Sunday, January 29, 2006

On the KCFS Lecture

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      On Jan. 28th (yesterday) I attended "Intelligent Design, Kansas Science Education and the Law," a lecture by the Kansas Citizens for Science and the attorneys who were victorious in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial. The lecture outline went as was projected in this alert by the Panda's Thumb. At least, this is the way it was planned. The Lecture was at the University of Kansas's "Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics," or the "Bob Dole Institute," for short. Yes, Bob Dole. It was actually a pretty neat building. And you know, Bob Dole wasn't a bad guy. Because of the Bush Administration we have this picture that Republican party members get all huffy and call everybody traitors if they can't win or aren't agreed with. Until I watched a presentation of all the funny commercials Dole did for Pepsi, American Express and the like, I had forgotten just how well he took his inability to win the Presidency, with humor and dignity. My favorite was the one where his voice is narrating how this product makes him feel young and virile again, showing two attractive women jogging on a beach. Then Dole shows up (a stunt actor) and does a back flip wit his golden retriever. "...And it's all thanks to my little blue friend." It sets you up to think he's talking about Viagra. Then it shows Dole up close and he takes a drink from a Pepsi. "I feel like a kid again!" Don't get me wrong; there were other neat video presentations to be found in the hall. What was especially impressive about these presentations was that they were kind to any deaf (or, let's face it, very elderly) people touring the building. You could press a button for the same presentation with captions, if you liked. The only thing wrong with the entire building, I'd say, is the fact that the men's bathroom was built with enough 'facilities' for large groups to pass through, but there were only two sinks, and too close together.

      Back to the subject, the lecture did not go quite as planned. For you see there was the actually presentation room with plush chairs and a long table for the speaking panel, but as expected there were more people attending than that room allowed. There was a "spillover" room, as they called it, with white, plastic folding chairs for us to sit in. The room was really just the end of the hall, which was obviously used for this purpose quite often, for there was a large projection machine hanging down from the ceiling that could be raised up into it, camouflage until the next event. The lecture outline went awry when it took an extra 15 minutes for the video and then audio to work on the darn thing.

      Jack Krebs, president of the Kansas Citizens for Science and member of the Kansas state science standards writing committee, left his introduction very short. In face, he cut it too short allowing Dr. Hume Feldman, from the KU Physics and Astronomy department, to get his two cents in. Dr. Eugenie Scott was concise as can be, as well. by the time Jack Krebs finished speaking, we found the time had been made up.

      If you want to know how much I learned at this lecture, I'd have to say not much. There was plenty of data, but since so little was new to me, not much information. I think the same went for many of the others who attended. On several key points during the lecture(s), one could here the kind of snorting chuckles people only make when what they're hearing makes them feel far superior to the people the remark or quip is exposing or deriding. Hence, I got the idea they weren't hearing much new. What was new was the exact reasons/strategy the winning Dover team ( Pepper Hamilton LLP) thinks the current Kansas science standards will be ruled Unconstitutional when Kansas citizens get the gumption to out-and-out sue the state.

      Another new piece of information was the incident of the state BOE "Science Hearings" in May 2005. Allegedly the hearings were to discuss science issues in a scientific setting, but the panel there already had their Creationist minds made up, and everybody on the panel at the lecture referred to it as it was: a "Kangaroo Trial." The members Pepper Hamilton LLP panel, Krebs, or Feldman, present yesterday, did not actually show up to the facade, but they did listen to all the attendee's reports on it and, I believe, a video recording of it. There really was no point for any of them to show up. The "science hearings" are something I admit I should have known about, and I admit that since the last time the Kansas BOE attempted something like this (last time they outright banned Evolution and anything connected with it), I became overly jaded and just gave a resigning shrug of my shoulders when it started to happen all over again last year.

      Since so few of us were really learning much by the lectures before and after the PowerPoint Presentation, I suppose most of us attended to do some kind of networking with other members of KCFS we had never before met in person. For some this networking did not go too well. Myself, I tried to find Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble and Josh Rosheneau of Thoughts from Kansas, and didn't succeed. I just didn't manage to spot either of them from my memory or by name tag, so I don't even know if I saw them or not. It was made more difficult because of the extremely slowed traffic to and from the nicer meeting room. At least Josh has posted a nice picture album.

      As a result of my failing meanderings, I ended up missing on a lot of other networking myself. One man brought his...say, 14 year old son(?) along, who didn't seem interested at all. He got up and left in the middle of the PowerPoint lecture and I think just wondered around outside for a while--which had to stink because it rained that morning and wasn't nice outside at all.

      As we took recess for refreshments (really tart pink lemonade, cookies that disappeared in an instant, ice water), we were to turn in these sheets of paper we were given in which we optionally gave our name, affiliation, and email address (for the KCFS newsletter) and a question we wanted the panel to answer. To my disappointment, they did not answer my card. I suppose it was a bit off topic. I spoke about how at one point during the pre-PowerPoint lecture, we all laughed at how dumb it was for the Discovery Institute jerks to start referring to Judge Jones as an "Activist Judge!" even before the decision was officially published. My inspiration for my comment card was inspired by an essay I read linked by The Panda's Thumb from Positive Liberty. I said something along the lines of,

      Since you mentioned the whole "Activist Judge!" BS we keep seing, why didn't you take it very far? The bedrock assumption of people who make the "Activist Judge!" call is that if you disagree with law made by a board/state, you simply vote them out and vote in a group you do like. But if that worked, we wouldn't need a Constitution.
      It is understood from letters to and from our Founding Fathers that it is understood that pure liberty is nothing more than group-tyranny. When a person is treated as the perceived average of his group or race, that is a crime against humanity. The Constitution is made to prevent this sort of abuse, even if that group is a minority. The source of this abuse is almost always runaway litigation or legislation.
  •       Judcial Review checks this abuse.
  •       A call of "Activist Judge!" is more than a sad defense, it is an action against the basic function of Judicial Review.
  •       A sentiment against Judicial Review is antithetical to the humanitarian spirit of the Constitution itself.

      It was a bit off-topic, I suppose, but the final speaker did speak alot about the importance of Separation of Church and State, and if we're going talk about important foundations of the Consitution, my comment should've been relavent at least in some sense.

      All-in-all, the entire experience was a refreshing one. I was glad to see lots of bald heads and grey hair, and saddened that there were only two people there my age, two women from the KU campus who were more insterested in talking about beer than science or separation of church and state. Before going to the event, I met my dad and my brother at the Taco John's in Lawrence, which I hadn't been to since some funeral when I was a kid. The quesadilla I had was alright, I guess. At least I got to make one of my favorite fountain drink mixes: Wild Cherry Pepsi + Dr. Pepper. In the store you can find a Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, but not just Cherry Dr. Pepper, which is sad.

      If I have any readers out there (I'm sure it's just Orac, and maybe Josh and Pat since I'll be emailing them about this article and how I was disappointed I didn't manage to find them), I'm sure you're wondering, "How does this fit into your theme?" Well, I suppose since all I could think about during most of the event was how the folding chair was making my buttocks fall asleep, I don't have much to proselytize about the event itself, except maybe this.


      It warmed my heart to see at least that many people who could make it to Lawrence who agreed that the scientific worldview must be central who how we run a nation-state.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

TommyKnockers

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      A little less than two months ago, I was on a break from my job as my nephew's nanny helping my Dad build stuff around the house. At this particular time during this particular day, he was at Home Depot picking up some heavy things that I would no doubt be dealing with all by myself after employees loaded it into the truck for him (He had a hernia in the last year, I insist on this work). The door bell rang and the door was knocked.

      Before me were two elderly, too-well-dressed black men. The one on the left and closer to the door had the face of somebody who has spent alot of his life working outdoors: leathery, smooth in some places and wrinkly in others, with cheek bones that stood out sharply--they might actually have been sharp. The one on the right was trying way too hard to look like Jesse Jackson. Usually it's cub scouts or girl scouts selling cookies or popcorn that I get at the door, so I did not know what to expect. I really did not have a clue that these were two asinine Jehovah's Witnesses.

      We said a much more gentlemanly hello and good afternoon then I ever get from the cub/girl scouts or salesman. I had to resign to holding open the screen door with my elbow, which is tiresome because that little bar that's supposed to slow it down does not work, and the spring that closes the door automatically is pretty strong. The one on the left/front started the conversation. He said something about like, "Do you know that everything people do every day is motivated by fear?" and three or four similar lines. Then he asked me how can we ever stop it?

      I answered honestly, though glib. "Quite obviously it'd go a long way if we were to standardize and enforce a form of universal science education. It is the best method we have of gathering and evaluating knowledge about our universe and as such superstitions and fear-mongering politics are most often undone by the truth it reveals."

      "Jesse Jackson" now interrupted. Since I mentioned science, he suddenly went on tirade about how can I see that everything around us from houses, computers, and roads is a product of intelligent design but still think we exist here by chance. I responded that natural chemistry, astronomical physics and evolution actually follow quite strict rules. I said that if he was going to start quoting Dembski or Behe or whatever, their opinions have no basis in fact, and I am not going to put up with it on my own doorstep. It was only after my adamant refusals to let them shift the onus unto me that they gave up on it and handed me a catalog that was about "getting the most out of your holiday season." They left looking disheartened

      And the religious wonder why atheists like myself have such disgust for the devout. Here we have two old black men who have been oppressed in their lives by being judged as the perceived average of their race, coming to my door and doing the very same thing to me, attacking me as a caricature as their perceived average of my supposed ideology. And they are blind to it because the memeplex of "Jehovah's Witnesses" has their entire present lives invested in the proliferation of the memeplex.

      There were many thing I just wanted to yell at them, but knew it would just cause a scene in the neighborhood and invite the wrath of their cultist religion, as well as that of my neighbor in front of me, who somehow has the clout to have a new noise ordinance put in place just because of a motorcycle that passes by on the main road nearby at night.

      I am tired of hearing religious wingnuts claim that everything people do is motivated by fear. First, it's obviously not true. Second, to walk up to somebody and state it as a matter of fact, or imply it's false truthhood in the form of a question like that man did is just... base. Surely, it is not something they really believe of everybody or themselves, but a statement of their general opinion about every other person not of their religion. It's congruent with the assumption that people would not be good if they thought there was no God watching over them.

      On that, I am working on an essay in my spare time about why I think it is only possible for a person to be truly moral in a universal sense if there is no God(s) watching over him/her. In fact, I will try to explain how universal morality can only be truly manifested if a person truly understood that there is in fact no God out there, so that their decisions and thoughts are truly their own. Universal morality must begin with explicit atheism, even if there is a God. Sometime I'll publish the essay, you'll see.

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Template Changes

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      I finally got around to creating links list and cleaning my quirky profile. There are still some line break issues that don't seem to be resolving in the links list though, and I hope to fix them and add more links by the time I make my post later tonight.       Orac of Respectful Insolence has informed me that as an up-and-coming blog, it would be beneficial for my publicity if I hosted the next Skeptics' Circle. However, as of yet I am not sure exactly of what that entails. If I agreed to do it, then all these bloggers would be looking at my blog, and wondering if I am capable or the right person to host such a popular event, especially one so dear to skeptics. That's just another way of saying the thought makes me nervous.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What We Memeticists Have Been Saying All Along

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      I first heard of memetics when I was just learning to use the Internet from Paul Cox, the man who wrote the Glossary of Mathematical Mistakes. [SEE LINK].   At first I thought I really understood what he was talking about, and I tended to agree with him on everything he said, from the true failures of our public education system to the superiority of true virtue ethics, with the exception of his assertion that the God meme is so prevalent because "we seem to need it." (I certainly don't need it. In fact, I despise it; but that's besides the point.) It is only now, years later, after doing some serious research by reading Richard Dawkins' the Selfish Gene and the Blind Watchmaker, that I seriously understand what memetics is all about. [It also helps to have read and gained interest in the subject of perception itself- read a History of the Mind, by Nicholas Humphrey.]

      Let me get to the point. The theme of my blog is that [the scientific worldview is the only morally defensible worldview]. One of the wonderful things about science is that it work wether you believe in it or not (to "believe in"--what a useless phrase, I think). As such, scientific work and scientific study is built to be resistiant if not immune to political bias, as it is self correcting in such a way that even outright frauds are detected by its strict adherence to external validation. (It was scientists that unveiled the recent stem cell fraud, after all.) It is on this note in which I introduce my subject tonight. I was looking for something unique to write about at msnbc.msn.com when I came across "Political bias affects brain activity, study finds." Go ahead. Give it a read. I'll wait...

      Back? Okay. As stated in the title of tonight's post, I am a sort of Memeticist. Many of us memeticists have long believed that memes have a physical entity in the conscious brain. And what has been revealed? The meme-complexes of political parties really do seem to change brain chemistry! Hopefully when people read this article they will see how dangerous it is to get any more involved in politics than mere awareness, not only socially, but memetically and physically as well. Once again I have to point out that the Scientific Worldview Memeplex is resistant to political bias, political correctess, or any other "political x" bull you can think of. If research is ever done one how Science Literacy affects brain chemistry, I think we can agree it results in full attention to all factual knowledge and a balanced non-bias in any political direction.

      Science: It's not just good, it's good for you.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Similarities Between Instances of Intelligent Design Creationism and Holocost Denial in the Media

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While reading this entry of The Intersection in which an irresponsible journalist writes that scientists are to blame for the rise of Creationism and ID in America, I couldn't help but reminded of similar things happening in the realm of Holocaust denial and anti-semetism by conservative Christians.

Every once in a while, an letter will be published in the opinion section of a college, city, or regional newspaper in which a citizen claims that Jews' behavior is often responsible for the anti-semetism they encounter.  The comments are always riddled with anti-semetic cliche arguments, revealing the obvious truth that anti-semetic patterns are a result of the very natures of the communities in which it flourishes.

Naturally, the newspaper receives an outcry from all sorts of people pissed off that the editor could let such rubbish pass into syndication.  All too often, the paper executives will commit what Stanley Fish calls a Free Speech Follie, claiming that the First Amendment forces them to print these things.

Yes, there are similar ways in which the media handles both anti-evolutionism and anti-semetism.  But we must recognize that in at least one respect they are two very different things.  Anti-semites simultaneusly despise a race and a people.  Anti-evolutionists despise a strawman they think is a threat to their own putrid religion.

   As for similarities, there are disturbingly many. Most rational people and all serious historians acknowledge as a matter of course that the Holocaust happen. The only discrepencies are the exact number of people who died, where exactly the victims died, how fast they died in some places compared to others, and other small tidbits. This is similar to Evolution, in which all serious scientists acknowledge as a matter of course that it occured, and we only argue about how fast it happened, when and where. In both cases, deniers claim that if the experts cannot agree on these small details, the entire phenomenon must be called into question. Also in both cases, the deniers have no factual reasons to do so; it is a matter of what they want to believe. In both cases, the deniers have a genuine disgust for the experts who reaffirm that the Holocaust or Evolution happened. And finally, in both cases, it is the deniers of the truth that regularly resort to poor/faulty logic, deception, fear-tactics and socially destructive propaganda.

But I can't help but wonder why the causes seem to be so similar to begin with, why they seem to be uncannily twin-like hates.  And when it comes to the cause of a hate, I'd have to ask Andrew Sullivan what proportions of Obsession, Narcicissm, and Hysteria are in the mix when it comes to Creationism and the ID movement.

Let's not forget to blame the media.  No, I'm not one of those Republican wingnuts that constantly spends time on air blaming the "Liberal Media" for everything.  If anything, the proponderance of black criminals, fear-mongering, and blatant cornholing of genuine issues tells me that the media is actually conservative, not liberal. 

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