Sunday, August 02, 2015

Defending Evolution

One of the things I find utterly appalling is the number of people in the US that reject the Theory of Evolution.

Every once in a while I will make the mistake of responding to a video or opinion piece which purports to "disprove" Evolution and I will get into an extended exchange of posts with someone of that ilk. I used to do this more often when I was naive enough to still think that evidence mattered.

I know it's a waste of time but I get sucked in until I finally throw my hands up and exit the conversation.

It's unbelievable, it really is, how misinformed people are about science in general and evolution in particular. I suspect one reason for this is that in many areas of the country the topic is so fraught with peril that the schools gloss over it.

It's also incredible about the things they "know" to be true that are just flat out wrong. You run into the same objections over and over again. That groaning sound you hear is me being told for the umpteenth time that "there are no Transitional Fossils" or "Radiometric Dating doesn't work" or "the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics disproves Evolution" or "a cat can't give birth to a dog" or simply "that (whatever evidence it may have been) still doesn't prove Evolution."

Yes there are Transitional Fossils. Hundreds of them in fact but one has to understand what constitutes a Transitional Fossil. It is not a creature that's half of one species and half of another. It's a fossil that has the traits of different types of animals. For instance a fish with feet (Tiktaalik) or a reptile with the features of a bird (Archaeopteryx) to name two of the more famous.

Yes Radiometric Dating works. There are between 35 and 40 methods and they all agree within 3%-5% of each other. This validates the one critical assumption that radioactive decay occurs at a constant rate per isotope. The common objections such as the unknown starting quantities and possible contamination can be eliminated by using the slightly more complicated Isochron Dating method.

No the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics doesn't disprove Evolution because the Earth's Biosphere is not a closed system. It is constantly importing energy from the sun. If that weren't the case a seed couldn't grow into a plant; a fetus couldn't develop into a baby and a baby couldn't mature into an adult.

It's a true statement that a cat can't give birth to a dog and Evolution doesn't say it can. As a matter of fact if a cat ever gave birth to a dog the entire fabric of Evolution would unravel because the theory says that can't happen. But, based upon the differences in DNA, cats and dogs had a common ancestor about 55 millions years ago that was not a cat or a dog.

As for "proving Evolution," technically you can't PROVE anything outside of the realm of mathematics. The Natural Sciences work with probability. What one can do is pile up evidence so high that it would be irrational not to accept something as true.

And so on and so forth. I'm not a biologist but I've educated myself adequately to understand what Evolution actually claims and why the evidence is so strong.

Monday, July 27, 2015

BSA Votes to Lift Ban on Gay Leaders

The Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America has voted to lift its ban on gay leaders and will no longer allow discrimination based upon sexual orientation for paid employees or workers at BSA owned facilities.

Local troops and councils will still have the authority to restrict gay leaders.

Another domino of ignorance and bigotry falls.

There's a ways to go yet and the war is far from over but perhaps someday we'll see the end of discrimination against those who just happen to be different.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

David Barton

I'm not a fan of David Barton. Barton styles himself a historian but often what history he quotes is closer to fantasy or perhaps wishful thinking.

This is a man that wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson called "The Jefferson Lies" that has been so criticized by real historians that his publisher pulled the book.

This is a man that has claimed that there will never be an AIDS vaccine because the disease is God's punishment for homosexuality and that the three branches of US government are based upon the Bible.

Not only does Barton seem to be delusional about American history but on occasion has made claims about his own background that don't appear to bear out under scrutiny such as he smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union and played on the Oral Roberts varsity basketball team.

So imagine my surprise when Right Wing Watch reported that Barton ripped a caller that claimed the Civil War was fought over states rights a new one. Some Barton quotes.

"It was not about states' rights, it was about slavery..."

This just goes to show you why you have to consider everything anyone says on its own merits. Even someone that is almost always wrong can sometimes be right. The one possible exception to this rule is Tony Perkins. Perkins will probably never be right about anything.

"What we've seen as a result of this is a lot of revision of history. And today, it literally appalls me to see that throughout the south, they still have elementary schools named after Nathan Bedford Forrest..."

This is irony of the 1st magnitude. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

..."(Forest) was one of the great Confederate generals in the Civil War. But you know, Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the founder of the Ku Klux Klan ... We've got elementary schools named after a great murderer?" 

Barton then went on to cite the massacre at Fort Pillow where confederate soldiers murdered surrendering black Union troops.

"When the blacks surrendered...they slaughtered them on the spot. I mean, ISIS-like atrocities: they skinned 'em, they burned them alive, the buried 'em, they drowned 'em, the drug 'em, they hung 'em. These were guys who surrendered, they were prisoners of war."

David Barton telling it like it was.

"The Confederacy had a standing order that any black that you capture is to be killed on the spot. That's not similar values to the north, we're not talking the same value base here."

This was a shock but I give the man credit for having the courage to speak the truth. I can't wait to hear all the right wing whack jobs accuse Barton of "Cultural Cleansing."

Monday, July 20, 2015

A New Republican Poll

An ABC News/Washington Post Poll shows Trump still on top of the heap. As a matter of fact he appears to have gained some. It should be noted however that the poll was taken before his criticism of John McCain's war record.

The poll shows nine candidates. The plus or minus indicates the change from the last ABC News/Washington Post Poll in May.

#1 - Trump - 24% (+20%)
#2 - Walker - 13% (+2%)
#3 - Bush - 12% (+2%)
#4 - Huckabee - 8% (-1%)
#5 - Rubio - 7% (-3%)
#6 - Paul - 6% (-5%)
#7 - Carson - 6% (-2%)
#8 - Cruz - 4% (-4%)
#9 - Perry - 4% (+2%)

I assume the remaining 16% are divided up among the other seven candidates but with no one getting at least 4%.

I'm still convinced that Bush ends up with the nomination. Trump can't help putting his foot in his mouth. Maybe he can be convinced to run as a 3rd party candidate? That might pretty much sink any Republican chances.

Trump can't win a general election and the Republican Party brass knows that. Jeb Bush can win a general election and probably has the best chance of doing so. The Republican Party brass knows that as well. I think Marco Rubio has the 2nd best chance of winning a general election.

On the Democratic side it looks like Hillary Clinton all the way.

#1 - Clinton - 63%
#2 - Sanders - 14%
#3 - Biden - 12%

Saturday, July 18, 2015

So who will be the Republican Nominee?

It's going to be Jeb Bush.

Jeb has amassed a $114 million dollar war chest and is capable of drowning all the other candidates in greenbacks. Let's go through the list. The order is my order of preference. * = has officially declared. (x%, y%) = 1st and 2nd percentages of most recent poll I saw.

#1 - George Patacki* (0%/0%) - At 0% in the polls should be closing down shop any time now.

#2 - Jeb Bush* (11%/7%) - Given his war chest and name, barring some catastrophe, should win the nomination sooner rather than later.

#3 - John Kasich (2%/2%) - Should be dropping out about the same time as Patacki.

#4 - Donald Trump* (15%/12%) - Trump is a flash in the pan that neither the Republican Party nor the country can afford. His recent criticism of John McCain's war record should speed his decent to the trash heap.

 #5 - Marco Rubio* (9%/7%) - I expect Rubio to be around for a while but will ultimately lose to Bush.

#6 - Chris Christie* (6%/8%) - He'll hang around 6%-8% for a while but will quickly disappear once things get serious.

#7 - Rand Paul* (11%/7%) - Probably has more staying power than Christie but has no chance against Bush.

#8 - Carly Fiorina* (3%/5%) - Should be done after Iowa and possibly before.

#9 - Rick Perry* (3%/5%) - In the same boat as Fiorina.

#10 - Lindsey Graham* (0%/1%) - Has no realistic chance of even making the 1st debate cut.

#11 - Ted Cruz* (4%/7%) - Expect Cruz to hang around to the bitter end.

#12 - Scott Walker* (9%/8%) - Same with Walker. He's going to be around for a while if for no other reason than the Koch brothers appear to like him.

#13 - Bobby Jindel* (2%/4%) - Should disappear about the same time as Fiorina if not before.

#14 - Rick Santorum* (2%/4%) - Like an unwanted house guest will probably outstay his welcome just like 2012.

#15 - Ben Carson* (7%/7%) - Gone after New Hampshire as he should get about 4 votes in that state.

#16 - Mike Huckabee* (9%/6%) - Will be on the same bus out of town as Carson if not sooner.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Nuclear Deal with Iran

I read through the summary and the deal looks reasonable to me but, and this is the big but, this isn't my area of expertise so I'll be curious to hear from more knowledgeable folks over the next couple of days.

Of course just about every Republican candidate is criticizing the agreement but they're criticizing it as a matter of policy in broad generalities not as a matter of substance. I've yet to hear anything about any specific issues.

Of course if you're convinced Iran should remain permanently economically hobbled then no agreement is a good deal.

The problem is that such a position is very short sighted and very dangerous. We need to get Iran back into the community of nations and we need them to get more involved in the fight against ISIS.

Of course we can expect Netanyahu to go ape shit over this regardless but I doubt he'll do anything beyond whine and cry persecution. See why he gets along so well with Republicans?

Religious Freedom and the Law

Religious Freedom doesn't mean your religious beliefs trump the law. As a matter of fact, if there is a conflict, the law usually wins.

For instance, Deuteronomy 22 says you should stone to death brides that can't demonstrate their virginity. The law says nah, you can't do that. That is not a violation of your religious freedom.

Of course that doesn't mean laws that directly impact religion always win. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) restricts government from interfering with religious freedom. The key section states “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability."

However even then it's not absolute. There is an exception if two conditions are met.

(1) The burden must be necessary for the "furtherance of a compelling government interest."

(2) The rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

This why clerks who are claiming that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples because of religious objections are wrong. The law both meets a "compelling government interest," equal protection under the law, and using the same procedures in place for currently issuing marriage licenses is about the simplest way to implement it.

My "religion" disagrees with the law is not a valid exception as long as the two conditions are met. This is why clerks which tried to claim a religious exemption from issuing licenses to inter-racial couple got absolutely no where.

This is just another demonstration that conservative evangelical Christianity is an ignorant, bigoted and hateful philosophy that deserves neither adherence or respect.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Two Events, One Day

In New York City the first ticker tape parade was held for a women's sport team as the city turned out for the US Women's National Soccer team, the 2015 Women's World Cup champions.

I didn't do much with the women's world cup because, OK I admit it, I'm a terrible male chauvinist when it comes to women's sports.  Still, I did follow the final. Congratulations for a victory hard won and well fought.

In South Carolina they lowered the Confederate Flag that had flown on the capital grounds either above the statehouse or on the lawn for the last 50 or more years. I didn't say much about this either because it struck as a case of what the hell have we been waiting for? Congratulations for a victory hard won and well fought.