Knowing what might not be so….

No, not everyone’s opinion is of equal value on every subject; I think that this is especially true in subjects that require specialized knowledge (e. g. science issues).

But I think that, at times, even smart people can fail to account for factors that may be foreign to them.

First we have this:

Okay, if the Cable News Network (CNN) is really an unbiased and objective news source, they’ll have to counter this program with another. According to MediaIte, the unctuous apologist and atheist-basher Reza Aslan is going to get his very own show. I can’t bear to describe it, so I’ll just copy the announcement:

One day after CNN announced its Kevin Spacey-led campaign docu-series, the cable channel announced two more original series, part of anetwork reorientation away from breaking news coverage and commentary. [..]

But where’s the “Unbeliever” series to counter Aslan’s apologetics?

Bottom line: commercial television is about ratings and money from sponsors, and secular atheists just aren’t a large market segment and I’d bet (don’t have the data) that the more intellectual atheists don’t watch a lot of television.

Of course, I am merely making a conjecture; giving a possible reason why this might be so.

I’ll be even more speculative here: remember the racist chant from a University of Oklahoma frat that was in the news? It turns out that a couple of students were expelled over this. Personally, I think that there are free speech issues here; I don’t think it is a good idea to kick someone out of school because they expressed ideas that you don’t like. And there may be some legal problems here as well, as Randazza explains. But where I part ways with Randazza is over the “why” of the expulsion. I really don’t think it was over PC-ness. After all, I was teaching at a university that graduated a well known racist activist.

But at Oklahoma…well, sports are a big business and we have stories of football recruits changing their minds. The cynic in me thinks that this played a big part in the decision to expel.

And, if I haven’t touched on enough sensitive topics yet, we have rape. A Democratic State Representative was quoted:

At a New Mexico House Judiciary Committee hearing last week state Rep. Ken Martinez (D) said “rape is defined in many ways and some of it is just drunken college sex.”

Republicans are hammering the state lawmaker over his comments, while Martinez is denying that his remarks were dismissive of the seriousness of rape.

At the hearing Wednesday Martinez, the former state House Speaker, said “rape is defined in many ways and some of it is just drunken college sex.” His remarks were concerning a bill that would remove parental rights for rapists, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican.

Republicans have aggressively criticized Martinez for the comments, with Rep. Kelly Fajardo calling for an apology.

“It is simply inexcusable that Rep. Kenny Martinez dismissed a serious crime as nothing more than a night of ‘drunken college sex,'” Farjado said in a statement. “His comments are belittling to anyone who has ever been a victim and survivor of sexual abuse, and I hope that he will apologize.”

Uh…like it or not, there is some truth in what he said. On college campuses, there is an ongoing debate about what should be done when BOTH sexual partners are too drunk to consent, or what constitutes being too drunk to consent, and if there should be a double standard between men and women.

But a good way to draw the ire of some “feminists” is to point out that sometimes, some nuance is involved.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | atheism, civil liberties, human sexuality, politics, politics/social, religion, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Political Correctness and Hate Speech…

First, a bit of fun. These are some interesting “have you ever thought about it this way” memes. I especially like 6, 12, 15 and 20. Here are a couple:



Ok, birth and deaths don’t happen in an instant but over a very brief time period, so overlaps are permitted. Ergo this meme is actually false. But I get its point.

Free speech and Muslim anger
I talked about this a long time ago and it has come up again. Basically: many European countries do NOT have U. S. style freedom of speech laws; certain kinds of “hate speech” are prohibited. So, if you are one group who isn’t (or your religion isn’t) protected by hate speech laws and another one is, you might well ask “why are they protected and why aren’t we?”

That is one my my conjectures to why we see Muslim unrest in Europe that we don’t see in the United States.

So, as Jerry Coyne puts so well on his website: The French free speech laws ARE hypocritical:

I am a hard-liner when it comes to free speech: I think that no speech should be banned or criminalized save speech meant to incite imminent violence. And I think Europe needs to truly embrace its democratic aspirations by decriminalizing “hate speech.” Yes, I’m aware that those laws come from a traumatic past and a sensitivity to newly-arriving cultural minorities. But it’s time to deep-six the hypocrisy that pervades the speech laws of Europe.

I am saying this because, though I thought my views were obvious, I’ve received several snarky emails this week from people who tell me that I’m a hypocrite because, as a secular Jew, I must surely agree with the French laws against anti-Semitic speech and yet defend the right to criticize Islam. One person, for example, sent me this cartoon:


(I posted this cartoon in an earlier post, in which I discussed this Vox article).

When you criminalize speech (especially speech which critiques ideas), you really set yourself up for problems.

Political Correctness gone awry: I have to admit that I kind of roll my eyes at the Vagina Monologues, though I’ve been to a few productions of them. My wife played the “Down There Lady”. (here and here)

I figured this was as PC of a play as there is, right? Well, via Randazza: not for some:

Mount Holyoke College cancels “The Vagina Monologues” because women who don’t have vaginas got their feels hurt. (source)

No. Fucking seriously.

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman…Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” the email, obtained by Campus Reform, said. (source)

This is the same All-women’s Mount Holyoke College that recently decided to admit men who “identify as women.” (source) That sorta makes sense to me, but it helps put the issue in context.

You can read more here.

A note for the clueless (like me): you are cisgender if you identify with your biological sex (e. g. are a biological male and claim to be a male).

I keep thinking of this:

January 17, 2015 Posted by | civil liberties, political/social, religion, social/political | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Secularism, rage of the zealots and missing the point.

Yes, I know; Bill Maher holds some woo-woo beliefs (vaccinations). But his point: if you are secular, be open so others know that you aren’t alone is well taken, as is the point of living by some book that was written in a very ignorant age.

Oh sure, some might be offended by this.
People get offended when their deeply held beliefs are challenged; ok, I am no exception. But I can change my mind.

Not everyone can though, as Paul Krugman explains:

A bit more on the curious back and forth between myself and Robert Samuelson. It started when I made the commonplace point that normally the Fed, not the White House, is responsible for managing booms and busts, and that the great disinflation of the 1980s was basically a story of a Fed-imposed recession, and had little if anything to do with Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts.

Samuelson declared this “maddeningly wrong”, and proceeded to say that my analysis of the economics of the 1980s was … basically right — but that Reagan deserved credit for letting Volcker be Volcker. I pointed out that this wasn’t really critiquing my point. […]

Yet Samuelson is angry about something; indeed declared himself “maddened” by a column whose economic analysis he doesn’t actually dispute. What’s going on here?

The answer, I think, is Reaganolatry. Specific policies aside, Reagan must be seen as the hero who saved America. And therefore he must be given credit for a disinflation carried out by a Fed chairman who was appointed by, and began his anti-inflation crusade under, Jimmy Carter. Anything perceived as detracting from the Reagan legend is infuriating, even if you can’t find anything wrong with the substance.

Yes, one faces fury when one doesn’t pay proper deference to a legend or when one examines something perceived as fact:

Damn you, how DARE you question our VICTIM STATUS!!!!

Now in science, there are disputes. One of the tug of wars is in the theory of evolution. Basically, the tug of war is between the adaptationists (those who believe that evolutionary change is primarily an adaptation that improves reproductive fitness) verses those who see a bit more randomness at play. That is, some results of evolution can be, well, accidental and serve no “enhancement of reproductive success” purpose.

To see a demonstration of how this debate plays out, read Larry Moran’s post about “How did a zebra get its stripes.” It is very possible that the stripes occurred by..well…accident. I know; some just grit their teeth when it is shown that sometimes things happen for no good/useful reason. That is, Pangloss was wrong. :-)

Back to social I think that Vox goes astray here. They put forth a story that says that their free speech/cartoon posts received no threats from Muslims but that their “Islamophobia” posts got threats from non-Muslims.

That misses the point, I think. Yes, there are isolated key board commando crackpots out there; no argument here. The difference is that there are no influential Christian clerics who are issuing the analogy of fatwas against people who write books, and there are no reasonably wealthy Christian countries that have governments who give lashes to those who insult religion.

I said “reasonably wealthy” because there are some third world backwaters where things like witch burnings still happen and where the Christians have a hand in it.

January 15, 2015 Posted by | civil liberties, economy, evolution, politics/social, religion, science, social/political | , , , , | Leave a comment

Abuse of government power in the news…

Yes, as a rule, I am quite docile with police as I don’t want a fight. Not only am I physically overwhelmed, I probably would lose in a courtroom to boot.

And yes, many who get beat, kicked and shot by police are those who, well, behaved stupidly by striking police.

But, here, Mano Singham is right. Being rude really isn’t against the law, and the law should NOT require that we become docile. Note: I’ve never had trouble with police, though I did once get profiled while driving on I-55.

Then, the Senate released their “torture report”. It is disgusting. But don’t expect the Republicans to admit any wrong doing…expect their tired old “blame America First” canard.

December 10, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, politics, politics/social, world events | , | Leave a comment

Ferguson: why I believe that things won’t change, and why I am part of the problem.

During this post, I’ll mix facts and opinion and attempt to distinguish the two.

What bothers me: No, I didn’t see the evidence. And, had there been a trial, I would have understood a “not guilty” verdict as there may have well been some doubt.
But there was no trial, and from what these lawyers and said PRIOR TO YESTERDAY, the grand jury set up was designed to avoid a trial:

The message that is being sent to certain groups of people, intended or not, is “your lives really aren’t that important”. It appears that law enforcement is directed to protect certain groups of people from other groups of people rather than to serve *all* of its citizens.

Yes, I’ll say it, poor black communities ARE more violent than other communities. But, ironically, much of that violence is due to the communities being underserved by law enforcement! By that, I mean that much of the violence one sees is the “law being taken into the hands by the residents” because there is a fear that law enforcement won’t take their concerns seriously; that is, instead of taking legal disputes and reports of crime to the authorities, residents take the law into their own hands; residents have no confidence that the law is there to protect them. (source: Stephen Pinker’s book: Better Angels of Our Nature).

No, riots don’t help, and these riots really don’t compare to sports riots, though of course, there is much more anger over the grand jury decision.

But I seriously doubt that things will change. Here is why: yes, some of it is racial; my guess is that humans evolved a xenophobia reaction (to keep the other homosapiens away from our water hole).

But, I think that something else is going on. When things like this happen, well meaning people bring up things like concentrated poverty and how certain groups of people are doing a whole lot worse than other groups:

The median net worth for black households is $4,955, or about 4.5 percent of whites’ median household wealth, which was $110, 729 in 2010, according to Census data. Racial inequality in apartheid South Africa reached its zenith in 1970 when black households’ median net worth represented 6.8 percent of whites’, according to an analysis of government data by Sampie Terreblanche, professor emeritus of economics at Stellenbosch University.

Ok. But in my opinion, these facts might just make the problem worse, not better.


The United States of America loves winners. The wealthy and successful are revered. Those who aren’t are dismissed as losers.

Poor? Well, you should have worked harder, or you just don’t have what it takes. It isn’t my fault you had a family that you couldn’t afford and that you smoked and drank your excess money way.
Low paying job? Well, my job pays better than yours, so you should have done better.
People in your community in jail? Quit committing crimes!
Did poorly in school? Well, I did well! You should have done better.

We watch “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and not “lifestyles of the poor and invisible” (a Honey-Boo-Boo excepted here and there).

We watch elite athletic competition when we can. Yes, I drive a bit further to watch a less successful Big Ten team play other Big Ten teams instead of a more successful but FCS level team. Hey, next season, the home game schedule includes Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern!

I know that I follow the blogs of the elite, award winning scientists. I act like this around the best scientists, engineers and mathematicians:

Consider how much more an athletes benefits from winning THE GOLD at the Olympics as opposed to finishing, well, 5’th (still a fantastic accomplishment). No one fantasizes about finishing 5’th.

So, it is my opinion that, with the exception of a statistically small percentage of people of exceptionally high moral character, we’ll continue to view the poor and less powerful as losers whose concerns are unworthy of anything other than cursory attention.

Update: a commenter (Dr. Andy) provided an excellent link about what frequently happens when a police officer is charged.

November 25, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties | , , | 5 Comments

About that Ferguson non-indictment

I have a friend who is a lawyer and has done some work for me.

She posted a link to this video where a law professor and a prosecuting attorney are interviewed…this was PRIOR to today’s announcement.

Note: I understand that the jurors were reviewing THIS case and not social policy.

November 25, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, racism, social/political | | Leave a comment

Blogging breakout: modern college teaching issues and feminism

My blogging usually goes down at this time of year; the academic semester is drawing to a close and issues crop up…and yes, football season is still going strong while basketball season is starting.

So a bit about college teaching:

There is often a “hot buzz-phrase” going around and one of those is “teach the students where they are”. Translation: “water your course down enough so that the slackers can get at least a C; preferably better”. But no, I won’t do that. For one, my courses are usually prerequisites for other courses. For another: in almost all of my courses, I have good students who benefit from a genuine course. Yes, I know; if one has an exceptionally good section, one can offer a better course. But college mathematics is a bit like, say, running: if the students don’t do the workouts, they won’t learn. The onus IS ON THEM.

And speaking of student responsibility: someone padded their resume/activity report/CV by producing this guide as to what to do when slacker/under prepared student does “X”. Hmmm, great idea…given that we might start with 70-80 students in a semester. (hat tip: College Misery).

Or, one could let the students accept responsibility for their actions. Nah. Oh yes, they have some teaching tips for you too. Oh dear. Remember: this is supposed to be college.


Hope for this winter: possibly not as snowy as last year?

Senator Tom Coburn warned of possible civil unrest if President Obama went on to issue executive orders about immigration. Well, see for yourself.

At the outset: let me say that I am for equal rights for everyone. And yes, as more women take non-traditional jobs, the work places should make “basic fairness” adjustments and provide equal pay for equal work. But I am for fairness to everyone (e. g. racial and religious minorities, gays, etc.) So I don’t use a label.

But like many who took a Time Magazine poll, the term “feminism” has a negative connotation for me. This is another reason why. And in some ways, I feel that some feminist positions demean women though I disagree a bit with the author’s criticism of programs to encourage women into STEM fields. Here is why: I think that many women who DO have the aptitude to excel in science, mathematics or engineering might try these fields with extra encouragement.

Of course, they might not like these fields at the same rate that males do…just for genetic reasons. But I’d like really throw out the welcome mat for those who might be inclined to try.

November 22, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, political/social, politics, politics/social | , , , , | Leave a comment

Discussion and criticism of religion

Jerry Coyne wonders if free speech is “on the wane” in the United States; he notes that, at least when it comes to the criticism of Islam (as it is practiced), conservatives tend to be more on the side of free speech than liberals. Yes, liberalism has always had its anti free speech strain and free speech just doesn’t neatly divide “left/right”.

But about the Islam issue: Michael Moore defends Bill Maher in noting that, while he understands why some liberals balk at criticism of Islam he also sees merit in Maher’s point of view.

I can see it too. I’ll explain it this way: I’d never discriminate against someone on the basis of the religion that the belong to, and I think that a mosque should be treated exactly the way that a temple, church, or synagogue is treated. On the other hand, rioting over a cartoon or a burning book is absurd. Yes, I know; European countries have codes that prohibit certain types of speech and Muslims might wonder “if, say, Jews are protected, why not us too?” But we should be free to criticize bad ideas, and my criticism of your religion violates no right of yours.

And while Christianity has had a horrible past (and horrible present in parts of Africa) but I haven’t seen a Christian minister in the west calling for the death of someone because they wrote a book.

We have our fundies and many are remarkably ignorant with regards to the world. But they don’t issue death threats.

Still, practices within Islam vary. For example, while Iran still enforces some draconian laws and still executes people for religious crimes, the day to day practice of Islam is more relaxed and moderate that some might imagine:

BY LAW, ALL public buildings in Iran must have prayer rooms. But travelling around the country you will find few shoes at prayer time outside these rooms in bus stations, office buildings and shopping centres. “We nap in ours after lunch,” says an office manager. Calls to prayer have become rare, too. Officials have silenced muezzins to appease citizens angered by the noise. The state broadcaster used to interrupt football matches with live sermons at prayer time; now only a small prayer symbol appears in a corner of the screen. […]

What many have moved away from is institutionalised religion—as far as they can. Women still have to cover their hair in public. They are banned from sports stadiums, and buses are segregated, with women sitting in the back behind a barrier. Yet female Arab visitors say they feel freer in Iran than at home, where misogyny is “less organised but more ingrained”, as one puts it. Female students outnumber men by 2:1 at many Iranian universities, leading to calls for male quotas. A recent survey of young adults by Iran’s parliament suggests that 80% of unmarried women have boyfriends.


So perhaps there is some hope.

November 11, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, religion, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Randazza’s take on catcalls

I’ve talked about the “catcall video” here and here and here.

Marc Randazza is a famous First Amendment lawyer and, well, explains things very well. You have to get past his “I am a tough guy” language and his Ted Nugent like “if you did this around me I’d do X, Y and Z to you” stuff; I am surprised that I haven’t been able to find his MMA record. :-)

But his logic and ability to get a point across is very impressive; I think that he’d make an excellent professor. I’d even call him “brilliant”; even if he appears to work hard to hide that.

So, he takes on the cat-calling stuff and does a great job of getting right to the point: yes, it is irrational for women to flaunt what they’ve got and to not expect a reaction, but they have the right to be irrational and..yes, they are showing their butt, but NOT FOR YOU. And, catcalls aren’t going to get you any.

Read what he writes; it is excellent.

True: some feminists might say “see, the guys KNOW that catcalls won’t get them sex, hence they are doing this to punish women for rejecting them hence it is misogyny.” But, even so “not-so-hot” women get catcalls and many guys are delusional about what they are capable of attracting.

November 1, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, human sexuality, social/political | , , | 2 Comments

Fracking, economics, Obamacare and religious freedom…

Fracking I’ve never been aboard the “fracking is terrible and should be banned” bandwagon. I’ve always been aboard the “energy companies should do it right” bandwagon, and when the companies get sloppy and take short cuts, accidents happen, often with terrible consequences.

So, this study which showed that water contamination near gas wells in Pennsylvania and Texas was NOT due to fracking but instead due to leaky gas wells did not surprise me at all. Yes, there is a problem and it should be fixed. But the technique of fracking isn’t the culprit in these instances.

Of course, this headline is wildly wrong: it should read “no water pollution due to fracking”: (from here)


Economics Textbook economics is working fine, but too many economists have let ideology trump economic theory:

The big problem with economic policy is not, however, that conventional economics doesn’t tell us what to do. In fact, the world would be in much better shape than it is if real-world policy had reflected the lessons of Econ 101. If we’ve made a hash of things — and we have — the fault lies not in our textbooks, but in ourselves.

Yes, Obamacare is working for many, but those who are benefiting from it will vote for those who want to repeal it anyway:

The Affordable Care Act allowed Robin Evans, an eBay warehouse packer earning $9 an hour, to sign up for Medicaid this year. She is being treated for high blood pressure and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, after years of going uninsured and rarely seeing doctors.

“I’m tickled to death with it,” Ms. Evans, 49, said of her new coverage as she walked around the Kentucky State Fair recently with her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid under the law. “It’s helped me out a bunch.”

But Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama — “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,” she explained — and said she would vote this fall for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who is fond of saying the health care law should be “pulled out root and branch.”

Ms. Evans said she did not want the law repealed but had too many overall reservations about Democrats to switch her vote. “Born and raised Republican,” she said of herself. “I ain’t planning on changing now.”

So now you know why my sympathy for people is limited. I am for Obamacare as I think that it helps the economy. But as for the individuals helped by it: read the above.

I remember reacting with disgust when many who are on the public dole complain about President Obama and the liberals.

I suppose their cluelessness is a bit like this:

Separation of Church and state

Now, of course, what is said here is perfectly legal as a campaign rally is not a government sponsored event. And yes, Senator McCain had not yet arrived when this invocation was given (he was to arrive later via his “Straight Talk Express” bus:

But I’ll speak to my reaction (I was there): I bit my tongue and tried hard to not break out in laughter; to me this is “Zeus vs. Thor” stuff.

My point: while I believe in separation of church and State and believe that the government should not take sides on religion, I am NOT religiously offended at public prayers and the like. I see it as, well the way you might see an exotic (to you) culture going through some sort of ritual.

But the religious might be VERY offended; a prayer in one religion might be “blasphemy” to someone else.
Hence, religious people ought to be MORE in favor of “separation of church and State” than I am. Because if these aren’t separated:

The Satanic Temple is widely known for fighting to place a statue of Baphomet next to the Ten Commandments on the Oklahoma statehouse grounds. And now they’re bringing Satanic materials to kids in Florida, and it’s all thanks to “Christian” extremists.

Had Christian extremists let the school remain a secular place that honored the separation of church and state, the Satanic Temple would not have been able to introduce kids to The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, which will be widely available in Orange County schools.

The activity book asks kids to find ways to be inclusive in order to solve problem. For instance, one set of instructions in the book says, “These bullies are mad and afraid of things they don’t understand. Help Damian use inclusive language to defuse the situation.” In addition to the activity book other materials will include “pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.”

A Louisiana state lawmaker learned this the hard way:

In Louisiana, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools. It’s unconstitutional, it’s a way to use taxpayer money to fund someone’s faith, and it was a bad idea to begin with.
But it passed.
Now, one of the state legislators, Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Watson), just made a shocking discovery, though: Christianity isn’t the only religion!

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

(of course, she appears to believe that our Founding Founders were Christians; some were but others were not).

September 17, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, health care, morons, politics, religion, science, social/political, technology | , , | Leave a comment


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