Politics Archive

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Response to 'I'm Tired' E-mail

PoliticsI've gotten another e-mail forward that I couldn't resist replying to. The subject line was 'Bill Cosby...Tired at 83'. It's a list of all the supposed ills in our society, and how the writer is tired of them. And surprise, surprise, the writer's opinions just happen to coincide with a typical right wing stance (see my older entry, Right Wing E-mails).

The easiest thing to check is whether or not Bill Cosby actually wrote this. In fact, the e-mail is so prevalent that Cosby decided to respond on his own personal website in a post he titled If you got the BOGUS email, it's time to hit DELETE!. As you can probably guess from the title, Cosby didn't write this article, and he certainly doesn't agree with it. Here's what he wrote in that post.

There's an email floating around - entitled "I'm 76 and tired" - purportedly sent by me. I did not write the email, I did not send the email, I'm not 76, and I don't subscribe to the ugly views expressed in the email. We are coming up to an important anniversary on Sunday, which is a day when we should all come together. Whoever wrote this email is not thinking about our country, or what is important. If you get the email, it's time to hit DELETE.

Even if Cosby didn't write the e-mail, somebody did. According to Snopes, it was written by a former Massachusetts senator named Robert A. Hall.

With that simple bit of fact checking out of the way, it's time to address the actual claims of the article itself. I'll use my standard method of indenting a passage from the article, following it up with my response. And since this entry is a little long, I'll put a little index up here at the top so that you can jump ahead to different sections, if you want.

And now, on to the e-mail.

Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

And life isn't fair, but it's good!!

No comment so far.

"I'm 83 and I'm Tired"

I'm 83. Except for brief period in the 50s when I was doing my National Service, I've worked hard since I was 17. Except for some serious health challenges, I put in 50-hour weeks, and didn't call in sick in nearly 40 years. I made a reasonable salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, it looks as though retirement was a bad idea, and I'm tired. Very tired.

This strikes me as a rather self-centered view. 'I' did this, and 'I' did that. Has he never heard of the phrase, 'standing on the shoulders of giants', or 'It takes a village to raise a child'? I'm glad he's been able to turn his hard work into success, but he does nothing to recognize the culture, background, or infrastructure that's allowed him to be successful.

I'll use myself as an example. I'm reasonably successful in life, and I've worked to get where I am, but I'm not going to pretend that I'm solely responsible for my own success. My wife and I have taken a few trips down to Guatemala to help the people down there. And I've asked myself, what if I'd been born there instead of here. No matter how much talent I had, or how hard I would have worked, I know my life wouldn't have been as good as it has been here in the U.S.

That's a big jump, but you can look at smaller differences depending on your background in this country. If I expand my example to my whole family, both of my brothers have also been reasonably successful, all of us earning college degrees, and all of us having good jobs as adults. But we all grew up in a household that emphasized education, provided a good environment to nurture our education, and where it was understood that we would all go to college because it was in my parents' means to provide that for us. If I look to my wife's family, none of that was the case. Not only was college not really thought about, it was expected that the older siblings would drop out of high school to get jobs to help support the family. So, if I compare myself to my in-laws, and note that I have a better job than them, I'm not going to pretend that it was solely or even mainly my own hard work and initiative that's responsible for that outcome. Had they been given the same opportunities I've been given, assuming that they put in the same effort that I have, I'm pretty sure the outcomes would have been similar.

And it's not just my personal anecdotes that support this. In a recent interview on NPR, Tom Harkin brought up a sobering statistic [which after further investigation, seems like it may be exaggerated], "Right now, if you are a high-income, low performance student, you have an 80 percent chance of going to college. If you are a low-income student, but high-performing with a B or better average, you only have a 20 percent chance of going to college." If hard work were enough, the good students from low-income families would be just as well represented in colleges as their wealthier counterparts.

[Note 2015-02-18: Trying to track down the source of Harkin's stat, I found a graph on the Economic Policy Institute's The State of Working America site, comparing slightly different variables, but closely related to those in Harkin's statement. It shows that students who perform well academically but have a low socioeconomic status only have a 28.8% chance of graduating from college, while students who perform poorly but come from a high socioeconomic status have a 30.3% chance of graduating from college. High performing wealthy students have a 74.1% chance of graduating. These are a little less stark than Harkin's statement, but without knowing how he defined income or performance, it's a little hard to classify his statement one way or the other. At any rate, the stats from the EPI are still sobering, and the general conclusion still stands that hard work isn't always enough to overcome socioeconomic obstacles.]

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

I'm a little tired of this fake 'spread the wealth' complaining. First off, let's look at income inequality. Here's a graph from the Economic Policy Institute (The Increasingly Unequal States of America).

The share of all income held by the top 1%, United States and by region, 1917-2011
Income Inequality by Region
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Since the '70s, the top 1% have significantly increased their share of the total income. Granted, income is not the same as wealth, but if more of the income is going to the wealthy, that means less of the income is going to poor people, so it's going to be even harder for them to improve their lot.

But since this writer was specifically talking about 'spreading the wealth', or taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who haven't, let's take a look at wealth distribution instead. If there really was 'spreading the wealth', with the government acting as a bureaucratic Robin Hood, you'd expect to see the wealthy's share of the wealth decreasing, while the poor's share of the wealth would increase. But that's not what's happening. Here's one way of looking at it - total net worth, from another article by the Economic Policy Institute (Confirming the further redistribution of wealth upward). The table below is from the article, while I made the graph by plotting that data.

Share of Total Net Worth by Percentile of Wealth Owners, 1989-2010
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Graph of Share of Total Net Worth by Percentile of Wealth Owners, 1989-2010

Just look at those numbers for a minute. The top 10% have seen a growth in their share of the wealth, while the bottom 90% have seen their share decrease. The bottom half of the population went from having 3% of the wealth in 1989 to only 1.1% in 2010. In other words, if you combine everything that that half of the country owns, it comes out to just 1.1% of the total wealth of the nation. By contrast, the share of the top 1% has increased from 30.1% to 34.5%. Or to put that another way, the top 1% of the nation owns over 1/3 of all of the nation's wealth. Add in the stat that the next 9% own 40% of the wealth, and you end up with the fact that the richest 10% of Americans own 74.5% of the nation's wealth.

Whether or not you think that wealth distribution is fair, it certainly doesn't show a redistribution from wealthy to poor. There is no 'spreading the wealth' going on right now. It's a 'consolidating the wealth', putting more and more of our nation's money into the hands of a select few.

Here's another way of looking at it, from yet another Economic Policy Institute article (Occupy Wall Streeters are right about skewed economic rewards in the United States). This is similar, comparing the ratio of the wealth of the top 1% to the median wealth. This one goes back further into the '60s, showing that this is a long term trend.

Raio of the wealthiest 1% of households to median household wealth, 1962-2009
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

So, what about welfare payments? That would be a direct measure of any type of 'spreading the wealth'. Here's a graph from USGovernmentSpending.com. If you follow that link, you can play around with graph settings to see this plotted any way you like. Starting around the Great Depression, welfare payments started gradually increasing until around the mid '70s. From that point all the way until 2000, welfare spending actually decreased, until the dot com bubble burst, and then a big spike with the Great Recession. But even since that spike in 2010, Welfare spending has decreased back to almost pre-recession levels. (And of course, since the graph goes out to 2019, those future years are projections.)

Welfare Spending as Percent GDP, 1900-2019
(Source: USGovernmentSpending.com)

What about taxes? That would be another measure of how much people are contributing. The Center for Tax Justice analyzed the taxes paid by different income groups in 2013 (Who Pays Taxes in America in 2013? ). They looked beyond just federal income tax to all taxes people pay, including federal payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, state and local taxes, etc. When you look at the total tax burden, it's only slightly progressive, with people paying taxes roughly proportional to their income.

Shares of Total Taxes Paid by Each Income Group Will be Similar to their Shares of Income in 2013
(Source: Center for Tax Justice)

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honour"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offence; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to.

I admit to being a bit torn on this one. I don't particularly like religion in general, including Islam. But religion is only one characteristic of people, so disliking the religion doesn't mean disliking the people who believe that religion, as long as they're otherwise good. Plus, I've seen far too many people demonize all Muslims because of the actions of extremists.

Looking at another religion, it's not too hard to find examples of Christians behaving badly - bombing clinics, assassinating doctors, mass shootings in non-Christian holy places, killing children accused of witchcraft, etc. (for links documenting these and other examples, see one of my older blog entries, Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion). Thankfully, not all Christians act so horribly. But, just like I won't tar all Christians because of the actions of their worst members, I shouldn't tar all Muslims because of the actions of their worst members.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques and madrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia, New Zealand, UK, America and Canada, while no one from these countries are allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country to teach love and tolerance.

I'm not sure I understand the reasoning here. If the argument is that it's bad that Arab countries don't allow religious freedom, I would agree. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of this nation, and essential for a free and open society. What I don't get is when he seems to suggest that we shouldn't allow religious freedom in this country. Just because some nations restrict freedom doesn't mean we should restrict freedom here.

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate.

More selfishness. This guy doesn't want to hurt his standard of living, even if that standard comes at the cost of others and future generations.

I've written about global warming several times before:

From the entry in the third link, here's a graph I copied from another site showing measured temperature change, the predictions from climate models, and the forcings due to different phenomena. While measurements don't track the predictions exactly, they're pretty close, and definitely show a trend of increasing temperature.

Climate Change Attribution
(Source: Global Warming Art)

As an example of the effects of global warming, here's a graph I made for the entry in that second link, showing arctic sea ice extent over the years. You can see a pretty clear trend that the ice extent is decreasing.

Sea Ice Extent

Sea Ice Extent

That's just stuff I've put together. There are better sources of information out there, such as this recently published page from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change. Fully 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and being caused by humans. I know it's possible for experts to be wrong, but it's hard to imagine so many people who devote their whole lives to studying something getting it completely wrong, especially considering the near unanimous agreement among those people. It's not that debate on climate change isn't allowed - it's that we're already past the point where there's any real debate about whether or not it's happening, and the debate now should be what to do about it.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight It off?

Drug addiction, including alcoholism, is characterized by changes to the actual structure of the brain. It is a physical dependence, and is no longer a simple matter of choice like deciding what color shirt to wear. (more info: NIH - The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction)

Trying a drug once does not make somebody an addict. Many people are able to experiment with drugs or use them socially without becoming addicts, and don't suspect that they will be the ones to develop addiction. Just look at how many people drink alcohol without problems. True, nobody may have forced addicts to drink that first bottle of beer or sip that first glass of wine or puff that first cigarette or take that first hit, but can you really say it's not a disease because the person made a mistake that led to it? That would be like saying STDs aren't diseases because nobody forced them to have sex. It's still a disease.

Ignoring compassion, what would you rather do with addicts - provide them an opportunity for treatment so that they can be cured and become functioning members of society able to contribute something back, or let them stay stuck as addicts, unable to hold steady jobs, forced to either live off of the charity of others, or turning to whatever means they can to make a buck, even if it means becoming criminals to steal the money? Personally, I'd rather chip in a little of my taxes if it means there will be less criminals trying to break into my house.

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

I don't think anybody would argue with this, but I don't think it's anything new, either. Just look back to Babe Ruth and the example he set.

I'm really tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.

I agree that people as individuals should take responsibility for their lives. Though I'll be honest, I don't personally know too many people who don't.

But I'll turn this around. I'm really tired of people who don't accept their ethical responsibility to the rest of society. Look at it this way. If I broke down on the side of the highway, I'm not going to try to flag somebody down to help me. I'm going take care of things myself. But if I see somebody else broken down, I'm going to stop and help them. I feel a social responsibility to help others.

Helping other people shouldn't just be limited to people acting privately. Right there in the preamble to the Constitution, it lists "promote the general welfare" as one of the responsibilities of government. It's not just something government can do, but something government is supposed to do. If you have a problem with government promoting the general welfare, take it up with the Founding Fathers.

I'm also tired and fed up with seeing young men and women in their teens and early 20s be-deck themselves in tattoos and face studs, thereby making themselves un-employable and claiming money from the Government.

I've used this line before, but I'll use it again now. In this era of Wikipedia - citation needed.

Why are those people unemployable? Even in service industries, where image to the customer is important, I've had waiters, waitresses, and cashiers with tattoos, piercings, gages, etc. I'd guess it's even more common in areas of business where they don't have to interact with customers (manufacturing, office jobs). But I'll be honest, I'm getting a little tired of researching this guy's claims, and this is one of his lesser ones, so I'm not going to bother trying to find statistics on the percentage of welfare recipients who have either tattoos or face studs compared to the general population. My guess is that having tattoos or piercings has little correlation to being on welfare.

Yes, I'm damn tired. But I'm also glad to be 83. Because, mostly, I'm not going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter and their children. Thank God I'm on the way out and not on the way in.

Again with the self-centered attitude. I find it hard to imagine the type of selfishness it takes to say 'oh well, not my problem', if you really think the problems are as bad as this guy thinks.

There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.

"I'm 83 and I'm tired. If you don't forward this you are part of the problem".

I think I have a different idea from this guy as to of who's part of the problem facing society right now.

If there's one theme I noticed throughout this guy's article, it's his selfishness and self-centered attitude. So much of what he wrote about was how it affected him, with never a thought to the well-being of other people or any sense of social responsibility. Coupled with his mis-informed views and misleading statements, there's not much about this e-mail that I agreed with.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thoughts on Gun Control - New Studies on Effectiveness of Gun Control Laws

Gun ControlOver the past few years, I've written a few times on gun control, starting with the entry, Thoughts on Gun Control, and continuing on with NRA President Unwittingly Supports Gun Ban, Thoughts on Gun Control - The Hitler Argument, and Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?.

In that first entry, I posed three questions:

  1. Just how dangerous are guns?
  2. Do gun control laws make society safer?
  3. If gun control laws do work, is it a trade-off in personal freedom vs. safety that we're willing to make?

To the first of those questions, I found that "guns are used to commit homicides twice as often as other methods, but those homicides account for less than 1% of the deaths in the U.S. per year." To the second question, I couldn't find much data. On the third, I wasn't willing to commit without having better input on whether or not gun control laws improved safety.

Well, since that time, I've done a bit more research. One of the articles I found recently I should have known about back then, but some of the others are new. Below are links to three relevant articles describing research into guns, along with a short excerpt from each article.

But before I list those, since I know not everybody is going to read my old entries, let me state that I'm not too concerned with the Second Amendment in these discussions. For one, I disagree with the current interpretation of the amendment. I think it was intended mainly for state militias, not private gun ownership (for a good discussion of this, see the article by Garry Willis, To Keep and Bear Arms). For another, the Constitution isn't scripture, and the Founding Fathers weren't infallible (keep in mind that when the Constitution was written, women couldn't vote, and slavery was legal). If we as a society decided to, we could modify the Constitution with a new amendment. So, if there are good reasons for or against gun control, they should be judged on their own merits. Anyway, on to the articles...

BBC - Missouri gun murders 'rose after law repeal'

Reporting soon in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers will say that the repeal resulted in an immediate spike in gun violence and murders.

The study links the abandonment of the background check to an additional 60 or so murders occurring per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.

"Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri," said Prof Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

"That upward trajectory did not happen with homicides that did not involve guns; it did not occur to any neighbouring state; the national trend was doing the opposite - it was trending downward; and it was not specific to one or two localities - it was, for the most part, state-wide," he told BBC News.

Penn Medicine - Penn Study Asks, Protection or Peril? Gun Possession of Questionable Value in an Assault

In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

This last article may seem a bit amusing at first, but it's one of the scenarios that I always would have thought justified carrying a gun.

Anchorage Daily News - Gun is no insurance policy in bear attack, study indicates

Longtime bear biologist Tom Smith and colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict in Alaska between 1883 and 2009 in which a firearm was involved. They found the gun made no statistical difference in the outcome of these encounters, which resulted in 151 human injuries and 172 bear fatalities.

While I don't think a handful of studies are enough to definitively state that gun control laws are effective, I think all indications are going that way. The first study above indicates that gun control laws do help to reduce murder rates, while the other two articles indicate that on average, guns aren't terribly effective for self defense. In fact, when you're the victim of an assault, you're more likely to be shot if you have a gun yourself. My suspicion is that pulling out your own gun escalates the violence. As far as the bear study, I think most people just don't have the training to effectively use guns in high stress situations (whether it's an attack by a bear or a criminal).

So, now I must return to that third question from my previous entry, are gun control laws a trade-off in personal freedom vs. safety that we're willing to make?

In that first entry, I discussed three anecdotes of people I know of personally* who have been involved in situations with gun violence - a man who successfully defended his home against a drug addict; a teenager without a gun who confronted burglars with guns, resulting in his being knocked out but not shot; and a man who got caught up in drug related violence and successfully defended himself against several attackers. It's situations like that first scenario that make it so difficult to make the extreme argument that guns should be banned. Had that man not had a gun, who knows what would have happened to him and his family. However, it appears that he was the exception and not the rule. In most cases, having a gun yourself increases your likelihood of being injured.

Of course, there is a vast gulf between the extreme positions of gun bans and the wild west. There already are a certain amount of gun control laws - you can't carry concealed weapons without a permit, certain types of weapons (like fully automatic rifles) are already prohibited. And while it's not exactly a requirement of gun ownership, most states have training requirements to get a hunting license. And those hunter safety courses, along with other regulations aimed at improving hunting safety, have worked. Go read the article from Lancaster Online, Pennsylvania hunters take aim at each other less in 2012, or the press release from the International Hunter Education Association, Hunting - "Safe and Getting Safer". To quote a portion of that second link:

Fast forward to today, some 65 years later, and you find that hunting incident rates are at their lowest in the history of documenting outdoor injuries/fatalities. In large measure, the system of hunter safety education coursework required in every state can take credit for such a significant reduction -- yet another conservation benefit provided for by hunters -- in this case, policing their own behaviors and actions afield.

So, since stricter gun control laws do seem to improve societal safety, and considering the example of mandatory training improving gun safety with hunters, I think I'm coming around to the idea of stricter gun control laws, so long as long as they don't present unreasonable obstacles for upstanding citizens to obtain guns**. At the very least, I think handguns should require a permit, and that mandatory training/safety courses should have to be completed in order to receive the permit (and presumably passing some type of testing at the end of that training), along with some type of background check. All sales of handguns would require that the seller confirmed that the buyer had a valid permit. Considering that we already require driver's licenses to operate motor vehicles, I don't think it's asking too much to require a permit to own a machine built with the primary purpose of killing other people***. It would be really nice to see mandatory recurrent training or at least renewing the permit by passing a test every so often, but I'm not sure if that would have the same cost to benefit ratio as simply implementing permits.

Now, as far as long guns - rifles and shotguns, I'm not so sure on what to do about them. They don't seem to be used anywhere near as much in violent crime. But if I had my druthers, I'd still like to see mandatory training and permits, but perhaps not as extensive as for handguns.

Anyway, in the current political climate in this country, I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that any of this will actually happen anytime soon. If the Sandy Hook tragedy couldn't galvanize the nation into doing something about gun violence, I don't know what could. But perhaps in a few years there will be more studies to better quantify the effects of different gun control strategies, and maybe then people will begin to see things differently.****

*Know of, not know. One was the father of a friend, another was a neighbor's son, and another was a neighbor of a relative.

**I must admit, though, that situations as described in the article, Armed protesters rattle Texas moms' gun-control meeting, make me far less sympathetic to guns rights groups. When a bunch of yahoos can show up in a parking and threaten a group of moms, and the police can't do anything about it because no laws were broken, it makes you think that maybe some new laws should be put in place.

***Yes, I know. Some people take their handguns to ranges for target practice. But most people I know who do that with handguns are doing it primarily as training in case they ever have to use the guns in defense. Of course, riles and shotguns are used much more for purely recreational purposes.

****Or maybe, future studies might contradict the ones I referenced above, and find different strategies to address gun violence that don't require gun control. But I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

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):


Selling Out