Saturday, May 16, 2015


The GOP in the Wisconsin "legislature" has furthered a bill in their House (relevant amendments named here and documented here) that would restrict the types of foods that beneficiaries of SNAP program funding may purchase at the grocery store.  Why do they do this?  Because it will save the state money?  No.  Because they want people to eat healthily?  Well given the Republican vitriol against Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign, no, but let's give that preposterous suggestion its undue time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ed Caryl Can't Figure Out MODTRAN Buttons

(Please also see my edit close to the end, since I missed an updated version of the post that corrects for the very thing I complain about here!  Well, sort of corrects.)

The Dee Dee Way

I got into an argument with someone recently on NOAA's Facebook page about how we know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.  Long answer short: because physics, and the models we based off of those physics are really, really good at predicting observations.  In my search to find a good explanation though, I stumbled across a blog post from Tallbloke, guest-written by one Ed Caryl, a lifelong electronics expert who has had some experience on hurricane- and typhoon-tracking aircraft.  So, not quite a climate guy, but a respectable CV nonetheless.

True to his CV, Caryl starts right off the bat by claiming that the expected radiative forcing from CO2 is a fate in the anthropogenic global warming religion analogous to the Christian Hell, and yada yada about sinners.  If that wasn't pleasant enough, he goes on to present what he thinks is evidence, using the MODTRAN model held near-and-dear to serious people for its accuracy, that an increase in CO2 will not lead to any increase in radiative forcing.  Apparently literally everyone who has ever used this model just missed that!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The UofM VP of Student Life is Full of Shit

UMix is a weekly Friday night event hosted by the Michigan Center for Campus Involvement at the Michigan Union on State Street to offer free food and various events to students (in my understanding, to discourage lowerclassmen from attending house parties where there'd be alcohol).  One of the events that they put on each week is a movie screening in the Anderson Room(s), and this upcoming Friday they had made plans to screen American Sniper, a late 2014 film (widely released this past January) following the story of Chris Kyle, "the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military History".

A petition/open letter was sent around through social media to gather student signatures to send to CCI, in an attempt to convince it to not screen the movie.  The idea behind the petition was rather simple: the film's portrayal of Iraqi citizens as "savages" was seen as particularly damaging and myopic, and considering the violent responses that the movie's release engendered from the general populace, Middle Eastern, North African, and Muslim students probably have good reason to feel uncomfortable about that movie's showing.  The letter (which I unfortunately no longer have access to) affirmed that the screening would not make these students feel safe, nor welcome at UMix.

CCI then released a statement that recognized the students' petition and concerns, and said that the movie would not be screened.  It didn't take long—nay, a day—for that to be reversed though, and why?  Well:
The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the rights of students to make their own choices in such matters.
Huh, really.  I love free speech, but this seems like a very fishy statement to me.  Because apparently what the VPSL is saying is that the screening of American Sniper was an exercise of free speech.  I wonder, whose?  Was there an employee at CCI who thought that it would be a great Iraq War commentary?  (Perhaps.)  Was there someone at the Union who made a recommendation to show a soldier's account of the war because it added fresh perspective?  (Perhaps.)

Or did CCI just propose showing the most grossing film of 2014, and an arguably critically well-received movie, because of its popularity?  Now this is a much easier pill to swallow.  But if this is actually the case—and I will be so bold banal as to assert that this is actually the case—then this seriously calls into question what sort of "free speech" issue was actually at stake here.

This didn't become a "free speech" issue until people started fighting back, and not actually for anyone in particular.  Nobody's right was infringed by CCI deciding to not screen the movie.  Nobody's freedom was being usurped, because the very people who were in power to show the movie, CCI, responded to a petition brought forth by the students it serves and made the decision to withdraw it on their own terms.  And it is absolutely astounding that the irony of this situation should go unnoticed: the right to petition is directly protected by the First Amendment, and that success at changing a government's actions via petition should garner anger seems to miss the entire fucking point of why that right is given to the people in the first place!

So what in the world is this fight for?  Oh, the right to "watch" the film, the right to "discuss" it, to "debate" it.  The first "right", to "watch" something that the government itself chooses to show, or chooses not to show, and to which you have no financial claim to: that right does not exist.  The "right" to "discuss" such a film, which would shown either by that government's discretion or by your right to "watch" it which, again, does not exist: thats not being infringed here, nor the right to debate it.  Why?  Because every student on this campus is perfectly at liberty to screen and discuss it all day and all night until they're blue in the face, and on university property to boot.  But they do not have the right to demand the university show it for them.

There is no "free speech" problem here.  The University made a decision to show a movie, a decision that was not based on an appeal to its own First Amendment rights, but on that movie's profit margin, and it is perfectly allowed to do that under law.  And the University made a decision to then retract that decision, not because it can't screen it under the First Amendment—no, it may—but because as a body that has a choice to engage in speech it chose to not engage in that speech, at the behest of a respectful petition by members of its student body.  And the Vice President of Student Life's decision to reverse that decision, on a vacuous pretense of violation of "freedom of expression" of literally nobody, is exactly as that foundation is: bull shit.

EDIT (09 April 2015, 10:10pm EST): so apparently the screening actually wasn't canceled, and instead CCI was planning on rescheduling it and having a panel discussion accompany it.  So, yep, I'm just absurdly lost on where the statement from the VPSL came from here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Religious Freedom" and Bullying in Michigan—Throwback Thaturday

Since the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision—which granted closely-held corporations protection under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act from the PPACA requirement to offer health insurance plans to employees that would have included birth control without copay—and the clarification that the RFRA only provides protection from federal laws, many states have taken those as a cue to pass their own version of the RFRA to "protect religious freedom" from "substantial burden" by state and below-state governing bodies.  This is, of course, a dominantly Republican push.

Michigan is one such state where Republicans are trying to pass such a law, and considering that it was one of the first bills to be drafted for consideration by the State Senate during the 2015-2016 calendar (being only #0004), it's easy to see that religious people must be on the verge of some pretty harsh persecution.  Or something.  SB 0004 follows HB 5958, which passed the House at the end of the 2014 session with what appears to be language identical to that in the senate bill.  So, if the new bill gets to the House, it's likely it'll just get passed again and head to Snyder's desk.  (However, I am not sure if Snyder will sign it.)

Many groups opposed to this are afraid that the bill will allow companies to discriminate against LGBT couples by refusing service to them.  To be fair, this is speculative, but only because of current conservative outrage over anti-discrimination legislation that actually is keeping religious companies from doing just that.  And, you know, because that's even what the House Speaker says it's for, and because an amendment affirming the bill is not for that purpose was voted down by (you guessed it) Republicans.  While these might not be as extreme of some purported effects that won't take place, such as an EMT refusing to help a dying gay person, anyone who thinks that refusing service to someone based on that customer's demographic is acceptable in any circumstance should probably go back to the 1950s where they (also don't) belong.

The intent is clear explicit in-yo-face, and our own group opposes the legislation as well.  However, I recently thought of one other possible "un"intended consequence, as I recall a particular bill that was introduced and passed in the State Senate back in 2011.  That bill was "Matt's Safe School Law" (SB 0137), and within that bill was a clause that stated the following (my bolded emphasis):
Sec. 1310.B(8): "This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the 1963 of a school employee, of a school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.  This section does not prohibit a statement of sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian."
This language was balked at nationally (even Colbert mocked it), and was removed in a subsequent version introduced in the House and ultimately signed into law by Snyder.  I've had a suspicion for a while that such language wasn't rolled back because the original authors had some miraculous change in heart, given that some other bills (like here and here and here) have been introduced that would allow, say, employees in the medical field to refuse service to people due to a sincerely held moral belief, or adoption agencies the right to refuse service to homosexual couples, so on.  One can probably see how this idea of religiously-motivated bullying being A-OK could, potentially, raise its ugly head again.

The Michigan version of the RFRA gives people protection from acts of "government" (the definition of which, in the bill, would include school districts) that substantially burden exercises of religion, and subjects such restrictions to strict scrutiny, i.e. the government interest in enacting those provisions has to be compelling, narrowly tailored to actuate that interest, and a least restrictive means.

But what in the world does this mean for the policies that school boards had to put in place to come under compliance with Matt's Safe School Law?  What is the least restrictive punishment for a student that bullies a student out of religious conviction for being gay?  A note on that student's record?  A stern talking-to?  Are suspensions a valid punishment, expulsions or withholding diplomas?  Are punishment tiers least-restrictive enough for multiple offenses?  Is a letter to the perpetrator's parents (required by MSSL) too restrictive on the students' religious convictions?

I'm not terribly worried that any student will actually succeed in making a good case since students tend to have restricted rights in school matters anyway.  That's not really to say that some students (or their parents) won't try to make such a case and sue districts for punishing religiously-motivated bullying.  I think that I'll be using this type of case as a litmus test of sorts, though, for what religious conservatives themselves think this bill will allow.  We'll win in this type of battle; but, we'll also see if it even has to be fought.  And probably be quite sad if it does.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Amazing Misrepresentations of the Bible

Last night members from our group (and also from EMU!) went to watch a presentation by Reverend Keith G. Barr, author of the book Amazing Scientific Secrets of the Bible (the presentation was about the same topic).  The talk consisted of several Biblical verses that are allegedly so profound in their scientific insight that either God told these writers how the world actually works as we understand it to now, or these ancient Jews had access to computers and instrumentation and airplanes or what not.

The third option of course is that Rev. Barr simply misunderstands the verses he is quoting, and boy oh boy does he misunderstand quite a bit.  I will not be addressing the claims of scientific insight, because I think that it's too much to grant even this more basic requirement: that Rev. Barr knows his Bible well enough to even make these claims.  These examples cover the majority of those that he chose to present to us, as I remember them coming up, and as our group's silent texting back and forth has documented.  I'll give each verse, a paraphrase of Rev. Barr's (mis)interpretation of it, and a much more sensible interpretation that actually takes into account the contexts of the verse itself.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Self-Inflicted Rapture: How To Save The World If You're A True Christian Altruist

You're the most selfless person in history, who happens to be a devout Christian. You want to spare everyone on earth from the torment of hell, except perhaps yourself (an acceptable sacrifice for the sake of the world, you think). Also, you're extremely intelligent and clever, and you will not rest until you have accomplished your goal, no punches pulled. So how do you save the world?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Origin Summit: Hanlon's Razor

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
This past Saturday (1 November 2014) the Creation Summit, a non-profit organization based in Nevada and dedicated to the promulgation of (young Earth) creationist "science", hosted an event at the Michigan State University Business School, named the "Origin Summit".  The event consisted of several workshops led by four YEC scientists/professors, as well as an open question panel at the end.  Myself and several other members of the Michigan Secular Student Alliance attended the event, and I hope to write several more articles about the talks that I saw (and perhaps other articles will be written by some of my fellow attendees, too).

To kick this off, I'll actually start at the end: after the panel discussion, I joined another of our members Jon White to talk with one of the speakers—Dr. Charles Jackson—about more recent and numerous data that contradicts a concept he quoted in his talk.  That in particular will be the subject of another post; but, toward the end of our discussion, after I tried to yet again make a point he wasn't accepting, he asked me very pointedly,
"How important is atheism to you?"
This was rather out of the blue.  The discussion so far had been about a particular argument about a scientific concept, about data, and we weren't talking about religion.  I said it wasn't very important to me, it was more about the science, and he started to go off on a very defensive tirade about how he and other creationists were not stupid, and that we shouldn't believe what we were told about creationists: that they're uneducated, that they're ignorant, that they're stupid.  He brought up his collection of degrees from legitimate universities, and degrees other creationists there had; he mentioned the gene gun patent that Dr. Sanford (another presenter) had; he talked about how he was a professor at high schools and college, and that he had never attended a Christian university; so on.

He gave the impression that he thought my only experience with young Earth creationists was that day only, and that I only knew of them through other atheists and "evolutionists" that told me vicious lies about their intelligence.  I did not mention to him that I have in the past visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky, nor did I mention that I have seen plenty of debates between YECs and scientists, the most recent and popular being Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye.  I also did not bother stressing the point that creationists have a very wide array of publicly available merchandise and "educational products" which contain all of their arguments, each and every single one of them debunked in only the most utter sense.  I don't need to be told anything about them: they speak for themselves.

All the same, Dr. Jackson insists that I do not think of him as stupid or uneducated.  And at that, I couldn't help but think of Hanlon's Razor, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  If ignorance is not a sufficient explanation for the ideas he promotes, what shall be?  If his own admission to "not knowing" about the data we presented to him is not an admittance of ignorance, what is it?  Would it help you predict my stance if I said that his data is outdated by at least two entire decades?

Those familiar with YEC arguments will be well aware by now that most of them rely on either citations of "research" that they themselves conducted, all of which is quite bad, or rely on citations of research by other scientists that publicly state that their work is being misrepresented.  And therein must lie our answer.  It may be a matter of cautious character judgment that we take Hanlon's Razor seriously, but many of my next posts will illustrate that an assumption of ignorance flies in the face of very blatant evidence that the arguments presented by YECs are dishonest, misrepresentative, or—and I prefer this more succinct term—lies.