Real Space Alien To Be Shown On Video Friday! Wooooo!

May 29, 2008

Jeff Peckman is a fan of big government. Last time we heard from him, he was trying to enlist the state in yoga and meditation to reduce stress. But now state meddling in mere human endeavors isn’t enough: he’s petitioning for the creation of an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to help the city of Denver prepare for alien encounters.

He’s serious. And now he claims that he’ll have video to prove it. The public will have only to wait until next month to see this groundbreaking scientific discovery, supposedly authenticated by a Colorado Film School “instructor.” I’m not sure how even a real expert on film could do anything more than make sure that a video didn’t have any post-processed trickery. But given what Peckman claims the video shows…

“It shows an extraterrestrial’s head popping up outside of a window at night, looking in the window, that’s visible through an infrared camera,” he said. The alien is about 4 feet tall and can be seen blinking, Peckman said earlier this month.

… I’m betting “dude in a costume” and “random animal” are likely possibilities.

I hope the “news media” who will get to see the footage at a special showing tomorrow come to the event with their skepti-senses tingling, or else we’re in for a whole heck of a lot of breathlessly silly “off-beat” news pieces that take the video half-seriously.

Update: Phil Plait dissects the video by pointing out that a known fake video looks far more compelling than the real one.

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Unintentionally Hilarious Republican Political Attack Ad

May 25, 2008

Over at the Agitator, when he isn’t worrying about the tiny matter of the President now having the power to send the military into a US suburb, abduct a U.S. citizen, and detain him without charges or legal rights for the rest of his life, Randy Balko is a pretty funny guy. In this case, he’s identified one of the silliest political attack ads I’ve seen in a long time.

(New Video Found)

Quips Balko:

I’m trying to figure out how the three dancers are supposed to represent “San Francisco values.” Maybe the black guy in the cowboy hat is gay? But then why is he dancing with two women? Maybe it’s because one of the women is white. But then, the white woman also has a lesbian haircut. Maybe it’s the dancing itself? Or they’re all illegal immigrants? Or they’re planning a visit to the abortion clinic after happy hour?

They should really be clearer about whom were supposed to be hating, here, and why.

Update: Someone didn’t like being made fun of: the original video seems to be gone., so I’ve tracked down another source. And this response ad has a clip of the dancing, though without the “San Fransisco Values!” voiceovers.


The Best Book on Atheism Out Today

May 24, 2008

No, it’s not from Dawkins, or Hitchens, or even Harris.  It’s David Ramsay Steele’s “Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy.”   Presented as a sort of primer on all the common atheist responses to theist claims, Steele’s book bears far more in common with George Smith’s classic “Atheism: The Case Against God” (which itself used to be the token atheist work in Barnes & Noble philosophy bookshelves long before Dawkins came along) than anything else.

Steele is clean, concise, and straight to the point, with a refreshing minimum of rhetoric and diverting character assaults.  The result is a nice, nearly encyclopedic compendium of atheistic responses that is well worth a place on the bookshelf, and far better than most slapdash internet sources.

While much of his material might be old hat to old hands at these sorts of philosophical matters (the relatively perfunctory discussion of evolution in my case), this is a weakness borne of the need to be fairly comprehensive in a relatively short work.  There is still a pleasure in seeing the same arguments explained well, particularly when some of his strongest objections to things like the “free will” defense of evil, or the “improbability” of existence, are also some of the rarest encountered in these sorts of debates.  He also includes a much-needed discussion of some of the core belief claims specific to Islam.

Of course, theists now often complain that the philosophical objections that atheists have to god beliefs never change: that the new atheists have little to offer over the old.  But I think there is a far more plausible alternative: it is theists who merely repeat the same arguments, and arguments that are false or unconvincing one day will continue to be for the same reasons tomorrow.  All that matters is the strength of these arguments, and whether critics can really deal with them, as opposed to merely finding ways to dismiss them.

Whether his arguments are old or new, Steele leaves very little wiggle room for apologists, even in the small amount of space he’s allowed himself.  Certainly a single book can never anticipate and respond to every possible objection, and critics of atheism are bound to have plenty.  But what he has down on paper gives me every reason to suspect who’d dominate further rounds of debate as well.


McCain Ally Hagee: Hitler Was Sent By God To Drive Jews to Israel

May 21, 2008

After all the hubbub about Obama’s pastor, John McCain’s chosen political allies are proving equally disturbing, though somehow without equal coverage.

Bruce Wilson from Talk2Action has uncovered yet more disturbing text and audio concerning John Hagee’s bizarre theological declarations. In addition to declaring that Jews have “dead souls” (whatever the heck THAT means!) this newfound sermon from Hagee declares that Adolf Hitler was sent by God to punish European Jews for not immediately going to found the state Israel, and then to drive the surviving remnant there afterwards.

Here’s Sam Stein summarizing the key parts of the sermon:

Going in and out of biblical verse, Hagee preached: “‘And they the hunters should hunt them,’ that will be the Jews. ‘From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.’ If that doesn’t describe what Hitler did in the holocaust you can’t see that.”

He goes on: “Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said ‘I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.’ So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust.

“Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

Update: Looks like McCain has had enough of this guy: he’s now rejected Hagee’s endorsement.


Gay Marriage Today: Why Not Polygamy Tommorow? …Here’s Why

May 20, 2008

Advocates of gay marriage are often far too glib about their institutional goals. Myself included. We dismiss all sorts of slippery-slope and social fears as simply being based on bigotry (and perhaps we luck out there, because we often turn out to be right, even if it was just a knee-jerk accusation). But many of those fears do make logical sense, particularly when social changes are made by judicial rulings based on distressingly broad and unmoderated principles.

One of the most legitimate of these fears has always been that judicial rulings about gay marriage that are based on bare notions of equality and fairness would carve a path towards the legal recognition of, well, polygamy. And with a polygamist cult controversy still driving news cycles, and HBO’s Big Love back for another season, polygamy can no longer be casually dismissed as an esoteric issue.

That doesn’t mean, that it can’t be dismissed though. It just means that it’s going to take a lot of serious work and argument to do it.

And so, over at Volokh Conspiracy, Dale Carpenter has penned a must-read “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the best arguments against the “gay marriage/polygamy” connection. Personally, I find them convincing. I’d appreciate any arguments concerning why I should not.

As to the recent California gay-marriage decision itself, I’m of two minds. It should come as no surprise that I like the result. But I also have very strong sympathies with the view that the judges in this case (most of whom were Republicans, by the way) are using methods that overstep important boundaries in our system of government.

On the other hand (again!), I have slightly less sympathy given the fact that people often write constitutional and legal language that claims to be based on lofty moral principles and language… but then whine when someone actually goes and takes those principles seriously, rather than merely conventionally. If you don’t want constitutions to be treated any differently than literal regulations and craven contracts of social convention, then don’t write them as if they were shining beacons of truth and justice.

For all the gay couples who will finally be able to codify their partnerships in the law of our society, there’s little to offer aside from congratulations.

Update: Over at Dean’s World, Dean links to law prof John Witte Jr. and his take on the issue. Among other things, though, Witte notes that one of the traditional reasons that polygamy has been verbotten in the West is that is “routinizes patriarchy.” I’m no women’s studies stooge, but that particular reason strikes me as a little implausible except as a very, very recent development.


More on the Pinker/”Dignity” Bioethics Debate, A Reponse to Patrick Lee and Robert George

May 19, 2008

That Steven Pinker article “The Stupidity of Dignity” is now out in published form, and continues to be a source of controversy. For those who detest Pinker’s tone, Russell Blackford has his own, similar, take to the concept of dignity that he penned a few years ago in response to Francis Fukuyama.

A recent commenter suggested I give my own thoughts on one of the Bioethics Council’s “dignity” essays, and I figured I’d expand my comment into a fuller review. The essay/chapter in question is Patrick Lee and Robert P. George’s “The Nature and Basis of Human Dignity.” And they start off with a definition of dignity that I find problematic right off the bat:

Read the rest of this entry »


Soldier Uses Koran for Target Practice

May 17, 2008

Front page of CNN: a U.S. soldier was caught using the Quran for target practice. Critics of the Iraq war and the occupation, I suppose, are meant to look at this incident as one more reason why it was all unjustified and needs to end asap.

Let’s be serious though. Specifically, this was a dumb, disrespectful thing to do, not to mention one harmful to the goals of the U.S. occupation. But statistically, it’s neither surprising nor notable that some young American men pull crude and silly stunts, especially given the tremendously stressful situation they’re in. And if you are in the position of having to achieve military goals with young American men, rather than robots, then this sort of thing is a known and generally inevitable cost of doing business. Add it to the long list of downsides to war and occupation, but don’t pretend that it’s particularly special to this war, this occupation, or this military.

And then there’s this:

Another military official kissed a Quran and presented is as “a humble gift” to the tribal leaders.

Assuming that this was a non-Muslim official acting in an official capacity, this seems to go too far in the other direction: respecting the fact that local Muslim believers think the Quran is sacred does not and should not require someone to participate or symbolically prostrate themselves to it. In some ways, that’s disrespectful in its own way: a causal kiss-and-make-up insincerity.

Also, while the middle of a war is probably not the time or the place where anyone wants to debate it, the story notes that what the soldier did is a crime, both in local law, and according to the U.S. forces’ commander, Jeffery Hammond. I can’t let that pass without pausing to note how absurd and unconscionable it is.

Finally, the story ends with a reaction from the Association of Muslim Scholars:

“As the Association of Muslim Scholars condemns this heinous crime against God’s holy book, the Constitution of this nation, a source of pride and dignity,” the groups statement said, “they condemned the silence by all those who are part of the occupation’s agenda and holds the occupation and the current government fully responsible for this violation and reminds everyone that God preserves his book and he [God] is a great avenger.” (emphasis added)

The first part of the bolded part is factually untrue, given this story. The second part is basically a threat of divine retribution. Both parts deserve little but scorn.

And besides, everyone knows that it’s Iron Man who is a great Avenger.