Politics Archive

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

White House Petition to End Criminal Occupation in Malheur Wildlife Refuge

White House LogoIf you're anything like me, you're probably tired of seeing a bunched of armed insurrectionists occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge up in Oregon. It's criminal, anti-American treason, bordering on terrorism. These thugs have taken over public land that belongs to all of us, recently vandalized portions of it, and there are even reports that they've been following local citizens to their homes and sitting outside their houses in cars to watch them. And they have the gall to call themselves Patriots. Granted, they're out in the middle of nowhere, and haven't yet done anything to endanger to the public, so escalating this into an armed conflict is probably taking it too far. But currently, these criminals can come and go with impunity, and the authorities haven't even cut their electricity, yet (source - NPR). If you'd like to send a message to the feds that it's time to do something about this, click on the link below to view and sign the petition:

Arrest Ammon Bundy and the armed occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

For reference, here's the text of the petition:

President Obama,

We respectfully request that you end the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge immediately. At the very least, you owe the American people an explanation as to why the area has not been isolated. Members of their organization can come and go as they please, members of the community can visit the occupied facility, and other right-wing extremist groups such as the Idaho III% can show their support.

Law enforcement inaction up to this point is an egregious violation of public safety and emboldens their erroneous assertions that the US Government has no Constitutional Authority.

Please end the siege of the refuge and arraign Ammon Bundy as soon as possible.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Answering Quora - If you were to build an advanced civilization optimized for economic and technological progress and growth, how would you go about it?

A cropped portion of Robert McCall's mural,The Prologue and the PromiseWell, I spent some time on Quora again this week, taking away my normal blog writing time, so I'm going to recycle a Quora answer here. The question someone asked this time is the title of this entry, If you were to build an advanced civilization optimized for economic and technological progress and growth, how would you go about it? They went on to add just a tiny bit of clarification, "How would you structure its government, economy, culture, etc.?" I put a little bit of thought into an answer, which I've copied below.


First off, I wouldn't want to optimize civilization for 'economic and technological progress and growth'. I'd want to optimize it for the maximum welfare of the people. And while economic and technological progress and growth are certainly part of that, they're a means to an end, not the goal itself, and shouldn't take precedence over the ultimate goal of maximum well-being.

And to be honest, while I have plenty of gripes over specific issues with government, I'd still follow the general pattern of the U.S. and the world's other prosperous democracies. First off, it would be a democracy (or more accurately, a representative democracy or republic) to ensure that laws were based on the will of the people. And even though individuals don't always know best, the Wisdom of the crowd phenomenon shows that group decisions are often very good. But, to protect against the tyranny of the majority, I'd have something like the Bill of Rights to ensure that basic rights for everybody are encoded right into the structure of government. I'd also want separate branches of government, all with equal power, to provide oversight to keep any one branch from becoming too strong.

As far as the economy, it should be a mix of a well-regulated free market and public institutions. Free markets are great at optimizing a good many things, but unregulated free markets lead to situations like a Charles Dickens novel or the robber barons of the 19th century U.S. Even well regulated free markets don't always produce the results we want for society at large, so robust public funding for basic research is also essential for long term progress. Just consider the current failure of the free market economy to produce new antibiotics. We, as a society, would really like those medicines to combat disease, but they're just not profitable enough for drug companies, so there's very little private research into new antibiotics. This is where public funding through the government should come into play, either funding research directly, or providing strong incentives for the private sector. As another example of the interaction between the public and private sector, consider GPS. The required satellite system was a huge investment, and probably wouldn't have been undertaken by any private company. But now that the satellites are in place, private industry and the free market have found many, many innovative ways to use that system.

To promote technological progress in the private sector, a patent system is essential. It's the best way to reward innovation, giving the incentive for people to come up with new ideas, knowing how much they could profit from it, and that the idea can't just by copied by anybody.

Education is critical, both for citizens to make well informed decisions when voting, and also if you want a work force of intellectuals who can drive your economic and technological progress and growth. I would structure education slightly differently that it's currently done in the U.S., mainly on funding (but not so different from other nations). I'd fund schools on the national level, not the local level as is currently done, since the current system puts the most money into rich areas where many students are already advantaged, and the least money into poor areas where many students are already disadvantaged. At the least, spending per pupil should be equal for all students, but it should probably even be skewed to put more funding into poor areas to help overcome disadvantages and get them on a more equal footing with rich areas. How much untapped potential is there in the current system?

For higher ed, I'd make it at least cheap enough to where a person could work to pay their way through school, without incurring a huge debt in the process. Even better would be free university education. It's an investment in the future intellectual workforce of the country.

So, I guess the short answer is that I'd go with pretty much what already exists in the prosperous democracies.

Image Source: A cropped portion of Robert McCall's mural,The Prologue and the Promise, downloaded from ImagineeringDisney.com

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Response to Ben Carson's Creation vs. Evolution Video

Note: for a list of all my Carson related entries, go here.

Ben CarsonThis is my third entry inspired by a speech Carson gave a few years ago, but was just posted to YouTube in June of this year. The first entry was Ben Carson Being Noticed by Popular Science Writers, where I mostly described popular science writers' reactions to the video. Then next entry was Yet Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution - His Creation vs. Evolution Speech, where I mostly explained why this speech made Carson unfit for the presidency. But I didn't really rebut Carson's misinformation in either of those entries. I merely stated how wrong he was, without demonstrating it. That actually was on purpose, since as I wrote in that second entry, "I'm tempted to go into a point by point refutation of Carson, but there are so many falsehoods and misunderstandings, it would make this post extremely long." But, since I know not everybody studies evolution as much as I like to, I realize that not everybody might understand just how wrong Carson is in this video, so I have decided to do a more detailed rebuttal to his claims. Even ignoring politics, this is an opportunity to educate people on some common creationist misconceptions. Like I expected, this has made for a very long post.

First, just to repeat a theme I've written in both of those previous entries, the aspect of this video that's so damning of Carson isn't merely his ignorance of evolutionary theory, but that he was unable to recognize his own ignorance on the issue, and that despite this ignorance, he was arrogant enough to give a prepared lecture to a crowd of people. As I wrote in the second entry, "Most of us are ignorant about a whole range of issues, but we don't go around giving speeches about those issues." How can we trust Carson to recognize his own limitations?

I know this is a long entry. In fact, some individual answers could stand as their own entries. But I decided to address Carson's mistakes on evolution comprehensively, and he had so many mistakes. On the plus side, many of these mistakes are common creationist mistakes not limited to Carson, so addressing them comprehensively does offer an opportunity to educate others. But, if you want to just skim over this entry and only read the portions that catch your eye, that's understandable.

To keep this entry from growing even longer than it is, I mostly limited myself to discussing evolution, even though Carson discussed a few more topics. However, a few of his statements on those other topics were just too tempting to pass up, so they're discussed here, too.

Continue reading "A Response to Ben Carson's Creation vs. Evolution Video" »

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Removal of the Okalahoma Ten Commandments Monument - From Cowboy Churches to Silly Memes

Ten Commandments Monument RemovalIt's been a few weeks now since the monument of the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma Capitol has been removed. But a story that just made the headlines here locally has reminded me of it, Local pastor plans to deliver Commandments on horseback. That's right. A pastor from Wichita Falls, John Riggs, upset by the Supreme Court decision that the statue must be removed, is going to personally deliver a hand-held sized granite tablet to the governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, who herself opposed the removal of the monument. Apparently, Riggs thinks that Christianity is under attack in the U.S., that "The ACLU is trying to wipe it out." Riggs "never thought we would have to defend our Christianity, especially here in the Heartland. It's a sad day in America." Yes - it's terribly sad when the Supreme Court upholds the First Amendment's establishment clause, and doesn't let politicians impose their religious beliefs on their entire constituency.

In another article, Cowboy Church takes 10 Commandments to Capitol by horse, Riggs further explained his motivation.

We're going back to the grassroots, because it's not easy, but we want people to know we need to go back and not forward. Go back to things we've left behind, which is primarily one nation under God.

I understand nostalgia, but one thing our country doesn't need to do is go backwards, turning back all the progress that's been made. When the country was founded, women couldn't vote, while black people could be owned as property. After the Civil War, at least slavery was illegal, but Jim Crow laws kept black people disenfranchised for generations. It wasn't until the '50s and '60s that the Civil Rights Movement finally got these laws overturned. Universal women's suffrage wasn't enacted in the U.S. until 1919 - over a century after the ratification of the Constitution. And it's only been this very year that marriage equality has been extended to homosexual couples. And that's not even addressing issues like poverty rate, violent crime, literacy, or any other host of factors that show that the modern day U.S. is a much better time to be alive for most Americans. Progress isn't always inevitable or smooth, and there are troubling trends right now that do need to be addressed (like income & wealth inequality), but at least that progress has happened.

Well, Briggs and the others traveling with him plan to make it to Oklahoma some time tomorrow. We'll see if they make any more headlines.

Related to this monument removal, I saw a really bad 'meme'* the other day on Facebook. I now forgot whose Facebook feed I saw it on, but I came across it again on Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Here it is:

Stupid Meme

That image would have it seem that in the name of secularism, the U.S. is destroying religious iconography in exactly the same way as radical Islamists are destroying iconography from other religions. What that meme conveniently leaves out is the same scene from just a bit later:

Ten Commandments Monument Removal

Those damn destructive secularists seem to be taking awfully good care of that religious monument. And according to the New York Times article from which that picture was taken, the monument is currently standing, intact, just a few blocks away.

The meme also leaves out the history of this particular monument. It wasn't installed until 2012**, when the lawmakers of Oklahoma already knew it was controversial and that they'd likely face legal challenges. It's not some timeless artifact, but a very recent breach of the separation of church and state.

Anyway, I'm glad the monument was removed from public property, and I'm glad it was done in such a way that the people who like the monument can save it and put it up somewhere else, as long as that somewhere else is private property, not government property.

Thumbnail Image Source: UlizaLinks.co.ke

*The scare quotes around meme are because I prefer the original definition of the term coined by Dawkins.

**Actually, the monument being removed is a replacement, installed in 2014, after the original was destroyed when a man crashed his car into it. Of course, it should go without saying that even though I disapproved of the monument in the first place, I strenuously disapproved of somebody intentionally destroying it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Yet Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution - His Creation vs. Evolution Speech

Ben CarsonI've been writing about Ben Carson quite a bit recently (you can see all my Carson entries here), including a few entries specifically devoted to his stance on evolution. In a recent entry, Ben Carson Being Noticed by Popular Science Writers, I embedded a video that showed Carson giving a speech on Creationism vs. Evolution. In an addendum to that entry, I added some commentary that I think is deserving of being expanded into a full entry.

First, here's the video. Note that this was posted on YouTube by the Adventist News Network, not an opponent of Carson's. As bad as the video makes Carson look, the Adventist News Network wasn't intentionally trying to embarrass him.

My previous entries dealing with Carson's views on evolution had been based on short interviews or comments he's made, but those don't illustrate the depth of his ignorance and arrogance like this video. This was a 40 minute speech, a prepared speech that he had time to research, where he knew the topic ahead of time. This was not an off the cuff remark, or an answer to an interview question he wasn't expecting. This was a neurosurgeon, with the respect that goes along with that profession, giving a presentation to an entire crowd of people. And this speech is what he came up with.

His misunderstandings and ignorance of evolution are absolutely appalling, worse than I would expect from a high school biology student. So many of his misconceptions could have been cleared up just by reading a popular introduction to evolution, like Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, or Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. If he was too cheap to buy a book, he could have gone to the Internet and sites like The TalkOrigins Archive. His misunderstandings of astronomy and cosmology were equally egregious, not to mention his mangling of a few other topics he brought up (including a topic I'm very surprised he mangled - memory). And that's not even getting into his implications that the Adversary (aka the Devil) is responsible for the idea of evolution.

I'm tempted to go into a point by point refutation of Carson, but there are so many falsehoods and misunderstandings, it would make this post extremely long, and that's not really what I want to focus on (update - I actually did go through nearly point by point in the entry, A Response to Ben Carson's Creation vs. Evolution Video). Rather, I'll direct readers to Jerry Coyne's entry, Ben Carson on evolution: an ignorant (or duplicitous) Presidential candidate, which addresses many of Carson's claims about evolution, and Lawrence Krauss's article in the New Yorker, Ben Carson's Scientific Ignorance, which addresses many of Carson's claims about cosmology and the Big Bang. And just for good measure, I'll also direct readers to the Talk Origins Index to Creationist Claims, which covers a huge amount of common creationist claims, not just those put forth by Carson in this somewhat recent speech.

Now, as I've said before, this level of ignorance in itself is enough to disqualify Carson from any serious consideration for the presidency*. I expect presidential candidates to have good enough educations to have basic scientific literacy. I'd similarly reject a presidential candidate who thought the Sun orbited the Earth, or really, who couldn't correctly answer every question in the NSF's scientific literacy survey. The president may not have to understand quantum mechanics, but they should know high school level science.

What makes this particular example so bad is Carson's extreme arrogance, and his inability to realistically analyze his own shortcomings. Like I said above, this wasn't an off the cuff response. This was a prepared speech that he had time to research. But he obviously either didn't do any research at all, or researched so poorly that he never corrected his own misconceptions. Even the parts where he mentions talking to scientists make you question his honesty or his intelligence, because there are answers to the questions he supposedly asked. So Carson either didn't talk to scientists, didn't understand their responses, or went in with a closed mind and wasn't engaged in an honest open dialog. I mean, for goodness sake, he thinks evolution predicts eyeballs must have poofed into existence with no precursors (a claim easily put to rest just by looking at living organisms), and that fossil shells on mountaintops are evidence of a global flood (has he never heard of plate tectonics?).

Most of us are ignorant about a whole range of issues, but we don't go around giving speeches about those issues. Yet Carson, despite his dreadful ignorance on evolution and cosmology, was still arrogant enough to give a 40 minute speech to an audience who trusted that he was knowledgeable on these topics. It just boggles the mind that Carson felt he was qualified to speak on topics about which he is so obviously completely ignorant. The fact that he was arrogant enough to do so, and that he was so clueless that he couldn't recognize his own incompetence, makes him completely unfit for consideration for the presidency.

* This type of ignorance is forgivable in most people as long as they're willing to learn about it once you point out their misunderstandings. Maybe they weren't the best of students when they were younger, maybe they'd been misled by authority figures over the evolution/creationism controversy, maybe their schools didn't cover evolution well for political/religious reasons. There are a whole host of reasons that most people might not understand evolution. However, I have higher expectations of presidential candidates than I do of 'most people'.


Selling Out