29 December, 2010

Mea Culpa. Sort of.

Ok, so I am usually critical of government, government programs, and especially government employees.  I need to slightly modify my schtick, and here's why:

Last week I put a hold on our mail delivery because we were planning to spend this week in Key West.  Then, on Christmas, my mother-in-law died and the trip was off.

Consequently, on Sunday, I cancelled the hold mail request.

Monday no mail came.  Ok, it may take a while for the cancellation to make its way through the system.

Tuesday, still no mail.  Hmmmm...

Today, our mail carrier whizzed by our mailbox again, so I flagged her down.  No, she reported, she had not gotten word of the cancellation, but would start our delivery tomorrow.  Government.

An hour ago our doorbell rang; it was our carrier, with her private vehicle and on her way home for the day, dropping off our accumulated mail.  Damn!

Is there any way just to make this woman President for life?

13 December, 2010

Liberty vs Big Government: An Insight from The Advocates for Self-Government

Libertarians have lots of great answers to political questions.

Sometimes, however, it's better to ask questions instead of giving answers. Asking the right question, or asking a question in the right way, can stimulate mind-opening insights.

Here's one example of a great question, from Wall Street Journal editor John Fund.

Suppose someone is talking about the need for a major government role in providing for the poor. Instead of lecturing the person (which could start an argument and put the person on the defensive), try asking this question:

"Imagine you won the lottery or otherwise came into a large sum of money, and you wanted to help the poor. You could give $100,000 to a private charity of your choice. Or you could write your check to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Which would you choose -- and why?"

Virtually no one chooses government! And in answering the question, people convince themselves of the advantages of charity over government.

Questions make people think. It's amazing how often people will come up with the libertarian answer to a problem, if you give them a chance. And if they do so, they are more likely to accept that answer.

09 December, 2010

Kill the Freaking Goose. Screw the Barnyard.

Some folks would rather strangle the golden goose than lift up the entire barnyard.

Purportedly the friends of the working class and down-trodden, once again the Pelosi Left in the House of Representatives has exhibited its true colors.
Presented with the opportunity to reach a number of their prized goals (or what they claim to be their prized goals), the Pelosi-ites instead reverted to their time-honored tradition of not just wealth envy, but a visceral hatred of the wealthy.
As a result, taxes will increase on the working poor by 50%, benefits will not be extended for the chronically unemployed, and scores of millions of lower and middle income workers will not see an economy-stimulating 2% reduction in their payroll taxes.  All…all willingly sacrificed in order to punish our nation’s most productive and successful citizens.
Why not raise taxes on these wealthy few, moan the envious enemies of getting ahead, after all they represent such a very small minority.  
To which one must logically respond:  If the numbers are so few, why not forgo using them for political whipping things and instead help the much larger number you claim to care so much about? No need to respond; we all know the answer.

15 November, 2010

The Why, not the What...

The following video can, I believe, be a great help in jump starting the Liberty Movement, and bringing large and small L libertarians into positions to correct the excesses of the past as well as chart a future where the rights and interests of the individual are not just preserved, but cherished.

A tip of my hat to John Jay Myers.

12 October, 2010

"Why do some Atheists seem so angry?"

I get a lot of the "Why are you so angry?" bullshit.  Not nearly so much as many of my more famous and thus more exposed contemporaries of course, but enough to warrant an answer.

I was in the midst of formulating a response when I happened upon one "Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist".  In the accompanying brief video, Brother Sam does a far better job of explaining the source of "Atheist anger", as well as its actual target (No, it's not some imaginary, invisible patch of ectoplasm in-the-sky), than I ever could.

So here, speaking largely for me, and I suspect fifteen to twenty million other Atheists in this U S of A, is Brother Sam Singleton:

03 October, 2010

Heaven, or Hell?

While walking down the street one day a corrupt Senator was tragically hit by a car and died.

Instantaneously his soul arrived in heaven and was met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," said St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," said the Senator.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from the higher ups. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really?  But I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," the Senator replied.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

So St. Peter escorted him to the elevator and down, down, down he went to hell.

The doors opened and, to his surprise, the Senator found himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance was a clubhouse and standing in front of it were all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone seemed very happy and in evening dress. Seeing him, they ran to greet him, shook his hand, and reminisced about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. Together they played a friendly game of golf and then dined on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne

During the festivities Satan walked in, a very friendly guy who had a good time dancing and telling jokes.

Before the Senator realized it, his day was up and it was time to return to heaven.

Everyone gave him a hearty farewell and waved as the elevator began its ascent.

The elevator rose up, up, up, and finally the door opened in heaven where St. Peter stood waiting for him. 

"Now it's time to visit heaven", the kindly old Saint beckoned.

The next twenty-four hours passed with the Senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing.  Again, he had a good time and, before he realized it St. Peter had returned and stood before him.

"Well then", he said, "you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now you must choose your eternity.

The Senator reflected for a minute before he answered.  "Well, I would never have thought it, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be happier and  better off back down in hell."

St. Peter dutifully escorted him to the elevator, and in no time he was plunging back down, down, down to hell.

Finally the doors of the elevator opened and to his utter shock he found himself in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.  He located all his friends, who now were dressed in rags, bending and picking up trash and putting it in bags as more trash continued to fall from above and flames rose all around them.

Satan walked over to him and put his arm around his shoulders.

"I don't understand," stammered the Senator. "Yesterday when I was here there was a golf course and a clubhouse, and we all  ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?  I don't understand"

The devil smiled knowingly at him and replied,  "Yesterday was the campaign.  Then you voted.  Now the election is over."  

Choose wisely on November 2nd my friends.

Vote Libertarian.

07 July, 2010

Madison on the proper role of government...

What does the Constitution say about the proper role of government? Just what was the intent of its framers?

James Madison is regarded as both the primary author of the Constitution and a prime mover of the Bill of Rights. On 03 March, 1809 Madison was inaugurated as the fourth president of the United States, and defined his goals and intentions as:
"To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well as its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with the rights of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and the freedom of the press; to observe economy in public expenditures; to liberate the public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics – that without standing armies their liberties can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; to promote by authorized means improvements friendly to agriculture, to manufacturers, and to external as well as internal commerce; to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty;…”
Once we get beyond the incredible length of this single, run-on sentence, two things come to mind:
  1. All or at worst most of what he said could be mistaken as coming from a Libertarian Party platform, and
  2. Neither of the two major parties have even taken a single phrase in the address, much less the entirety of its intent, seriously.

12 April, 2010

The Parade of Jobs. And vice versa.

So I’m casually scanning an article in Sunday’s Parade Magazine about how much money people make, mostly because I’m an Atheist and my life is therefore devoid of all meaning.

The first thing I notice is an attractive lady from MA who is a “Career counselor” and who earns $33,700. Now maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t you be just a little hesitant to take career advice from someone making south of 40G? “Our tests indicate you have an innate ability to master the complexities of quantum physics, and there are great jobs open for greeters at Wal-Mart.”

Then there was the young lady from UT who listed her job as “Modern dancer” and her annual income as $23,000. OK. Who wants to bet she voted for Obama and is just thrilled with the free healthcare she has coming so she will be able to continue to pursue her dream? Of course somewhere out there is someone far less thrilled about being forced to finance her fantasy, but hey, redistribution is what Obamaville is all about.

C. Frog Price of AL comes in a $0, plus unemployment, since he was laid of from his job as an ad sales manager last summer. Froggy cannot understand why it is so difficult to find another job in his chosen field. I suggest that Froggy look in a mirror, and then give some thought to losing that “been lost in the Northwoods for going-on four years” look.

One Sonia Sotomayor earns $208,100 as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Nice work if you can get it, and based on recent appointments (and rumors of appointments) apparently you can get it providing you are unaware that the United State is a Constitutional Republic.

Another interesting thing about the list: among the highest earning folks in the report are TV and Hollywood types that are darlings (and advocates) of the left. I wonder why we never hear complaints about the multi-tens of millions of dollars pulled down by people who slide through life, well, pretending to be someone other than who they are? Did you ever hear a call from Obama for a Czar to oversee Hollywood salaries?

Some ex-football player named Michael Vick gets paid $1,600,000 a year by the Philadelphia Eagles, one would guess to keep him from playing for some other team.

In RI we find a 33 year old male whose calling in life is as a “barista”. It sounds cool, I guess, but at 20 grand a year can the time be far away when his mother tells him to find a real job and get the hell out of her basement?

Last and surely least is the lady minister in the Midwest "earning" a full $5,800 for doing her deity's heavy lifting. Being a market oriented person, I can only observe that her pay is simply the market's judgement on what her life's work is worth.

I could go on, the pickings are ripe, but what’s the point? Besides, I have a Satanic Brotherhood baby cook-off in another hour and I need to change costumes.

10 April, 2010

The Culture Gap

I came across this today in one of my saved file folders. I decided to post it here because yesterday I was "unfriended" on facebook by someone who became apoplectic over my linking to a Neal Boortz column describing most transfer payment recipients as "moochers". How could I be so unfeeling? I don't know, I guess I just get irritable when my pocket is being picked.

Brink Lindsey is vice president for research at the Cato Institute and author of The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture.

Cut through all the statistical squid ink surrounding the issue of economic inequality, and you'll find a phenomenon that genuinely deserves public concern.

Over the past quarter-century or so, the return on human capital has risen significantly. Or to put it another way, the opportunity cost of failing to develop human capital is now much higher than it used to be. The wage premium associated with a college degree has jumped to around 70% in recent years from around 30% in 1980; the graduate degree premium has soared to over 100% from 50%. Meanwhile, dropping out of high school now all but guarantees socioeconomic failure.

In part this development is cause for celebration. Rising demand for analytical and interpersonal skills has been driving the change, and surely it is good news that economic signals now so strongly encourage the development of human talent.

Yet -- and here is the cause for concern -- the supply of skilled people is responding sluggishly to the increased demand. Despite the strong incentives, the percentage of people with college degrees has been growing only modestly. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of men with college degrees inched up to 29% from 26%. And the number of high school dropouts remains stubbornly high: The ratio of 17-year-olds to diplomas awarded has been stuck around 70% for three decades.

Something is plainly hindering the effectiveness of the market's carrots and sticks. And that something is culture.

Before explaining what I mean, let me go back to the squid ink and clarify what's not worrisome about the inequality statistics. For those who grind their ideological axes on these numbers, the increase in measured inequality since the 1970s is proof that the new, more competitive, more entrepreneurial economy of recent decades (which also happens to be less taxed and less unionized) has somehow failed to provide widespread prosperity. According to left-wing doom-and-gloomers, only an "oligarchy" at the very top is benefiting from the current system.

Hogwash. This argument can be disposed of with a simple thought experiment. First, picture the material standard of living you could have afforded back in 1979 with the median household income then of $16,461. Now picture the mix of goods and services you could buy in 2004 with the median income of $44,389. Which is the better deal? Only the most blinkered ideologue could fail to see the dramatic expansion of comforts, conveniences and opportunities that the contemporary family enjoys.

Much of the increase in measured inequality has nothing to do with the economic system at all. Rather, it is a product of demographic changes. Rising numbers of both single-parent households and affluent dual-earner couples have stretched the income distribution; so, too, has the big influx of low-skilled Hispanic immigrants. Meanwhile, in a 2006 paper published in the American Economic Review, economist Thomas Lemieux calculated that roughly three-quarters of the rise in wage inequality among workers with similar skills is due simply to the fact that the population is both older and better educated today than it was in the 1970s.

It is true that superstars in sports, entertainment and business now earn stratospheric incomes. But what is that to you and me? If the egalitarian left has been reduced to complaining that people in the 99th income percentile in a given year (and they're not the same people from year to year) are leaving behind those in the 90th percentile, it has truly arrived at the most farcical of intellectual dead ends.

Which brings us back to the real issue: the human capital gap, and the culture gap that impedes its closure. The most obvious and heartrending cultural deficits are those that produce and perpetuate the inner-city underclass.

Consider this arresting fact: While the poverty rate nationwide is 13%, only 3% of adults with full-time, year-round jobs fall below the poverty line. Poverty in America today is thus largely about failing to get and hold a job, any job.

The problem is not lack of opportunity. If it were, the country wouldn't be a magnet for illegal immigrants. The problem is a lack of elementary self-discipline: failing to stay in school, failing to live within the law, failing to get and stay married to the mother or father of your children. The prevalence of all these pathologies reflects a dysfunctional culture that fails to invest in human capital.

Other, less acute deficits distinguish working-class culture from that of the middle and upper classes. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, working-class parents continue to follow the traditional, laissez-faire child-rearing philosophy that she calls "the accomplishment of natural growth." But at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, parents now engage in what she refers to as "concerted cultivation" -- intensively overseeing kids' schoolwork and stuffing their after-school hours and weekends with organized enrichment activities.

This new kind of family life is often hectic and stressful, but it inculcates in children the intellectual, organizational and networking skills needed to thrive in today's knowledge-based economy. In other words, it makes unprecedented, heavy investments in developing children's human capital.

Consider these data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, an in-depth survey of educational achievement. Among students who received high scores in eighth grade mathematics (and thus showed academic promise), 74% of kids from the highest quartile of socioeconomic status (measured as a composite of parental education, occupations and family income) eventually earned a college degree. By contrast, the college graduation rate fell to 47% for kids from the middle two quartiles, and 29% for those in the bottom quartile. Perhaps more generous financial aid might affect those numbers at the margins, but at the core of these big differentials are differences in the values, skills and habits taught in the home.

Contrary to the warnings of the alarmist left, the increase in economic inequality does not mean the economic system isn't working properly. On the contrary, the system is delivering more opportunities for comfortable, challenging lives than our culture enables us to take advantage of. Far from underperforming, our productive capacity has now outstripped our cultural capacity.

Alas, there is no silver bullet for closing the culture gap. But the public institutions most directly responsible for human capital formation are the nation's schools, and it seems beyond serious dispute that in many cases they are failing to discharge their responsibilities adequately. Those interested in reducing meaningful economic inequality would thus be well advised to focus on education reform. And forget about adding new layers of bureaucracy and top-down controls. Real improvements will come from challenging the moribund state-school monopoly with greater competition.

This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on July 9, 2007.

31 March, 2010

It's Begging to be Said...

Something needs to be said and damn, I’m just the person to say it.

“Social Conservatives” are not Conservatives. Period. They’ve corrupted the word.

Sure, they give lip-service to concepts like liberty, small government, and lower taxes, but they cannot be taken at their word, not for one second.

A real Conservative wants smaller government and maximum freedom every time and in every possible way. Real Conservatives are not concerned with who a person loves, what they choose to imbibe, what books are on the library shelf or movies playing in the local theatre, or what “instruments” any of their fellow citizens might keep in their nightstand drawer.

Real Conservatives do not believe in taxing their fellow citizens to prop up foreign dictators, initiate the “second coming”, or send young Americans halfway around the world to force democracy or Christianity on others.

Real Conservatives cherish and defend the Constitution, the whole Constitution. They would never pick and choose those parts convenient to their cause while ignoring those parts that might prove problematic for their goals.

In short, “Social Conservatives” are more correctly referred to as Theocrats, willing, even anxious, to use the power and purse strings of government to force their personal morality and beliefs on their fellow citizens while at the same time promoting their own religious agenda on courthouse walls, over school public address systems, and in other public – meaning taxpayer funded - spaces.

Barry Goldwater was a Conservative. Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, and most everyone else claiming to be these days, are not.

22 March, 2010

On grasping defeat from the jaws of victory...

It has been said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

In 280 BC at Heraclea and again in 279 BC at Asculum, King Pyrrhus of Epirus forced Roman legions to withdraw from the battlefield defeated. The casualties imposed on Pyrrhus' forces in those two victories however proved devastating, as the Romans regrouped, resupplied, and eventually prevailed. From this chain of events we derive the phrase “pyrrhic victory”, an initial win that ultimately leads to defeat.

So shall it be with the leftist win in the healthcare battle. The forces of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama, by employing bribes, threats, and promises they cannot keep, won a narrow victory in the House of Representatives this past 21 March, but in so doing they ensured the ultimate demise of their power and agenda.

By insisting on ramming through a measure that a clear majority of Americans opposed, the Democrats set the stage for a Republican resurgence in November. Historically the party out of power picks up a few seats in off-year elections, it just seems to be the nature of things. The Democrats however, by thumbing their noses at the will of the people, put in jeopardy every seat they picked up in the 2006 and 2008 elections, and perhaps more.

It would appear from the consensus of all major polls that the best the Democrats can hope for come November are drastically weakened majorities in Congress, with the GOP building significantly on its ability to veto any Democratic initiative in the Senate. Some pundits are predicting a GOP takeover in both houses, but to me that seems unlikely at this point. What is likely however is that both the leftist clique in Congress and President Obama are now finished and will be unable to dominate the agenda going forward.

What is most interesting is that the left is not insured of ever seeing their “reforms” take place. Certainly the GOP in the Senate, whether with 52 seats or 40-some, will be able to block any and all funding and enabling legislation. Without appropriated funding, no new agencies can be formed nor can existing departments and agencies execute any of the language of the just-pasted bill.

Given a couple of years of court fights, the resistance of thirty-some states through opposition legislation, and the inability to actually put any of their grand scheme into action, the vote on 21 March must be considered a catastrophic pyrrhic victory for the left, a foolhardy and fatal monument to the arrogance and narcissism that has marked their governance.

21 February, 2010

Prove it!

One of the most pathetic of all arguments rationalists get from theists, and let's face if, they're all pretty pathetic, is that we "can't prove God doesn't exist." Please.

Secure in their ignorance, these simple folks really believe this is a killer argument.

I will set aside Christopher Hitchen's quip, "That which can be asserted with no evidence may be rejected with no evidence", even though it does cut straight to the heart of the matter.

Rather today I want to examine their claim in a somewhat differing light, offering an example which I hope will assist even the truest of believers in recognizing the thinness of the ice on which they have chosen to skate.

First a lesson in basic logic. Existential statements, those asserting that there is a (non-mathematical) entity possessing a specific property (or set of non-contradictory properties) can never be conclusively disproved...that is just the nature of any such proposition. Should theists therefore take comfort in this fact? Can they?

The answer is a resounding no, and where my example comes into play, because no matter how absurd a claim for existence is it can never be completely disproved.

I can claim, and I hereby do, that somewhere on our planet there exists a dog which can and does speak perfect English out of its butt, and I challenge theists (or anyone else for that matter) to prove me wrong. Before you injure yourself attempting to jump through logical hoops however, permit me to assist you. It cannot be done.

No one can look everywhere, check every dog, and say with total authority that I am wrong because there is always the probability that they have missed something somewhere or even, in this case at least, come across a butt-speaking dog which was not in the mood to cooperate.

Although they cannot be disproved, existential claims can on the other hand be proved quite simply. In the case above, all I need to do to prove my claim is to present the dog in question and the argument is over.

And so it is, my theist friends, that I need to ask: Where, precisely, is YOUR butt-speaking dog?

15 February, 2010

Whereas John delivers a climate change sermon to both sides:

For months now I have listened to, read, and thought a great deal about all the nonsense emanating from both sides of the “climate change” debate, and I can’t stand it any longer. Both sides are spending way too much time off topic and far too much effort on obfuscation, getting us nowhere and avoiding the real issues with which we must eventually come to grips.

First I need to address the climate science, it’s a crisis, we must act now, crowd.

Your science is, I accept, largely correct. That said, you have created two huge problems for yourself and your conclusions:

1. You have used some faulty data (misplaced data collection stations, etc.) and relied too much on computer simulations, leading to confusion among a not very well science-grounded American public. We all know that computer simulations can be a case of garbage-in, garbage-out. While you have been touting your results and screaming for action from government, you have failed totally to explain your data sources, inputs and methodology to the wider audience that is necessary to bring along if you expect politicians to react favorably to your findings. What is needed is a better, clearer explanation of your science, and far less politics and crying wolf.

2. You have spun data, tried to suppress dissenting findings and interpretations, and allowed the most unreliable among you (and yes, especially the IPCC and its irresponsible, political head) to become the face of your science. In so doing you have enabled those who dispute your findings, for whatever reasons – good and/or bad – to gain the high ground as well as momentum.

My advice: Stick to the science, explain it on a sixth grade level, avoid terms such as “crisis”, and root out those who would take shortcuts or play dirty pool in order to advance their conclusions.

Question: Is it not probable that the destruction of tropical forests has played at least as great a role in the accelerated warming we are seeing as SUVs and cow farts, and isn’t that a cheaper and less destructive (to world economic development) place to start to solve the problem?

As for my Libertarian and Conservative “denier” friends:

1. The science is not on your side, and pointing to misconduct on the part of a couple of warming advocates does not render untrue the totality of the findings. You are making yourselves look silly and thus destroying your own credibility by taking such an extreme position. Hello! The earth has been warming for the last 12,000 to 14,000 years, and the oceans have been rising right along with the temperatures. Climate change is a fact of life.

2. This rise in temperatures since the Younger Dryas has not been straight line, but rather in fits and starts. During the warming we have had extreme rises in temperatures in a short time (i.e. “The Medieval Warming Period”) along with rather strong reversals in the trend (i.e. the “Little Ice Age”). A harsh winter or a decade or two of reversal in warming is not evidence, much less proof, of the absence of the longer-term trend.

3. Given all we know about the effects of certain greenhouse gases, it is foolish to claim that mankind has not played a role in accelerating an already existing trend. What that role is, what percentage of the warming is attributable to it, and what actions if any are warranted, is where the debate needs to hinge, not on the fact of warming itself. If you want a seat at the table when policy is discussed, you must be focused on the real issues.

In conclusion: No matter which side of this debate we come down on, we all need to be better stewards of the earth and more aware of the crucial impact our species has had on it. If we can agree on that, then we can find a way to deal with the climate change phenomenon we are experiencing, one based on cooperation and continued growth.

06 February, 2010

Incredible, Really...

A few posts back I wrote of my bout with PCa and the importance of guys getting regular PSA checks. Incredibly, someone chose that post to leave the following comment:

DM said...
the atheist sins not only against God, but also against man...
Atheist: have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG? WRONG

now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a b***h....


little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!

Visit: isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.htmls

you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

04 JANUARY, 2010 23:58
The first thing that stands out of course is "DM's" intellectual paucity. Unable to frame a coherent thought, much less a logical argument, he (she?) staggers back and forth between name-calling and linking to sites where one can only suppose someone else has done a better job at offering up at least a modicum of rational discourse.

I wonder if "DM" realizes the more than 1/6 of the worlds population - and almost the same fraction here in the U.S. - do not believe in a god of any kind. I doubt he has any awareness of the facts, given his groundless "98%" claim.

But the most glaring sign of the type of person with whom we are dealing is that the coward is even afraid to identify himself, going so far as to link to an empty blogger id.

Quite a person - eschew reasoned debate, call names, then runaway and hide, probably in his mommy's basement. Yep, sounds like a true Christian soldier to me.

01 February, 2010


It doesn’t seem that long ago, but back in 1978–79 a fascinating science series called “Connections”, written and featuring James Burke, aired in the UK and the US. If you have never seen it, parts of some episodes are available on YouTube, or the entire series is sold by any number of outlets. It is marvelous.

My purpose today is not to resurrect “Connections”, but to say that I was reminded of that series a couple of days back when I was reading an article about Charles Darwin.

When Darwin wrote “On the Origin of Species”, his idea was not a theory scientifically, rather it was a hypothesis. One of the most amazing aspects of Darwin’s work was his ability to formulate complex conclusions from a series of seemingly unconnected finds and observations.

Since Darwin’s death of course literally hundreds of thousands of independent observations, experiments, and discoveries have confirmed his hypothesis, and today Evolution via Natural Selection (and probably a handful of other triggers) is accepted fact in the scientific community.
Perhaps the most telling evidence in support of Evolution is that found in genetics – the study of DNA, genes, and how all living things are both linked and differentiated by the code written inside every cell. Which brings me back to my “Connections” theme.

Darwin’s last scientific publication was written a mere two weeks before his death, a short paper about a tiny freshwater clam that lived on the leg of a water beetle in the ponds around his home in the English Midlands.

The man who found the beetle and sent it to Darwin was a young shoemaker and amateur naturalist named Walter Drawbridge Crick. And now for the connection:

The young shoemaker eventually married and had a son named Harry who, much later in turn, married and produced a son of his own named Francis.  Need I continue?

In 1953 it was this grandson of the shoemaker/naturalist who, together with James Watson, unraveled the mystery of DNA and the double helix, thus giving birth to the science that has erased any possible remaining serious doubts about Darwin’s work in “Origins”.

Now is that neat, or what?

29 January, 2010

Just How "Special" are We?

One of the many trite arguments often advanced by religionists is that their belief system "elevates humans to a position just a bit below the angels", while skeptics place humans "barely higher than the apes". Humankind in other words occupies a unique position, standing above the rest of earth's fauna.

There are of course a number of key errors in this clumsy syllogism, not the least of which is that rather than being "barely higher than apes", we indeed are apes. A bit brighter perhaps, somewhat more creative in some areas undoubtedly, gifted with language to be certain; but apes non-the-less. As for angels, show me one and then we'll talk.

The mistake flows of course from the logically and scientifically indefensible premise that humans are somehow special, sitting as it were at the pinnacle of "creation". The very fact of evolution, its processes blind to any particular outcome and totally lacking a goal, should be enough to dissuade all but the most credulous from such an obvious solipsism, but oft it is not. One cannot fairly place all the blame on government schools for this failing given the influence of family and clerics, but the lion's share certainly rests there.

Today I'd like to offer a somewhat different view of the problem however, positing what for me is a fascinating "what if", and soliciting the reader's willingness to pursue a bit of a thought experiment. Specifically, regardless of on which side of the argument you find yourself, I challenge you to contemplate the following:

Most folks are at least vaguely aware of the scientifically incontrovertible fact, even if they find it inconvenient for their cherished beliefs, that Homo sapiens (we) migrated from Africa roughly 50,000 years ago and proceeded to slowly colonize the rest of the globe over the following 25,000 years or so.

What most people are not aware of however is that when we emerged from Africa we were but one of four surviving hominid species. Far from being alone, we shared earth with three "cousins" as it were: Homo neanderthalensis in the Levant and much of Europe, Homo erectus throughout eastern Asia, and Homo floresiensis in a corner of the East Indies.

Over the course of a number of millennia we either outcompeted or simply annihilated all three (depending on one's perspective), leaving us the last ones standing. Which brings me to my thought experiment.

What if we were not the last ones standing? What if today we still shared earth with one or more of our hominid cousins? How then might we view ourselves and the evolutionary process?

Exactly how special would we, could we, claim to be? More interestingly still perhaps, how might our view of god(s) and our relationship with he/she/it/them be altered?

Certainly we would view things differently. How could we not?