Well, that was interesting

I recently praised PZ for finally looking to shed his extra pounds. Aside from his lack of health being disrespectful to his own body, he runs the chance of leaving his loved ones behind too early – and for no good reason. I stand by that praise, and even though I am fully aware that it comes across as if I am just trying to insult a fat guy, I do genuinely mean it.

Unfortunately, PZ doesn’t see it that way. In the comment section of the post that inspired what I wrote, things took an ugly turn. I presented my argument that it is wrong to not try to be healthy. The first reaction – and it is always the first reaction – is to say I think it is wrong to be fat. I don’t. The issue is with putting forth an honest effort to be healthy. The results are not important, morally speaking. And just as I did in my post about obesity, I allowed for a huge swath of caveats. Some people have conditions which prevent them from putting forth the same effort as others. Other people work long hours and have to take care of children at the end of the day. Still other people have limited access to healthy food. It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be able to put forth the same effort. That doesn’t mean, though, that it is magically impossible for people to attempt all they can – there is almost always a better choice available on the grocery store shelves – but I fully acknowledge that it can be difficult. I always have.

This, unfortunately, led to an extended discussion on poor people and food stamps. Apparently I hate them all because I don’t want to subsidize lobsters. The truth is, welfare funds are a limited resource. If we allow people to spend money on expensive items, they will have less for what they actually need. I saw this first hand while working at a grocery store in high school. People would use the last of their food stamps regularly on $30-70 worth of lobster. I can think of far better ways to use those funds.

The “counter” (if you can call it that) to this argument is that people get X amount of dollars and so it doesn’t matter how they spend them. (Oh, and I don’t think poor people deserve nice things, apparently.) This is a patently stupid argument. If I am given $200 a month for food and I need $300, $100 is coming from my pocket. However, if I buy luxury items, that eats into what I have been given. That means I will get one nice meal, but that might add another $30 to what comes out of my wallet. This does not help the poor; it allows some people to abuse their funds, forcing them to stay on welfare longer. That is, nobody is going to get back on their feet by spending money on things they don’t need at the expense of things they do need.

And, of course, this all means I must be a Ron Paul-loving, Reagan-blowing libertarian Republican. Right. No, my position is a utilitarian one. Welfare funds are not unlimited. It doesn’t make sense to allow them to be used to buy anything under the Sun. In fact, PZ and co are in the minority in what they think. Most states restrict the use of food stamps on some items (such as expensive energy drinks), and certainly no state allows the funds to be used for restaurants. And the states are right to do so. But what’s really interesting about this is that PZ and everyone else, once we get past the government intervention, is kicking into uber-libertarian mode. “Who are YOU to say what people should buy?!” Right. I’m the libertarian here.

The end result has been a ban. I suppose I’m okay with this. After all, throughout my Maloney troubles, PZ never responded to a single email or request for help. He, of course, is not required to do so, but let’s not be coy. I have disagreed with his rampant sexism in recent months, so he has no interest in helping me fight junk science. Emotion overrides logic here; if I never commented on his site, he would have been the first to help me. Besides that, the majority of his posts have nothing to do with atheism anymore. Sure, he has those spammy “Why I am an atheist” posts that have given my scrolling finger a good workout, but he mostly writes about feminism and stupid Internet polls. Overall I have still enjoyed him, but that is happening less and less each day. Without the writing he had as of a few years ago, I don’t care for much of what he has to say anymore. I’ll stick with Jerry Coyne, Friendly Atheist, and Starts With A Bang! for my big name bloggers.

At any rate, I hope PZ does manage to lose the excess fat he has. He’s older and has had health issues, so I don’t expect fantastic results, but I’m happy he is at least trying. After all, that’s all that matters.

PZ moves

It looks like PZ has moved his blog to freethoughtblogs.com, which probably spells a (more certain) slow death for scienceblogs.com. It’s a shame if only because the latter site clearly has a better name than the former. But at any rate, Pharyngula is still quite active and available.

It looks like PZ is still making most of his posts are both websites due to technical issues with the ability for the new host to handle traffic, but his new site is available right now. Check it out here.

Update: Two points of note. First, there are more creationist ads than usual on the side. I hope they have to pay per page view. Second, Comrade Major Meltdown has a blog there. This is unfortunate because 1) he writes so poorly, 2) he’s little more than a troll who doesn’t care about making any arguments, 3) he inevitably freaks out when someone refuses to stoop to his level, 4) he’s a Yankees fan, and 5) he really is a Yankees fan. And probably a bandwagon Yankees fan at that (as if there is any other kind).

Atheism is not normative

I don’t know how many times I need to say this: Atheism is not normative. Atheism is not normative. Atheism is not normative. Am I to the center of the Tootsie Pop yet?

PZ has a post about so-called dictionary atheists that is just inane. He uses an analogy with humans, pointing out that when we talk about humans we don’t define them merely biologically:

He also noticed that every single human being he ever met, without exception, was more than a perambulating set of chromosomes. Some were good at math and others liked to dance and others were kind and yet others liked to argue, and these were the virtues that made them good and interesting, and made them…human, in this best sense of the word. So when he praised being human, it wasn’t for the accident of their birth, it was for the qualities that made being human meaningful.

PZ is confused. There is a fundamental difference between the concept of “human” and the concept he is describing – personhood. We do define the former merely biologically. The latter, however, is far more complex. We need to all get on the same page if discussions of atheism and atheists are to ever bear any fruit.

But I can agree with some of the sentiment behind PZ’s post. He’s saying that atheists are more than people who simply lack belief in gods; atheists have come to their beliefs for a whole slew of reasons and they are composed of a wide set of values. Or at least PZ ought to be specifying “wide set”. What it seems like he’s actually doing is imposing his specific values onto what “atheism” means:

I think we sell ourselves short when we pretend atheism is an absence of values rather than a positive and powerful collection of strong modern beliefs, but also because there are distinct differences in the way atheists should think, relative to theists.

Wrong. Atheism is not a philosophy and thus does not lead a person into any one way or general way of thinking. That’s why Jerry Coyne has to always go on about accomodationists. It’s why no one is conflating Raelians with anyone who has been a part of any atheist movement. Atheist beliefs are defined by the individual atheist, not by atheism. One Pharyngula commenter makes this whole point succinctly:

“I’m an Atheist, therefore I believe…” Knowing nothing else about me, finish that sentence.

I bet I can finish that sentence for a humanist. Or a nihilist. Or a Raelian. And for myself. But I can’t finish it for any atheist I do not know.

I’ve taken the time to define atheist-related terms in the past. My post certainly was not exhaustive, only providing for broad categories, but it provides for a good starting point. Importantly, it distinguishes between what “atheism” simply is versus what something like “new atheism” is: The former is descriptive while the latter is normative. I can understand when theists confuse these categories, but PZ ought to know better.

Or maybe someone wants to tell me what Joe Blow the Atheist from Northeast Bumfuck believes. PZ thinks he can.

You Christians don’t get to do whatever you want

Is it really that hard to understand? Is it really that hard to understand that one group does not get to impose its religious beliefs on everyone else? Church and state are separate; freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. I suspect if anti-theist atheists or Muslims or Scientologists started reciting their beliefs through a government entity, you Christians would start to actually understand all this.

The Hawaii state Senate, as Christian-dominated as anywhere in the U.S., is, however, with you in their intentional ignorance.

When Senate President Colleen Hanabusa introduced a reverend to say the invocation, Mitch Kahle stood from his seat in the gallery of the Senate chambers and said, “I object. My name is Mitch Kahle and I object to this prayer on the grounds that it’s a violation of the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. I object.”

Kahle’s protest lasted about seven seconds. Then he stopped talking and sat down. The Senate’s Sergeant at Arms was determined to remove Kahle. When Kahle resisted he was forcefully removed and roughed up. The incident was caught by several video cameras including a camera belonging to Hawaii News Now.

“Then what they did to add insult to injury was, they arrested him for disorderly conduct,” said William Harrison, Kahle’s attorney.

Fortunately, the courts are more and more frequently getting it.

District Court judge Leslie Hayashi needed less than an hour to find Kahle not guilty.

“Number one, there was no disorderly conduct. Number two, he has a first amendment right to speak in a public forum such as he did. And number three, the legislature was violating our U.S. Constitution as well as the Hawaii constitution by having these invocations,” [Kahle’s lawyer] Harrison said.

Fortunately, Kahle and his photographer, Kevin Hughes, are suing.

via Pharyngula

Thought of the day

I have close to a month worth of Pharyngula through which to sift. On the one hand this is exciting because it’s so much material all at once. On the other hand, I have two weeks worth of classes to make up at the same time. And I know I’m going to read every bit of Pharyngula, damn it.

It’s so simpy!

Instead of laying low like a good quack, Christopher Maloney has expanded his lies. He has made several sites, each one more poorly done than the last. And it’s all so perplexing. He cannot make anything better. We’ve already destroyed his web presence – “we” meaning the readers of this site, Richard Dawkins’ site, PZ Myer’s site, Respectful Insolence’s site, Dr. Novella’s site, David Colquhoun’s followers on Twitter, and the hundreds of other bloggers who picked up on the malarkey of Maloney. The best he can do is not make things worse. But fine. If he wants to keep expanding his Internet footprint (despite not really understanding how the Internet works), I’ll keep posting about him on my blog. After all, sure, I’m number 1-4 in Google for “Christopher Maloney Maine” when the quotation marks are included, but I’m only number 6 without them.

Of course, maybe this is just me making another simpy rant.

Previously, I have been bewildered by your need as individuals and as a group to attack me. But as I have come to understand you, it has become clear that you are sad and lost. Rather than engage in constructing the society that you would like to live in, you have given up hope and simpy rant from the sidelines.

I guess he’s made some progress. Instead of going to length to let all who visit his main website know that half the Internet has attacked him, he has moved everything several links away. But he loses points for directly addressing two distinct audiences on the same page.

Pharyngula: the Master Blog

Unless you happen to be interested in the opinions of the ignorant (basically internet graffiti), it is necessary to both moderate a blog and to respond to personal emails. Since PZ Myers does neither, his blog is the equivalent of a bathroom stall in terms of quality of information.

Yet if you search for replications of Myers’ blog posts, you will find several dozen individuals who are intelligent enough to copy his information but do not engage in any true evaluation. These are his “minions” people who either automatically post his ramblings or add their own profanity to his tirades.

I actually have several responses from PZ in my email. Hell, I even have a Cc response from Simon Singh during the height of his legal troubles. Maybe not everyone deserves a response about everything? Crazy, I know.

As far as moderating goes, no. Unless someone is spamming or posting something which may bring about moderation from the hosting site (e.g., porn), there ought to be free range for users. I can understand why a naturopath would be against this sort of open exchange, but Maloney is wrong on this one.

Next up, Maloney links to a number of “Myer’s Minions”, arbitrarily picking 12 (several of which I hadn’t even seen until just moments ago) and calling them “The Dirty Dozen”. I presumed they would all be “simpy” copy and paste jobs of PZ’s post. That would make sense since he apparently has excluded FTSOS from the list, right? Well, most are repeats, but a couple clearly are not. One is Dr. Novella’s post which goes to length to refute Maloney’s bull and misrepresentations. Another is A Hot Cup of Joe. This one gets cited twice, once for a recount of PZ’s post. The second time, however, goes to length to address Maloney’s malarkey.

So give this a moment’s thought (because Maloney clearly did not). He’s been trying to hammer home that everyone is just a minion or parrot of PZ’s, yet he includes sites which do no such thing. (Note, there is nothing wrong with the repeats; they’re why I’m back in business.) One wonders why, then, he would exclude the central person in the criticism of him and his profession – me.

But don’t worry! Under “Pharyngula” I finally get my mention. (Because that’s the location that makes the most sense. Sure.) I’m so flattered.

The Maine kid with an English degree who can’t read science.

First I was a freshman. Then I was 18. Then I was an English major. And now I have an English degree. Oh, and naturopaths apparently read science. Not scientific literature, raw data, or anything of that nature. They literally read science itself. It’s magical.

Here Maloney links to an old post of his which just repeats his lies and anti-vaccine positions. I’ve already addressed them.

My absolute favorite part of Maloney’s new quack outlet has to be this.

Did Myers basically turn over his blog to some Maine kid? Is he losing it? I haven’t seen a single “campaign” against the pope, child molesting priests, or specific evangelicals. I’ve been reading through Myers blog, and organizing attacks is not his style. He’s not a rabble rouser, he’s a rabble collector. More like a bar tender than a guru.

There are two possibilities here. One, Maloney is lying and he has not actually read through PZ’s site. Two, he has read it, but he just likes to lie that much. It’s tough to pick one.

When has a week gone by where PZ hasn’t attacked the pope or priests? Since when is attacking Graham and others not specific enough? Was Crackergate not a big enough “campaign”? Christ. This is such basic information about Pharyngula.

A lot of this junk has already been addressed, I know. For instance, Maloney is still insisting that he had a post which was not allowed. He has already been told several times that he triggered the spam filter because he included five links. The exact same thing would happened to him on FTSOS (and I think I’m being rather generous with how many I allow). But do any of these facts matter? Of course not.

So I will end with this final gem:

For the sake of clarity, I took on the role of Quackalicious and was clear about who I was. Almost all the posters maintain anonymity, allowing them to say things that they would never say to someone in public. The following posts should be taken within the framework of a black man walking into a KKK meeting. People were prejudiced against me from the start, and I had to keep my temper while having a deluge of profanity hurled my way.

Oh, totally. I can really see how the plight of a black man is so similar to Maloney’s. I mean, he was judged by the piss-poor content of his ideas, his lack of empirical evidence, his dishonest behavior, and his insistence on spamming up the place with his Gish Gallop routine. Really, if black people would have just stopped doing all that, well heck, we probably wouldn’t even have had a civil war.

Sorry, Mr. Jefferson

Sorry, Mr. Jefferson, it is now a terrible idea to go to school in Virginia.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says Virginia’s colleges and universities cannot prohibit discrimination against gays because the General Assembly has not authorized them to do so.

In a letter Thursday to the presidents, rectors and boards of visitors of Virginia public colleges, Cuccinelli said: the law and public policy of Virginia “prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation’, ‘gender identity’, ‘gender expression’ or like classification, as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.“

Most places of higher education have the reasonable policy of not allowing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It just isn’t relevant to the quality of work one can produce. And fortunately for much of the country, places of higher education do not include many in the general population who tend to be bigoted towards gays (i.e., old people who never needed to go to school to get decent jobs, the religious who are hostile toward secular education [such as facts], dumb people, etc). And some states even have laws banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation. In fact, despite my home state recently voting in favor of bigotry – and for no reason other than “ewwww!!!!” – there is a law on the books (after many tries) which bans sexual orientation discrimination in Maine. But this is New England, the place where fewer people tend to think their sexual orientation is superior to that of others.

Jon Blair, chief executive officer of Equality Virginia, criticized Cuccinelli’s opinion.

“Attorney General Cuccinelli clearly doesn’t understand that his radical actions are putting Virginia at risk of losing both top students and faculty, and discouraging prospective ones from coming here,“ he said.

That’s unfortunate for education in Virginia, but I hope it happens. Cuccinelli is another conservative out to ruin the liberty and rights of individuals for no good reason. Anyone considering school in Virginia should only do so once this issue is resolved in favor of equality.

Oh, and this.

In his first weeks as the state’s top lawyer, Cuccinelli has not tried to hide his conservative political philosophy.

He filed petitions seeking to block a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency that global warming poses a threat to people.

There’s some underlying horror that seems to cause certain people to go off the deep end, embrace crazy ideas, and reject all that is real.