Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

Politics

Those stupid scientists!

Calamities of Nature - Hot Debate From Calamities of Nature comes this comic (the image here is just the first panel). I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I’ve heard a similar argument made by Sam Harris concerning the word “elite” in a Newsweek essay about Sarah Palin and politics last year. Not exactly the same argument, but related.

The comic brings up a valid point (though highly simplified to fit into three panels) and I’ve commented on it before… with no small amount of disdain. The point is relevant to more than the topic addressed and I’ve encountered the same seeming inconsistency-of-thought regarding evolution, the age of the Earth, cosmology, and a few other science-related topics.

It’s an attitude that science is great… unless it conflicts with your political or religious ideology… that it’s better, in that case, to trust someone who’s not too educated, not too intelligent, not too well informed, not too “elite”… rather than someone who is highly trained in the related field.

Here’s the excerpt from Sam Harris’s article (to save you the time of searching the Newsweek article for it):

Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.

It’s a huge problem in this country today.

Tea baggers praying for Senator Byrd to die

Just a quick note to highlight a post by Jesse Galef on The Friendly Atheist blog.

The Washington Post reported an interesting statement by Senator Tom Coburn (emphasis mine).

[Senator] Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager’s amendment. Byrd’s presence was not required, especially considering that he’d clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber. Indeed, shortly before he arrived, Sen. Tom Coburn headed to the floor to propose a prayer. “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” he said. “That’s what they ought to pray.”

Putting aside the fact that prayer does nothing, that’s just nasty and uncalled for. Coburn doesn’t specifically say that he wishes Byrd would die or become too ill to make the vote, but it’s not hard to infer it from his words. Here’s a link to the video, which also includes Senator Dick Durbin’s request for clarification of Coburn’s remarks.

However, it gets worse. On a CSPAN program, a caller asked Senator John Barrasso what went wrong. Here’s the video. The transcript of what the caller asks is below.

The transcript of the caller’s words:

CALLER: Yeah doctor. Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn’s instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn’t show up at the vote the other night.

How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?

Assuming the caller isn’t a Poe, I find two things appalling about this call. First, obviously, that the caller and his “tea bag group” actually got together and prayed that Senator Byrd would “either die or couldn’t show up.” That’s a pretty good example of evil and immorality right there.

The second thing that is just as troubling is the response from both the CSPAN commentator and Senator Barrasso. Neither of them even acknowledges the fact that a caller just openly admitted to getting a group together and praying for the death of a United States Senator. It’s as if they felt that it was a perfectly rational thing to do, therefore not deserving of any attention.

Jesse Galef said…

Obviously I don’t believe prayer will have an effect, but it says a lot about the people praying. It’s indicative of the sad state we’re in that I can’t tell whether the caller was sarcastic or not – those could have been tears or laughter making him choke up. But I’m astounded – and disgusted – that neither Barrasso nor the moderator commented on it.

Astounded and disgusted, indeed.

Right turn, Clyde… or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I wish the Republican party would “go back to being the fiscally conservative, small government party they used to be instead of the religious, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-environment party they are now.”

Andrew Sullivan, over at The Daily Dish,  seems to have the same idea, but in more detail. Andrew and I are not alone, either, since I’ve seen links to his post from two other blogs today, as well as a post by Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs who also put together a list of why he’s parted ways with the Right. No doubt there are plenty more who agree with these folks.

Here’s a sampling of items from both posts that I find particularly noteworthy (though I recommend going through the full posts of both blog authors).

From Andrew Sullivan:

  • I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.
  • I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
  • I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.
  • I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
  • I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy
  • I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
  • I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

From Charles Johnson (reasons why he parted ways with the Right):

  • Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
  • Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
  • Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
  • Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
  • A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)
  • Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

I think all of those issues are critical issues with the Right, but I tend to focus in on the anti-science, anti-intellectual issues like evolution and climate change… and then I just continue down the path of monumental incredulity at the crap that is touted, supported, and defended by what used to be a fiscally and bureaucratically conservative and responsible party.

I will grant that not all Republicans are this way, but the party in general (or as Andrew Sullivan puts it… “in so far as it means the dominant mode of discourse among the institutions and blogs and magazines and newspapers and journals that support the GOP”) has taken on the self-righteous air of superiority, while in practice, promoting ignorance, hatred, and the idea that the better educated you are, the smarter you are, and the more experience you have, the less qualified you are to partake in intellectually challenging endeavors.

If this country is going to improve its status (and it does need improving) or even maintain its current position in the world, the Right needs to change its ways or get out of the way, because its current pattern of blocking science and education, glorifying ignorance, and pounding its virtual fists on the podium of bigotry doesn’t cut it and it won’t cut it in the future.

As Charles Johnson said:

The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I won’t be jumping off that cliff, either.

Sarah Palin and the political spotlight

Sarah Palin - Going Rogue Back in 2008, during the presidential campaign, I wrote (in my personal blog) about Sarah Palin in a post titled “Folksy” doesn’t belong in the White House. By that point, I’d gotten enough information about Palin to make up my mind about the election and her poor qualifications, anti-intellectualism, and “folksiness” disqualified her for my consideration, costing McCain my vote.

Since that time, Palin has turned into a Republican darling for reasons that only reinforce the new Republican image; an image that emphasizes (and practically glorifies) lack of education, dogmatic dismissal of science, hate-fueled misinformation, and general ignorance. Republicans used to be the party of fiscal responsibility… the party of smaller government and lower taxes… the party that wanted to keep government as unobtrusive as possible. I liked that. Now, it’s the party of “no,” the party of science denialism, the party of right-wing, fundamentalist religion, the party of self-righteous moral proselytizing and intrusion into private, personal matters, the party of selective free speech (free speech as long as it’s speech of which they approve), and the party of unwavering faith in misinformed, spiteful “leaders” like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

I digress.

Palin has worked hard to maintain her position in the Republican spotlight and recent polls show she has fairly strong support among Republicans when it comes to presidential contention. That indicates the lamentable state of the American voting public.

Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece for Newsweek about Palin’s appeal to “populism” and her constant denigration of the “Washington elite.” Says Hitchens…

Sarah Palin herself can apparently never tire of contrasting her folksy provincialism with the pointy-headed intellectuals, and with those in the despised city of “Washington,” where her supporters want—it would seem against her own better instincts—to move her.

It’s an interesting point. Palin rails against Washington and the “elite” but seems to have a strong desire to become a Washington insider herself… as if her poor qualifications actually make her more qualified. She is (again from Hitchens)…

[…] anti-Washington except that she thirsts for it, and close enough (and also far enough away to be “deniable”) to the paranoid fringe elements who darkly suspect that our president is a Kenyan communist.

Palin, by any rational standard, is “out there” in her views on a number of issues… not the least of which are creationism and the exorcism of witches. Her statement that she hopes our soldiers are being sent to Iraq on a “task that is from God” is also disturbing on a number of levels. Someone with her purported beliefs should not be in charge of this country if we are to be successful… and free.

Hitchens concludes (and I agree)…

Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.

Here’s hoping for that.

One reason McCain lost my vote in 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a review by Michiko Kakutani of Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue.

Elsewhere in this volume, she talks about creationism, saying she "didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea" or from "monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees." In everything that happens to her, from meeting Todd to her selection by Mr. McCain for the Republican ticket, she sees the hand of God: "My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over."

If a candidate is so scientifically illiterate (or so intellectually stunted by unjustified religious dogma) that she doesn’t accept the theory of evolution, she has no business holding any position of authority in this country.

(via)

Jon Stewart channels Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart displays his mad skillz as an impressionist, practically channeling Glenn Beck in this Daily Show bit on Comedy Central bit last night.

Though I would never wish an appendicitis on anyone and hope Beck recovers fully, his on-screen persona is, in my opinion, worthy of mockery and derision… and Stewart nails it.

Hate Crime Legislation Updated

Existing hate crime legislation has been updated with the passing of a new federal law designed to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for a gay man who was murdered eleven years ago, expands the original list of criteria which includes race, color, religion and national origin. The legislation specifically targets actions, not speech. From the article linked above…

“Nothing in this legislation diminishes an American’s freedom of religion, freedom of speech or press or the freedom to assemble,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “Let me be clear. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act targets acts, not speech.”

That seems simple enough. If there is already hate crime legislation, it should probably include groups that tend to be targets of hate-based violence. Again from the article…

The FBI says more than half of reported hate crimes are motivated by racial bias. Next most frequent are crimes based on religious bias, at around 18 percent, and sexual orientation, at 16 percent.

Sixteen percent seems like a large enough percentage to warrant the special protection offered by hate crime legislation. So there’s no problem, right?

Of course there’s a problem!

Conservatives have opposed it, arguing that it creates a special class of victims. They also have been concerned that it could silence clergymen or others opposed to homosexuality on religious or philosophical grounds.

Doesn’t hate crime legislation automatically create a special class of victims? That’s sort of the point. The opposition is creating a smokescreen argument. The second part of the above quoted paragraph is the most telling… though with an additional attempt at misdirection.

Opponents of the legislation are afraid it would silence clergymen (or others) who oppose homosexuality because of their religion… or on philosophical grounds. Wait… what? I call shenanigans. That’s an attempt by the homophobic religious right to add a smidgen of validity to their bigoted religious arguments. “Philosophical grounds” sounds completely secular… so it’s not just those religious folks who oppose homosexuality, right?

Seriously? No.

I don’t want to state outright that there have never been purely philosophical arguments opposing homosexuality, but I’ve never heard one. I’ve heard a feeble attempt, but in the end, it boiled down to religious belief. Every single argument I’ve ever heard or read in opposition to homosexuality is based on a religious belief… Christianity, Islam, Judaism… take your pick. Philosophy? Not so much.

So the conservatives who oppose this legislation oppose it because of their religiously-based bigotry. That’s really the bottom line. It’s not going to silence free speech. It’s not going to put outspoken, anti-gay, religious zealots in danger of being whisked away to the hate crime gulag. It targets actions, not words.

To highlight the fear-mongering alarmism of the religious right…

That didn’t convince Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who said the bill was a “dangerous step” toward thought crimes. He asked whether the bill would “serve as a warning to people not to speak out too loudly about their religious views.”

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the measure was “part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.”

DeMint obviously misses the whole “targets actions” concept, but uses his alarmist “dangerous step” and “thought crimes” and “don’t speak too loudly” phraseology to rouse the faithful… or rather misinform his religious right constituents so they can shout their Leviticus-fueled outrage from the hilltops.

Perkins seems more of a conspiracy theory propagandist… radical social agenda… silence Christians… force of government… marginalize faith… eliminate bigotry… Okay, I made that last one up.

He seems to think that adding homosexuals to a list of people who are targets of hate-fueled violence will somehow “marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.”

I don’t think the list has anything to do with it.

Bush is now a motivational speaker

George W. Bush has started making the rounds as a motivational speaker and was given a warm welcome at a Texas event attended by around 15,000 people. He was speaking along with Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, and Rudy Giuliani among others. Bush was not the headliner of the event and only spoke for about thirty minutes. According to the article, he seemed relaxed and received a standing ovation.

From the article…

…[Chris Clarke, 25, a salesman from Dallas] said, it could turn out that Bush may be more suited to motivational speaking than being president. He said when Bush misspeaks, it sounds “incompetent if you are president. But here it can be inspiring. It makes him seem like a regular guy, no better than me.”

I can easily see that. The “Down Home” personality would play well to a casual audience that’s looking for motivation and fun stories. On the world stage as president… not so much.

However, here’s the part that I found disconcerting… though unsurprising. During his talk, he frequently mentioned his faith in God. Part of his talk…

“I don’t see how you can be president without relying on the Almighty. Now when I was 21, I wouldn’t have told you that, but at age 63, I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people’s prayers affected me. I can’t prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous.” That, he attributed, to the prayers of others.

People’s prayers affected him. The fact that every day was joyous, he attributes to the prayers of others. In the words of Yoda, “That is why you fail.”

I’ll go out on a limb here and agree that, if you believe in prayer and you know someone is praying for you, it may help you psychologically, knowing that there are people who support you… in the same way you know people support you when they say “Good luck!” or “I love you!” or “Have a nice life!” (Okay… maybe not that last one). Perhaps that’s what Bush meant when he said that people’s prayers affected him… but I doubt it. His reference to the Almighty would indicate that he is talking about the spiritual, supernatural power of prayer.

I find it disturbing that any world leader (or local leader for that matter) would rely on the “Almighty.” It seems to me that a reliance on rational thinking, both his own and that of his advisers, would be a far more critical and useful reliance. Getting support from real people in the real world is not only more practical, it’s… well… real. If a president wants to rely on a supernatural being to give him warm fuzzies and reduce his stress level, that’s fine. If that same president wants to rely on supernatural beings to give him advice on policy and help with decision making, there’s a serious, serious problem.

I’m glad Bush has moved on to motivational speaking.

Outside the Chapel Doors

Taking care of the world - health care and climate change For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over the issues of health care and global warming (or climate change, if you prefer) in the context of who opposes the issues. It seems that almost every person who opposes (meaningful) health care reform and who denies global warming is either very conservative and/or very religious (usually both)… and I’ve been trying to figure out the correlation, if there is one.

A friend suggested that it’s because both demographics tend to just follow the “party line,” whether it be delivered from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck or from Republican politicians like John Boehner and Sarah Palin. I think that may be true in some instances, by why did those people start denying climate change in the first place?

I’ve seen climate change deniers cherry pick evidence, offer irrelevant evidence (it snowed early this year!), distort existing evidence, make up evidence, cite faulty studies, and quote scientists in unrelated fields of study… all in an attempt to discredit scientific studies showing that our planet is, indeed, warming, that it is doing so at a far more rapid rate than historical trends would indicate, and that human carbon emissions are very likely having a significant impact on the warming.

I’ve seen people use the same types of tactics in an effort to stop any meaningful health care reform, too. I’ve seen accusations of fascism. I’ve seen absurdities about “rationed” health care and “death squads.” I’ve seen outright lies. I’ve seen alarmist cries of socialism (as if there aren’t tons of government run programs that fall into that category already).

The only connection I can easily make (which doesn’t necessarily make it valid) is that both issues would cost money to solve and both issues would require legislation of some sort… a change in the status quo. Conservatives may want to discredit climate change because they don’t want to have to pay to mitigate it. They don’t want to pay for any changes in our health care system because they don’t want any changes to what they already have. Personally, I think that has a lot to do with it. Opponents are basically saying, “If it’s going to cost me money or change what I’ve got, I want no part of it.”

That connection seems obvious to me.

What seems less obvious is what I’ve been mulling over in the past couple days and I’d love to hear feedback on this.

In the demographic in question, most (not all) are right-wing conservatives and very religious people (frequently, the two go hand-in-hand). I’ve made the claim before that religions (monotheistic religions in particular) are narcissistic by their very nature. Thinking of human beings as a “special creation” of a loving, caring god is the epitome of self-aggrandizing conceit.

Providing affordable health care to everyone in the country (or the world, for that matter) is an altruistic endeavor. For those of us who have good health insurance coverage, wanting to provide coverage for those who cannot afford it or who cannot obtain it puts the focus on something other than ourselves.

Mitigating global warming is something that is good for the entire world, not just our country. Looking at the big picture (again, outside our own self-interests) indicates that taking care of the issue now, regardless of costs involved, will benefit the entire world in the long run. It may cost our country some money. It may cost us money personally. But if we don’t consider just ourselves… if we consider that we’re part of a larger, global community… it seems that the proper course of action is to deal with the problem now.

In both cases, the solutions require us to think of the bigger picture… to think of the well-being of others… to consider the impact on the world, not just ourselves and not just our country. With the religious mindset that a god is watching over us and protecting us because we are very special to him (on a personal or a national level), there’s no need to do that… nor a reason to. Indeed, US Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) says just that.

The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.

(video)

I’ve heard someone (who is very religious) say that he struggles with the idea of paying for other peoples’ health care because he already donates 10% of his income to the church, so he’s already doing his part (it wasn’t that cut and dry, but that was the gist of it). I can understand that viewpoint, but it falls directly in the middle of the “I’m special because of my religion” mindset. Why does the altruism end outside the chapel doors? In addition, what makes inside the chapel doors more deserving of financial support?

I also understand the position that the government is notorious for its inefficiency with our tax money. There’s really no argument there, but that’s no excuse for neglecting people. That’s no excuse for refusing to clean up after ourselves. That’s no excuse for ignoring global environmental problems. That’s no excuse for being dishonest, deceitful, and disingenuous about the issues. That’s no excuse for falling back on the claim of divine right.

Let me know what you think.

It seemed so simple at the time

Separation of Church and State

(via)