News From Around The Blogosphere 8.21.11

August 22, 2011

1. Bionic leg gives amputee natural gait – Once again, science achieves where gods have failed, creating a practical prosthetic leg that closely simulates the function of a biological one. Now unfortunately, the article was unclear whether the leg comes with a Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman sound effect option.

2. A pro-science GOP candidate? – Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman has come out in support of both evolution and climate change. It began with a Twitter post where they tweeted: ”To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”  He then went on ABC’s Sunday morning show This Week and came out even stronger in support of science. And in doing so, he’s proven to be the only GOP candidate who seems to have graduated from elementary school and has immediately moved up to the top of my list of who I’d like to see running in the general election against Obama…at least out of the options that are currently on the table…which admittedly doesn’t say much.

I'm pretty sure this is the right Rhett S. Daniels

3. Science blogger silenced by quack’s lawsuit – Fortunately, U.S. libel cases are notoriously hard to prove and Rhett Daniels doesn’t seem to have anything even resembling a good case. But at least for the time being, René Najera has been successfully silenced by this intellectual coward’s bullying tactic.

4. Can science engineer a human with bulletproof skin?

By mixing the genomes of spiders and humans, researchers say they can create genetically altered human skin that could withstand a bullet fired from a .22-caliber long rifle.

They just better make sure this spider-man is taught that with great power comes great responsibility. This story sounds pretty far-fetched but it still makes for an interesting read.

5. JREF targets famous ‘psychics’ following Nightline episode – Last week’s episode of Nightline looked at the world of alleged psychics. It did a pretty decent job of representing the skeptical side, featuring guys like Banachek and James Randi himself voicing their criticisms and mimicking standard mentalist tricks. And now the James Randi Educational Foundation is following up the piece by issuing personal invites for several of the famous psychics featured in the show such as James Van Praagh to apply for their Million Dollar Challenge. Of course, one doesn’t have to be psychic to predict they’ll either ignore the challenge or refuse to take it with a silly excuse.

6. Psychic family caught in fraud case:

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Why I won’t be voting for Ron Paul…ever

August 22, 2011

Okay, this one’s about politics, so if that’s a problem with you, feel free to ignore it.

 

Still here? Once again, it seems I’m surrounded by talk about how libertarianism is the great solution to our problems and arguments why I should support Ron Paul as a presidential candidate. And while politics deals much more with subjective values than objective facts, I do feel that there’s enough of what can legitimately be called bunk in the discussion to justify talking about it here.

This isn’t the first time I’ve stepped into the arena of libertarian criticism. I’ve previously posted a piece over at my old Examiner page here. And typos aside, I’m still very proud of that piece. Though I do have more to say on the topic, particularly in relation to Ron Paul, who is treated by many in this country as the libertarian messiah. And that’s perhaps the thing that troubles me as well as many of his critics the most. His often otherwise rational disciples seem to support him no matter what and have demonstrated they’ll happily overlook his preposterous positions on major life and death issues.

For instance, despite being a medical doctor, Ron Paul is an unapologetic creationist. He denies evolution, the unifying theory of all of modern biology. This also means he pretty much rejects all of geology, paleontology, and genetics to name a few other relevant fields for which evidence for evolution springs. I yet otherwise rational atheists and skeptics who abhor creationism and recognize its harmful effects in science education seem willing to overlook Ron Paul’s creationist status because they claim to  agree with him on “more important issues.”

Then there’s Paul’s position on church-state separation. Again, atheists and skeptics who care passionately about maintaining Jefferson’s famous wall say they’re willing to overlook Ron Paul undeniable rejection of it along with his overall religiosity because they claim to agree with him on “more important issues.”

Next, there’s Paul’s desire to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. Paul’s main argument is the very same we hear from most anti-abortion activists, that a fetus is a life worthy of being granted full human status. Ron Paul’s position is not based on science but on religion. Now we already know what the consequences of such a decision would be because we’ve already lived it. If Ron Paul gets his way on this issue, thousands of women will in fact die from unsafe back alley abortions just as they did before because abortion isn’t a luxury but rather serves an important public need.

And that is why this makes a great example of Ron Paul’s hypocrisy. Every other sentence out of his mouth is typically about protecting individual freedom or condemning big government. But when he has to choose between his libertarianism and his religious beliefs, he proves he’ll happily sell out individual liberty for Jesus. While I recognize that libertarians can come in many flavors, based on the basic tenets, the clear libertarian position should be to protect free market abortions from big government regulations. That should be a no-brainer for a libertarian. But not Ron Paul who apparently feels big government should have the power to control a woman’s body.

Ron Paul has also suggested that he thinks big government should decide who you can and can’t marry. Though he’s gone back and forth in his public rhetoric, it’s quite clear that under President Ron Paul, same-sex unions would not be welcomed in the United States of America and he even praised Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

In a 2007 interview with John Stossel, Paul stated that he supported the right of gay couples to marry, so long as they didn’t “impose” their relationship on anyone else, on the grounds of supporting voluntary associations.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

In the third Republican debate on June 5, 2007, Paul said about the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy:

I think the current policy is a decent policy. And the problem that we have with dealing with this subject is we see people as groups, as they belong to certain groups and that they derive their rights as belonging to groups. We don’t get our rights because we’re gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our Creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way. So if there is homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. But if there’s heterosexual behavior that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. So it isn’t the issue of homosexuality. It’s the concept and the understanding of individual rights. If we understood that, we would not be dealing with this very important problem.[195]

Now to be fair, he later voted down DADT when it became popular to do so, but anyone should be able to see the horrific implications of his quotes above. What does it even mean to “impose” one’s gay relationship on anyone else? Does he mean not going out of one’s way to hide that he or she is in a same-sex relationship? It sounds like the typical double standard where homophobic bigots claim even the most basic public displays of affection like kissing is “shoving it down our throats.” And under President Ron Paul, without proper anti-discrimination policies, military officials would be free to call anything “disruptive” behavior in order to keep gay troops from getting promoted or to justify severe harassment. Ron Paul is saying he thinks all soldiers should be treated the same…unless a soldier makes their differences known. Then it’s THEIR FAULT if they suffer disciplinary action based because of it. This is like saying that we shouldn’t discriminate against black people so long as they behave like white people. Well that’s not really tolerance, now is it?

But it does bring me to another problem with Ron Paul. After dancing around the elephant in the room for a long time, he eventually did publicly state that he would have voted against the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would voted against state laws requiring segregation of the races. And while the inevitable consequences of his position would be further racial injustice, he maintains that he is not a racist and insists that anyone criticizing his position on this issue is calling him one. He also maintains that is position is built on protecting property rights…which he apparently feels are more important than promoting a society of social justice and equality for everyone. I can picture Mel Gibson playing Ron Paul in a future film: “You may take away our lives, our dignity, and our equal rights…but you’ll never take–our property?? Really?” The article linked to above does a great job of highlighting the absurdity of Paul’s position on this issue.Suffice it to say though, there’s an excellent reason why Ron Paul is the candidate of choice among many white supremists, regardless of whether he is one himself or not.

Then there’s the issue of the environment. Ron Paul strongly opposes polluters. But don’t worry. It’s not out of any concern for our safety. Nah. It’s because of how pollution can affect other people’s property. Let no one ever say Ron Paul doesn’t have his priorities. He also asserts that climate change is not a “major problem threatening civilization.” This is no doubt based on his decades of research as a climatologist. Oh, wait. That’s right. He’s a medical practitioner. I always get those two mixed up.

He declined to name any particular environmental heroes and affirmed no special environmental achievements other than his educating the people about free-market solutions rather than “government expenditures and special-interest politics”.

And therein lies the fundamental reason why libertarians tend towards denial of man-made global warming. Ron Paul’s claims that AGW is not a serious problem and that we don’t need big government to solve it come not from any science but from ideological necessity. While there is a tiny bit of debate among climatologists as to just how serious the problem is, there is simply no disagreement among the experts that it is indeed a very serious crisis that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. And it doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is a problem that requires governmental bodies launching large initiatives and passing regulations that will affect businesses. There is simply no libertarian solution to this problem and the free market will only make the situation worse as corporate allegiance is to the stockholders, not to mother nature. There is no free market solution to combat global warming and there never will be. Which is why cognitive dissonance requires Ron Paul to put his head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Because if it does exist, under President Ron Paul, we’re all doomed.

Finally, there’s the economy, the one thing many of Paul’s supporters cling to even when I admit to disagreeing with him on just about everything else. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I have to call him out as failing on this issue as well. Here lies the fundamental flaws of libertarianism itself:

Among many others, three astonishing principles underly the model of a libertarian economic system:

 

  • That consumers can have perfect knowledge of the marketplace and that businesses will withhold no information that consumers need.
  • People will always act in their best interests.
  • Businesses will voluntarily be responsible citizens and act in the best interests of their communities.

These are necessary conditions for libertarian economic systems to avoid descending into chaos, but none of these things are true.  Nevertheless, libertarians believe that they are or, at least, can be true without substantial regulation.

Ron Paul’s entire economic philosophy is built upon extraordinarily naive assumptions about how people will behave, assumptions that all evidence tells us are demonstrably out of touch with reality. In recent years, we only need to look at the scandals involving Enron, Toyota, BP, Lehman Brothers, and Goldman & Sachs to name only a few. Corporations are not honest agents even under the threat of competition and having their scandals exposed. There’s one goal and one goal only: make profit by any means necessary. Corporations are just as prone to corruption as government officials, and that is why we need each to serve as a check on the other to help keep them both honest.

I could go on but I feel I’ve sufficiently made my point, as have others whom I’ve linked to. Incidentally, Ron Paul and his disciples have been complaining lately how the media has been ignoring him. To which I say it’s not big government that’s ignoring Ron Paul; it’s the free market that’s ignoring Ron Paul. So he really has to either stop bitching about it or admit the free market sucks. As for me, I care too much about science, civil rights, the environment, and the economy to ever vote for Ron Paul.

And just for fun, here’s a video criticizing Ron Paul disciples for defending him no matter what, followed by a Ron Paul disciple’s response video reinforcing the first video’s point:

 

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Julia Galef on The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation

August 17, 2011

My friend, Julia Galef, recently moderated a panel at The Amazing Meeting 9 on the topic of The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation. Since then, she has put up on Measure of Doubt, the blog she shares with her brother, these two videos discussing her own further thoughts on the subject:

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The Mark – my directorial debut

August 14, 2011

Last week, I posted a short film I wrote. And in that post, I promised to put up another short that I recently directed.

This is the award for making it into the TOP TEN in the Asian American International Film Festival’s 72-hour Shootout. The short film, The Mark, is my directorial debut (not including little films I made in grad school). It was written, shot, and edited all in the span of 72 hours and made it into the top ten out of fifty entries:

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This Week In God 8.10.11

August 10, 2011

1. Three great blogs moving – PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, has moved from Scienceblogs to freethoughtblogs. Though he still posts some of his material at the old site, I’m not crazy about this move because because freethoughtblogs seems more atheist-focused whereas scienceblogs at least gives the impression of Pharyngula being more science-focused, regardless of whether the actual emphasis changes or not. Hermant Mehta has also moved his Friendly Atheist blog to Patheos, a site hosting blogs from many different religious and spiritual perspectives. I think this one was a good move because it gives Mehta’s atheist blog a great opportunity to gain readers among the religious, and this could possibly change some people’s views about atheism. And lastly, blogger Greta Christina will be soon moving her blog to freethoughtblogs. I’m fairly neutral about this because she’s already got a strong atheist readership, so I don’t expect much change one way or the other in terms of her readership.

2. Speaking of PZ Myers, he too has now publicly taken a position on the American Atheists’ lawsuit over the “9/11 Cross.” It seems that even that nasty militant atheist that Jeff Wagg today (I think quite unfairly) called the “FoxNews of atheism” in a tweet agrees with me that it’s just not worth the effort and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry:

I can understand that in principle it’s promoting religion, and I look at that random chunk of steel that forms a crude cross and can see that it is abysmally stupid to consider it a holy relic, but man, if atheists have to police every single act of stupidity committed by the human race, we’re going to get very, very tired. We need to pick our battles better, and this one is just plain pointless.

3. Stephen Hawking’s Curiosity refutes god on Discover Channel – You can watch the whole first installment at the link above…at least for now.

4. Jonathan T. Pararajasingham follows up his videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism with a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god. The former is a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers making intelligent arguments in favor of atheism while the latter is a depressing example of how motivated reasoning can poison the minds of otherwise intelligent people, causing them to make the most asinine and incoherent arguments to defend their indefensible faith.

5. Evolution wins out in Texas – Okay, I’m very late on this story. So sue me. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution in a 14-0 vote, approving scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers, rejecting the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

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Face of Jesus appears in the least likely place

August 3, 2011

A few months ago, I teased that I’d been working on a skeptically-themed short film project I’d written that I promised I’d post here. Well, it’s finally online for all to see:

I also recently finished directing another short with a slight skeptical bent to it for a 72-hour film festival (the entire film was produced from conception to post-production in 72 hours). That film is in serious running for the top prize at the festival and will go online shortly after the night of the festival in a few weeks. So I plan to post that video here as well when I can.

And if you can share this video, I’d greatly appreciate it.

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Another criticisms of American Atheists’ lawsuit over the 9/11 Cross

August 2, 2011

This one comes from one of my favorite YouTube atheists, ProfMTH: