Good job, Democrats

The Democratic Party is getting up to date with the 14th Amendment:

The Democratic Party is aiming to include support for gay marriage in its party platform this year for the first time in its history, a Democratic source said on Monday.

The platform drafting committee unanimously approved language on Sunday endorsing same-sex marriage among the policy positions that will be presented to the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where President Barack Obama will formally accept the party’s nomination in early September to run for re-election.

No official word yet on when the GOP will do away with its bigotry, but experts estimate it will occur roughly sometime between 2013 and when Satan gets Hitler and the boys together for a game of ice hockey.

Dishonest politics

I really despise when politicians refuse to understand the point of the opponent. It isn’t merely an inability to respect a different perspective because it may be so foreign or opposed to some long-held point of view that gets me. No, it’s when someone expresses a point in clumsy language and the other side pounces, being an absolute bitch about actually listening to the real point. Take, for example, when Mitt Romney said he wasn’t concerned about poor people. Of course he cares about them. He just happens to believe that they currently have a relatively adequate safety net, a net which can be improved (and made unnecessary in many lives) via certain economic policies. (That isn’t to say he really understands them, nor that his policies would actually work, but I do not think he is quite as callous as his original comment might suggest.) Or, even worse, look at John Kerry’s treatment a few years ago. He tried to say that we’re stuck in Iraq because Bush is dumb. The way it came out, though, made it sound like he thinks soldiers are stupid. It was an absurd distraction that was dishonest to its core. I hated every second of it and I think it’s terrible that he had to apologize at all.

Fast forward to the present campaign season and we have the President saying this:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.

Whoa! Holy smokes, Batman! The President of the United States just said that small business owners – especially mom and pop shops that have been in the neighborhood for 43 years, giving out free meals to needy orphans and puppies every Thanksgiving – deserve zero credit. Zero. Rumor has it that once off camera, he even went so far as to grab the head of a struggling business owner, pull the guy’s face right up to his ass, and fart. I bet he laughed and laughed. Communist.

Oh…wait. I guess there’s more to the quote:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Oh, snap. Shitty, amirite conservatives? I guess what the President meant was that everyone has had help from others at one point or another. He then gave teachers as one example. Then he says that somebody helped to create the system in which businesses thrive. Then he uses roads and bridges as an example of what has helped businesses thrive. Next we have the big doozie of the whole thing: He says that businesses – gasp! – didn’t build our roads and bridges. For the reading impaired, let me reword the President’s sentences in a way which conveys the exact same meaning with a little more clarity:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that.

Or how about this?

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that stuff.

Or maybe this?

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those.

Okay, here we go:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those roads and bridges I just mentioned. In fact, the transcript of my speech should be written with a semi-colon so as to show what I am saying about businesses not building roads and bridges. For example, “Somebody invested in roads and bridges; if you have a business, you didn’t build that.”

And despite all this context, there’s even more to the speech:

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Nothing the President has said is remotely remarkable here. He was simply making the point that everyone needs help in life, and a lot of that help comes from government-funded programs, works, etc. Most teachers are paid by the government. Most bridges are built by acts of Congress and state legislatures. That isn’t to say that businesses deserve zero credit. He outright says that one of the reasons businesses see success is individual initiative. That just isn’t the only reason they see success, is all. But hey, I know how to end this argument with one simple question:

Did Wal-Mart build the Interstate it uses to truck its goods around the country? No? Argument over.

Chromosome 2

It has been proposed and well evidenced that human chromosome 2 is the result of a fusion event between two chromosomes in our evolutionary past. Briefly, here is the evidence:

All great apes except humans have 24 pairs of chromosomes. We only have 23. That means we need an explanation for such a difference that dates back only a relatively short period of time (5-7 million years). As it happens, human chromosome 2 shows strong evidence of being two fused chromosomes. The way we know this is that all chromosomes have telomeres and centromeres. Telomeres are repeating units of DNA that serve to protect the ends (and therefore middles) of chromosomes, sort of like a good pair of shoes and a strong helmet. Centromeres are DNA units located somewhere between the telomeres of chromosomes, generally relatively close to the center. Their function is to help assemble the two parts of a chromosome during cellular replication and reproduction. In human chromosome 2, we see that there are actually two telomeres fused together in the center. There are also telomeres on the end, but between each end and the center are centromeres. That means we have three telomeres (one of which is fused) and two centromeres.

I bring this up because I was recently reading yet another excellent post by The A-Unicornist and he was dealing with this stuff:

ID is really nothing but an argument from ignorance – it claims that certain things simply cannot be explained by science, so it must be ‘best explained’ by a designer instead. Take for example this post from The New Creationist. I often point creationists to the Ken Miller video where he explains the Chromosome-2 fusion in humans, because it’s a perfect example of the theory of evolution making a falsifiable prediction that ended up being powerful evidence that evolution is true – something that ID has never done and in principle cannot do, which is why it will never be a science. Now, this “new creationist”, who incidentally sounds just as credulous as the old ones, argues that such a fusion is impossible – that the chromosome should never have been able to fuse at all.

Being that I’m not a biologist, I have no idea how to directly refute what he’s arguing. But it’s conspicuously odd that rather than, I dunno, ask a biologist or two (like, golly I dunno, write a letter to Ken Miller?), he simply frames his argument as though the unanswered question itself creates a major problem for the theory of evolution.

Since I’ve used chromosome 2 as an argument for evolution, I am familiar with the creationist responses. As such, I want to address what the blogger known as The New Creationist is arguing:

If the fused chromosomes in an end-to-end fusion are ripped apart by the centromeres during cell division and cells must divide to produce an embryo then how does an embryo develop with two previously fused but now ripped apart chromosomes? We know that the loss of just one chromosome would be lethal and here we have the loss of both of the two
fused chromosomes. If fused chromosomes do not make it through cell division then how could a fused chromosomal configuration be a result of common descent since there would be no descendants by a biological pathway. Such would be miraculous. Indeed, I believe it is a miracle not only because it can not be explained by any natural pathway but also because it is contradicted by experimental data.

What he is trying to say (and what he later says a little more clearly) is that two centromeres would cause division and assembly to occur in two separate places. This would be an all around mess that would prevent not only mitosis, but meiosis as well. So what could the solution be? Well, he answers it himself:

Now, it has been proposed that the deactivation of one of the centromeres in the fused chromosome would prevent the rupture and subsequent loss of the newly formed fusion…

And that is the case. One of the centromeres has been deactivated. One possible reason for this could relate to the fact that the area near the deteriorated centromere (the pericentromeric sequences) has gone through a large number of duplication events, but this isn’t known and requires certain confirming evidence around other deactivated centromeres. I don’t know if any significant research has been done in this area since the 2006 paper about chromosome 2.

The New Creationist continues:

…but this poses another equally lethal problem during the pairing off of homologous chromosomes.

Let’s say that if C2A fused with C2B forming C2 (which has 2 centromeres) in the paternal germ line, the male’s sperm. Now, that sperm would have to fertilize an egg where both C2A and C2B not having been fused would have to pair off with the paternal C2 BUT if C2 has been prevented from being ripped apart because one of its centromeres has been deactivation then the corresponding maternal C2B (or C2A) will not combine with C2 in the mother’s egg because that centromere would have been deactivated.

In other words, he is saying that if two ancestral primates had offspring with the fused chromosome, then that offspring would have 23 chromosomes whereas the rest of the population still had 24. Mating between the two could not occur as a result, thus the fused chromosome could never make it beyond a single generation.

The most obvious solution to this problem is that several members of a population experienced a fusion event. It could have been a completely chance event, or it could have been due to a particular mutation that had spread down the line. That is, my money is on a mutation existing in a population that caused the fusion between two specific chromosomes. Perhaps all the pericentromeric duplications (which pre-date the fusion event, incidentally) gave rise to a gene that was free to mutate neutrally in the population. After some time, it managed to survive the generations, and made a marked difference. (That’s what has happened, minus the specific duplication events, with Richard Lenski’s E. coli.) Or maybe a mutation popped up just out of completely random chance, as opposed to being connected to any particular type of event. It’s hard to say just how any of this happened, but there are good hypotheses to be had on the question.

To conclude, the first argument presented here was defeated before it was even made. One of the two centromeres was deactivated long ago, as stated in the original paper. Indeed, that very paper even suggested a correlating factor in centromere deactivation that could be useful for future research. As for the second argument, I’m going to give Mike the last word:

[T]he fact that an explanation is either unknown or not immediately apparent would not refute the fact that the theory of evolution made this falsifiable prediction, nor would it suggest that there cannot be a rational explanation at all. Our new creationist seems to think that because he does not know how to explain it that a rational explanation is not merely unknown, but in principle impossible. Ergo, Goddidit. That ain’t how science works, kids.

Should we still hunt Nazis?

This story came out a week or two ago, but I’ve been chewing on it since then: Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary was recently arrested in Budapest for war crimes against Jews and others dating to WW2:

Csatary was the chief of an internment camp, in the Slovakian town of Kassa, now Kosice, from where Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

He as a “commander” in the Royal Hungarian Police, was present in 1944 when the trains were loaded and sent on their way, say prosecutors. He declined a request by one of the 80 Jews crammed into a wagon to cut holes in the walls to let air in.

Csatary “regularly” used a dog whip against the Jewish detainees “without any special reasons and irrespective of the assaulted people’s sex, age or health condition”.

There is no doubt that this man is guilty of his crimes – he was convicted in abstenia after the end of the war – but I’m not sure that is the most pressing question here. It isn’t in the least bit difficult to understand how so many people would want this man to spend time in prison for the atrocities he committed, but what purpose does that serve? Is it in the interest of justice? I don’t mean merely equally the scales (at least insofar as they can be equaled in a circumstance like this). Rather, I mean, does sending this person to prison at the age of 97 make society a safer, better place?

I’ve written several times in the past that the U.S. justice and prison system has significant problems. We put people behind bars for incredibly long periods sometimes, but all we create are people who are better, bitter criminals. Our motivation for doing this, in addition to a general distaste for crime, is often revenge. That feeling traverses the pond. When someone has wronged us, we want to equally hurt that person. It usually doesn’t matter if doing so will result in a better world. We convict and punish people on emotion, not just rationality.

So my question here is, Can justice be justice if it is driven by emotion? How can it be blind if its motivation is not rational in nature?

Again, I understand the desire to punish this ex-Nazi for the crimes he committed, but I don’t see the purpose it serves any longer. Would this be a deterrent against future war crimes? Would it make the world a safer place? Is this man still a threat?

Thought of the day

There are a lot of shows from my childhood that don’t hold up under scrutiny in retrospect. Boy Meets World is one of the shows that does.

Bits of Haiti

I’ve posted this one before, but 1) it’s one of my favorite pictures and 2) the man on the right will finally be making his way to the United States next week and I’m pretty excited.

Dissent on feminism is not like dissent on evolution

One of the popular memes out there in the feminist blogosphere is to compare a person who disagrees with a feminist position to a creationist who disagrees with all of evolution. There are two problems with this.

First, there is a general attitude amongst caricature/Internet feminists that if a person dares disagree on even a single feminist point, that person must be a rape culture apologist who just wants to rape. Also, rape. And elevator rape. Rape. Rape. Rapey rape. Rapedy rapedy rape rape rape. That, of course, makes no sense, especially in the context of comparing dissent on feminism to dissent on evolution by creationists. A person who disagrees with one or even a few parts of feminism is not like a creationist because a creationist rejects virtually every bit of science discovered since Darwin. (If we get more specific and go with young Earth creationists, we can include every bit of science since the beginning of the Enlightenment.) A person who disagrees with some part of feminism does not think women are second-class citizens by default, nor does such a person necessarily reject other parts feminism. More importantly, such a person does not necessarily reject the basic idea of equality. This is unlike the creationist who can only reject evolution by rejecting vast swaths of science.

Second, feminism is – at best – a philosophy. It is not science. It is not fact. It isn’t any more provable than anything Kant ever said about the good being found in good will itself. That isn’t to say it isn’t useful, but it is not some established, objective observation of the world. (I have to include that last line because omitting it means I think feminism is nothing but garbage and rape is awesome.) Evolution, on the other hand, is science. It is fact. It is an established, objective observation of the world. To express dissent to it is to express an ignorance that can be countered with objective facts and education. Feminism does not enjoy that same, dare I say, privilege. If it did, then so would egalitarianism. Or any other philosophy. It would be an inherent contradiction: Philosophy is a subjective interpretation of the world, so to say it can be objectively true makes no sense. It certainly uses facts and the latest knowledge of the world to support and build its propositions, but from that use ultimately comes non-scientific, subjective interpretations. Moreover, virtually all philosophies make or are developed for the purpose of making normative claims. That is, they make value claims. The subjectivity is unavoidable.

The only reason this ‘feminist dissent is like evolution dissent’ meme is popular is because cheap rhetoric is so easy. The two topics enjoy a cross section that would be the link on a Venn diagram labeled “liberal/progressive”. By attempting to appeal to what much of that link already accepts – evolution – the feminist side of the aisle is attempting to invent a shameful comparison: ‘Why, you’re just like a creationist! Don’t you feel silly now?’ It’s hardly any different from the argument that atheism is a religion. (Oh, hey, look. Many feminists share my position that there is no God and that religion is bad, so I know a lot of them have been accused of having a religion. I also know that that accusation is annoying, so no one in her right mind would want to make it herself. Yet here we are, with feminists making just that sort of argument. I have exploited my own Venn diagram link. Isn’t lazy rhetoric fun?)