either band, take it - great musicians and great music.

We'll see y'all at the rock show.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Daniel Henninger and the War on Christmas

 I normally find the Wall Street Journal to be an enjoyable read.  I'm fiscally conservative and WSJ really has some great writers.  However, Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the editorial page, has written a piece of absolute tripe that I hope WSJ at least regrets publishing.  In this piece, Mr. Henninger (can I call you Danny? Thanks) makes two completely unsubstantiated claims.  First, that there is a wholesale movement away from the use of "Merry Christmas" as a midwinter greeting (ostensibly to "Happy Holidays" since he doesn't actually state what he thinks people are saying), and this trend is due to actions by the atheist community. Second, there is a connection between this and the current financial crisis.

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines.

The stupid, it burns.

Seriously?  I don't know very many people who avoid saying merry christmas.  I still say merry christmas and I'm an atheist.  So do most of my non-religious and jewish friends.  The truth is, Danny, most atheist don't give a rat's ass whether you say merry christmas, happy holidays, happy chanukah, merry solstice or happy kwanza.  It just doesn't make a huge difference in our lives. (Now, if you want to put a nativity scene up at your local city hall we might take issue, but for other reasons entirely.)  Businesses might choose to use happy holidays in their advertisements because, well, they're run by businesspeople who realize that they probably have both christian and jewish patrons.  For example,


"We also use the word 'holiday' in our outreach to customers, as many of our store displays and other marketing efforts cover more than one holiday from Thanksgiving to New Year's and stay in place throughout the entire holiday season from November through January," Home Depot spokesman Ron DeFeo wrote in a statement to AFA.  (source)

It’s just easier to say one thing than to try and address all winter holidays separately.  Note that Mr. DeFeo didn't mention any concern for the atheist opinion, because the vast majority of companies don't even consider what we want when crafting marketing strategies.  

So I think the first point is weak at best.  Sure my conclusion is based on a small sampling, but you can do a little research for yourself and see how many of your friends and colleagues still say merry christmas.  Christmas is not under attack.    Feel free to use whatever phrase you like.  We promise not to pay any attention.

That leaves the second point. In order for the argument to stand, point one must be valid.  So let me grant point one as true.  Where to begin regarding point two then?  To say that this is a strawman is to insult scarecrows around the globe.  It is completely unsupported by any data or evidence in the article.  If Danny had bothered to look, there is plenty of evidence that the more secular of the developed democracies exhibit substantial “moral” behavior.  In fact, there have been entire books written on that very subject.  Take Phil Zuckerman’s “Society Without God: What the least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment for example.  In this book, Zuckerman explores morality in the Scandinavian nations of Norway and Sweden where the vast majority of the population exhibit at most a “gentle agnosticism”.  The last time I checked, these countries were not the ones who allowed the construction of a financial house of cards based on poor management by powerful mortgage and insurance firms.  That was the US, the most christian nation on the planet.  Some of these countries did jump on the bandwagon (Iceland being a prime example), but they didn’t start this mess.  We did.

If you want to examine a worldview that might lead one to taking on a mortgage that one knows is too large, let’s look at “prosperity theology.”  The wiki entry for this topic lists more than 25 tele-evangelists who espouse this morally bankrupt concept, including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and Joel Osteen.  These charlatans have followings in the tens of thousands, many in the economic brackets that are most affected by the current crisis.  I’m not going to describe this theology in any detail, but I think anyone who believes that their piety entitles them to a big house or a fancy car is a poor moral example.  And don’t get me started on The Secret.  What a barrel of bollocks.  Oprah, baby, what the fuck are you thinking?

So I think it’s safe to say that being more rational and educated isn’t the cause for making poor financial choices.  Those who believe that god will take care of them regardless of their poor choices will continue to get exactly what they deserve.

Be well,


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Science education - we're doing it wrong

As a fan of all that is sciencey (not a word, I know), I feel fortunate to live in what is considered the most scientifically advanced society that has ever existed. However, I think there is a distinct movement in the US away from science as part of the foundation of our worldview.  Whether you're talking about the introduction of non-science into the science classroom or the backlash against "elite" university-educated leaders, knowledge-seeking and rationality seems to be in decline.

I want to give you a frightening example of where this attitude is leading. produces cartograms of the world based on specific data.  So instead of a country's size on the map being based on physical landmass, it is based on its ranking within a particular data set.  In their own words:
'The maps presented on this website are equal area cartograms, otherwise known as density-equalising maps. The cartogram re-sizes each territory according to the variable being mapped.' 
The particular cartogram below

'...shows the growth in scientific research of territories between 1990 and 2001. If there was no increase in scientific publications that territory has no area on the map.

In 1990, 80 scientific papers were published per million people living in the world, this increased to 106 per million by 2001. This increase was experienced primarily in territories with strong existing scientific research. However, the United States, with the highest total publications in 2001, experienced a smaller increase since 1990 than that in Japan, China, Germany and the Republic of Korea. Singapore had the greatest per person increase in scientific publications.'

© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

As you can easily see, the US (we're the small, purple part on the left) is growing more slowly than both the EU and Asia in terms of scientific research publication.  You might be saying to yourself, " Nice map, but who cares?"  We should all care.  The US has been slowing moving away from it's traditional manufacturing roots for decades.  All you have to do is look at cities like Gary, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or numerous other rust belt cities to know that.  One area that has been a growth engine is biotech.  Companies like Amgen, Genentech, and Chiron to name a few helped to kick off a vibrant and dynamic industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people across the country in high-paying jobs.  Their partnerships with universities large and small provide critical funding for research and help to commercialize breakthroughs that might otherwise languish in lab notebooks when the researcher is unable (or unwilling) to find the capital necessary to bring it to market.  The fundamental driver for all of this is basic research.  I'm not talking about the big, well-known, sexy research projects like to human genome project or the LHC (which is in Europe).  I mean that post-doc in a basement microbio lab of a state university where the lab benches are quite literally covered with instruments, incubators, and water baths and there's always a funky odor that's a cross between autoclaved TSB and some kind of alcohol.  These are the people who work for next to nothing on bioremediation by common soil organisms or quorum signaling by pathogenic E. coli.  And the culmination of their research is, FSM willing, a publication.  That's it.  If it's a good journal, it might help get a grant to keep their project going another year or so.  Those publications are where we are falling behind, according to the cartogram above.

If this type of research continues moving out of the US, there will be dire consequences.  Singapore is leading the way.  Their culture emphasizes a strong, disciplined focus on science and it is reaping rewards.  Their rate of publication is growing faster than ours.  Their government is giving heavy tax incentives to biotech companies who move operations to Singapore, and companies are taking them up on that.  In fact, the government of Singapore has invested billions in research and development campuses where academia and industry can collaborate on cutting edge technologies.  

We need to wake up.  Investment in science education must be a priority.  The past eight years have been a drought and we desperately need a downpour.  If you want jobs to replace the millions that will be lost when the auto industry collapses, look to the biotech and tech sector.  Write your congressperson or senator and let them know that you expect a change in direction, that you are tired of being told that our consumer culture will save our economy, and that you will be watching their actions closely.

Be well,


Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy belated birthday Carl, whatever star you are.

Carl Sagan (Nov 9 1934-Dec 20 1996)

We are all the stuff of stars.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Did someone turn over a rock?

If you grew up watching Laverne and Shirley, you'll probably remember how whenever they would say the names of their upstairs neighbors Lenny and Squiggy, the latter would come barreling through the the door of their basement apartment with cheesy "hello," trailing his dopey companion behind. Well, I just experienced the equivalent of saying Squiggy.

Just a few days ago, I was reading something about Ted Haggard, the bisexual founder of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. You remember Teddy. He built a cult of personality around spewing sanctimonious bull shit and proclaiming the return of our nation to it's "christian roots." Then it came out (no pun intended) that he was having sex with a male prostitute who also happened to be his meth dealer. 

Good times. 

I don't like Ted. Perhaps that's not fair since I've never met him, but I'm OK with that. I've seen and heard enough to be comfortable. It's guys like him that convinced their congregations to give large sums to the anti-gay marriage groups here in California.
"We don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity. It’s written in the Bible." - Ted Haggard in the documentary Jesus Camp.
Just because you would rather just have fleeting one night stands doesn't mean all gay men want that, Ted. Some would like to get married and have a committed relationship.

Oh well, at least he's out of the public eye now. Can't do so much damage from his sexuality reprogramming retreat.

Well, yesterday morning I was at the gym before work and there's Teddy on Good Morning America, big as life on the flat panel TV above the bikes. I couldn't have been more surprised if he whipped open the door coming from the aerobics room with a cheesy "hello!" springing from his lips. What is this guy, a vampire? Does it take a wooden stake to get rid of him for good? He was spouting some crap about being sexually abused, once, when he was seven. Yeah, that's why he did it.  It's all the pent up pain and frustration.  You know what, Ted? Fuck you. You must have a pair the size of cantaloupe. Take some personal responsibility, you bilious jackhole. Thousands of kids are abused each year. Sometimes the abuse goes on for years. Some go on to abuse kids themselves or sink into addiction, but most pick up the pieces, find a way to get whole again, and move on. Most decidedly do not have homosexual relationships with their masseuse/prostitute while simultaneously married (to a woman) and preaching against the sin of homosexuality.

You are a unique and special snowflake, my friend.

Then I get to work and check the news feeds. Guess who else is "breaking their silence" by giving an interview to a West Palm Beach news station. Mark Foley.

Sweet fancy jeebus, it's raining assholes.

You might remember that Foley (the Lenny to Haggard's Squiggy) was guilty of "abusing his paige-a-day calendar" as I once heard it described.  Foley also blamed his actions on being molested, this time by a priest. At least Foley's story pans out since the priest in question admitted the abuse.  I find Foley to be no less odious than Haggard.  Why can't these guys stay away.  No one is interested, except Good Morning America apparently.  Or maybe Haggard could just admit that he's attracted to men.  It really wouldn't be that big of a deal.  But instead, they've repented and recovered and are better christians than they were before (difficulty: low).

I think they're both lying, for which they've clearly demonstrated a gift.  I'm waiting to see what happens within the evangelical community with Haggard.  He's obviously making a comeback bid.  I wonder how long it will be before his book comes out?

Be well,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A tale of two cultures

I saw something very interesting today in two news items. The first is a UPI item about the closing of the gender gap in Norway, which ranked first in the list of countries examined in a report from the World Economic Forum.  The US ranked 27th.
The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio
So Norway, one of those godless Scandanavian countries, recognizes the value of women in their society, whatever role they may take, and supports them. Providing a full year of paid maternity leave is just one example.  I can't help but think that perhaps the secular majority (up to 70% of the population reports a lack of belief in a god) may help that along since there is little reliance on scriptures that extol the subservience of the wife to the husband. Focus on the Family, just so you know, is not big in Norway.

Contrast this with what is going on, and has been going on for centuries, in Afghanistan.  The Taliban were no slouches when it comes to control.  They know that an ignorant population is easier to control through fear and propaganda.  So they put all the boys through religious indoctrination, and forbid females from any education at all.  Since the US invasion and the fall of the Taliban, girls have been allowed to return to school.  Well that just won't do, will it? CNN reports that a group of schoolgirls in Kandahar were attacked by men on motorcycles wielding squirt guns full of acid.  Two of the girls were blinded and several others were badly burned simply because they wanted an education and a chance for a better life.

Christopher Hitchens has called the education and empowerment of women the one sure way to relieve poverty and suffering in a society.  With one of the world's highest per capita GDPs, very low unemployment, and extremely low violent crime rates, Norway is doing its best to prove Hitchens right.  I only hope that Afghanistan can someday break free of its crippling theocracy and come to see women as the full partners in society that Norway does.  

And at the same time, the US has some serious work of its own to do with respect to the equality of women.  We congratulate ourselves on having a woman nominee for the Democrat presidential ticket and another for vice president on the Republican ticket.  Let's not forget that we are quite late to the party on this one.  Many countries in the EU have had women leaders: Margaret Thatcher (UK), Angela Merkel (Germany), Edith Cresson (France), Anneli Tuulkki Jaatteenmaki (Finland), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway),  plus others in Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Israel, and Portugal.  Even countries with large muslim populations have had women leaders: India, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.  Sri Lanka has the honor of the first female Prime Minister ever, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.  So let's not pat ourselves too hard on the back just yet.

We as a country still have a long way to go.  We are not Afghanistan, obviously.  But we are not Norway either.  While I do not relish the thought of putting up with Sarah Palin's divisive rhetoric again, she does have a shot at being the first major party female presidential candidate in 2012. I have to believe that's a small step in the right direction.

Be well,


You, too, can be a Mormon it or not.

In a bizarre article on CNN this morning, Jewish holocaust survivors are apparently pissed off at Mormons over the practice of posthumously baptizing holocaust victims into the Mormon cult.

Baptism by proxy allows faithful Mormons to have their ancestors baptized into the 178-year-old church, which they believe reunites families in the afterlife.

Using genealogy records, the church also baptizes people who have died from all over the world and from different religions. Mormons stand in as proxies for the person being baptized and immerse themselves in a baptismal pool.

I know the magic underpants wearers are less reality based that typical xtians, but this just seems too strange even for them. So basically what they're saying is that, despite the fact that the LDS has a very strict code of behavior and beliefs, you can still end up in heaven regardless as long as one of your descendents is Mormon and puts you in some sort of baptismal raffle.

Congratulations! Despite your murdering and thieving ways, you get to spend eternity in heaven with your family (who, by the way, you've never met).

It is a truly strange world we live in.

Be well,


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mormons and Prop 8


I was listening to NPR last night (I know, we godless infidels love our NPR) on the way home and a local station was doing a spot from the Mormon temple in West LA. Turns out there was a rather large protest going on over the passage of Proposition 8. In case you’re not from Cali or just haven’t been paying attention, Prop 8 amended the constitution of our state to define marriage as one man, one woman. Prop 8 passed with a lot of help from the Mormon church leadership who encouraged their cult* members to donate money, lots of money, to the Yes on 8 campaign. They also funded advertising that lied, but I guess that’s not a sin. It’s all very confusing.

The part that caught my attention was the interview with a woman who described herself as struggling actress who moved here from Utah. She is a Mormon and she voted for Prop 8. Nothing interesting so far. She had come out to the protest last night because she wanted to let everyone know that her religion is a religion of love and that she has no personal animosity for homosexuals. She even baked some banana bread. Awwww. I’m all misty.

She went through the typical tripe about the sanctity of marriage since god created it when he put Adam and Eve on the earth (young-earth creationist alert!), and we have no right to redefine what god created.

The interviewer, being a member of the elite liberal media, Katie Couric’d her a little. He went on the offensive and asked her (I’m paraphrasing here) if she knew that there was a separation of church and state in this country and if it was OK for the state to make clearly religious distinctions in it’s constitution. Here’s the most telling part of the interview. There was that pause that I’ve come to recognize in so many instances where this topic comes up. What she wanted to say was, “What separation?” Instead, she ignored the question altogether and said something to the effect that we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Incredible. I guess she has forgotten that her cult is only 150 years old (give or take) and that in it’s early days, everyone else thought it was a cult, too. In fact, some christian sects believed mormons to be worshippers of satan. Today, mormons are simply looked down upon by the older cults like the aristocracy would view the nouveau riche. However, her cult would not exist today if it wasn’t for that little thing called the establishment clause.

So it comes down to this, in my mind. If “marriage” is a purely religious construct, then the state has no business issuing marriage licenses. Let the state issue civil union licenses for all. If you want a marriage certificate, visit your local church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc. Then the sects can get on with arguing over who’s marriage certificate is better, and my state can get out of the business of discrimination.

Be well,


*Lest you unfairly charge me with inflammatory name calling, let me give you some classic defining characteristics of a cult:

Exposes members to intense physical or emotional stress, often through group worship experiences and rituals
Offers the inductee simplistic answers to all their problems
Offers the inductee unconditional love as long as they remain faithful
Encourages ingroup and outgroup thinking
Encourages members to eliminate relationships with those not part of the ingroup, with the exception of prosthyletizing.

You can decide for yourself.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two more days.

In two days we will see whether Californians amend the state constitution with the most blatantly discriminatory addition in our state's history. I don't think I can say it any better than our good friend SLJ.

Separate but equal is still separate. I hope Californians do the right thing.

Be Well,


Thursday, October 30, 2008

So this is quite possibly the worst historical comparison that I've heard yet during this crazy, f'd-up political season.

So let me get this straight. If the wackaloon religious right fails to pass Prop 8 (which by the way, amends the California constitution because at some time in history it was believed that allowing a simple majority to do that would be a good idea), then it will be equivalent to Germany's failure to stop Hitler's rise to power.


The lack of logic in this man's rant is stunning. Let's start with a little history lesson. Hitler:
1. Began his rise to power by eliminating the rights of groups he considered impure. These groups included the jews (of course), but also gypsies and homosexuals. Where does the gentleman in the video think the pink triangle comes from? It was the symbol the homosexuals were forced to wear so that others would know of their sin.
2. Hitler gradually removed the basic rights of these groups, much like what the proponents of Prop 8 want to do.
3. Once he marginalized these groups, it was much easier to eliminate them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that he did many of these things with the full blessing of the German churches; and the catholic church helped the Nazis in many ways, too.

Let me make a more appropriate analogy. In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were indicted for violating the laws of Virginia against interracial marriage. They had been married in the District of Columbia earlier in the year where it was legal. They were subsequently convicted and forced to leave the state, not to return together for no less than 25 years. The most telling aspect was the judge’s own words:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Sound familiar? God says you can't get married. Sorry. I know you love each other and all, but its a fucking abomination. Too bad. The Loving decision of the Warren Supreme Court subsequently overturned the lower court's ruling and, in fact, eliminated anti-miscegenation laws throughout the US. Damned activist judges.

Some might say that the since the trial judge couldn't point to a bible scripture that supported his statement, he was just simply a racist with a religious bent. But, God obviously hates homosexuals.

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." Leviticus 18:22

Well, this is where growing up in a baptist church comes in handy. Leviticus also says

"For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him." Leviticus 20:9

Look out kids, daddy's got license to kill.

And for those who believe that Jesus repudiated the more vile aspects of Leviticus but still hated homosexuals, they need to show me where Jesus condemned homosexuality because I can't find it. Mainly because he didn't.

So, I'm just going to come out and say it. If you believe that Prop 8 is justified by the Bible and that's good enough, you're no better that that trial judge in Virginia. You are a small-minded bigot. That doesn't mean that Prop 8 won't pass. It quite possibly will. And if it does, it will be one more human right, one more aspect of common decency stripped away in the name of a vile bronze-age myth. Hitler would be proud.

Be well,


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McPalin - The Antiscience Ticket

here have been a number of issues during this election cycle that have bothered me. However, I have limited my comments to those topics that I am most passionate about, religion, science, and education. I have tried to be somewhat nonpartisan, although I think most readers would know my leanings. But, much like the climate of the current campaign, here is where it's going to get ugly. I'm not going to say that Sen. McCain's pick for Vice President was my main reason for rejecting him (his statements on his potential supreme court choices were a big reason), but it certainly put the last nail in the coffin. Since then, I have tolerated Gov. Palin's folksy, aw-shucks attitude, her Joe-Six-Pack and hockey mom wisdom, and her blatant divisiveness. I have even went as far as defending her to those who believe she is an idiot. However, yesterday (Oct. 24) in a policy speech designed to support the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), she made statements that reveal an understanding of basic science that truly can only be described as negligently ignorant.

Oh Noes! We're paying French flies to do research?

Pardon my french (pun intended), but what. the. fuck?

As we are all know, Gov. Palin has a newborn with Down's Syndrome. Because of that simple fact, she represents herself as uniquely qualified to be a proponent of special needs children (those with Down's, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the many forms of mental retardation). One would expect then, that she is at least minimally educated in the basics of the genetic basis of many of these diseases.

However, in this particular speech, she rails against $18 billion in federal "earmarks" and then specifically calls out "fruit fly research in France." Now, I know that as a sound bite, that's probably pretty effective. But here's a little fact for the Governor. The Genus Drosophila (fruit fly) is the source of much of the basic knowledge we have about the eukaryotic genome. Early geneticists exploited some key characteristics of Drosophila's chromosomal structure to understand things like, karyotyping, recombination and deletion, and polyploidy. Polyploidy is, at it's most basic, having multiple copies of each chromosome. Mammals are diploid. We have two copies of each chromosome. If you have more or less than 2 copies, that's generally bad. For example, if you have three copies of chromosome 21 (Trisomy 21) you have a particular form of mental retardation...oh, what's it called again?...oh yeah, Down's Syndrome. Gov. Palin can thank Drosophila for the knowledge necessary to even understand the basics of her son Trig's disorder.

So Gov. Palin believes that by taking money away from basic research, we can fund research into Down's and ASD? I would have thought that the McCain/Palin campaign would at least have a couple of advisors from the science community. I didn't agree with all of Sen. McCain's answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions, but they were more than adequate. Maybe he just temporarily hired a consultant to write his answers. I don't know, but there doesn't seem to be any scientist helping Gov. Palin with her science policy planks.

I suppose I ought to address the other part of the quote. The part about the researcher dollars going to France. Well, whatever your feelings are on the socio-economic policies of our European friends, you need to understand that research efforts are often multi-national. A single research project may include labs from multiple countries, each just as critical to the overall outcome as any US lab. So, like it or not, sometimes research dollars do go to labs outside the US. And as far as French researchers go, this microbiologist happens to think that Louis Pasteur is one of the most important scientists in history. Call me biased. There's also that little thing called the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine which was awarded, in part, this year to the French researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier who discovered HIV (which by rights should be called HTLV III, but that's a topic for another rant).

So, with McCain's misrepresentation of the Adler Planetarium's planetarium projector as a "$3 million overhead projector", Palin's statement that she believes in teaching creationism along with evolution, Palin's reluctance to face the fact of humanity's role in global warming, and now this stupidity, I am officially calling McCain/Palin that anti-science ticket. If you, like me, believe that science education is critical to America's future, please consider the Obama/Biden ticket. Obama isn't perfect, but he appears at least to be reality-based.

Be Well.


Big shout out to Think Progres, Pharyngula, and many others who posted on this first.