15 February 2011: Kooks, Woos and Morons….and other topics…

Ok, we’ll start with some cool but non-kooky stuff
Our Sun just let loose a huge solar flare. No, this doesn’t mean that we are all going to die (not all at once anyway 🙂 ) but it does mean that people that live in northern latitudes will enjoy a spectacular light show and that we might get an electro-magnetic storm.

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics Both of these are advanced concepts and to learn about either at the professional level takes talent, skill and effort. But on some level, quantum mechanics is harder:

“Hardness” is not a property that inheres in a theory itself; it’s a statement about the relationship between the theory and the human beings trying to understand it. Quantum mechanics and relativity both seem hard because they feature phenomena that are outside the everyday understanding we grow up with. But for relativity, it’s really just a matter of re-arranging the concepts we already have. Space and time merge into spacetime; clocks behave a bit differently; a rigid background becomes able to move and breathe. Deep, certainly; inscrutable, no.

In the case of quantum mechanics, the sticky step is the measurement process. Unlike in other theories, in quantum mechanics “what we measure” is not the same as “what exists.” This is the source of all the problems (not that recognizing this makes them go away). Our brains have a very tough time separating what we see from what is real; so we keep on talking about the position of the electron, even though quantum mechanics keeps trying to tell us that there’s no such thing.

A scientist weighs in on the President’s proposed budget. It really isn’t that bad for science; not that the Republicans won’t try to gut science funding.

Yes, things like medicare are part of the real budget busters. And yes, some say that we ought to means-test. That isn’t a bad thing…but it won’t save us much money at all:

But while there’s some money to be gotten by taxing the top 2 percent — they have more than 20 percent of the income — they account for roughly their pro-rata share of benefit costs — that is, the richest 2 percent account for around 2 percent of Medicare expenses. (Maybe a bit less because they’re healthier than the average American, maybe a bit more because they live longer.) Social Security is more complicated, but bear in mind that high earners get bigger benefits, but also get taxed on those benefits; so again, we’re talking about savings not very different from their share of the population.

So we’re talking very small savings here. This is more anti-Wille Suttonism, going where the money isn’t.

Woo and Nonsense
It is the 10’th anniversary of Fox News airing the “did we really walk on the moon” episode. Yes, I’ve met such people; two of my high school English teachers fell into that camp. 🙂

Yes, we should be intolerant of such nonsense:

ohn Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, has had enough and isn’t going to take it any more. He’s urging a more vigorous response to the creeping woo.

“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.”

“One way is to be completely intolerant of this nonsense,” he said. “That we don’t kind of shrug it off. We don’t say: ‘oh, it’s the media’ or ‘oh they would say that wouldn’t they?’ I think we really need, as a scientific community—and this is a very important scientific community—to think about how we do it.”


That is what we need: more activist scientists who point out the stupidity of our opposition. I know, Beddington will be taken to task by mealy-mouthed well-meaning apologists who’ll declare that direct conflict is bad and won’t persuade anyone, but I have to disagree — the constant backing off and making apologies for nonsense is what creates an environment in which lies can grow.

For a beautiful example, look at this article on the Huffington Post, AOL, and anti-vaccination movements. The HuffPo is still making excuses for defending the possibility of a vaccination/autism link, and is saying that the denialists have a reasonable position. Why, no they don’t: you might as well be arguing for a link between autism and anal probes by Martians in flying saucers.[…]

Yes, the peddlers of such woo are often people who vote the same way that I do.

And no, the “gnu atheists” don’t have to be nicer, no matter what some “nice” atheists say, including ones who have written good books:

So you can imagine my disappointment at reading this asinine essay over at HuffPo. It’s a poor representative of a tiresome genre: An atheist lectures his flock about the proper way to discuss religion. Here’s the opening:

I’ve been studying atheists, agnostics, XTC fans, and various other types of secular folk out there for quite some time. I’ve also read most of the anti-religious books that have been published ever since Sam Harris kicked things off with The End of Faith.

And I must say, I’ve got a few criticisms for my God-denying brothers and sisters out there.

Or perhaps, more specifically, some pointers.

For if you really think that a secular worldview is superior to — or at least more rational than — a religious one, and if you really think that the world would be a better place if people didn’t believe in supernatural deities, nasty demons, or chubby cherubs, I would suggest a little self-examination. A lot of you out there are making some serious mistakes.

With that opening I would assume that atheists, through their serious mistakes, have achieved a level of irrationality commensurate with a belief in demons and cherubs. That seems implausible, but let’s see what Zuckerman has in mind.

1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything. When Bill O’Reilly or your Baptist in-laws ask you pointed questions like: “How did the universe get here?” or “What caused the Big Bang?” or “Why is there something instead of nothing?” don’t insist that science has the answer. It may not — ever. It is far better to simply say that we don’t know everything, and may in fact never know everything. There will always be some mysteries out there. Just say: “Yeah — it is quite a profound puzzle. No one knows the answer. But just because we don’t know the answers to everything, doesn’t mean we then automatically accept some made-up possibility.”

Are there atheists out there who don’t answer that way? I am not aware of anyone who claims that science will someday answer every existential mystery. With regard to ultimate questions the point is simply that there is no reason to believe that theology can solve any mysteries that science cannot.

There are several more points to be made; check them out. But he is so right on this one. Anytime one challenges a superstition (faith healing, homeopathy, etc.) you ALWAYS get the “science doesn’t know everything” canard. Yes, it doesn’t, But that doesn’t mean that woo or superstition or religion can answer ANYTHING!!!!! Science has delivered correct answers and the other stuff: not at all.

Republican Morons
Maybe your state employees want to form a union. You as a governor, thinks that they shouldn’t be able to. If they resist….call out the National Guard….if you are a Republican. Remember the time when the National Guard helped people?

Walker is facing fierce criticism for this all-out assault against state workers, especially after he insisted that the “National Guard” will be used against a walkout:

When asked by a reporter what will happen if workers resist, Walker replied that he would call out the National Guard. He said that the National Guard is “prepared…for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for. … I am fully prepared for whatever may happen.”

Traditionally, the National Guard is called to assist Americans in times of crisis; so Walker’s attempt to use the National Guard as a tool to suppress dissent is particularly deplorable. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, more than 50,000 Guard members were called to help, and following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 50,000 Guards were deployed. Veterans have strongly objected to Walker’s recent intent to use the National Guard as a vessel to intimidate state workers. VoteVet released a statement today that says Walker shouldn’t use the National Guard as an “intimidation force“:

“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, WI, and member of “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.”

I don’t know; perhaps he’ll attempt to use the national guard to do the employee jobs?

Kooky State Lawmakers
South Dakota: bill introduced that would allow people to use “defense of life” as a reason for killing abortion providers.

Yes, the bill has been amended but the problem of “self defense of the fetus” remains problematic: why does a pregnant woman have MORE self defense rights than a non-pregnant one? Remember, this isn’t simply a matter of adding an extra count of murder to those who kill pregnant women; if the legislature wanted to do that, they could have introduced a new bill. The question remains as to why they just didn’t kill this original noxious bill.

Not white? This Republican lawmaker thinks that you probably not a real American:

One week ago, the Kansas House Federal and State Committee held a hearing about in-state tuition being granted to the children of undocumented immigrants, which has been the policy in the state since 2004.

Speaking in favor of repealing the law, Rep. Connie O’Brien (R-KS) began telling an anecdote at the hearing about how her son had difficulty in getting financial assistance to attend college. She explained that she took her son to a financial aid office, and as she was waiting in line, she believed there was a girl waiting in line with them who was “not originally from this country.” Fellow committee member Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-KS) asked O’Brien how she knew this student was “illegal.” O’Brien replied that she knew because the student “wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion”:

REP. O’BRIEN: My son who’s a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Yet this girl was going to get financial aid. My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn’t think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country. […]

REP. GATEWOOD: Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?

REP. O’BRIEN: Well she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.

She is catching heat for this, and should. But the larger issue is that this is EXACTLY how many Americans think, and people who think this way tend to vote Republican. To them, their little society is the “real America” and everyone else are not real Americans. Don’t think that the Republican politicians fail to take advantage of this.

As long as mainstream Republicans fail to denounce things like this, the GOP will be seen as the party that coddles xenophobic, racist assholes.

Note: I do NOT accuse Republicans such as President Bush and Senator McCain of being this way; they are pretty good in this area.


February 15, 2011 - Posted by | astronomy, atheism, civil liberties, physics, political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, sarah palin, science, superstition

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