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Your Beliefs About Global Warming Are Irrelevent

This letter appeared in today’s Mobile Press-Register, and it raises a few questions about the science and politics behind the so-called global warming “debate”.  I’ll present it in it’s entirety, and will then address some specific issues.

Global warming claim a ‘hoodwink’

Nancy Pelosi, in addition to being speaker of the House, has apparently become a climate change expert. Her proclamation that global warming is an undeniable fact is bold, authoritative and for the most part correct, except that human activity cannot be proven to be its cause.

Blaming a warming Earth on humankind has become the mantra of liberal, left-leaning politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington. A Jan. 21 letter to the Press-Register (“Environmental battle is about control”) by Kenneth D. Slade of Theodore hit the nail squarely on the head when he said it’s about seeking political control over our lives and livelihoods.

I believe that global warming is the biggest hoodwink in our present time, and I have expressed this view to the Press-Register in recent months. I’ve said that warming on a global scale is part of a natural cycle that has happened over and over again, and that it must be respected and planned for. It should not become a scare tactic used by politicians and environmentalists to gain control of our lives.

The “climate experts” that have been cited by syndicated columnist Tom Teepen and politician Al Gore in this newspaper are always anonymous and never brought into debate with climate experts who see things differently. Mr. Slade is correct when he says that the eco-left is trying to make a power grab. What’s going on now is beginning to smell like the McCarthy era in the 1950s, and it scares me.

Look for many more global warming declarations and propaganda from the Democrats and the eco-left as we progress toward the 2008 elections. We’re going to be buried under an avalanche of it. Tell a big lie often enough and it stands a chance of being believed.

In the meantime, look for liberal Democrats, with Nancy Pelosi leading the way, to begin sponsoring anti-global warming bills, with each in turn increasing regulations on “greenhouse gases” and auto and manufacturing emissions, which go to the very heart and soul of our nation’s manufacturing economy.

I believe Democrats are willing to play a high-risk game with global climate change in their quest to control the things we produce and what we, as a “free people,” can do in America.

And I do believe that liberal Democrats would sell out our country to a higher world authority if they thought it would give them the power they truly desire to have. In doing so, they are playing a dangerous game with our democracy and our lives.

THOMAS L. M.

Fairhope, AL

Now, Let’s look at some of the specific claims in this letter, and I’ll demonstrate why they are either misleading or just plain false.

Nancy Pelosi, in addition to being speaker of the House, has apparently become a climate change expert. Her proclamation that global warming is an undeniable fact is bold, authoritative and for the most part correct, except that human activity cannot be proven to be its cause.

Here the claim is that human activity cannot be proven to be the cause of Global Warming.  That is entirely true, since science is an inductive process of discovering truth via discrete observations and hypothesis testing.  In fact – science can never prove anything, although science is particularly good at disproving false claims. 

The author implies that human activity is not the cause of global warming, and through this, makes two assumptions: that Global Warming is real (which I personally agree with, though it’s generally poor form to contradict the thesis of your essay in its opening paragraph), and that there is just a single cause or Global Warming.  This is misleading, and paints an overly simplistic picture of the available data. 

It is more accurate to claim that, on average, surface temperatures are indeed rising around the world, and that human activity, specifically the emissions of so-called “green house gases” are playing an increasing role in this temperature increase.

Blaming a warming Earth on humankind has become the mantra of liberal, left-leaning politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington. A Jan. 21 letter to the Press-Register (“Environmental battle is about control”) by K. D. S. of Theodore hit the nail squarely on the head when he said it’s about seeking political control over our lives and livelihoods.

Here there are several misleading claims.  First, the author claims there are, “left-leaning politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington”, which is only 51% accurate since the November elections.  Second, the author claims that these politicians have a mantra, and that mantra is “blame warming on humankind.”  Finally, the author claims that another letter writer, K.D.S. of Theodore, Alabama was correct is his assertion that those who intone this mantra have a desire to seek control over our lives and livelihoods.  Since we have already clearly demonstrated that the first claim is, at best, barely more than half-true, then my guess is that the other two claims that flow from it are somewhat less true.  In the absence of any corroborating evidence, we would be best served by assuming these claims are simply false, and ignore them altogether.

I believe that global warming is the biggest hoodwink in our present time, and I have expressed this view to the Press-Register in recent months. I’ve said that warming on a global scale is part of a natural cycle that has happened over and over again, and that it must be respected and planned for. It should not become a scare tactic used by politicians and environmentalists to gain control of our lives.

The misleading claim here us that global warming is actually part of a natural cycle.  The basis of this claim is the authors belief that politicians (presumably the left-leaning, ones chanting the mantra above) are trying to “hoodwink” us.  The claim is misleading because warming and cooling periods are indeed seen throughout history.  Recent evidence, however, indicates that, natural fluctuations were responsible for most temperature changes through the first half of the 20th century, but since the latter half of the 20th century, we have moved outside the bounds of normal, natural temperature fluctuations.

As to Thomas’ belief that, “global warming is the biggest hoodwink in our present time”, I would humbly submit that the original case for war in Iraq might be a hoodwink on par with any in history.

The “climate experts” that have been cited by syndicated columnist Tom Teepen and politician Al Gore in this newspaper are always anonymous and never brought into debate with climate experts who see things differently. Mr. S. is correct when he says that the eco-left is trying to make a power grab. What’s going on now is beginning to smell like the McCarthy era in the 1950s, and it scares me.

Here’s the crux of Thomas L. M.‘s argument – he disagrees with the position taken by syndicated columnist Tom Teepen, and former US Vice President Al Gore, and claims that they cite “climate experts” but do not reveal their identities, nor have them debate climate experts (sans quotations, signifying greater credibility) who see things differently.
This is not entirely true.  First, neither Teepen nor Gore are scientists, so they’re not actually required to outline their sources.  Their central claim, that the vast majority of environmental scientists have concluded that the data for Global Warming is compelling, and that human activity is, at least in part, responsible for this trend is well documented – even within various agencies of the US government.  For example, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies has several recent, informative articles on global warming (here).  In addition, the National Climate Data Center Has a Global Warming FAQ that refutes Thomas’ arguments, as does the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Further, a recent article by Science Magazine reviewed 928 peer reviewed articles on global climate change, and concluded that 75% agreed with the consensus view that human activity is responsible for most of the warming seen in the past 50 years.  The remaining 25% did not take any stance on the issue, and the article stated, “Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.” 

Now, this is also where the author takes a cheap shot at the “eco-left” by conflating and equating their goals and methods with those of Joseph McCarthy.  While the eco-left most likely has its own agenda, it’s not likely that it’s anything like that of the infamous Republican Senator from the great State of Wisconsin.

Look for many more global warming declarations and propaganda from the Democrats and the eco-left as we progress toward the 2008 elections. We’re going to be buried under an avalanche of it. Tell a big lie often enough and it stands a chance of being believed.

Here’s where the author tugs at your heart strings.  Be afraid of the scary, tree hugging Democrats.  They want to take your job away and bury you under an avalanche of propaganda.

Ironically, the part where he says, “Tell a big lie often enough and it stands a chance of being believed”, is actually true.

In the meantime, look for liberal Democrats, with Nancy Pelosi leading the way, to begin sponsoring anti-global warming bills, with each in turn increasing regulations on “greenhouse gases” and auto and manufacturing emissions, which go to the very heart and soul of our nation’s manufacturing economy.

Again, the suspenseful theme music plays in the background as liberals start to rise from the political netherworld of near complete powerlessness, and Nancy Pelosi leads the way toward the utter destruction of Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet.

I believe Democrats are willing to play a high-risk game with global climate change in their quest to control the things we produce and what we, as a “free people,” can do in America.

Thomas, I appreciate your fear.  Your government has been telling you for years to fear change, and to fear your Democratic neighbors.  You’ve been played, however, since Democratic Americans are at least equal to Republican Americans in all things.

And I do believe that liberal Democrats would sell out our country to a higher world authority if they thought it would give them the power they truly desire to have. In doing so, they are playing a dangerous game with our democracy and our lives.

THOMAS L. M.

Fairhope, AL

OK – here’s where Thomas goes for the big finish.  Not only are evil Democratic Americans out to “hoodwink” the good Republican Americans, but they’re actually trying to subvert the very core of our democracy.  Up until the last couple paragraph, this actually seemed like a reasonable, though naive and poorly executed, argument that global warming is a myth.  Instead, as we see Thomas’ scientific argument collapse,  he relies more and more heavily on the Democratic bogeyman, claiming that the Democratic Party is somehow un-American and against workers.

More importantly, about one half of Thomas’ arguments are based on his belief, and his agreement with someone else’s beliefs.  If we were discussing a religious point, then this might add strength and credibility to his case.  Since, however, he’s arguing what is essentially a scientific point – about the existence of global warming and the role human activity plays in it – his beliefs are beside the point.  They’re irrelevant, and simply cloud the issue at hand.  Science, my friends, isn’t a democracy.  There are certainly debates among experts, often about subtle nuances of various theories.  In many cases, there isn’t any such thing as a “fair and balanced” view.  Beliefs aren’t particularly valuable.  Science is about evidence, and global warming is one of those cases in which the vast majority of the evidence is irrefutable – it exists, and we are playing an increasing role in it. 

Please, don’t simply take my word – I’m no climate expert. Instead, look at the evidence yourself. It’s all over the place for anyone who cares to read it.

Some Notes From The Amaz!ng Meeting 5

We’re back from Las Vegas and The Amaz!ng Meeting 5 (aka TAM 5), and I must say that if there’s any town in the US that could benefit from having a couple hundred more skeptics descend upon it, it would be this one.  Talk about your magical thinking – we were able see many examples of gamblers who had their pet superstitious behaviors on display – from the craps players who would arrange the dice just so before throwing them, to the blackjack players who would always increase their bet after losing because they knew they were “due” a winning hand.

TAM is an annual conference sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Skeptics Society.  It brings together scientists and skeptics to discuss issues such as critical thinking, skepticism, science, and logic.  The topic of this year’s TAM was Skepticism and the Media, and I found several of the presentations to be very entertaining (though not all appeared directly related to the conference topic).  Even so, here are some notes and thoughts on some of the happenings.

On the first day, during the welcome buffet, James Randi made a few announcements, including two that were of particular interest.  First, it seems that Uri Geller, who claims to possess real superpowers that allow him to bend cutlery with his mind, has been accused of fakery again, this time by an Israeli magicians association.  Apparently, Geller has a new TV show in Israel in which he’s looking for his own successor, and he’s been filmed performing some bad sleight of hand.  That Geller still claims to possess psychic powers boggles the mind, as the only thing about him that appears to be supernatural is the degree of his own chutzpah.

In addition to the Geller announcement, it was also announced that psychic superhero Sylvia Browne has again demonstrated that video technology is her own personal kryptonite:

Browne, a regular guest on the “Montel” show, apologized for her misfire, exposed first by StopSylviaBrowne.com, a blog dedicated to tracking the psychic’s every blunder.
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“I’m terribly sorry that this happened,” she told the Daily News. “But I think my body of work stands by itself. I’ve broken case after case.”

Oh really?  Even a casual look at Sylvia’s success rate shows she is operating at chance levels.

On the topic of Skepticism in the media, the most interesting, in my opinion, was presented was Peter Sagal, the host of the NPR radio show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”  Sagal said a couple things which may or may not seem as thought provoking to you as they did to me. 

One of Sagal’s points was that media outlets deliver information only when it’s in their interest to do so.  I’m not sure why this struck me as it did, since I have some experience with corporate thinking, and I’m aware that profitable corporations need to maximize shareholder value – which usually translates into doing what is in their interest.  Still, it seems that the media – and the news media in particular – should somehow be different.  I suppose that I’ve naively assumed that they ought to deliver information that serves the public interest

Sagal also related a story that illustrates an important point concerning skepticism and the media.  He told of a conversation that he had with a reporter, a friend of his, during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.  As the conversation progressed, he made the statement that Roberts didn’t seem to be as crazy as some of the other potential options for the position.  He said that his friend then said something very interesting.  He didn’t agree or disagree, but rather asked, “What information do you have that makes you believe this is true?”

Huh.  I think that bears repeating.

What information do you have that makes you believe this is true?

In nearly all cases involving the consumption of media, the vast majority of us have absolutely NO corroborating information concerning any given story or report.  Indeed, we often will simply seek out news media that we find either entertaining, or that confirms our existing biases.  We should remember, however, that we rarely get the raw information, and we may actually suspend disbelief to some extent when we consume what we think is credible news media coverage.  I found this a bit frightening.  Nobody gives us information that is in our interest to have, and even when we get information – we can’t necessarily trust it.  This may be especially true in those circumstances in which the media we consume tends to confirm our biases, or worse – when we find it entertaining.

I think the bottom line is: Assume that you’re being lied to, until you can come up with independent confirmation from other sources that you trust.  Also – don’t give anyone a free pass from critical examination of their claims – and be especially wary of those claims that make you feel good. 

There were many many other good presentations at TAM – Scott Dikkers, the editor of The Onion was hilarious, and NASA’s Phil Plait (aka the “Bad Astronomer”) gave a great presentation about how moon landing deniers are idiots – this means YOU Fox.  Of course, other great speakers made the show very much worthwhile.  James Randi, looking much shorter than I expected, was very energetic and provided a good deal of color commentary throughout the meeting.  Penn and Teller showed up, made us laugh, and answered a lot of questions. And yes, Teller admitted that Penn is his hero.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park were also pretty funny, and they admitted that they really started South Park so that they might be able to attend a skeptics conference years later.

One of the other speakers that spent altogether too little time at the podium was journalist and all round well-spoken Brit, Christopher Hitchens.  One of the things he said that seemed to ring true was:

It’s very hard not to offend people who are very determined to be offended.

That he aid this in context of discussing radical Islam, and how many western media outlets completely capitulated to threats of violence as a result of that whole Danish Mohammad cartoon incident last year.  He claims, and rightly so I believe, that the we have lost all sense of proportion when Muslim children are being killed in the streets and in mosques by other Muslims in Iraq, and the West is concerned about printing cartoons in a newspaper out of fear of being seen as offense. 

My claim to Muslims: Killing is more offensive than smiley faces of your prophet.

And finally, yes, we won a little at the Blackjack table.  Not a lot, but enough to keep from having to go to the ATM for four days in Vegas and still come home with some cash. 

Sylvia Browne Still A Fake

In case you missed it, TV psychic Sylvia Browne has demonstrated again that she’s a fake.  Here’s a short clip from Anderson Cooper 360 that also featured James Randi.

The Amazing Meeting is Coming Up - Let’s Look at a Letter to The Editor

I’m very excited about being able to attend this year’s Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Amazing Meeting

is a celebration of skeptics and skepticism sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. Thinking people travel the world to share a few days of learning, laughs and life with fellow skeptics and distinguished guest speakers.

Yup – a couple days listening to The Amazing Randi, Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller and others discuss logic, science, pseudoscience, magic, and critical thinking.  (OK – Teller won’t likely discuss anything.)  What could possibly be more fun?  Doing this in Las Vegas, that’s what.

So, on the eve of our departure to Vegas, I bring you this letter to the editor that appeared in this morning’s Mobile Press Register.  Now, while I am certainly not above poking fun at some of the minor aspects of life in the Deep South of the US, I am not presenting this as an example of what you may take as some sort of Southern Backward Thinking.  That, my friends, is a myth.  Instead, I believe this letter reflects a level of thought that commonly passes for logical debate and scientific understanding in a broad range of our society.  That it concerns itself with science and religion makes it interesting to me.  I’ll present the letter in its entirety, and then address some specifics after that.

Belief in God not a matter of Intellect

Here is a novel idea.  In a Dec. 27 letter to the editor, titled “A commission can study God’s role,” the writer said, “What the world needs now is another Baker Commission to study if God exists.”  The writer must have an exceptionally high opinion of the Baker Commission’s findings.

The writer also makes the bold claim that no living man, woman or child has seen or talked to God.  It would take an exceedingly wise person to speak so emphatically for all 6 billion people on this planet.  Humans can only see a small portion of the spectrum, which proves that just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Thousands speak to God daily.  It’s called prayer.

The assumption that there is no “logical evidence” that God exists is also an error.  Modern cosmology predicts that an expanding universe must have a beginning, and that requires that it have a “beginner.”  The creator must exist aside and apart from the universe he created and is not dependent on it for his existence.

These things are true and logical because of the law of cause-and-effect.  Whether you believe this first cause is the God of any of the religions of today is of no consequence.  Because of the obvious design in nature, logically the first cause, or creator, must be of superior intelligence.  Design implies intelligence.

Here’s the truth: No matter how many facts are presented, those who chose to believe will continue to believe and those that choose not to believe will not believe.  This is true because one’s relationship to God is not a condition of the intellect, or what one knows.  It is dependent on the condition of the heart, or what one believes.

RC
Wilmer, Alabama

 

Now let’s analyze this:

Here is a novel idea.  In a Dec. 27 letter to the editor, titled “A commission can study God’s role,” the writer said, “What the world needs now is another Baker Commission to study if God exists.”  The writer must have an exceptionally high opinion of the Baker Commission’s findings.

First, studying whether God exists isn’t a new idea, and neither is doing so by committee.  Google something like “Does god exist” for supporting evidence.

The writer also makes the bold claim that no living man, woman or child has seen or talked to God.  It would take an exceedingly wise person to speak so emphatically for all 6 billion people on this planet. 

It’s quite possible the writer read his Bible.  In Exodus 33:20 the Lord clearly states that no one can see him and live.  Also, John 1:18 is pretty emphatic that no one has ever seen God.  At best, these statements are simply evidence of the self-contradictory nature of the Bible – a common trait in human literature, though somewhat unexpected in one’s holy texts.  At worst, these statements are simply wrong (or lies) and the Bible again becomes fiction.  Somewhere in the middle are the claims that these statements are misinterpreted.  Really?  How do we misinterpret something like, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only Begotten who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”  Any person of faith should rightly believe that the writer’s claim is not so bold after all.

Humans can only see a small portion of the spectrum, which proves that just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

This argument is illogical.  Indeed, it falls prey to the logical fallacy known as the “fallacy of four terms”.

The argument has the form:

Humans cannot see all of the spectrum
The portion of the spectrum we cannot see exists.
Therefore God exists.

The fallacy arises from the fact that the terms in this argument – Humans, the spectrum, and existence – appears in both premises, but there is no mention of God until the conclusion.  In this argument, there is no connection from either of the premises to the fourth term, God, which makes the argument invalid.  This argument also appears of reach an irrelevant conclusion, which is another logical fallacy in which the proposition supported by the argument is actually something other than that which it appears to support.  In this argument, a proper conclusion would be that Humans cannot see all that exists, which is a long way from saying that God exists.

Thousands speak to God daily.  It’s called prayer.

That’s likely an great underestimation of the number of people who pray daily.  Even so, the fact that people pray isn’t proof that God exists.  Does speaking into a phone prove that someone is listening on the other end?  (This may be a bad example in the US, but the NSA can’t be everywhere, can they?)

The assumption that there is no “logical evidence” that God exists is also an error.  Modern cosmology predicts that an expanding universe must have a beginning, and that requires that it have a “beginner.”  The creator must exist aside and apart from the universe he created and is not dependent on it for his existence.

These things are true and logical because of the law of cause-and-effect.  Whether you believe this first cause is the God of any of the religions of today is of no consequence. 

This is not entirely true.  It is true that one can create a logical argument for the existence of God.  Here’s one:

The universe exists.
God created the universe.
Therefore, God exists.

Of course, a logically valid argument isn’t the same thing as scientific evidence.  This argument, as any syllogism, relies on the truth of the first two premises.  We can probably agree that the universe exists and isn’t some sort of illusion, so the truth of the first premise is probably established.  It’s that second one that hangs up everyone.  If you’re a person of faith, then you accept it as true, and the argument holds.  If you’re a scientist, then the absence of any corroborating physical evidence that God created the universe puts the whole argument on shaky ground.

Now, as far as cosmology and causality are concerned, there are a few problems here.  It’s true that most scientists accept the notion of time’s arrow, and an expanding universe.  Indeed, much thinking about causality seem to match our subjective experience – that is, that for every effect, there is a cause.  Unfortunately, classical notions of causality were upset in 1927, when Werner Heisenberg presented his famous paper about the uncertainty principle:

In the sharp formulation of the law of causality—“if we know the present exactly, we can calculate the future”-it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.
—Heisenberg, in uncertainty principle paper, 1927

Indeed, modern cosmology is informed by Quantum Mechanics, in which the so-called “Law of Cause and Effect” doesn’t always apply as we expect.  From this, our personal experience with causality may have nothing at all to do with causality in the early universe.

The creator must exist aside and apart from the universe he created and is not dependent on it for his existence.

I took this out of context because it actually speaks about something that exists outside the context of our existence.  If it were true that something can exist outside the universe, as RC claims of God, then there is no reason to expect that something to be bound by any laws of physics, or space-time, or causality that exist within the universe.  In addition, there be no reason to expect that something to be able to interact with the universe – or any of it’s occupants in any way.  Furthermore, as a being “aside and apart” from the universe, it’s unclear that any of us within the universe could actually interact with it since it’s on the outside.  In many ways, this is similar to the classic problem of Cartesian Duality, in which the Body and Soul are seen as distinct entities, each governed by their own rules.  The problem, of course, is of interaction:  Is it possible for things that are bound by physical laws to interact with things that are not so bound – assuming they even exist? 

 

Because of the obvious design in nature, logically the first cause, or creator, must be of superior intelligence.  Design implies intelligence.

Here, RC confuses complexity with design.  Nature is complex, and this doesn’t imply anything concerning its origin.  While it’s true that design implies intelligence, it’s not true that the complexity of nature implies a designer.

Here’s the truth: No matter how many facts are presented, those who chose to believe will continue to believe and those that choose not to believe will not believe.  This is true because one’s relationship to God is not a condition of the intellect, or what one knows.  It is dependent on the condition of the heart, or what one believes.

RC
Wilmer, Alabama

This part made the most sense to me.  It is true that those who believe will continue to do so in the presence of contradictory facts.  They will continue to believe when their arguments are shown to be flawed, or simply dead wrong.  Ultimately, faith clearly defies reason.  So all I want to know is why a person of faith would even attempt to couch what is, at its core, an irrational set of beliefs within any sort of logical conceptual framework?  This is unnecessary for the faithful.  I respect the faithful that embrace the illogic of their beliefs much more so than those that attempt to make rationalizations for them.  You don’t need reason – accept it.

More likely, it seems, in the few centuries since the advent of modern Rationalism and Empiricism, the faithful are necessarily becoming increasingly adept at logic and rational thought.  Armed as they are, this may lead to some self-examination, from which I would expect a certain measure of cognitive dissonance.  Better then to deny the evidence, look past facts, and keep on writing those letters to the editor.

Reposted from The Smug Baldy Speaks

 

UK Suppressed Evidence of Lies About Iraq WMDs

Reposted from Smugbaldy.com

The Independent Online Edition is reporting today that Carne Ross, a top level British diplomat, knew that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, but his report was suppressed, and Ross was silenced with threats that the report violated Britain’s Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, “at no time did HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] assess that Iraq’s WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests.

According to Ross, it was common knowledge among British officials that Iraq had no military capability that posed any threat to the the UK or its interests, and that Saddam Hussein had been “effectively contained” by years of sanctions.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, “there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material” held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. “There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US,” he added.

It was also revealed that British officials warned their US counterparts that “regime change” in Iraq was “inadvisable” due to the chaos that would arise following such action.

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. “I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed),” he said.

So – not only did the British know that there were no WMDs in Iraq before the US led invasion, they also suppressed the evidence to that effect, and threatened their own diplomats with jail time if they leaked the truth.

We used to have a saying, “Only in America …” although it’s apparent that our allies have learned the Way of the Bush Administration.

 

Yay! Let’s go to the Creationist Museum!

Crossposted on http://www.smugbaldy.com

The folks over at the Guardian Unlimited have an interesting report about the world’s first creationist museum, which is scheduled to open soon:

The Creation Museum – motto: “Prepare to Believe!” – will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct, and its mission is to convince visitors through a mixture of animatronic models, tableaux and a strangely Disneyfied version of the Bible story.

That’s right folks – a museum dedicated to the proposition that the book of Genesis is factually correct – and everything in the museum is fake.  The most interesting thing, in my opinion, is how they fit in all the dinosaurs:  They appear in the Garden of Eden – with their contemporary species, homo sapiens – prior to the fall of man.

Apparently, in order to keep some of the museum investors happy, both Adam and Eve will not appear in the nude, as the Bible says (so much for Biblical accuracy), but rather discretely and tastefully covered in some way.

 

Reparative Therapy: The Debate That Never Was

Jeez – I spend a couple weeks away, and there’s two huge new threads here about sexual orientation.  This was my brief comment about something I saw recently in the paper about Ted Haggard, and how he’s trying to get back into the fold.  Reposted on http://www.smugbaldy.com

In a recent article, AP columnist David Crary claims that the scandal involving the Reverend Ted Haggard and his extra-marital contact with a gay prostitute has “renewed the debate” about something that has widely been discredited in psychological circles: Reparative Therapy.

“Haggard is Exhibit A of how people can’t change their sexual orientation,” said Wayne Besen, a gay-rights activist and author. “With all that he had to lose—a wife, children, a huge church—he had to be who he was in the end. He couldn’t pray away the gay.”

Proponents of reparative therapy, however, claim that sexual orientation is changeable through the use of any of several techniques, many (though not all) of which are based on a Christian religious perspective.  Indeed, while some therapists use individual or group counseling or activities, many therapists utilize prayer, fasting, and religious instruction.  In some cases therapists attempt to cure homosexuality through the use of electroconvulsive therapy or aversion therapy [Ref].

Opponents of reparative therapy claim that sexual orientation is unchangeable, and as such, any efforts to change one’s orientation will not only be met with failure, but will also likely cause harm to the individual.  In addition, opponents criticize the science behind reparative therapy because of a lack of peer review as well as the potential for clinical research bias.  Essentially, current research does not support the central claim put forth by reparative therapy proponents – that homosexuality is innately negative, and as a result, homosexuals want to change.  In addition, critics point out that reparative therapy doesn’t speak to the issue of female homosexuality at all – which is another indication of clinical bias in its proponents. [Ref.]

The American Psychological Association makes it’s position very clear:

The term “reparative therapy” refers to psychotherapy aimed at eliminating homosexual desires and is used by people who do not think homosexuality is one variation within human sexual orientation, but rather still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder. The most important fact about “reparative therapy,” also sometimes known as “conversion” therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a “cure.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and defining the standard of the field, does not include homosexuality as a mental disorder. All other major health professional organizations have supported the American Psychiatric Association in its declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Thus, the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-gender sexual desires among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among health and mental health professional organizations.
[ref]

My take on this whole renewed debate is simple: There really isn’t a debate.  Never has been.

Instead, on one side we have had agreement from all the respected professional mental health associations since 1973 that homosexuality and bisexuality are normal variations within human sexual orientation.  On the other side, we have individuals and groups with political and religious interests in maintaining and consolidating social power, and they are clearly not above leveraging fear and pseudoscience to achieve their goals.  This “debate” isn’t about whether Ted can come back into the fold of heterosexuality, but rather about whether we are all dumb enough to believe that he should want to, or be forced to try to do so in the first place.

In addition, I believe that nothing speaks more eloquently of the circular logic that supports reparation therapy than this: If, in any argument involving homosexuality, we were apply the same logic to heterosexuality instead, does the argument still hold water?  For example, if we accept the premise behind reparation (or conversion) therapy that sexual orientation is changeable through Christian counseling techniques, then it should be quite possible for heterosexual individuals to become homosexual or bisexual if they pray, fast, or meditate enough.  Oops – wait a minute – here comes the kicker.  Proponents will quickly point out that this isn’t possible, because only non-hetero orientations are changeable.  Heterosexuality is what they call “innate sexual orientation” and it is not changeable – so once you’re hetero, you never go back because of its “special” status.  Clearly, this argument falls apart because it requires more than simple logic to support it – we also need to accept that heterosexuality is some sort of special sexual orientation that cannot be changed while any other orientation can be.

If you apply this little device to just about any claim made about sexual orientation: Lifestyle choice (When did you choose to become heterosexual?), political agenda (there’s a vast, heterosexual conspiracy), family raising (heterosexuals are the best parents) – you see that the claims just don’t hold water: Nobody decides to become heterosexual, there is no cabal of heterosexuals pushing the hetero political agenda, and the last time I checked, 99 percent of parents that abuse and murder their partners and children are heterosexual. 

There’s a simple explanation for all this and health professionals have been repeating it for over 30 years: Human sexual orientation is a continuum – and all variations of human sexuality are normal – even heterosexuality.

Why the Foley Scandal Won’t Matter

Crossposted on michael-peacock.com

The pedophelia scandal created by Republican congressman Mark Foley may seem like mana from heaven for Democrats seeking to regain some measure of control over the runaway train that our federal government has become, but I suspect that it won’t make much of a difference come election day.  That Republicans have known about, and apparently abetted, Foley’s illegal conduct will not sway the Republican faithful.  After all, when seen against the lightbox of other Republican abuses, incompetencies, fiascos, and outright disasters, this scandal fades to insignificance, outshined and outclassed by other more monstrous debacles.  And none of those obscenities have had much sway with Republican true believers.  No, not only has the Republican party by and large turned a blind eye to these abuses, it has, in so doing, been complicit in their creation.  Yes, a fair share of Democrats have been along for this little train ride, but it is the Republican party that has kept the boiler fire stoked.

Take for example, the Iraq War.  With over 2600 Americans dead, and over 20,000 wounded, we have paid a very dear price for whatever it is we have or have not accomplished there.  Now, a study by The Lancet, a very well respected medical journal, has estimated the number of Iraqi dead at 655,000 – a number roughly the same as the population of cities like Austin, TX, and Baltimore, MD.  That the administration and other Republican toadies would question the accuracy of this estimate is no big surprise – anything that makes the situation look worse is typically hidden, denied, or attacked.  That they claim that the proper way to estimate the Iraqi death toll is to conduct an accurate body count – and that they can claim this with a straight face – is appalling given that US commanders admitted as far back as 2003 that they simply do not conduct body counts.  The “official” casualty numbers place the Iraqi casualties in the neighborhood of 45,000 dead, and some much higher number wounded.  I find it offensive that our leaders will cite such numbers with the modifier “only”, as in: The Iraqi death toll is only 30,000.  An interesting position given this “Republican culture of life” and its claims about the preciousness of each and every human life.

Aside from the massive human tragedy, there’s the obscene cost of the war effort.  In September 2004, when John Kerry was rightly accused of inflating estimates by asserting that the war had cost “$200 Billion and counting”.  No no, went the Bush argument, we have only spent $120 Billion.  You’re soft on terrorists, and you might be one too.

Of course, we passed the $200 Billion mark long ago – in 2005 not long after the contentious presidential election to be precise.  Today, the “official” direct price tag is over $350 Billion, but many economists look beyond the dollars we’re spending now on fighting the war, and also consider future health care costs for wounded troops as well as the impact of interest on the national debt.  Some of these economists put the “real” cost of the war between $500 Billion and $2 Trillion

Most people simply have no concept of how utterly immense these numbers are, so let’s just examine the most optimistic number, the official cost of the war on terror is about $350 Billion.  That’s 350 followed by nine zeros. In scientific notation this is 3.5 X 1011 dollars, or when written out in standard currency format that’s $350,000,000,000.00.  If you started counting as fast as you could possibly count, which might be on the order of 10 numbers in a second, you would have to count non-stop for over 1100 years to get to 350,000,000,000.  Now, imagine that those aren’t just numbers, they’re dollars.  Your tax dollars, to be precise.  And now remember that this is the rosiest of estimates.  To get to $2 Trillion, you would be counting dollars for over 6300 years – longer than current recorded history.

OK – so the war is expensive.  Really, really, really expensive both in terms of human death and suffering, as well as the dollars that we’re throwing at it. “We’re red-blooded Americans”, the Republican refrain goes, “we’re not going to run away from a fight when the going get’s tough.  We’re going to adapt to win*”

No we’re not.

The US has already won the war in Iraq.  What we see now is the result of failing to plan adequately for the occupation of Iraq that everyone expected following the clear and decisive victory everyone expected.  That the Republican party still talks about the Iraq war reflects either stupidity on their part, which is unlikely since they really are pretty bright, or more likely – a willingness to trust their elected officials to a fault.  In this regard, I view Republicans more like battered spouses than hawkish war lovers.  Their leaders abuse all of our trust – again and again and again – and the Republican party faithful is ready to accept each apology, each broken promise, and each new abuse out of some twisted love for what their leaders once were, and a fear of what unknown fate would await them if they simply stood up and refused to keep on taking it on the chin.

New abuses?  Yes.  Surely you remember: Overselling WMDs, claiming that we only needed 100,000 troops to keep the peace in Iraq, the Republican attempt to privatize Social Security, the out of control national debt created by this administration’s upside-down policies, the obscene trade deficit that puts us in the pocket of foreign interests, our total failure to find diplomatic solutions to complex foreign policy crises – including the creation of a new and hostile nuclear power, domestic surveillence, wire tapping, large-scale email and other database trolling, the suspension of the writ of Habeus Corpus, secret prisons and prisoner abuse scandals, as well as our new “flexible” definition of torture that not only both violates the Geneva Conventions and puts all our men and women in uniform at risk, but which also runs counter to over 200 years of American judicial and moral tradition. 

Oh yeah, and then there’s that little thing about the Republican pedophile in Congress that the other Republicans knew about and kept quiet.  Come on – the Republican party drank the cool-aid long ago.  You don’t think think this new intensification of that bitter almond flavor would faze them, do you?


* “Adapt to win” replaced the previous White House talking points, “Stay the course” this past summer.  Too bad the talking point miss the fact that we have already won in Iraq, and now we’re an occupying force that’s fighting a domestic insurgency – a contingency that the Bush neocons rejected even when their best planners outlined the scenario in 2002 saying we would be greeted as liberators instead.

Bring Prayer Back?

My mother sent me an email petetion that she had recieved from a friend that asked each recipient to add their name and forward to their friends.  The goal of the petetion was to urge President Bush to try to get prayer reinstated in the public schools across America.  Rather than respond to the email, I started thinking.  That’s always a bad sign.

So I asked myself, “How could something as innocuous as reinstating prayer in public school possibly be a bad thing?”

Here were my thoughts:

First – exactly whose prayers are we going to reinstate?  Here in Alabama, they’d likely want some unholy Southern Baptist abomination.  In New York or Mass, you might get something quite different.  Overall, I doubt that we’re smart enough to be able to bring prayer back into public schools without also denigrating the religious sensibilities of someone – such as the 20% of Catholics in the South.  Since the public schools are for everyone, we have an obligation to provide an environment that supports all children – not just those of the majority.  So, if you can’t include everyone, then school prayer should remain private.

Second – the mission of the public schools is to provide education.  It’s the mission of one’s family to provide moral and religious guidance.  I learned mathematics and history at school.  I learned how to be a decent person at home.  I suspect this is largely true for most moral public school graduates (ok – maybe not the part about math and history).

Third – the problems with our public schools go way beyond anything that a reinstatement of prayer would fix.  For example, here in Alabama, children must bring their own pens, pencils, soap, and toilet paper to school because the school budget cannot meet the such demands.  Ok, let’s have all the kids say a couple Hail Mary’s at the beginning of each day.  Guess what – the kids would still need pens and paper, and the classes would still be overcrowded.  Ultimately, what is the tangible effect of prayer in public school?  I would guess that it would make some kids feel better, some would feel worse, and some would’t care one way or the other.  In total, it would be much like the effect of the Pledge of Allegience – kids would muddle through it each day, parroting the words, while never getting the point of what all the fuss was about.

Fourth – if prayer in public schools is the solution, what are the problems we’re really trying to resolve by bringing it back?  Is it that our kids are not Christian enough?  That there’s some sort of social breakdown?  That our “culture” has gone godless?  I very strongly suspect that there are no significant social ills that were created by removing prayer from public schools.  In addition, I suspect there are no social ills that would be resolved by bringing prayer back into the schools.

My greatest suspicion is that the call for prayer to be brought back into schools is more about perception than it is about actually doing something about social ills.  “If we only brought prayer back into the schools”, the claim goes, “then we would collectively be a more ‘Holy’ Nation”.  The fallacy, of course, is that the US – for all its popular culture and closet secularism, is very much a Christian-dominated country.  Most Americans are very devout – they pray at every opportunity, invoking the blessings of their deities at sporting events and other gatherings, and they are more willing than persons from most other developed countries acknowledge their gods in public forums.  Most of this is genuine religious fervor, so I’m betting that having public school kids pray at the beginning of their school day won’t add much to the overall mix.  Maybe the point is that if we appear more holy, then the gods won’t notice our other failings.  Maybe praying for change really is better than changing things for the better ourselves.

In any case, I believe the only place for state-sanctioned prayer is in history texts and horror novels.

Newsflash: Evolution Deemed Controversial in Alabama

This appeared in my morning paper – and was apparently an AP story:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The [Alabama] state school board voted unanimously Thursday to keep a disclaimer in biology textbooks that describes evolution as “a controversial theory” after no one in the audience disputed the label, which has generated heated debate in the past.

The board, in its vote to accept a committee’s recommendations of science textbooks, agreed to continue carrying the disclaimer, which calls evolution “controversial” in the first paragraph and adds in the second that any statement about the origin of life is “not fact.”

Just in case you were wondering, Evolution is highly controversial in Alabama. Not so much that it’s a scientific theory that is widely accepted by the scientific community, but because it presents an alrternative explanation to the origin of species that is accepted as an article of faith by many in the religious community. Further, in case you were wondering, Alabama is a pretty religiously active state. We’ve got God battling the Devil in the sky or something, saints and angels flying about doing whatever saints and angels are supposed to do, images of the crucifix appearing in piles of hurricane debris, and the only school board in the country that insists that evolution is controversial.

 

Without doubt, this is the same sort of make-believe controversy as the one that arose years ago as part of the Super bowl commercial golden era: I’m referring, of course, to the Bud Bowl. Outside the realm of a pretend football game between two opposing teams of beer bottles, there were very (very very) few who were impacted by the Bud Bowl controversy. Was Bud Light really better tasting? Could Budweiser go the distance? Nobody knew. Rather, outside of each 30-second spot – nobody even cared.

This is probably why the Alabama State School Board can get away with something as stupid as this. The only people that even care, are those that are offended by any challenge to their quaint notion that a magical being created the world with a wave of his big, uh, umbrella or sock puppet or whatever it was [actually, the bible is rather silent on this waving issue – there was some talking – but no biblical evidence of waving].

Here’s what I believe is true:

  • There is no scientific evidence of any gods other the the many humans invented.
  • There is no scientific evidence of any devils, angels, ghosts, UFOs, nor alien beings, other the the many humans invented.
  • There really are fairies, and they’re responsible for some of the better restaurants.
  • Science belongs in the public schools.
  • Religion belongs somewhere else.