August 30, 2009

Another 1A test?

Band shirts hit wrong note with parents is the title to the August 28th Sedalia Democrat story about an interesting T-shirt (see photo) printed and worn by some Smith-Cotton high school band members. As the story states, “T-shirts worn by the Smith-Cotton High School band have evolved into controversy”.


The shirts, a promotion for “Brass Evolutions 2009,” were designed by the band director, an assistant, and a local graphic artist. They were intended to promote the band’s fall program by highlighting the evolution of brass instruments from the 1960’s to modern day. They were debuted in the Missouri State Fair parade, and the complaints immediately started rolling in. So much so that school Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt banned the shirts.

I made the decision to have the band members turn the shirts in after several concerned parents brought the shirts to my attention,” Pollitt said. He further said that the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned. “If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing.”

A woman named Melby, the parent of a student and a teacher at the school, said, “I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” ... “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

Really? Science shouldn't be associated with the school? So is the next move the banning of discussion of physics? Astronomy? Cell biology? What does evolution have to do with a school prohibition of things religious?

Although unlikely, this one needs to be looked at carefully by the courts.

H/T Jerry


August 29, 2009

News roundup


Largest dump in the world; “Pacific Ocean Houses World's Biggest Landfill”.

Inhofe on healthcare reform; "I don't have to read it, or know what's in it. I'm going to oppose it anyways".

Might be hard difficult explaining this to the wife; “Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) may want to double-check his medicine cabinet to avoid what could be an awkward mix-up”.

My, such a surprise: “Cheney condemns Obama's probe of CIA interrogations”.

Don’t tell me the stimulus isn’t working; “Stimulus checks lure Floridians to their arrest”.


Time on their hands?

At least they keep themselves occupied.

I sure hope that stuff washes out easily. More at this link.

H/T Jumblerant


August 27, 2009

From whence it comes


This will take some time. The sermon is an hour long and the juicy parts don't start immediately, but if you want to see a small example of the origins of hate in this country you should click on the link, find the sermon titled "Why I hate Barak Obama", and listen.

I'm particularly fond of when pastor Anderson says "I love all of God's creations" as he describes how to kill snails. Then he wishes Obama the same death. Then he says. "Don't get uncomfortable. I'm just preaching God's word."

Download and listen, then understand that the dude that showed up carrying guns at the Obama appearance in Phoenix on the 17th of August, had been in the congregation listening to this sermon the day before.

Then take a look at Pastor Anderson's blog, where he praises the dude toting the guns...

Then remember that these are the same people the far right wingnuts have courted since the days of Barry Goldwater.

Then decide.

August 26, 2009

Nuremberg Interrupted

The theory of the responsibility of a commander for the illegal or unethical behavior of those of under his command goes back a ways. Sun Tsu, in his 6th century tome, The Art of War, declared it a commander’s responsibility to make certain those under his command behaved civilly, even in armed conflict.

In 1474, in what may be the earliest war crimes trial, Sir Peter von Hagenbach literally lost his head after a Roman court deemed him guilty of failing to prevent atrocities committed by his army in the occupation of Breisach. Hagenbach claimed immunity with what has more recently been called, the Nuremberg defense. “I was only following orders.” Even by 15th century law that didn’t keep his head from ending up in a basket.

The principle of Command Responsibility has been bantered about a good bit over the years, and the goal posts seem to move depending on whether the person under indictment is on your side or the other. Take for instance the Nuremberg trials, in which 22 Nazi leaders were convicted of war crimes. The defense of “I was only following orders” didn’t fly, and just like Hagenbach, all 22 were convicted.

In another part of the world at about the same time, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was on trial for atrocities committed by his subordinates in the waning days of Japan’s occupation of the Philippines. The outcome mirrored Nuremberg and would set a standard followed for decades.

The Yamashita Standard

General Yamashita was represented by American lawyer and Army colonel, Harry E. Clarke. Clarke's defense asserted that “the Accused is not charged with having done something or having failed to do something, but solely with having been something….American jurisprudence recognizes no such principle so far as its own military personnel are concerned….No one would even suggest that the Commanding General of an American occupational force becomes a criminal every time an American soldier violates the law…one man is not held to answer for the crime of another.”

Clarke's impassioned defense made no difference in the outcome. Yamashita was convicted by the American military tribunal and sentenced to death. Appeals were rejected by first the Philippines Supreme Court, then later by SCOTUS. Yamashita was executed early the following year.

The responsibility of a commander for the actions of his troops was set in stone. Or so it seemed, until Viet Nam.

The Medina Standard

In 1968, the Court Martial of U.S. Army Captain Ernest Medina would set a new standard by which Command Responsibility would be judged. Medina was commanding officer of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Brigade of the American Division. This is the unit responsible for the infamous My Lai Massacre. Depending on which body count one believes, American soldiers killed anywhere from 200 to more than 500 old men, women and children that day; and not a single fighting age male.

Although there were 26 military personnel originally charged with the atrocities at My Lai, only one; Lt. William Calley, was ever convicted. Calley is the only one of the 26 to confess full responsibility for what happened, to truthfully tell the tale, and for that he was sentenced by a Court Martial to life in prison (later reduced to four years). Although Calley admitted his actions, he excused them with the Nuremberg Defense. He was only following orders. The Court Martial applied the Yamashita Standard and disregarded that defense.

The orders, according to Calley and many of the men in his squad, came from Cpt. Ernest Medina. Due to these allegations, Medina became one of the 26 charged, and was placed on trial for the events of that day. In his testimony, Calley claimed he had been directly ordered, by Medina, to “kill everyone in the village.” Medina denied that.

The day before My Lai, Charley Company stumbled into a booby trap that killed one of the units more popular soldiers. Cpt. Medina came before Charlie Company that night following a wake for the dead soldier and gave them a pep talk to pump them up for the morrow’s mission. Medina later claimed he never said anything about killing women and children, but many of those present that night believe he said just what Calley remembered; that they should kill any and every “gook” they encountered. Payback for the loss of a comrade.

When all of this finally came to trial, Medina would face charges of responsibility for the murder of 102 Vietnamese civilians. The indictment was based on the Yamashita Standard of Command Responsibility. i.e., if Medina was in charge of Charley Company, he should be accountable for the actions of Charlie Company. Famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey defended Medina, and managed to get key evidence suppressed and beat the charges. The acquittal was upheld on appeal. A new standard was set for Command Responsibility. [It was only after the statute of limitations had expired that Medina admitted he had lied and suppressed evidence that would have convicted him.]

The Chrystal Ball

Briefly, the Medina Standard is “the direct proving by prosecutors in court of an officer, or officers, directly ordering soldiers under their command to do something that they know is illegal."

So, under current standards, if the U.S. Justice Department and A.G. Eric Holder cannot prove a direct link between the orders issued from the Bush/Cheeny White House with the actions of CIA torturers, Abu Ghraib abusers, and Hiditha murderers… those ordering such atrocities will skate while those in the field will go down in flames.

Perhaps this will explain why the Obama administration has been so reluctant to waste time chasing tails.

Best Western Author of All Time

You’d have to be a fan of the western genre in order to know the name of the man named by Western Writers of America (WWA) as the “Best Western Author of All Time.” Most folks only slightly familiar with the genre might be inclined to answer Zane Grey, or Louis L’Amour. But they’d be wrong. A quiet, unassuming man; the least known giant in western fiction, Elmer Kelton was the gentleman recognized by his peers as simply the best.

Over his long career Kelton would take home many awards and recognitions. The WWA voted him seven Spur awards for best Western novel of the year, and the career Saddleman Award. Kelton had previously held the distinction of Best Western Author of the 20th Century, awarded in 1995. He received four Western Heritage Wrangler awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

In 1977, Kelton received an Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement. That same year, the Texas State Legislature proclaimed "Elmer Kelton Day". He was awarded, in 1998, the first Lone Star Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities. Kelton was honored with doctorates from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and Texas Tech University at Lubbock. A sidewalk star graces the Fort Worth Stockyards, honoring Kelton for his work in preserving the Old West.

Kelton was a Texan in every meaning of the word. Born the spring of 1926 to a working cowboy family in a place known simply as “Horse Camp” on the Five Wells Ranch near Andrews, Kelton had Texas and ranching in his mother’s milk. His youth was spent in and around ranch country. He graduated from high school in Crane, not far from the McElroy Ranch where his daddy worked.

Kelton later attended the University of Texas, earning a degree in journalism. He spent the next 45 or so years as editor of a variety of Texas livestock publications. In 1956 he penned his first novel, crafting the tale of a hardscrabble rancher and his son as they dealt with cattle thieves. He sold the manuscript to Forge Books for a penny a word.

That which made Kelton’s work so attractive were his compelling stories and completely believable characters, instead of a bunch of gunplay and contrived action as was so common in the genre. His characters were carefully crafted to be realistic; self-reliant folk intent on making it in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The kind of people we may have actually known at one time or another in our lives. Kelton’s many fans eagerly followed his work, impatiently waiting for the next installment.

Kelton, not as prolific a writer as some, penned only some 60 books over a 50-plus year career. The first was Hot Iron, published in 1956. His last, Texas Standoff, is not yet in print, but we should see it early next year. His personal memoir, titled Sandhills Boy, The Winding Trail of a Texas Writer, was published in 2007. He was writing until his death, but that last manuscript will never be finished.

Briefly and succinctly True West Magazine once commented, "One thing is certain: as long as there are writers as skillful as Elmer Kelton, Western literature will never die."

On Saturday, those of us who love good western literature lost the giant. Elmer Kelton was 83 years old.

Elmer Kelton
April 29, 1926 – August 22,2009

August 25, 2009

From Iowa: President Obama is fascist

Or so one would believe by news reports of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Monday town hall meeting in Pocahontas, IA. That and a bunch of other stuff flew in the back-and-forth exchange between the Republican Senator from Iowa and the local populace. Particularly because of the rantings of sum dood by the name of Eisenhower (how ironic) who stood to speak at the meeting.

"The president of the United States, that's who you should be concerned about. Because he's acting like a little Hitler. I'd take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me."

Tom Eisenhower is a WWII veteran. He has more than earned the right to speak his opinion. But he is sadly misinformed, and that is a downright shame.

August 24, 2009

Doom and Gloom

I heard it again the other day… how President George W. Bush kept us safe for seven years… I guess in a way it must be the truth, but then I have to wonder…

Hasn’t President Obama hasn’t kept us safe for the past 217 days? Didn’t most of our presidents keep us safe for most of all of their terms in office? Previous to 9/11, the only attacks by foreign terrorists on American soil that I can remember were Pearl Harbor and the first World Trade Center attack.

So what are people saying when they say, “The President Has Kept Us Safe”? That WSJ blog post is more than a year old. I’ve read it a few times and I still don’t understand the point. To me, saying Bush kept us safe is a trite statement about a trite president. The statement itself is senseless. I understand neither the left wingers chafing nor the right wing venom circulating the sphere, calling Obama a weak defender of America.

How is it that so many of our people become so single-sided and fail to understand that every issue has multiple facets?

Folks who read me know I disliked the shrub (I was predisposed. He was my governor before he was your president, and he screwed up my Rangers before that). He was, in my opinion, a figurative leader of the most blunderbuss administration since Millard Fillmore occupied the residence. Astute readers may also have noticed that I tend to liken Bush to a puppet, with the real problem being the hand(s) inside the puppet.

To give Bush credit, however, toward the end he seemed to have somewhat figured this out. Ashcroft and Rummy were gone before the middle of the second term, and Cheney was more than somewhat marginalized. In the end, George W. Bush, if considered as an individual, would likely be judged an okay guy; but very likely not the savior of post 9/11 America.

But who would be?

If Al Gore had won in 2000 things would have been different, but probably not better. Osama’s plans were well into the action stages long before the election, so the attack would have transpired regardless. The only difference would have been Gore’s reaction.

Likely it is only Iraq that would have been different, as I feel certain even Gore would have gone to Afghanistan after bin Laden, and I feel just as certain there would still have been no attacks on American soil to follow. So, I have to chuckle a little when I think of what the wingers might be saying if Gore had won, managed a second term, and then skated to 2008 without another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The only thing likely to have changed would be which wingers were slinging what kind of crap.

But Bush won and things went badly. Some really poor policy decisions were made. Gore would likely have made poor decisions too, and at some point in our future America will likely look back at our excesses and recognize them as the reasons for troubles yet to come. The bad guys of the world would point to unlawful or unwise actions and use them to excuse untold terror. To the world, we very likely will always be the evil America. If Gore had won they would have found another excuse, but we would still be the evil America.

Not Letting Bush Up; the Mistakes

Regardless, we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt. The inexplicable decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq, pushing Afghanistan to the sidelines and letting bin Laden have room to run, has fruitlessly caused the deaths of thousands of America’s youth, and most certainly rendered our country less safe in the long run. With Iraq, Bush divided our country and the world. With his oddball policies and bizarre actions towards our supposed allies, he alienated almost the entire planet.

Another president may have done better or worse, but for the moment the homeland seems reasonably safe, and it may or may not be due to the policies of any president. Our foreign wars may very well be that which keeps the homeland safe. After all, why would terrorists cross the oceans to kill Americans when we come to them and they can so easily achieve the same purpose on their own soil?

So did George W. Bush really keep us safe? Has Obama kept us safe since? Both concepts are jokes. Have we ever been safe? Will we ever be… regardless of who occupies the White House?

Just because there have been no attacks on our homeland since 9/11 does not mean we are safe today. Barring some astounding and dramatic change in human nature, we will not be safe ten, twenty or even a hundred years from now. There likely was nothing anyone could have done different in 2001 or since that would have changed this outcome. Just as in our domestic politics, the wingnuts of the world are driving humanity to ruin.

If we are to survive we must find our way out of the wings. Somewhere, there must be people of moderate mind. Somewhere.

The new bike

Sorry for the lack of work here over the past several days. I've been a little preoccupied adding all my trailer trash accessories to the new ride.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Nomad

AD, if we don't get a ride in soon its gonna be too late for this year.

August 14, 2009

Wish I had said that

Brad, over at The Crossed Pond, writes a really good (READ: rather moderate) post on the current healthcare debate, and addresses some of the singularly unplesant aspects of the current system of debating such policies. Some of that which he writes may be read to address the recent roundtable cluster between this blog, #1 Dino's and Ambulance Driver.

NOTE: This is a very long post, but if you make it all the way through I'd really like to hear your comments.

August 13, 2009

The Skeptical Naturalist

"Whatever the reason you're on Mars, I'm glad you're there, and I wish I was with you."

One of my modern-day heroes was Carl Sagan. Of the writers who have lived at least part of their lives concurrent with mine, I count Sagan near the top. I say near, as it would be difficult to bump Isaac Asimov out of the number one slot, but Sagan comes close. He was not the most prolific of authors, publishing only some 200 scholarly papers and was author, co-author or editor of 20 (or 21, depending on perspective) tomes. His last work, Billions & Billions, was finished by his 3rd wife, Ann Druyan, following his untimely death in the winter of 1996. Sagan’s only true science fiction work was the novel Contact, which Robert Zemecki made into a movie by the same name. Jodi Foster was the star.

Sagan’s finest service to mankind was in his attempts to use popular media as a means to educate the masses. Carl Sagan is inarguably the champion in that field. His television series Cosmos, in which he revealed the mysteries of the universe in layman’s terms, was a must watch for millions worldwide. The 13 hour-long episodes started and ended in 1980, but shortened versions are continuously rebroadcast by various Turner networks and by the BBC. The series is acclaimed as being the most widely watched series in PBS history.

Sagan’s advocacy for science was legend. He was a major proponent of the search for extraterrestrial life, which was the basis for the book and movie Contact. He promoted the use of radio telescopes to listen for signals from intelligent extraterrestrials. In 1982 he managed to get a petition, signed by 70 scientists including seven Nobel Prize winners, advocating SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Life) published in the journal Science. Single handedly, Carl Sagan turned the UFO craze into a legitimate search for extraterrestrial life.

During the cold war era, Sagan worked to raise the public’s awareness of the potential effects of a nuclear confrontation. He published a model of how even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons could dramatically upset the balance of life on Earth, coining the phrase “nuclear winter.”

The neat thing about Sagan was not so much his accomplishments, but his humility. In 1991, following Desert Storm, he predicted that the smoke from the Kuwaiti oilfield fires, set by Sadam’s retreating armies, could have a detrimental effect on agriculture throughout the Middle East and Asia. He retracted this and admitted his error in his book, The Demon Haunted World, once again proving that science is self-correcting.

In the news lately have been stories about NASA’s inability to track the so called “Killer Asteroids.” Shortly before his death, Sagan pitched his weight behind the implementation of an organized search for Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) that might impact Earth. This effort fell by the wayside until recently, when an asteroid with a trajectory that will bring it uncomfortably close to us was spotted.

Sagan was a rationalist about religion, maybe an atheist, uttering such statements such as: "The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by 'God' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."

Today I found the following video on You Tube. The intro had a bit of an honorific for Carl Sagan. It prompted me to write this missive. Enjoy.



Of the left leaning pundits, Rachel Maddow is one of the least shrill. Her rhetoric often strikes a more moderate tone than the others, while clearly pointing out the excesses of the right. While I cannot agree with the segment of her piece that attempts to vilify citizens legally carrying firearms, the remainder is something that should be considered.

Recent reports indicate that death threats directed at the president have increased by a factor of 400 since Obama was sworn into the office. In general, wingnut extremism in this country seems to be rising at an alarming rate. We should be very concerned about this.

So what is it exactly that is fueling the politics of fear in this country? Where do the extremist come from? From whence does the radicalization of America stem?

On the left we have eco-terrorists who feel justified in burning down ski resorts and driving spikes into trees so as to injure chainsaw wielding loggers. On the right we have dominionist religionists who feel justified in assassinating physicians who perform abortions and placing bombs that maim clinic staff. Am I the only one who sees the insanity in these violent acts?

As a gun owner and sport shooter; and a believer in protecting my life and property by any means necessary, I would hesitate not a second to take out a bad guy who thought it a good idea to threaten my family of rob me. But as a reasonable human being and a citizen of the United States I find the perpetration of violence as a means to force political outcomes to be vile and evil.

A man openly carrying a loaded weapon (he would be a fool to carry it unloaded) in a state where this is allowed is no threat to me. He is a man taking advantage of his constitutionally guaranteed, inherent rights. It should be such everywhere. This would be a much more polite society were it so.

Taking advantage of one's rights for the sake of sending a message is not so noble. If that man's intention was to imply threat, as it seemed by the sign he was toting, then the man is a wreck waiting to happen, and part of a problem that needs to be solved.

One of my favorite blogs has a little bit on this topic that I fould seriously funny, and seriously disturbing at the same time. Helen may have actually put her finger on the real reason for all this teabaggery. Please pop over and read Helen & Margaret, then bookmark the blog. These two old bats never cease to entertain.

August 12, 2009

Tonight I am the shrill one

Writing this piece is going to be difficult. My position as a moderate has been carefully carved out, but everyone knows I lean slightly left. I’ll defend truth and honor regardless of the offender or the offended. More often than not I stay on the sidelines and let the scenarios play out however they may… unless I perceive something unjust. This time I have been so personally offended that I must speak out, and I regret that it is going to make me sound like a flaming lefty.

The news has carried stories lately of individuals disrupting town hall meetings at which Democrats are attempting to clarify or push health care reform. The left-leaning media play this as orchestrated by loosely affiliated, well funded, false grassroots (Astroturf) organizations. Right-leaning media are playing it as an exercise in free speech. The truth may be somewhere closer to the middle, but I’m tending toward the theory of purposeful, organized disruption. This would be akin to the civil disobedience demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s, when the left was trying to end the conflict in Viet Nam. It was wrong then… it is wrong now.

The offense became more personal with a letter to the Op Ed page of this morning’s print edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, which I would link to if the Star Telegram’s web page weren’t so screwed up and user unfriendly as to make linking a virtual impossibility.

The letter writer is a frequent contributor to the Startlegram’s Op Ed page, writing many more letters each month than the paper’s policy will allow, I’m certain. He is a winger and a sock puppet who writes for the right. He was a big Bush supporter and a current, active Obama detractor. Today’s letter spent a great deal of time and effort mocking Democrats efforts to bring civility to the town hall meetings. According to the letter writer, any such effort is an affront to free expression. I disagree.

There is no doubt that the rabble rousers at the town hall meetings are attempting to disrupt the democratic process by interfering with a means by which legislators have historically communicated with constituents. These wingers claim that they are concerned with the tyrannical direction being taken by the Obama administration and a liberal congress. They compare this administration with the likes of the Stalinist Soviet Union and/or Nazi Germany. They rail against socialism and an administration making unprecedented power grabs. They claim to be standing up for truth, justice, and the American way.

This is bunk, of course. These self-described defenders of liberty are doing nothing except trampling the process. They are the antithesis of the democracy they claim to defend, thus becoming the evil themselves. Their bias becomes especially evident when viewed in light of their utter silence, or their support, over the eight years of the previous administration’s various unconstitutional actions, and the blatant power grabs of our chief executive at the time.

Revelations of the Bush administration’s illegal actions are still floating to the light, adding much fuel to the fires of outrage. That administration contended that the President had all-encompassing authority to do just about anything he pleased, including warrantless wiretapping and spying on American citizens, accessing confidential, personal financial records and information of individual citizens by threatening American corporations with illegal action if they failed to cooperate, arresting anyone on flimsy evidence, then holding them for years in secret facilities without legal representation or plans for trial, and authorizing torture as a means of interrogation. All of this violated the very heart and soul of our constitution. It violated our own laws, too.

Bush bypassed the legislature, effectively re-writing legislation by the use of signing statements, and then assigned to his own Justice department the powers constitutionally granted only to the Judicial Branch. Many times, even though it was a requirement of law, the Bush administration didn’t even bother with notifying congress of the actions taken. The three balancing branches of the United States government, as envisioned by our founders and codified by our constitution, were effectively eliminated in the administration of President George W. Bush. Bush became an all powerful emperor.

Someone please explain to me why these tea baggers were not offended by that, but now they come as the defenders of liberty, protecting the America they know and love by wrecking civility at public meetings and wearing signs with statements advocating violent overthrow of the elected government. They and their faux defenders try to convince us that their only interest is maintaining the integrity of America.


These tea baggers and their sponsors were the defenders of the vilest administration the United States has endured in our history as a nation, yet now they want to be seen as defenders of liberty.

These people do not love liberty… or justice… or the American way. They are not patriots. They are zealots. They had a taste of illegitimate power over the past eight years, and they lust for more. Now that a majority of Americans are offended by the abuses of authority over the past eight years, and the balance of power has shifted, they attempt to use bully force to re-grab the reins… and they threaten violent uprising if they do not get their way. They condemn tyranny in others, but completely fail to see the tyranny within their own hearts.

These hypocrites represent a real, moral threat to the democratic republic so painfully won by our founders all those years ago. America is under siege from within by zealous dominionists with a powerful lust for control. They are the American Taliban. We need to recognize them as such.

One of my favorite blogs has a little bit on this topic that I fould seriously funny, and seriously disturbing at the same time. Helen may have actually put her finger on the real reason for all this teabaggery. Please pop over and read Helen & Margaret, then bookmark the blog. These two old bats never cease to entertain.

August 10, 2009

I get mail

When I write something and post it here, I enjoy getting comments. Since I’ve failed at my attempts to be paid for my writing, comments provide, if not monetary reward, at least some satisfying feedback. What I don’t like as much is direct email commenting on my posts. Engaging me singularly is, I guess, okay… but I’d prefer if it came as comments on the blog so it would be an open debate with an audience. Narcissism, I suppose.

But it doesn’t always work that way, and I Get Mail. So, to answer one of those direct emails, shall we dwell for a moment on my last missive? My critic takes me to task for my comment regarding the null hypothesis. In my previous message I stated:

"Theists often turn science on its head by demanding proof of the absence of god. What they demand is not possible, so they offer the inability to prove the negative as proof of the positive. Not very good science."

My critic contends that if a hypothesis can’t be disproved, it must be considered valid. I strongly disagree. Let us draw an analogy. Consider the following two existing and well documented theories of the creation of the universe, and of mankind:

Theory 01:

In the beginning there was a great void. Let’s call it Ginnungagap. This void existed along with the land of fog and ice in the north, and the land of fire in the south. The mix of fire and ice caused part of reality to melt, forming a giant we will call Ymir, and a cow named Audhumla. Ymir survived by drinking the cow’s milk and everything was cool. Then Ymir fell asleep, and his armpits sweated, begetting a pair of frost giants. One was a dude and the other a chick. The sweat from Ymir’s crotch begat yet another dude. The cow needed something to eat too, so she licked the salty ice formed from Ymir’s sweat. The licking begat another god, who we will name Buri. Buri had a son, but we don’t really know how because he didn’t have a wife yet. Still, he called his son Bor. Bor had some kids too, and he named them Odin, Vili and Ve. These were bad kids, always into mischief I suppose, because for no good reason they decided to murder Ymir. Well, the dude bled a lot and it caused a flood that killed just about everybody, including all those sweat-induced frost giants. The two survivors were some dude we haven’t heard from yet and his wife. We don’t know where they came from, but they floated off in the flood of blood in a boat. We don’t know where the boat came from either. In the mean time the bad boy brothers three took Ymir’s corpse and tore it apart, slinging the pieces everywhere. Some of the body parts became the sun, stars moon, earth and the sky. Then the brothers three happened upon a couple of driftwood logs, from which they created they Ash tree (man) and the Alder bush (woman).

And that’s how we got here… [Editor’s note: please pay attention to the tree that was man, and then notice the name of this blog. Think about that for a moment]

Theory 2:

The universe sprang into existence as a "singularity" around 13.7 billion years ago. We don’t know what a singularity is, but we’re working on that. Singularities defy our understanding of physics, which makes us curious. We think they exist at the core of black holes, and we’re trying to find evidence to confirm that hypothesis, but we really don’t know what black holes are either. We think black holes are areas of intense gravitational pressure, so intense that finite matter is actually squished into infinite density. Infinite density is a mathematical concept that boggles our minds too, but again, we’re working it. Until we know something different we’re calling these zones of infinite density singularities, but we admit we may have it all wrong.

In summary, our universe is thought to have begun as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, something or another, that we’ve decided to call a singularity. Where did it come from? We don't know. Why did it appear? We don't know. Like I said, we’re working on that.

What we theorize is that after its initial appearance, the whole kit and caboodle inflated really quickly and really explosively in an event we’ve taken to calling the Big Bang. We think that after the main act, the whole shooting match cooled pretty quickly, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe over just 13.7 million years. And we think it ain’t over yet either. We think that the whole shebang is still expanding and cooling as we speak, and will continue to do so for another few billion years.

We also think that over those several billion years all manner of life forms have come and gone in some kind of cosmic dice roll to see what works and what doesn’t. At this moment in time, at this plain of reality, in this perceivable dimension, mankind and mules have been sort of successful at surviving, finding sustenance and shelter. We also create a lot of crap and may be lucky to maintain that survival.

All of this due to some infinitesimal singularity that we can barely describe, which appeared out of nowhere for reasons unknown.

And that’s how we got here… we think. [Editor’s note: please pay attention to the product of man’s existence, and then notice the name of this blog. Make any more sense now?]

Science is the trick pony

So here we are back to the null hypothesis. Mine for theory #1 would be that this is a bunch of mumbo jumbo…

But I can’t prove that. I can’t even test it for validity, so I can never affirm my null hypothesis with 100% certainty, just as I can never state that god doesn’t exist with 100% certainty.

But with theory #2 I can use science to diminish my doubts. I still can’t prove it, but I can defend it against some opposition because there is evidence in geology and astronomy… and we have gained some rudimentary understanding of physics.

So, in answer to my anonymous heckler, while I am never able to disprove one theory or another, that alone does not grant any theory automatic validity. I have some knowledge of the scientific method, and I understand the limits of man’s knowledge; therefore I will never make a positive statement in response to a null hypothesis. I cannot.

The fact will remain that my inability to disprove Ymir’s sweaty balls does not validate that particular hypothesis... but neither does it diminish my doubt.

p.s. I blew it on my word count again…

August 7, 2009

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

Atheism Defined

Atheism, as defined by atheists, is easy enough. Simply put, atheism is not theism. It isn’t the opposite of theism… it just isn’t theism. A more expansive definition might be, “a lack of belief in a god or gods.” Some atheists go a bit further and state explicitly, “there are no gods.” In my mind, rationality demands the weaker form of the argument, since the “strong,” or “explicit” atheist has the same burden of proof as the theist, and neither can claim sufficient evidence to support the position. Theists can’t prove the existence of gods, and neither can atheists prove without doubt gods do not exist. Therefore, my particular type of atheism fits the former, weaker definition. I simply fail to see the evidence, so I do not believe.

"Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason."

--Christopher Hitchens

Theists believe a god exists yet do not require evidence to support the hypothesis. Theists often turn science on its head by demanding proof of the absence of god. What they demand is not possible, so they offer the inability to prove the negative as proof of the positive. Not very good science. Some very bright people who hold the rest of the natural world to the high bar of the scientific method tend to fall victim to blind faith when dealing with the supernatural.

The “ism” actually disturbs me. The very term “atheist” should be unnecessary. After all, I don’t believe in astrology, or Santa Claus either, but we do not have specific labels for those. Neither is there a word to describe those who find too little evidence to believe in homeopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic, but their number is legion on the various blogs I read. Why, therefore, is it necessary that a specific word exist as a label for an individual who fails to find evidence of a god?

Argumentum ad baculum

So I get asked… what if you are wrong? What if the theists are right? You’ll go to hell! Aren’t you afraid you might be wrong? Aren’t you afraid of hell? Shouldn't you believe just in case they are right?

The logical fallacy in this argument apparently escapes the inquisitor, and my answer is always no, I am not afraid that I might be wrong. I have nothing to fear in the afterlife because logic tells me that there will be no afterlife. They can threaten me with eternal damnation, but I still cannot believe. Logic will not allow it. Thankfully I do not live in a region where theistic adherents still mete out god’s justice on the spot.

When looked at from that perspective, it appears ludicrous, but many religions are based upon this “argument to the stick” or "argument to force" proposition. The threat is implicit, and it is all based on creating fear; if I don’t bow down before [insert name of diety here], I will be punished. With the Christian variants, the threat is in the afterlife, but other religions manifest a threat in the here and now. Being a non-believer in a country practicing Sharia law would tend to be dangerous to a person’s well being. Christians were once that way, but thankfully that religion has matured beyond the rack. Islam maintains a dark ages mentality.

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

--Albert Einstein


Out of every 10 people you meet on the streets, 1.7 of them has no belief in a god or gods. Can you spot them? Atheists are not criminals. Although some criminals do not believe in god, criminals in prisons are overwhelmingly theistic. Atheists are not evil by definition. In fact, I would venture that if there were a means to measure such, atheists would, on average, measure lower on the evilness scale than theists. Atheists do not have a god talking to them telling them who should be punished, where theists seem to recognize those deserving of god's punishment by some kind of divine measure, and often seem willing to mete out the punishment in god's stead.

"Most studies show that conventional religion is not an effective force for moral behavior or against criminal activity."

-- Spilka, Hood, Gorsuch et al, The Psychology of Religion

Even in this supposedly free country, atheists experience societal discrimination and bigotry. Many tales have been spun through the years blaming atheists for all manner of evil and woe. To protect themselves from persecution, many atheists feel they have to hide or disguise their lack of belief.

No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

-- Vice President George H.W. Bush, speaking at O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, on August 27, 1987

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

It may not be evident at first glance, but godless heathens are part of the fabric of this country. We marry, have families, raise children, go to work, pay taxes, contribute to worthy causes, watch god’s team whip the Redskins on Sunday, cuss when they don’t, play poker, play lotto, drink beer, shoot fireworks on the 4th, vote, cry when the dog dies, get angry when terrorists murder thousands of innocents in the name of Allah, fight America's wars alongside our religious counterparts, go deer hunting, grill ribs and burgers out back, fry bacon and eggs for breakfast, shoot pool, support our soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, local EMT’s, fire fighters and police.

In short, we are just like our neighbors. We are just like you. We simply don’t believe there are gods. Some of us feel compelled to try to explain all this to those who may not understand.

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.”

-- Isaac Asimov


August 2, 2009

Succinctly Put

Biologist and universty professor PZ Myers writes a blog (on Science Blogs) titled Pharyngula. I'll leave it to the reader to look it up. Today he writes on a young life lost due to superstition and ignorance:

A little justice in Wisconsin


Last year,
Kara Neumann died of juvenile diabetes. Her death was slow and painful, and entirely unnecessary — her parents believed in the power of prayer and allowed her obvious symptoms to go untreated except for entreaties to an invisible and inert god. They weren't opposed to technology in general, since they did sent out an email to an online ministry requesting 'emergency prayer', but they did neglect the only technology that mattered, a simple injection of insulin.

There was some concern at that time that there was actually a loophole in Wisconsin law that seems to say that Christianity was a treatment comparable to modern medicine. Fortunately, the jurors in the trial of the parents saw the neglect that led to the death of their daughter, and
convicted the Neumanns of second-degree reckless homicide. I don't think the father helped his own case with his sincere testimony.

Neumann, who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, testified Thursday that he believed God would heal his daughter and he never expected her to die. God promises in the Bible to heal, he said.

"If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God," Neumann testified. "I am not believing what he said he would do."

He believed. He was theologically informed. He was a member of a church (even if it is an
insane organization). He was missing one important thing: the awareness to question. And for that, a young girl died. Religion matters, all right, it matters in an evil way.

How could a father allow a daughter to die to support a belief in an unseen entity, when the evidence of modern medicine surrounds him? How could a mother allow this fool and idiot to do this to her child?

Prison is too good for idiots.