# blueollie

## On Finding Common Ground with Believers

Of course this number goes down with educational level, and scientists with Ph. D. degrees believe at a much lower rate:

Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists — people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology — said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe.

In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices.

“Based on previous research, we thought that social scientists would be less likely to practice religion than natural scientists are, but our data showed just the opposite,” Ecklund said.

Some stand-out statistics: 41 percent of the biologists don’t believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.

In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

“Now we must examine the nature of these differences,” Ecklund said today. “Many scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition. Some scientists who don’t believe in God see themselves as very spiritual people. They have a way outside of themselves that they use to understand the meaning of life.”

Ecklund and colleagues are now conducting longer interviews with some of the participants to try and figure it all out.

Of course, belief is even more scarce at the very elite levels: only 7 percent believe in a personal deity.

Of course, my “in person” friends tend to have Ph. D.’s and I hang around places like Richard Dawkins.net or Daily Kos where unbelief is the norm.

So, what do I have in common with believers? Well, at first glance, it appears that the answer is “not much”; though many educated believers (and clergy among the mainstream religions) claim to accept science (e. g., accept evolution), there are some big differences. Jerry Coyne discusses these here; he points out that while some at the pulpit may well accept a form of evolution, relatively few in the pews actually do. He also points out that those who claim to accept evolution really don’t accept the version that scientists do. For example, evolutionary theory has most mutations being random (save those induced, say, by a radiation accident); of course, which mutations get passed on via reproduction are NOT random; natural selection is a huge factor (though there is some scientific debate as to the relative magnitude of the influences of natural selection, genetic drift, changes in environment, etc.)

In short, if one views humans as the intended outcome of the evolutionary process, then one doesn’t accept scientific evolution; in fact experiments (such as the Michigan State experiment) show that evolution will advance down different paths if “started over”).

The fact that we humans are here now IS an accident and not the intent of some greater design!
Of course, some might believe in some type of deity that would have allowed such an accident to take place, but this isn’t the “god that cares about humans” deity of the Bible or the Koran.

Nevertheless, there are those believers that I have something in common with. For example, read this post by Brotherpeacemaker:

Someone was trying to tell me how powerful and omniscient god was and said that god knew when a sparrow fell from the sky. My first reaction was to laugh, not because I thought this person was wrong. But I have to ask the question, why would god be interested in a sparrow falling out of the sky? I don’t know too many people who believe in god and don’t believe that he is all powerful and all knowing but are we so arrogant to believe that we rate that high on god’s attention meter.

The universe is a seriously vast entity. According to the simple human interpretation of the space and time continuum, the universe stretches from one side of infinity to the other and god is working across it all. Throughout all of this there are countless galaxies with countless stars with a number of planets with a countless numbers of individuals and plants and animals and god is supposed to expend his limitless power on knowing when one of the countless sparrows on this single planet buys the farm. If such a concept was uttered by a five year old it would be cute in its total simplicity. Such a notion would rank right up there with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin, the caring American, Peter Pan, Captain Crunch, and the like. As a people, we really need to do a better job developing our understanding of our relationship with the infinite being and grow out of the simple, feel good notions we learned back in Sunday school when we were knee high to our parents.

Our self importance in the cosmos knows no limit as well. If we are taught to believe that god is some voyeur all up in our business because we are just so special then it is a prime example of humanity’s self centered-ism at its finest. God gets furious about our adultery. God hates our active sex lives without marriage. God punishes the evil that people do and is ready to pounce because we’re all that and then some. People need to learn a little more humility. God is a busy Supreme Being. As I write this and as you read it god is building entire galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. Millions of planets need forming and countless species need planning. And that’s in this universe alone. There are other universes and other realities that need his attention as well. And he’s supposed to stop all this activity to take note of a little birdie that’s about to hit dirt.

Ok, one might quibble with the notion of an infinite universe; it may well be a compact manifold of some sort. But here is the money quote:

We may pray for god to save all the little children. But truth be told, if god wanted to, he could keep every child safe from now to eternity. But why would god be so moved to do so? God knows about people dying everyday and he allows it to happen. Why? As a people we already have everything we need to keep our children, our family, our community, and our world safe. As a collective, we simply choose not to. It’s always somebody else’s problem. Rich people could share their wealth with the people in need, but that would be welfare and no good for anybody because it was tried before and failed. But people forget, the very people who work hard to keep racism alive are the very same people who were in charge of the welfare program; the white mindset. God cannot be prayed into wanting to help us more than we want to help ourselves. […]

God hasn’t charged anyone to stop abortion. God has never charged anyone with the duty to invade another country and kill thousands upon thousands of people while friends coincidentally get rich robbing the national coffer. God didn’t abandon the people in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. People who were in the position to help but didn’t abandoned the people in New Orleans. God doesn’t have to save every child on the planet. We need to change our collective spirit so that we can develop a global community that truly wants to leave no child behind instead of using it as a catchy slogan to obtain a political office.

God has already answered our prayers. We have everything we need. We simply choose to squander it in a system wrought with favoritism and privilege for the few and indifference and struggle for the masses. This isn’t god’s plan, it is our plan. We’re either going to stick to it and let civilization rot or change it for the better. Quite frankly I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Our very existence may now be in jeopardy with global warming and we are too shell shocked from our day-to-day life to do anything to stop it. But as soon as the point is reached where it appears that divine intervention is the only thing that will save us we’ll pray for god to save us and wonder why he doesn’t and say it’s the lord’s will when in all actuality it is our will that doomed us.

No, I don’t accept this notion of deity (which sounds a bit like a deist god). But I agree: the only thing that we can do is to work to change the things that we can; no deity is going to pull our fat out of the fire or save us. I think that then Senator Obama, Senator Edwards and Senator Biden got it right:

Of course differences remain; one can claim that some deity was responsible for the creation of our spacetime continuum. Of course, I’d like proof before I believe that, and I haven’t seen any.

But when it comes to our day to day life I agree with Mano Singham:

What atheists like me say to religious believers is simply the following: If the existence of your god has empirical consequences, then provide empirical evidence that supports your contention. If it has no empirical consequences whatsoever, then say so and we will not interfere with your theological and philosophical ruminations because we do not really care to speculate on the properties of what we consider to be a mythical entity.

Conclusion: if you believe in a deity that set things in motion and then let it go, we’ll agree to disagree (until I get some evidence to the contrary). But in our day to day lives, we have some common ground and can therefore have a very nice coexistence and even friendship!

May 12, 2010

## End of the Semester; Obama’s picks, etc.

Workout notes: yoga class then 6 miles on the track (6.38) in 58:11; 8 lap splits (7.5 laps per mile in lane 3): 9:58, 9:43, 9:30, 9:35, 9:48, 9:35. This was similar to my December 2 workout though 43 seconds slower though this run was much, much easier.

What I am noticing is that I feel like death during the first mile (out of breath, etc. and don’t really start feeling good until 20 minutes into it).

Academia Yep, the final grades are in. I decided to post them on blackboard; but this program is set up so that you load one column of data at a time. One of my snowflakes panicked when he saw his numerical course score and final exam score (both not-so-hot) but I hadn’t loaded the final grade column yet. He got a big “benefit of the doubt” for the final grade, though given his “when can I come in and see you” e-mail…well I am very tempted to change the grade that I assigned him thereby removing the “benefit of the doubt”. (yeah, I am going to come in over break to listen to whining…NOT!!!!)

Mathematics and Science

Interestingly enough, integrals came up in a blog that I read:

Having recently slogged through grading an enormous pile of graduate-level problem sets, I am compelled to share one of the most useful tricks I learned in graduate school.

This probably seems silly to the theoretical physicists in the audience, who have a habit of changing variables and units to the point where everything is dimensionless and equals one. However, in astrophysics, you frequently are integrating over real physical quantities (numbers of photons, masses of stars, luminosities of galaxies, etc) that still have units attached. While students typically do an admirable job of setting up the necessary integrals, they frequently go off the rails when actually evaluating the integrals, as they valiantly try to propagate all those extra factors.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Suppose you want to calculate some sort of rate constant for photoionization, that when multiplied by the density of atoms, will give you the rate of photo-ionizations per volume. These sorts of rates are always density times velocity times cross section:

Go ahead and read the column; it has some interesting mathematics in it. Finally, they boil down one integral to:

$\frac{8\pi}{c^2} \, \frac{(x_0\,kT)^3}{h^3} \, \sigma_0 \int_{x_0}^\infty \, \frac{1}{e^x-1} \, \frac{{\rm d}x}{x}$

Have fun! Ok, I haven’t tried this yet, but I strongly suspect that this is a residue integral or perhaps could be changed into a probability function by a clever change of variable.

Algebra
I also finished my abstract algebra grades. Here is an interesting little problem: roughly speaking, a field is a system of “numbers” in which every non zero element has a multiplicative inverse. For example, the integers don’t form a field (only 1 and -1 have a multiplicative inverse in the integers) but the rational numbers do form a field.

It is a known fact that the integers mod p (p a prime) do form a field.

So what about this question: consider the set $S$ consisting of $a + bi$ where $a$ and $b$ are mod p integers (p a prime) and $i$ is the square root of $-1$ and multiplication is defined as it is with complex numbers. What conditions must be met for $S$ to be a field? Hint: p = 3 and p = 7 yields fields whereas p = 5 does not!

Note: this problem is not at all difficult but you do have to play around a bit.

Science and Politics

I’ve been critical of some of Obama’s choices. But I’ve been ecstatic over others; from Science Debate 2008:

We want to congratulate President-elect Obama on continuing to assemble an outstanding science team.

A few days ago we told you about the appointment of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.

Today we have two more outstanding appointments to announce:

1. We have learned that John Holdren will be President Obama’s Science Advisor. John has an excellent knowledge of science policy, and a deep understanding of how the public needs the government to engage on science policy issues. He is a recent past president of the AAAS and an early and ardent Science Debate 2008 supporter. You can watch a 1-minute video he did for us last February, promoting a primary science debate at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

2. Jane Lubchenco, we’re told, will head up President Obama’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admninistration (NOAA). She is an outstanding choice with a deep background in marine biology. Jane is also a past AAAS president, and also an early supporter of Science Debate 2008. When we issued candidate invitations to an Oregon debate, Jane was a close advisor. Here’s a 1-minute video of her.

Why are these choices so important? Here is a 1-minute video President-elect Obama’s transition chief, John Podesta, did for us earlier this year that answers that. Clearly, this is a man who gets it, working, it seems, for a president who gets it.

There is widespread hope that these excellent picks (in science) will continue.

In all, I haven’t educated myself on all of his picks, though I’ll do so over the weekend. Here are my initial impressions:

* Department of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack: I am leaning favorable here.

* Department of Commerce
Bill Richardson: I am very happy; smart and multi-talented

* Department of Defense

Robert Gates: Yes, a Bush holdover but he appears to be smart and competent.

* Department of Education
Arne Duncan: Chicago area superintendent; I don’t know much.

* Department of Energy
Steven Chu: Nobel Laureate in Physics; head of the Livermore lab, passionate and out of this world brilliant.

* Department of Health and Human Services
Tom Daschle: lean favorable but I’ll have to learn more; I didn’t follow his Senate career all that closely though he was minority leader at one time.

* Department of Homeland Security

* Department of Housing and Urban Development
Shaun Donovan: really don’t know other than he is from New York.

* Department of the Interior
Ken Salazar: mixed; he has political skill and is the Colorado Senator; from reading the stuff he wrote I don’t get the impression that he is all that intellectual. Here is an example.

* Department of Justice
Eric Holder: I don’t know all that much about him.

* Department of Labor

* Department of State
Hillary Clinton: Love the pick. She is sharp, knowledgeable and well respected around the world.

* Department of Transportation
Ray LaHood: Barf; this guy is a mediocrity where I think excellence is needed. But one commenter at Prairie State Blue said:

Politically speaking. LaHood will help deflect some of the inevitable Republican criticism of these massive spending projects. And it’s not the job of a Cabinet Secretary to come up with fresh, imaginative solutions to complex problems. In fact, someone too in love with his own ideas could easily become a liability.

That is probably the best defense of this pick that I’ve seen.

* Department of the Treasury
Tim Geithner: seems sharp, creative and full of energy. I like the pick, but we’ll wait and see.

* Department of Veterans Affairs
Eric Shinseki: love this pick; he is best noted for falling from the grace of the Bush administration by telling the truth about how hard the Iraq occupation would be.

Ok, the Rick Warren thing

No, I don’t like the fact that is @sshole was chosen at all; I think that this wooish bigot sets a terrible example for the country. But remember this: politically speaking, this is one way to throw a bone to the yahoos (e. g., right wing evangelicals) without giving them one tiny bit of policy.

Some takes: Friendly Atheist (aka Hemant Mehta ) says to “chill out” (though he doesn’t like the pick either). He asks: “who gave Bush’s invocations? ” Of course, few really remember that.

Markos Moulitsas (founder of the Daily Kos) is disgusted but sees a silver lining:

I’m with Aravosis on this one.

I’m reading a lot about how Obama “reaches out” to his adversaries, and that’s why he’s building a track record of inviting avowed homophobes to stand front and center at his campaign events and now his inauguration.

Okay, I’m game. So we know being a gay-basher doesn’t disqualify you from a seat at the Obama table – in fact, it seems to be an outright qualification for proving Obama’s post-partisanship. If Obama prides himself on reaching out to all sides of every debate, then why is it that Obama has never sat down with, or promoted at his events, an avowed racist or anti-Semite?

Yeah. Where is David Duke’s invitation? Or as Blue Texan notes, when do Phelps and Hagee get their invitations? Heck, throw up Tom Tancredo up there for good measure, so us Latinos can feel some of the hate!

On the other hand, John Cole also has a point:

You would think that folks would be ecstatic that they have a President-elect who, for the first time I can remember, is publicly, openly, and repeatedly stating that he supports equal rights for gays and lesbians and that the Christian right is wrong about these issues […]

I think the Warren choice is bullshit, but if we want a silver lining, it’s that the President of the United States has just said:

I am fierce advocate for equality for gay and—well, let me start by talking about my own views. I think it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something I have been consistent on and something I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.

That’s not a bad silver lining. But let me add this to John — Obama wouldn’t be out there making perhaps the strongest statement in support of gays and lesbians by a president (though he’s still not technically one, I know) if it wasn’t for the sturm and drang this choice generated. It is precisely this backlash that has forced Obama to clearly affirm his commitment to equality. And it will be continued pressure that will force him to do the right thing on the issue.

If we shut up, he’ll take the path of least resistance. And that path of least resistance is kowtowing to the conservative media, the clueless punditocracy, and bigots like Warren.

And let’s face it: it is Barack Obama’s style to blow off his strongest supporters and reach out to the other side.

Let me start by talking about my own views. I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency. What I’ve also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues, and I would note that a couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign’s been all about, that we’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

December 19, 2008

## Obama Infomercial and Other topics

In case you missed it, the “almost 30 minutes” Obama informercial.

Good stuff; I am not sure if they got the live shot at the end though. In the “real time” version, they ended it with a shot from a Florida rally.

Some non politics

Richard Dawkins: this parody article has Dawkins dying only to be resurrected and getting Jesus-like qualities. Of course, he claims that there is a “natural explanation.

A book I need to read: a book about dumbness in politics, from both the left and the right. The book is Dumokoracy by Beckerman.

A socially liberal person talks about the balance between compassion for others and living responsibility. Highly recommended. Mano Singham’s writing has been exceptionally good lately.

2008 Election and Politics

Humor: A comment on just who is counting your votes. Feel better?

Obama: “Am I a socialist? I did share my toys when I was in kindergarten.”

Feel Good story
Daughter of a man who was born into slavery votes for Obama in Texas. Yes, she is 109 years old!

Yes, I lived close to her (she lives near Bastrop, Texas, which is 30 miles outside of Austin).

How is the campaign going?

Bill and Hillary Clinton are going all out.

Ari at Edge of the American West comments that Obama is running an exceptional campaign.

John McCain’s commercials continue to misfire:

Since when did Obama indicate that he’d meet Iranian preconditions?

By the way, the McCain camp still gets it wrong:

What is up with the Republicans?

North Carolina Senate Race
Elizabeth Dole is desperate; she is attempting to slur Kay Hagan by calling her “an atheist”

I find this comical. Of course there are two non-comical things:
1. Dole is lying and
2. She thinks that being “an atheist” is a bad thing; she is using the cry “atheist” as a slur (and it is a slur with many people).

But from my point of view imagine this:

“My opponent doesn’t believe in Zeus!” If you were “that opponent”, would you be offended by that remark? Well, religious wingnuts, your god is to me as Zeus is to you. 🙂

Ugliness continues at McCain rallies: this one is in North Carolina.

A fellow central Illinois resident has had their Obama sign stolen.

But this tops them all: watch as disgraced former Representative Tom Delay (indicted for violating campaign finance law) as he flings monkey feces at Obama: he cries that Obama is a socialist, anti-American, a radical, etc.

Isn’t Tom Delay just the perfect representative of the Republican party as it is today: utterly ignorant, classless and corrupt! Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz destroys him afterward; that alone is worth watching.

Things might not be changing for the better either. Sarah Palin sees the handwriting on the wall and is already thinking of 2012.

Talk about being disloyal to the top of the ticket! But she is the perfect “new Republican” isn’t she: selfish, narcissistic and completely anti-intellectual.

Update: ABC News had admitted that they made a mistake. See here. Palin did NOT say that she was giving up on the election; the “going through this for naught” remark was more about her response to the sexism that she has encountered while in politics and not her time with McCain.

A commenter to a Linda Chavez talks about what is going on:
(Linda Chavez article)

“We need conservative leaders to put the brakes on liberal over reaching. When conservatives are in power, the nation needs liberal leaders to put the brakes on conservatives. That’s a scenario that serves America. The main problem, and it shows up in almost every poll today and every scan of voter attitude, is that Americans simply can’t stomach any more conservative BS.

No more BS that small town America is the ‘real’ America, and that I am not a ‘real’ America because I live in a city. No more BS that Congress needs to be investigated for ‘anti-Americanism.’ No more BS that your opponent, whomever he is, is a Communist or a Socialist. No more BS that your next door neighbor hates America because his political views are to the left of yours. No more BS that science and evidence don’t matter, as long as ideological purity is upheld. No more BS about being privy to the Truth because you are a Christian.

That is the Conservatism that is being rejected. You do not need to believe or agree. But if you don’t see that reality then you are divorced from the reality of this election. As long as your standard bearers are Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, you will lose.”

(Hat tip to Science Avenger)

October 30, 2008

## Religion and the 2008 Presidential Race

Pre post whine: two great football games on TV but the wife wants me to go to the symphony. Even worse, she expects for me to shave off the scruff.

I don’t know what I did to deserve this. 😦

Whatsup “not official Obama campaign” pro-Obama piece

Hat tip: Watertiger. At this site, daily snark (in photographic form) and cute tiger photos abound.

Religion, Society and the 2008 Presidential Race.

Richard Dawkins (of the UK) feels that we (western society) are losing the war against superstition. As far as the United States goes, I am not so sure that we are losing. I am a bit embarrassed as to where we are as a country, but I think that more and more, people that go to church are starting to go for the “right reasons”: to make their own lives better by being part of a community, discussion of morals, doing good works and using mental health techniques such as prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.

It appears to me that the percentage of people who think that somehow some deity will miraculously intervene is going down a bit, though the percentage who believe this is still too high for comfort.

According to a recent Pew Survey, only 60 percent of Americans believe in a “personal god” though 25 percent believe in some impersonal spirit and 7 percent don’t know.

What about politics? Here is a liberal’s position that I disagree with

Democrats are not blameless. I’ve seen some mock Sarah Palin’s membership in a Pentecostal church as proof of her unfitness for office. Conservative evangelicals are often cast, privately, as wacky or stupid. It offends me when Obama supporters send around the video of Palin being prayed for by a Pentecostal minister decrying witchcraft. What’s she supposed to do? Interrupt the prayer and say, “sorry – can’t sign on to that part. Please resume”? As regular readers of my Beliefnet blog know, I’ve defended Sarah Palin’s faith repeatedly.

I admit that I honestly don’t care which religious myths uses to calm their minds and to make them handle life’s difficulties. I don’t care if one uses prayer, meditation, yoga, etc. to help them determine what the most moral course of action to take.

I actually admire the answers of Joe Biden, John Edwards and Barack Obama here (Bill Richardson is ok also)

I think that I understand Mr. Waldman’s point: it is wrong to assume that your party’s position has a monopoly on what is considered “just” and “right” by a particular religion; it is my guess that Mr. Waldman is speaking out against this:

This was at a McCain rally in Davenport, Iowa. I was there; McCain had not entered the arena yet. The especially obnoxious stuff starts at about 55 seconds into it.

The implicit assumption is that the various religions and deities have a political opinion and that the Christian deity prefers McCain.

Personally, I found this amusing as these deities are about as real as Zeus, Wotan, Baal, Ganesh, etc. and this would be like saying: “Dear Zeus, please know that your reputation is on the line because Ganesh, Wotan and Baal want the other candidate to win”.

The only thing that offends me is that so many actually believe such nonsense.

For more discussion (some which I agree with; some I don’t) check out this Larry Beinhart article.

When it comes to quotes like this one (Teddy Roosevelt):

Keep religion away from the ballot.

The Constitution, Article VI, Section 3, states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, said, “An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against.”

Here’s Theodore Roosevelt: “If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross- examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for office.”

I agree, in part. I think questions like “do you believe that Jesus was the son of God” are stupid and out of bounds. However if someone believes that praying to a deity can affect a supernatural event then that should be a factor; I want to know how my potential leaders will make decisions and if they count on supernatural intervention then they shouldn’t be in office.

Asking them if they accept the basic findings of science or instead allow the findings of science to be overruled when they conflict with religious myths is entirely appropriate. Those who place religious myths ahead of scientific fact are not fit to lead this nation.

On a related note: Here is a long article about Sarah Palin’s fundamentalism; evidently she belongs to religious movements that believe that “witchcraft” exists and that it is responsible for bad things.

October 25, 2008

Al Gore:

Bill Richardson:

August 29, 2008

## Obama, Clinton and why Democrats lose so often

One of my favorite sites is Electoral-vote.com (on my sidebar). In addition to keeping up with the various polls, the “votemaster” also adds some interesting commentary.

Today, he pointed us toward this interesting Michael Kinsley article. This gist of the article is this: yes, the left can hate stuff with the same passion as the right wing does (e. g., Bush). But, whereas the right wing has the discipline to rally around their very imperfect (in their eyes) nominee, the left doesn’t, even when the Democratic nominee is close (in terms of policy) to their first choice.

Consider the Republican Party. Many Republicans dislike John McCain with a passion that has lasted for years. Asked to explain, they refer to the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law (which they thought, incorrectly as it turns out, would bite Republicans more than Democrats), or his opposition (since rescinded) to the Bush tax cuts, or what they regard as his tiresome and preening routine as a maverick. They resent his mutual love affair with the press (which he jokingly refers to as “my base”). They remember a lot of foolish talk a while back about how McCain might switch parties and become a Democrat. And yet almost all of these McCain haters will vote for him in November.

Now consider the Democratic Party. The one-on-one rivalry between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama lasted only about three months from beginning to end. Their policy disagreements are negligible. For many Clinton supporters, the chance to elect an African-American President represents the culmination of a cause they have been fighting for all their lives. Yet almost half of Clinton supporters tell pollsters that they will not vote for Obama. And Clinton’s big-money backers are deflecting money and energy away from their party’s presumptive nominee. […]

If you listen to a lot of right-wing talk radio (as I do), you can hear the troops being rallied. O.K., so maybe McCain isn’t really our type. But he’s our nominee. And consider the alternative! Obama is the most radical left-winger since the French Revolution. He is a fanatical leveler who hates rich people and despises success. Plus, he’s an élitist snob…[…].

Democrats aren’t like that. It’s not that they’re too nice or too principled, or too unwilling to be ruthless. The hatred of George W. Bush on the left–and the eagerness to see him gone–is at this point as extreme as anything the right has to offer. (I know this because I share it.) The desire to win for winning’s sake is pretty deep, too. Furthermore, as I suggested in this space a few weeks ago, it is at least an open question as to whether Democrats this year will attempt to match the Republicans in their willingness to “swift-boat”–that is, to play dirty in what they regard as a noble cause.

But true, professional unscrupulousness–the kind of do-anything-to-win pragmatism that Democrats envy in Republicans–requires more than just working yourself up into a lather of dislike. Sometimes, in fact, it requires the opposite: putting aside your dislike, your disappointments, your anger, your feelings of betrayal. In the case of Hillary Clinton’s erstwhile supporters, all of these feelings seem overwrought to me. But there is no point in arguing about this, or at least not now. Now is the time to just get over it.

But there is some good news (in my eyes): the possibility of a “dream ticket” (which I was once cool to) is very much alive.

I made a post about this some time ago. Since then Webb has taken himself out, so I’d replace him with Joe Biden.

So my picks (in order): Clinton, Sebelius, Richardson, Clark, Edwards, Biden.
I’d be very happy with any of these.

I also know that Kaine (Virginia governor) is in the mix as is Bayh.
Bayh bothers me mostly because that means that we would lose a Senate seat.

July 12, 2008

## The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: my review

I admit that I bought it some time ago and read it quickly; I just got through with a slower rereading of it.

What it has The book basically starts out by countering the idea that religious beliefs are somehow entitled to a certain amount of respect just because they are religious beliefs.

Dawkins then goes on to discuss the God Hypothesis and what he means by that.
In a nutshell, by “god”, Dawkins is referring to a supernatural entity that either currently acts or has acted in some supernatural way to effect the outcome of otherwise natural events (e. g., a deity that resurrects dead people, heals illnesses in a supernatural way, causes bullets to miss people (or vital organs), etc.)

He then critiques arguments for the existence of such a deity and find them wanting; he argues that life, as we know it, strongly argues against there being a designer.

He talks about religion and where it might have come from (from a evolution via natural selection point of view) and then does the same thing about morality. Then he talks about what he finds wrong with religion and how, in some sense, subjecting a child to religion can even be child abuse.

Here is what I see as his major point: “faith”, as in believing in something without having any evidence for it is inherently bad, at least for an adult. That is, “blessed are those who have not seen but believe” is, well, nonsense.

It isn’t bad for, say, a kid to do so, as kids who do accept their parents instructions on faith (“honey, don’t play in the street”) tend to live longer.

This is where Dawkins thinks that the faith “meme” came from; those who listened to their elders survived at higher rates and therefore passed on “faith” genes.

True, many of us take medicines without understanding the biology of it, and I don’t know everything about the computer that I am using. But I know that studies have been done on the safety of the medicines and those who have done the studies have passed rigorous examinations and peer review processes.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the book for me is how snippy he is! Time and time again, he lampoons some of the Panglossian utterances that we’ve heard made again and again: “Oh, you got cancer? It must be part of God’s plan.” “Oh, the 9-11 attacks were bad, but did you see God’s hand in this? Only 3000 died in the towers; that was a miracle!”

The latter was from an e-mail that I received.

Dawkins also takes on the “morality” canard and points out that both atheists and believers give similar responses to the standard “moral dilemma” questions, which seems to indicate that even theists don’t really get their morality from a different source than atheists.

Also, think about this example: remember the weird Bible passages that call for people to be stoned to death for doing things like working on the Sabbath, talking back to their parents, engaging in homosexual activity? Remember the ruthless slaughters described in the book of Joshua? How about the murders committed by Samson?

Most of us can see these things as being grossly immoral; clearly can’t be getting that reaction from the Bible. Hence we must be using some other source.

What I wish Dawkins would have said when asked “where do atheists get our moral values from”: I usually say: “we get our morals from the same place we get our medicine, technology, computers, laws and science!” Pretty simple, isn’t it? 🙂

What Dawkins leaves out: Dawkins admits that people explain to him that they don’t believe in an “old man with a beard” type of god. Dawkins goes on to say that he knows that, but a god that requires “faith” is a priori bad. Dawkins also mentions pantheism and blows it off as “sexed up atheism”.

Dawkins also blasts agnostics: after all, few of us are really agnostic with respect to all of the other gods and religious deities out there.

But here is the point: many people (albeit a minority of people) adhere to a religion but don’t really believe in a physics changing deity!

My evidence for this: check out the latest Pew Survey on Religion in the United States. 40% of Americans do not believe in a personal god, including 37% of Catholics, 46% of Eastern Orthodox, 58% of Jews, 34% of mainline Protestant church goers and even 20% of Evangelicals!

Note also that I took belief.net’s “What kind of Christian are You” quiz. I answered every “what really happened when the Bible reported Jesus did miracle X” with a “secular reason” response. I still was scored as a “left leaning traditionalist Christian”.

Even funnier, my sister (who is a Christian) scored in the same category as I did!

My point: there are people who go to church for more than social reasons who don’t believe in miracles. Why?

My guess is that I will call the “grand metaphor” or “grand myth”: sometimes, being grounded in some standard myth (e. g., the Jews being lead out of bondage, Jesus standing up for his principles to help others, even onto death) can help someone through rough patches of life. No, no deity will come in and miraculously save you, but it can calm you down and help you do the right thing.

Religion can teach useful techniques too, such as prayer, meditation and yoga (the latter is good for bad backs!); no “faith” is required.

Also, it appears to me that the public, in general, is quite accepting of this view of religion (see Obama’s, Edward’s and Biden’s answers; Clinton panders a bit)

So, my conclusion is that Dawkins while talking about the God delusion really doesn’t talk about a religion delusion.

Dawkins doesn’t really attack religion that is subordinate to reason on matters of reason. The reason I talk about “matters of reason” is this: oft-times, our reason can show us the right thing to do, but sometimes we need the moral courage and moral strength to do it. Religion, when properly applied, can help provide the latter (though it doesn’t have a monopoly on that).

July 4, 2008

## Grab Bag Part III

Why would anyone call Republicans a bunch of racists?

Of course, there are those who are so delusional that they don’t see racism as a current problem.

More here. and here.

Some articles from 3-Quarks Daily:

Medical Doctors Frustration with paperwork and insurers. In short, cutting costs brings on costs.

Quit reading this and read a book! There is some truth in this; right now I have 4 books half-finished, though one was “half finished” so long ago I might have to reread all of it.

The books: Evolution: Triumph of an Idea by Zimmer

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb I am almost done with this one. It is very useful.

June 17, 2008

## Ok, now the big question:

Who is going to be Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential running mate?

Yes, I’ve read that she is open to it. The only thing that keeps me from being too excited is things like this. If Obama goes that route, we need to find a way to give WJC a 5 month case of laryngitis.

Another possible choice:

Yes, even some top Clinton surrogates like this choice.

To see more about Kathleen Sebelius, go here.

Of course other names: Bill Richardson,

John Edwards,

and Ted Strickland.

My guess: Hillary Clinton.

But no one consulted me. Nor should they have. 🙂

Just one wild guess: if HRC is the VP pick, I wonder if John McCain will keep saying nice things about her. 🙂

June 3, 2008

## Post April Fools…

Workout notes 10 miles (2:26 worth) after yoga; Bob Michael Bridge (the Illinois River was beautiful), Goose loop, Springdale Cemetery, Glen Oak Park.

Misguided to Speak to Poorly Educated

Chuck Norris will be giving the commencement speech to graduates of Liberty University, with founder Pat Robertson surely in attendance. […]

🙂

Biologists have long puzzled over the relationship between evolution of complex traits and the randomness of mutations in genes. Some have proposed that a “cost of complexity” makes it more difficult to evolve a complicated trait by random mutations, because effects of beneficial mutations are diluted.

“While a mutation in a single gene can have effects on multiple traits, even as diverse as the structures of brain, kneecap and genitalia, we wondered how often random mutation would affect many traits” said lead author Gunter Wagner, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. The phenomenon wherein mutation in a single gene can have effects on multiple traits is known as pleiotropy.

This study showed that most mutations only do affect few traits. Further, the effect of an individual mutation is not dampened because of its effects on other traits.

Observing 70 skeletal characteristics in the mouse, the researchers identified total of 102 genomic regions that affect the skeleton. They concluded that substitution in each genome segment affected a relatively small subset of characteristics and that the effect on each characteristic increased with the total number of traits affected.

“You wouldn’t expect to make a lot of random adjustments — at the same time — to tune up a car,” said Wagner. “Similarly, it appears that tuning up a complex trait in a living organism is well coordinated and the effects of pleiotropy are more focused than we thought.”

Other authors on the paper are Jane P. Kenney-Hunt, Mihaela Pavlicev, Joel R. Peck, David Waxman and James M. Cheverud. Funding for the research was from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Humboldt Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the Austrian Science Foundation and the Leverhulme Trust.

Election:

A Sutton cartoon (Comix Nation) pretty much nails it.

Larger image here.

Is this long campaign hurting the Democrats? Maybe not:

[…]She recognizes that she probably will not win the nomination. But a couple of possibilities are at play here. One is that lightning will strike, and she will become the nominee. Or, perhaps more plausibly though counter-intuitively, she is actually helping the party by staying in.

That’s because her message about disenfranchisement seems to have taken hold. As Ms. Williams noted, there are still 10 contests to go, with perhaps 43 millions votes to be counted. To short-circuit the process would anger many of her supporters, especially those who have not yet voted. Thousands of people are coming to her rallies now, and her campaign has organized events in post-Pennsylvania states where people are thrilled to be part of a process from which they are normally excluded.

On Saturday, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are both going to a state Democratic dinner in Butte, Montana. Normally, about 600 people show up. This year, 1,500 had planned to attend. But once Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton confirmed they were coming, 2,500 more tickets were sold in less than 15 minutes. “This will be the biggest political event in Montana in generations,” said Kevin OBrien, a spokesman for the state party.

One person whom the disenfranchisement argument may have impressed is Mr. Obama, who has not called for Mrs. Clinton to step aside. While some of his surrogates have, they have backed off in recent days. It is almost as if a tacit understanding has emerged between the two candidates that the process must play out — not to the detriment of the party but perhaps for the good of the party.

This theory doesn’t take into account reports that as Clinton aides try to woo superdelegates, they are discussing the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Obama’s controversial pastor from whom he has tried to distance himself. But it may partly explain why the Clinton campaign has ceased its daily political conference calls with reporters, which only stirred the pot with the Obama campaign. (Update: Shortly after this column was posted, the Clinton campaign held a conference call to discuss a new ad that criticizes John McCain.)

It may not be apparent to the casual viewer of the news, but Mrs. Clinton is no longer dropping negative bombs on Mr. Obama. She has shifted her attacks, some of them quite trenchant, to President Bush and Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee. […]

But then again, she remains Hillary Clinton and is saying idiotic stuff like this:

en. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and former President Bill Clinton are making very direct arguments to Democratic superdelegates, starkly insisting Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., cannot win a general election against presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sources with direct knowledge of the conversation between Sen. Clinton and Governer Bill Richardson, D-N.M., prior to the Governor’s endorsement of Obama say she told him flatly, “He cannot win, Bill. He cannot win.”

Hmmm, and yet Obama has come from way back to kick your butt? This is how good your judgment is, Senator Clinton:

Bill Richardson isn’t taking any more gruff either:

My recent endorsement of Barack Obama for president has been the subject of much discussion and consternation — particularly among supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Led by political commentator James Carville, who makes a living by being confrontational and provocative, Clinton supporters have speculated about events surrounding this endorsement and engaged in personal attacks and insults.

While I certainly will not stoop to the low level of Mr. Carville, I feel compelled to defend myself against character assassination and baseless allegations.

Carville has made it very clear that this is a personal attack — driven by his own sense of what constitutes loyalty. It is this kind of political venom that I anticipated from certain Clinton supporters and I campaigned against in my own run for president. […]

As I have pointed out many times, and most pointedly when I endorsed Sen. Obama, the campaign has been too negative, and we Democrats need to calm the rhetoric and personal attacks so we can come together as a party to defeat the Republicans.

More than anything, to repair the damage done at home and abroad, we must unite as a country. I endorsed Sen. Obama because I believe he has the judgment, temperament and background to bridge our divisions as a nation and make America strong at home and respected in the world again.

This was a difficult, even painful, decision. My affection and respect for the Clintons run deep. I do indeed owe President Clinton for the extraordinary opportunities he gave me to serve him and this country. And nobody worked harder for him or served him more loyally, during some very difficult times, than I did. […]

I do not believe that the truth will keep Carville and others from attacking me. I can only say that we need to move on from the politics of personal insult and attacks. That era, personified by Carville and his ilk, has passed and I believe we must end the rancor and partisanship that has mired Washington in gridlock. In my view, Sen. Obama represents our best hope of replacing division with unity. That is why, out of loyalty to my country, I endorse him for president.

At least Clinton is attempting to take shots at John McCain.

McCain doesn’t seem phased:

The McCain campaign is not mincing any words in response to Clinton’s latest ad attacking the Arizona Senator on the economy. Senior Adviser Steve Schmidt tells reporters, “with ads like that, it’s more likely the call at 3 a.m. is ‘Senator, you just lost another Superdelegate.’”

Ouch!

But others have taken better shots.

Elizabeth Edwards really goes after McCain on health care.

Elizabeth Edwards Responds: Why Are People Like Me Left Out Of Your Health Care Proposal, Sen. McCain?posted on The Wonk Room
The problem, Douglas, is that, despite fuzzy language and feel-good lines in the Senator’s proposal, I do understand exactly how devastating it will be to people who have the health conditions with which the Senator and I are confronted (melanoma for him, breast cancer for me) but do not have the financial resources we have. In very unconfusing language: they are left outside the clinic doors. […]

his is more straight talk from Elizabeth.She is good.

She is really good.

Senator McCain likes to start speeches with a litany of questions that, presumedly, less plain-spoken politicians would refuse to answer. Well, here are some questions he does not ask but, as that plain-spoken politician, he might want to answer:

1. Under your plan, Senator McCain, would any health insurer be required to sell you or me (or those like us with pre-existing conditions) a health insurance policy?

2. You say your plan is going to increase competition to the point that it actually lowers costs. Isn’t there competition today among insurance companies? Haven’t costs continued to go up despite that competition?

3. You say that under your plan everyone is going to pay less for health insurance. Nice words, I admit, but they are words we have heard before. You must know when American families calculate the actual cost of health care, they have to include those deductibles and co-pays and not just the cost of the insurance. Are you talking about cheaper overall or just a cheap policy that doesn’t kick in until after thousands of dollars of deductibles have been paid?

4. Isn’t the type of competition you are talking about really a rush to the bottom? As long as you allow insurers to underwrite and deny access, you encourage insurers to offer plans that may be cheap, but that get that way by avoiding people with cancer or other high-cost diseases or by limiting benefits and treatments, particularly if the treatment is expensive or might be needed for a long time. We all live in the real world; those of us lucky enough to have health insurance have seen how insurers cut coverage and up co-pays or deny particular treatments. The insurance company makes money when it doesn’t have to pay for our health care. (I suspect that if they could, they would write obstetrical-only policies for nuns.) Doesn’t your plan really encourage insurers plans to compete to avoid people with cancer or other high-cost diseases? Don’t you think that the kind of competition that starts with a decent level of required coverage, that doesn’t exclude the care we actually need, would be better?

I am not confused about your reputation: you are the straight-talker, you like to say. This is about health care, Senator McCain. Doesn’t the American voter deserve some straight answers to these questions? As one of those with a pre-existing condition, I sure would like some straight talk.– Elizabeth Edwards

McCain: not a good choice for President, especially at this time. My reasons for saying this? Well, one reason is that he doesn’t have a good grasp of the issues, especially the defense ones! Yes, part of it is his lack of understanding as I pointed out yesterday. And part of it is his point of view:

(Disclosure: In the 2000 Republican primary season I went on numerous conservative and religious radio talk shows to argue for McCain against the Bush crowd and against the Republican right. McCain returned the favor by writing a great endorsement of my book AWOL-The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes From Military Service, And How It Hurts Our Country. It makes me sad I can’t support McCain now.)

The problem is that McCain doesn’t see himself as a civilian. He was, is and will always be defined in his own mind by the code of military service. This would be a great quality in a general or perhaps in a peacetime president, but will be disastrous in wartime. There is a reason our founders wanted America’s military to have dispassionate civilian leadership.

McCain thinks of himself in terms of honor, service and sacrifice. These laudable abstract spiritual ideas are a terrific quality in officers leading last stands or in medics attending the battlefield wounded. But honor, service and sacrifice are the wrong code for directing national policy. […]

That said, the reason we have civilian leadership of our military is that the military code of honor is great for the military, lousy for the world of civilian decision making. It is even lousy for the military — if the military code is adopted by the nation’s leaders.

McCain would bring both a historical perspective and psychological needs to the presidency. Simply put, McCain does not want to be the president that presides over today’s Iraqi equivalent of the mass exit from the rooftop of Saigon’s American embassy.

McCain comes from a generation of military people deeply hurt by another war-gone-bad, a war McCain paid a huge personal and heroic price for. But what if another Vietnam-style debacle is preferable to a catastrophe? What if that catastrophe is driven by the next president’s stubborn refusal to admit failure, or even admit his own historic mistake in voting for the Iraq war? What if military-style honor cannot be served? What if the Bush error is so big there can be no happy endings? […]

April 3, 2008