We are the 99%

September 20, 2014

Openly Secular

Richard Dawkins and Robyn Blumer, from Time.com:
It took the threat of a lawsuit before the Air Force agreed on Wednesday to allow airmen to omit the phrase “So help me God” as part of a required oath. Until then, they claimed an airman stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was ineligible to reenlist after he crossed out the phrase on his reenlistment form.

This controversy will rile up many people of good will—not against the military, but against the airman. Why make a big deal out of words that the majority of Americans believe in? Just cross your fingers if you must, and say the words. Why rock the boat?

Here’s why: The incident betrays a subtext of intolerance and hostility toward secular people that is embedded in American culture and public institutions. The Air Force was ready to end a man’s military career because he would not submit to its religious demands.

To secular Americans, requiring an oath to God is like asking a Jewish airman to swear, “So help me Jesus” or a Christian to say, “So help me Allah.”

The objection to forcing the oath on nonbelievers should be obvious. It’s not.
And slapping "In God We Trust" on the County Council wall?  Yea, I object to that too.

And now some numbers:
Secular Americans make up a huge and growing stratum of society. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and the nonreligious make up 20 percent of Americans overall and fully a third of Millennials under 30 years old. But until secular people come forward and introduce themselves, the misconceptions marginalizing them will persist.

The polls are pretty startling. A Pew poll this year found that nearly half of Americans say it’s necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. Another recent poll found Americans would rather vote for an adulterous or pot-smoking candidate for President than one who is an atheist.
Yea, cause we're Godless and all that.

And so:
But a new campaign is hoping to change all that. Openly Secular launching today, is a new coalition of more than two dozen secular groups—one of the largest of its kind—coming together with the goal of raising awareness of the numbers of nonreligious people in the country. We include not only atheists and agnostics, but our allied organizations include religious people of many denominations who cherish the Founding Fathers’ ideal of church-state separation.
Hello, I'm David. I'm an agnostic and I am openly secular.

September 19, 2014

The Trib Editorial Board Botches The Facts. Again.

Boy did the Braintrust get this one wrong.  From today's Tribune-Review editorial page:
The Obama administration is mum on why, in 2012, it began requiring gun buyers to declare their ethnicity and race. But its gun-grabbing, politics-first nature should make reasonable people suspect the worst.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives amended its Form 4773, the required record of firearms purchases, to make buyers check two boxes for their ethnicity and race, reports The Washington Times. One box asks if buyers are Hispanic, Latino or not. A second box asks if buyers are Indian, Asian, black, Pacific Islander or white. Dealers can be shut down if buyers don't check off both. [Emphasis added.]
And then a few paragraphs later:
Around the time the form changed, the administration was citing flows of U.S.-sold weapons to violent Mexican drug gangs during a gun-control push and requiring Southwest border-state dealers to report multiple rifle sales.

So, was the change implemented in an attempt to better track gun runners and straw purchases? Or was it an intentional effort to trip up legitimate gun dealers and close them? And what of the mass copying?

Americans deserve a full explanation.
Here is the Washington Times piece they're referencing.

So what's the problem?  Take a look at this version of Form 4773.  It's from 2008.  Here, I'll even post the important part:

And here's how it looks now:

In 2008 there was one box to fill.  In 2012 there were two.  Both forms asking for the same information.  So how can a revised 2012 form begin something that was already in place at least 4 years before?

But wait...the Wayback Machine has a sample image of form 4773 from 2001 where they ask, you got it, a question about race and ethnicity.

2001?  That was like 13 years ago, right?

So how badly is this sentence botched?
The Obama administration is mum on why, in 2012, it began requiring gun buyers to declare their ethnicity and race.
Pretty bad.  Anyone who claims to be a news gatherer at the Trib should feel more than a little embarrassed to be employed by an organization that can get something like this so damn wrong.

September 17, 2014

GOP: The Party Of Stupid

How long has it been since Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said the GOP should stop being "the stupid party"?

That was only January of 2013.

Guess what happened when more recently he was asked if he believed in evolution, From Salon:
Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Republican governor of Louisiana and likely future presidential candidate Bobby Jindal repeatedly dodged reporters’ attempts to get an on-the-record answer to his views on that most basic of questions — whether a force called evolution led to humanity’s present form, or whether mankind was crafted mere thousands of years ago in God’s own image.

“The reality is I’m not an evolutionary biologist,” Jindal said in response to a question from one reporter, according to TPM. “What I believe as a father and a husband is that local schools should make decisions on how they teach,” he continued, flashing some of his suddenly robust and unflinching devotion to ├╝ber-federalism in all things education. “I think local school districts should make decisions about what should be taught in their classroom.”
How about they should be teaching scientific truth?

It fits with the otherwise anti-scientific stance of his party.  For example when the Pew Research Center asked about evolution, 48% (or nearly half) of Republicans abandoned science and said that humans have existed in their present form (ie did not evolve over time - with or without Divine guidance).

I guess the opening question to any Republican you meet should be, "Do you agree with science or are you a creationist?"  If only to get a feel for how much of teh crazie has infected the room.

September 16, 2014

Ruth Ann Gets Atheism Wrong (No Surprise)

In her non-defense defense of the "In God We Trust" legislation, P-G Columnist Ruth Ann Dailey pushes a tired old myth about atheism:
All humans are created equal, but not all ideas are. Ideas have consequences, and the consequences of secular atheism are appalling. As the 20th century demonstrated, societies based on a vaguer, God-free foundation of “human rights” tend to have slaughtered hundreds of millions of those humans.
Yes, that's right. It was Atheism that drove Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot to slaughter all those people.  A God-free foundation of "human rights" is the culprit.

Simply absurd.  Here's Sam Harris on exactly why that's absurd:
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
And Dailey stumbled upon a thread of this idea when she wrote:
A friend’s son suggested a brilliant synthesis: If we want “In God We Trust” on the courthouse wall, we should just tape a quarter up and call it done. (Yep, it’s right there next to George Washington’s ponytail — and in the last verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” too.)
Well, it's not exactly the same motto in the last verse of The Star Spangled Banner.  The "motto" referenced there is, "In God is our trust."  Incidentally, it's the second half of a rhymed couplet.  The first half?  It's this:
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
So when "our cause is just" and with God on our side, we must conquer.

See the trouble now?  Look around.

September 14, 2014

Jack Kelly Sunday

In this week's Post-Gazette, there's another column by Jack Kelly that clearly shows, yet again, that no one over there on the Boulevard of the Allies adequately fact-checks Jack Kelly.

But then again, we've known this for years.

It's made all the more delicious when the smaller headline below the main headline (I'd love to thus call it a "neckline" but I've been told it's called a subhead) reads:
They’re lying about GOP foreign policy
Yea but Jack's got some credulity issues of his own in this column.  For example, his first paragraph:
Rand Paul, who will likely run for president as a stay-at-home Republican, went to Guatemala recently and performed eye surgeries as a means of displaying his foreign-policy bona fides,” wrote New Yorker editor and Barack Obama hagiographer David Remnick. “Was Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s ophthalmologist-in-chief, impressed?”
Now about that term, "hagiographer" - what does Jack mean by saying that David Remnick is an "Obama hagiographer"?  Merriam Webster defines hagiography as:
a book about someone's life that makes it seem better than it really is or was : a biography that praises someone too much
If that's the case, then I suppose Jack hasn't actually read the Remnick piece he so dutifully quotes. It begins with this:
Even the most forgiving judge of Barack Obama, one willing to overlook his preference for chipping onto the sunlit greens of Martha’s Vineyard rather than brooding in the fluorescent glare of the Situation Room, must admit that the President has sometimes been a thick-tongued steward of his own foreign policy.
Yea, that's hagiography, alright.

But once you dig deeper into Jack's main complaint in this section of his column, you'll see the extent of his awkward relationship with the truth.  Jack's complaint:
It’s kosher to criticize Sen. Paul’s foreign policy views, to suspect expediency motivated the recent shift in them and to consider his inexperience in foreign affairs a handicap. (I have, I do and I do.) But to attack him for his charitable work is vile.
I'm not exactly sure that Remnick is attacking Paul simply for his charitable work.  Looks more like he's pointing out Paul's use of the charitable eye-surgeries as some sort of political photo-op (in this case, to bolster some sort of foreign policy credibility).  And that is something to at the very least be cynical about.

But if the trip wasn't about politics then why did Senator Paul travel to Guatemala with a political entourage?  From the Washington Post:
The doctor and his patients greeted each other beneath the gaze of three television cameras, three photographers, six reporters, a political aide, two press secretaries, conservative activist David Bossie...
...Bossie’s presence cast aside any doubt that the trip was merely an opportunity for the senator to reconnect with his medical roots. Bossie is the founder of Citizens United, the group whose lawsuit led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that corporations and labor unions can spend unlimited funds on direct advocacy for or against political candidates. A documentary filmmaker who has shadowed Paul before, he traveled here with his daughter and a film crew equipped with lights, cameras and an unmanned aerial drone for overhead shots. Bossie said little about his plans, other than that his footage would appear in a film either about Paul or an issue of importance to him.

Paul’s entourage included family members and friends; his top political aide, Doug Stafford; and political ad makers Rex Elsass and Rick Tyler, the latter a former close aide to Newt Gingrich. The ad team was joined by a Spanish-speaking colleague who was responsible for trailing behind another film crew with legal release forms that needed to be signed by anyone interviewed or appearing in their footage. It wasn't clear whether Guatemalans presented with the release forms understood what they were signing.
So it wasn't a purely charitable trip then, was it?  Now go back and look at how Jack Kelly characterized Remnick's description of the trip.  Wouldn't it have been much better to know more of the details before reading that it was "vile"?  That's the set of facts that Jack left out - the stuff he doesn't think you need to know about before reading his opinion.

Then there's this:
Mr. Remnick also mocked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t push him around the way he has President Obama and snarked at former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s prediction that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” [Emphasis added.]

Mr. Remnick’s snark is sustained only by his ignorance of or disregard for facts.
The invasion of Iraq was a cakewalk. Saddam Hussein’s regime was ousted 21 days after the U.S. coalition attacked. Just 172 coalition soldiers were killed. The Six Day War between Israel and Arab states in 1967 probably was the only victory in the history of warfare won more swiftly or easily.

The troubles came during the occupation afterward, which Mr. Rumsfeld — who wanted the United States to set up a coalition government and then leave — had opposed.
So Jack is saying that Rumsfeld wasn't wrong to say that the invasion would be "a cakewalk" right? Jack then foils that with Rumsfeld's opposition to the Iraq occupation.  So Remnick must be wrong, right?

But this is what Remnick actually wrote:
Chris Christie insists on the efficacy of big men and tough talk—the Great Jersey Guy theory of history. Recently, he suggested that Vladimir Putin would not dare sponsor the bloody destabilization of Ukraine were Christie in charge. “I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment,” Christie said at a meeting of Republican activists. “Let’s leave it at that.” Christie is trying to bone up on world affairs by reading Kenneth Adelman’s book on Ronald Reagan. Adelman was the cheerful adviser to Donald Rumsfeld who insisted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, would be a “cakewalk.” [Emphasis added.]
But let's be sure.  Was it Rumsfeld or Adelman who said the invasion would be "a cakewalk"?

Guess.  From The New Yorker:
More than a year ago, Kenneth Adelman, a prominent national-security official in the Reagan Administration who now serves part time, with Richard Perle, on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, wrote a piece for the Washington Post. Its title was “Cakewalk in Iraq,” and its payoff went like this: “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they’ve become much weaker; (3) we’ve become much stronger; and (4) now we’re playing for keeps.” [Emphasis added.]
So whose "ignorance of or disregard for facts" are we talking about when Jack said (incorrectly) that Rumsfeld said the invasion of Iraq was (and Jack even used the quotation marks) "a cakewalk"?

Doesn't anyone at the Post-Gazette fact-check Jack Kelly? Evidently not.

September 12, 2014

The Braintrust Needs To Learn To Read Better (Or Maybe Fitzgerald's Office Needs To Edit Better)

Take a look at what The Trib's braintrust posted this morning:
Lance: To Rich Fitzgerald. The Allegheny County chief executive appears to think that Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Islamics don't believe in God. That's the take-away from his opposition to a County Council proposal, defeated Tuesday, to post “In God We Trust” in the council's meeting room. Mr. Fitzgerald said that would send a message to non-Christians that they're not welcome. He didn't have many takers among that cohort.
I'll stipulate that the memo could have been a little cleaner grammatically.  For example, take a look at this passage:
One of the area in which we could do better is our diversity. It’s the reason that organizations like Vibrant Pittsburgh were created, the reason that Allegheny County become a “Welcoming County,” and the reason that we continue to participate in efforts and initiatives that express that we are a friendly community that welcomes everyone.
While it's a halfway decent use of anaphora in that second sentence, (notice the repeated use of the phrase "...the reason that..." to structure), the rest of the passage has a few minor errors.  For example, the first sentence probably should have read "One of the areas..." rather than "One of the area..." as the "One of..." directly asserts multiple areas of which "diversity" is one.  Interestingly, had the memo writer simply omitted "of the", the sentence would have worked very nicely indeed:
One area in which we could do better is our diversity.
See?  My guess is that in the memo writer's haste this error was made.

And then in the second phrase of the second sentence, the memo writer probably should have gone with the present perfect ("the reason that Allegheny County has become...") or maybe the simple past tense ("the reason that Allegheny County became...") rather than what's there ("the reason that Allegheny County become...").

Now, while I have the greatest respect for this essay by Stephen Fry and I admit that it's quite possible that I am committing the very pedantic snobbery he detests.  However, I'll rest my case on what Fry frizzles here:
No, the claim to be defending language for the sake of clarity almost never, ever holds water. Nor does the idea that following grammatical rules in language demonstrates clarity of thought and intelligence of mind. Having said this, I admit that if you want to communicate well for the sake of passing an exam or job interview, then it is obvious that wildly original and excessively heterodox language could land you in the soup. [Emphasis added.]
And then:
You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances – it’s only considerate. But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There no right language or wrong language any more than are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all. [Emphasis added.]
So why is this important?  Because of some less than clear writing in this sentence:
Support and passage of 8376-14 tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Athiest, Muslim, Islamic or any other non-theistic group, they are not welcomed here.
The braintrust gets to absurdly assert teh goofie: that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald doesn't think that "Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Islamics" believe in God.  The problem here is the word "other."  Does it mean that Jews, Hindus and so on are among "non-theistic" groups?  Or does it mean that they are separate from them?  Interestingly, had the memo writer ordered the list differently, the sentence would have worked very nicely, indeed:
Support and passage of 8376-14 tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist or any other non-theistic group, they are not welcomed here.
See? By grouping it that way, it's clear who makes up the non-theistic groups are and who doesn't.

Context, convention and circumstance are all.

A little editing by the County Executive's office would have left the Trib braintrust little grammatical room to snark.

Special note to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald: It's spelled atheist and not athiest.

September 11, 2014

More On KDKA's Mangino

A few minutes ago on Facebook, KDKA's Mangino posted this:
With the Steelers and Pirates both playing tonight. I'm thinking my audience will be dominated by women tonight. How about we talk fall/pumpkin recipes? Who's in? You are encouraged to post recipes and pics here.
A few commentors pondered the inherent sexism of the status update.  I'll leave it to y'inz to ponder it for yourselves.

Perhaps it was a joke.  Perhaps he was being ironic or maybe even postmodern.  Who knows?  I certainly don't.

Some Things To Think About If You're Planning On Watching Steelers-Ravens Tonight


About 5 minutes in:
And lastly I accuse us.  All of us - executives, players, fans, reporters - of failing to draw a line in the sand when one was needed most.  Any games played by Baltimore without its executives, and the commissioner having been dismissed and without Ray Rice being permanently banned by the National Football League must be fully boycotted by all of us.  If not, we become accessories after the fact.
And Ginny - who may not be boycotting only tonight's game.