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Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 6, Civil Rights

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry is going to cover civil rights, and if you know anything about the Republican Party, particularly the Texas Republican Party, you can guess that this is going to be a long entry. And I'm not even going to get into abortion, as I'm saving that for an entry all its own.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Laws- We oppose government regulations that coerce business owners and employees to violate their own consciences, beliefs, and principles.

I'll admit, this is a grey area. Private citizens and private enterprise should have as much freedom as is practical. The problem, as the old saying goes, is that your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Complete and total freedom is how smart alec children protest when they get in trouble for misbehaving, while most adults (of all political persuasions) recognize that freedom is balanced against harming others. So, while nearly everyone recognizes that you don't have the freedom to take someone else's property (theft), while you do have the feedom to hurt their feelings by insulting them, non-discrimination laws fall somewhere in between.

I tend to fall on the side in support of non-discrimination laws. If discrimination weren't such a widespread problem, then it probably wouldn't be an issue that had to be addressed through legislation. But because discrimination is so widespread, there are large groups of society being held back or harmed for no reason other than their gender, race, or some other characteristics that they have no control over, and so the government should step in, as per the mandate in the Constitution, to "promote the general Welfare".

I don't mean to imply that this discrimination is the overt discrimination of years past (well, not completely years past, but at least less common now), but implicit discrimination still has significant effects. Here's a blog entry on Pharyngula that lists the results of several studies where matched resumes were sent out, changing just a few variables between them - for example white sounding vs. black sounding names, males vs. females, listing gay campus organizations on one resume but not the other, etc. In all cases, when all other qualifications were the same, white heterosexual males were found to get more callbacks, be rated higher by potential employers, or receive offers for higher starting salaries, and all by significant margins. Here's an article from the Guardian, 'Resume whitening' doubles callbacks for minority job candidates, study finds, describing, as the headline says, that black and Asian Americans received twice as many callbacks when they removed any information from their resumes that indicated their ethnicity. Discrimination is still a major problem in the U.S., with women and minority groups facing significant obstacles.

Business Right to Choose- We support a business owner's right to conduct their business as they see fit.

Well, business owners already can conduct their businesses as they see fit, so long as they're not breaking any laws. This just seems like an attempted excuse to let owners break existing laws (e.g. non-discrimination laws), or not fulfill their obligations to their employees (e.g. health insurance, as in the case of Hobby Lobby).

Voter Registration- We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and reducing voter fraud. We support the repeal of all motor voter laws, re-registering voters every four years, requiring photo ID of all registrants, proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application, retention of the 30-day registration deadline, and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the Secretary of State in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.

I've actually got an entry in the works that's nearly complete, with lots of references to support it, which I'll link to from here as soon as it's done. [here it is - Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud - A Cure Worse Than the Disease] To quote what will be the conclusion, "studies don't find voter fraud to be a big issue, and the majority of the few cases that do occur wouldn't be stopped by voter ID laws. Leaked documents, unguarded statements, and other examples make it clear that many Republican politicians intentionally mean to disenfranchise certain voters with these laws. And the actual measured effect is that these Republican led voter ID laws have reduced voter turnout, especially among minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic, with the reduced turnout dwarfing the number of fraud cases they were meant to stop. As one judge in Wisconsin put it, the "strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease." Finally, a majority of Democrats are in favor of voter ID laws and other reforms to guarantee election integrity, as long as they're implemented properly and fairly, and not used as a tool to disenfranchise voters and try to swing elections in favor of the Republicans."

Here are a few of the articles supporting those conclusions:

...We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.

It's a quibble, but come on Texas Republicans, demonstrate that you actually have some knowledge of the issues you're criticizing. It's the Voting Rights Act, not the Voter Rights Act.

I guess it's not surprising to see one of the states that's violated the Voter Rights Act so many times want to see it repealed, so that there's no opposition to their imposing onerous standards and obstacles to disenfranchise certain voters. In fact, it was this very act that was used for striking down Texas's recent overly strict voter ID laws (Federal Court Rules Texas' ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act).

Family and Defense of Marriage- We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between one natural man and one natural woman.

  • We support withholding jurisdiction from the federal courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage.
  • We shall not recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse, including granting benefits by political subdivisions.
  • We urge the legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage.

You can have whatever religious beliefs you want, and you can follow them in your personal life, and you can join a church that shares those same beliefs, and you can even try to influence the church on their official stance on certain issues. But you can't use those religious beliefs to make laws that apply to everybody, since not everybody shares the same beliefs as you.

As far as the government is concerned, marriage is a strictly secular contract between two people, and religion has nothing to do with it. Marriage may be religious to you, which is why you can go get married in a church, but other people have the freedom to get married by a Justice of the Peace without any religious overtones.

And in their efforts to enforce their bigotry, the Republicans here have introduced more problematic language, trying to limit marriage between just 'natural' men and women. Now, it's probably clear that they're trying to keep transgender and transsexual individuals from getting married, but there are also people with developmental abnormalities who don't fit neatly into 'natural man' or 'natural woman' categories. The Republican language would seem to outlaw them from getting married at all.

Finally, as I discussed more in a previous entry, what's with Texas Republicans trying to destroy the checks and balances system of the federal government, by removing certain issues from the courts' jurisdiction.

Overturning Obergefell v. Hodges- We believe this decision, overturning the Texas law prohibiting same sex marriage in Texas, has no basis in the Constitution and should be reversed, returning jurisdiction over the definition of marriage to the states. The Governor and other elected officials of the state of Texas should assert our Tenth Amendment right and reject the Supreme Court ruling.

Well, unfortunately for the Texas Republicans, there's this thing called the Fourteenth Amendment, that does in fact give the Supreme Court jursidiction to overturn state laws that "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" or "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" or "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". So when you try to pass laws that deny gay people the same privileges as heterosexual people, you're violating the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court can strike down those laws.

And I've covered this before, but states have no right to reject Supreme Court decisions, and it's just absurd to see that type of language in the platform.

Homosexuality- Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

This plank is almost uniformly awful. Homosexuality is NOT a chosen behavior*. You don't get to force your religious beliefs on other citizens who don't share those beliefs. You don't get to force public policy to enshrine your bigotry. And you don't get to ignore the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution.

The only part that's not awful is the last sentence, as long as you take it as written and don't read too much into it. However, if they have in mind a situation like that of Kim Davis or others who act on their opposition to actually cause harm, then there should be penalties.

* - Frankly, whether or not homosexuality is a chosen behavior should make no difference concerning laws. Whatever two consenting adults want to do is their choice. It's just frustrating to see the Texas Republicans make such an erroneous statement. How can anybody come up with effective laws if they're not based in reality? (Plus I know that for me when I was still religious, recognizing that homosexuality wasn't a choice did make a big difference in how I saw it.)

Counseling and Therapy- No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to sexual orientation change efforts for self-motivated youth and adults.

This is slightly less bad than similar passages from previous platforms, but still pretty bad. Here's an informative article from the Human Rights Campaign, The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. Quoting a report by the American Psychological Association, they stated, "that the 'results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE.' In addition, the task force found that 'there are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom.' " So, there's no sound evidence that this 'therapy' even works, and no conclusive evidence on the risks, although as stated later in the article, there are "anecdotal claims of psychological harm". I have no legal objection to adults who want to put themselves through such treatments (even if on moral grounds I would implore them not to), but it's simply irresponsible to allow minors to be subjected to such unknown risks.

Gender Identity- We urge the enactment of legislation addressing individuals' use of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically determined sex.

Do these Republicans really want Texas to end up like North Carolina, facing boycotts and economic fallout from their bigoted bathroom bill (North Carolina Starts To Face Real Economic Consequences For Anti-LGBT Law (Updated))?

And that's just the selfish pragmatic view without thinking about the human side of it. The North Carolina bill is causing real hardship to transgender people. Here's an article, What it's like to live under North Carolina's bathroom law if you're transgender. There's no easy choice for a transgender person. If, for example, they're biologically female but identify as male, then that means the only legal bathroom for them is the ladies room. So, as a man, in order to use a public restroom, they have to walk into the ladies room, making for an extremely awkward situation. Or, they could break the law and use the mens room. Or, as a lot of transgender people are doing, they can be very careful about how much fluid they drink so that they won't have to use a restroom in public. That's just insane, to put that type of pressure on citizens just to use the bathroom.

And who in the hell in a public restroom is inspecting other visitors to see what their biological sex is, anyway? That would be disturbing.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities- Local, state, or federal laws, regulations, or policies that limit parental rights in the rearing of both biological and adopted children shall not be enacted. Parents have the God given right and responsibility to direct and guide their children's moral education.

This gets into some grey areas of rights vs. responsibilities, but I see raising a child as primarily a responsibility, and not so much a right. Children are not property. Parents don't own them. Children are their own individuals, citizens of this nation, and entitled to all the same protections as other citizens - moreso, in fact, since they're too young to protect themselves. Parents usually are the best ones to raise their own children, but this isn't unquestionable, and doesn't grant the parents carte blanche. As long as parents are acting in the best interests of the children, they should continue to raise them. But when parents' actions go against the child's best interests, then it is the duty of the government to protect those children, up to and including taking the children away from the parents in the most extreme cases. And invoking religion is not an excuse to get around these responsibilities.

We oppose any government agency from forcing faith-based adoption or foster care organizations to place children with same-sex couples.

Well, if the faith-based organization is receiving taxpayer funds, then it needs to represent all taxpayers, same-sex couples included. That shouldn't be controversial at all. And while I think it would be immoral for a completely privately funded organization to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, I can see there being more debate on that.

Gambling- We oppose the expansion of legalized gambling.

"Liberty! Freedom! Individual rights! Unless it's an issue I disagree with personally, in which case it should be banned." Why should we stop adults from spending their money how they want? Talk about a nanny state.

Women in Combat- We oppose the use of women in military combat units.

I would agree that standards should not be changed to accomodate women in combat units, but if a woman wants to risk her own life to defend this nation, and is just as qualified as male counterparts, why shouldn't she be allowed to? Of course, on average men have more muscle mass and all that entails, but that's only on average, and there's a lot of variation between individuals of both sexes. I know that when I go to the gym, there are a few women there who would definitely beat me in any type of fitness test. Really, it seems like such a no-brainer to me to allow qualified women with a desire to do so to enter combat units, that there's not much else that needs to be said. So, I'll just link to this article from Mother Jones, Soldiers Blow Up 5 Myths About Women in Combat.

Gender Norming in the Military- We oppose gender norming in the military.

Well, there's gender norming, then there's gender norming. As I already wrote up above, I don't think standards for combat units should be changed just to make it easier for more women to pass the standards. I expect women to always be a minority in combat units because of this. But I've also read a few articles decrying the evils of gender norming, such as this one, The Disaster of 'Gender Norming' Ground Combat, which although it raises some legitimate points, also had a problem with this statement from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, "If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn't make it, the burden is then on the service to come and explain to the secretary, 'Why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?' "

Let me pause to tell a short anecdote. I have a friend in the Air Force who's one of the most fit guys I know. He's been over to my house for pool parties, and it's pretty obvious that he's in very good shape (it's almost embarassing the way my sisters-in-law ogle him). But he's a big guy - not fat at all, just a large frame. And the Air Force has a hard and fast upper limit on waist size - 39", while my friend is normally a bit bigger than that. So, every time he came up for his PT test, he had to go on a crash diet AND wear a rubber suit to sweat off as much water as he could prior to getting his waist measured. It was unhealthy, and it was completely ludicrous to think that he wasn't fit enough the rest of the year when his waist was bigger than 39", but that was the standard.

The point is, some standards in the military are arbitrary and not really reflective of what's needed for effective soldiers. So, even if women not being able to pass certain standards is just the impetus to make military leaders re-examine some of those standards, that's not such a bad thing, even if some critics are going to try to deride it as gender norming. And for the standards that really do need to be what they've always been, then by all means keep them the same.


So, there were lots of planks pushing back against many of the gains that the civil rights movement has achieved, which I guess isn't so surprising coming from Texas Republicans, even if it is disappointing and frustrating. What should be more surprising coming from the platform of a major party is how much of the content was factually wrong, illegal, or unconstitutional. You shouldn't expect that type of nonsense in a party platform. But, given the direction the Republican Party has been going, and given that I've read the platform for several years now, I can't say that I was really all that shocked.

Continue to Part 7, Abortion / Planned Parenthood


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 5, Environment / Climate Change

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today, I'm going to look at their planks on climate change and environmentalism.

Climate change is arguably the most important issue facing the nation and the world. That's not to say other threats like terrorism aren't also big and deserving of attention, but they don't have the same catastrophic global effects.

Climate change is a threat globally, and a national security threat domestically, with the potential to cause huge amounts of upheaval, disruption, and suffering. And it's not some far off threat. Effects are already being noticed, with more severe weather patterns and natural disasters. Refusing to take action on climate change is both a moral failing and political dereliction of duty.

So, with such a huge issue, you'd expect it to play prominently in any serious political party. You'd expect it to be a major portion of their platform, explaining just how they expect to deal with such a monumental challenge. How do Texas Republicans deal with it? One freakin' paragraph, that doesn't even say how they would address the issue, but calls into question whether it's a real issue at all! Here's the plank, the one and only plank in the whole platform that mentioned climate change:

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists- We oppose environmentalism that obstructs legitimate business interests and private property use, including the regulatory taking of property by governmental agencies. We oppose the abuse of the Endangered Species Act to confiscate and limit the use of personal property and infringement on property owner's livelihood. "Climate Change" is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives. We support the defunding of "climate justice" initiatives and the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal of the Endangered Species Act. [emphasis mine]

That whole thing is bad, but take a look at that part in bold. This is deep into paranoid conspiracy theory territory. Climate change is real, and is a grave threat to society. To dismiss all the evidence in support of climate change and to call it a 'political agenda' is absurd.

The other parts are bad, but hardly surprising. The Republican Party in general just seem to have a problem with environmentalism, or any of the federal agencies that work to help preserve the environment (though of course, they couch it in language of private property and over-regulation).

I guess you could argue that even though the above plank was the only one that mentioned 'climate change', these next two do deal with the topic. But again, they're not encouraging. They're calls to inaction, without any proposal on how to address the issue:

Carbon Dioxide- We oppose all efforts to classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
Cap and Trade- We oppose the implementation of any cap and trade (aka "Cap and Tax") system through legislation or regulation.

And as I've written before, the Republican opposition to Cap and Trade is especially irritating because it was a Republican proposal to begin with - a free market method of addressing carbon emissions rather than overly restrictive government regulation.


Honestly, there are lots of very, very bad sections of this whole platform, but this is the worst. Climate change is the type of existential threat that merits people becoming single issue voters. It's making nations uninhabitable, and could literally change the map. For a political party to actually call the reality of it into question and imply that it's nothing more than 'a political agenda' goes beyond mere irresponsibility. It's reprehensible, and should disqualify the Republican party in the minds of all thinking people.

More info: I've written several times about climate change before. Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog also has quite a bit. Here are links to several entries from Plait, followed by some of the ones I've written.

Climate Change Links on Bad Astronomy:

Climate Change Links on This Site:

Continue to Part 6, Civil Rights


Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 4, Patriotism / Holidays

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today, I'm going to look at patriotism & holidays. I know they're not exactly related, but they both stir up similar emotional reactions.

Symbols of American and Texan Heritage- We call upon governmental entities to protect all symbols of our American and Texan heritage. We oppose governmental action to remove the public display of the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols. We support the Pledge Protection Act. We urge that the national motto "In God We Trust" and National Anthem be protected from legislative and judicial attack. Penalties should be established for any form of desecration of the American or Texas Flag...

Well, I've already criticized their injection of religion into politics earlier in this series, and this plank contains yet more examples. There's also another example of their wanting to do away with checks and balances, by proposing the Pledge Protection Act that would deprive all courts jurisdiction over constitutional challenges to the pledge - a law that would itself be unconstitutional and liable to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Worse than those is their disregard for the First Amendment, wanting to take away people's freedom of expression by making it illegal to desecrate flags. Granted, it upsets me personally to see people desecrate the U.S. Flag, but like I've said many times before, only totalitarian regimes try to outlaw symbolic gestures against inanimate objects.

The most hypocritical part of that plank is talking about wanting to protect American symbols 'from legislative and judicial attack', when that's exactly the reason why many of those symbols have the form they do now, and Republicans would consider it an 'attack' to restore them to their original forms. For example, E pluribus unum had always been considered the de facto motto of the U.S., up until the Red Scare and McCarthyism when 'In God We Trust' was adopted (personally, I much prefer E pluribus unum and the unity it expresses). And even though the Pledge wasn't part of that particular sentence in the plank, it offers another good example of a secular symbol that was corrupted by religion, again during the Red Scare and McCarthyism. And ironically, when 'under God' was added, it broke up the original phrase of 'one Nation indivisible'. So in both examples, you have religious sentiments messing up the original messages of unity. (And as an aside, I'll just note that the Pledge was originally written by a socialist, Francis Bellamy.)

American Identity-We favor strengthening our common American identity, which includes the contribution and assimilation of diverse racial and ethnic groups. Students shall pledge allegiance to the United States and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism. Students have the right to display patriotic items on school property.

I've said this for previous years, and I'll say it again. I never realized how creepy pledges were until I walked in on my daughter's class reciting the Texas pledge (I didn't grow up here). Hearing a pledge in a context where you're not desensitized reveals it for the propaganda method it is. It's not that I dislike my country, but forced loyalty oaths are for totalitarian governments, not the land of the free.

It's also odd to see a specific statement defending students' 'right to display patriotic items on school property'. Is there some movement afoot to ban miniature American flags on school grounds?

Resolved, that holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Columbus Day, St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Good Friday, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July as a historical holiday should remain on our governmental and public school calendars.

You may think that I'm going to rail on the religious holidays mentioned above, but I actually don't mind them so much as they become more and more secularized. I mean, I have secular Jewish friends who celebrate Christmas, and most of the symbolism that goes along with these holidays is pagan, anyway. Hell, they didn't even change the name for Easter. And how many people really care about the religious aspects of Valentine's Day, St. Patty's Day, or (unmentioned) Halloween? So what the hell, let's just go all the way and make them secular national holidays.

No, my big problem here is Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus was an absolutely horrible excuse for a human being. It's not just that he was a crackpot who lucked his way into discovering a continent (practically all educated people of the time already knew the spherical nature of the Earth and the approximate diameter - Columbus underestimated the diameter by nearly a factor of 2), but the horrible way he treated the American Indians and European settlers in his newfound colony. His actions were so cruel that other Spaniards arrested him and took him back to Europe in shackles (he received a pardon from the crown - seems the 'Good Old Boy' network was just as strong in the 1500s). I see absolutely no reason to have a holiday honoring this wretched person. (related entry - Happy Exploration Day 2015)


So, this was a rather short entry in this series, but I still think it's important to call out some of the authoritarian streaks in the platform, what with mandatory loyalty oaths for school age children and outlawing symbolic acts against inanimate objects, and how those planks run counter to our nation's ideal of Freedom of Speech guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Continue to Part 5, Environment / Climate Change


Thursday, September 22, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 3, Politics & Government

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. The title of this entry, Politics & Government, might seem awfully broad, since, after all, a political party platform is all about politics & government. These planks are mostly about the mechanics of politics & government itself.

Pursuant to Article 1 Section 1 of the Texas Constitution, the federal government has impaired our right of local self-government. Therefore, Federally mandated legislation, which infringes upon the 10th Amendment rights of Texas, should be ignored, opposed, refused, and nullified.

They had similar language in the last platform, and it's simply illegal barring a Constitutional amendment. As I've written previously, the Supremacy Clause makes it clear that federal laws are "the supreme law of the land", and states don't get to ignore them when they don't like them. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld this position (more info - Wikipedia).

And as I've also already written, there is a system in place to challenge laws that you think are unconstitutional - the Supreme Court. States don't get to willy-nilly ignore laws they don't like.

Term Limits: We support term limits for Federal Judicial and Congressional offices and statewide offices to three terms, or twelve years maximum for any single office.

As I've written before, people with experience at a job do better than inexperienced people, and legislating is no different. Here's a good article from the Washington Post, The folly of term limits, that echoes many of my thoughts on the matter. He used California's existing term limits as an example, noting "Virtually everyone I interviewed for that piece named term limits as a contributor to California's fiscal crisis." The people in office simply hadn't had enough time to learn how to effectively deal with statewide budgets, and by the time they finally did get that experience, they only had a few years before they were forced out of office because of their term limits.

We already have a process, voting, to get rid of the elected officials we don't think are doing a good job. There are several issues giving incumbents too much of an advantage that should be addressed, but a measure that guarantees inexperienced legislators isn't the solution.

Elimination of Executive Orders- We oppose the unconstitutional use of executive orders. All orders lacking Congressional approval become null and void after four months.

Do they understand what executive orders actually are or how they work? The president is the head of the executive branch of government. In effect, he's the boss. And as the boss, he issues directions, or orders, to his subordinates on what he expects them to do. So, when the head of the Executive branch issues Orders, they get called Executive Orders. Why should the president have to seek Congressional approval for each and every one of these executive orders? Doesn't that seem like way too much micromanagement from Congress, and an attempt to give Congress too much power in our nation's checks and balances system? Granted, presidents could screw up and issue unconstitutional executive orders, but that's what the Supreme Court is for. It just seems odd to actually want for Congress to interfere so heavily in a separate branch of government.

Census- We support an actual count of United States citizens only, and oppose Census Bureau estimates and the collection of all other data.

Because more data to help make more informed decisions is bad? This really seems like the anti-intellectualism that's become a stereotype of the Republican Party, or possibly the conspiracy theory paranoia that's become another of their stereotypes.

Preservation of Republican Form of Government- We support our republican form of government as set forth in the Texas Bill of Rights. We oppose initiative and referendum. We oppose socialism in any form. We support the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress in enacting legislation that prohibits any judicial jurisdiction from allowing any substitute or parallel system of law, specifically foreign law (including Sharia Law), which is not in accordance with the United States or Texas Constitutions.

This one's just all over the place. They start off talking about a 'Republican Form of Government', which is fair enough. If you don't like straight democracy, then you wouldn't like initiatives or referendums. Personally, I tend to prefer a republic myself, since the knowledge and skills for governing are a specialty that not everyone is qualified for, as I pointed out above in reference to term limits. Or, just look at the Brexit disaster in the UK.

But then it throws an economic system into the discussion, socialism, that's not at odds at all with a democratic republic. And they say the oppose it 'in any form', which seems pretty extreme. I mean, fire departments are a form of socialism, since they used to be private in their early days and don't strictly have to be public services. Are the Republicans saying they're against public fire departments? I don't think most of them are, but that illustrates that they don't actually understand what the term, socialism, means.

Then there's paranoia over Sharia Law. I mean, sure, just about everybody is opposed to Sharia Law being implemented in the U.S., Democrat and Republican alike, but we're also opposed to kicking puppies or stealing candy from babies. It's just not something that deserves mention in a serious public policy document since it's so far outside the realm of possibility.

Judicial Restraint- We support adopting the Constitutional Restoration Act and the principle of judicial restraint, which requires judges to interpret and apply, rather than make the law. We support judges who strictly interpret the law based on its original intent. We oppose judges who assume legislative powers.

This is one of those weird rallying cries of conservatives - that somehow judges are making the law. The buzzword used to be judicial activism, but I guess now it's evolved into it's counterpart, judicial restraint. But nearly all the cases I've seen cited as examples of judicial activism are simply judges doing their jobs as they should (more info - The Economist - Those "activist" judges).

Remedies to Activist Judiciary- We call on Congress and the President to restrain activist judges. Congress should adopt the Judicial Conduct Act of 2005, and remove judges who abuse their authority. Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights. We support the repeal of all Federal statutes regarding lifetime judiciary appointments, and call for periodic reconfirmation of all Federal judges, including Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justices.

Ahh... Now we see why the Republicans are so against an 'Activist Judiciary'. It's because the Supreme Court justices made decisions that they didn't like. But that's the nature of the checks and balances of the U.S. government. How else are we supposed to reign in Congress or the states when they pass unconstitutional legislation?

Just for example, what if in the upcoming election, the Democrats take control of the House, Senate, and Presidency, and subsequently pass some very strict gun control laws. Would the Republicans be against someone taking that issue to the Supreme Court, even though it would be a case involving the Bill of Rights? Of course not, because that's the very function of the Supreme Court.

It's just absurd to try to carve out certain issues that are outside the jurisdiction of the highest court in the land.

It's also problematic to want periodic reconfirmation of all Federal judges. The judiciary is supposed to be independent from all the politics of the legislature, and pass judgment based solely on the law. That's the whole point of lifetime appointments, so that judges don't answer to the legislature. And there is a system in place to deal with judges who make egregiously bad decisions or overstep their bounds - they can be impeached. If judges were to face periodic reconfirmation hearings, they would lose their independence, and the judiciary would become even more politicized.

And as an aside, given Republican obstructionism in the Senate and how few federal judges they've confirmed under the Obama administration, just imagine how bad reconfirmation hearings would be in practice. More info: Washington Post - Waiting for next president, confirmations of federal trial judges stall

I'm going to deal with these next two together.

...assurance that each polling place has a distinctly marked, where possible, separate locations for Republican and Democrat primary voting.
Closed Primary- We support protecting the integrity of the Republican primary election by requiring a closed primary system in Texas.

I have mixed feelings about primary elections. In one sense, I find them objectionable. Political parties aren't official government entities. They're private organizations, basically clubs. They can choose which candidates to endorse in the same way that other clubs and private organizations can choose which candidates they want to endorse. But other organizations don't get the state to pay for an election to decide this for them. Why are my tax dollars going to support the process for these clubs that I don't belong to?

On the other hand, the reality is that political parties do have huge influence over politics, and one of the candidates that either the Republicans or Democrats endorse is more than likely going to end up winning whatever office they're running for, with near certainty for the presidency. So, having an open election is certainly better than the old days of party bosses picking the candidates in smoke filled back rooms.

The other issue is that political parties don't have to use the results from the state primary elections. They can hold a caucus and use those results, instead. The big difference, though, is that primaries are funded by the state (and my tax dollars), while caucuses are funded by the political parties' own funds.

So, I think open primaries are a reasonable compromise. It allows for an open democratic process to pick endorsements. And by leaving it an open primary, it allows independents, whose tax dollars are helping to support the primary election, to have a voice in this early stage of the process, rather than being completely at the whims of the major parties. And if the parties don't like the open primary system, they're free to fund their own caucuses to decide who they want to endorse.

More info: Washington Post - Everything you need to know about how the presidential primary works


So, these planks are a mix of bad ideas, attempts to wreck the checks and balances of government, conspiracy driven worries, and flat out unconstitutional ideas. And like I wrote in the introduction to this series, these planks were all voted on individually and approved by the majority of the state delegates. I know most of us have become jaded to bad politics, but it really should be mind-boggling that the most powerful political party in the state of Texas could hold such bad positions.

Continue to Part 4, Patriotism / Holidays


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is Evolution Falsifiable?

Is the March of Progress InevitableI came across the following Quora question, Is the theory of evolution unfalsifiable?. Although I'm not sure the question was asked in good faith, it's still an interesting question to think about. Here was my response.


All good science should in principle be falsifiable. The problem is that some fields become so well backed up by evidence, it's hard to conceive how they could be falsified short of ludicrous conspiracy theories or Matrix like scenarios.

For example, take the roughly spherical shape of the Earth. For all intents and purposes, this is a concept that has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. You can find multiple Quora threads dealing with flat earth 'theories', such as this one, Let's say I don't believe the world is round. How can one prove the world is round to me?, which lists some of this overwhelming evidence in support of the Earth's true shape. It's really hard to conceive how this concept could be falsified given all that we know. It would take a conspiracy on par with The Truman Show, where everyone we thought we knew was an actor, and we had been misled our entire lives, or an equally ludicrous scenario like the Matrix, where we were living in a simulated reality not at all like the reality outside the simulation. In short, falsifying the roughly spherical shape of the Earth would entail a shake up so huge that we couldn't trust anything we thought we knew about the world.

Evolution in broad stroke approaches that level of certainty. Between biochemistry, biogeography, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, molecular biology, paleontology, genetics, observed instances, and other lines of evidence, it's really hard to conceive of how the concept could be falsified.

One of the flip answers you'll often hear is rabbits in the Precambrian, supposedly a response from J.B.S. Haldane when asked what evidence he thought would falsify evolutionary theory. But to return temporarily to the flat Earth example, that's like saying that a photograph of a disc world from space would be evidence to falsify round world theory. But honestly, would the image below be enough to convince you that the world was flat? Or would you suspect Photoshop or some other type of hoax?

Flat Earth Illustration

So even if fossil rabbits were claimed to be found in Precambrian deposits, they would be investigated and considered very extensively before being taken as evidence overturning evolution. Could they be hoaxes? Some type of disturbance to the geological column in that locale? A section of Precambrian deposits that were temporarily exposed long enough for some poor ancient rabbit to die and become fossilized there? To be honest, given the vast other data in support of evolution, a single Precambrian fossil rabbit would probably be chalked up to an unexplainable anomaly.

But, supposing more out of place fossils were found than just a single anomaly, or you could find evidence of huge conspiracies among all the world's biologists past and present lying about the evidence for evolution, or you could find evidence for the Matrix and that the real world is far different from this simulation that we're living in, then you might have something in the way of falsifying evolution.


More Info - I included a link to a Quora thread in the original answer, and I've written about the topic numerous times, myself. So, here are links to that Quora thread and a few of entries I've written.

Image Source 1: Wikipedia, with further editing by me.

Image Source 2: Pinterest - It's actually all over the place without attribution, so I doubt that I've actually found the original. If anyone knows the actual original source, please let me know.

Friday, September 16, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 2, Religion

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry will focus on planks having to do with religion. Actually, because of how infused the entire platform is with religion, this entry will only focus on some of the planks having to do with religion. Others made more sense to discuss in other sections of this series.

The very first statement of this platform got off to a bad start right from the get go:

Affirming our belief in God...

Government and politics should have nothing to do with religion, other than affirming the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. Government is a secular institution, and there's no need at all to bring religion into it. In fact, when government represents a multicultural society with a mix of religious beliefs, it's positively better to leave religion out of politics. But here, in the very opening phrase, Texas Republicans are mixing religion and politics. In fact, just doing a quick word search, they mention 'God' 14 times, 'Judeo-Christian' 4 times, and 'Bible' twice. That's an awful lot of religious language for an institution that shouldn't be based on religion.

Judeo-Christian Nation- As America is a nation under God, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship as they choose.

America was NOT founded on Judeo-Christian principles, or at least nothing specifically Judeo-Christian that's unique from other cultures. If anything, the unique principles of the USA were Enlightenment values. You only need look as far as our nation's founding document, the Constitution, which makes no religious references, other than the convention of using 'Year of our Lord' for the date, and explicitly prohibiting religious tests for public office, plus the separation of church and state once you get to the amendments. (And if using 'Year of our Lord' or 'A.D.' somehow indicates support of Christianity, then I suppose the names of the days of the week indicate support of Norse gods.)

I know some people are fond of pointing to the Declaration of Independence (even though it's not the founding document of our nation) and the passage about men being "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", but are they really that ignorant of history? I mean, the Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson for crying out loud - the same man who made his own Bible by eliminating all the miracles of Jesus and other supernatural elements because he didn't believe them. He was a deist, not a Christian. And 'their Creator' is a typical deistic phrase, not a Christian one.

More generally, basic prohibitions against theft and murder and other types of crime are present in just about all societies. And codifying them into law goes back at least to the Code of Hammurabi (who wasn't Jewish, and certainly wasn't Christian given that he was alive roughly 1700 years BC). There's nothing in the Bible about structuring a government with bicameral legislatures. In fact, a democratic republic is more Greco-Roman in heritage. That First Amendment that we hold in such high regard (and rightly so) is actually counter to the First Commandment - we've actually guaranteed in the founding document of our nation that people can, in fact, have other gods before Yahweh.

And you don't just have to take my word for it. Go read the Treaty of Tripoli. This was a treaty written and ratified in 1796-1797, less than a decade after the founding of the USA (as determined by the ratification of the Constitution), under the presidency of John Adams. Everyone involved could rightly be called a member of the Founding Fathers. And the treaty was passed unanimously by the Senate. Not only that, they made it a point to take a roll to record the votes of everyone present. They wanted history to remember them approving this treaty. Article 11 states, and I'll emphasize it to make sure it doesn't get missed, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...". That's a pretty clear statement from the Founders themselves that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

(I've covered this idea of America as a Christian nation several times before if you're interested in more detail. Probably the three most relevant previous entries are Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part IV - Faith in Society, and A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle.)

Safeguarding Religious Liberties- We affirm that the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the 1st Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. Tax deductions for charitable contributions are not government subsidies and give no authority for government oversight. Americans should be free to express their religious beliefs, including prayer in public places. We urge the legislature to increase the ability of faith based institutions and other organizations to assist the needy and to reduce regulation of such organizations. We also support vigorously protecting the rights of commercial establishments to refuse to provide any service or product that would infringe upon freedom of conscience of religious expression of the commercial establishments as stated in the 1st Amendment.

Just because the First Amendment doesn't literally contain the words 'separation of church and state' doesn't mean that the concept is a myth. I mean, just read the dang thing, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." So, government can neither support nor interfere with religion. That sounds an awful lot like separation to me. And it's not like the term, 'separation of church and state', is some revisionist invention of liberals. It was coined by Thomas Jefferson himself, back in 1802 in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. Here's the relevant portion of the letter.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. [emphasis mine]

Regarding the latter portions of the plank, I have to admit that I get tired of people trying to use religion as an excuse to break the law. Yes, you should have freedom to practice your religion how you see fit, unless doing so causes harm to other people. As an extreme example, you can't claim to belong to a religion that promotes theft, and that therefore you can't go to jail for stealing things. You still have to follow the law. Less extreme, you can't claim that insurance is 'gambling', so you're not going to provide it to your employees, or that taxes are immoral, so you're not going to pay them. Nor can you deny other obligations to employees or customers just because you personally don't like something about those obligations. If it's a law, you still have to follow it.

Protection for Religious Institutions- We believe religious institutions have the freedom to recognize and perform only those marriages that are consistent with their doctrine.

Okay.... And I believe I should have the freedom to recognize and say that the sky is blue. It seems odd to make a plank that's obvious to everybody and not an actual political issue.

Okay, maybe there is some concern that individuals will sue churches over this issue, but I haven't heard of any mainstream politicians pushing for legislation that would violate churches' First Amendment rights.

(more info - and I feel a little dirty just linking to them - Family Research Council - Can Pastors and Churches Be Forced to Perform Same-Sex Marriages?)

Family Values- We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values.

Most everybody supports 'family values', whether they're Christian or not. So if the Republicans are referring to an assault, I can only assume they mean against the more bigoted quarters of Christianity who oppose marriage equality and other gay rights, want to see women be second class citizens, want to take away women's right to bodily autonomy, and other similar positions. And if those are the 'Judeo-Christian' values they're referring to (which aren't shared by all religious people), then no, they don't deserve respect. Those values absolutely deserve to be assaulted by everyone with respect for their fellow human beings.

Empowering Local Entities Concerning Religious Meetings- We support the right of local entities to determine their own policies regarding religious clubs and meetings on all properties owned by the same, without interference.

If by 'local entities', they mean private companies or organizations, then sure, that's their right. I don't know of anyone, certainly not mainstream politicians, who would argue against that. But if they mean local governments, then no, local governments have to follow the First Amendment just like the federal government, and can't endorse particular religions (though they can allow religious uses of facilities as long as they open it up to all religions, and don't favor any particular religion).


This whole issue of entangling politics with religion is one of the big problems with the current Republican party. Not only is it counter to the First Amendment, but it wouldn't be a good idea even if there was no First Amendment. Laws should have reasonable secular reasons, especially in a society where not everybody shares the same religious beliefs. And it's frustrating on top of that to see their mangling of history to try to support their views.

Continue to Part 3, Politics & Government


2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 1, Introduction

Republican ElephantIt's election year, so the Texas Republicans have gotten together to make a new platform. I've commented on their past several platforms (2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014), so even though I'm a little late this year, I figured I'd keep the tradition going and comment on this one, as well. Besides, the election's coming up in a couple months, and even though Trump and Clinton are getting most of the headlines, state politics has a huge effect on our lives, as well, so it's important to understand where the parties stand, and especially just how bad the Republican party is in Texas.

If you want to read the entire platform for yourself, you can find it here:

Republican Party of Texas 2016 Platform

Previous platforms have had some really bizarre planks, but the previous platforms had been put together in committees and then voted on by the convention as a whole document. So, you could get some of those strange planks slipped in, because no one wanted to reject the entire platform for a few oddities. This year, however, every single plank was voted on by the delegates. There's no excuse to be made that an odd plank was snuck in. All of these planks were approved by the majority of the delegates representing the Texas Republican Party.

In years past, I've tried to limit my discussion mostly to just what was new that year. But because of the nature of how this platform was passed, knowing that each plank has majority support, I've decided to include more planks than normal. And because there are so many planks, I've decided to break this up into multiple entries. This particular post is basically just an introduction, and will also act as a table of contents. I've arleady gotten far enough to know how it's going to be organized, so the table of contents already contains the full list of entries. I'll make the links active as I post the entries.

Continue to Part 2, Religion


Friday, September 9, 2016

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for August 2016

Top 10 ListNow that August is over, it's time to have a look at the server logs to see what pages on the site were most popular in August. And it's pretty much a list of the usual suspects. When peeking ahead to September, though, I did notice something interesting. Granted, we're less than a week into this month, so it's probably just a quirk that will be smoothed out once I get a bit more traffic, but as of today, my 10th most popular page for this month is Tank Game - QBasic Source Code, a program I wrote back in high school to try to come up with an 'action' game. Granted, it was a very simple program even back in the day, but not too bad for a self-taught high school kid (I eventually had a couple classes on programming and so picked up on better practices).

I'm not sure if it's just the normal variation, or if my efforts at the tail end of the month to get back into regular blogging made a difference, but overall traffic for August was up a bit from the previous months. Hopefully I do stick with writing like I had been and traffic will increase back to what it was before the summer. And I haven't forgotten about the Friday Bible Blogging, but it'll probably be a couple more weeks before I begin updating that series again.

I also spent some time doing housekeeping that I'd neglected for a while. Some time around a year or two ago, Amazon changed the way they do product linking. So, a lot of the links I'd created for books just quit working entirely, leaving blank white space. I've gone through all those entries and fixed the links, occasionally updating the edition I was linking to when appropriate. Have a look at my review of Why Evolution Is True to see what I'm talking about as far as the links (and click on the link and buy the book).

And as one last administrative note, there were some issues last week when the company that hosts this site did some updates that affected Movable Type. It screwed up commenting and a few other things. I got in touch with tech support and the issue is now resolved. I'm not sure exactly when it happened since I don't check this blog every day, but I'm pretty sure that the problems lasted less than a week.

Anyway, here're the lists for last month.

Top 10 for August 2016

  1. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  2. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  4. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  5. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  6. Autogyro History & Theory
  7. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  8. Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding
  9. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  10. Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Putting the Bible and Other Ancient Books in Perspective

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia CommonsI came across a question on Quora this week, Why do atheists not believe a book that was written 2000 years ago but believe in what scientists say happened 2.5 million years ago?. Now, I think it's safe to say that the questioner had one particular book in mind, but I decided to interpret and answer the question in good faith.

I have two related entries that might be of interest, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge and Confidence in Historical Knowledge. As their titles suggest, they focus on where my confidence in science in particular comes from. But for this Quora answer, I focused on the reliability of ancient books and putting them into perspective. Below is my answer in full, slightly edited, with a few footnotes not included on Quora.


I've read several books or excerpts of books that are on the order of hundreds to thousands of years old - the entire Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Tao Te Ching, portions of the Popol Vuh, The Conquest of Gaul, The Travels of Marco Polo, and probably a few more I'm forgetting (I also just started on the Buddhavacana). They can be very interesting and offer fascinating links to the actual words and communications from ancient peoples*. But you have to take them for what they are. The standards of scholarship were different, more limited travel and communication made it harder to substantiate stories, and the aims of many of these books were different from the modern day goal (not always achieved) of an unbiased presentation of facts. Moreover, many of these books incorporate their culture's mythologies to greater or lesser degrees, sometimes mingling mythology with history with little distinction.

So, for example, when I read Marco Polo's Travels, I take it as a reasonably accurate description of what portions of Asia were like 700 years ago, but when he describes a bird "so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces", I think he's given in to exaggeration or believing travelers tales. Or when I read the Conquest of Gaul, I have to keep in mind that it wasn't an unbiased historian documenting the war, but a piece of propaganda written by Caesar himself to try to increase his popularity back in Rome. And when it comes to things like human origins, whether it's the Mayans writing that the gods tried making humans out of clay then wood before getting it right on the third try with corn, the Greeks writing that Prometheus and Athena teamed up to make man out of mud before Zeus created the first woman, Pandora, as a punishment for man, or the Hebrews writing about the first man being molded from clay in the Garden of Eden and a woman being made from his rib, I chalk them all up to those cultures' mythologies because they just didn't know any better**.

I like Jerry Coyne's definition of science broadly construed, "the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing as a way of acquiring knowledge." (source) It's not just running experiments in labs, but any field of inquiry where you use evidence and reason to try to figure out what's most likely to be true, including history. All lines of evidence are open to scientific inquiry, but those lines of evidence have to be weighed against other forms of evidence and evaluated as to how reliable they are. So, 2000 year old books do count as a form of evidence to be incorporated into scientific study. But, they have all those issues I identified above, meaning that they can't just be accepted unquestioningly as ultimate authorities. Each book or manuscript is one piece of evidence to be included among all the other ancient writings, archaeological digs, artifacts, and other forms of evidence about the past.

When it comes to understanding what was happening 2.5 million years ago, it's really not even a question of which is more reliable between ancient books and modern scientific knowledge, and it seems silly to even pose the question. All those thousands of year old books were written in a pre-scientific age when people just didn't have the same understanding as we do now. It's not that we're any smarter in the modern age. We've just built on the knowledge of all those generations before us, getting more and more knowledge and learning the best ways to do things. I mean, as a species, we had to start from scratch, not knowing anything about the geologically ancient history of the planet (or universe), and build to where we are now. We wouldn't have the knowledge or framework we do now if it wasn't for all those ancient philosophers laying the groundwork and building a philosophical tradition. And we certainly don't know everything now - future generations will build on our current knowledge (hopefully) for even greater insights in the future.


*It's this connection to the past that's one of my main motivations for wanting to read ancient writings. I've been to ancient ruins in various locations - Chichén Itzá, Stonehenge, various castles, the Colosseum, and more. And while ruins like that are always fascinating, and sometimes even give me goosebumps, they're silent. The ancient people who lived there no longer have a voice... EXCEPT for the few writings from their eras that have survived to the present. So writings like the Bible, Book of the Dead, Tao Te Ching, Popol Vuh, and Buddhavacana may be biased or full of mythology, but they're direct connections to those ancient peoples. We can reach out across the millennia and still hear some of their words. (Not that it will stop me from snickering at the sillier portions of those books.)

**Granted, you could argue for a figurative or allegorical interpretation of these creation myths, and that's fine if that's what you want to do. Just don't pretend that they're literal accounts of the history of the planet, or that pre-scientific writing from hundreds or thousands of years ago can somehow overturn the vast mountains of evidence in support of things like the Big Bang or universal common descent.

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