2010: FTSOS in review, October to December

This is the fourth and final installment in the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the other three here and here and here.

October:
The most important post I think I have ever made was the one about Tyler Clementi. He was the Rutgers student who was outed as gay by his roommate. As a result – and as a result of a bigoted society – he killed himself. His death was an unnecessary tragedy that ought to bring shame to anyone who has ever voted against civil rights for gays or anyone who has ever made one moment of a gay person’s life more difficult directly because that person was gay.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it was disconcerting to read that a few high school refs were being threatened with punishment for trying to support breast cancer research. They wore some pink whistles during football playoff games in order to raise awareness; they were later told they were in violation of some petty dress code and therefore may be facing suspension – including suspension of the pay they had planned to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. After the blogosphere erupted, the organization that oversees refs in that area (Washington state) backed down.

I also went to some length to explain a few basic things about religion that conflict with science. Miracles, directed evolution, intercessory prayer, and the belief that faith is a virtue are all things which science rejects. It simply isn’t possible for someone to hold belief in any of those things and also logically claim he has no conflict with science.

November:
This was the month the board which oversees local quack Christopher Maloney agreed with me that by not referring to himself as a naturopathic doctor, he was creating confusion; people might think of him as a real doctor. Except for when he insists on putting himself in the spotlight or when there is a special occasion (such as this), I consider the issue he created to be done. He lost.

In this month I used the Socratic Method to explain our likely basis for morality. I largely pointed to our common ancestry and the obvious survival benefits that cooperation offers. I also talked about why we ought to act certain ways. We all use ultimately subjective reasoning, and that’s okay: Most of us share a number of values inherent in our nature. We use these values as our common basis for saying what is right or wrong. It’s sort of like a stand-in for objectivity. And we all have it.

I also used Edwin Hubble’s calculations for the age of the Universe to demonstrate a key point about science. One of the most enduring and annoying criticisms of science by people poorly versed in the sciences is that the practice has a history of being wrong. If it has been wrong about so many things in the past, why should anyone believe it now? Except science really doesn’t have the history everyone seems to think it does. The issue is with poor or limited data (such as what Hubble had). The scientific method actually has no limitations in and of itself. The limits come from our own minds.

I also discussed a paper from Nature which a number of creationists butchered. My focus was a particular creationist familiar to FTSOS readers, but a quick search at the time showed that a whole slew of creationists had fundamentally misunderstood the paper. This is understandable since it is unlikely any of them even read the paper (not that they would be able to understand most of it anyway), merely taking their cues from other creationists. In short, the paper was a study of how alleles become fixed in asexual populations versus sexually reproducing populations . In the former, alleles, if they are particularly advantageous, tend to spread through populations rapidly, quickly becoming fixed. But in drosophila, researchers found that for alleles to spread and become important, fixation was not necessarily required. Alleles act in much more complicated systems in sexually reproducing populations than in asexual organisms, so the way their frequency rises or falls is also more complicated.

December:
Since I mentioned FTSOS hitting the arbitrary number of 100,000 hits in an earlier installment of this review, I suppose I will also mention that it hit 200,000 hits in December. There isn’t much more to add to this, though, is there?

In a more significant post, I pointed out that the Catholic Church thinks (probably without realizing it) that Double Effect is wrong. The Church stripped a hospital in Arizona of its affiliation because the hospital made the correct choice to save a woman’s life at the expense of the not-a-human-being fetus she was carrying. This is pretty much the example textbooks give in order to illustrate the very concept of Double Effect.

I also wrote about a local (real) doctor who supports some quackery. Dustin Sulak is from Hallowell, Maine and he has been making a living making out marijuana prescriptions. That’s all fine and dandy (and I’m sure he is being responsible with his power), but he also supports Reiki. That whole ‘field’ is just a bunch of malarkey that has no place in medicine. I find it unfortunate that a perfectly qualified medical professional would lend credence to something so obviously made-up like that.

Finally, I lamented the fact that Republicans were holding up three extremely important bills this month. All three – the repeal of DADT, the New START treaty, and the 9/11 First Responders health care bill – were eventually passed or ratified. The whole hub-bub was a political creation: the Republicans want to embarrass the President, not get anything done. I don’t think the Democrats are by any means wonderful, but at least they tend to be at least half-way pragmatic. And they want 9/11 First Responders to have fucking health care.

So this concludes my review of FTSOS for 2010. Hopefully the next dozen months will be even better.

Two quick things:

First, I find it hilarious that conservatives are still whining about the child nutrition bill that was recently passed. Some jamoke filling in for the odious Glenn Beck said on the radio today that the bill takes control from the hands of parents, apparently countering a debate point that said otherwise. He’s wrong. The bill prevents kids from being able to buy as much crap at school. This empowers good parents who give their children lunch money for the purpose of buying substantial food, not snacks and soda. The only people who are having their control restricted are kids who want to buy junk. And if any crappy parents want to fill their kids with fat, they can buy it themselves. The government is not required to provide shitty food to children. Oh, and the bill also does all these other great things:

• The bill expands eligibility for lunch programs and sets nutrition standards for school meals.

• It is the first increase in school lunch funding since 1973.

• The act will allocate an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to school meal programs, boosting the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by 6 percent. Maine would receive about $1.1 million annually.

• The number of children eligible for those school meals will increase.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture will use Medicaid data to certify students who meet income requirements, providing 115,000 new children with meals, and census data to determine schoolwide income eligibility.

• The act will allow program providers, such as day-care centers, at-risk after-school programs and emergency shelters, to be reimbursed for providing after-school meals.

• The act will allow the USDA to set nutrition standards for all school meals and require schools to make nutritional information readily available to parents.

Oh, the horror.

Second, it looks like the New START treaty with Russia is going to pass when it comes to a vote.

Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in a 67-28 proxy vote to wind up the debate and hold a final tally on Wednesday. They broke ranks with the Senate’s top two Republicans and were poised to give Obama a win on his top foreign policy priority.

“We know when we’ve been beaten,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters hours before the vote.

I’m just glad Obama doesn’t trust Russia as much as the Republicans do.

This one is really a no-brainer. In fact, as anyone who has bothered following this story knows, these treaties routinely get passed without much fuss; everyone recognizes that they are necessary and good. The only reason this one has become an issue is because Republicans either simply don’t want to give Obama any sort of victory or they want to wait until they hold power in the House and are stronger in the Senate so they can pass it and claim at least partial credit. It’s political pettiness run amok.

Just pass it

The GOP is just awful.

President Barack Obama tried to sway reluctant Republican senators on Monday to back a new arms control treaty with Russia as GOP aversion to giving a politically damaged president another victory intruded on his national security agenda.

There it is; that’s all you need to know. The GOP is refusing to pass the sort of thing that always gets passed easily because they want to politically harm the president. This was never about New START or anything important; it’s the height of pettiness.

Kerry bemoaned the politics atypical for arms control treaties.

“When the leader comes to the floor and says that our national security is being driven by politics, we really need to step back for a moment and calm down and think for a moment about what is at stake,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. He later added: “I mean is there no shame ever with respect to the arguments that are made sometimes on the floor of the United States Senate.”

The audacity of Republican ‘leadership’

The U.S. and Russia have long had a deal – dating to the Cold War, in fact – where they have allowed ground inspections of the other nation’s nuclear arsenal. This helps to ensure the other side doesn’t have a secret buildup happening. This deal adds meaningful weight to reduction treaties. It also contributes to security for both sides – but especially the U.S. – because there is more transparency in terms of where nuclear arms are being sent around the world, if anywhere.

But the Party of No doesn’t really give a shit.

One of President Obama’s top foreign-policy goals suffered a potentially ruinous setback when the Senate’s second-ranking Republican said the U.S. nuclear treaty with Russia should not be considered until next year.

The statement Tuesday by Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) stunned the White House and Democrats, who scrambled to save the pact. It came just days after Obama declared that ratifying the treaty was his top foreign-policy priority for the lame-duck session of Congress.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) needs 67 votes to pass. Because of Democratic losses in the midterm elections, it would be harder to approve next year, requiring at least 14 Republican votes rather than nine now.

Kyl is making a political stand designed purely to embarrass the President. His actions serve no purpose – especially since Obama has already done a little backscratching by committing money to modernizing the country’s nuclear complex already, as requested by Kyl. The toolsac just wants to make a political move.

Kyl, of course, is taking his cues from Sen. Mitch McConnell. You know, that’s the guy who said the Republicans Party’s number one goal over the next two year is to kick Obama out of office? Yeah, that guy. For once a Republican wasn’t bullshitting. This is really their whole plan – do whatever it takes to embarrass the President. And then when the economy starts to recover as a result of natural growth plus all the Democratic policies put in place that have strengthened our country, they will take credit for that. I promise that when we start seeing good growth and shrinking unemployment over the next 18-20 months, the Republicans will start taking credit – despite getting nothing done by being the Party of No.

But let’s not bother to inspect Russia’s shoddy nuclear complex. I’m sure no weapons will end up in the wrong hands. What reason do we have to be distrustful of that nation, anyway?