Friday, January 31, 2014

Consequences In Action

Updated below to make the point more generic, as was my original intent.

I mainly want to go over an example of consequences for beliefs that I totally meant to go over before...but forgot. I was reminded today after encountering a commenter on a YouTube video spouting this idea about leaving people alone if they are not "forcing" their beliefs on you.

George Zimmerman, for all we can tell, believed that Trayvon Martin was black kids in hoodies are a threat to his neighborhood. How'd that turn out for Trayvon Martin?

That, in a nutshell, is why I can't just let people believe what they want to believe. Was George Zimmerman forcing his beliefs on me? I would think the answer here is clearly "No." How about on Martin? Does killing a kid count as "forcing" beliefs on to someone? Just asking.

So, yeah, beliefs inform actions and actions have consequences. Need I really say this again?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Official Republican SOTU response, bit by bit

Cathy McMorris Rodgers (who???) delivered the Republican party's official State of the Union response last night. I'm going to go over bits and pieces that capture my attention.

"Where a girl who worked at the McDonald's drive-through to help pay for college can be with you at the state capitol."

Translation: "I've got mine. Fuck you." I say this largely because that does seem to be the conservative attitude toward people. And there is some context missing here that could be important. I worked at a McDonald's, too, to help pay for college. But I didn't really have to. I would have found a way to pay for it without doing that work. What that work perhaps did the most is helped me to have less debt after college. However, there are people out there that have little choice but to work to pay for college. What situation was she in? If I had to guess, I'd guess her experience was more so like mine. In which case, she's trying to give a false impression that she used to be struggling just like a lot of other people.

And even if she did struggle, there is such a big problem with the conservative message. Largely, there is a failure to understand math. The conservative attitude is often one of "I made it out of poverty, so you can too!" But the message totally lacks any recognition for the probability of getting out of poverty. If she did, she's one of the lucky ones and she needs to recognize this. The conservative delusion, however, is to convince themselves that they aren't lucky but rather they got out of poverty through "hard work." Every time I've tried to get a conservative to go into detail of their "hard work," I've found them to be nothing but arrogant about their own abilities.

"...People who come to America because, here, no challenge is too great and no dream too big. That's the genius of America. <New paragraph> Tonight, the President made more promises that sound good but won't actually solve the problems facing America."

*Facepalm* I highlighted what really got to me. She says that immediately after making her good sounding comments on "the genius of America." That's some serious lack of awareness there. Not to mention I have yet to here a Republican proposal that is anything but good sounding. If I hear anything in her speech, I'll be surprised.

"One that empowers you, not the government. One that champions free markets and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you"

I saw others pointing out the typical response that the exception is always women in regards to abortion. You could add other things to that list, too, though, such as LGBT rights. So, translation: "We'll empower you as long as what you decide to do matches what we want you to do. Otherwise, we will take that decision away."

"It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty."

Here is one of those good sounding bits that has nothing substantive to it. Or, what there is that is substantive, Republicans tend to oppose. For example, labor unions. Labor unions, as far as I can tell, are able to fit in to the idea of a free market. At their core, they are a way for people to come together and tell the market what they want. (Wikipedia speaks of "worker cooperatives." These are apparently a bit different than labor unions, but there appear to be many similarities.)

"They taught me to work hard..."

Yeah...I don't like where this is going... And shortly after this, she starts talking about how she saved her 4-H money. This seems to be going down this path that conservatives like to pretend that people just need to be more fiscally responsible like they are! There is a potential problem with this story, though. Again, I, too, was in 4-H having been a North Dakota farm boy, so I can see the likely flaw. First, she's getting money from the 4-H animals, but did she use her own money to invest in the animals to get to the show? Perhaps some, but I would guess that ma and pa probably chipped in a good chunk of money and didn't expect to get paid back. Second, 4-H animals, in my experience, sell for quite a bit more than actual market value. That is in part because the people buying the animals want to help these kids feel like they accomplished something. Which is great! But the problem is people like her seem to somehow completely forget that people were giving them a helping hand along the way. In other words, she wasn't successful on her own.

Although, alternatively, if they do recognize the helping hands, they'll point out that it was the community and not the government that helped them. This message is problematic in that it ignores the problem of people that don't have a community that is capable of helping them out. I.e, a poor kid in a poor neighborhood where everybody's struggling to get by so they can't offer a helping hand even if they wanted to.

"And to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job. Because a job is so much more than a paycheck. It gives us purpose, dignity, and the foundation to build a future."

Yet more good sounding stuff that's not very well connected to reality. If your job is only paying minimum wage, it simply does not give you a foundation to build a future. Being that there are a lot of people who only make minimum wage, there are a lot of people who recognize this. Some Republicans really need to step out of their bubble.

"But we also know what it's like to face challenges."

Sure. Who doesn't? If she's trying to gain sympathy or understanding, the problem is that a lot of people may face tougher challenges and face them more regularly as well.

"Cole was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome."

Well, that's unfortunate, but she must surely have some pretty good health care coverage being an elected official (not to mention a good salary). Now, try being a parent of a child with Down's that doesn't have healthcare. Now look at how many times the Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA without offering any sort of alternative.

"But when we looked at our son...we saw a gift from God."

So, hey, poor people! Even though you're struggling to make ends meet with your shitty minimum wage job, shitty health care (if any), and a child with Down's, just remember that child is a gift from God and that will make everything better. It's magic! /sarcasm. Yeah, if that's the Republican plan, is it any wonder their party has not been doing so well as of late?

She continues sending out a hidden anti-abortion message in regards to her child.

"Because our mission, not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again ensure that we are not bound on where we come from..."

So we can expect Republicans to back immigration reform now??? Yeah...didn't think so.

"It's the gap we all face — between where you are and where you want to be. The president talks a lot about income inequality, but the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality."

Part of that I had seen on the news Wednesday morning. I thought then as I do now, just how stupid is she? How does she figure the two are separate things? This is much the problem I and others like me have with income inequality — it produces this "opportunity inequality." On that, as an engineer, I am not impressed. We have this concept known as "root cause analysis." I've talked about it on this blog before, so I suggest checking that link for more information. The problem here is that the "opportunity inequality" is not the root cause, it is a symptom. So when she says it is "the real gap," she's simply full of crap. She does not help her case at all when she goes into her examples. Hey, that guy working part time could probably do better if his job paid well. Or, similarly with the girl going to college, it would help if her parents had more money. Or, to go back to earlier statements, if her job at McDonalds could help pay for that better.

"Republicans have plans to close the gap."

Of course, we'll likely never see those plans.

"And, yes, it's time to honor our history of legal immigration."

Here's more good sounding stuff. Republicans have been fighting against this. Are we seriously supposed to believe Republicans are going to turn things around here in 2014?

"...making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."

Again, actions speak louder than words. Republican actions, particularly in areas of science (funding of and promotion of creationism, for example), display the exact opposite.

"We have solutions to help you take home more of your pay. Through lower taxes..."

*facepalm* Really? Need I remind everyone about Romney's 47% comments? Or other Republicans complaining about too many people not paying any federal income taxes? If my taxes are already 0, how are you going to get them any lower? The only thing they can do at that point is give people money. But that would be a "handout," which are bad.

She then goes on to mention cheaper energy costs. What? Through subsidizing the oil and coal industries, by chance? Because you can't touch that hippy solar stuff!

Or affordable health care. See above — where have the Republican plans been thus far? She then says, "No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were." OK, but I've only seen the Republicans try to repeal the ACA. Isn't that exactly what repealing it would do? (Go back to the way things were?)

"We advance these plans everyday."

Really? I've never seen them. (Does she really mean "plans," or is she getting confused with "goals"? Those mean two different things, but people confuse them all the time.)

"I ask him to listen to you."

Bit of advice, Republicans, you need to stop believing you represent the majority of the people. You don't. I know, I know. You got all those Tea Party wackos elected back in 2010, which has you believing that you do indeed represent the majority. You need to realize that was likely a fluke. You caught people off guard, tricking them into thinking you had a bunch of political "outsiders" that the people wanted. At this point, the con has been well revealed. You can't pull the same stunt again. (But, then, I think Republicans darn well know this — that's why they are fighting for voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts. But why then turn around and tell themselves they represent the majority?)

Overall, I still get a kick out criticizing Obama for making promises that "sound good," but then does nothing more than that herself. The religious sentiments at the end weren't helping her at all, either. If the Republican plan is to pray??? We're fucked!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Putting it in terms of race...

Because I think, although there is still a lot of racism in our society, people can still more easily understand the problems of their social propositions when placed in such a context.

This goes back again to my last post on beliefs and consequences, particularly this idea of "forcing" beliefs on another person and how some suggest we should not oppose people's beliefs if they are not forcing them on us. There is still the big question of what that means, so I've come up with a scenario to pry at that.

In the context of the last post, the topic was gay rights. Well, I'm not gay, so if someone is opposed to gay rights, does their opposition have much of an effect on me? Should I care? My answers are "Yes" and "Yes, duh!" respectively. But now let's change the context to the civil rights era of the 1960's. Anyone can see from my profile picture on the right that I am white. So if the problem had instead been with people who promote segregation, I'm still in the majority group. I have my rights. Should I be opposing people who are for segregation even though I am not black???

I think the answer should be obvious. Damn right I should oppose it! And the same goes for those who oppose gay rights today. I'm going to fight against that. It doesn't matter that I'm straight. I'm not selfish. I want to see the world be a better place.

Religion does not make the world a better place, and often it works against my goals. So I'm going to fight against it. I don't care if people aren't forcing their beliefs on me. It's not about me. It's about everyone else.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A friendly reminder that beliefs have consequences.

I know I've written about this before, the two posts (of what was meant to be a four-part series) that I've actually published can be found here and here. I would recommend reading these, yet I am going to be repeating a lot of the same points here. Because it would seem that these ideas need repeating.

I get a bit annoyed about these ideas that beliefs should be given automatic respect or the rather strange idea that my mother seems to have (yes, this post is a bit personal) that beliefs should not be given automatic respect but, for some unclear reason, still shouldn't be challenged ("confronted" was the word she used). The impression I got from my mother was that her reasoning is that they should only be challenged if the people holding beliefs try to force their beliefs on me.

That really begs the question of what, exactly, it means for someone to "force" their beliefs on me. I imagine what she means is people who try to convince me to believe the same as they do. This is horribly short-sighted.

In that first post, I had presented a slightly absurd belief of "I believe I am a better driver while intoxicated." We could change this to be a bit more realistic to say "I believe I am a capable driver while intoxicated." Certainly there are people out in the world who convince themselves of that. (Or, at the very least, "I believe I am not so intoxicated at the moment that I will be capable of driving" when this is not true.) Shouldn't we still just leave these people believe what they want to believe? No, and we don't. At the time I began drafting this post, a local radio station had what seems to be becoming an annual event where the DJ's get drunk on the air with a police officer in the studio to routinely measure their BAL (blood-alcohol level). The idea is to demonstrate, as best they can, how quickly and how little it takes to become inebriated. And the message, of course, is that, if you choose to drink, then you should not drive.

The next question, to get more on point, is are the people who drive drunk forcing their beliefs on other people? This gets back to that main question of what, exactly, do we mean by "force"? If a drunk driver hits me, I would say he/she has quite literally forced his/her belief on me!!! The other question, to go with this, is it OK for them to believe what they do as long as they don't hit anyone??? That, to me, sounds like a risky endeavor. Going back to the previous paragraph, the reality is that we as a society say this is not OK. People get arrested for drunk driving regardless of whether or not they hit someone.

This then brings me to the topic that started this latest conversation — the homophobia of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Is he forcing his beliefs on me? Well, no. I'm not homosexual. But is he then forcing his beliefs on homosexuals? I would say he most certainly is, to some extent! If, say, a vote to legalize (or perhaps a vote to ban) gay marriage would come up on the Louisiana ballot, how do we suppose he would vote (assuming that he does)? I'd put money on it that he'd vote against gay marriage. And, seeing how gay marriage really isn't all that crucial of an issue to the LGBT community, he'd probably likewise vote against other gay rights — or vote for the type of politicians who oppose gay rights.

The point of all of this is that beliefs don't exist in a vacuum. People tend to act out on their beliefs and, if they have horrible beliefs, they are going to be more likely to act in horrible ways. It's more complex than this, of course, but I do find that, if we wish to reduce bad actions, we need to reduce bad beliefs.

The challenge, then, gets to be determining what is and what is not a bad belief. This can be a long, complex process. However, it's hard to start such a process with people either telling you that you must automatically respect a belief or that you're not allowed to even challenge beliefs — even when the other person agrees that a belief is bad!

Extra reading: I found this excellent post in regards to religion and violence in my search for a link to the phrase "exist in a vacuum."

And now for something COMPLETELY different...GMO's!

I've been meaning to put up some sort of post for a while on this topic, especially since my parents have bought into the anti-GMO hype. For today, all I'm going to do is point and laugh at some article I saw suggested at NewsMaxHealth — I have no idea what their general reputation is in regards to what they publish, but this is ridiculous! There is a lot of loaded language and logical fallacies, so I'm going to go through a lot of this and point out where the flaws lie. I'll be bolding all the loaded, emotional and/or fallacious words. I will also (bold) my entries pointing out them by name and linking to any posts I may have describing the fallacy.

Now, one courageous doctor is pointing to mounting evidence that leaves no doubt — GMO foods are even worse than we were told.

As this respected doctor (Argument from Authority — How "respected" he or she is has no relevance on whether or not he or she is correct.) points out in a riveting new presentation, no long-term human studies have ever supported GMO safety. Shockingly, the World Health Organization only requires a mere 90 days of testing to claim that GMOs are safe. Well, no one dies from smoking cigarettes within 90 days of starting to smoke, either! (Weak analogy — A major flaw here is that there were no bans on smoking until it could be tested. In fact, quite the opposite is true. People were smoking long before anyone even bothered to study the health effects. I also note that there is no suggestion for how long they think testing should take. It sounds like they expect a lifetime of testing, but do they seriously think it would take that long to figure out that smoking is harmful??? (I'm also suspect of that 90 days of testing claim.))

Yet while lifetime studies still have not been done on humans, scientists have done these studies on animals — and what they found is stunning. Lab mice fed just a 33 percent GMO diet begin developing aggressive cancers (particularly breast cancer), liver failure, and kidney failure. (This is likely a misuse and abuse of science. Note that they don't bother to tell us which studies. Could one of these studies have been the Séralini study? Which was a heavily refuted study, largely due to how poorly it was controlled.)

Shockingly, 50 percent of the males and 70 percent of the female animals on the GMO diet succumbed to early death at an age equivalent to 40 to 50 human years. (Another weak analogy. And is this "early death" based on the human equivalent age? The lab rats in the Séralini study, for example, tend to die within two years regardless of what they are fed. From what I gather, this is an early death compared to non-lab rats. If the "equivalent age" is then based on the life-span of non-lab rates, then there is absolutely nothing shocking about this. It's actually quite expected.)

While more people have begun to fight back against GMOs, the big GMO companies ,spend millions of dollars to defeat laws that would require GMO labeling. Quite simply, these big companies know that GMO crops are cheaper to grow, and therefore more profitable. (It's unclear to me what relevance this has to anything. I suspect this has been put in here for little more than emotional manipulation to rouse up fears of Goliath.)

In the meantime, many health experts (Health experts are not scientists, and, with how many health trends come and go, I would recommend being highly skeptical of how much such people are "experts" on anything! The added irony here is that there is this distrust of corporations because they have a product to sell (see previous paragraph). Think for a moment about how these health experts make a living and hopefully you'll notice the contradiction.) now warn us to take the only positive action available to protect our health — avoiding GMOs as much as humanly possible. But considering the fact that GMOs are hidden in over 30,000 food products, that is not an easy task.

Fortunately, one courageous doctor has stepped up to the plate. Dr. Russell Blaylock, one of America’s leading medical researchers and nutritionists, has created a special free video presentation that explains the hidden health hazards of GMOs. Dr. Blaylock will show you how to protect your family from GMOs and their dangers — aisle by aisle at the grocery store.

... (Much of the rest of this article seems to be nothing more than an advertisement, so I'm going to skip all of that.) ...

Since the introduction of GMO foods, many cancers and other diseases have skyrocketed in humans. Can this really be a coincidence? (Yes. Yes, it can. Correlation does not imply causation. What other things have been introduced in this time? Personal computers! They're the real culprit! But, seriously, cancer, for example, is a disease that becomes more and more likely as we get older. Life expectancy has been on the rise. Therefore, more cancer. (Add in that we probably have better diagnoses of cancer and this error, known as confirmation bias, gets worse.) There is no reason to associate this with GMO's.) ...

So, I did decide I should look up some info on this Newsmax Media. Lo and behold, it's a conservative news media! I find that hilarious. As I've heard one person put it, some people are so far left that they wrap around back to the right! (He also referred to such people as the "Tea Party of the Left".) In the case of GMO's, that seems to be getting to be more true all the time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

And the new Coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Coalition of Reason is...


What did I get myself in to? Well, pretty much exactly what I wanted to get myself in to. The question then is can I handle the responsibility? That shouldn't be much responsibility, but my history of handling responsibility is not bright.

What is the Eastern Iowa CoR?

From what I can tell, it's really just going to be (oh, this is a newly formed organization -- website's not even up yet, but would most likely be located here) umbrella organization that is just meant to help direct people to their local non-religious groups. It's not really going to have any authority whatsoever over those local groups. The "coordination" part, then, is just to get the various groups to allow us to do such directing. Take the Central Iowa CoR, for example. The main page (by which I don't mean the home (welcome) page) there simple directs you to the websites, Facebook pages, etc. of the affiliated groups. The events page appears to just be pulling in the calendar entries from those groups as well. So there may not be too much to do. Maybe do some touring of eastern Iowa to meet with the leaders of the other groups and whatnot. Maybe that means I'll have to attend Darwin Week events up at UNI this year? (If they're having a Darwin Week...there is no link to events.)

The one bigger thing is that the Central Iowa coordinator would like to launch a billboard campaign in April. Uh...does that mean I'll have to help arrange that??? *gulp* I imagine, though, they'd look something like this:

So, yeah...that's what I might be up to in the future. I'm really hoping this will be a good experience.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

While on the topic of words that bother me...

"Tolerance." Now, my problems here aren't with the meaning of the word, but rather the caveats that go unsaid. And the way conservatives then latch on to make their arguments. It was in the forward for the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist:"
The tolerance peddlers are further exposed as frauds when you consider that they simply will not practice what they preach—at least toward those annoyingly stubborn Christians. They are absolutely unwilling to "tolerate" the Christian premise that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (p9)
I have also seen this in the defense of Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame). Conservatives groaning about how liberals aren't "tolerant" of his viewpoints.

I actually find the conservative arguments to be somewhat rational. They are, after all, fighting against what really seems to be a thought stopping argument. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is that conservatives are supposed to tolerate gay people. No specified reason given. Just 'cuz. The question I've had for such liberals is should we also tolerate pedophiles? I sure hope not!

Now, I do actually know the unspoken reason — no one is suffering any harm in the case of gay couples. Conservatives have to "tolerate" it because they don't have a good reason to not do so. We libs, on the other hand, do have reason to not tolerate homophobic remarks. Because they do cause harm! Primary example would be the depression it can cause with LGBT youth, thus the need for the "It Gets Better" campaign or "The Trevor Project."

A problem I think that some liberals have is that the reasons conservatives have are religious in nature. Liberals that are also religious can't counter such reasoning very well. They can't call out such arguments as total bullshit (without lying), so they are left to arguing theology, which is rather unproductive, leaving the liberal to fall back on the "tolerance" for unspecified reasons shitty argument.

Example: Liberal may actually start out with the harm argument. Conservative comes back with a "But God says so" argument. Liberal, believing that God exists, is left to debating over what God actually said. So, in the future, the liberal just shortcuts this entirely with the "tolerance" for unspecified reasons argument.

Having said all of that, I don't know how many liberals actually use this lousy tolerance argument. I have seen it used, so the number is more than zero. But I see conservatives knock down the argument way more often! It is to the point that it seems little more than a straw man. Unlike a pure straw man, it is nearly a correct representation of an opponent's position. The problem that makes it like a straw man is the opponent is a large group of people who do not all share the same position. So while it may correctly represent some in the group, it does not represent the group as a whole, and may even only represent a small segment of that group.

An analogy I find appropriate would be to criticize all Christians for the beliefs of Westboro Baptist Church. They're a Christian group, for sure, but they don't represent all of Christianity. They don't even represent mainstream Christianity. It is unfair to generalize Christianity via WBC. Likewise, it is unfair to generalize liberals over those who make the "tolerance" argument.

In short...

Liberals — Don't use these short-hand arguments! They are easy to knock down. Go into full detail whenever you can.

Conservatives — I'm on to you. As far as I can tell, you are misrepresenting the majority of liberals in order to knock down low-hanging fruit. (And, so that I'm not seen as hypocritical, allow me to specify that I am referring specifically to those conservatives that use this tactic and not all conservatives.)

The meaning of the verb "judge"

Confession time. I really hate the way our society has changed the meaning of the verb "judge." I realize that English is a living language* and therefore is susceptible to change, so, in the end, I really just need to learn to deal with it. But what may perhaps be my larger annoyance here is that the old definitions still remain and still have purpose. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, I am looking primarily at these particular definitions:
1 : to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises

5 : to form an estimate or evaluation of; especially : to form a negative opinion about <shouldn't judge him because of his accent>

It is that 5th definition that would seem to be a newer** definition of the word, resulting from how society uses the word. Though, that definition isn't fully accurate. It says "especially," but the reality is that particular definition is used only in regards of forming a negative opinion. That one could even form a positive opinion (or, particularly, a neutral opinion) goes ignored in such use. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much difference between #1 and #5, except for a lack of weighing of evidence.

The other part of this that irks me is that our language already has a word that already accurately reflects the intention. That word is "condemn:"
1 : to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation <a policy widely condemned as racist>

So I think it would be great if society would actually use that word instead, rather than muddling the word "judge." I know I have no power by which to influence all of society, but if you, my readers, could please be cautious with your terminology...thanks! If I can influence my little tiny corner of the world, then that will at least be something!

* I say this to note a potential hypocrisy. Homophobes have used the stupid argument of "redefining 'marriage'" as an excuse to oppose equal rights for homosexuals. To that argument, I have pointed out that English is a living language, so they should just deal with it. It seems a bit hypocritical for me to not do the same. But there does seem to also be an important difference. The current process of redefining "marriage" is more a broadening of the current definition, whereas, with "judge," we have a new definition that conflicts with the old definition that is still in use. It is probably this conflict that bothers me more than anything else. (And such conflicts could then lead to equivocation errors.)

** Or perhaps it has been this way for some time and I just had not noticed until the last couple of years?