Medved Can’t Stand Up to Rauch On Gay Marriage

June 30, 2008

I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of libertarian Jonathan Rauch. His book “The Kindly Inquisitors” is one of the best defenses of free speech and free inquiry in the modern era. And he made what is probably the best conservative case for gay marriage in his 2004 book, “Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.” Most recently, he had an essay published in the Wall Street Journal, recounting that latter argument in brief: “Gay Marriage is Good for America

Well, talk-show roustabout Michael Medved isn’t impressed by Rauch’s argument. But, as you’d expect from a fellow of the Discovery Institute, bad ideas ensue.

Read the rest of this entry »


Conservative Christian “News” Site Accidentally Publishes Gay Sports Porn

June 30, 2008

Hot on the heels of a multiple adulterer trying to “defend marriage,” we already have another contender for bombastically silly screwup of the year. Ed Brayton of Dispatches couldn’t believe his eyes this morning when he saw what some careless Search/Replace usage had wrought:

The American Family Association has a policy at its new outlet, OneNewsNow, never to use the word “gay” but to replace it with “homosexual.” And that works absolutely perfectly until they write an article about an athlete whose last name is Gay, as in Tyson Gay, the fastest man on the US Olympic track team.

Highly “homosexual” hilarity ensues, with much pumping, palm slapping, and lunging. OneNewsNow has since caught and fixed the mistake, but Brayton and his readers have preserved the original for posterity. Don’t miss it.

Given that the company’s policy is almost certainly based on the belief that the word “homosexual” sounds more sexualized and clinical than “gay,” this is a “boner” that couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of bigots. It doesn’t really help that the story also features a guy named Dix.

“It means a lot to me,” the 25-year-old Homosexual said. “I’m glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me.”

After the race, Homosexual and Dix looked at each other and slapped palms, then hugged.

Drummond noticed Homosexual was bringing his feet too high behind his back with each stride, and they worked to correct that. Clearly, it’s paying off.

“I’m sore right now,” Homosexual said, “but probably from the victory lap.”

Update: Randy Balko notes that they’ve still failed to correct some past examples of the mistake.

Memphis Grizzlies backers hit the hay hoping that Kevin Love would open things up for Rudy Homosexual in the frontcourt.

The whole thing reminds me of the imaginary varsity sport Seanbaby once suggested might get invented if conservatives were ever successful in banning all mention of homosexuality from the culture.


Adulterers for Marriage!

June 29, 2008

No wayFrom the “What, Seriously?!” file comes this incredible story of Congressional hubris: ten Republican Senators are co-sponsoring the usual federal “marriage protection” balderdash. That, and the complete lack of explanation of how banning some marriages would in any way help preserve or enhance other marriages, is nothing surprising.

What is surprising is who the Republicans tapped to headline this doomed bill: habitual prostitute client David Vitter (R-LA) and suspected old-school gay cruiser Larry Craig (R-ID).

If this isn’t all just an elaborate joke… then it’s a wonderfully, wonderfully amusing world we live in.


Why a Victory For Gun Rights Was a Defeat for the NRA

June 29, 2008

This is almost a “news of the weird” item.  Most people by now will have read or heard about the recent Supreme Court (DC vs. Heller) ruling that struck down Washington DC’s ban on handguns.  It’s a victory for the cause of gun rights to be sure, though folks like Randy Balko have pointed out that there’s plenty of room for skepticism as to how far the ruling really goes.

But what’s truly weird about the case are it’s enemies: the NRA and one of it’s chief votes in Congress, Orrin Hatch, who apparently did nearly everything in their power to derail the case largely because they didn’t control it (and, some suspect, because they wanted a delay or even a loss so that the issue could remain on their profitable radar of election outrages).

The sad thing is that the NRA will almost certainly tout the Heller victory in their fundraising efforts, and many of its members will even be tricked into celebratory donations. But there are plenty of smaller, less bloated and corrupt gun rights groups that actually supported this case from the outset who are far more deserving.

Gun rights isn’t a big issue for me: I think that the ownership of individual weapons of self-defense is, for good or ill, protected constitutionally, but I don’t see it as anywhere near as important of an issue to a functioning democracy as most other rights: I can imagine a good society with and without such a right, whereas I cannot in the case of things like free speech, free exercise, and so on.

But when it does come down to defending gun rights, no matter where you stand, it’s worth knowing who the real principled defenders are, and who’re the hapless hypocrites.


Stupid McCain Wife Beating Controversy

June 28, 2008

John McCain is currently in a bit of hot water for… potentially maybe getting in hot water for a quip he recently made about how he “stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.”

Simply put, the controversy is nonsense. It’s the unnamed people who “found the subject of McCain’s joke — wife-beating — inappropriate” who deserve a smackdown here.

McCain was simply responding to a loaded question from a reporter with the classic logic-school response. As the example goes, a reporter asks someone if they’ve stopped beating their wife. The point of the fallacy is that whether the person answer yes or no to the question, they are still implicitly admitting to wife beating. It’s a trick question, and McCain was simply calling the reporter out on it.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine how anyone could justify getting upset about this. Yes, wife beating is terrible. But that’s exactly the point of the phrase: it’s extremely dishonest to use a question to backhandedly accuse someone of doing something horrible. Sometimes we use certain terrible things as examples of… terrible things. Get it?

The embarrasment here is not that McCain used the phrase. The embarrasment would be if any educated American citizen was so foreign to basic concepts of logic and argument that they had never encountered this classic example of a logical fallacy before.

And stop me before I start sounding too much like Bob Somerby, but this is just another example of how our dysfunctional “Press Corps” covers politics. In this case, journalists are basically exploiting the possibility of a remark being wrongly interpreted (or the fact that some are wrongly interpreting it) to justify spreading and insinuating what they know to be the wrong interpretation.

It gets even more ridiculous when Jake Tapper, the journalist linked above, tries to tie the remark into a supposedly “unfortunate” political context. It’s not even close: the Governor of the state McCain was in at the time was divorcing his wife after apparently cheating on her. But that’s not even close to the same thing as beating her. If anything, making that thin connection is what trivializes physical abuse. Likewise, the allegation of a cocktail waitress that the Governor grabbed and propositioned her in a parking lot isn’t wife beating either: closer, but still not enough to make a connection appropriate or justified (McCain didn’t do any of those things, and his remark wouldn’t make him even the least bit more responsible for them or relevant to them even if it was a tasteless joke).

Next time anyone laments the way our political discourse is dominated by incoherent wars over the meaning of soundbytes and gaffes, you know who to blame.


Texas Legalizes Abusive Exorcisms… Or Does It?

June 28, 2008

There’s been much dismay in the rational-o-sphere about a recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. The ruling concerns a case in which two “exorcisms” were performed on a minor, leading her to be injured and psychologically traumatized. The original jury held the church accountable, awarding the girl a few hundred thousand dollars. The Texas Supreme Court, on the other hand, found that the actions of the church were protected under the 1st amendment.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty scary ruling: basically saying that a group can claim religious warrant for forcibly restraining someone against their will, injuring them, traumatizing them, and then get off scott free. But as I read through the full text of the opinion, the case looks decidedly more complicated.

Read the rest of this entry »


Intelligent Design Fan DaveScot Demonizes Chance

June 25, 2008

Over at Uncommon Descent, helper-honcho DaveScot has a post up claiming that Richard Lenski’s now famous E Coli. evolution paper commits a fatal error right in the first paragraph.

I started reading Lenski’s full paper myself to see what raw data was provided and I got no farther than the first paragraph beyond the abstract when I encountered a bias error that a chance worshipper (sic) would never notice. My emphasis:

At its core, evolution involves a profound tension between
random and deterministic processes. Natural selection
works systematically to adapt populations to their prevailing
environments. However, selection requires heritable variation
generated by random mutation
, and even beneficial mutations
may be lost by random drift. Moreover, random and deterministic
processes become intertwined over time such that future
alternatives may be contingent on the prior history of an evolving
population.

The bold portion is patently wrong. Selection operates on any heritable variation whether random or not. That the authors would use the language they did (random variation) and the peer reviewers didn’t notice it is testimony to the chance worshipper (sic) bias that pervades evolution
research.

In case you missed him repeating it for emphasis, DaveScot has recently begun to refer to scientists as “chance worshipers,” proving that if you can’t argue on par with someone, your best fallback is to ridicule them with cutesy names that belittle their arguments by implying that they are mere dogma.

But why is it that scientists like Lenski so often speak of “random” mutation? Because that’s exactly what they observe when they look at how variation emerges in genomes over time. While it’s true that selection could, in theory, work on non-randomly selected traits, that’s just not what we see happening in practice, and not particularly relevant to what Lenski is describing in any case. In fact, the whole point of Lenski’s paper is about the power of contingency: the way even random events open or close doors of possibility.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that DaveScot doesn’t quite understand what scientists mean by “random” in this context. No biologist literally means that events like mutations occur with no causal explanation: that literally anything can happen to anything. What they mean is that the mutations that do occur, caused by all sorts of different processes, copying errors, and so on, are not correlated in any observable way with the outcomes they generate.

This misunderstanding quickly gets DaveScot into trouble when he tries to provide evidence that mutation isn’t random:

The Scripps researchers, in a nutshell, discovered that E. coli, when stressed (such as running out of food as in Lenski’s experiment or in the presence of antibiotics in the Scripps experiment) selectively increases the mutation rate on certain genes. Thus the mutations in this case are not random but rather directed at a certain area in an attempt to solve a certain problem.

But the paper in question does not, in fact, suggest that the mutations in question aren’t random. What it describes is a particular mechanism E. Coli have for essentially inducing more copying error (reducing the fidelity of inherited traits) in response to environmental pressures. There’s no evidence that the E Coli. are actually specifically choosing certain mutations over others based on any foreknowledge of whether those mutations will be beneficial or not. All they’re doing is tossing the dice more often on a particular set of genes.

And while the fact that a particular set of genes is singled out for modification is certainly interesting an interesting feature (though not unlike many other genetic known features that conserve certain parts of the genome), it’s still just a mechanism within the E Coli. itself, not a mark of intelligent intervention, intelligence, or foreknowledge.


More Early Tetrapod Fossils Help Uncover the Origin of Life on Land

June 25, 2008

Another interesting specimen uncovered in the sprawling family tree of the early tetrapods (the four-limbed fishy conquers of land): Ventastega curonica.

It’s worth noting, yet again, how fossil evidence generally works when it comes to evolution. Discerning the exact ancestry of most specimens is generally implausible… but that’s not really what scientists require in the first place. What they want and need is to flesh out the overall family tree:

Scientists don’t think four-legged creatures are directly evolved from Ventastega. It’s more likely that in the family tree of tetrapods, Ventastega is an offshoot branch that died off, not leading to the animals we now know, Ahlberg said.

“At the time, there were a lot of creatures around of varying degrees of advancement,” Ahlberg said. They all seem to have similar characteristics, so Ventastega’s find is helpful for evolutionary biologists.

Of course, some people, such as the science journalists that penned the piece, seem a little rusty on the concept:

Ventastega is the most primitive of these transition animals, but there are older ones that are oddly more advanced, said Neil Shubin, professor of biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. He was not part of the discovery team but helped find Tiktaalik, the fish that was one step earlier in evolution.

“It’s sort of out of sequence in timing,” Shubin said of Ventastega.

Shubin’s likely point here, rather poorly represented in the article, is not that we’d necessarily expect to see Ventastega specifically “in sequence,” but simply that it isn’t on the direct line from which all land animals are descended.

To many lay readers, however, the “primitive” and “out of sequence timing” might seem like elements of a mystery: why would something still have “old” features?

But in fact, if Ventastega is an cousin/offshoot of the branch from which all later land animals are descended, then these terms are really only relative. Ventastega, after branching off from other tetrapods, went its own way: retaining some traits that became modified in the main tetrapod line, and gaining some traits unique to its own branch.

The former retained traits are “primitive” only in the sense that they are more like what earlier tetrapods had than what the particular line of tetrapods that we care most about went on to change. Had those tetrapods gone extinct and Ventastega’s descendants gone on to father all life on land, we’d be talking about the “primitive” traits of the formerly mainline tetrapods, compared to Ventastega.


NRO’s Mary Eberstadt Pouts in the General Direction of Atheism

June 24, 2008

Thanks to Ed Brayton, I’ve recently been made aware of a rather sad spectacle. Apparently National Review scribe Mary Eberstadt has been laboring away in obscurity for the last month or so, penning what her editors seem to think is a clever take on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (in which a demon instructs his nephew in the business of inspiring human sin).

I’m not a fan of Lewis’ quaint, preening writing style to begin with, but at least the man gave off the air of erudition (even if he did indulge in embarrassing apologia like the “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” gambit). Eberstadt, on the other hand, very literally (perhaps even intentionally) writes like a gossipy teenage girl from the 80s gushing about Corey Haim. Except of course, that she employs hip-to-be-square terms like “BFF” and “Oh snap!”

Lewis’ Letters worked because he employed the creative conceit of professional demon tempters to expose and explore universal human failings… and, by amusing proxy, revealed how human beings could actually avoid the demonic designs on their souls. Screwtape, the narrative voice of the tale, was a master manipulator. It was a satire, to be sure, but Screwtape himself was not played as a fool: he was meant to illustrate precisely how dangerous sin and temptation could be.

Eberhardt, on the other hand, has no higher purpose than to first pretend to be an atheist then act as mindbogglingly stupid as possible. It’s the literary equivalent of a schoolyard “you’re all like this: duhhhhhh.”

Like Brayton, I feel compelled by my profession to dissect the sorry affair point by point, but I can’t quite bring myself to actually read more than a shuddering gasp at a time. What few coherent points she does appear to be making are either trivial straw men, endless harping on substance-free matters like “Brights,” or bringing up classic controversies to which she adds nothing new. So if anyone can please extract a coherent argument from this right-wing bestseller-to-be so that I can address it directly, I’d much appreciate the service.

And while I won’t have much credibility in saying so, I honestly don’t see any comic wit or incisive satire at work here. Maybe someone a little more patient than I can point some out. Because here’s an example of the sort of stuff you have to endlessly wade through in search of a point…

I’m not even sure why I still feel them myself, so long after my own Turn to atheism. It’s true that when my ex-boyfriend, Lobo, got stoned, there was nothing he liked better than opening all his Dad’s coffee-table books on Renaissance art and eyeballing the paintings and sculptures. And it’s true that this was one of the few things Lobo did that I enjoyed doing with him when I wasn’t stoned myself. That was before his Dad kicked him out and we moved to Portland, You know. I’m not saying Lobo was all bad, by the way. Just mostly. That’s what happens when You pick up Your boyfriend in rehab I guess!

Whooooaaa! Girlfriend went there!

And it just goes on and on like that: in this case, pages of that sort of stuff all essentially to make the single, exceedingly bland non-point that believers have made a lot of great art and that Sam Harris (a non-artist) hasn’t. Great. Thanks for the five minutes worth of literary agony.

I’m honestly embarrassed for her. If this is really a “serious work of Christian apologetics” then atheists have quite little to fear.

Christians often complain that atheist critiques of religion are simplistic and carelessly dismissive. But as Eberstadt aptly illustrates, atheists are a model of polite, interested commentary compared to how they are often treated in return.


Atheists Should Stop Believing in God So Much

June 24, 2008

Seriously, what’s up with this?  According to a new Pew study on religion, 21% of atheists believe in God: either a personal or impersonal force.  And 8% are absolutely certain that a God exists. 12% even believe in heaven, and 10% in hell!

Either we have here a very lousy study, a heck of a lot of joke answers, or a fair number of people who are remarkably confused about what “atheist” means.  I very much doubt that the bulk of these contradictory responses represent the sort of sophisticatedly confusing theologies of people like Paul Tillich.


Arbitrary Blogging Milestone

June 24, 2008

As of today, people around the world have stopped by more than 100,000 times and left more than 2,222 comments (though probably about half of those are my own) on my mere 302 posts. And I’m not even a year into this gig yet. It’s a modest amount compared to the eyeballs most blogging juggernauts draw in, but it’s still far more folks than I can possibly imagine.

So thanks gentle readers. It’s been, and will continue to be, swell!


Obama Seal Gone: Nation’s Sanity Still in Question

June 24, 2008

The Obama campaign has rather wisely dropped the use of their latest logo, after much mockery.

Me, I’m left saddened and embarrassed for the media commentators who couldn’t resist piling on this story, and the many many people who took this non-issue seriously.

Political commentator Larry Sabato gets it right on the first try:

“The press corps adopts a subtext for each candidate,” Sabato told The Examiner. “Daddy Bush was ‘a nice guy but out of touch.’ Bill Clinton was ‘smart but randy.’ Bob Dole was ‘heroic but too old.’ Gore was ‘brilliant but a fibber and a bore.’ Dubya was ‘pleasant but dumb.’”

He added: “Obama’s subtext is rapidly becoming ‘charismatic but arrogant.’”

None of these characterizations of any of these politicians was built on honest, accurate, or comprehensive appraisal of any of these men. Few of the claimed traits (except maybe for Clinton being “randy” and Dole being “old”) actually seem more characteristic of the men in question than they are for the others. Instead, they’re built out of an accretion of heavily interpreted, and often factually challenged, fluff pieces. Of which this seal case was the perfect, almost paradigmatic, example.

This is one more reason I’m far more cynical about voters (more in the aggregate than any individual) than I am about politicians, or even the media. It’s ultimately voter behavior that drives how politicians act, react, and how they present themselves. It’s voter demand that favors schoolyard psychoanalyzing for their election coverage instead of actual policy debates.

Voters get legitimately frustrated and cynical about our political system. But the political system has just as much cause to be frustrated with voters right back.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers