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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber

NewspaperI got another right-wing e-mail the other day. At least, I assume it's right wing, since most of the arguments in it tend to lean that way, and it specifically criticizes "progressive" stances as wrong. However, it's a bit hard to tell. Maybe it's better just to chalk this up as one of those rants where everything was so much better in the good ol' days, but now the world's going to Hell in a hand basket.

This one was supposedly a reprint from an editorial, but I've been unable to find it online to determine what paper it was originally printed in. I was able to find it in examiner.com, but only as basically a reprint. The only clue is that the man who supposedly wrote it, Ken Huber, signed his name from Tawas City, which Google tells me is in Michigan. For the sake of argument, I'll just assume that someone named Ken Huber did actually write this editorial, and that it did actually appear in print. It doesn't really matter much, since this article has taken on a life of its own in e-mail forwards.

Before getting into my response, I'll note that after I wrote all this, I came across three other very good responses, which I'm linking to below. The first is the shortest and pithiest. The other two are a bit more thoughtful.

On to the editorial. I'll use my normal approach of putting a section of the original in blockquotes, followed by my comments.


Has America become the land of special interest and home of the double standard?

Lets see: if we lie to the Congress, it's a felony and if the Congress lies to us its just politics;

Politicians lying is definitely infuriating, but it's not something to bring up in a question of 'what has America become', since politicians have always lied. At least with the dawn of the Internet, it's easy to fact check the politicians.

if we dislike a black person, we're racist and if a black person dislikes whites, its their 1st Amendment right;

I suppose Ken Huber is white. If he dislikes a black person just because of the color of their skin, then yes, he's racist. And if a black person dislikes Huber just because of the color of Huber's skin, then that black person would be a racist, too. And if a Latino, or an Asian, or an American Indian, or anyone else dislikes any person just because of the color of their skin, then they're a racist. But the 1st Amendment grants everyone that right, so long as you don't let your personal feelings cause actual harm against those people.

Huber's complaint would be much more persuasive if organizations like the KKK weren't allowed to spew their hatred, but they're free to speak just like everyone else. (I won't link to it, but the mere existence of Storm Front really shows society's tolerance of despicable speech.)

the government spends millions to rehabilitate criminals and they do almost nothing for the victims;

I hope Huber is upset at the balance of spending, and not just on the fact that the government spends money to rehabilitate criminals. If the overall purpose of the legal system is to make society safer, what do we expect criminals to do once they get out of prison? Turn right back to crime and cause more harm before being arrested again? Or become productive members of society who can actually contribute?

in public schools you can teach that homosexuality is OK, but you better not use the word God in the process;

How are these related. The first is an issue of tolerance. The second is an issue of separation of church and state. Does Huber want schools to 'teach that homosexuality is OK' while specifically calling out Christianity on its intolerance and bigotry?

I know - not really. He wants to continue to allow people to be bigoted against homosexuals, and he wants to use religion as the excuse to allow it.

you can kill an unborn child, but it is wrong to execute a mass murderer;

I've already written about abortion, so I won't rehash all my arguments here. I think there are legitimate debates about how many rights to grant to a fetus at different stages of development, and how to balance those rights against those of the fully human woman who's carrying the fetus, but I also think there are times when abortion is justified.

Huber, though, does point out the hypocrisy of many of the 'pro-lifers'. Apparently, life is only sacred when still in the womb. Once you're an adult, it's okay if the state kills you. (Me - I'm ambivalent on the morality of capital punishment. Instead, I look at it from a pragmatic viewpoint - I don't trust the government to make irreversible life and death decisions, especially when so many convictions for people on death row have been overturned.) I'd have much more respect for the consistency of supposedly 'pro-life' supporters if they were vegetarians and opposed to the death penalty.

we don't burn books in America, we now rewrite them;

Actually, this is a problem. The right wing dominated State Board of Education here in Texas is notorious for the shenanigans it's pulled with textbook standards, from re-writing the religious influences on the Founding Fathers and our nation in general, to last minute back-door dealings on English standards, to injecting creationism into science.

we got rid of communist and socialist threats by renaming them progressive;

There actually are communist and socialist parties in this country. They are far more extreme than any Democrats or mainstream politicians who label themselves as 'progressive'.

It's gotten to the point where if you try to have anything in this country publicly funded, it gets labeled 'socialist' or 'communist' by the right wing. If a government funded fire department or police force is socialist, either socialism isn't such a bad thing, or people are throwing around the term where it doesn't belong.

we are unable to close our border with Mexico, but have no problem protecting the 38th parallel in Korea;

When I look at the border between North and South Korea, I don't see something to aspire to.

if you protest against President Obama's policies you're a terrorist, but if you burned an American flag or George Bush in effigy it was your 1st Amendment right.

Who has been labeled a terrorist for protesting Obama's policies? I don't see Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck being charged with anything.

And yes, it should be your right to burn any inanimate object you want to (assuming that act isn't dangerous). It may be offensive, but it does no actual harm to anybody. That's kind of the whole point of free speech. Doesn't prohibiting symbolic gestures seem a bit totalitarian?

You can have pornography on TV or the internet, but you better not put a nativity scene in a public park during Christmas;

Wait, what? On what broadcast TV channel can you get pornography? The only channels I know of where you can find that type of content are on cable or satellite, i.e. channels that a person has to purchase.

This comparison is just silly. Cable/satellite TV are private services that people purchase. The Internet sites Huber's referring to are also privately owned. A public park is government run. Now, if you want to put up a nativity scene on private property, you've got every right to do so. I see plenty of them around town here during the holidays.

To really see how silly this comparison is, just swap around his comparisons. You can put a nativity scene on TV or the internet, but you can't have pornography in a public park. Appropriate venues for appropriate content.

we have eliminated all criminals in America, they are now called sick people;

The U.S. has the largest prisoner population in the world, both in absolute numbers and per capita. Just think about that - we have more prisoners than either China or Russia. 25% of the inmates of the world are in the U.S., even though we only have 5% of the world's population And it's not as if the prison systems are public health institutions, or that chain gangs are a thing of the past. We're not soft on crime.

we can use a human fetus for medical research, but it is wrong to use an animal.

Yeah, because nobody uses lab rats anymore.

There are definitely ethical considerations when using research subjects that experience emotions or feel pain. We tend to place the most restrictions on humans, mostly because it's us humans making the laws and we have high opinions of ourselves. But, humans are also the most intelligent animals, and probably have richer emotional lives than some other animals (though I'd be willing to bet the difference between us and chimps in this regard is practically nonexistent). And we're also the only animals that can give consent, so it does make sense for the restrictions to be highest for us.

But embryos and fetuses are a grey area. How do we judge when it's ethical to experiment on one organism and not another? If it's okay to use rats for research, how is it wrong to use a day old blastula that doesn't even have differentiated cells, let alone a nervous system or a functioning brain? Does the mere fact that it has human DNA make it special? If so, what do we do with HeLa cells, or even biopsies?

The first link below is a non-sensational account of the actual research that takes place with embryos and fetuses.

We take money from those who work hard for it and give it to those who don't want to work;

Has this guy looked at any stats on wealth distribution or income inequality? The richest Americans have a hugely disproportionate share of the wealth, and both wealth inequality and income inequality are increasing. So who's losing out on money? Or does he think the rich are the ones stealing all that hard earned money from the poor and middle class?

we all support the Constitution, but only when it supports our political ideology;

Not much argument here. The right wing tends to ignore the separation of church and state, suppress free speech, and wants to impose their morality on everyone, while the left wing tends to ignore the right to own firearms (though of course, that's a broad brush both ways). Both parties are ignoring the right to due process and a speedy trial with Guantanamo and the Patriot Act.

we still have freedom of speech, but only if we are being politically correct;

Wait, wasn't he just complaining about it being okay to burn the flag or an effigy of the President? It sounds like he's arguing for freedom of speech, but only when it's speech he approves of.

When the Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaughs, Glen Becks, and Bill O'Reilly's of the world can get away with saying everything they do, it's hard to argue that only politically correct speech is permitted. (And don't confuse public outcry against the things those people say with restricting freedom of speech - it's really just granting the same freedom to the people who want to criticize their opinions.)

If you want to see problems with freedom of speech in areas where it's supposed to be upheld as a virtue, look to Europe. With their blasphemy laws, laws against Holocaust denial, the U.K.'s libel laws, etc., it makes you appreciative of the freedom we have here (not saying that Holocaust denial is noble, but that the government shouldn't be able to outlaw it).

And if you want to see huge problems with freedom of speech, look to the theocracies, dictatorships, and other oppressive governments of the world, which make you really grateful to live in a country that values that freedom as much as the U.S.

parenting has been replaced with Ritalin and video games;

No big argument from me, here. Those types of drugs are over-prescribed. I don't have a strong opinion on the video games.

the land of opportunity is now the land of hand outs;

I do agree that welfare needs reform. Through my wife who used to work labor and delivery, I've heard of plenty of people abusing the system by having children just to get a bigger check. But, I also think it's a program that serves a valuable purpose and should stay in place in some manner. As the old saying goes - a hand up, not a hand out. Personally, I'd like to see some modern version of the CCC, but good luck getting that past the Tea Party who'd just call it socialist or complain of government expansion.

To be honest, though, the actual cases of welfare fraud are greatly exaggerated.

the similarity between Hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill is that neither president did anything to help.

No big argument on this one.

And how do we handle a major crisis today? The government appoints a committee to determine who's at fault, then threatens them, passes a law, raises our taxes; tells us the problem is solved so they can get back to their reelection campaign.

In regards to the 'raises our taxes', I'll just quote something I wrote before. "I don't understand why taxes all of a sudden became such a big issue when Obama took office. Why didn't we see the Tea Party protesters 3 years ago? The timing seems a bit suspicious. For most people, taxes are comparable to what they've been for the past 50 years. For the wealthy, they've increased slightly under Obama, but they're still significantly lower than they were during the Nixon & Reagan years. The tax burden in the U.S. isn't that bad compared to other countries, either. All the data just makes the Tea Party protesters seem like a bunch of whiners who don't want to pay their fair share to support society."

What has happened to the land of the free and home of the brave?

- Ken Huber
Tawas City

No real comment on this last part.

So that's it - one long rant of claims and comparisons that mostly didn't stand up to any scrutiny.

Updated 2012-03-23 - Slightly reworded the section on freedom of speech, and added the mentions of oppressive countries, since those really are far worse than the U.S. or Europe.

Updated 2012-03-26 - I didn't explicitly state this at the top of this entry, but this originally began as a response to the friend who sent it to me. I actually posted this entry before sending the response, and in reading over the response one last time before sending it to him, I found a few more changes - the biggest being the inclusion of a few more stats in regards to incarceration in the U.S. I also added the links to some of the other reviews that I found.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Category Pages Working

Woo Hoo!In my short post yesterday, I mentioned that there were still a couple bugs on the website. Yesterday I fixed the commenting. Today it was tackling the category archives.

If you're reading this from the Main Index page, or from the Archives page, you'll see a category listing off in the right column. Before I did the upgrade, clicking on one of those categories would pull up every single entry I'd written in that category. Even worse, if you clicked on the Skepticism, Religion category, you'd get an error message because I'd written so many entries in that category that it crashed the system.

When I upgraded the blog, I tried to implement pagination, but I didn't do it so well and it didn't work. After a bit of troubleshooting today, I've finally got it working. Click on one of those category pages, and it only pulls up 5 entries for that category. Then, at the bottom of the page, there are links to more pages for that category. That should really improve navigation. It's something I've wanted to do for a while now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Commenting Change

I've found a couple bugs since updating my site. One was in the commenting. My old captcha wasn't working, but after I disabled it, the site was overwhelmed with spam. So, I set the commenting options to be extremely strict - so strict that no comments were making it through. I've gotten a new captcha system set up and working, so I've backed off on the other comment filters. I'll give it a try and see how it looks tomorrow. If I'm not overwhelmed with spam, I'll know it's working.

If you left a comment in the weeks since I completed the upgrade, and it got blocked by my filters, I'm sorry, but it's getting deleted. I got over 10,000 junk comments in that time, and I'm not going to sort through all of them to try to find the few legitimate comments. So, if you feel like it, leave the comment again.

Update 2012-03-14 Well - it worked. When I checked this morning, there were 198 blocked spam comments, and only 5 that made it through. That's an amount I can live with cleaning up. I'd rather let a handful of spam slip through if it means that legitimate comments also make it through, rather than be too restrictive and start blocking legitimate comments.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Science and Engineering Indicators 2012

NSB LogoEvery two years, the National Science Foundation comes out with a report on Science and Engineering Indicators, detailing the state of science and engineering in this country, including public perception and understanding. The latest report is out at Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. Since 2004, I've written a short blog entry each time on that public understanding part (2004, 2006, 2008, & 2010). I'd always known that people didn't understand science well, but I was amazed at just how ignorant the population is.

Per my usual approach, I've reproduced some of the data from the section on public understanding of science. This year, however, I'm presenting the tables using an image format (I'm tired of fighting the formatting to make an HTML version fit). If you want an actual HTML version, you can find them here: Tables in HTML Format

This first table shows the U.S. compared to other nations. Honestly, the U.S. doesn't stack up so bad. Other than the questions that contradict a literal interpretation of Genesis, the scientific understanding of U.S. citizens is on par with those of other countries.

It's worth noting that the questions are organized a bit differently this year (separated between the physical sciences and the biological sciences). There was also a new question on cloning that hadn't been asked in years past. And two questions that were dropped a couple years ago to some attendant controversy have been brought back - the questions on the big bang and human evolution.

Science and Engineering Indicators Comparison Between Nations

This next table is something that had been included in previous years' reports, but I couldn't seem to find it this year. So, I made it on my own. Below that is a graph of that same data, making it a bit easier to see the trends. All in all, nothing much has changed since they started doing these surveys. The only two questions that have shown significant variation over the years are 'The universe began with a huge explosion' and 'Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria'. The big bang question only appears to have changed significantly due to an exceptionally high number of correct answers for the first year for which data is provided (54%). Since then, it's held steady at about 1 in 3 people getting it right. The antibiotics question showed a trend of significant improvement for many years, but seems to have plateaued in 2006 at 56% - the next two reports after that show a slight decrease.

Science and Engineering Indicators U.S. Trends

Science and Engineering Indicators U.S. Trends

Since nothing much has changed, I'm just going to quote my conclusion from two years ago, instead of trying to think of something new.

"Just look at those results - around a quarter of Americans think that the Sun goes around the Earth, half don't realize that electrons are smaller than atoms, and half don't know that it takes a year for the Earth to go around the Sun! Keep that in mind whenever you hear people citing public opinion polls on the validity of concepts like global warming or evolution.

"It's always a bit depressing to see those numbers. It's hard to believe that the people of our nation are so ignorant. If there's one lesson to take away from these results, it's that we need to vastly improve our education system."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Evil Girl Scouts

Girl ScoutsThis is a bit old news by now, but I couldn't let it pass by completely without comment.

The Indiana House of Representatives had a resolution to recognize the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts of America. One of the Republican representatives, Bob Morris, refused to vote for the resolution. His reason? Among others, that Girl Scouts is a "radicalized organization" that "promote[s] homosexual lifestyles", and that they're being used by Planned Parenthood into "sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts".

Morris wrote a letter to his fellow Republicans explaining his views. It can be read in its entirety at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

While Morris was the only member of the Indiana House to not support the resolution, he is not a lone crackpot on this issue. There are more people than I'd like to imagine who are opposed to Girl Scouts for the reasons he discussed. So, for that anti-Girl Scout movement, I think it's worth taking a look at Morris's letter.

Morris's comments haven't gone unnoticed. The council up there, Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana / Michiana, has released a statement responding to Morris's claims:
What We Stand For

I guess I should also add that my wife and I are the co-leaders of our daughter's Girl Scout troop. While that may make us biased in favor of the organization, it also means that we're actually involved and know what actually goes on in Girl Scout activities.

Morris's comments are what I've come to expect from the extreme right - a combination of some things that simply aren't true, and some things that are true but where I disagree with his opinion. Let's start with this one from near the start of his letter.

The Girl Scouts of America and their worldwide partner, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), have entered into a close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood.

No, they haven't. How many times do different branches of Girl Scouts need to set the record straight before he'll believe it. Neither the council in Indiana nor the national GSUSA have any official ties to Planned Parenthood. I don't know for sure abut WAGGGS, but they don't set the agenda for GSUSA, anyway.

Here's one of the claims about Planned Parenthood's influence.

A Girl Scouts of America training program last year used the Planned Parenthood sex education pamphlet "Happy, Healthy, and Hot." The pamphlet instructs young girls not to think of sex as "just about vaginal or anal intercourse." "There is no right or wrong way to have sex. Just have fun, explore and be yourself!" it states. Although individual Girl Scout troops are not forced to follow this curriculum, many do. Liberal progressive troop-leaders will indoctrinate the girls in their troop according to the principles of Planned Parenthood, making Bishop Conley's warning true.

Now, I don't know whether or not that pamphlet might have been used, but I'll assume it was included as part of a training program for leaders as an example of the type of material they could use when talking with their girls, if they were going to get into that topic. We haven't gotten into any type of sex ed with our troop (and if we ever do, I doubt I'll be a part of that meeting), but it is something I expect a scouting organization to at least touch on. It was something I had to do when I was in Boy Scouts years ago. Remember that any type of sex ed in scouting is kept age appropriate, and that scouting covers a broad age range. It's not as if people are talking to Brownies or Cub Scouts about sex. Those discussions are for the older scouts, who have already reached puberty, and who will have questions about it. And the policy of the Girl Scouts is to make sure that parents approve beforehand of their girls being in those types of discussions. It's not something leaders would just spring on the girls.

Not knowing exactly what was in that pamphlet, I can't see any problems with what Morris quoted from it. No, sex is not "just about vaginal or anal intercourse". It carries a lot more emotion than simply 'making babies', and is as much about an emotional connection with your partner as a physical one. The part about "no right or wrong way" and to "have fun, explore and be yourself" sounds entirely reasonable to me. It's removing the stigma so that people will be comfortable in their sexuality, not ashamed of 'dirty' feelings.

(Well whaddya know - per Snopes, the Girl Scouts never did use those handouts.)

Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles. In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background - all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists.

Oh, the horror - lesbians and feminists. Just because Morris is bigoted doesn't mean the Girl Scouts should be. One of the things I've been really impressed by with the Girl Scouts is their tolerance and inclusivity.

Plus, I'd sure like to see some documentation of what he's claiming. I can't recall any of the literature we've gotten from the Girl Scouts with anybody being used as a role model because of their sexual orientation. In fact, I can't recall any literature that discussed anybody's sexual preference at all. And I certainly can't think of anybody who was used as a role model for communism.

As far as feminism - what does he expect? Sexism has been a major problem in our country's history, and it was feminists who fought against it. Shouldn't Girl Scouts point out some of those feminists who paved the way for the girls of today.

World Net Daily, in a May 2009 article, states that Girl Scout Troops are no longer allowed to pray or sing traditional Christmas Carols.

World Net Daily? Really?

Anyway, I can assure you that none of that is true. Our council (much to my own personal chagrine) starts dinners and luncheons with a prayer. We've never been told that we weren't allowed to pray with our girls (though obviously, I don't do it), and there are no rules against singing 'We Three Kings'.

Boys who decide to claim a "transgender" or cross-dressing life-style are permitted to become a member of a Girl Scout troop, performing crafts with the girls and participate in overnight and camping activities - just like any real girl.

Who the hell cares? If a kid wants to dress up like a girl and do 'girl activities', and their parents support it and have talked to a counselor about it, who am I to disagree? To be perfectly honest, I'd prefer that there was just Scouts, without the gender distinction. That's how Campfire does it. And once they get old enough, girls can join the Explorers branch of Boy Scouts.

The fact that the Honorary President of Girl Scouts of America is Michelle Obama, and the Obama's are radically pro-abortion and vigorously support the agenda of Planned Parenthood, should give each of us reason to pause before our individual or collective endorsement of the organization.

Does this guy know what 'honorary' means? She's a figurehead, with no real influence over the organization. The First Lady has been the Honorary President since Lou Henry Hoover. They're not picked for their political leanings, but simply because they're the wife of the president. (I can only assume that the first female president will also be made the Honorary President of the GSUSA.)

Now that I am aware of the influence of Planned Parenthood within GSA and other surprisingly radical policies of GSA, my two daughters will instead become active in American Heritage Girls Little Flowers organization. In this traditional group they will learn about values and principles that will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing.

Yeah, all that tolerance from the Girl Scouts sure is confusing.

If you have the time, I really do recommend reading the What We Stand For section from the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana / Michiana. Here are excerpts of a few of my favorite sections.

GSNI-M remains dedicated to our values of creating an accepting environment where girls build leadership skills necessary for success, supported by our committed staff and dedicated volunteers. We believe that Girl Scouting is the place to develop moral values, strong ethics, and a social conscience which will serve girls throughout their lives.
That said, if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana - Michiana is an organization that can server her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.
Yes. Girl Scouting suuports girls from all backgrounds and beliefs. While we are a secular organization that refrains from teaching religious or spiritual beliefs or practices, we believe that the motivating force in Girl Scouting is a spiritual one, and we greatly value our longstanding partnerships with religious organizations across many faiths that share the values of the Girl Scout Promise and Law.

Their response exemplified the values of scouting, without being craven and caving to pressure from extremists. After reading it all, it made me proud to be involved in the Girl Scouts.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

National Essential Tremor Awareness Month

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month. To quote from the International Essential Tremor Foundation, Essential Tremor, or ET, "is a neurological disorder that causes hands, heads and voices, and sometimes legs and trunk to shake." It is also referred to as familial tremor, benign essential tremor, or hereditary tremor.

To quote from Wikipedia, "ET is one of the most common neurological diseases, with a prevalence of approximately 4% in persons age 40 and older and considerably higher among persons in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Aside from enhanced physiological tremor, it is the most common type of tremor and one of the most commonly observed movement disorders." It's important to realize, though, that ET can occur in people of any age, even newborns.

Although there are some medications to treat the symptoms of ET, those medications are only effective in about 60% of people who suffer from the disorder.

To learn more about ET, visit the International Essential Tremor Foundation. Here are a few pages focused on information.

If you'd like to help, you can make a donation.

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