SocraticGadfly: 7/1/12 - 7/8/12

July 06, 2012

Gnu Atheism and political illogic

There is ZERO logical connection between atheist metaphysical stances and political leanings; i.e., there is no logical reason that an atheist can't also be a conservative. Why Gnu Atheist types in particular either can't or else refuse to grasp this idea, I'm not sure. That said, it makes me want to keep even more distance from the typical atheist evangelist. (And yes, Gnus, that's pretty much how I see many of you.)

Reality? Atheist Nexus has a conservative atheist group. Other, similar groups exist. The New York Times had a story about conservative atheists. And, per the NYT, Ayn Rand is not necessarily a patron saint for conservative atheists.

And, in the case of the person who seems to have some Gnu Atheists' dander particularly high right now? Per S.E. Cupp (true, I pronounce her name in my mind as "Suck-Up") one can even be an atheist and work for Faux News.

Now, if we were talking about secular humanism, which is a political philosophy in a way that atheism in general and Gnu Atheism in particular isn't, I would listen to the parallel argument more closely. At a minimum, I think it's hard to be a political conservative and a secular humanist.

That said, incidents at places like Center for Free Inquiry indicate what Gnu Atheists think of secular humanism, and some of its icons.

But, when you're the likes of P.Z. Myers at Freethought Blogs and want "cadres," the narrower the mental field, the easier the cadre formation. Of course, I've blogged about related issues before, including his claim that people like Sam Harris aren't conservatives and that he would like to read conservatives out of modern atheism.

Beyond that, the fact that hundreds of millions of Buddhists are atheists and religious show that many Gnu Atheists need to learn more about precision in language to go hand in hand with logical skills.

I suggest a little Wittgenstein? 

OR a little Gilbert Ryle. (That includes you, Mr. Gilbert Ryle student Dan Dennett.) Gnus are continually making category mistakes.

July 05, 2012

Drought, farmers, red states and global warming

Stunted corn in Indiana/NY Times photo
So, how many of the Midwest’s reddish-state corn farmers are willing to admit that any of their problems this year, if not “caused” by global warming, might at least be exacerbated by it, or linked to it?

Ditto on the very red state farmers of the Texas (and Oklahoma) Panhandle, who last year lowered the Ogallala Aquifer as much as 25 feet?

Slim, I’ll bet, though perhaps not the “none” of senators like John Cornyn, Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe.

And yet, later this year, these senators,  and these farmers, who bemoan the big federal government, and who bemoan “welfare,” will be seeking federal disaster relief. And, while still refusing to admit that they’re part of the problem, a self-inflicted disaster. (A disaster that, to some degree, now officially covers more than half the 48 continguous states.)

For the farmers of the Panhandle, first, I have two words: “dryland farming.”

Yes, dryland wheat doesn’t pay the same as irrigated corn, especially when corn in the Midwest (St. Louis pushed 105 today) is shriveling.

But, it’s still a big water, and water bill, savings.

Not to mention that eventually, you’re going to start pumping sand … and who knows, even as clean as the Ogallala is, minerals, too.

Meanwhile, things won’t change, in reality, even if Dear Leader is re-elected and even gets a Democratic House.

There won’t be a cap-and-trade bill, which we don’t need anyway. Chris Mooney, the science writer who almost plays at being a scientist, is behind the curve.

There certainly won’t be a carbon tax bill.

And, really, that’s exactly what we need, and it needs to be coupled the with big drought disaster relief handout. Period.

Of course, there’s no way Dear Leader does that.

But he, or somebody, needs to, and needs to get in front of red state Congresscritters on framing the bill, and on “attaching” it to a bailout.

July 04, 2012

Six degrees of financial separation ... problems with America

If you haven't read this GQ story by Jon Ronson, you should.

He takes the "six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon" idea in a whole new direction.

Here's the simple conceit of the article:
I'd worked out that there are six degrees of economic separation between a guy making ten bucks an hour and a Forbes billionaire, if you multiply each person's income by five. So I decided to journey across America to meet one representative of each multiple. By connecting these income brackets to actual people, I hoped to understand how money shapes their lives—and the life of the country—at a moment when the gap between rich and poor is such a combustible issue.  
(Ronson plugs himself in at level No. 4; the one thing "lacking" is that I wish he'd written about somebody else, or else gone into more honest depth about himself.)

The star asshole, if you will, of the piece is B. Wayne Hughes, the man at Level 6 and a billionaire. Rich Tea Partier stereotypes abound. Here's the first part of Ronson's interview with him. (Ronson brilliantly splits Hughes' interview in half, then goes to Level 1, a Haitian immigrant cook in a Miami restaurant named Maurose Frantz). Anyway, here's the first exchange with Hughes:
"I live my life paying my taxes and taking care of my responsibilities, and I'm a little surprised to find out that I'm an enemy of the state at this time in my life," he says. 

He has a big, booming voice like an old-school billionaire, not one of those nerdy new billionaires.
"Has anyone said that to your face?" I ask him. 

"Nobody has to," says Wayne. "Just watch what they're doing." 

"You mean the Occupy Wall Street crowd?" 

"Those guys are a bunch of jerks," Wayne mutters, giving a dismissive wave that says, They're just a sideshow. "Politically I'm on the enemy list. I've lived my whole life doing what I thought was right, and now I'm an enemy of the state." ...
Ronson then notes that for an "enemy of the state," he's doing awfully well by the tax code.

The reason why? He fulfills the "self-justification" insight of the person one level below him, while spouting even more bilge.

Before we get all the way up to Level 6, Level 5's Nick Hanauer, who got luck with an early investment in Amazon, is a great contrast to Hughes. He openly says he probably should pay 50 percent taxes, but only pays 11 percent. So, Ronson asks the same question that Faux Newswers and Tea Partiers fling at Warren Buffett:
"If you're so concerned about it, why don't you write a check?" I ask. 

"You can't build a society around the effort of a few do-gooders," he replies. "History shows that most people would not do it voluntarily. People have to be required to participate." 
Bingo. There's a lot more common sense from Hanauer in that section of the story. Including words for those wingnuts:
 "The view that regulation is bad for business is almost universally held," he says. "But in every country where you find prosperity, you find massive amounts of regulation. Show me a libertarian paradise where nobody pays any taxes and nobody follows rules and everybody lives like a king! Show me one!"
Now, back to our asshole, Mr. Hughes.

His claim as to why he's successful? A book called "Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal."

Which is really an B-grade version of Og Mandino, or a bit of Napoleon Hill.

What shite like this really is, is New Ageism for corner suite occupiers. If American capitalism is so damned great, the number of people who dive headfirst into magical thinking shallow water pools is sure a contra-indication of that "damned great."

Hey, dude, there's millions of people who aren't rich, never have been, and never will be, who do anonymous acts of kindness all the time. Shut your piehole.

MIT discovers Romney particle

MIT physicists announced they have discovered the Romney particle, so vague and nebulous it occupies many locations in a dark matter of political positions.
Tea Partiers report they have evidence of the Obama boson, and that it wasn't born in this universe.
Obviously, I am riffing on CERN's announcment about what appears to be the discovery of the Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle." And, if every particle has an antiparticle, when do we discover the "Devil particle"?
Speaking of, if you're knowledge about basic physics but want to cut through the hype, read John Horgan.

What is patriotism?

Per the quote of Samuel Johnson, it’s “the last refuge of the [sic] scoundrel.” He used “the” because he had a particular person, Lord Bute, in mind. A few big-political-spending rich, like the Koch Bros., seem to fit that definition.

Per Sen. John J. Crittenden, speaking during the Mexican War, and shortened for posterity, it’s “my country, right or wrong.” To that, G.K. Chesterson replied, “ ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ ”

Crittenden’s idea could be seen as that of the non-rich Tea Partiers, except that it’s not. Crashing planes into IRS buildings, or supporting a person who does, makes that clear.

Then there’s Jack Kennedy’s inaugural words, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country,” which comes from the only Presidential inaugural address in history to be 100 percent about foreign policy. (Even that line is arguably about it.)

It’s great, right? It tells Americans not to be selfish. Well, it’s not so great in light of another comment in that address.

Kennedy’s famous line was followed by “Let every nation know … we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” (Which, if you want to be honest, isn’t that different in content, though it is in tone, from Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

I see Kennedy’s “Ask not,” as potentially being not too far from Crittenden’s comment.

Why shouldn’t I ask what my country can do for me, even if I don’t believe in a Lockean “compact” theory of government? Jefferson, after all, talked about the consent of the governed.

There’s been plenty of comment about, and hypocrisy about, patriotism through the ages, per this list from Wikiquote. (On the hypocrisy, I think of eventual, but not early, Vietnam opponent and still-segregationist William Fulbright, among those on that list.

So, what is patriotism?

For me, it is about asking questions. Not accepting easy or pat answers. Opposing wrongful actions of our leaders, no matter their names or political alignments.

And, it’s about exercising our democratic, constitutional liberties. Have you ever burned a flag as free speech? Marched in a controversial protest as free assembly?

July 03, 2012

Gnu Atheists, hypocrisy, irony, petards and train wrecks

All of those items in the header are coming together at the "premier" blog site for Gnu Atheists, Freethought Blogs.
A blogger booted for attacking another blogger there, then whining about it on Google+. (Greg Laden two years ago, over #arsenicgate and my telling him that NASA had good budgetary and other reasons to engage in PR fluffery, threatened to have me "banned from the Internet.) Whine away, Greg. Hear that petard hoisting?
Meanwhile, your "wife," Stephanie Zvan, has an interesting dilemma. Support her "husband" and voluntarily quit FtB herself, or support the #skeptatheistchick movement and stay? (I had my first run-in  with her over the Julian Assange accuser(s) and her unwillingness to look at this through anything other than a 12th-wave feminism position.)
And next? Some sort of thought policing, I guess, as FtB cofounder Ed Brayton notes here
Other changes are in the works as well, mostly out of the view of the public — new rules, new policies, new ways to make decisions that I hope will avoid these kinds of unpleasant situations in the future.
No details from Ed, just that it's going to be more top-down. Well, we have long known that his co-founder, P.Z. Myers, is far from being a denizen of free thought on his blog, and that goes beyond banning people who threaten him, which is another thing. The longer he's been at this, the narrower his tolerance range has become, I think.
Speaking of PZed, it looks like his tolerance there has definitely narrowed. There's your train wreck, to the degree it's true. The 4Chan types hitting Freethought Blogs. This all connects, at least indirectly, to #skeptatheistchick issues; see below.
Now, talking about 4chan may be dumb, but it wasn't that dumb, and it wasn't like Justin deliberately invited them over to comment.
Meanwhile, said Justin shows the email by Laden that led to Laden's downfall. Yep, threatening someone's job, even worse than threatening to ban them from the Net, will get you in trouble.

Meanwhile, video blogger Thunderf00t got himself banned for other exercise of free thought, even if it was kind of stupid.

Soon enough, Justin will probably challenge something too much, along similar lines and he'll be the next to get the book. 

And, before that, there was PZ and the #skeptatheistchick meme, and lack of free thought. Already a week ago, Rebecca Watson, #skeptatheistchick High Holy Priestess herself, had distorted what at least one non-FtB blogger, Coffee Skeptic, had said about her, Tweeted that to thousands of her Twit followers, then refused to correct the error, which had gotten picked up by P.Z. He then refused to let the blogger comment on his blog. There was childishness on both sides, but more of it on his. (Shock me. And shock me that P.Z. ain't going to provide the backstory.)

And, I'm far from the only person to wonder if Ed knew modern Urban Dictionary-type definitions of "loosey-goosey" before he used the phrase to describe his original plans for FtB. Given the #skeptatheistchick fun (and should that be spelled without a final "K"?) and 12th-wave feminism, etc., it's laughably ironic as hell.

Beyond that, I had, more seriously, at one time wanted to cut Ed more slack and blame FtB's problems more on P.Z. That said, I don't think that's quite such the case any more.

All of this reminds me what a good online friend once said at Google+: He'd like to see people in the sweet spot Venn diagram intersection of atheism, "scientific" skepticism, and all-around liberalism. Unfortunately, we don't have a group blog site anywhere like that, and not just at FtB.

I'm not wading further into the cesspool at this time, other than firing a random potshot like this.
Let me just say, as I've said before, that this is proof positive that atheism in general and Gnu Atheism in particular is no guarator of superior morals, superior intelligence or superior everyday common sense.

Ever since Dan Dennett invented the word "brights" for metaphysical naturalists and then lied (you did, Dan) about how that wasn't meant to imply religious people were "stupids," Gnu Atheism, sometimes on matters small, sometimes otherwise, has proven the three points above, plus has shown just as much tendency and ability to shoot itself in the foot as anybody else.

We'll have a Gnu Atheist sexual abuse scandal eventually, too, folks. It will happen.

Update: The fun gets funner. John Loftus thinks that Ed Brayton, P.Z. Myers and the smaller fry want to read him pontificate. John, they don't. It's called "buy a clue." Write about it in your next book.

Update 2: Loftus and his amazing "why am I not in Wikipedia" ego still don't get it, as, while bashing with the one side of his mouth, he still presents himself as the savior with the other.

The 80/20 rule of #Obamacare is not a 'bomb'

Last December, a Forbes columnist claimed the 80/20 rule of Obamacare, which requires that if an insurance company spends less than 80 percent of premiums on medical care it must rebate the excess (it's 85 percent for larger group plans) would be a "bomb" for private insurers. Well, here's the details, and for the first year, at least, it's not a "bomb." Now, $1 billion sounds like a lot, but divided over more than 12 million policies, means  less than $100 rebated per policy on average.

So, let's stand by on just how effective this is as a cost-control measure. Given that insurers helped do a lot of work on the bill writing, we shouldn't expect that this would be allowed to be too big of a "bomb." (Except maybe for big insurers wanting to push small ones out of business.)

Beyond this year, it's probably too soon to say too much. But I wouldn't expect the burden to be too much more onerous down the road. As for cost control, electronic medical records and a push for more preventative medicine will probably help a bit more, but still not a lot.

Big cost control has to come from less aggressive end-of-life care and other things that American doctors, some American patients and even more American families of patients still largely don't want to accept.