Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Red Devil

I'm so tired of people demonizing Obama's economic policies as Socialist. I'm not sold on the idea of them being socialist, but what would be so bad about it if they were? People seem to have an immediate negative reaction to socialism without even considering what they're really afraid of. Have they considered the benefits it could bring that capitalism would not?

First of all, America's economy does not run on pure capitalism anyways. Our government constantly intervenes to guide it in a desired direction (think bail out).

There are also some things I don't approve about capitalism. For instance, capitalism runs on the principle of supply and demand, and sometimes we want stupid things. Observe:

Now this picture seems a bit exaggerated, but it still serves a valid point. Entertainment drives profits, not education. Public goods go poorly funded while sports stars make millions. Capitalism is failing our education system.

All that I ask is that you take the time to think critically about an economic policy (or whatever) before you demonize it solely on the grounds that it's socialist.

Patriotism Is Not A Virtue

Well, at least not inherently. Let's begin with a quote from Oscar Wilde:
Patriotism is the virtue of the wicked.
Allow me to explain what I think Mr. Wilde meant. Patriotism is generally defined as a love for one's country. However, patriotism can be used to promote separatism and xenophobia. It can also be used to silence opposition and blind people to the corruption of government.

You can see this tactic being employed by the McCain campaign when they accuse their opposition of being un-American. Republicans are appealing to the patriotism of the ignorant and stupid to build an "us vs. them" mentality.

My favorite philosopher, Socrates, has an excellent explanation of what it means to be a true patriot:
Patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.
So the moral of the story here is that it takes more than just loving your country to be a patriot. You must question your leaders and work hard to make it a better place to live.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fear and Politics on the Straight Talk Express

If any of you have been watching The Daily Show lately, you will have seen McCain supporters in hysterical fear of Barack Obama over this whole William Ayres thing. A supporter referred to Obama as an Arab during one of his speaches, and another shouted "terrorist". McCain did the right thing and refuted these claims saying:
I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.
This is all well and good, but the McCain campain is responsible for the hysteria in the first place. It was McCain and Palin who called Obama's loyalties into question.

I was displeased with McCain's response to the supporter who referred to Obama as Arab:

No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab].
He's on the right track, but he missed a key point. It doesn't matter whether or not he's of Arab decent (so long as he's a citizen). Cultural background is something that should never be called into question, and McCain should have made that clear. Politicians should only be judged on their values. Now culture and religion do sometimes highlight the values of a candidate (as they do with Palin), and should be examined. However, being an Arab, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Homosexual, or Witch Doctor shouldn't be an automatic disqualifier.

What you CAN do is say, "how would the candidate's status as a Witch Doctor affect their legislation?" This may seem a bit schizophrenic, but there is a slight difference between calling a candidate a Muslim and asking how/if the values of the candidate would affect legislation.

It does pain me to take this position, because I personally would like to see an atheist in office. A lot of people are under the incorrect assumption that this country was founded on Christian values. This is false. The country was founded on Secular values with a clear separation of Church and State. Oh, if the Founding Fathers could see us now. What shame we have brought them.

On a side note:

For information on whether or not the Democratic candidate is "Muslin," check this helpful website:


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Evolution and Technology

I've talked about the affects of technology on evolution before, but I feel I didn't do the subject proper justice. There seems to be this notion that human technology has somehow halted evolution. That man has risen above the force that has shaped all creatures on Earth. This is a misunderstanding that reveals an ignorance of evolution, even among the educated.

I think the term "survival of the fittest" is the main source of the problem. This phrase is truly a misguided characterization of the process. Survival is an important aspect of evolution, but not quite the defining feature. It is really just a prerequisite for the replication of organisms. The more copies a species is able to make of itself, the more able it is to pass its genes from generation to generation. We are only concerned with whether or not an organism was able to live long enough to reproduce.

The "fittest" is a poorly chosen word as well. The term fittest implies that an organism is the smartest or strongest. Again, this is not the case. An organism is fit if it is able to survive and reproduce in its environment. I can not stress that enough. It is certainly possible to imagine an environment where the dumb and weak are more fit, even if it is a fabricated one.

I suppose if I'm going to bash the terminology I should probably propose an alternative. Here's what I came up with:

Replication of the most reproducible mutations in a given environment.

It's not perfect, but it's a start. Now that we've got some of those pesky misconceptions out of the way, let's do some practical applications.

Going back to technology's affect on evolution, technology does indeed affect evolution but it does not halt it. Technology merely changes the environment. Weak and dumb humans are fit in our environment if they are able to reproduce and pass their genes. It's really as simple as that. There are many factors that go into the makeup of the environment, and many things are relative.

The best example I can give of relativity is this little anecdote:
In a land of honest people, the liar is king.
There is a certain balance to this. A liar can indeed be successful in an environment where everyone else is honest, but it breaks down if there are too many liars. What can a liar hope to achieve when there is no one to swindle? It is also easy to see how honesty can be advantageous. If you build a reputation of honesty, others will be more willing to cooperate with you.

Now let's take a little trip to the dark side of all this. It is very possible to evolve ourselves out of existence. If we become so successful at replicating, we could overpopulate. Overpopulation creates a strain on resources and we could potentially doom ourselves to starvation.

It has also become very apparent that dumb people are very successful at reproducing. Now this certainly makes them more fit in the current environment, but it also makes them less adaptable. The ability to adapt is a strong survival feature. If we lose that ability, a sudden change in the environment could easily lead to our extinction. Now we could certainly guide our reproduction to ensure the best humans are replicated (notice I used the word "best" instead of "fit"). This is still evolution though, because our artificial guiding hand is still just another environmental factor. If we for some reason decide to save the beautiful and kill the ugly, then it is evolutionarily beneficial to be beautiful in that particular environment.

Well we went over quite a bit of stuff. There is certainly much more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now. As always I welcome your comments, questions, and challenges.

Roaring Science

Here is a quote from PZ Myers that I find to be fantastic:

Typical apologetic rubbish. Atheists aren't trying to weaken anyone's happiness; atheists are happy without god. We've discovered that you don't need a veneer of lies to make it through life, and that the truth and reality and the real world are satisfying and beautiful — and that the nonsense the priests tell you is squalid and pathetic. The Trinity is a feeble glimmer next to the glory of the Calculus, Genesis is a short, limping, clumsy limerick next to the epic poetry of Evolution, and the mewling whining of sanctimonious theologians is a simpering whimper drowned out in the vigor and rigor of good, roaring science.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

VP Debate

Just a reminder.

The Vice Presidential Debate is tonight! Please do watch it. I'm sure it will be entertaining, to say nothing of informative. I intend to make a drinking game out of it. Every time Palin is completely ignorant about something, take a shot! Should be good times.

If I can overcome my laziness I will make a post on the results of this debate and the one that already occurred.

Fulfilling My Obligation

Presuming I still have 5 readers, I think posting this video here aught to cover me.

5 Friends


Teaching the Controversy

There are a lot of people who feel that it is fair to teach "both sides" of the argument when it comes to evolution vs. creationism. Now this never sat right with me but I haven't been able to express it properly. The problem is that creationism is not a valid argument in the realm of a science classroom. It has absolutely no evidence to support it, and only serves to give credence to religious nonsense in schools. Which, of course, is explicitly against separation of church and state.

With the elections coming up and the Vice Presidential debate on tonight, it's important to note that Palin is in favor of "teaching the controversy" in schools. Here's what Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy had to say on the subject:

She has stated on record that she is for teaching "both sides" of the evolution "controversy". Some people think this is only fair, but that’s baloney. First of all, for the hundredth time, there is no controversy, and there aren’t two sides. Unless you count one side as being right — science — and the other side being wrong — creationism. Also, the "both sides" nonsense has long been used as creationist code for getting it taught in school. Teaching religion in a science classroom is not only unconstitutional, it’s ridiculous. Which creation myth do you teach, and where do you stop? Odin, the Enuma Elish, Marvel Comics? There are thousands. But when she says "Teach both", she means teach evolution, and teach fundamentalist Christian creationism.

If you truly believe there is controversy here, then I suggest you get educated on both sides. The creationist arguments are flawed. We need to protect our nations children from anti-science propaganda in the classroom.