Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards, Number XXI

This article is post-dated so that it will be the lead article until March 1, 2010. Until then, new content is below.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Captain's Log, Jan. 31, 1808

Met with Admiral Hunter today to discuss the coming voyage. The goal is the same as last time, to seek out stupidity and ignorance, and suppress it with knowledge and thought. Unfortunately, there was a personnel issue.

As in, we seem not to have very many.

"What do you plan to do?", the Admiral asked. What did I plan to do?

"Fortunately, we've chosen Napoleonic times as our metaphor again, so I'll start by cruising the Blogroll Sea for new recruits."

"Ah, great idea! I knew I picked you for a reason. Now, how do you plan to find the enemy?"

"That never seems to be a problem. I can sit in my living room, and stupidity will find me."

"You don't get cable. How will you find Le Faux Nouvelle?"

"While I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the pirate metaphor, it might be helpful there. At least, if there were such a thing as cable television."

"Don't get carried away. Speaking of which, Captain, ..."

"Wait, I thought it was Commander last time."

"It was. Congratulations. Destroy my dock this time, though, and you'll spend the next cruise as a bosun."

Suitably briefed, I left the Admiral to attend to other matters.

Captain's Log: Feb 1, 1808

The new crew seems eager. The Blogroll Sea contains many treasures.

Maneuvers near the dock have been a bit of a problem. The new crew seems a bit unfamiliar with the procedure. Which, come to think of it, the old crew wasn't too good with, either. Why can't we choose a time period when ships have power?

Captain's Log: Feb. 24, 1808

Finally managed to secure ourselves to the dock again yesterday. After a brief respite, the Admiral came aboard and we set sail.

Image credit: Painting by Hofarts

No contact with the enemy today. The new crew is already bored. I suppose you can only play tag with a wharf for so long before it starts to get old. The crew got into a discussion about categories of political philosophies. There are many possible ones, of course, and in some instances people with widely divergent philosophies can agree on things. Ensign Lex, of U.S.S. Electric Worry, clearly feels kinship with more than one:

[I]’m a libertarian and so have adopted the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as my personal motto: “Don’t believe them, don’t fear them, don’t ask anything of them.” Them is you, the “look at me, I’m John mother fucking Galt” types. And it extends to all your political allies and lapdogs on the left and the right.

My friends, my family, my neighbors, the poor and the working class, with them i’ll share freely and happily…just like Jesus taught me. That’s the socialist part.

Next stop: Finlandskii Vokzal.

That sounds like a "progressive" to me, but then we progressives are always looking for new recruits, aren't we?

The mention of Jesus prompted Ensign Mary of U.S.S. Pacific Views to point out that religious beliefs are sometimes an excuse to screw people, not a reason to help them:

Recently the Atlantic published an article by Hanna Rosin about the role the prosperity gospel had in creating the financial crisis. In the piece she wrote that evangelical churches serving Latino and other minority communities have based their theology on the prosperity gospel.
Rosin shows that this underlying belief tied directly to the number of subprime loans that were made to communities under the Bush policy that tied the Ownership Society to the Faith-based Initiatives.

Revisiting Bush's Ownership Society

Christianity isn't the only religion that inspires this sort of behavior, as reluctant recruit Lieutenant Orac of U.S.S. Respectful Insolence noted. Apparently, believers in pseudo-scientific nonsense feel the need to spread it into disaster areas:

What the heck is that supposed to mean, "reestablishing communication," "reconnecting the nervous system"? It's faith healing, and faith healing doesn't do much good for broken bones, crushed spleens, fractured skulls, and severed spinal cords. Actually, it doesn't do much good for anything that can't be improved with a placebo. Yet, this is what Scientologists are bringing to the suffering masses in Haiti. As one of the real doctors snorted, "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."

Bringing Woo to Disaster

Which just made me wonder yet again why expressions of atheism cause so much consternation to some people. Captain John Pieret, U.S.S. Thoughts In A Haystack had an answer to that one, or at least he'd read an answer he didn't give much credence:

It seems that religion fulfills for adults the role that Dungeons & Dragons fulfills for 8 year olds, like his son: it provides "enchantment."

Science and reason, you see, suffers from "the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works," while religion caters to "our intuitive sense that something else, something more, lies behind and somehow all around the façade of ordinary material reality."

Dungeon Master God

Yes, I'm not buying that one, either. Admiral Hunter adds "What kind of moron do you have to be to think the explanation for something like this isn't fascinating?"

Captain's Log, Feb. 25, 1808

Once again, we see no sign of the enemy. A question came up as to what we should do if we found them. Ensign James Ala, of U.S.S. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, suggests that simply imprisoning them without trial can open a whole can of worms. He tells us a tale of a President caught in a bind thanks to such actions in a dark version of our future:

That legal limbo was incredibly effective. For almost eight years many detainees rotted in prison, with absolutely no legal recourse to speak of. Bush was able to run out the legal clock, and hand over Gitmo, as is, with no warranty, to Barack Obama. Candidate Obama thought he had the solution to the clunker he was given; President Obama soon discovered that there was no such easy solution.

The major problem for the new President was that some of the detainees were honest-to-goodness bad guys. They were men whose whole reason for being was to harm the government of the United States of America, and its citizens. They could not just be set loose to cause grave harm. Thanks to Bush and Cheney, they could not be tried either. No self-respecting court in the land would hear the case. Unlike John Yoo, real lawyers know what constitutes torture; they know what constituted a perversion of justice. They would have no choice to dismiss the charges, with extreme prejudice. They would have no choice but to release the detainees due to governmental misconduct.

Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis

The difference between, as he puts it, prudence and pragmatism is sometimes not a choice at all. Often, they are the same thing, as I observed about another practice in that dark future:

There is nothing about torture as an interrogation technique that makes it worth using. It will elicit whatever information the victim thinks the torturers want to hear. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it appears to have elicited nothing useful. The likelihood that what the victim says is factual is far lower than that it is not. The Bush Administration used torture to justify the Iraq invasion. It was recently revealed that at least one time when the terrorism alert level was raised, it was due to erroneous information obtained through torture.

Torture is unethical. Like most unethical practices, there's good reason for it to be unethical, besides the obvious. Unethical practices are generally stupid practices, at least in the long term, and torture is no exception. Its most frequent use in the last few decades has been to obtain false confessions or statements from enemy soldiers or civilians.

Another Sign Of The Fall

So, illegal imprisonment, torture, and cable piracy are out. I'm not sure what kind of pirates we're turning out to be, but living with that contradiction seems easier than other courses we could steer.

Captain's Log, Feb. 26, 1808

With a skeleton crew, we're concerned that we might run out of stories. To make matters worse, the rum rations are running low again. Before complete boredom can set in, we decided to make use of our pirate credentials and waylay a passing ship. She turned out to be the U.S.S. Pharyngula. PZ Myers, her captain, didn't seem overly impressed with our gravitas.

"You're the funniest bunch of pirates I've ever seen", he shouted at us.
Image credit: Composite by Cujo359

"What do you mean?"

"Well aside from the fact that your captain is a drunken Saint Bernard who's wearing a bunch of flintlock pistols, you don't seem to have the threatening behaviors down."

"Well, tell us a story, or we'll ... um, do something really nasty."

"Like, he'll try to dock his ship with you", the Admiral added helpfully. "Oh, and he's not drunk. He has rabies."

Not liking the sound of this, Captain PZ told us a cautionary tale about how it's not a good idea to let fools have the last word when it comes to education:

Stupid mothers are a problem. Craven administrators are a bigger problem. But when you've got a curriculum set by odious ideologues like Terri Leo, who would ban an author's name wholesale because she read a title like Ethical Marxism (no, she hasn't actually read the book, of course), you're in a whole wide new world of pain, in which your local school has become a temple to ignorance.

Stop Sitting There Reading This And Growl At Someone With Power

Take it from me, though. If you're going to growl, don't drool at the same time. People are far less likely to point firearms in your direction.

Speaking of which, Captain Pieret explained that you definitely don't want to leave science education up to the folks at the Discovery Institute. For starters, they don't seem to understand what "falsifiable" means:

On the further understanding that falsifiability is a necessary criteria for something to be science but not, in and of itself, sufficient to make a proposition scientific, falsifiability (or as it is generally called today to avoid confusion, "testability") is, at the least, a good first approximation of whether something is scientific or not.

Falsehoods About Science

Admiral Hunter said you don't want to leave education up to producers of science television shows, either:

All programs seem to suffer from the following three failings, no matter what channel they're on:

1. Everything's presented as a crisis. If they can't hype up the past crises (ZOMG, teh Permian Extinction!!1!11!), they hype future crises (ZOMG, 250 million years from now WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!11!1!! maybe). Even minor stuff is overblown - in the program I just watched, the future erosion of the Rockies into nothing more than hills was presented as some terrible possible future tragedy, rather than the inevitable consequence of pedestrian forces of erosion. Sorry, folks. All mountains are gonna die. Well-known geological fact. Geez.

The Failings of Popular Science Programming

The Admiral also had a list of suggested new books. While we were reading them, our quarry slipped away. Ah, well, I never liked calamari all that much.

Captain's Log, Feb. 27, 1808

We catch sight of the Charlatan Médecine, a prosperous looking man-o-war. Some of the crew have encountered her before, and offered warnings. "She's a bad one", notes impressed crewman Lt. Orac, "she'll suck the metals right out of ya, and won't lose a moment's sleep":

Imagine if you will, that a pharmaceutical company examined a chemical used for industrial purposes. Imagine further that the chemical this pharmaceutical company decided to look at originated as an industrial chelator designed to separate heavy metals from polluted soil and mining drainage. Imagine still further that that pharmaceutical company wanted to use that chemical as a treatment for autism, a chelator to be given to children. Finally, imagine that the drug company was giving this chemical to children without anything resembling any sort of competent preclincal testing or toxicology testing. Then suppose that, in order to avoid having to obtain FDA approval, the pharmaceutical company rebranded its chelating agent as a "supplement," using the DSHEA of 1994 to bypass any need for extensive clinical trial testing for safety and efficacy in order to be able to market this chemical directly to consumers. What do you think the reaction would be of the crew at Age of Autism and other anti-vaccine blogs?

I think I know. They'd scream bloody murder. That's what they'd do. And they'd be absolutely right.

Pumping autistic children full of an industrial chelator

"Aye," added Lt. Cmdr. PalMD of U.S.S. White Coat Underground, she carries at least a company of homeopaths, too. They're good at invading poor island nations:"

Tragedy can bring out the best and the worst in humanity. The Haitian earthquake has seen an outpouring money (the most needed type of aid) and other emergency aid. A few days ago I pondered what sort of quackery would emerge to fill a need that doesn't exist.

Homeopaths responded, of course, and while clean water is always needed, clean water that comes with a fairy tale is not.

Bad Touching

"Careful of her", Captain Pieret adds, "she's full to the gunwales with lawyers":

Dr. Steven Novella and Orac have noted that the doyen of the anti-vaccination movement, Barbara Loe Fisher (aka Barbara Loe Arthur), has brought a libel suit against Dr. Paul Offit, reporter Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine, over the article "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All." Unfortunately for Fisher (and fortunately for those publicly supporting science against pseudoscience) the laws of libel in the US are not as easy to use as a weapon to silence criticism as those in Britain, which made the British Chiropractic Association's suit against Simon Singh so dangerous.

Some Laws Are Less Asses Than Others

Image credit: Painting by Michael Come. Found it here.

Despite the warnings, we engage her. Owing to the sickliness of her below decks crew, she proves an easier prize than we'd imagined.

It's nice to know that sometimes the legal system works to the benefit of the general population.

Captain's Log, Feb. 28, 1808

Our prize has slowed our progress, but we will be in port in another day. Meanwhile, Captain Pieret never seems to run out of tales of the foolishness of religious nuts who think they're scientists:

Ah, there's a new entry in creationism.

We've had regular ol' Biblical literalism ("God told us so"); creation "science" ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said"); and Intelligent Design ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said without saying God told us so").

Now we have Intelligent Construction[.]

Intelligent Construction 

"When there's no requirement to validate your story, the sky's the limit, I suppose", one of the crew ventured.

"You're not kidding", the Captain responded, which launched him into another tale:

[David] Klinghoffer quotes The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah ben Bezalel Lowe) thusly:

Man stands upright, straight, like a pillar that is upright, which is not the case with any other being, as none of them stand up straight but rather all walk hunched over. And this is an indication of the [exalted] level of man, for man is king over the lower plane of existence, and all serve him....This is called the "image of God."

Maybe it's just me but it seems a little hard for an incorporeal being who is everywhere to have posture ... where exactly are his feet and how are they below his head, if he is everywhere? Oh, wait a minute! That "image of God" business is one of those thingies that theists use that sometimes we're supposed to take as metaphors, except when we're supposed to take them literally.


He has many such tales, but the foolish seem to provide constant inspiration.

Captain's Log, Feb. 29, 1808

Image credit: Alan Foxx

Thanks to this being a leap year, we reach home by the end of the month. After several attempts, we decide to not risk sailing to the wharf.

What with it being so warm, it's not such a bad day for a swim.

Afterword: Sincere apologies to all the writers who contributed to this effort for being so late with this. I think I've now set the record for tardiness.

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