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What Does This Bumper Sticker Mean?

This morning, I came upon this bumper sticker while taking a walk:

Bumper Sticker Reading Defeat the Purpose with a GOP Republican Party Elephant icon next to it.  The meaning of this sticker is a mystery to me.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what “defeat the purpose” means in the context of this bumper sticker. Can you help me out with this one?

Senate Exposes The Sham of Sequestration Compromise

Two years ago, President Barack Obama shoved his audacity of hope into the garbage disposal, making a deal with Republicans to create drastic budget cuts in domestic social programs. Obama assured us that it was a carefully crafted compromise that would ensure that the government wouldn’t shut down and would help politicians reach a sustainable budget arrangement. We might find the domestic cuts painful, but the Republicans would find accompanying budget cuts to the military painful too, and would be motivated to find an alternative path.

When activists on the Left protested, Democratic insiders sneered that the activists just didn’t understand what a genius Barack Obama is. “Barack Obama is playing a game of political chess, and you’re just playing checkers,” they said. In the end, we would see how right Obama was to go along with big cuts in social spending.

So, what’s happened since? In spite of the sacrifices we made for Obama’s sequestration compromise with the GOP, the Republicans are still up to their old antics, threatening to shut the government down if they don’t get what they want.

There still isn’t any sustainable budget arrangement.

The domestic budget cuts are still in place, but the GOP-controlled Congress is pushing legislation to undo sequestration only for the military. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted on whether to move forward with one such bill, H.R. 2685, which dramatically escalates military spending. Senate Democrats only barely stopped the bill from moving forward – no thanks to Indiana Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly, who voted with the Republicans. Only 42 Democrats were willing to stand against the lopsided abandonment of the sequestration deal.

If things keep going this way, soon, the only part of Obama’s compromise we’ll be left with is the part that hurts working Americans.

If this is how Barack Obama plays chess, he needs to think about taking up another game.

Yet another set of Transitional Forms, this time to Turtles

Creationists, desperate to hold on to a literalist interpretation of the Christian Bible and deny the empirical reality of evolution, have been scrabbling lately to identify a diminishing set of missing “transitional forms” between different animal and plant classes, orders, and families. As scientists identify scores of transitional forms between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, between fish and amphibians, between sprawling and upright posture, between apes and humans among many others, biblical creationists retreat to pointing out a few remaining “transitional forms” in the fossil record that have not been identified.

Biblical Discipleship Ministries is typical, insisting that evolution cannot be real because scientists haven’t found partially developed forms of turtle:

“We see discrete entities, distinct species. In the fossil record, there are fish, turtles and cockroaches. They are individually distinct, identifiable creatures. In life, we can also see fish, turtles and cockroaches. We can identify them. They are not ½ fish and ½ turtle or ½ turtle and ½ cockroach. We do not see elephants evolving fins or whales evolving wings. The discrete entities we see in the fossil record and in life are not ‘questionable’ species. They are not transitional forms, as evolution would require. This is a problem for the evolutionist. If evolution is true, creatures should not be so easily identifiable. Every creature should be difficult to categorize, classify and name, if evolution is correct (and life is “evolving along”). Could it be that evolution is not correct? That each animal is easily identifiable (as giraffe or beetle or fish or turtle or cockroach) truly does ‘fit splendidly with creationist tenets.'”

Ignore for the moment the truly odd notion that evolution should be finding half-turtle-half-cockroaches. Alongside that bizarre claim, Biblical Discipleship Ministries is also telling us that there are no kind-of-turtles out there in the fossil record, no fossils that are not quite fully turtles.

Well, an article published this month in the journal Nature puts the kibosh to that. Meet eunotosaurus, the turtle without a shell:

Eunotosaurus, the early prototurtle without a shell

An international team of scientists studies eunotosaurus skull and body features using multiple techniques of observation to place eunotosaurus firmly in place as a proto-turtle, even though it would not (to use the Biblical Discipleship Ministries’ criterion) be “easily identifiable” to human eyes that turned their gaze to it. Eunotosaurus is not alone, but rather is placed in a succession of evolutionary transitions from clear non-turtles to clear turtles:

Figure 4. From Bever et al 2015 in the Journal Nature on turtle transitional forms

Carly Fiorina’s Way Of Unlocking Human Potential

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina says that she “believes in unlocking human potential”. That sounds great, but it’s a little vague. Unlocking human potential isn’t one of the explicit powers of the President of the United States. So, if we’re going to understand explicitly what Fiorina means when she talks about unlocking human potential, we need to look at what Fiorina has actually done, and what explicit policies she says she will follow if she is elected President of the United States.

Unlocking Human Potential at Hewlett Packard:

– During Fiorina’s time as CEO of Hewlett Packard (or HP, as she chose to rename it), the company’s stock lost half of its value. That’s a whole lot of potential that went leaking out all over the place. Is it because it was left unlocked?

– As HP went into a tailspin, Carly Fiorina insisted that she be provided with three private airplanes. That way, she could make three times as many business trips, you see. Were these corporate jets left unlocked?

– Fiorina fought to bring changes to Hewlett Packard. For instance, she battled the status quo in order to have the company pay for the transportation of her 52-foot yacht from the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco. Presumably, they unlocked it before they moved it for her.

– While at HP, Fiorina fired 30,000 people from their jobs, thus unlocking their potential to move out of their homes and go live on the street.

– Finally, when people at Hewlett Packard begged her to leave, Carly Fiorina summoned all the human potential that she could muster, and said that she wouldn’t leave the sinking ship without a 40 million dollar retirement package. If you used that money to buy as many padlocks as you could, you wouldn’t have time to unlock them all before you died.

Unlocking Human Potential In The White House

– Fiorina hasn’t shared any specific written plans for what she would do if she were elected President. Apparently, they’re all locked up somewhere… possibly in the same place she keeps her human potential. Fiorina has only spoken extemporaneously in interviews, speeches and debates.

– We know from Fiorina’s various speaking engagements that she has opposed the legalization of same sex marriage. Apparently, when she talks about unlocking human potential, Fiorina doesn’t count gays and lesbians as human beings.

– Fiorina wants the Employee Nondiscrimination Act to be repealed. Part of unlocking human potential, in her eyes, is unlocking the potential of corporate bosses to fire people just because of their religion, ethnicity or gender.

– Fiorina want to repeal recent health care reform, but has no specific plans for replacing them, except to say that she wants to make it more difficult for people to sue medical doctors who engage in malpractice. In health care, it seems, unlocking human potential means giving physicians more leeway to play fast and loose with their patients’ health.

– Carly Fiorina opposes any government action to deal with climate change. She says that, “A single nation acting alone can make no difference at all.” If Fiorina believes that an entire nation of people working together can’t make a difference, how can she claim to believe in unlocking human potential? Fiorina says that the only way to deal with climate change is to have the government stop trying to do anything, and wait for corporations to “innovate” a solution to the problem. Innovate what? Fiorina doesn’t say. She just wants corporations to innovate… stuff… like the way that corporations innovated the polluting technologies that led to climate change in the first place.

Fiorina hasn’t mentioned any other policies that could possibly unlock human potential. Maybe the human potential she needs to focus on unlocking is her own, while sitting in front of a keyboard, to finally make clear to the American people what she plans to do if she gains power.

Christians Have As Much To Fear From Ben Carson’s Theocracy As Muslims Do

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has been getting some attention recently as an alternative to Donald Trump. Pundits have taken note of Carson’s “softspoken” approach, meaning that he doesn’t wave his arms and yell as much as Trump does.

A president of the United States needs to do much more than simply offer a demeanor, though. It’s the substance of a presidential candidate’s ideas that matters most.

When it comes to the substance of Ben Carson’s ideas, we see that he’s even more extreme than Donald Trump.

Carson has said that going to prison leads people to choose to become gay.

Carson warns that Christian bakers will try to poison LGBT customers.

Carson worked for a pyramid scheme to sell medicines that haven’t been proven to work.

Carson has condemned efforts to oppose torture.

ben carson on islam and the constitutionLess than a year ago, Carson inaccurately claimed that we were on the verge of a national Ebola epidemic, and advocated discriminatory policies that turned out to be completely unnecessary.

Caron says that women’s rights are to blame for racist violence.

What’s more, Ben Carson thinks that he’s been fingered by God, told by spirit beings that he should run for President.

Having a soft speaking voice doesn’t make up for this kind of sloppy thinking and crude ideology.

Now, Ben Carson has declared that he would oppose any Muslim who ran for President, simply because of his religious beliefs. This weekend, Carson stated that “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” and said that Islam is “not consistent with the Constitution”.

It seems that Ben Carson hasn’t taken a look at the Constitution for a while. It is Carson’s own beliefs that are inconsistent with the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution states that, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” while the First Amendment says that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Commentary on Ben Carson’s desire to exclude Muslims from high political office has focused on the detrimental consequences that such a policy would have against followers of Islam. However, Ben Carson has long sought to exclude all non-Christians from equality under the law in the United States.

What’s more, Ben Carson’s ideology of Christian theocracy is dangerous for American Christians. The history of theocracy, after all, includes at least as much Christian-against-Christian violence and persecution as aggression by Christians against non-Christians. If we installed a Christian theocracy in the United States, the zeal of our religious rulers would quickly turn from enforcement of Christian worship on everybody to the question of which kind of Christianity would be allowed to control the new government-mandated religion.

Mixing religion into politics endangers all those who seek to follow their own conscience, whether that conscious is Christian or not. That’s just one more reason that Ben Carson is too extreme to deserve anyone’s vote in his campaign for the White House.

Contradicting Creationists Once Again, the Fossil Record Produces Yet Another Transitional Form

“Where are the transitional forms?” — Institute for Creation Research

This week, adding to the hundreds of already known transitional forms, Brown University graduate student Morgan Turner has published his findings on the oldest known upright quadraped. The proto-reptile quadraped Bunostegos akokaensis is unique among its pareiasaur bretheren because its limbs are vertically oriented, not sprawling.

Bradysaurus baini vs. Bunostegos akokaensis.  Sprawling vs. upright legs: another evolutionary transition among thousands

(Image credits: Nobu Tamura and Morgan Turner)

Despite what creationists will tell you, transition happens all the time. Change abounds. Evolution is real.

Just You Wait Until We Discover DNA!

This weekend, I’m doing a bit of research about the stories people tell about technology. One of the most popular stories that I have come across is the tale that technological improvements are going to enable such a huge amount of change that life will soon be beyond our current imagination.

Investment manager Ben Carlson, at his Wealth Of Common Sense web site, advises his clients that, “Back to the Future II could be here sooner than we think… by the 2030s we could see major breakthroughs in all of our biggest issues.” I’m not sure what he means with his Back to the Future II comment (does he mean to warn us that a wave of bad sequels is about to swamp us?), but the idea that we could see “major breakthroughs in all of our biggest issues” is crystal clear… if the crystal happens to be buried in a muddy swamp.

To illustrate his point, Carlson shares the following chart, which he says he got from a book called Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis.

inaccurate technology chart

Do you see what this chart suggests about the future? Soon, maybe two or three hundred years from now, we will discover how to make railroads! Then, we’ll invent a device called the “telephone”! Mobile technology, however, will be slightly out of our current track of space-time, and will be invented in a parallel universe.

Among the implications of this is… that it’s easy to tell a story that looks as if it’s based upon carefully-analyzed statistics, when in fact, the numbers that appear in the spreadsheets, charts, and analysis presented to us are just sort of improvised. It’s important to look at the details to see whether the tale is credible.

Just imagine how Ben Carlson’s approach to numbers is manifested in his work in investment management.

Parry! Riposte!

Political banter should be scored somehow, maybe as they do it in fencing, maybe as they do it in the Olympics. An exchange like this should be given a special name, like “triple salchow”:


Derek Kilmer Addresses Climate Issue Behind Fire That McMorris Rodgers Avoids

Earlier this week, we noted that, although U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers has, in a rather nasty political turn, engaged in acts of public mourning the death of firefighters battling the record-breaking wildfires raging across the American West, at the same time that she blocks any attempt to do anything about the trend of climate change that is driving an increase in the frequency and severity of those fires.

The good news is that another U.S. Representative from the state of Washington has picked up the slack from McMorris Rodgers. Representative Derek Kilmer, in an address to the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, spoke forcefully on the link between climate change and increased wildfires. “It is a fact that our climate is changing,” he said. “We just had one of the driest springs and summers in more than a century that led to trees and vegetation becoming kindling for the massive fires that we have seen. The largest wildfire in our State’s history hit central Washington, forcing thousands to flee and putting firefighters in harm’s way. We have a wildfire that continues to smolder in Olympic National Park, a rain forest. From Washington to California, brave emergency responders have spent this summer on the front lines, battling flames, with no signs of abating. I believe it is time we pay attention to these warning signs. If we want a better future for our kids, if we want to protect the communities in which we live, then we need to confront the threats of climate change.”

Congressman Kilmer isn’t just making speeches. He’s following through with legislation to address the many challenges being caused by climate change. Among this legislation is H.R. 4732, the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act. The bill establishes competitions to spur innovations in programs that will alleviate suffering in coastal communities impacted by ocean acidification, a consequence of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Representative McMorris Rodgers should take note. Bills like H.R. 4732 show what it means for a leader to serve the needs of constituents. Wouldn’t you know it – McMorris Rodgers has refused to support the bill.

Which Republican Presidential Candidates are Talking About Racism?

Number of Mentions of Racism on Republican Presidential Candidates' Websites, September 19 2015

… and the share of references to racism on Donald Trump’s website that insist Donald Trump is not actually a racist: 100%

What the Republicans Didn’t Say in the September 2015 Presidential Debate

Number of mentions of “racism” by Republican candidates in the September 16, 2015 presidential debate: 0

Number of mentions of “hunger” or “hungry”: 0

Number of mentions of “global warming”: 0

Number of mentions of “pollution”: 0

Number of mentions of “homelessness” or “homeless”: 0

Number of mentions of “surveillance”: 0

Number of mentions of “campaign finance” or “campaign contributions”: 0

Number of mentioins of “insider trading”: 0

Number of mentions of “inequality”: 0

Number of mentions of “God”: 4

Number of mentions of “money”: 28