Category Archives: Opinion

Laboratories of Democracy

CRUDE LANGUAGE WARNING: Something else to think about from Bill Maher. I wish he’d clean up his language, but what he has to say is often too good to let how he says it (for those few of us who care) get in the way.

In this editorial New Rule, he makes the case that, if Republicans are going to call states the “laboratories of democracy,” they have to start looking at the results from the lab.” Original air date: July 1, 2016.

Comedian Bill Maher
Comedian Bill Maher

Remember a couple of years ago when California was virtually bankrupt? An “economic basket case,” we were told. “Unmanageable.” “A failed state.” They raised taxes on the wealthy. A lot, he says. “And our economy is booming.” He adds that “we just passed France and India to become … the world’s sixth largest economy.”

“A $26 billion deficit became an $11 billion surplus. For a rainy day,” he jokes, “whatever that is.” Well, evidently it takes more than a regime change to break a drought.

“The results from the lab are in,” he says. “Our mice are thriving. Yours are dead!”

Maher is tough on conservatives, but he’s tough on everybody when it’s called for. Maybe it’s time to pay attention.

“God is watching over us.” Really?

Devastation from Saturday's tornado in and near DallasViolent storms ripped through the North Texas area late Saturday, spawning tornadoes that killed 11 people, damaged more than 100 homes, and destroyed at least 39 others. Destruction was widespread and terrible in Dallas, GarlandRowlett, and nearby areas.

I found this post on Facebook, and it expresses my thoughts perfectly.

Joyce Rutter quote from Facebook

I couldn’t find the quote, but I have no doubt somebody said it. It’s the kind of stupid thing somebody always says.

Tornado damage Decembr 27, 2015 in Rowlett, TXGod gets thanks but not blame?

A tornado kills people and wrecks homes and property and God gets thanks because it wasn’t worse. People forget God is reputedly the One Who sent the tornado in the first place.

If He gets credit for the good, why doesn’t He get blame for the devastation He apparently sent?
Heavily damaged area in Rowlett, TX December 2, 2015If God was “watching over” somebody, it must not have been those eleven people who died. Or the many more who were injured. Or those who lost their homes.

An all-powerful god who could help a few people could just as easily have saved everybody, if He wanted to. So the question has to become, “Why didn’t He want to?”Debris of homes after tornado in Garland, TX December 27, 2015

Why did God only “watch over” some people?

Isn’t He supposed to be a god of love? Well, do loving people let other people suffer and die when they could easily prevent it?

And that’s not all.

Heavily damaged residence is seen December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, TX

Days of violent storms caused chaos on highways across the South and raised the death toll to at least a total of 28.

Yeah, God was watching over us, all right.

If a loving, all-powerful god had been watching out for us, there would have been no tornado. Any 8-year-old ought to understand that.

Car in a flooded drainage ditch after Saturday's tornado in Rowlett, TX, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015

Yet leaders and followers alike feel their faith has been strengthened after every disaster. Why? Because THEY didn’t die. So they “know” their Imaginary Friend was looking out for them.

Just them, and nobody else? Well, them and whoever else was lucky enough to have survived.

Damaged mobile home park after Saturday's tornado in Garland, TX, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015

Most of us were just lucky. That’s all.

Why can’t people just realize they were lucky? Lots of people were lucky, but others suffered and died. No loving God watched over North Texas Saturday night.

In fact, there is not the slightest shred of convincing evidence that any god even exists.

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Skeptical, Evidence Based Thinking

Be skeptical, not cynical

According to George Hrab, being skeptical — as opposed to being cynical or denialist — is a good thing. Doubts and reservations are the backbone of science and reason and have led to some of humanity’s greatest achievements.

He is a musician, a comedian, a storyteller, and a skeptic. He has written and produced seven independent CDs and one concert DVD; published two books; recorded hundreds of episodes of an award winning podcast; and has emceed numerous international science conferences, all while being the drummer for The Philadelphia Funk Authority. He’s travelled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song.

He says he is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. (Whaaaat? Yup, that’s what he says.)

For about the first four minutes of this talk, he discusses Jenny McArthy and the anti-vaccine movement she helped to found. She popularized a fraudulent 1998 study that claimed to link the MMR vaccines most children are required to get with autism.

Jenny McCarthy - not very skeptical
Photo by planetc1

She even claimed her own son got autism from the shots, but Hrab points out that what he actually had was something else with no connection to the shots and that he is doing well now, a few years later.

The study was later withdrawn by the scientific journal that published it and the researcher lost his right to practice medicine, because of his fraudulent and unethical methodologies. Many studies done since have shown no link between the vaccinations and autism, but it is difficult to undo the harm that was done by believing bad science non skeptically.

He points out that Jenny McCarthy is not a bad person. She just isn’t very skeptical, so she drew wrong, harmful conclusions.

  • He advocates evidence based thinking and embracing your doubt.
  • When you hear a new piece of information, say, “Whaaaaat?”
  • “Every time you look on the Web,” he says, “Every time you receive a piece of email … pretend it’s April 1st.” April Fool’s Day. You don’t want to be the fool. Don’t assume everything is wrong; just check the evidence. If there’s no evidence, then don’t hesitate to doubt. Be skeptical.
  • Don’t be afraid to doubt. Doubt drives the engine of science.

Everybody should be skeptical

“Everyone is susceptible,” he says. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote Sherlock Holmes, believed in fairies in the garden. Little flying girls with butterfly wings. The only way to avoid believing a lot of nonsense is to be skeptical.

“Most important,” he says, “Don’t take my word for it.”


Sources”

Ahmed Mohamed Moving to Qatar

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohamed and his family are moving to Qatar.

Mohamed’s sister, Eyman, reportedly confirmed that the family will only be in the U.S. for a few more days before relocating to Doha. Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, the teen’s controversial father, added that he looks forward to moving his children to a nation in which they “can study and learn” while “being accepted by that country.”

Yes, Ahmed is the same 14-year-old boy who was arrested recently in Irving, Texas, for bringing a clock to school. His English teacher and principal said it was a “hoax bomb,” even though there was nothing in it that looked like an explosive.

Evidently Qatar appreciates bright students.

Eyman Mohamed asserted that Qatar is “basically like America,” noting that the decision to move was based on a generous offer her brother received from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. “Our family has been overwhelmed by the many offers of support we have received since the unfortunate incident of Ahmed’s arrest,” a family statement explained.

I have no idea why she thinks Qatar is “basically like America,” but that’s beside the point.

I’ve known several exceptionally intelligent boys and girls in my lifetime who would now be young or middle-age men and women. I hope I had some beneficial influence on several of them, possibly encouraging an interest in science or technology. Or, at least, education. In the long run, it’s usually difficult to be sure. I would have loved to have met Ahmed.

Unfortunately, he will apparently be lost to the United States; and that’s a crying shame. We need to keep our brightest students and encourage them to complete their education here and help make our nation great again. It is insane to drive them somewhere else to help make some other country great instead!


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“It looks like a bomb.”

Ahmed's clock

Nearly everybody seems to say “It looks like a bomb.” Of course, I’m talking again — hopefully for the last time — about Ahmed Mohammed’s clock (above) that caused all the commotion recently.

Ahmed didn’t “invent” a clock. That seems clear enough. What was different about this clock that made him think he had invented something is not clear. Nevertheless, he was proud enough of it that he wanted to show it off to his engineering teacher.

Unfortunately, the alarm went off during English class, and the English teacher and Principal went bonkers. You’ll remember, I’m sure, that nobody thought it was a bomb. The boy was arrested and taken away in handcuffs because they thought it was a “hoax bomb.” They said it looks like a bomb!

suitcase bomb

Here’s a real suitcase bomb on the left and another on the right. See the difference?

These bombs have actual explosives, which you can see in both of them. Ahmed’s “hoax bomb” doesn’t have anything to explode. It’s just a tangle of wires and electronic elements.

Hackett Suitcase Bomb

I wonder what an actual hoax bomb clock would look like? Here are a couple I found on Google.

The clock on the left definitely looks like a bomb to me. It was meant to.

clock hoax bomb

The “hoax dynamite” explosive is just wooden dowel pins covered with brown paper and bound with electrical tape, but it looks real to me. This definitely looks like a bomb.

The clock on the right (below) is designed to look like a C4 bomb.

clock hoax bomb

The fake C4 plastic explosive is nothing but gray modeling clay, but it looks like a bomb.

Ahmed Mohammed has a reputation as a tinkerer and likes to think of himself as an “inventor.” His friends pay him actual money for some of his gadgets. So nobody should have been alarmed (no pun intended) when it dinged. This “model student” who had never been in trouble before brought his current project to school to show it off to people he thought would appreciate it.

Who would have thought so many supposedly intelligent, educated, and trained people would have thought it looks like a bomb? Who would have thought such an exceptionally bright and well behaved student would have been (mis)treated like a terrorist by people he trusted? People he thought were on his side?

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King Jr.

Constitution of the United States of AmericaAs noted in the sidebar, the above quote is the guiding principle of this blog. I intend to speak out about things that matter. While there are many kinds of things that matter, it has always been my primary intention to write about science and the skepticism that is an essential part of it, including the nature that science studies and the technology it creates.

My passion for those four things — science, skepticism, nature, and technology — will not diminish. However, I also feel compelled to discuss American Presidential politics more for the next few months — maybe all the way to the election in about a year and a half. Presidential election campaigns in the United States have become circuses that last a minimum of two years, beginning long before anybody officially declares his or her candidacy. This is insane. Election campaigns in most of the free world last days or weeks, by comparison.

Not only that, but American elections cost an enormous amount of money. So much money that all but two candidates this time are seeking the backing of billionaires and SuperPACs. Otherwise, they cannot hope to finance their campaigns. One of the two exceptions is himself a billionaire, so he doesn’t have to sell his soul — if any — to the super-rich for campaign donations.

The other exception is focussing on getting small donations from middle-class people and is doing incredibly well. So well that he has been able, so far, to wage a very competitive campaign against the Democratic front-runner, who, for a long time, was considered a shoo-in for the nomination.

The Republican frontrunner is a self-centered, sexist, blustering, billionaire, bully. Please don’t misunderstand; I have nothing against billionaires personally. I’ve always wanted to be one myself. It’s self-centered, sexist, blustering, bullies I have a problem with, whether rich or poor; but being rich makes them better at it. Whether or not he can keep his followers loyal until the primaries start in Iowa on February 1 is anybody’s guess. I hope not.

The other Republicans are all scientifically illiterate; even those you’d think ought not to be, like the medical doctors. They deny evolution, almost without exception. Several are young earth creationists, claiming our world is less than 10,000 years old. That’s incredibly ignorant for the potential “Leader of the Free World!”

Most of them also want to ban most or all abortions, repeal the Affordable Care Act rather than fix it, leaving tens of millions of additional citizens unable to afford basic medical care; and commit a number of other atrocities like gutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, and other essential services. Several even openly and plainly put their interpretations of the Bible above the Constitution a President is sworn to uphold and protect.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not pleased with the Democratic frontrunner, either. Too many questions remain unanswered about the Benghazi Massacre. “Why does it matter now?” is not an appropriate response to an investigator’s question. It matters because it speaks to the character, loyalty, and ability of the then Secretary of State (as well as the current President, of course; but he’s not a candidate this time). In addition, there are still too many questions about her email debacle.

I sympathize completely with the guy who said a few elections back, “If God wanted me to vote, I think He’d give me somebody to vote for.” But I will vote, as I always have.

For the duration of this political circus, I feel compelled to make a lot more posts of a political nature. The Presidency is just too important to let it fall into the hands of another incompetent ignoramus like some we’ve had recently, an irresponsible, self-aggrandizing blowhard, or any of those candidates who would place their own beliefs and desires above the Constitution and laws of our nation.

The United States is not, never has been, and must never be “one nation under God.” Our forefathers fled that kind of nation in Europe when they came to North America in search of religious freedom. That’s why we have always been (since 1789) one nation under the Constitution of the United States of America.

Faux News

A while back — probably several months ago — I  referred to Fox News as “Faux News,” and I was asked if they had reported something incorrectly. I said “No.” At least not that I could document. My argument with Fox was more philosophical than factual.

Here is an example of why I disrespect them, and why I seldom watch them.

“She couldn’t park it?” “Boobs on the ground?”

The United Arab Emirates’ first female fighter pilot, nicknamed Lady liberty, had led a bombing raid against ISIS. A triumph in many ways. And the best these goons could think to say was “she couldn’t park it.” And does that qualify as “boobs on the ground?”

And this was just after they had practically crucified our President for “disrespecting our troops” by the horrifying crime of saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand. (No matter that George W. Bush had saluted without criticism with his arms filled with his dog.)

The worst of the Faux News offenders apologized.

“My remark was not intended to be disparaging of her, but that’s how it was taken. … I apologize for what I said.” Yeah? How were we supposed to take it?

Sometimes we all say things we shouldn’t have and have to apologize. This is human nature. Nevertheless, in my opinion, his original comments were just one more example of the very low quality of Fox News.

Then, of course, we could discuss Fox’s failure to support Megyn Kelly after the first Republican debate, when Trump accused her of trying to make him look bad and then spoke of blood coming out of her mouth and “her wherever.” But I won’t mention that.


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Megyn Kelly Laughs at Guest Who Blames ‘Passive Aggressive’ Ahmed Mohamed for His Own Arrest

Here are both sides of the story, though a little short on facts. But that’s OK. We’ve already heard the facts about 17 zillion times in the past few days.

For some reason, Fox News brought in a lying racist who had already been thrown off the police force for racist comments and perjury to tell the school’s and cops’ side of the story. Then Megyn couldn’t keep from laughing at his dumb remarks. (For background, see here and here.)

A former police officer — who was booted off the force for racist comments and perjury — was on the receiving end of some mockery from Fox News host Megyn Kelly after he said that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was to blame for his arrest by Texas police because he was “passive aggressive.”

Alternet

According to all reports, there was no passive aggression. There was no aggression of any kind. Everybody seems to agree that when he was asked about his gadget, he said it was a clock; but the cop said his answer was not reasonable. Go figure.

Megyn Kelly

This kid put a few scrap electronic parts together and made a digital clock. It wasn’t very neat, but it worked.

He was proud of what he had done, so he took it to school to show his engineering teacher. If I had been he, I would have done the same thing.

Ahmed MohamedHis confidence in his engineering teacher was evidently well placed. The teacher expressed his approval, but advised Ahmed not to show it to anybody else. Ahmed followed his advice and didn’t show the clock to anybody else until he was required to. But it beeped at an inopportune time.

His English teacher heard a beep, asked what it was, and demanded to see the clock. She said it looked like a bomb and notified the principal, who called the police, who came and arrested Ahmed and took him away in handcuffs.

Ahmed was described as a model student who had never been in trouble before. Do you think maybe somebody besides his engineering teacher should have thought maybe he was telling the truth?

Ahmed's clockSo okay, the English teacher thought it looked like a bomb. Here’s the alleged “hoax bomb.” Do you see any sticks of dynamite? Do you see any glob of clay that might have been an explosive? Me neither. All I see is a mess of wires and electronics stuff. Wires and electronic stuff don’t usually explode.

I guess maybe an English teacher — or some English teachers — just wouldn’t know. She had to use her best judgement. But Ahmed already had a reputation for building “crazy contraptions” like this.

Last year he attended Sam Houston middle school, where everyone knew him as the kid who makes crazy contraptions. His classmates brought him electronics to fix and even bought some of his gadgets. He had an identity. He was the Inventor Kid.

The Guardian

Don’t you think somebody should have known?

Big Ben bombAhmed didn’t invent the clock, as some have reported. Clocks were invented centuries ago. Electronic digital clocks were invented decades ago. But he built a clock, using a lot of wire. That’s all it was.

Nobody thought it was a bomb.  They said it looked like a “hoax bomb.”  There was no evacuation of the school. They just thought putting a really smart kid with the potential to accomplish a lot of good for our country in handcuffs it was a good idea. I disagree.

As I said before, I stand with Ahmed.


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I Still Stand with Ahmed Mohamed

Fourteen-year-old MacArthur High School freshman Ahmed Mohamed, of Irving, Texas, just a few miles from where I live, is reputedly a model student who has been awarded a prize for his robotics studies and who (as far as I can determine) has never been in trouble before. Ahmed made the mistake of trusting his respected teachers to understand when he took a digital clock he had made from various electronic parts to school to show them. They didn’t. They thought it was a “hoax bomb.”

His hobbies are robotics and electronics, and he is good at them. How many 14-yo kids do you know who can create a digital clock out of a few scrap electronics parts? OK, how many 40-yo men or women do you known who could do it? I’d be proud, too. Understandably, so is his father.

Speaking at an afternoon news conference outside the family’s home, Ahmed’s father said he’s proud of his son and wowed by his skills.

“He fixed my phone, my car, my computer,” Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed said. “He is a very smart, brilliant kid.”

Dallas Morning News

Teacher betrayed Ahmed’s trust

His teacher confiscated the clock and contacted the principal, who called police. Ahmed was arrested, searched, and taken away in handcuffs. At the police station, he was interrogated, fingerprinted, and mug-shot before they would even let him call his parents.

The arresting officer later  claimed Ahmed had refused to answer their questions or tell them anything that made sense, even though everybody seems to agree he told them repeatedly the device was a clock, and not a bomb.

What’s maybe even harder to understand is that nobody even thought it was a bomb. They thought it was a pretend bomb. A “hoax bomb.” There were no lockdowns or evacuations, and Ahmed was released to his parents several hours later.

Pamela Geller chimes in

The odious and loathsome Pamela Geller, who habitually and intentionally does her best to stir up trouble between Muslims and non-Muslims, has predictably chimed in. She claims this whole thing was a “setup” to prepare for a big lawsuit, since the family has now retained a lawyer. How stupid can she be? I’d retain a lawyer, too. Then I’d sue the pants off of them.

She accused Ahmed’s father of being a trouble-maker,when he has apparently done nothing more than speak his opinion. As I am doing now. As  all Americans have a right to do. Including Muslim Americans. It’s called freedom of speech, and we all have it!

As if there were a connection, she mentioned the event in Garland, Texas, a few months ago, where two Islamic extremists were killed as they assaulted the hall with murderous intent. There is no reported evidence that either Ahmed or his father is an extremist, or that they have any violent or dangerous tendencies. She also neglected to mention that she herself had organized that event specifically for the purpose of badgering Muslims. It was a Mohammed cartoon-drawing contest,  shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. And wasn’t it held next door to a mosque? I think so. Talk about asking for trouble!

So does that justify attempted murder? Of course not. And the local Muslims gave her no trouble. The terrorists came in from out-of-state. They were clearly responsible for their own deaths at the hands of a local policeman.

Pamela Geller was within her legal rights to deliberately antagonize the local Muslims, but having a right doesn’t make it right. It makes her a bigot and a leader of bigots.

Governor Abbott chimes in

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said later that police were mistaken to arrest Ahmed. He added,

The last thing we want to do is put handcuffs on a kid unjustifiably. Just call this a tragic situation. It looks like the commitment to law enforcement may have gone too far and didn’t balance all the facts.

I agree completely, but I haven’t heard of any apologies from the guilty yet.

Obama and Clinton chime in

potus-tweetPresident Obama appropriately expressed his support for Ahmed and invited him to bring his clock to the White House. This is a wonderful gesture!

Hillary Clinton also tweeted her support, but very few other politicians seemed to have the nerve.

Ahmed Mohamed

Zero Tolerance rears its evil and destructve head

It’s easy to see this as pure racism, but Robby Soave at Reason.com points out we’d be wrong. It’s probably true that racism was involved, but there’s also another reason for the actions taken by the government officials (teacher, principal, and cops). It’s called Zero Tolerance, and its a danger to kids of all races and religions, both genders and all grades, rich or poor, smart or mentally challenged, or whatever.

Zero tolerance means if a student even appears to do something against a rule, he or she can be punished for it. Guns are forbidden, obviously; but why does a kid get grilled for five hours and then suspended pending psychological evaluation just because he’s holding a pencil and the other kid behind him says he’s “making gun motions” with it? Don’t believe me? Ask this 13-yo Vermont student.

And then there’s 16-yo Alex Stone, a South Carolina student, who just wrote a story and said he had shot a dinosaur with a gun. A DINOSAUR! It was obviously fiction!

His assignment was to write a few paragraphs about himself, as if it were a Facebook status. He decided to fictionalize. “I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur, and, then, in the next status I said I bought the gun to take care of the business,” Stone said. Police were called and he also was arrested.

NBC12

Even zero tolerance disproportionately affects students of color, so it isn’t an alternative to racism; it’s an add-on. It’s an evil, unfair thing designed to relieve teachers and administrators from having to think at the expense of their students; and it’s a danger to all American public school students, just as racism is for some. They must both be abolished.

But back to Ahmed’s case

At a joint press conference with Irving ISD, Chief Larry Boyd said the device — confiscated by an English teacher despite the teen’s insistence that it was a clock — was “certainly suspicious in nature.”

He repeatedly explained that he had made a digital clock, whose alarm just happened to ring at an inopportune time; but the cop thought he wasn’t giving them “reasonable” answers. What was he supposed to say?

School officers questioned Ahmed about the device and why Ahmed had brought it to school. Boyd said Ahmed was then handcuffed “for his safety and for the safety of the officers” and taken to a juvenile detention center. He was later released to his parents, Boyd said.

“The follow-up investigation revealed the device apparently was a homemade experiment, and there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm,” Boyd said, describing the incident as a “naive accident.”

Asked if the teen’s religious beliefs factored into his arrest, Boyd said the reaction “would have been the same” under any circumstances.

Dallas Morning News

Maybe, but zero tolerance is no better than bigotry. It must be stopped, too.


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I Stand With Ahmed


I tweeted my support for Ahmed Mohamed a few minutes ago. I do very little tweeting, so I hope I did it right.

Most of the time, I’m proud to say I’m a Texan. Sometimes I’m not so sure. I live just a few miles from where this travesty occurred. I’ll be posting more on this as soon as I can collect my information and write it up. Probably tomorrow.

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