29 May, 2007

Funny O' The Day

From "xkcd"

Latest blog meme...

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Spiritual Atheist






Militant Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Angry Atheist


What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

HT: De Rerum Natura

21 May, 2007

The Way I See It

If you've bought a cup of Starbucks coffee lately, you've likely noticed that many, if not all, of the cups have these nifty quotes printed on them. The quotes are part of a marketing campaign to "spark conversation", or as Starbucks puts it,
In the tradition of coffee houses everywhere, Starbucks has always supported a good, healthy discussion. To get people talking, “The Way I See It” is a collection of thoughts, opinions and expressions provided by notable figures that now appear on our widely shared cups.
As you may also have seen in various news stories, Starbucks has caught a little amount of flak for this program due to the allegedly large percentage of the quotes which are claimed by detractors to be either "liberal" or of the "freethinking" variety. (for example, Worldnutdaily had an article a month or so ago about a Catholic woman "offended" by a humanistic quote).

Now, I've been a regular (almost daily) Starbucks customer for years. I've seen many of these quotes and in reality there's no bias present in the quotes whatsoever. For every "atheist" or "freethinking" quote, there's a Deepak Chopra or Rick Warren to offset it. For every "liberal" there's a Jonah Goldberg. In this case, the whiners are just more of the same fragile individuals whose worldviews simply can't stand up to opposing opinions. Unfortunately for them, everyone's entitled to his/her own opinion, and with so many people out there, it's likely that you won't have to look very far to find someone with whose opinion about something you're likely to disagree.

For myself, I kind of like the quotes. They're almost always thought-provoking and interesting and other people's opinions are just that: opinions. Offensive some might be, but that's just the way things are bound to be.

But what about when someone's "opinion" is obviously and egregiously false? And what about situations in which such a falsehood approaches the moral equivalent of libel?

At Civil Commotion, Robert Felton calls our attention to a quote he found on a Starbucks coffee cup:
Darwinism’s impact on traditional social values has not been as benign as its advocates would like us to believe. Despite the efforts of its modern defenders to distance themselves from its baleful social consequences, Darwinism’s connection with eugenics, abortion and racism is a matter of historical record. And the record is not pretty.
Via Starbuck's website, I see that the quote (The Way I See It #224) is from Jonathan Well's book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Wells is a well-known evolution denier and the author of Icons of Evolution, one of the first of the modern attempts to use the trappings of science (without any of the actual methodology or content) in an effort to cast doubt on evolutionary theory.

But Well's statement doesn't just represent an opinion. His statement is obviously and egregiously false. Darwinism has NO connections to eugenics, abortion, or racism. None. These oft-repeated falsehoods have been debunked many, many times by many people. That Wells repeats them is an indicator of the level to which he's willing to sink in order to further his agenda.

I can certainly understand Starbucks wanting to provide an open forum for opinions and the exchange of ideas, but since when should that include countenancing the promulgation of obvious and egregious falsehoods? If Wells were a holocaust denier or a geocentrist, would his "opinion" still have been printed? Surely the mere fact that this is his opinion shouldn't shield it from editorial review? Doesn't Starbucks have a responsibility NOT to promote obvious falsehoods?

Even further, doesn't Starbucks have a responsibility NOT to disseminate material of a libelous nature? If Wells' statements were to be true, surely it would cast evolutionary biologists and other proponents of Darwin's theory as moral reprobates. Only a degenerate would participate in teaching and promoting an idea with such truly negative consequences. And truth would be a positive defense to a charge of libel, so Wells' statement would be wholly justified.

But Wells' statement is NOT true. And demonstrably so by multiple sources. And a falsehood that maligns the character of innocents for no purpose other than to further a personal agenda is quite possibly an example of libel. Now Well's libelous behavior doesn't surprise me (Google his name for plenty of examples of his disgusting tactics), but in this case, Starbucks must share the blame for turning a blind eye in the name of "diversity". And that's the way I see it...

Update: A little more searching locates posts on the Starbucks coffee cup topic at Stupid Evil Bastard, Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Atheist Jew.

Funny O' The Day

Another from xkcd:

18 May, 2007

Executive Privilege

Stephen Heersink posts some timely, lucid, and polemic thoughts on Executive Privilege as practiced by the current occupant of the Oval Office. I'm going to post some quotes and comments below, but please do read the entire original; it's well worth the time.

In discussing the history of the idea, Heersink notes:
Ever since George Washington became the nation's first president, our government's chief executive has appealed to "executive privilege." Infrequently, even hesitatingly, but under "special" circumstances and situations. Executive privilege, in this sense, is an Executive's exemption from accountability and scrutiny for reasons outside the ordinary functions of an open and free society for extraordinary reasons -- often for "national security" and/or "access to candid/privileged counsel."

But as the Watergate incident reminds us, "executive privilege" cannot be invoked to "hide" corruption, malfeasance, ineptitude, illegality, or the "people's right to know." In 1974, the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon held: "the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties" and that "[h]uman experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interests to the detriment of the decision-making process." But, it granted no "further reach" of Executive Privilege.
Take note of the particularly narrow construal the Court makes. Now compare that with the increasing invocations of such privilege by the White House. Heersink notes the appalling performance(s) by the current Attorney General as a example of the depths to which the administration has sunk.
In our system of government, this "absolute executive privilege" just does not stretch as far as Bush's delusional imagination. Observing the nation's Attorney General deliberately deceive Congress and the Public to "hide" the President's actions through dissimulation will necessarily persist, because Gonzales' departure would "open" an opportunity to get past the grand-standing, deceptions, and dissimulation. Gonzales, therefore, has to stay. He's the Wall of Separation. He's the Barrier. He separates "access" and "clandestine," "disclosure" and "obfuscation," "open" and "closed," "executive" and "everyone else."
Sad, but true. I have all but given up watching or reading the news. It seems as though every new story drives me further into despair. What new perversion waits just 'round the bend? When the President of the United States believes that the Constitution is "just another piece of paper", what depravity is off-limits? As Heersink notes:
This untenable tension between a delusional man's belief in absolute executive privilege and an excessively-timid and uncertain Congress, held in suspense by a confused, even indifferent, electorate, is in fact a constitutional crisis. We have a Leader who maintains he is the law, he is the executive, he alone has absolute executive privilege, and that he is not accountable to anyone, except his phantom deity! By all ordinary standards, these assertions of "executive privilege" are imperceptibly indistinguishable from a tyrant's claim to absolute rule. As Mr. Bush repeatedly states: He's the Decider.
I truly believe that we stand at a crossroads in history. We have a choice: follow our current path and end in tyranny or choose anew the path laid for us by the Founders: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Democracy isn't just a choice; it's a moral imperative. Neither is it some sort of gift, in the sense that it can be bestowed upon us by others. We must earn it and by our actions constantly strive to maintain it by fighting those who would take it from us. I believe that history should reflect the fact that our current President is one of the worst if not the worst ever to hold the office and that the current administration has done more damage both to our nation's internal functioning and external image than any other. History should also record the fact that we as a people refused to stand idly by while it happened.

A family is a family is a family...

What makes a family a family? Is it biology or something else? Is the sex of the parents important?

Some elements of society would have us believe that the sex of the parents is of primary importance in determining the legitimacy of families. The rationales for this vary from religious to scientific, with everything from "holy writ" to empirical studies being offered in support of the view that Mom (female) + Dad (male) + child(ren) = Family being the only valid definition.

Those who know me will know that I regard the use of so-called "scriptures" and other revelations in support of any claim of fact to be...well..."of dubious utility" would be a polite way of putting it. Ayn Rand famously said, "the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind". There is no empiric or rational means of verifying revelation and thus it is useless as a means of gaining knowledge. Worse, it is self-destructive as well for it nullifies the very faculty (reason) whose chief purpose is to provide Man with the means of gaining knowledge. Given this, the use of the Bible or any other "holy book" to support denial of familial rights/privileges to any but traditional family structures reduces to a "because I said so!" argument devoid of any real moral force.

I'm also somewhat skeptical of empirical studies that purport to demonstrate harmful effects caused by other than so-called "traditional" families. Existing studies of such situations (of which I am aware) generally suffer from a variety of issues ranging from insufficient sample size to poor study design. Results are mixed, with some studies purporting to show negative effects, while others show neutral or positive outcomes. In my opinion, the more trustworthy of these studies are of the latter two types, but all are less than conclusive.

Moreover, whenever negative effects of a particular situation are proposed, it would seem beholden upon the proponent to posit a particular rather than general cause in order not only to eliminate possible auto-correlation (the effect of multiple causes independent of the causes themselves), but also to provide a rational connection between cause and effect (a causal mechanism: how X leads to Y). As an example, opponents of same-sex marriage often claim that it will destroy the instutition of marriage, the traditional family, and by extension, society itself. But they are (in my experience) completely incapable of giving any means by which this will come about. In other words, they have a posited effect (the destruction of marriage), but cannot articulate any means by which their posited general cause (same-sex marriage) will bring about the effect. Without such a causal mechanism, why should we accept the basis of any empirical study that purports to show a relationship between A and B? Correlation is not causation, and if we're to accept that A actually causes B, we need some rational connection between the two.

In the case of same-sex parenting, what could such a causal mechanism possibly be? I can't answer that question for I've never seen or heard any real one identified. "But they're both guys!" seems to be the extent of the argument. From my point of view, that's not exactly compelling.

While I do believe that two-parent Male/Female family situations are optimal for child-rearing, I do not see any reason to believe a priori that two-parent same-sex arrangements are necessarily of greater detriment to a child's well-being than single-parent or no-parent arrangements. Surely it's better to have two loving adults, each committed to protecting and caring for a child than one or none? To argue otherwise would seem contrary to reason if not mere common sense.

Given the preceeding and the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of orphaned children in need of loving parents, how can sane, decent human beings continue to seek to restrict adoption rights to opposite-sex couples? I find myself increasingly unable to answer that question in any way other than to note that opponents of same-sex adoption would seem to be either somehow not completely sane or not wholly decent. I think that seems unduly harsh; well-meaning and intelligent people may certainly disagree. But when the person with whom you disagree is unable to marshal any truly meaningful argument in support of their stance, what else is one to conclude?

The graphic at the head of this post is from Jessica Hagy's excellent blog: Indexed. Her simple illustration of the essential identity to all family structures was the inspiration for this post. If you haven't already familiarized yourself with her art and intellect, please do so immediately.