Archives June 2009


Here’s the video of a talk PZ Myers gave at George Mason University last year, at an event organized by the GMU Rational Response Squad.

It’s possible that you might be able to catch a glimpse of me there.

(HT Shelley.)

Pointless Photo Op Not So Pointless?

I tend to be rather cynical about events like the
United We Serve kickoff,
in which cabinet secretaries let themselves be photographed doing
community service type jobs, such as Trade Representative Kirk feeding
homeless people at a soup kitchen, HUD secretary Donovan helping to
rebuild a home destroyed by hurricane Katrina, and so forth. I always
imagine them tossing their apron or gloves on the ground and rushing
off the moment the cameras have left.

But then there’s Rep. Tom Davis’s
to a radio show caller who said she couldn’t get health insurance
because she’s 60 years old and has diabetes. He started by saying that
he sympathizes with her, because hey, his 401(k) took a beating as

So maybe the sorts of photo-ops I mentioned above can be good, in that
they force people at the highest levels of government to mingle with
the hoi polloi and at least look like they’re doing something
approaching manual labor, for as long as the cameras are rolling.

And while they may be and remain patricians who will never have to do
another hour’s manual work in their life, and who will never want for
money, at least they may gain enough of a clue to realize that there
are people out there with real problems, ones that they can’t fix just
by finding a better stockbroker or cutting down on how often they eat

I hope that’s not too much to ask.

Freedom of Tackiness

A woman in Colorado says she was
evicted from her apartment for keeping her Easter decorations up too long.

I think I’m leaning toward her side, even though from the brief
description it sounds as though her display was unutterably tacky,
simply because I want to live in the sort of country where people can
show the world just how much taste they lack. And because tacky is
fun, in a tacky sort of way.

But the bit that caught my eye was:

“An Easter decoration is a religious statement and should be protected — even if it is just bunnies,” said her attorney, John Pineau.

Bunnies are a religious display? Who knew?

Win Ben Stein’s Argument

Remember Expelled, the wretched movie starring Ben Stein
in which he argued that science — and evolution in particular
— causes things like the Holocaust?

Now, at BeliefNet, David Klinghoffer has an
in which he insinuates the same claim about von Brunn, the guy who
recently walked into the Holocaust museum downtown and started

[Quoting von Brunn]:

[T]o the astonishment of the world, Chancellor Adolph Hitler, who emphasized genetics and the homogeneity of the Aryan race, led Germany to an amazing spiritual and economic recovery.

No, he doesn’t cite Darwin by name in the part of his book that’s
readable online — the first 6 of 12 chapters. But do you get the
general drift? And you want to tell me that ideas don’t have

Must we go over this again? For one thing, an idea is not responsible
for those who believe in it. For another, Klinghoffer isn’t making an
argument against the truth of evolutionary ideas, only
against their usefulness.

For another thing, the reference to “genetics” is as connected to
evolution as it is to animal husbandry, an art that’s been around for
thousands of years. Von Brunn’s screeds against miscegenation are
rooted in ideas much, much older than Darwin: plain old-fashioned
racism, the idea that people outside of one’s clan/nation/whatever are
worse, and contact with them is a Bad Thing.

And finally, “is” does not imply “ought”. Science, the search for
explanations about how the physical universe works, can tell you that
if you do X, then Y will result. The question of whether Y
ought to happen is a separate one.

It’s true that if one were to kill people with certain alleles, that
the relative frequency of those alleles would decrease in the
population. But science does not answer the question, “Should
we go around killing people with genes we don’t like?”, any more than
the scientific fact that a person falling out of a 10th story window
onto pavement will die implies that one should go around
pushing people out of windows.

a follow-up post,
Klinghoffer asks,

If in his crazed manifesto he had somehow found support for his thinking not in evolution but in intelligent design, do you think we would have heard nothing about it from the media as in fact we’ve heard nothing (except from me) about his evolutionary thoughts? What if he had based his hate explicitly on Biblical literalist creationism? Or on Roman Catholicism? Or Evangelical Protestantism? Or Orthodox Judaism? Would that similarly have been hushed up?

Klinghoffer himself talks about “the role of evolutionary doctrine,
however distorted, in his rationale for racism”. So right off the bat,
we’re not talking about sound arguments one way or another. So yeah,
if von Brunn had said something like “The pope told me that Jews
killed God’s prophet Muhammad, so their descendants should be killed
for that”, then it would be unfair to blame his actions on

However, we can contrast this with the case of George Tiller’s murder,
where a plausible rationale runs like this: “Abortion is murder.
Tiller performs abortions. Therefore, Tiller is a murderer. Killing
Tiller would prevent him from performing abortions. Therefore, one
murder would prevent countless others. Therefore, Tiller should be

And indeed there’s been a lot of discussion about whether (or how
much) the “pro-life” movement is to blame for Tiller’s death.

But really, there’s a better way to answer Klinghoffer’s question: get
a representative sample of killers, find out how many of them use ID
or creationism or Catholicism or whatever to rationalize their
murders, and see how much attention the media paid to it.

I must give Klinghoffer points for condemning von Brunn as a sick
whackjob, which is more than I can say for the fucks at Stormfront.
When last looked, on the day of the shooting (I haven’t gone back
because I had to clean myself off with bleach and my eyes and
intestines are still burning), the general reaction was “He shouldn’t
have done that, because it’ll be incredibly bad PR for us.” Even the
pro-lifers had the decency to jump on George Tiller’s murderer with
“Dude! You don’t go around killing people!”