Archive for June, 2007|Monthly archive page

I’m Sure I Don’t Want A Review…

… do I?

I mean considering my meager grasp of basic grammar, lack of writing skills and … well general intelligence.

But here goes. Adam Mutum in what can only be considered a vent of meme foolishness has offered to review blogs for free. All you need to do is link to him. Like this.

On the one hand, I suspect this is an amazingly good way to improve your technorati, ecoblog etc. (rankings if you are Adam). On the other hand this might end up spiraling out of control. Get your review soon while he still has time.

Ah, but what could be worse. Being told I’m a bad blogger, or merely suspecting it.

I Will Ruin Your Day

Watch this.

Now get that song out of your head for the rest of the day.

Bwahahaha! ;-)

Framing, Immigration and Thomas the

I recently got into a minor online spat about the newly passed immigration laws in Oklahoma. According to the AP article,

The legislation builds on measures passed by other states but focuses on deterring unauthorized employment. Among other things, it contains employment, labor law and civil rights provisions to protect citizens and legal immigrants who lose their jobs at companies that employ illegal immigrants to perform the same or similar work.

The article continues with,

The measure targets employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens in order to gain a competitive advantage. Key elements of the bill focus on determining worker eligibility, including technology called the Basic Pilot program, which screens Social Security numbers to make sure they are real and that they match up with the job applicant’s name.

The first sentence is blatantly false. The law does no such thing. I defy anyone to find either the work competitive nor advantage in the law. The law is more about keeping “unauthorized aliens” from using state (and federal) support systems within the state. The strange language logic behind the law can already be detected in the second  section.

The State of Oklahoma finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status.

While the first finding is debatable and the third deniable; the second – that illegal activity causes lawlessness – is perverse. Breaking the law means someone broke the law? Oh, right.

My argument against the Oklahoma laws is that it will have little or no effect on the immigration “problem” in America. It’s like painting rust, it might look better for a while but the underlying problems are still there.

Why? Well, partially because there seems to be a little disinformation going on.

First, the AP article about this law pointed out that there are reportedly 100,000 illegal immigrants in Okalahoma. That would make about 2.7% of the people there illegal, not too far from the reported national estimate of 3.6%. However, if one takes a quick look at the US Census Bureau data, only 6% of the Oklahoma population is Hispanic. This means that about half of them are illegal. Now. If I can do this math; do you think the racial profilers in the Oklahoma state government will be doing the same thing? Do you think life just go more difficult if you are Hispanic, legally in the state of Oklahoma and not named Alberto Gonzales?

The article also uncritically points out that one of the goals of the law is pointed toward lowering the costs incurred by illegal immigrants. Costs that according to the anti-immigration lobbying organisation, the Federation of American Immigration Reform, FAIR, could reach as high as $200 million dollars per year. Of course, FAIR never mentions that many illegal immigrants receive normal pay checks using faked social security numbers; meaning they pay the same federal, state and local taxes as an American in the same job. FAIR also never mentions that the immigrants pay local sales taxes supporting schools and other institutions.
The new law in Oklahoma targets both support systems, such as receiving identification and other services as well as allowing undocumented residents from enrolling in state universities or getting any financial aid. (Wait! The final version passed by the state Senate lets undocumented illegal high school graduates enroll in higher education but they have to totally promise to get – like – documents.)

Notice, that while there is a section making knowingly transporting an illegal alien a felony punishable by one year in prison or a $1000 fine, there are no similar penalties on employers. If you really want to stop illegal immigration, isn’t the best way simply to make sure they can’t find work? If the owner or manager of a restaurant is given a mandatory 5 year sentence for knowingly employing “unauthorized aliens” do you think there would be a problem. The same goes for farmers. Why doesn’t the law target the employers?

In fact the only provisions in the bill pointed at bosses seems to be at those who are public employers, contractors or subcontractors. And then the only proviso is that it is not lawful to enter into contracts with companies who hire “unauthorized aliens.” No penalties are mentioned. There is also a requirement for employers to sign up to take part in a system for “verifying” social security numbers. There are no penalties mentioned if one doesn’t actually use the system. Yawn.

I see this legislation as simply another log on the fire of hate being kindled in America. Brown is bad and “Reconquista” just around the corner. * Sigh *

Perhaps the problem that I see is that the issue shouldn’t be  protecting America’s borders in America. The issue should be trying to keep the people away from the borders in the first place. Since having a death penalty doesn’t seem to convince murders to stop killing, having a law to send someone back home after earning money in America seems less than convincing.

The problem of illegal immigration needs to be fought in Mexico, Central and South America and not in America itself. As long as there is a huge economic north/south gradient, the pressure on the Southern border in America will continue to rise. Measures like this are like trying to add height to an already leaky dike while the water is rising. It doesn’t effect the leaks and doesn’t try to slow the flood. This legislation is a stop gap that won’t do anything.

Wouldn’t it be better to change the language? Wouldn’t it be more effective to give those trying to earn money in America a economic incentive to stay at home? Wouldn’t it be better to push American industry to export manufacturing jobs not to China and Asia but to Mexico?

And why doesn’t it happen? Workers in the western hemisphere are too expensive. It is too easy for activists to check to see how people are being treated. For an example of how Chinese industry handles reporters, I point to the recent article in the New York Times about one business reporters odyssey in China when looking at the factory that produced the recalled Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Oversight is expensive and you would have more oversight in South America.

Better make measures that create hate and mistrust than spend more for that T-Shirt. Right?

Rudi’s Ferret Foolishness

Just remember, if you are a ferret fan, you probably won’t be voting for Rudy next year…

Slates take on the issue.

Known Unknowns

firearms-and-violence1.jpgOne of the problems with discussing gun control in America is actually having a handle on what is going on. Not only are statistics often misquoted, there are few statistics that are really meaningful.

I am in the process of preparing a couple of posts discussing the change in gun control laws in England and Australia (although Snopes already beat me to it). These two countries are often used by gun control opponents as examples where outlawing guns lead to rampant increases in crime.

But while researching those articles, I ran across a wonderful online book. Entitled simply Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review and published by the National Research Council. It discusses what information is available and what it can tell us. The results are scary.

In about 300 pages, the book points out just how little is really known about the relationship between firearms and violence; or firearms and safety for that matter. Even though millions of dollars are spent each year on collecting data and researching effects, hidden and obvious, this book points out that there is surprisingly little that can be absolutely determined, including, for example, the number of guns in private ownership in America.

This book is not trying to support any given policy, either for or against gun control, but rather it tries to determine whether there is enough information available to define exactly where the problems lie and to be able to define benchmarks to determine whether a given policy works.

Published in 2004, the book covers a wide range of topics starting with measuring firearm related violence, ownership and ways to prevent illegal ownership. It continues by looking at the statistics on Defensive Gun Use (DGU) and the controversial effects of Right-to-Carry RTC laws. These two issues are extremely important being two major planks in the NRA’s lobbying techniques supporting gun ownership. Finally, the book looks at the relationship between firearms and suicide; programs designed to prevent accidental injuries caused by firearms and legal methods for reducing firearm related violence.

Interestingly there was one open academic spat in the book. The book concludes that there is little support for the theory that Right-To-Carry (RTC) laws impact crime. James Q. “Broken Windows” Wilson dissented on a portion of that claim. Wilson commented that there is evidence to support the claim that RTC laws lower murder rates. In its response, the rest of the scientific committee answered with,

In particular, the committee, including Wilson, found that “it is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact” of right-to-carry laws on violent and property crime in general and rape, aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, and larceny in particular.

The only substantive issue on which the committee differed is whether the existing research supports the conclusion that right-to-carry laws substantially reduce murder. The report suggests that the scientific evidence is inconclusive. Wilson disagreed, arguing that virtually every estimate shows a substantial and statistically significant negative effect of right-to-carry laws on murder.

Now to the gossip part. It is interesting to note that one of the members of the advisory committee, Steven J Levitt was sued by John Lott Jr. for libel. Levitt commented in his book, Freakonomics that Lott’s theories hadn’t been “replicated” by other researchers. Lott took offense and when on the – um – offensive. He sued and … LOST. Oops. Lott and Levitt will be back in court in October on another issue; it will be interesting to see how that works out.

Back to gun control though; while dry, the book makes important reading for anyone willing to make serious comments about whether gun control is a good or bad thing. It helps give background on where the source for the statistics quoted in newspapers and blogs and how they are generated and what credibility they have.The book can be read online one annoying page at a time or one could actually pop to the $50 required to buy it. I chose the online variant (combined with a little programming to make my reading pleasure a bit more, um, pleasurable) .

The nice thing about the book is that it gives an excellent feel for the known unknowns. That let’s you justify or question the “knowns” you think you “know.”

And I Thought I Was a Nice Guy

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

[Meme sponsored by:] Mingle2 - Online Dating

I am so hopelessly in trouble now! First the squamata skeptic comment, now this. ;-)

Sorry Trees.

Quickie: Secrecy for It’s Own Sake

I’m just going to juxtipose these two quotes for your morning pondering.

The first from Bruce Fein at Slate, discussing the RNC e-Mail brouhaha.

The RNC e-mail affair, standing alone, would not justify alarm. Most presidential records were maintained. Abramoff and Scooter Libby were held accountable to the criminal law. Violations of the Hatch Act were identified. But the affair betrays a White House enthusiasm for lawlessness and secret government irreconcilable with bedrock democratic values. And it is this pattern of secrecy for its own sake that is most chilling.

The second from Scott Shane’s article in today’s New York Times. It outlines the – shall we say – difficulties the Information Security Oversight Office has had with Cheney’s office.

For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information, and when the National Archives unit that monitors classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president’s office suggested abolishing the oversight unit, according to documents released yesterday by a Democratic congressman.

The Information Security Oversight Office, a unit of the National Archives, appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter.
[...]
The letter said that after repeatedly refusing to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff’s classification of internal documents, the vice president’s office in 2004 blocked an on-site inspection of records that other agencies of the executive branch regularly go through.

I would like to also note that the onsight inspection is usually to make sure that secret documents are properly stored and marked. I wonder if the Cheney Cabal was worried about missing or mismarked copies?

I think both articles are worth a read. Together they paint a rather dark picture of secrecy for it’s own sake.

A Democrat’s Lincoln Dilemma

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mi, has an OpEd up in the Washington Post describing the Democratic dilemma with the current war funding. He compares his problem with the similar situation that Abraham Lincoln, paragon of Republican presidents, had while in Congress and while America was at war with Mexico,

In his only term in Congress, Abraham Lincoln was an ardent opponent of the Mexican War. He introduced a series of resolutions that challenged President James Polk to show the “spot” of American soil on which Mexicans had spilled American blood, and he voted for an amendment stating that the war was “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President.”

But when the question of funding for the troops fighting that war came, Lincoln voted their supplies without hesitation.

Levin goes on to again lay the ground work for another round of timetable discussions.

By setting a policy that begins with putting into law a timetable for starting a troop reduction, rather than trying to stop funding, we offer the best chance for stabilizing a country that we invaded while also sending the message to our troops that, even though we oppose the president’s policy, we are united behind them.

Support for our approach has grown steadily. In June 2006, our measure received 39 votes. In March, it received 48 votes. In April, it received 51 votes, including those of two Republican senators. By contrast, only 29 senators so far — none of them Republican — have voted for a funding cutoff. That’s a long way from the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster or the 67 needed to override a veto.

The OpEd is the first shot in the latest round of political skirmishes over the war and funding.

It should be noted, that the last Congressional loss, strong rhetoric followed by an equally weak withdrawal, caused a continuing drop in public support for Congress. It is now, according to Charles Franklin at Political Arithmetik, lower than Bush when aggregated across every major poll; 27.9% to 29.9%.

Political Arithmetik - Congressional Approval 11/6/2007

Political Arithmetik - Presidential Approval 19/6/2007

I think the Democrats are taking the wrong tact here. I would argue Congress must actively push the media to poll the American people on the soundbite “Does the American people want us to fund the war without a timetable?” That should be the talking point, nothing else.

If the answer comes up overwhelmingly no, the strategy becomes far simpler. Present Bush with a bill including a timetable with the clear caveat that that is the last legislation. There would be no proposal to deny funding, the house leadership simply will not schedule any further legislation for funding the war. The money will dry up without a vote and the Democrats can point to Bush as the person responsible.

If the answer to the polling comes up approving unconstrained funding, then a completely different tactic is necessary. The Democrats need to rethink their basic positioning. If the American public is willing to support funding for an unlimited, unending war, the Democrats can then push the president, not to withdraw but to win. Make success the marker and not the funding. Push the Republican party to show why their policies aren’t working and why the American public should keep funding a losing battle.

If the answer is a weak no, the Democrats are on course, sailing without a real course through uncharted waters, without a destination or timetable. Bush won’t sign it, the Democrats don’t need to support it. Just give Bush the funding after a token fight for another 3 months and wait until Christmas.

I am reminded of the book March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. Published in 1984, it highlights how governments manage to blunder into making absolutely stupid mistakes despite overwhelmingly negative signs. Tuchman uses as examples Troy, the Renaissance Popes, the British government during the American Revolution and America’s own first true folly: Vietnam. It is a book all Democratic aides should be reading. In many ways, all four tales echo today’s Washington.

In Tuchman’s account, in every case, the majority of the public, the experts and even a large number of politicians knew the path lead to ruin. They followed it anyway; despite the Lincoln dilemmas. It is time to stop the folly.

Raping the Language

Dahlia Lithwick has a story up at Slate about a Judge in Nebraska who banned the word “rape” from a – um – rape trial. He of course didn’t stop there, “sexual assault” also got nixed.

I’m not even going to comment. Just go read the story. Original less snarky news coverage here.

Is Monotheism Itself a Cause of War?

That’s the question posed by James Carroll in today’s Guest Voice in the On Faith segment of the Washington Post. (Actually the entry is titled Is God The Root of All Evil?” but Carroll answers looks at war.)

Is monotheism itself a cause of war? Does the radical intolerance of “other gods” lead to intolerance of those who worship them? Are religious wars built into the structure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

This has been the main charge lodged against all three Abrahamic faiths at least since the Enlightenment, yet ironically, this divisive notion of monotheism is itself a product of the Enlightenment. The very word, with that tell-tale “ism,” wasn’t even coined until the modern era (The OED dates it to the 17th century). Christians affirm the “Credo,” Jews the “Shema Yisrael,” Muslims the “Shahadah” – all declaring that there is one God. But what does that word “one” mean? In a scientific age, it is taken as a number. God is thought of as a solitary entity, standing apart from all others, and therefore, it is thought, against all others. If this is the meaning of monotheism, then, yes, such belief is inherently a source of conflict, not peace.

Contemporary Jews, Muslims and Christians may themselves have been influenced by univocal Enlightenment thinking, but in fact their traditions affirm the oneness of God not scientifically or philosophically, but religiously, which is the opposite. A religious fundamentalist who goes to war against modern “secularism” shows the spirit more of that secularism than of ancient religion. Thus, Moses Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish sage, rejected the idea that God’s “oneness” is a category of quantity. Instead of a unit, the “oneness” of God affirms a unity. Oneness in this sense means not the Being who stands apart, radically different and superior, but the Being who is present as the reconciliation of all oppositions. That God is one means, as Isaiah saw, that the God of this people is the God of all people.

*Sputter* Excuse me. Enlightenment thinking brought about all the evil “isms?”

First Carroll sets up a straw man; there is never a single cause for any war although the war might be justified simply by pushing one cause. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Religion (and not just monotheism) is a wonderful tool to separate two peoples; to create an identifiable Us vs. the easily demonized Them. It can be used to extend and create hatred. That is the charge being leveled, a charge Carroll ignores.

But let’s just examine the comment for what it claims. That the religious traditions affirm the oneness of God. This got tossed out the window for secular scientific and philosophic thinking. Now one can quibble about the exact dates, but I’d pencil the dates the Age of Enlightenment in at around 1650-1800. You could add or subtract a couple of decades here or there, but that’s roughly accurate.

Now. Let’s see.

  • Muslim conquests: 632–732 (Islam vs. everyone)*
  • Crusades: 1095–1291 (Catholics vs. Islam)
  • Spanish Inquisition: 1478 – 1834 (Catholics vs. Judaism)
  • Thirty Years War: 1618 – 1648 (Protestants vs. Catholics)

*Carroll even makes point that the Muslim conquests weren’t really Islamic because they didn’t follow the teachings in the Koran. Oh. Right. I wonder if the people fighting the battles knew that.

So all this “religious warmongering” not due to faith, but due to misguided – um – church leadership?

No war is ever fought solely due to one issue.

The US didn’t invade Iraq just for the oil; it was simply an added condiment. The Muslim conquests used Islam as one factor to greatly increase the power of the Caliphs. The Crusades were as much about keeping Western influence in the Middle East as keeping routes for pilgrimages open. The Spanish Inquisition was just fine confiscating Jewish property for the greater glory of the Church and the Inquisitioners. Finally. Luther’s theses made a nice excuse for the northern European nobility to finally break Rome’s economic and political strangle hold.

And Carroll’s claim that people only define Monotheism as the problem. Perhaps he should take a quick tour through the history of Japan 1850 to 1945. There the rise of Japanese Nationalism was directly tied to an extreme (fundamentalist) form of State Shintoism.

Were any of these “wars” purely religious? No student of the Enlightenment, someone trained to believe in science, philosophy and history, would say so. No, that takes a person of faith. It takes a person of faith set up a strawman that can be taken down in a few short paragraphs.

BTW. You should read the comments. They are hilarious.

Fred Thompson Doesn’t Read the Bible

And Wonkette doesn’t Google (for shame Wonkette!)

You see Wonkette is having a ball reporting on the data dump found in the Thompson archives now being scanned for scandals and semen stains cigar wrappers. Now Newsweek’s Holly Bailey is reporting in the Gaggle about what seems to be a minor analogy train wreck.

In 2001, New York Times columnist William Safire wrote Thompson to ask what he had meant when he said “the ox is in the ditch” when it comes to postal reform. “Once again, you remind me that the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily use the same phrases as a country boy from Tennessee,” Thompson replied, confessing he’d actually never seen an ox in a ditch–or frankly, an ox. “As usual, I have no idea where this comes from. All I know is that when the ox is in the ditch, it is a very serious matter–very serious. A big ox, a small ditch, a big load and a hot day–well, you can see the problem.”

Big ox, small ditch?! Bwahahahahah!

This is rich and might just have to cost Thompson the hard-core Dominist vote.

Why? The reference to the ox in the ditch isn’t about “big oxen and little ditches”, it is a reference to working on the Sabbath. Luke 14-5 (KJV),

And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

But Luke doesn’t mention a ditch, just a well. (And what exactly was your livestock doing gallivanting about a well on Sunday anyway?)

Well, according to the handy, dandy Sermon Notebook, the law is Jewish and not Christian.

The Jews too this Commandment very seriously. Dr. Ken Trivette shares the following insights concerning the Jewish mindset – “The observance of the Sabbath was strictly observed and strictly enforced. Whereas, they took God’s command to rest on the Sabbath seriously, as the years passed they added their own rules and regulations about the Sabbath. There were approximately 1,521 things that were not permissible on the Sabbath. For example: you could not rescue a drowning person on the Sabbath. Untying knots that needed only one hand was permissible, but if two hands were required, it was forbidden. If a man’s ox fell into the ditch, he could pull it out, but if the man fell in, he had to stay there. One could take a sup of vinegar for food, but if he took a sup in order to help his aching toothache, he had broken the Sabbath. If a man was bitten by a flea on the Sabbath, he had to allow the flea to keep on biting. If he tried to stop the flea from biting or killed it, he was guilty of hunting on the Sabbath.”

Oh. Got it. Pulling the ox out of the ditch is allowed and you should solve the problem even on your day off.

But WTF was Thompson saying in the first place. Well he was talking about Postal Reform and we find the following blerb from the Association for Postal Commerce (whoever they are).

The Associated Press has noted that “upset by two postal rate increases in six months and discussions of delivery cutbacks, some congressional leaders have said the mail agency must be overhauled. Postal Service officials, dealing with rising fuel costs and shrinking demand for their services, said they also want new postal laws to make the agency more competitive. ‘It’s obvious that the ox is in the ditch big time,’ said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.”

Note: the context of this quote can be found by Googling. This is just the most succinct version I found.

So. I would interpret this to say that while Thompson was chairing the GAC, the Postal Service fell into a ditch while the commitee was taking some time (six months) off. Now, they have to fix the problem, even though it’s Sunday. It is all perfectly clear to me. No?

Yet again, this is a tick against Fred Thompson and points to him being the anti-Christ candidate. Pass the word. (The word of God of course. ;-))

Top Tip For Gun Control

“Use both hands.”

This is the first recommendation made in one of the entries from the latest in the round of wikipedia take offs, Uncyclopedia – the content free encyclopedia. This is user driven – um – drivel raised to a high art.

First there was the Conservapedia which was an attempt to combat the evil liberal bias (aka reality) so rampant in Wikipedia. You know those pesky little entries about Separation of Church and State, Mexican History or the famous Kangaroo entry

According to the origins theory model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah’s Ark prior to the Great Flood. It has not yet been determined by baraminologists whether kangaroos form a holobaramin with the wallaby, tree-kangaroo, wallaroo, pademelon and quokka, or if all these species are in fact apobaraminic or polybaraminic. There is, however, no evidence of a genetic bottleneck in the kangaroo species which would be expected if all kangaroos were descended from two individuals.

After the Flood, these kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[5] with lower sea levels during the post-flood ice age, or before the supercontinent of Pangea broke apart[6], or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters.[5] The idea that God simply generated kangaroos into existence there is considered by most creation researchers to be contra-Biblical.

Here is a sampling of what Uncyclopedia has to offer. As opposed to “Conserva,” any relationship to realty, persons living or dead or perhaps seriousness, would be, I’m sure, blatently denied and immediately changed.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was a half-naked fakir. He decided to go half-naked because during his times the English rulers were terribly afraid of desi nudity. Those were days far before the desi fetishism swept the West. Thousands of desi people emulated Mahatma and the stiff English nether lips got parted in disgust and the white skinned robbers went and got themselves drowned in the Arabian Sea on the west and Bay of Bengal on the east. The theory of Ahimsa aka non-violence originated thus.

Angels

Angels are formed wherever two or more lines intersect. Angels of over 90 degrees are termed Obese whereas angels of less than 90 degrees are termed Cute. Three Angels may cooperate together to form a trinity.

John McCain

John McCain was genetically engineered in an American Research Facility. Unlike normal humans, McCain contains many organs, which allow him to fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, have terrible war flashbacks, and amass incredible amounts of strength. Most of these organs were taken from school children. See zim. McCain’s skin produced a special layer of transparent nacho cheese, allowing him to time travel without damaging his body or the space time continuum. For Food, John McCain eats the leftovers of Aborted Fetuses.

What would you look up?

Enjoy.

(Hat Tip: Stephen J. Dubner/Freakonomics Blog)

Sprites, Elves and – um – Jets…

This seriously geeks me out.

According to National Geographic, researchers at the University of Alaska have managed to make a movie of the atmospheric phenomina “Sprites.” Take a look.

What’s a sprite? Aside from looking cool, according to the National Geographic article,

When a lightning bolt strikes down to the ground, it can create an electrical field above the storm that accelerates the electrons in the middle atmosphere to collide with gas molecules and glow.

Sprites were predicted in theory by Nobel laureate physicist C.T.R. Wilson in 1925. Their existence was confirmed in 1989 when University of Minnesota physicist John R. Winkler caught them on video by accident.

But what about the Elves and Jets?

Those are the other two atmospheric phenomina seen above thunder storms,

For instance, “elves” are areas about 250 miles (402 kilomters) wide that glow a dim red. They can be found about 60 miles (96 kilometers) above thunderstorms.

“Blue jets” appear as bright blue cones extending from the top of a thundercloud to 25 to 30 miles (40 to 48 kilometers) above Earth. They are more rare than sprites and last up to a third of a second.

“They actually look like whale spouts shooting up out of the storms,” Heavner said.

It’s funny. In less than 200 years, scientists have found sprites and elves but in over 2000 years of Christianity, no one has ever been able to prove the existence of angles and saints. Perhaps they have a branding problem.

Hate Takes a Road Trip

Remember our little White Supremacist darlings, Lamb and Lynx Gaede aka Prussian Blue? They are back and – um – rockin’ same as ever.250px-flag_of_sweden_svg.jpg

I noticed yesterday, looking at my logs, that my first Prussian Blue post, Girls Just Wanna Sing Hate Songs, got yet got another major hit yesterday. This time from Sweden and that lead me to wonder why so many people in Scandinavia were suddenly interested in Lamb, Lynx and their mother April.

First, perhaps a little background, for those just tuning in.

Lamb and Lynx Gaede, angelic teenagers have been part of the Far Right band Prussian Blue (a holocaust denial reference) for several years. Prussian Blue’s rise to fame (or perhaps infamy) was perhaps started by Louis Theroux, when he featured the family as one part of his documentary Louis and the Nazis, (available on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). This show, especially part 3, gives you an idea of where these darling little angels are coming from; little things – like Celtic Dancing in a swastika. *sigh*

They then moved to national news coverage in America managing stories in venues like ABC’s Nightline and Newsweek. They also have been covered in places like the Guardian who described them with,

The best-known act on the far-right label Resistance Records is Prussian Blue: 13- year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede from Bakersfield, California. Looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, they have been performing songs about Rudolf Hess et al to appreciative crowds of white neo-Nazis since they were nine.

We’re proud of being white,’ Lynx has said. ‘We want our people to stay white … we don’t want to just be, you know, a big muddle.’

Having been nursed in racist doctrine from the teat, can the burden of blame lie fully with them? Their mother, April, taught them the alphabet this way: ‘A is for Aryan, B is blood …’ and so on. Grandfather Gaede brands his cattle with swastikas.

After the racial muddle got too much for the family in that paradigm of muddledom, Bakersfield California, April and her daughters moved to Kalispell Montana hoping to find a little White love. It didn’t quite work out that way.

As I pointed out at the time, while April had expected a little anonymity, her neighbors were more than concerned about a White Supremacist girl band moving into the neighborhood. According to news stories at the time, the concerns might have been justified.

I recently looked into the current events for Prussian Blue, found out that they have a blog and a few more things, quoting *cough* myself in a response to a comment on my Dead Supremacist Walking post,

Gee. Speaking of teenage girls being molested, I wonder how Lynx and Lamb are doing?

Father lost custody battle with mother last year: check

Promoter Kevin Alfred Strom jailed for pedophilia: check

But they were too old for him? uncheck

And now? Gee! A European tour this summer! Hate takes a road trip! (And for anyone reading, I officially, explicitly distance myself from everything said there!)

And where will Prussian Blue be going? Sweden! (Hi guys!) According to April (and no I won’t link directly to StormFront but here’s a Google for it), Prussian Blue will be giving a concert in Sweden in July. Oh joy. Maybe they will get to meet the Madonna of the Far Right, Saga.

Sorry Sweden. But I guess hate does occasionally does get to take a road trip.

You just seem to be the first stop. My condolences.

I’m Just Too Stupid…

I’m glad that got cleared that up.

John Safran, who some people claim to be “Australia’s most exciting guerrilla filmaker,” has finally explained to me why I can’t be an athiest. *sniff*

I’m just too stupid.

I wasn’t even clever enough to even buy Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” much less make it to page 3. I guess I just have to stick with the non-theist position (which for those with dirty minds has absolutly nothing to do with missonaries!).

Even so. I will take up the Friendly Athiest’s challenge of trying to explain the Big Bang in the shortest number of words.

Big Bang: Sciencespeak for “Poof – God did it. “

Source Is Everything

Iraq? What Iraq?

While General Petraeus is starting to lay the framework for the Administration to claim that the surge needs more time, Fox News is giving its viewers a new reality. One which creates a feeling that the Iraq War isn’t really happening.

How? They’ve stopped covering it.

According to a report by The Project for Excellence in Journalism, an organization following the coverage of issues in the American media (and who have a really cool graphic once a week showing the top 5 news stories for the week), Fox News has reduced it’s coverage of the Iraq War in the first three months of 2007.

Looking more closely at the cable universe itself—among the three channels as well as across day parts—PEJ found distinct differences between the three channels, far more than discerned between the three commercial network channels or newspapers.As an example, we found that coverage of the three biggest stories of the quarter—Iraq policy debate, the 2008 campaign and Anna Nicole Smith differed greatly across the three channels and day parts.

Overall, MSNBC and CNN were much more consumed with the war in Iraq than was Fox. MSNBC, for instance, devoted nearly a third of the time studied to the war (26% on the policy debate, 3% on events on the ground and 2% the homefront). Fox, by contrast, spent less than half that much time on the war—15% in all, (10% on the policy debate, 3% on events in Iraq and 1% on the homefront).

On CNN, Iraq coverage totaled 25%, again mostly focused on policy debate (14%). Events on the ground received 7% of the coverage (coming in second overall) while the homefront trailed at 3%.

At 15% Fox News coverage is below average for any media including print (18%) and even the Network Morning shows (also 18%). On the up side, they might have beat out Oprah.

Since Fox News is seen by a segment of American society as the balance to the rest of the fairness in media, it should come as no surprise when polls in September start pointing to a lowered interest in the Iraq policy debate in certain circles. Give the surge a chance; there is so much less bad news coming out of Iraq now. The reality hasn’t changed, the reporting has.

Now, if Rupert Murdoch could just get the Conservative Blogosphere to stop blogging about Iraq and finally swallow the WSJ with one of his multimedial pseudopods, I’m sure the Iraq Occupation will end.

At least half the American public will stop hearing about it.

(Hat Tip: Joe Gandelman/The Moderate Voice)

Lobbyists vs God Squad

From what I am hearing, Thompson, is the lobbyist candidate. Hey, 20 years of K-Street, a Senate quicky and a role in a top rated television series should qualify anyone to work in Washington.

OK. It probably didn’t come as too much of too much of surprise that Ann Coulter doesn’t support Fred Thompson. He didn’t actually vote for Clinton to be crucified (he split his vote) , which makes would make him a really, really bad person in her eyes.

But the real question is * gasp * does he go to Church enough?

That is the horse WorldNetDaily and the Christian Broadcast Network are starting to flay.

First, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson was reported to have said the Republican presidential hopeful is not a real Christian. Thompson shot back that he’s not only a Christian, but a member of the fundamentalist Churches of Christ.

Now a political science professor at a Church of Christ-affiliated college charges Thompson is a “lapsed member.” And he has issued a challenge on the Internet to anyone who can come up with evidence that Thompson, now an actor, is active in the Church of Christ.

Is the Hollywood star-turned-politician a true believer?

What do they want you to have done to be a “real” Christian?

  • Taught a Bible class,
  • Presided at the Lord’s table,
  • Served as a greeter,
  • Or led singing (“If it was 728b and you can prove it, I’ll give you $100,” he wagered, referring to the hymn, “Our God, He Is Alive,” which is considered an anthem in the Churches of Christ).

So, all those people who seem to think people like Dobson, Roberson or (perhaps the IRD simply want a nice world), with fluffy bunnies penquin farms, should think about the definition of a “real Christian”.

What should happen to the rest of those people. Perhaps one finds the answer in other writings. Like those clever attempts to point out that the real Bible doesn’t support slavery because – um – they were being nice back in the old testiment. All those non-believers should have been killed.

A Soldier’s Guide

An epic BBC series on the First World War produced in the 1960’s had one episode featuring the proverb, purported to be Arab, that “Allah created hell and it wasn’t bad enough; so He created Mesopotamia and added flies.” This was the kind of knowledge being given solders headed to Iraq during WWI and that arose from an officer corps dredged largely from the classically trained aristocracy. (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?)

By the WWII, the handbooks had become more prosaic, offering such gems of wisdom like “If you see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not queer” and “Iraq Is Hot! … Probably you will feel Iraq first-and that means heat.” There is also a wonderful warning to avoid the holy cities of Kerbala, Najaf, samarra, and Kadhiman. (Who’d ‘ve known?!)

Now Sharon I don’t do UFOs Weinberger and Noah Shachtman have uncovered parts of the equally entertaining “Soldier’s Guide to the Republic of Iraq,” issued to US soldiers on the eve of war in 2003. (What are you still doing here? Go read their stuff! They are real journalists with books, sources and stuff.)

Still here? Hmm..

Among the quotes they found:

  • There is little virtue in a frank exchange. Getting down to business may always occur at a later meeting or a more informal setting such as dinner.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility… if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.
  • Arabs operate by personal relations more than by time constraints.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility.
  • Arabs do not believe in upward mobility or social status; they gain status by being born in the right family.
  • Arabs do not shake hands firmly. If an Arab does not touch you, it usually means that he does not like you.
  • It is said that the Arab likes to feel your breath in their face. As you back away, the Arab will continue to shuffle forward. This is known as the “diplomatic shuffle.”

So, while American soldiers were wondering what music to play while dancing the “diplomatic shuffle,” the administration figured the soldiers would be in and out so fast it wouldn’t matter what had been published.

Except it didn’t work out quite that way. Now a couple of the above sentences look rather suspicious in light of the “We stand down as they stand up” course the Bush administration stayed so long. You see, at least the soldiers were being told that “…if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.”

I wonder if Bush didn’t get the memo.

Don’t Try This At – um

A recycling container makes a poor substitute for a roof; sometimes it can be deadly.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Thomas Jansen and his wife Susan were killed when the container they were sleeping in was dumped and compacted.

What officials figured was the start of a mystery in Arizona turned out instead to be the end of a mystery in Missouri.

A man found dead among recycled paper in Snowflake, Ariz., last week was identified late Monday as Thomas Jansen, who had been missing since his wife was found dead May 24 in a recycling center in St. Louis.

Police said they are surer than ever the two were asleep in a recycling collection bin outside a south St. Louis County church earlier that day when a truck emptied and compacted the contents.

The homeless couple’s injuries were consistent with that explanation, and there was no sign of foul play, county police said.

Susan Jansen had visited the church, St. Johns Evangelical United Church of Christ at Lindbergh Boulevard and Interstate 55, several times asking for money for a motel, but the church only offers food vouchers. “I did feel bad,” said Pat Bock, the church office manager.

Just a comment on my last post. These people were recently homeless – they would not have qualified for any help from a chronically homeless project.

It also shows the difficultes with purely faith-based social nets. Sometimes the fish don’t get caught.

Controlling the Count

In addition to his Global War on Terror, George W. Bush also started an initiative to end homelessness. According to his own 2004 “Record of Achievement” (after that they apparently stopped recording and perhaps started shredding):

  • In 2003, the Bush Administration announced the largest amount of homeless assistance in history, $1.27 billion to fund 3,700 local housing and service programs around the country.
  • President Bush has proposed the Samaritan Initiative, a new $70 million program to provide supportive services and housing for chronically homeless individuals.
  • The Interagency Council on Homelessness has been revitalized, bringing together 20 Federal agencies to coordinate efforts to end chronic homelessness in 10 years.

Now, this is all fine and good. I am a big supporter of Housing First initiatives (placing the “chronically homeless” in permanent housing) because I really think they help the overall homeless situation. But, there are a couple problems with these kinds of large, centralized programs. The first is that the larger number of “temporary homeless” seem to be lost in the rush to fund housing first projects and second, the number of homeless becomes an important political signpost showing how well a local government is doing.

I don’t have much to say about the first point. I would prefer to point to the excellent article by Violet Law (what a great name!) at the National Housing Institute. Her piece looks at the trade offs between focusing primarily on housing first and taking a slightly more balanced approach.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a “chronically homeless person” is an individual who has been without a home for at least one year and is diagnosed with mental illness or drug or alcohol addiction. Housing First focuses on serving this segment of the homeless population.

While the cities that have adopted Housing First have reported a reduction in their chronic homeless population by the hundreds or even thousands in the last decade, homeless advocates are increasingly alarmed that this solution, executed with little increase in federal funding, is threatening to short-change other homeless populations, such as families with children and teenagers who have aged out of foster care, in favor of one narrowly defined group. “We wish [the Bush administration] had picked up the whole agenda of ending homelessness for all,” says Nan Roman, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).
[…]
While the benefits of permanent housing programs are manifest, some advocates for the homeless are increasingly speaking out against the Bush administration’s position that Housing First is the panacea for ending homelessness-especially now that ICH and the administration are seeking to reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Act, which was, in 1986, the first piece of federal legislation to address homelessness. The administration’s draft version of the reauthorized legislation calls for making permanent the Samaritan bonus-the current incentive to provide permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Those who oppose this incentive charge that the singular focus on the chronically homeless population is at best a misguided effort to solve the complexities of homelessness by defining it too narrowly and simplistically. Some opponents of the administration’s proposed reauthorization bill, mostly from the National Coalition to End Homelessness, support competing legislation introduced in Congress in February, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which they say would allocate homeless assistance funding in a more balanced manner.

Now. I am not exactly a homelessness activist, I do try to keep my self informed. I am also a self-admitted statistics geek. Therefore imagine my surprise when Carl Bialik, the WSJ’s Numbers Guy, combined both in a post discussing the brouhaha in New York City over this years homelessness count. NYC pegged the number of homeless at 3,755 dropping from 3,843 in 2006 and 4,395 in 2005. So, things appear to be looking up.

Not so fast Bat Man! Apparently one of the researchers involved in the count resigned because he felt they were undercounting.

Once each winter, the New York City government sends thousands of volunteers into the streets and subways to count the number of people who are homeless. The goal is to get a sense of how well the city is doing at alleviating the most severe kind of homelessness, which could be deadly on a frigid night.

This year, the January count produced an estimate of 3,755 unsheltered homeless people. (The city’s Department of Homeless Services trumpeted the findings in a press release, reporting the count was down 15% from two years earlier.)

But Julien Teitler, an associate professor of social work and sociology at Columbia University who was hired by the city to assist in its count, disputed the city’s total. Prof. Teitler recently told the New York Times that city officials were “arbitrarily adjusting” figures in a way that would produce a lower count.

Bialik based his report partially on the information from a New York Times article highlighting the problems with the study. The dispute is over the method involving decoys to test whether volunteers are correctly counting; a quality control check if you will.

Under Dr. Hopper’s direction, Columbia recruited dozens of “decoys” to go to the same areas and stations as the volunteers. The decoys posed as homeless people.

The volunteers were instructed to ask people who were lingering on the street, in parks or in the subways or if they had a place to spend the night — unless the people were asleep, in which case they were not to be disturbed.

Decoys, if questioned by the volunteers, were instructed to identify themselves and to give the volunteers stickers to record their locations. Otherwise, the decoys were instructed merely to keep track of whether they saw the volunteers pass by.

By keeping track of the number of decoys in a given area and comparing that to the number of decoys actually found, one can estimate how many homeless were missed in a given area. The problem stems from how one actually counts the decoys.

Unless some stupid statistics professor shows up and claims that you need to adjust the numbers up. Dr. Teitler has discontinued his involvement over the process because he feels the decoys aren’t being used correctly. His method would increase the current value to 4,039 homeless.

So this is just about 250 people right? Not exactly.

For me the real meat of the NYT article wasn’t about the statistics, but the politics.

New York City is three years into a five-year “action plan” announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to end chronic homelessness and reduce the street population by two-thirds, all by April 2009. The results so far are mixed. The number of homeless adults in city shelters has fallen noticeably since 2004, but the number of homeless families is at a record high.

So it came as welcome news on May 2 when the city announced that the third annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate had shown a slight decrease in unsheltered homeless people.
[…]
The city’s Department of Homeless Services said the estimate “shows the city is on track” to meeting the goal of reducing unsheltered homelessness by two-thirds.

Oh! So if you are on track and you are managing the Department of Homeless Services you are doing a good job. You might even get a promotion some day. No reason to want lower number right?So there is no reason to worry. The government has everything under control.

Well. Everything but the numbers.

Creationist Poll Dancing

Monday’s Gallup poll has gotten some attention lately.

PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist and author of I Sold My Soul on eBay, both weighted in on the issue. People seem very surprised at the fact that a majority of Republicans support the creationist viewpoint. Actually this was to be expected and any other result would have been the earth-shattering bloggable result.

The first thing I would point out is that the majority of Americans do believe in evolution, even if the graphs being tossed about on Pharyngula and FA don’t seem to show it.

This is my graph of the Gallup data reformatted to highlight the belief in evolution over time.

gallup-polls-small.gif

Note: “Present Form” corresponds to the Gallup answer “God created man in present form.“ These numbers are roughly equivalent to the answers found when you look at the belief in the literal six-day creation story (35% in 2006 according to a Pew Research poll) and other indicators of fundamentalist religious tendencies.

There are a couple of comments you can make here. First, it is getting better. Not quickly, but it is getting better. If you consider that a belief in God will almost require dropping into either the creationist camp or into some kind of theistic evolutionary theory, the results aren’t too surprising. Also, depending on how the questions are phrased, the relative percentages within the evolution camp can shift significantly.

Perhaps far more surprising is the following result from the Gallup poll.

It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.
[…]

  • 24% of Americans believe that both the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism are probably or definitely true
  • 41% believe that creationism is true, and that evolution is false
  • 28% believe that evolution is true, but that creationism is false
  • 3% either believe that both are false or have no opinion about at least one of the theories [my emphasis]

The means that almost a quarter of the American population have probably never taken any time to actually try to match up religion and science. Both are “true,” each in it’s own frame. You could probably pick 1 of 4 people and by deep discussion and questioning achieve nothing but irritation. The ideas would not compute. They don’t want to think about it. One could argue that they aren’t in their right minds. Which brings me to the political aspect of the poll.

According to Gallup, only 30% of Republicans believe in evolution with 68% towing the Creationist line. These numbers are almost reversed in Democratic (61%/37%) and Independent (57%/40%) camps. In the same poll, Gallup found Americans evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (31% each) and 36% mostly democratic leaning Independents.

Does this mean that being conservative means you are religious? One blogger thinks so.

People aren’t conservative because they believe in unrestricted gun ownership, and they aren’t liberal because they believe in the right of a woman to make choices about tissues in her own body. No, if this is right, people choose their beliefs because of their political temperament and not the other way around. ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ need to be seen as clusters of personality traits and stable overall worldviews, and not political creeds consisting of enumerable doctrines.

While this might be true, the skewed data might also be the result of 30 years of effort the fundamentalist religious right has put into taking over the Republican party. You might be religious and conservative. There was a time when you might also have been a Democrat. The Republican party has become so conservative because it has gotten such an influx from the Religious right.

Since the days of the Moral Majority, fundamentalist religious leaders have insistently attempted to get their followers to move into the Republican party. Not because they agree with all issues; Jesus “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God (Mat 5:9)” Christ might not have voted red in the last election. No they are Republican because that is the party the church is supporting

Jerry Fallwell said back in the 1980’s, “get them saved, get them Baptized, and get them registered.” That is why the difference between the two parties is so dramatic. The hard core believers who make up about 36% of the Republicans consider themselves a members of the Religious right as opposed to 16% in the Democratic party and 7% of Independents (Pew)

Nothing has changed, no real news here. The Republican party is made up of conservative, religious, church goers. Perhaps more surprising is that only 3 Republican candidates didn’t agree with the base. After this poll, that might change.

Let the the political poll dancing begin.

Cat Watch

You’ve probably already seen this viral video, but if not – watch it. It’s called the the “Battle at Kruger” but in honor of the Wizard of Oz, I would have named it Lions, and Buffalo and Crocodiles

And it is long, but well worth watching all of it. Sir David Attenborough couldn’t have scripted it better.

In other big cat news, we learn that forest guards (rangers) in western India have turned ringtone downloads into a whole different market. From Reuters

Forest guards in western India are using cell phones with ringtones of cows mooing, goats bleating and roosters crowing to attract leopards that have wandered into human settlements, officials said on Monday.
[...]
But rather than use methods such as live bait like goats tied to trees to lure the leopards, which then fall into large pits dug by guards, officials say they have found a safer method to trap the cats.

“The moos of a cow, bleating of a goat from the phone has proved effective to trap leopards,” said D. Vasani, a senior forest official in Gujarat. “This trick works.”

This can only lead one to the obvious question of whether this trick would work with cheetahs? And if yes, what ringtone these people were using?

(Hat Tip: Popular Science Blog)

God sends Bush an SMS

Maybe George W. Bush doesn’t have a hotline to the really big Guy.

This didn’t get much coverage in the major media, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum Vatican. Cadillac One stalled.

But this hasn’t completely escaped the focus of the media. From the – ehem – Russian News Agency

After braving an upset stomach in Germany and being greeted by crowds of protesters in Poland and Italy, the U.S. president probably thought things could not get much worse – and then his car broke down Saturday.
[...]
On Saturday, Bush arrived in Italy, where he held talks with Pope Benedict XVI, but later during his tour of the city his limousine broke down and a reserve vehicle had to be rushed in.

Moreover, the new limo was too big to squeeze through the gates of the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. leader had to walk the remaining distance.

Since GW did actually make it to the Vatican meeting, this was probably more of an instant message that a formal signal from God.

But I can see where this is leading. The only question is in which direction the message is going. Tim LaHaye thinks the Pope is the Antichrist. The pope refuses to consider joint church services between Catholics and Protestants.

I just wonder who exactly was the intended recipiant of this holy hiccup?

Yes readers and readettes. This is obviously a sign. Perhaps the best evidence of God I’ve seen recently.

(Hat Tip Amara Graps, guest blogging at Asymptotia)

Creationist Museums – Get em while they’re hot

Ok. The evolutionary blogging community has calmed down briefly after the splash created by Ken Ham’s 27 Million dollar Creationist museum theme park. Of course there are still a few ripples.

Like the actor who played Adam in one of the Infotainment videos being the former owner and occasional star of BedroomAcrobat, a porn site. (Hey, has anyone thought about the fact that no one else in the Christian community had that much practice being fig-leaf-less? In public? Maybe the choice wasn’t that bad!)

Then there is the increasingly open spat between the organisation that built the museum theme park, Answers In Genesis – US (AiG-US) and the organisation formerly known as Answers In Genesis Australia. (TOFKAAIGAus)

TOFKAAIGAus recently published the completion of a 40 page report outlining how the AiG-US first took over AiG-Canada and then eviscerated and finally killed TOFKAAIGAus forcing it to lose the AiG name. AiG-US and particularly Ken Ham apparently marginalized the Australian CEO Carl Wieland after which the Australian Board of Directors to signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and a Deed of Copyright Licence (DOCL) which “seriously disadvantaged” the Australian ministry.

The report makes interesting reading and highlights the behind the scenes manoeuvring that goes on in many large organisations. Interesting is how former Chief Magistrate Clarrie Briese, author of the report, indignantly points out how, um, unbiblical this behaviour has been. Scandalous.

TOFKAAIGAus has apparently filed suit so we’ll have to wait for results but, in the mean time, they have found a new shorter acronym, Creation Ministries International – CMI.

But what do you do if you don’t have 27 Million dollars or another country’s ministry to plunder?

No matter, you open a Creationist museum theme park anyway. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail ,

Harry Nibourg wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened Canada’s first permanent creationist museum to the public yesterday, so he asked volunteers to act as security guards just in case.

But there were no protesters or trouble, only about 20 people eager to see what all the fuss is about these days in Big Valley, a southern Alberta village of 350 people that’s surrounded by green fields, oil-well pump jacks and cattle.

Mr. Nibourg’s tiny Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which still smells of fresh paint, is crammed with material that purports to debunk evolution and prove that the universe was created by God some 6,000 years ago and that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. Located about 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, the museum, which has attracted international media attention, has been both condemned and praised on the letters-to-the-editor pages of Alberta’s two largest daily newspapers.

So for those of you closer to Canada than Kentucky, you can go to Big Valley and visit the slightly scaled down house of propaganda.

While visiting wonderful Alberta, you could also visit the correctly famous Royal Tyrrell Museum which houses one of the worlds largest collections of fossils and is only 600 kilometers away in Drumheller, Alberta.

After all, who needs Ken Ham to get ham fisted Creationist propagnda? Creationsit museums – perhaps cheaper by the dozen.

(Hat Tip Don Spencer’s Artifacts)

What Need Forgiveness

One argument often brought against atheists is that they can present no ultimate authority for ethics. This, apologetics argue, will lead down a slippery slope where relative ethics become no ethics; genial coexistence leading to genocide. Should the secular ethicist present the idea of an evolved morality, the apologetic will riposte again with the relativistic argument that evolution implies change – ergo the slippery slope beckons yet again.

But what if there is an ultimate morality. What if ethics is a framework not for prescriptive morals but descriptive reality? What if moral feelings are as “natural” as sight? What if the sense of righteousness is often overlooked, not because it does not exist, but because it is perhaps most easily overridden and ignored (maybe because it is most recently evolved)?

Before I embark on an exploration of morals, I’d like to detour into the realm of our more well understood senses; moving from the precise to the relative, in order to give myself a framework for discussion.

Let us start with that most important sense, sight. If you take an atheist and the most fundamental Christian (or Muslim) out on a beautiful summer day, both would agree that the sky is blue. Before the work of Newton, Foucault and others, the description of light wasn’t understood as a physical phenomena; the sky was “just” blue; now we understand the manner in which the light is scattered giving us a physical understand of such a beautiful backdrop.

As the day passes into evening, the sky might turn a beautiful shade of red. Let us bring a third person to our group. Discussing the evening sky, the first person comments on the beautiful hue, the second agrees. But the newcomer disagrees and says the sky is simply gray. You see our third individual is color-blind, physically unable to detect the color red (a condition far more common than you might think).

Irrespective of our group the sky still has a color, be it blue, red or gray. Key here is that the physical ability of each person limits the capability to see color. That ability is not only inborn but changes from person to person. We accept it as a fact of life, like the fact that some people are taller than others, with no further thought.

We can continue our thought experiment by moving to the idea of smell. Let us take our group and lead them to a flower, asking each to partake of its wonderful aroma. The first, a parfumeur, pronounces the scent exquisitely unique and breathtaking, the second, consumed by a bad cold, smells nothing. The last refuses to consider the idea in the knowledge that the mere attempt will likely produce an allergy attack and literally take his breath away.

Again the flower has not changed. The smell is still there but the reactions: enjoyment, indifference and rejection, all based on secular realities, all completely different.

Finally, our imaginary group chooses to dine together, each preparing a dish for the others. The first makes a vegetable curry, the second roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and the last a wonderful white wine sorbet, creamy and perfectly chilled. But again in our experimental world, all is not right. You see, one is unused to eating spicy foods and the curry is hot enough to make the eyes water; the roast beef unacceptable to the vegetarian and the sorbet unpalatable to the other who refuses alcohol preferring to remain abstinent.

Here the problems arise not from the physical characteristics of our merry band, but the cultural ones. Each person has learned behaviors and proclivities added to physical characteristics inherited at birth and acquired through illness or training.

This brings us back to morality.

Let us assume for a moment that morals are the cognitive translation of right-ness as just as sight is a cognitive translation of electomagnetic quanta, smell and taste the interpetation of minute chemical concentrations in air, liquid or solids.

We accept the existence of color blindness and intuitively understand that height changes from individual to individual; illness, medication or alcohol might temporarily heighten or dampen certain scenes. We all live happily (?) in largely multicultural societies. If we assume all these things are normal, why appeal to a higher power to justify the existence of morality? Could not the perception of right, a sixth “moral” sense, have evolved much like the other senses? And couldn’t that sense differ from person to person, culture to culture? None of the earlier discussion implied that the thing itself changes, the sky remained red, the curry – spicy. It means that we might all differently perceive a single, definite moral reality.

If sight, smell and sound evolved to react to certain specific, concrete environmental conditions, why must one assume morals be a different beast? One might comment that it because morals seem so ethereal; there is no physical “there” there.

Unfortunately perception is not necessary for existence; describe “red” to the blind man; try to prove the existence of “red” to the blind man. You might collect a group of people in a double blind (no pun intended) experiment each telling the blind man whether the color on the card is grey or red. You would do better than chance, so there is something there. But the hits wouldn’t be perfect – color blindness – remember? You might present the theoretical and physical characteristics of light and explaining that red can be found somewhere around a wavelength of 630nm; the blind man would still not feel the emotional majesty of a crimson sky.

If one assumes the other senses, sight, smell and the rest, all evolved in order improve the chances of genetic survival, couldn’t morals self assemble in much the same way? The simplistic argument that unbridled selfishness leads to evolutionary advantage seems neither to be born out by experiment nor perception. Doesn’t unbridled selfishness lead to short term gains but ultimately to failure (see for example Jared Diamond’s Collapse)? Might one of the very steps on the path of evolution to “man” been the development of a different long term understanding of right-ness; a way of knowing as genetically ingrained but as variable as eye color? Those who did not “see the light” slowly losing out to their more moral competition?

And doesn’t this model seem to fit the “facts” better? The Golden Rule is almost universal. Only the most radical fundamentalist denies that “unbelievers” lack any grounding in moral thought (or they read far too much into Ps 14:3). If one assumes that it is not morality itself but moral sensibility that changes from person to person, culture to culture doesn’t that answer many questions, not of how the world should be, but at least of how the world actually is? Do religions claim to be reality or merely an improvement, optional?

Finally it should be noted that the existence of God is neither explicitly accepted nor denied in this model.

A Deist might make the argument that an omnipotent (and perhaps omni-benevolent) being loaded the dice in order to force intelligent creatures to develop moral feelings. This might be called the Anthropic Gambit. Just like God tweaked all the other constants in the Universe, the speed of light, the various forces, masses and frequencies, She also tweaked the ‘goodness’ constant. Like the Anthropic argument for God, this idea is undeniably, well, undeniable but it is also unprovable. And of course Ockham’s razor warns us to steer clear of these kinds of uncharted waters (but people sink in them every day).

Critical is that the existence of God isn’t necessary. There is no necessity for a God-given authoritative morality any more than there is a necessity for a God-given authoritative blue. There is no need for Kant’s argument that “ought implies can.” (Since we ought to achieve moral perfection it implies that we can achieve moral perfection. But we always fail, we always make mistakes. Thus the only way that moral perfection can be achieved is through God or God’s forgiveness. I call this the Forgiveness Gambit.)

There might be an ultimate morality waiting to be discovered, understood and researched. By refusing to ask the question, indeed by denying the question itself, Deity-based moral systems perhaps lock themselves into an intellectual trap no different than that experienced by Creation “scientists.”

If one assumes that the failing is not in existence or authority, but in perception, what need Christian forgiveness? Must one forgive the color-blind, allergic vegetarian?

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