Archive for September, 2005

Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

September 29, 2005 2 comments

I thought this was rather funny:

COLMES: Now you say, for example, in “Rules to Talk to a Liberal” –

COULTER: Yes. Do you have — is this from the new paperback [edition of How to Talk To a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter]?

COLMES: Yes. “Never compliment a Democrat.”

COULTER: Yes. That’s an important one.

COLMES: “Never show graciousness toward a Democrat.”


COLMES: “Never flatter a Democrat.”

COULTER: Yes. I know they sound similar, but they’re actually — there are distinctions.

COLMES: Now you’re also quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday –

COULTER: Excellent.

COLMES: — in an article about Pat Tillman, who it is now said it was a Noam Chomsky fan, was going to vote for John Kerry, was against the war in Iraq. And you referred to him as “virtuous, pure, masculine like only an American male can be.” I wonder if you still would say those things, knowing now what we have learned about Pat Tillman. He was a John Kerry supporter.

COULTER: Did you get that from a document from CBS News?

COLMES: No, but that’s what you said, so I wondered if you would retract that, given what you say about liberals and Democrats.

COULTER: No. But I don’t believe it.

HANNITY: I don’t believe it either.

COLMES: He was going to meet Noam Chomsky when he — had he come back.

HANNITY: He signed up because of a desire to fight.

COLMES: Against Afghanistan, not Iraq. He was against Iraq.

COULTER: I really don’t believe that, and I think you got it from one of those documents Mary Mapes handed to Dan Rather.

COLMES: No, that’s not true.

Granted, it’s Coulter, but it’s still pretty funny.

Categories: The Right


September 28, 2005 1 comment

As everyone surely knows, Tom DeLay has been indicted.

A conviction on the felony charge against Mr. DeLay, 58, carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The lawmaker has consistently maintained his innocence and today asserted that the indictment resulted from a “purely political investigation” by the Travis County district attorney, Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

“I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. DeLay said, adding that he had violated “no law, no regulation, no rule of the House.” Mr. DeLay, speaking on Capitol Hill, described Mr. Earle, a longtime antagonist, as “a partisan fanatic” and a “rogue district attorney” and said the prosecutor had shamelessly courted journalists on “the only days he actually comes to the office.” Mr. DeLay said the charge lodged against him today was “one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history,” one that is “a sham, and Mr. Earle knows it.”

And of course, the grand jury that indicted him has also been duped by Earle. Pretty smart guy, eh? Getting a grand jury to go along with “one of the…most baseless indictments in American history”? Damn, he’s good! Especially for a guy who apparently isn’t at work that often.

Categories: Congress


September 27, 2005 3 comments

Nothing like working on a resume to make me painfully aware of how little I’ve actually accomplished.

References are another dilemma. I think I should have both professional and personal references. I can get at least one CS professor (I think I can, at least) and certainly someone from one of my jobs. But personal? I don’t think some random college kid would make a good personal reference.

Also, I wish I would have figured out that the job fair is Friday before, say, today.

I think I’m catching a cold, too.

But, enough whining.

Categories: Personal


September 27, 2005 8 comments

Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

Can we PLEASE drop this “secularism is bad for society” crap now? Please? I can’t wait for Agape Press to weigh in on this.

I should point out that this is more corroboration for the final paragraph in my faith post.

EDIT: I’m also going to point out that I’m not particularly interested in religion being bad for society; that conclusion doesn’t seem warranted. I’m interested insofar as there appears to be absolutely no correlation between religiosity and societal health.

(via Pharyngula)

UPDATE: Here’s the actual study. There doesn’t appear to be anything flagrantly dishonest about it, though its significance shouldn’t be overplayed. The negative correlations are very weak and the author does seem to realize this. His strongest conclusion is the one I made in the above edit.

UPDATE 2: I thought this short comment by William Dembski was pretty funny. Shouldn’t he read the study? Shouldn’t he offer some sort of support for his rather pathetic speculation that the data was fudged? I’ll leave you to ponder those questions.

Categories: Religion

Another stupid politics test

September 26, 2005 Leave a comment

That I, of course, took:

You are a Social Liberal (75% permissive) and an Economic Liberal (36% permissive)

You are best described as a Democrat: You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.

I took it the other day and I was a “Strong Democrat.” My God, I’m becoming more conservative by the day!

Actually, the questions don’t allow for a lot of nuance, so I kind of flip back and forth on a couple of them.

Categories: Silliness

Media Matters browsing

September 26, 2005 Leave a comment

I don’t link to Media Matters often enough. They occasionally get their facts wrong, but overall they do a good job. There’s been a flood of interesting stuff up recently:

Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be surprised if Kerry changed Christmas to “winter solstice”

Dick Morris attacks Clinton, fails miserably

O’Reilly thinks independents swung the election for Bush

Limbaugh makes shit up about Katrina and Cindy Sheehan

The right-wing media marches on.

Categories: The media


September 26, 2005 Leave a comment

It seems W.R. Grace thinks Libby residents are just peachy:

W.R. Grace to asbestos victims: You’re not sick

LIBBY — Roughly 700 of the 870 Libby area residents enrolled in W.R. Grace’s medical plan got letters earlier this month saying they either don’t have asbestos-related disease anymore or may not be as sick as they think they are.

The surprise letters came in two forms from Grace, the former owner of the vermiculite mine in Libby that exposed miners and the community to deadly asbestos.

One letter informed plan members that a review by medical experts indicated that they had no asbestos-related condition. The second letter acknowledged the presence of an asbestos-related “condition or illness.” Each letter provided a synopsis of what benefits are available.

“I’ve been cured by Grace. It’s a miracle,” asbestos victim Bob Stickney said tongue-in-cheek. “I don’t know how they can say at first you have asbestos disease, and now you don’t.”

Grace’s medical experts continue to use guidelines developed for people exposed to chrysotile asbestos, which differs significantly from the amphibole asbestos found alongside the vermiculite formerly mined near Libby, said Alan Whitehouse, a doctor at the CARD clinic.

Amphibole asbestos affects the lungs differently, Whitehouse said. Most Libby asbestos patients suffer from pleural disease, which can progress rapidly and have major health impacts as the plaque encompasses the lung “like an orange rind” and restricts breathing, he said.

Grace’s experts make their decisions based on X-rays alone, which don’t tell the whole story, Whitehouse said. He called the letters telling patients they don’t have asbestosis “nonsense.”

“That’s an attempt to minimize what you have,” he said.

I should point out that Whitehouse was the first doctor to really pay attention to the problem in Libby.

Apparently Grace still hasn’t figured out they can’t just sweep this under the rug anymore. They didn’t even bother to make up a lame excuse like smoking this time.

As Matt said, sick.

Categories: Montana


September 24, 2005 2 comments

Continuing my attempt to turn this into a religion blog and alienate most of the tiny audience I have, let’s talk about faith. I can rail against the historicity of certain events in the Bible until I’m blue in the face, but I won’t get that far without addressing the key fault of religion: faith.

What I mean by faith is belief that doesn’t rest on evidence or argument. I don’t mean beliefs counter to evidence or argument necessarily, just a sort of detachment from them. Whether liberal or fundamentalist, faith plays a role in most religions. Even if you don’t consider yourself a member of any particular religion, most religious beliefs (life after death, for example) are based on some sort of faith. Put another way, I’m talking about beliefs that people hold for reasons like “I just know,” “I have a feeling,” or “I want it to be true.”

I have to say, I don’t think I understand faith. At least, I hope I don’t, because it seems completely ridiculous. To call something a faith in every area except religion has a negative connotation. When someone refers to a particular idea as “dogma,” that’s a negative remark. This doesn’t apply to religion, however. Simply having religious faith, regardless of the particular belief, is seen as positive. For the life of me, I can’t get my head around this. The questions religion deals with are awfully important and difficult. Shouldn’t we apply the absolute best methods of truth-finding to them? Shouldn’t we shun the ones that are completely ridiculous in every other area?

Some might object that our other methods fail with regards to religion. This is partially true. Certainly ghosts or actual mediums would prove there’s a supernatural realm. Even in the absence of those, however, it could still exist. What about reason? I haven’t seen any convincing logical proofs of the existence of the supernatural. Are we really completely impotent in determining the truth of these huge questions without faith?

No. There’s a pretty good philosophical principle that applies here:Occam’s Razor. I assume most of you know what Occam’s Razor is, but if you don’t, the best way of putting it is “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” I find it to be a pretty useful tool that frequently applies to religious questions. If there’s no need for a supernatural realm, then you’ve violated that principle by positing it. If a supernatural realm is necessary, then you have an argument in favor it and don’t need faith. That seems to be to be a decent way of discerning the truth (or fairly close to it) of religious questions.

So, we aren’t completely helpless without faith when it comes to religious questions. What if we were? I don’t see how that justifies faith. You still have to have a reason why it’s a valid method of discerning the truth; it doesn’t automatically become valid because some other methods fail.

The next logical question, to me, is why so many people “have a feeling” or “just know” that their religion is correct. That’s a question that I can’t answer at the moment, but I can offer a suggestion. A book I’ve been meaning to read is Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Here’s what he had to say in Discover in 2003:

Why then has religion survived in so many cultures?
A: Because humans are faced with problems they can’t solve. Think about death. Because we have these cognitive abilities to travel in time and to track memory, we are automatically aware of death everywhere. That is a cognitive problem. Death is something that our organism tells us to avoid. So now we seek some kind of a long-term solution. And there is none. Lucretius and Epicurus thought they could solve this through reason. They said, “Look, what does it matter? We weren’t alive for infinite generations before we were born. It doesn’t bother us. Why should we be worried about the infinite generations that will be after us when we’re gone?” Well, nobody bought that. The reason that line of reasoning didn’t work is because once you’re alive, you’ve got something that you’re going to lose.

Another problem is deception. Look at society. If you’ve got rocks and stones and pieces of glass and metal before you, and you say, “Oh, that doesn’t exist,” or “That’s not really a piece of metal,” or “That’s not really a tree,” someone will come along and say, “Look, you’re crazy; I can touch it; there’s a piece of metal there; I can show you it’s a piece of metal.” For commonsense physical events, we have ways of verifying what’s real or not.For moral judgments, we have nothing. If someone says, “Oh, he should be a beggar and he should be a king,” what is there in the world that’s going to convince me this is true? There is nothing. If there is nothing, how are people ever going to get on with one another? Especially non-kin. How are they ever going to build societies, and how are they ever going to trust one another so they won’t defect? One way that humans seem to have come up with is to invent this minimally counterintuitive world developed by these deities, who are like big brothers who watch over and make sure that there will be no defectors.

In short, it solves problems that our fairly impressive cognitive abilities create. As far as I know, the research into this is still fairly new, but it points to a resolution of the problem.

There are, however, other problems with assigning any meaning to “I just know Jesus died for my sins” or some such tripe. Not everyone actually feels that way. For example, Muslims feel quite differently. The same can be said for Jews or Hindus. This “feeling” at best shows religious belief in general is correct, not any particular belief. That matches some very liberal religious views, but it can’t be used to justify a particular religion. Does it even justify general religious views? I don’t “feel” there’s a God or that religion is correct and I never have. Shouldn’t it be universal? What exactly is the rationale for leaving quite a lot of people out? It doesn’t really make sense. Evolution seems to be the better explanation.

At this point, I’ve done my best to show why faith is not a useful method for obtaining the truth. But, is it useful in general? I don’t think so. First off, it’s supremely arrogant and elitist to promote false doctrines based on their utility. Secondly, we do have secular societies on this planet and they aren’t doing particularly badly. I don’t think I need to point out all the harm that’s been done in the name of religion. Even in the secular atrocities a sort of faith can be discerned. Does anyone think Soviet Russia’s totalitarianism was rational? Does anyone think the leaders could be convinced that Communism is an ill-advised system of government? Of course not: they were completely dedicated to its ideals and that led them to defend it in horrific ways. That’s faith.

Faith does lead to some good results. It can’t be denied that many religious people are extraordinarily compassionate. The question that has to be asked is whether we can have that compassion without faith. I think we can. Countries like Norway have high rates of disbelief and they also give large amounts of aid (per capita). It can be done. Faith simply isn’t worth the baggage that comes with it.

Categories: Religion

Random Music

September 23, 2005 Leave a comment

In Flames – Jester Script Transfigured
Pink Floyd – Mother
The Decemberists – From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)
Devin Townsend – Away
Arcturus – Master of Disguise
Laura – Hikikomori
Ulver – Comedown
Radiohead – Blowout
CKY – Shock and Terror
The Snake The Cross The Crown – A Brief Intermission

Categories: Music

More interesting people coming here

September 23, 2005 Leave a comment

Not only do we have David Neiwert’s book signing today (right now, in fact, so if you’re in Bozeman and haven’t been down there, go!), but on October 7th Phil Plait is coming out to give a talk at the Museum of the Rockies. That will definitely be cool.

Categories: Montana

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