Archive for: December, 2008

The problem with Rick Warren

Dec 19 2008 Published by under Church/State

Unless you're in a coma, you've probably heard that President-Elect Obama invited megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. You've probably also heard that this decision has royally ticked off quite a few members of Obama's base.

I'm not going to get into the political benefits or pitfalls of this decision. It's clear that Mr. Obama and his staff feel that the potential benefits sent by what they see as a message of inclusion outweigh the costs. That's clearly their call to make, and it would hardly be the first time that a politician has expended some political capital on their left to try to buy some on their right.

Instead, I'd like to look at whether or not this is really a message of inclusion. Matt Nisbet has Obama's remarks and some talking points given to staff. I think the key issue was nicely summed up by one sentence in the President-Elect's remarks:

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.

The problem comes with that whole "disagree without being disagreeable" thing. Rick Warren recently compared homosexuality to pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy. That's not disagreeing without being disagreeable. That's being nasty without shouting. There's a very large difference, and it's a bit disappointing that Mr. Obama doesn't see that.

8 responses so far

Words of wisdom from the President-Elect

Dec 16 2008 Published by under Politics

Discussing responsibility at a Chicago school:

"You know, if they do their business, if they've got some poop -- you got to make sure that you're not just leaving it there," Obama said.

I don't suppose there's any way we could take up a collection to get that chiseled into the walls at the Capitol, is there? Preferably over the presiding officer's chair in each chamber.

4 responses so far

Of Shoes and Freedom

Dec 15 2008 Published by under War and Peace

President Bush has been widely reported as referring to yesterday's shoe-throwing incident as the kind of thing that happens in a free society. It's not clear whether the President was referring to the act of the shoes being thrown, the thrower being promptly beaten to a pulp by local security, having him held without charges in the Prime Minister's residence, or the potential two-year jail term that goes along with the crime of "insulting a visiting head of state."

5 responses so far

Distressing economic news from the New York Times

Dec 15 2008 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity

Congrats to the New York Times, for publishing one of the most trite articles on the current recession/depression yet. Lots of coverage of kids who have suffered cuts in their three-figure allowance. A subtle plea for sympathy, because competition with desperate job-seaking adults is making it harder for the kids to find work. And, of course, the article would be far from complete without the requisite piss-poor comparison:

Teenagers from working- and middle-class families are, of course, feeling similar -- if not more acute -- pressure.

And just how similar is the pressure?

Sumit Pal, 17, a senior at Information Technology High School in Queens, said his parents cut his $5 weekly allowance two months ago after the deli where his father works started to lose business. Sumit was interviewed two weeks ago for a job at a company that sponsors rock bands.

"I don't mind losing my allowance," he said. "It goes toward other things, like groceries."

Gotta love it. The $100 allowance that's cut to $60 is a comparable pressure to the $5 allowance that's cut to zero to make room for food for the family. Anyone else feel like puking?

(HT: Larry)

2 responses so far

Beavers of the Gaps

Dec 12 2008 Published by under Humor, Intelligent Design

There's a very interesting article over at Uncommon Descent about beavers, and the things that they do. I'm not entirely sure why they posted the article - Barry seems to be trying to make the point that because Beavers clearly can commit criminal acts but just as clearly can't form criminal intent, their brains are different from humans, and there's therefore something "non-materialist" and special about the human brain. I'd like to take a look at the same story, but with a slightly different focus.

Here's the story:

Green campaigners called in police after discovering an illegal logging site in a nature reserve - and rounded up a gang of beavers.

Environmentalists found 20 neatly stacked tree trunks and others marked for felling with notches at the beauty-spot at Subkowy in northern Poland.

But police followed a trail left where one tree had been dragged away - and found a beaver dam right in the middle of the river. A police spokesman said: "The campaigners are feeling pretty stupid. There's nothing more natural than a beaver."

Let's look at this story from the perspective of detecting design. That's a topic that's particularly relevant right now, given that Dembski himself has recently abandoned, then abandoned his abandonment of, the explanatory filter.

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27 responses so far

Rule Number Two

I picked up my copy of this book when it came out last year. My wife read it - and loved it - immediately. It matched what she saw whenever she went to the CASH on her base in Afghanistan. I've picked up the book any number of times since then, but I could never quite bring myself to read it. I was absolutely positive that reading the book was going to hurt. I read the book today. It hurt as much as I thought it would. And now I feel forced to do something that's probably going to sound a little strange.

I don't quite know how I'm going to do this, but I'm going to try to convince you to go out, buy, and read a book that just left me feeling tired, drained, depressed, guilty, very angry, and just a little bit jealous. And no, nobody is paying me to do this, and yes, I'm totally serious. I hated the way this book made me feel, what it made me think, and the memories it brought back. But the book stirred up..... scratch that.

I was going to say that this book stirred up some strong emotions, but that's not what it did. It didn't stir up emotions. It ripped off a scab - and a scab that I really didn't know was there.

If the book wasn't as well done as this one is, it would have hurt a lot less.

In January, 2004, Heidi Squier Kraft was an active-duty Navy psychologist with two fifteen month children at home. In January, 2005, she was an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran on her way out of the Navy. Rule Number Two is about the things that happened in between. My wife is an active-duty Army flight surgeon with two children at home, and is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. She loved the book in large part because it was written by someone with experiences that were very similar to her own. And that's exactly why this book was so hard for me to read.

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4 responses so far

I've got a hunch that NASA's getting a new Administrator soon.

Apparently, NASA administrator Mike Griffin is a complete bonehead. There's really no other way to describe his recent interactions with the Obama transition team. From an Orlando Sentinel report:

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is "not qualified" to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

I'm not an expert in the intricate political maneuverings involved in transitions, but I've got a hunch that telling the head of the transition team that she's not qualified to judge his program has got to be right up near the top of the list of things to not do. She might not be qualified to judge Griffin's programs, but she's sure as hell qualified to judge his behavior.

Alert readers might note that I said that questioning the qualifications of the transition advisor assigned to your department is near the top of the list of things not to do. I didn't say that it's right at the top of the list. I think that position is occupied by something else Griffin said recently.

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6 responses so far

There might be someone better for Energy Secretary.

Dec 11 2008 Published by under Science, Science and Politics

But I really don't know who it could possibly be.

If the latest set of transition leaks are as accurate as the previous few have been, President-Elect Obama will announce the nomination of Steven Chu for Energy Secretary.

And. The. Crowd. Goes. Wild.

Chu's background is a bit light on the politics side - no DC job, no elected political office - but even if you consider that to be a down side, the rest of his resume more than makes up for the lack. He's a career scientist. He's a world-class physicist, one of the 1997 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004.

He understands the scientific process. He knows what it takes to do good science, and how to get in the way of that as little as possible. He's been an effective head of a national laboratory. He's served on international panels on a variety of issues, including climate change. He's an advocate for the use of good science in public policy, and for better science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. All of those things are good indications that this is a guy who might just be able to rebuild the Department of Energy.

Possibly the best thing about Dr. Chu is this: not only does he understand just how much we know about the relationship between climate, energy efficiency, and the environment, he also understands just how much we don't know. He understands how important it is to close that gap, how little time we have to do it, and just why these issues are so important:

I will leave you with this final image. This is -- I was an undergraduate when this picture was taken by Apollo 8 -- and it shows the moon and the Earth's rise. A beautiful planet, a desolate moon. And focus on the fact that there's nowhere else to go.

54427Main Mm Image Feature 102 Jw4

(image source: NASA)

It's a little too early to know for sure, of course, but I don't think Obama went to the right for this particular cabinet appointment.

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Unions are a free-market solution

Like most people who pay attention to the news, I've been treated to several weeks of Republicans using the Detroit bailout as an excuse to bash unions. Like a broken record, it was easy to ignore for a while, but the repetitive droning of discredited canards (like $70/hr wages) is getting more and more and more annoying.

And it's particularly annoying because the vast bulk of the union-bashing is coming from the alleged free-market conservatives. What the hell is so conservative about beating up on unions, anyway. Unions are the quintessential model of a market based solution to a problem. The management and the money people might not like them, but that alone doesn't mean they're not a market solution - unless the real criteria for "free-market" is "stuff that makes people who already have money happier".

Yes, I'm serious. Let's take a minute or two to think about what unions actually are, and what they do.

At its most fundamental, a union is nothing more or less than a group of people who have figured out that if they act together to place limits on the supply of their own labor, the businesses that have a demand for that labor will need to pay more. Unions are basically employee-owned businesses that sell labor. Like any good business, they try to both encourage demand and control the supply.

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15 responses so far

Dr. Michael Egnor: Neurosurgeon, Stony Brook Faculty, and all around Dishonest Twit

I've been dealing with creationists for a long time now, and I thought that I'd gotten over being surprised by dishonest behavior in their ranks. In fact, I thought I'd gotten over it even when I'm on the receiving end of the false witness, and when the person dishing it out is someone who really should know better. As it turns out, I might not have quite as far over it as I thought.

As regular readers know, Dr. Michael Egnor is one of the more impressively credentialed denizens of the Discovery Institute's media complaints blog. He has decades of experience as a neurosurgeon. He's on the faculty at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he serves as a professor of neurosurgery. And, based on the level of intellectual integrity that he just demonstrated, he's not someone I would trust to train a dog, much less a doctor.

That's a harsh statement, I know, but I just got through reading his response to my recent critique of some of his Discovery Institute ramblings. Or, rather, his response to what he says was my recent critique. It was actually an interesting experience. He managed to take what I wrote so far out of context, and distort it so thoroughly, that I actually had problems recognizing some of the quotes as being my own work.

I may (or may not) deal with the nonexistent scientific merit of Dr. Egnor's reply later on. I'm not even going to try and catalogue all of the cases where Egnor was less than honest in his characterization of my writing. Instead, I'm simply going to highlight the most egregious case of flat-out, nose-growing, pants-on-fire lying.

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74 responses so far

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