Commitment to vocabulary sanctity is not a virtue

June 25, 2011

One of my sister’s Facebook friends had a very interesting response to her status applauding the New York Senate’s  decision to legalize gay marriage. He opposed the decision, not on any moral or religious grounds, but purely on the grounds that it changes the definition of a word.

Now normally I might remove names to protect the innocent, as they say on Filmspotting. But since bigotry is a sensitive subject for me, I’m feeling  in an LT. Aldo Raine kind of mood and so I don’t care if people know his name.

So after my brother commented that religion is the primary motivation in opposing same-sex marriage and  there really is no sane reason why anyone should be against allowing other people to marry, here’s what Mr. Leonard Wilder said:

Sure there is a sane reason, and it’s not based on religion. No where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a man and woman, irr…espective of religion, class or wealth. This definition was as firm as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Now, all of a sudden, because of political jockeying , I am now being told by the government that our way of thinking is wrong and that marriage also includes the union of same sex couples. If same sex couples wish to live together, etc that is their business. I see no reason why the government has to put the title of “marriage” to that arrangement. The definition remained unchanged for thousands of years and should remain as such. With that said, we will have to agree to disagree.

To which I responded thusly:

And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but a property agreement for exclusive sexual access to the woman until about 200 years ago. And no where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a white man and white woman or black man and black woman until the 20th century. You don’t know what you’re talking about and the fact that you value traditional definitions of words over civil rights and human happiness says little of your character. The U.S. Constitution defines black Americans as 3/5 of a white American. You think we should maintain that definition too? And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of “web” was anything other than the thing that spiders make until the birth of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s. I guess we can’t allow that either. I’m sorry you have such a problem with the fact that the English language evolves over time. I suggest you stick to Latin then because the English language will continue to change without your personal consent whether you like it or not.
Then came Leonard Wilder’s rebuttal:
I did not know that Perez Hilton was “in the house”. Good thing I’m not running for Miss USA! Oh wait, I cannot; I’m a guy. I would not be allowed to chase that dream so maybe I should mount a constitutional challenge or better yet, contribute to the campaign of those NY Senators who were forced to vote against their conscience. Whatever the rationale, the two of you have inadvertently proved my point: for whatever reason the marriage was entered into (political, financial, religious or love) , MARRIAGE has been the union of one man and …one woman (excepting polygomy). Now I agree that the role of race, especially in the US determined who can marry who. However, the fundamental definition of marriage always remained the same. Now various states are calling the union of same sex couples a marriage. That is a sham. Let me ask, if the NY Legislature passed a resolution that said the moon Landing never occurred should I believe them? Of course not. In addition I do not look at this as a civil rights issue. I’m not advocating taking away human rights. If homosexuals wish to enter into formal arrangements, legal or otherwise that is their business. I’m just not sure why such an arrangement needs to be called a marriage.
So how did I respond to this load of total bullshit?
Let’s see. There’s false analogies, red herring arguments, non-sequiturs. The whole package. Not a single analogy you made even comes close to resembling the actual thing you’re criticizing. Broadening a term to expand a civil right to a marginalized class is not even in the same ball park as denying a historical event. They’re nothing alike and your arguments are as incoherent as saying that if Chewbacca came from Endor, gay marriage must be morally wrong. To call your comparisons apples and oranges would be the understatement of the eon. It’s more like comparing apples and neutrons.If you have a serious objection to marriage equality, I’m open to hearing it. But if all you’re going to do is try to mask bigoted insecurities with preposterously childish justifications like valuing vocabulary sanctity over human prosperity, you make it impossible for me to take you seriously. This nation was founded on notion that everyone…EVERYONE has a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not on the principle of maintaining the purity of the master race of words. As I’ve already explained (and by all means fact-check me to your heart’s content), the definition of marriage you embrace is not much older than the one that includes unions of same-sex couples…which incidentally was added to the Merriam Websters Dictionary almost a decade ago. Further, it doesn’t take someone like myself who has actually studied the history of language and media to recognize the frequency in which the modern languages grow and change over time. Hell, this month alone, the Oxford English Dictionary added almost 2,000 new or revised entries.

Honestly, did you throw this much of a hissy fit when they they added the word, “D’oh” to the dictionary, spitting in the face of centuries of bakery tradition, or is your righteous indignation merely reserved for those cases where those words lead to real world public policies that benefit classes of people you personally dislike?

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NYC Skeptics become victims of a hit piece

May 4, 2011

Just like The Last Supper!

I was sick last week and so I ended up skipping the NYC Skeptic’s monthly Drinking Skeptically. As it turns out though, I might have dodged a bullet. An editorial writer for the NY Observer (I know, I didn’t know that was a real newspaper either) apparently attended both Massimo Pigliucci’s monthly philosophy-themed meet-up, which I’ve never personally attended, and Drinking Skeptically. But the reason I say I dodged a bullet was that the final article he wrote suggests he had no real interest in fairly assessing skeptics and decided to add dramatic license…A LOT of dramatic license.

I know most of the people cited and quoted in the article. Many of them are personal friends of mine. And the descriptions of them here don’t resemble any of them. This can only be described as a hit piece, which may explain why every chance he got (as well as those that weren’t there at all), he attempted to invent a comparison between skeptic’s groups and religions, even comparing the image of a bunch of philosophy-enthusiasts sitting at a table together to The Last Supper. Cause it’s a group of people sitting at the same table eating! GET IT!

The vast majority of human interaction revolves around food, so I’m pretty sure many meetup groups involve a bunch of attendees sitting at a long table together. That the author thinks this attribute alone constitutes an appropriate comparison to religion suggests he understands as little about religion as he does his interview subjects.

This is just a pathetic piece of writing unbecoming of any serious publication, even buried in the Culture section. One of my friends who was shamelessly quote-mined in the piece says the author trapped them with leading questions. That same friend later reported that the article’s author, Jonathan Liu, emailed a sort of apology for how the piece turned out, claiming the final product ended up more “frivolous” than he wanted. According to my friend, Liu said all the “aggressive” and  “messianic” language along with the claim that Massimo Pigliucci was out to “forcibly convert” theists was just his way of innocently expressing that many skeptics are passionate about the cause. Suffice it to say, I find this explanation somewhat dubious.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.4.11

January 4, 2011

1. Pakistani governor slain for opposing blasphemy laws – The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his own bodyguard because he was an outspoken critic of religious extremists and called for the end of the death penalty for the crime of blasphemy.

2. Jesus infects hundreds with sexually transmitted disease – Hundreds of New Yorkers may have been exposed to hepatitis A when they attended Christmas Day services at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park in Long Island while receiving communion. Individuals exposed to the disease should receive vaccination within two weeks of exposure. Made up authorities are still unsure if this is connected to the non-existent Muslims who got gonorrhea from Mohammed.

3. Vaccine against cocaine high successful in mice

“Our very dramatic data shows that we can protect against the effects of , and we think this approach could be very promising in fighting addiction in humans,” says the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of at Weill Cornell Medical College.

He says the antibody produced in lab mice by the binds to, and sequesters, cocaine molecules before the drug reached the brains of these animals — and prevents any cocaine-related hyperactivity. The vaccine effect lasted for at least 13 weeks, the longest time point evaluated.

4. Power Balance admit fraud – The manufacturers of PowerBalance were forced to admit to the Australian media that there is no scientific evidence supporting their claims that their bracelets improve strength, balance, and flexibility.

LEO!!!!

5. Romania passes bill requiring witches to pay taxes

“witches, astrologists, embalmers, valets and driving instructors are now considered by labor law to be working real jobs, making it harder for them to avoid income tax”

Meanwhile, in Ghana…

6. Ghana continues to burn ‘witches’ alive

Elderly women are used as scapegoats for all ills in large parts of Ghanaian society – leading to exile, and sometimes murder

Six people are currently appearing before a magistrate at Tema, near Accra, for allegedly burning a 72-year-old woman to death, in the belief that she was a witch.

In both cases, anyone with the slightest knowledge of dementia would recognise symptoms of the disease from the accounts given of the behaviour of the women. They were where they were not supposed to be, and when they were asked what they were doing there, they could not explain themselves. This is because dementia sometimes robs its victims of the ability to speak coherently.

It is absolutely insane that this is still going on in the 21st century.

7. Earth-like planet said to have 100% chance of life? – That’s the claim being made about Gliese 581g. But given the lack of fanfare and the number of times we’ve heard this kind of claim before,I think I’ll wait to hear what more experts say before accepting this “100 percent” figure without any actual evidence at all to justify it.

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Rational Giving

August 10, 2010

Atheists and rationalists of all kinds are often accused of not being charitable. Now I’ve blogged before about how atheists groups dominate Kiva, a site that allows anyone to loan money to those in need but this past week, I’ve seen other great examples of giving among secular humanists.

1, For instance, atheist billionaire Bill Gates this week convinced 40 other billionaires to publicly pledge to give half their fortunes to those less fortunate:

Together with Warren Buffett, their “The Giving Pledge” project nabbed Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), George Lucas, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Barry Diller from IAC (an internet media company that owns Ask.com, Bloglines, Vimeo, Match.com and others), along with many others.

2. Then I learned that popular atheist YouTuber dprjones is organizing another charity drive with other popular atheist YouTubers to benefit Medecins Sans Frontieres (also known as Doctors without Borders):

3. Lastly, and certainly the most controversial of the bunch, atheist Robert W. Wilson has recently given $5,600,000 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

“Most of what the Catholic schools teach are the three Rs,” said Wilson, 83, in a phone interview, referring to reading, writing and arithmetic. “And they do it better than the union-controlled inner-city schools.”

Wilson began making donations to the New York archdiocese in 1997 with a gift of $10,000, and he continued at that level for several years. Then Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, asked him to consider giving more money to the schools. Wilson responded in 2007 with a $22.5 million gift to the archdiocese’s Cardinal’s Scholarship Program. He later saw a need for a better alumni support network.

Now regular readers will know that I’m no fan of Catholic institutions, but I have heard from others that some Catholic schools do actually provide a solid education and I don’t know the detail behind this particular case. Certainly, I’d rather see that money go to New York City public schools but regardless of where I personally would rather see the money go, it’s inspiring to see an unbeliever being so giving, especially to an religious organization in which they don’t even belong.

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Are vaccine deniers shills for Big Cemetary?

July 29, 2010
Measles. This child shows a classic day-4 rash...
Image via Wikipedia

Today brought two deeply disturbing news stories that seem quite related to our psychotic anti-vaccine friends. First, a new report places my home state of New Jersey (also home to massive anti-vaccine campaigns) a disgraceful #45 on the list of vaccine protected states. In the U.S., only five other states and the District of Columbia are less protected by vaccines than New Jersey.

New Jersey’s immunization rate for children under 3, at 68.5 percent, is significantly lower than the national average of 76.1 percent and is woefully behind the 90 percent that public health authorities consider optimum for providing “herd immunity.”

And though I’d almost rather not distract from this horrible news, I think it is worth noting that New Jersey, despite having one of the worst vaccination rates in the country, also has among the highest rates of autism in the country, yet another inconvenient fact anti-vaxxers don’t want you to think about.

The other related news story is this report that hundreds of people in Tarrytown, New York have been exposed to measles, which has been tracked back to its source, a single unvaccinated person infected with the virus:

Exposure to the infected person may have occurred either Friday at a social event attended by 200 high school students from abroad at the EF International Language School on Marymount Avenue or between 5 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or Eva’s Hair Salon in the Westchester Marriott Hotel on White Plains Road in Greenburgh.

More than 900 people from the East Coast are believed to have been at the hotel during the time period. The infected individual stayed at the Marriott, but did not visit Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or the hair salon. However, airborne transmissions of the measles virus could have reached the restaurant or salon due to shared ventilation systems with the hotel.

And this is only the beginning. If the anti-vaccine movement is not stopped, we’ll see more outbreaks, which will inevitably lead to deaths. And if these viruses are allowed to rise again, there is no telling what level of destruction they will bring upon an unprotected populace. The power of an atomic bomb is insignificant compared to that of a well evolved virus.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.3.09

December 4, 2009

1. Men may be doomed by their sperm

Men carry the seeds of their own destruction in the genes present in their sperm, research suggests.

Scientists working on mice have highlighted a specific gene that, although carried by both sexes, appears to be active only in males.

They believe it allows males to grow bigger bodies – but at the expense of their longevity.

2. Roger Ebert gives both creationists and New Agers the thumbs down – Ebert is growing awesome in his own age. First, he panned both the style and the science of Ben Stein’s awful mockumentary last year. Then earlier this year he wrote about his atheism. And now he’s done it again. This is up there with your review and follow-up remarks regarding The Brown Bunny.

3. Age of Autism has removed their entry with the controversial Thanksgiving image – But it’s still available thanks to Google’s cache. Suck it, Handley, Crosby, Wright, Stagliano, and the rest!

4. NY state senate says no to gay marriage –  Wow, this is disappointing. It’s New York, dammit! Home of Greenwich Village and Broadway. How is it possible that NY can’t pass gay marriage?

5. Dating site ‘True’ screens out “marrieds & felons & atheists” – I think Friendly Atheist nails all the obvious questions that come to mind:

How exactly do they screen for atheists? For that matter, how would they know who’s married or a felon? They’re assuming a lot of honesty in these online profiles…

6. Rick Warren doesn’t just know the mind of ‘God’ but the mind of every atheist

“People become atheists because of hurt, then seek intellectual arguments to validate their desire to live without God.”

That’s an interesting hypothesis there, Rick. Care to back that little gem up with demonstrable evidence.

7. Religious classes count for GPA in Poland

The Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that grades awarded for religion classes in school can count towards a pupil’s grade point average.

Two years ago the Democratic Left Alliance asked the Tribunal to look into the case, believing that it was discriminatory towards schoolchildren who came from atheist families or who had other beliefs.


Keith Olbermann disgraces himself again

June 30, 2009

I used to like Keith Olbermann. I really did. What the hell happened? The guy really has become the Bill O’Reilly of the radical Left. Okay, he’s a little bit more interested in actual facts and fair, objective reporting than Bill-O, but as this clip shows (as well as his poorly conceived attack of British journalist Brian Deer earlier this year), he’s not interested in fair, objective reporting. In the clip linked above, Keith-O declares that the anonymous donor largely responsible for getting the Atheist Bus Campaign ads in NYC is the third worst person in the world. And why does Keith-O think they’re so terrible, presumably more terrible than Osama bin Laden, who didn’t make the list? Because of  the Keith-O’s perceived irony over the fact that they’re remaining anonymous while financially supporting an ad campaign that encourages atheists to come out of the closet:

Tonight’s worst persons in the world. The bronze: To the person who donated the scratch for ten thousand dollars worth of ads on the sides of buses in New York City, promoting atheism. They read, “You don’t have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person.” The hope, from president Ken Bronstein of the group NYC Atheists, is to get people to stop hiding their non- belief — to stop hiding it. No complaint about the message — however, while Bronstein says, “We want to get atheists to come join us, to get out of the closet,” unfortunately the donor who made the ads possible is keeping his identity anonymous. (Contemptuous eye-roll.)

So an atheist promoting a campaign to encourage other atheists to come out while choosing to remain anonymous yourself makes you a bad person? According to Keith-O, the answer apparently is not only YES, but it makes you the third worst person in the world.

I think Greta Christina sums up the flaw in Keith-O’s logic quite well:

If you were doing a segment about an ad campaign designed to let gay people know that they weren’t alone and to encourage them to come out of the closet — and one of the major donors to the campaign wanted to remain anonymous — would you decry them as one of the worst persons in the world?

Or would you understand that coming out as gay can — yes, still, even this day and age — be a hazardous enterprise? Would you understand that coming out can mean alienating family and friends, losing your job or your kids, getting beaten up or even killed? Would you understand that people have to come out on their own timetable, and that a person who wants to take action to support gay rights and gay visibility still might not be completely out of the closet? Would you understand that even gay people who are out to their families and friends and colleagues still might not want their name, and their gayness, splashed all over the national news?And if so, then why don’t you understand it about atheists?

There are some realities about living as an atheist that you may not know about, Mr. Olbermann. Coming out as an atheist can have serious real-world consequences. Parents get denied custody of their children for being atheists. People get harassed and vandalized by their neighbors for being atheists. Teachers get suspended for being atheists. Teenagers get harassed and suspended from school for being atheists. Politicians whip up anti-atheist fear to try to get elected. (And that’s just in the US. I’m not even talking about parts of the world where atheism is a crime, punishable by imprisonment or death.)

And that’s coming from someone who is both gay and an atheist. Sorry Keith-O, but I’m calling this one an EPIC FAIL!