Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: April, 2009

Why Are All These Scientists Fighting???

(Links fixed from a previous iteration of this post.)

If you’re hoping to catch up on the debate over religious appeasement in science advocacy, you’ve come to the right place. Who can follow all the angst between PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Richard Hoppe, and the NCSE and make it all understandable? I can. Who can get a shoutout from Massimo Pigliucci? Me. Who can offer up a bulleted list of self-promotional links? Right here, my friend.


…And Avian Flu is Offensive to Big Bird

If this complaint is taken seriously, then we secularists have much farther to go than even I realized. Per the AP:

The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed “Mexican” influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, said an Israeli health official Monday.

Which assumes, I take it, that we’re not concerned with offending Mexicans.

Oh, but it gets better, because in USA Today‘s Faith & Reason blog, Leslie Miller asks (I can only assume with a straight face):

DO YOU THINK … scientists should defer to possible religious sensitivities, as the Israeli official suggests?

Really? So, we thought this brain-stabbingly stupid notion deserved a little extra touch of legitimization?

The Perfect Animal Kingdom Metaphor for the GOP

I am very much enjoying Natalie Angier’s witty science primer, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Little did I know that it would give me a brilliant insight into the decidedly nonscientific world of politics.

Witness page 173, where she describes the curious behavior of one particular creature:

. . . the tunicate, or sea squirt, is a mobile hunter in its larval stage and thus has a little brain to help it find prey. But on reaching maturity and attaching itself permanently to a safe niche from which it can filter-feed on whatever passes by, the sea squirt jettisons the brain it no longer requires. “Brains are great consumers of energy,” writes Peter Atkins, a profssor of chemistry at Oxford University, “and it is a good idea to get rid of your brain when you discover you have no further need of it.”

Now, am I crazy, or is this not the the perfect analogy for the modern Republican Party? After many painful years of having to “justify” “beliefs” and “policies” with “reasons” and “evidence” — all of which requires energy-consuming thought — now they have Fox News to tell them to have teabag protests for no discernible reason. The point was to be angry, not thinky.

Unfair? Okay, well, you can’t possibly argue with the sea squirt as analogous to the Bush presidency. Prizing the informational processing power of his “gut” over his brain, relying on instinct and faith over data and reflection. Bush (I assume) never physically ejected his gray matter onto the Oval Office carpet, but he might as well have. For a guy who slept as much as he did, you can bet he was looking for ways to conserve energy. What better way than to shut down a major organ he wasn’t using anyway?

There’s something sublime about this sea quirt metaphor. The GOP’s wholesale rejection of the intellect, their disdain for the educated, their anxiety over science, none of it because they are bad, per se, but because they have adapted to the environment in which they live. Finding that their brains were doing them no good whatsoever, that thoughtful, intellectual discourse was getting them nowhere, they hit the eject button and got Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, and Glenn Beck. Now they need waste no more precious energy on building neurons and firing synapses. They are a miracle of evolution.

Update: Apparently, Arlen Specter agrees with my take, and has opted for continued use of his neocortex.

Now Our Pets are Becoming Angry Atheists!

Either this dog is an angry, militant neo-atheist, or the power of Christ is making him speak in tongues.

Even Bono Gets It

The U2 frontman and world-saver, a man of his own particular religious zeal, knows that God is not a prerequisite for compassion.

Strangely, as we file out of the small stone church into the cruel sun, I think of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, whose now combined fortune is dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty. Agnostics both, I believe. I think of Nelson Mandela, who has spent his life upholding the rights of others. A spiritual man — no doubt. Religious? I’m told he would not describe himself that way.

Not all soul music comes from the church.


We’re Just Not Up To It

I’m just about ready to give up.

So we’ve been torturing people. Oh, and it was a lot worse than even the craziest left-wing conspiracy theories. But, almost laughable in their predictability, Republicans come marching to the cameras to hedge and spin and justify. Obama is the villain because he released the memos. Morale could be damaged, don’t you see. Let’s not play the Blame Game ™. Look at this douchetruck from Texas on Hardball. Chris Matthews is no hyper-genius, but even his basic understanding of morality and common sense can’t puncture this apologist’s force field of stupid.

The thing is, while we were trying to decide how best to look-forward-and-not-backward in regards the prison rape of our notions of what it is to be a human being, we forgot that being a human being was going to get a lot tougher once the planet is set to “broil.” I don’t know if you remember anything about this, but because of all the poison and garbage we’ve belched into the air since the Industrial Revolution, the Sun’s heat is being trapped within Earth’s atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise, bringing about something we call…what’s it again…”spherical defrosting” or something. This guy who won a presidential election but wasn’t allowed to take office has been making a fuss about it because he’s all worked up about the existential threat posed to humanity by the warming of the Earth.

So this guy goes to Capitol Hill again to talk to all the friendly folks in the Democratic Congress, and Republicans and Democrats hem and haw about taxes and discomfort. And just to be fair, Newt Gingrich, a guy who really cares about other humans, is brought in to counter Gore’s testimony. You know, because when we learned about gravity in school, we had another teacher come in to say that, actually, things fall down because God pushes them.

And then this happens.

What’s my point? I’m about ready to give up on homo sapiens. Millions of Americans threw their hearts into Change in the last election; a young, idealistic president and a friendly Democratic Congress! We will save the world! Instead, we get free passes for torturers and more bullshit excuses for not saving our habitat and civilization from our own idiocy.

It seems we’re just not up to this. We can’t see evil anymore, or we just don’t care. We’re not concerned enough about our species’ prospects to even discuss making the slightest changes. And in the mean time, here come anti-blasphemy laws, children-as-property amendments dressed up as “parental rights” legislation, the guys who brought us Al Qaeda having a controlling stake in a nuclear state, and a class of people responsible for destroying the world economy continuing to slurp at the trough without an ounce of regret. And everyone knows, and nothing changes.

So, humans, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. But it’s coming to an end. We don’t have the will, the wisdom, or the patience to even justify our existence, let alone maintain it.

Let’s hope the dolphins do a better job than we did. Here’s the keys, Flipper. She’s all yours.

Pope blames atheists for environmental destruction

Ha ha, stupid atheists! I sure zinged you!

(AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think these words were spoken by a liberal environmentalist and/or a humanist:

How important it is . . . that the international community and the different governments be able to give the appropriate indications to their own citizens to address in an effective manner the ways of utilizing the environment that turn out to be harmful. The economic and social costs stemming from the use of shared environmental resources, recognized in a transparent way, must be assumed by those who use them, and not by other populations or by future generations. Protection of the environment and the safeguarding of the resources and climate call for all leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity, above all in the weaker regions of the earth. . . .

. . . Together we can build an integral human development beneficial to present and future peoples, a development inspired by the values of charity in truth. For this to happen it is indispensable that the present model of global development be transformed through a greater and shared responsibility . . . This is demanded not only by environmental emergencies, but also by the scandal of hunger and poverty.

But no, this is not a speech by Al Gore, it’s from He of the Astounding Hat, Pope Benedict XVI. Sounds great, doesn’t it? There’s nothing I would quibble with in this message in the least. His pope-ish-ness has hit the nail on the head. I feel like there’s a real chance for nonbelievers and Christians to reach a real understanding based on shared val…

…what’s that?

He said what…?


Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the “final authority,” and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

According to Joey Ratz here, atheism is a cause of environmental rape. It’s the usual false equation usually made about atheists and morality–if there’s no God telling you how to behave, how do you know not to kill? Or in this case, how do you know not to selfishly ravage our earthly habitat? But here, he even goes a step further, and implicates people who simply don’t have God as a central part of their lives, “where God is marginalized,” not always at the forefront of thought. That’s rough.

The heavy dose of anti-atheist bigotry in this message is not only on the surface, blaming atheists for the plunder of the planet. Worse yet, those heads of corporations and governments who couldn’t give two Hail Marys about our current habitat or what our children will inherit are primarily religious believers. In America, mostly Christian. And by “mostly,” I mean “for all intents and purposes all of them.” These folks are not denying God’s existence–in many instances God is used as a justification for insane waste, exploitation, and brain-dead policy.

Just on the political end, remember it was Republican Rep. John Shimkus who told us that, on the question of global warming, the world will end when God says so; it won’t have anything to do with us. It’s Michele Bachmann and John Boehner, Christians both, who tell us that carbon dioxide isn’t harmful.

So to blame these problems on atheists is one level of insult. But to do so, knowing that the prime perpetrators of planetary pillage are principally the practicing pious, well, that’s another thing altogether.

P.S. – Hat tip to the National Secular Society, whose president, Terry Sanderson, lays the sacramental smackdown in their response:

This is rich coming from the leader of an organisation that has plundered the world to enrich itself. As he sits in his golden palaces, surrounded by unimaginable luxury
and material wealth, he lectures the rest of us about restraint and greed. We have nothing to learn about environmentalism from this hypocrite.

Yeah. That, too!

DC Vote Bill Slogs Through Morass of Crap

Things have continued to get interesting in the battle to give DC residents a voice in the US Congress. The DC House Voting Rights Act, hampered by an egregious NRA-backed amendment that would gut DC’s gun control laws, looked totally stalled. Then the bill’s prospects became even muddier as it was reported that Attorney General Eric Holder, unhappy with an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that the bill was unconstitutional, sought a more favorable take. Then last week, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who had of late publicly chewed out Mayor Adrian Fenty for urging the passage of the bill with or without the gun amendment, began to sound like she was going to lend her support to the NRA-stained bill herself. Per The Hill:

In a remarkable shift of tone, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she expected House leaders to agree to an amendment backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which she vehemently opposes, in order to pass the voting rights bill. It has already passed the Senate.

“For the first time, the leaders in both houses are looking very seriously at this gun law,” Norton said a hearing this morning. “And they are aware the gun law is going to become law.”

She continued, “Because we’re going to pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act. We’re not letting anything stand in the way of that. There is no question in my mind these leaders are going to get this done. There’s also no question in my mind that if you have this attached to both bills, it’s law.”

But if that wasn’t confusing enough, this weekend Norton used the occasion of the recent mass shootings to highlight the problem with removing DC’s gun laws in the voting rights bill. Per Washington Post‘s DC Wire:

“In only the 25 days between March 10 and April 5, 53 people have been killed in mass murders by gunmen,” a statement from her office said.

“The bill would eliminate all local gun laws, making the city, including official Washington, more open to gun violence than any of the jurisdictions where the mass killings have occurred in March and April,” according to the statement.

So perhaps this shows Norton to be acquiescing to inevitabilities, but not going quietly into that not-so-good night.

But with these two bits of news, we have two important questions: Is the bill worth passing with the NRA/John Ensign amendment attached, and is the constitutionality of the bill a serious concern?

On the first question, I have made my own position pretty clear. DC voting rights have already had to endure far too many concessions, including the absurd idea that in order for a primarily-Democratic district to have representation, the Republicans have to get one, too (in Utah). That was too much to my mind, but I began to swallow it as there seemed no other way. Adding now this notion that DC should give up its right to decide its own gun laws is laughably absurd. The bill should not be passed with this offensive attachment.

McClatchy’s editorial board put it very well last week in an uncompromising piece:

. . . when a single-interest group can dictate the terms of legislation unrelated to its cause and hold the proposal hostage, the result is unhealthy for democracy. . . .

[The Senate] decided that the wishes of the NRA must be obeyed without question. Even if it means overruling local citizens who believe that they, rather than special interests, have the right to decide local gun-control practices for themselves. . . .

The NRA has the right to spend money on behalf of its cause ($15.6 million in campaign donations over the last two years) and to exercise clout at election time, but voters have rights, too. They have a right to expect more backbone from their representatives.

And the DCist blog questioned, wisely I think, the whole notion of the politics involved:

Republicans in the House largely don’t support granting the District a voting member, so most of them are likely to vote against the bill anyway. And liberal Democrats will surely have a hard time explaining to their constituents that they voted for the bill with the amendment. So now the question is, can the Democratic leadership even be assured that the bill itself will pass with the amendment?

Which is probably the real point. The Republicans are dead set against a liberal, black district getting a voice in Congress, regardless of the compromises involved. The Ensign amendment, I think, is designed to be so unpalatable as to turn Democrats away from the bill, not really to change DC’s gun laws. If it does happen to pass with the gun law change, then fine, at least they got something they wanted, but this was never really the point. Cynical and heartless in the extreme.

The second question, then, regards the bill’s constitutionality. Clearly, the District is not a state, and the Constitution gives congressional representation to states. So the better question is, does it matter if it’s unconstitutional?

Of course it does, but it seems to me that there are a couple ways of looking at this. On one hand, it matters if for no other reason than that it could be struck down by the Supreme Court after passage. But of course the spirit of the Constitution is one of equality for all, that the citizens of the United States are all represented in their government. The arbitrary geographical distinction under which DC suffers, that of being a “district,” doesn’t make its residents any less American or any less deserving of representation. So in this way, the problem is technical, and possibly ignorable.

Well then, you might say, why not just toss out the whole document if you can ignore parts of it? That’s an important point. But it is crucial, I think, to remember that the Constitution is not an infallible document (think slavery — a.k.a. “all other persons,” prohibition, not allowing for women to vote, etc.). Right now, it has a big rent in it that allows 600,000 Americans to be disenfranchised. It surely was not the intention of the Founders to explicitly do so, and it is surely not in keeping with the spirit of the document.

In my mind, the DC House Voting Rights Act (without the Ensign amendment) is a band-aid, a piece of clear tape over a hole in the document, through which hundreds of thousands of citizens are slipping. Indeed, th
e only real solution
is statehood or integration with another state. But until then, it is no longer fair to make the people of Washington, DC wait for a taste of political equality.