Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Barry Arrington Channels Thomas Lanier Clingman


Thomas Lanier Clingman (1812-1897) was a Christian pro-slavery Senator from North Carolina who today is memorialized in the eponymous Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.

Here are some excerpts from a speech Clingman made on the floor of the Senate, January 18 1860, as reported in the Wilmington Journal, February 2 1860, page 4:

"If the negro were in fact in all other respects like the white man, his blackness would have been of no more consequence than the difference between black and red hair or light and dark eyes. The feeling against him grows out of the fact that he is in all respects different from the white man and inferior...

"...Omnipotence has made a difference between the white man and the negro..."

"When, sir, some twelve years ago I, in discussion, threw out suggestions about the difference of the races, I was denounced as one who attributed injustice to Almighty God in alleging that He had made the negroes inferior..."

"For the inequality of the negro Providence is responsible, as He is for the entire creation which surrounds us. When human laws are in accordance with the system of nature they are wise; but if in oppositien [sic] to it they are productive only of mischief..."

"Hitherto they [the Abolitionists] have enlisted the sympathies and feelings of the North by falsely assuming that the negro and white man have in all respects the same nature. Let the inequality which the Creator has made be recognised, and their systems fall to the ground..."

"But we are asked how we will go about making a revolution or dissolving the Union ? ..."

You can read the whole thing yourself. To summarize: Clingman viewed the equality of black man and white man as absurd; that this inequality was ordained by his god and "the system of nature"; that only "mischief" could result from ignoring this; and that if the North persisted in its absurd views then revolution might be the consequence (although Clingman concluded that this would probably not happen).

Now go read Barry Arrington on gay marriage at the pro-intelligent-design blog. (What Barry's bigotry has to do with intelligent design is, as usual, unclear.) The similarity between Arrington's rhetoric and Clingman's is astonishing. (One difference is that Arrington misrepresents the truth, as when he states "Every time the people have voted on the “right” to same-sex marriage they have rejected it by fairly wide margins." Perhaps Arrington thinks the good inhabitants of Maine are not people. But why should a lawyer be aware of legislative history?)

Some people claim the debate between evolution and intelligent design is about science. It's not. All the science is on the evolution side. The debate arises almost entirely from a medieval, ignorant, and uninformed view of the world that has more in common with 1860's North Carolina than it does with a modern secular democracy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amtrak Censoring Atheists?


I took Amtrak from Toronto to New York and back this week. Thankfully, there was some spotty wi-fi coverage offered by the railroad, but there were significant limits. You could not download any file larger than 10 Megs, which put a stop to my plan to listen to some podcasts. But even more surprisingly, I discovered that some atheist videos were not allowed... such as this one.

I checked some other youtube videos of similar size, but these were not blocked (despite what it says here), and furthermore, the error message I got was different from when I tried to download a podcast that was too big. It suggested I should contact Amtrak by e-mail if I thought something was blocked unfairly, so I did that. They promised a response within 24 hours but, not surprisingly, it's been 24 hours and I've received no explanation.

So, what's going on, Amtrak?

Friday, July 03, 2015

Moose Affect Memory


From the CBC comes this interesting story of a man who had a moose encounter and promptly lost his memory.

This is not surprising at all to moose aficionados.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Obama and "Amazing Grace"


Of all the songs that gave momentum to the civil rights movement in the US, "Amazing Grace" stands out (for me) as one of the most repulsive.

For one thing, the Christian doctrine of grace is really reprehensible. "Grace" means that humans are "depraved" because of Adam's fall, that they cannot rationally respond to an offer of "salvation" from Christ, so the Christian god actually overrides man's will so he will "repent" and "be saved", and that Christ's offer is meant for the "elect", which is independent of one's moral character or good works. To the extent that this nonsense is meaningful, it is evidently quite sick: it denigrates human beings as worthless wretches, and it allows those who believe they are among the "elect" to feel superior to everyone else.

For another, the song was written by a slave trader, John Newton, who underwent a religious conversion after a life-threatening storm at sea (but nevertheless continued in the slave trade for several years afterwards). How this became a civil rights anthem is anyone's guess, but it seems wildly inappropriate.

Far better, in my opinion, is "We Shall Overcome", which is both lyrically and melodically superior.

So I have to admit that when President Obama sang "Amazing Grace" at the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, I was not particularly moved at all. However, I certainly recognize that, for the community he was addressing, the song has strong resonance. But "We Shall Overcome" would have been a much better choice.

And even worse was Obama's remarks on religion:

"Blinded by hatred, [the killer] failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace... This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God."

I'm sorry, Mr. President, I think "grace" is one of the most repulsive of all Christian beliefs.

"The hands that help are better far than lips that pray." -- Robert Ingersoll

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Don't Recommend This Although It Looks Like Fun


For one, thing, it appears to be illegal.


But in a better world, the rich would walk, while the poor would ride moose.

Moose Demonstrates Inherent Superiority to Cat



With all due respect to Jerry Coyne, the moose is clearly superior to the cat. This video from Youtube proves it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gay Marriage is a Constitutional Right


The Supreme Court's decision is already being greeted with predictions of doom, destruction, revolution, and so forth by the far Right.

Guess what will really happen? The same thing that happened in Canada.

Nothing at all, except that a small segment of the population will now have the protections usually associated with marriage. And the opponents will, in twenty or thirty years, be seen as archaic as opponents of interracial marriage do today.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Noel Sharkey's Mistake


I heard a radio piece about a new "emotionally aware" robot being introduced in Japan. The interviewer talked to Noel Sharkey, a UK computer scientist.

Sharkey cast doubt on the "emotionally aware" claim. The robot is not really emotionally aware, Sharkey claimed; rather, it's just using an algorithm to detect emotion in humans and respond appropriately.

I wonder just how Prof. Sharkey thinks people detect emotion in other humans? If not an algorithm, what does he think is going on in the brain? Is it magic?

I'm always amused to hear people -- even computer experts like Sharkey -- complain that computers can't "really" do something, whether it be compose music, or write poetry, or detect emotion. But these naysayers never seem to explain what it would mean to "really" do these things. It's like complaining that airplanes don't "really" fly because they don't flap their wings the way birds do.