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.

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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.

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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.


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