Politics Archive

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Politicians Interfering in Business - VW and the UAW

VW & UAW LogosPolitics just baffles me sometimes. Consider this story I heard on NPR yesterday, Tennessee Volkswagen Workers Vote On UAW Membership. The gist of it is that the workers at a VW manufacturing plant are preparing to vote on whether or not to unionize (actually, they were preparing when the story was filed - they're in the midst of a 3 day vote right now). While some companies certainly would rather not have unionized labor, VW has remained relatively neutral. According to the NPR story:

Usually car companies do all they can within the law to keep unions out. Volkswagen, though, has taken a neutral position. German officials say they're accustomed to cooperating with labor groups in the rest of the world.

It seems like it should be a pretty minor story to me. A company and its workers are both in agreement that the workers should have the choice on whether or not to take a certain course of action, and none of the parties involved seem like they would be particularly upset about either outcome.

But of course, I'm writing a blog entry about it, so there has to be more to the story. Republican lawmakers in Tennessee don't particularly like unions, and have made it clear that they do not want the plant to unionize. Here's another quote from the NPR article, describing state senator Bo Watson's stance.

Taxpayers provided a half-billion dollars when Volkswagen built its plant.

And if workers want help expanding, Watson says they can forget about it with the UAW. This is a pretty timely threat since Volkswagen is now shopping for somewhere to build a new SUV.

WATSON: I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.

Republicans usually try to present themselves as the party supporting free markets and limited government. But first, they provided incentives to lure VW to their state (not that I'm particularly opposed to incentives, but they're definitely not free market). And then, in an internal issue between the company and its employees, the lawmakers are trying to interfere to make the company run the way those lawmakers want it run.

Well, I should admit I'm not particularly baffled like I said I was up top. While Reublicans like to present themselves as supporting free markets and limited government, I long ago realized that that was just their desired image, and not supported by their actions. As this episode illustrates, they're perfectly happy with government interference when it supports their goals.

Image Source: Combined images from CarType.com & LogoTypes 101

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Virginia's New Strenghts & Weaknesses Bill

Evolutionary TreeThere's a recent article at the Daily Beast, Creationism's Latest Trojan Horse Edges Toward Virginia Schools by Karl Giberson. The tagline is as follows.

After years on the defensive, opponents of evolution and climate change are learning that subtle language may be the ticket to sabotaging science education in public schools.

The article is very good, and this entry would be worth doing if only to alert readers to that article and urge them to read it. It contains one of the best short summaries I've seen of the creationism movement in this country. Aside from the excellent the history, Giberson described the current issue in Virginia, where the state legislature is attempting a tactic that's become familiar to those of us who follow the evolution/creation confrontation:

America's whack-a-mole debate about evolution in the public schools has reappeared in Virginia, where state assembly has proposed legislation to modify curriculum to include study of the "scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories." If the anti-evolutionists get their way, Virginia elementary and secondary schools will have to develop new curricula that explores the weaknesses of evolution, a strategy intended to make room for alternative theories of origins.

I've written about this strengths and limitations tactic before concerning Texas. While it sounds noble in theory, in practice it's used in an attempt to smuggle creationist nonsense into the classroom.

So, at this point, I could be done with this entry. But I've gone and caught another case of SIWOTI syndrome. Reading through the comments to the article (yes, I know I shouldn't do that), I came across one that I wanted to reply to. But for some reason, the comment won't go through. So, to get it off my chest, I'm going to post the comment here.

Here's the portion of the comment that motivated me to respond.

Mr. Giberson's historical (and biased) rendering of the Creationist/ID movement did nothing to support his assertion that adding a module or two on the weaknesses of evolution would somehow lead to teaching creationism is the classroom.

My intended response is as follows.

This conversation is full of examples of why the people who support science are worried about language like this. You yourself pulled out the old canard of, "And yes, it is only a theory." Someone else brought up the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Someone else used a God of the Gaps argument ("I also think teaching about a potential intelligent designer as possible future theories of things we don't have answers too, or even things we do, are as plausible.") Another person tried to connect evolutionary with the origin of the entire universe ("The bottom line is that the Theory of evolution says everything came to being because of an explosion.") Someone else would call into question all non-laboratory science ("Because it is incapable of being reproduced and tested in a laboratory setting because the time frames involved are beyond human ability to observe."), as if astronomy wasn't a science because you can't put stars in the lab. Someone else brought up a (rather silly) argument from consequences ("Based upon this logic the holocaust was acceptable because there were laws which supported it."), and another person brought in the related is/ought fallacy ("Why do you keep shoving the theory that our children are from apes and then you wonder why they act like one.") These are the reasons why the science proponents are worried, that bogus 'weaknesses' like these will be taught to students, not legitimate scientific debates.

And while the Virginia bill doesn't specifically call out any particular area of science, when similar language has been proposed in other states, it has. For example, Tennessee's Senate Bill 893 included the phrase, "including evolution, global warming, the chemical origin of life, and human cloning," and Oklahoma's HB 1551 included the wording, "analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." These bills aren't about open inquiry, urging students to question everything. They're calling out a few specific fields of science that some groups don't like. Nobody would be so naive as to think Virginia is operating in a vacuum, and that the politicians introducing this bill haven't been influenced by the politicians introducing similar bills in other states.

For a bit of extra info, here are a few links. The first is more information on the legislation for states outside Virginia. The second is an index of handy explanations of the flaws in many standard creationist claims. The third is an entry I did a few years ago concerning the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Hopefully, voices of reason will prevail in Virginia, and this backhanded attempt at indoctrinating children into creationism will fail.

Updated 2014-01-30: Updated a typo - it's the Daily Beast, not the Daily Best.

Monday, December 9, 2013

War on Christmas 2013

Santa in the CrosshairsChristmas is only two weeks away, so it's time to ramp up my efforts in the War on Christmas. To tell the truth, the whole idea of the war is a bit silly, considering all the ways Christmas has been dealt with in this country's past, from the Puritans outlawing it, to some cities treating it "like a nightmarish cross between Halloween and a particularly violent, rowdy Mardi Gras" (see first link below). I've written a few blog entries on Christmas over the years, so I'll just provide links to those below. The first three are especially good for actually being informative.

My previous War on Christmas posts:

But I really do like Christmas. We've already put up the tree, decorated the front yard, and gotten most of the decorations up in the house, and we'll visit with family, excange presents, and celebrate on Christmas Day. We do pretty much all the normal traditions other than go to church. So, ignoring the 'war', here are a couple more Christmas posts.

My positive Christmas posts:

And as has become my annual tradition for this site, here is Tim Minchin singing his secular Christmas carol, White Wine In the Sun. And just in case you missed the link above, if you buy the song from iTunes this month, the proceeds will go to the National Autistic Society.


Related Links to Other Sites (the first is serious, the rest are humorous):

Monday, November 18, 2013

Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?

Red Dawn Video CoverI received another interesting e-mail, this one claiming that America's hunters comprise the world's largest army. Here's the closing paragraph, which is the main point of the whole thing.

Overall it's true, so if we disregard some assumptions that hunters don't possess the same skills as soldiers, the question would still remain, what army of 2 million would want to face 30, 40, 50 million armed citizens? For the sake of our freedom, don't ever allow gun control or confiscation of guns.

Apparently, this one's been making the rounds for a while. Here's one example of it online, Fox Nation - American Hunters - The World's Largest Army. As a bonus, you can find an example of treason as the very first comment on that site, though I'm sure the commenter would claim it was meant as a joke (and what's with all these people who claim to be patriots with one breath, and then issue threats against the nation with the next?). For anyone interested in reading the entirety of the version I received, I've put it below the fold.

Now, I grew up in hunting areas. Had I stayed in Pennsylvania for high school, the first day of deer season would have been a day off. In Maryland, in one of my first period high school classes, the kid next to me was always telling me how he'd had to hide his rifle in his truck because he'd forgotten to take it out after going to check his traps in the morning. My dad, brothers, and uncles all used to hunt in our backyard and at my grandmother's property. I have no problem with people hunting.

But the big problem that this e-mail only briefly pays lip service to is that giving somebody a gun doesn't automatically turn them into a soldier. It's insulting to all the actual soldiers in our armed forces to suggest that it does. The U.S. has one of the best trained militaries in the world, and it's this hard work of training and constant drilling that in large part makes our military so effective, not the shear number of guns.

A group of hunters doesn't even rate as a militia - at least militias have some training and drills. Back in the late 1700's when more people actually took the 'well regulated militia' clause to mean a duty of all citizens and not something fulfilled by the National Guard, the government passed the Militia Act of 1792. This act actually called for "each and every free able-bodied white male citizen" between 18 and 45 to be enrolled in the militia. The law even called for musters for some type of training for the militia. In practice, this ended up being once or twice a year. But this minimal training (still more than today's hunters) was completely inadequate. When these militias were put to the test in the War of 1812, they didn't fare well at all. To quote from the first link below, "When war came, the under-trained under-equipped and unready enrolled militia simply was not up to the task. The War of 1812 revealed the weakness of relying upon this unwieldy concept, despite many exceptional and heroic individual successes." And that failure came before the industrial revolution. Just imagine how ineffective private citizens with hunting rifles and shotguns would be against mechanized infantry or attack helicopters.


For comparison, in modern first world nations, Switzerland has the most famous citizen militia. But they get 18 to 21 weeks of initial basic training when they first join the country's militia, followed by annual 3 week refresher courses.


As far as the facts of hunting safety - hunting is fairly safe, but this e-mail is a little exagerrated. Around 1000 people per year are shot in hunting accidents in the U.S. and Canada, but thanks to increased regulations and improved mandatory hunter safety courses, it's getting better. In fact, 2012 was the first year in Pennsylvania in 94 years of records that no hunters were fatally wounded in an accidental hunting shooting (though there were still 33 people shot).


Regular readers may already know that my interpretation of the Second Amendment doesn't line up with the current Supreme Court's. I think the 'well regulated militia' clause makes the intent clear, and that the militia is currently fulfilled by the National Guard. Further, I'm tempted to agree with what the Court said way back in 1876 in United States v. Cruikshank, "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The second amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government," or in other words, that the Second Amendment only applied to the federal government, not states. But, times change and interpretation of the Constitution is fluid, so if the current Court wants to reinterpret it, their new interpretation is now the law of the land. But, even if the older interpretation held and the Second Amendment didn't apply to states, I still think there are many legitimate reasons for people to own guns, hunting being high among those reasons. But I don't agree with this e-mail that private citizens come anywhere close to the well regulated militia described in the Amendment, nor that they would provide any substantial defense or deterrence if a modern military were to attack the U.S.

Image Source: IMBD

Continue reading "Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?" »

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Texas Science Textbook Adoption - Reminder

Stand Up for Science TexasIf you haven't already seen it, go read my entry, Texas Science Textbook Adoption. To summarize, On November 22nd (a week from tomorrow), the Texas State Board of Education will have their final vote to adopt the currently proposed textbooks and other instructional materials for high school biology and environmental science. So far, everything appears to be going relatively well, but there are a few idealogues on the board who have thrown a wrench in the works before. So, please contact your school board representative and urge them to vote in favor of sound science. Links on how to take action are included in that entry.

For anyone interested, I've posted my letter to my representative, Marty Rowley, below the fold.

Continue reading "Texas Science Textbook Adoption - Reminder" »

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