Thursday, October 23, 2014

In The Reza-Aslan-Vs-The-New-Atheists Flapadoodle, I'm Rooting For Neither Side

What a bunch of idiots. On either side people are twistng their opponents' words and trying hard not to understand one thing about what their opponents actually mean. (Not that there's a tremendous amount, on either side, to be understood.) This isn't a debate, it's the forensic equivalent of pro wrestling, except that the wrestlers aren't even in on the scam.

So, they're fighting about the Koran and its relationship to terrorism. On the one hand Aslan says that there is no relationship when we're talking about people who scream verses from the Koran as they commit acts of terrorism. On the other hand there are over a billion Muslims, and perhaps as many as 30,000 men in ISIS, and the New Atheists constantly talk as if those 30,000 were representative of the whole billion, interrupted by frequent protestations that they're doing nothing of the sort. Lately it's become fashionable to accuse any and all of their opponents of being "dishonest" and "cowardly." I think the real cowards are keeping their heads down and hoping that the New Atheists will simply go away, as most people do most of the time when confronted with raving lunatics.

An anonymous post on Richard Dawkins' website asserts that:

"Aslan insists that approaching these holy books the way most people approach most books — by reading the words on their pages precisely as they are written and assuming that the author actually meant what he wanted to say — is somehow 'unsophisticated.'”

The irony of this accusation coming in the midst of a diatribe accusing Aslan and Ben Affleck of making bigoted, racist statements about Muslims, simply because they said that the Koran was not the only source of Muslims' motivations for their actions, must be striking for almost anyone but a New Atheist. (Affleck is the only individual mentioned in this post I don't consider to be an idiot. I think he's very smart. So's Maher, but he has some dumb friends. Okay, so that's a total of 2 smart people, Affleck and Maher.)

"As my friend Christopher Massie points out: 'The conclusion that disproportionate numbers of intrinsically violent and misogynistic people reside in a certain region of the world could not be more bigoted or racist.'”

It also couldn't be further from anything that either Aslan or Affleck ever said, but you're off to the races already.

"Here’s the thing: there is good reason to believe that neither Aslan nor Affleck is racist or bigoted."

Well, of course. And it'd be a shame, wouldn't it, anonymous blogger, if people thought you had accused either Aslan or Affleck of bigotry or racism simply because you said that things they said were racist and bigoted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"This Beltway Narrative About The Republicans Being Way Ahead Is One Of The Dumbest And Most Fact-Free Things I've heard In A Long Time"

-- Jess McIntosh of Emily's List, just a minute ago on "All In With Chris Hayes."

So it's not just me.

Quoted from memory, my apologies to Jess if I quoted inexactly, but that is the gist of it.

So get out there and vote and let's make this a Democratic landslide.

Motorcycle Road Racing

I was having a terrible time finding facts and figures relevant to this blog post, so finally I just gave up, and so this is going to be more about some personal experiences of mine as a racing fan than about racing per se. If you want some facts and figures to fill out what I have to say here, all I can do is sincerely apologize. Short of some large university library which might have back issues of Cycle magazine going back to the mid-1970's, I don't know what would help here -- and no, I don't know of any library which has those back issues in the stacks.



And so, for example, I can't tell you which AMA road race it was in 1977 in which Kenny Roberts went from last to first in the first 4 laps. Normally by that time in AMA's 750cc premier-class road racing, Roberts would qualify in pole position, zoom out into the lead immediately, settle into a pace which was comfortable for him and faster than anyone else, and win the race easily. He'd win unless he had mechanical trouble. Impressive, but also, since no one was challenging Roberts' dominance, also somewhat monotonous. Before the start of this particular race, Roberts was sent from the pole to back of the starting grid because his bike was leaking oil. And after 4 laps, he was in front. And Cycle magazine proclaimed that those 4 laps demonstrated that Roberts was -- beyond a doubt - the best motorcycle road racer in the world.

That pronouncement showed the provincial outlook of American motorcycle road racing at the time. Maybe Roberts was the best in the world, but an AMA -- American Motorcycle Association -- road race wasn't going to prove it. Then as now, the world class of mororcycle road racing is that organized by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme), with races all over the world contested by riders from all over the world. Now and then an FIM rider participated in the AMA's most prestigious race, at Daytona. Giacomo Agostini, one of the FIM's all-time greats, won at Daytona in 1974. Roberts left the AMA for the FIM beginning in 1978, and won the world championship in 1978, 1979 and 1980 -- but it wasn't completely lopsided. It's not completely unreasonable to contend that Barry Sheene might have been as good or better. (Sheene himself was never the slightest bit shy about saying so.)

In 1978 I stopped following road racing. I turned 17 in 1978, and it had become clear that although I liked watching road racing, I was no kind of fast rider myself. I can do some things really well, other I can't. Racing a motorcycle might be one thing I can't even do as well as average. Also, lack of skill aside, I was getting too big for road racing. There haven't been many champions over 6 feet tall.

Maybe Roberts was the greatest ever, but you can't say it's beyond a doubt. Not at all. But he did change some things. In the mid-70's he started to freak people out by dragging his knees around corners. He put big pads made out of duct tape on the knees of his racing uniform. Eventually all road racers were dragging their knees, and all road racing uniforms had built-in knee pads. In the 1970's, there was an obituary in Cycle for a road racer who'd died in a crash. The writer talked about the first time he'd seen this racer, when he was "dragging his elbows" around a corner. Back then, "dragging his elbows" was a euphemism and an exaggeration of how far this guy leaned the bike over.

Toward the end of the 2012 FIM road racing season, almost 35 years after I'd stopped following AMA road racing, I tuned back in, this time to the FIM premier world class, now called MotoGP, and saw that now sometimes the riders literally drag their elbows through some turns. I saw that world-championship racing had gone from 2-stroke to 4-stroke engines, I heard about this guy named Valentino Rossi who'd won 9 world championships and was very popular. Very soon Rossi became my favorite rider. What can I say, he's extremely charismatic. He's not movie-star handsome, he kind of looks like a happy puppy with a pop-eye and matted curly fur. He always seems to be in a good mood.

And although he's 35 years old and 35 generally seems to be too old for this sort of thing, Rossi is still one of a handful of the fastest riders. But, you see, there's this kid Marc Marquez. At the beginning of the 2013 MotoGP season, seconds before the race started, the announcer said to keep an eye on Marquez cause he was special. Turned out it's been really easy to keep an eye on Marquez cause he's usually out in front or close to it. He won the 2013 world championship, youngest-ever top-class champ, and a week ago he clinched the 2014 championship with 3 races left in the season. Earlier this year it seemed like Marquez was just going to whup ass unmercifully. He won the first 10 of the season's 18 races. But, he's crashed in 3 of the last 4, so hold on, this still might be a contest. There's Rossi, and then there's Gorge Lorenzo, a 2-time champ, and then there's Dani Pedrosa, who's finished 4 seasons in 2nd in MotoGP and has about 3 times as many race wins as anyone else who's never won the season championship. The Repsol Hondas ridden by Marquez and Pedrosa have orange wheels, might sound silly to you if you're just reading about it but it looks wicked cool. After a couple of seasons out of contention it looks as if the Ducatis might be as fast now as the Repsol Hondas, and the factory Yamahas ridden by Rossi and Lorenzo.

Or faster. Ducatis are wicked cool. They're Italian, and they're desmos. Desmodromic valve drive was still fairly new in production vehicles back in the 1970's, introduced to the wider world by Ducati, and the Ducatis still are almost the only desmos around. That's wicked cool. Look Ma, no valve springs!

Friday, October 17, 2014

US 3rd-Partiers: The Anti-Bismarcks

In the 1860's, Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia, who a few years later would become Chancellor of Germany when he finished taking over Germany on behalf of the Prussian monarchy, which amounted to taking over Germany for himself, because the Prussian King and soon to be German Emperor (Kaiser) either didn't notice or didn't care that it was Bismarck who was actually in charge -- Ah say Ah say in the 1860's, Bismarck said, "Politik ist die Kunst des Moeglichen." ("Politics is the art of the possible.") Or maybe he said, "La politique, c'est l'art du possible." Or he very well could've said it in English. He was talking to another German dude and he probably said it in German, but he and his pals were a little more cosmopolitan than Amurrkins sometimes realize.



Don't get me wrong: Bismarck was a reactionary and I disagree with most of what he did. On the other hand, however, in the 1880's he instituted universal health insurance and universal pensions for the elderly in Germany. He did this in order to undermine the Social Democrats, against whom he had a -- well, pathological aversion, spying on them, having them arrested and banning their publications and so forth. Really terrible draconian stuff. Bismarck introduced the insurance and pensions in order to combat the Social Democrats, to take the wind out of their sails. (Worked pretty well, too.) But in spite of Bismarck's motives, the universal health insurance and pensions for the elderly marked the beginning of a strong social safety net and were undeniably a boon for the very underprivileged Germans whom the Social Democrats wanted to help.

On the 17th of October, 2014, on Facebook, a Leftist Amurrkin supporter of 3rd parties proposed that anyone who'd ever associated him- or herself with either the Democrats or the GOP be completely barred from the political process. As opposed to voting Democratic because Republicans are worse.

At last check he still has not responded to queries about exactly how he hoped to accomplish this.

Good intentions are useless if they're completely divorced from reality, and conservatives sometimes co-operate with the Left when the Left is strong enough that they have no other good choice. In the midterms it's going to be the Democrats or the Republicans, and the Democrats really are to the left of the GOP, not as far left as I am, but far enough to the left of the GOP that the space between them is clear to see. Vote Democrat, for women's rights and more equitable tax codes and a stronger social safety net and non-creationist science education and the environment and sustainable energy and financial re-regulation and to keep psychos who think Obama's a secret Kenyan Muslim Communist from running this country.

If You're An Atheist, That doesn't Necessarily Mean We're Pals (Maybe You Noticed That Already)

AN ATHEIST-BUT-NOT-NEW-ATHEIST MANIFESTO

About like-mindedness: there is so much more to people's minds -- well, to some minds -- than that one freaking issue of whether God exists. Over the past several years I've met so many atheists online whom I do not like at all. There's at least one, Richard Dawkins,



whom I used to like quite a lot, until I started to read what he had to say on religious topics. Well, there were warning signs already in his work on biology. Right there on p 1 of The Selfish Gene Dawkins announces,

"We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: "The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely."

Besides warning me that I probably wouldn't like G G Simpson either, Dawkins gave a big hint there that he might turn out to be the kind of moron who'd go around making sweeping statements about Islam while admitting that he hadn't read the Koran and didn't plan to.



There's so much worthwhile stuff which was written before 1859.



And it makes my head whirl that I need to point that out because somebody as brilliant in biology as Dawkins is so fucking stupid about so much else. And yet here we are. The fish which is New Atheism stinks from the head, which is Dawkins. I agree with them about atheism. I agree that humans invented God and not the other way around. But that's just one question. Answering it correctly doesn't necessarily mean you're a genius, and getting wrong doesn't necessarily mean you're not. Dismissing so much written before 1859 as glibly as Dawkins and Simpson is a pretty good sign (I saw it, I saw the sign, it's right there in black-and-white as big as day p 1 of The Selfish Gene) that they might have other remarkably stupid things to say.

And Dawkins has been saying and writing stupid things for a living for over a decade now, having given up what he was good at, biology. And he's been so hugely successful at it that millions of people are now following the 2nd part of it, saying stupid banal inaccurate uninformed things against religion, without having emulated the more honorable 1st part, having become brilliant at something else first, be it biology or what have you. Coyne and Myers are accomplished biologists like Dawkins, but Harris skipped straight to the stupid, banal, inaccurate and uninformed anti-religious part, and is probably the 2nd-most commercially successful New Atheist behind Dawkins.



I have no problem with them saying things against religion, I say things against religion myself all the time. It's the stupid banal inaccurate uninformed part that annoys me, and which should concern any atheist who wishes to see the influence of religion wane and die its natural death at long last. I don't think this stuff is helping. And I don't think that I'm being excessive when I say that what Dawkins and Coyne and Myers and Harris have to say about religion is stupid. Ignorance is one thing. It's simply not knowing, and it can be remedied. But stupidity is not knowing and not wanting to know, it's being ignorant and proud of it. And stupidity is tenacious.

If you want religion to go away you have to know what it is, you have to study it like an epidemiologist studies disease. Otherwise you're just jerking off and getting in the way, like Dawkins, Harris & Co.

I'd love to talk to Dawkins about biology. Sadly, he doesn't seem much interested in biology anymore. It's a waste and a shame.

So much for atheists whom I dislike. Now to religious people I love: I don't see the problem here, I don't know why it should surprise anyone that there are religious believers with whom I get along very well, with whom I love to talk about all sorts of things -- even religion, sometimes. The most interesting people to talk to on any subject tend to be the ones who know the most about that subject, duh. And on the subject of religion, those people aren't the New Atheists, big duh. You want to talk about the Council of Nicea or the Merovingians or the Templars or the origins of the Grail myth with someone who knows more about them than



Dan Freaking Brown, there's a good chance you're going to end up talking to some very interesting and well-educated Christians. (And enjoying yourself, perhaps to your shame, if you're used to hanging with New Atheists.)

If you want to talk to some experts about Tolkien and Harry Potter and



Spider-Man, a gathering of New Atheists might be an even better place to look for them than a Comic-Con. They'll probably be well-above average in their knowledge of biology and physics, too. Credit where credit's due.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

There's No Difference Between Democrats and Republicans Except --

-- on women's health and freedom to choose, green energy, tax breaks for Big Oil, labor unions, whether one fears that the government has too much control over corporations or that corporations have too much control over the government, whether the best way to help all of us is to help the poorest and weakest or the richest and most powerful, whether or not everyone should have access to affordable health care, whether too many tax breaks are available to corporate CEO's making 8 figures a year or more or to teachers and firemen making $50,000 a year or less, whether GLBT's don't have enough rights or whether they have too many, whether or not it's time to revoke the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, whether or not drilling for oil and gas in national parks would be a good idea, whether it should be easier or more difficult for people in the US to obtain guns and ammo, whether or not Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim Communist...

That's just off the top of my head. But yeah, if none of the above matters to you, you might as well vote Green.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"KITTIES ARE NICE!" (Comedy Sketch)

TALK SHOW HOST: Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight's musical guest are a band that formed 25 years ago in Tacoma, Washington. There were one of the original Seattle grunge bands, and they're here to perform the title track from their 20th album, Kitties Are Nice. Please welcome Logam!

(LOGJAM launch into a hard rocker, lotsa guitar feedback, nasty bass and drums. They're just a little bit too macho and grim-faced. Like Pearl Jam,



but even more so. In fact, if Pearl Jam want to play Logjam, that'd be perfect. The song "Kitties Are Nice" are just the three words "Kitties are nice" repeated a few times. The lead singer sings "Kitties are niiiiiiiiiiii...iiice," and other band members join in and harmonize during the word "nice." After the song crashes to its end, Logjam grimly put down their instruments and walk over to the host, shake his hand and the hands of his sidekick and the other guest who hung around and take their seats.)

HOST (to BAND MEMBER #1, LEAD SINGER) : That's an unusual song! Is it literally about cats, or should listeners be looking for symbolic meanings in the lyrics?

(The instant the host begins to speak to the singer, the personalities of all the band members change from those of brooding alt-rockers to those of squirming toddlers.)

BAND MEMBER #1: Kitties are nice!

(Band members begin to fidget, and to softly grunt and squeal at the thought of nice kitties.)

HOST: ... Okay! (Turning to BAND MEMBER #2) : Todd, you've written most of the lyrics to Logjam's songs, and on this albums you wrote all the words. Up until this album a lot of the songs have been pretty wordy, going into some details about themes like environmentalism and political oppression and sexual exploitation. On this album, all of the songs have lyrics which are either three or four words long, and are identical to each song's title: "Kitties Are Nice," "I Wike Wittle Kittehs," "Look at dah Kitteh!"


and so forth. What brought about this sudden change in approach?

BAND MEMBER #2 (at first reacts with the bug-eyed and hunched-shouldered demeanor of a toddler who's been startled by something unfamiliar and alarming; then he relaxes a bit and exclaims: ) I like kittehs!

(The fidgeting and ecstatic, kitty-besotted grunting and squealing of all of the band members steadily increases.)

BAND MEMBER #3: I have a kitteh named Alice!

BAND MENBER #4 (shouts, but it's muted because he's not miked) : Alice is a vereh nice kitteh!

(Emphatic squeals of agreement from the other band members. From here to the end of the sketch, the squealing and fidgeting and arm-waiving and interjected shouts about how kittehs are nice and how the band members like kittehs and like to pet them and how Alice is vereh nice and so forth only continue to increase.)

BAND MEMBER #3: Alice is vereh friendly. If you sit on my sofa Alice will jump up onto the arm of the sofa and purr and rub you with the top of her head. After you pet her for a while she will settle down onto the arm of the sofa. And then you can very gently rest your forearm along her back so that your fingers can pet her head. And... And when you do this... Her tail will flick back and forth against your chest and shoulder and upper arm... And... AND IT TICKLES!

(At this point all of the band members completely lose what little composure they have left. Some are rocking back and forth and moaning softly. Some fall off of their seats and roll around on the floor.)

HOST (is staring open-mouthed at them. With a visible effort he composes himself, turns to the camera and says) : Folks, we're going to take a short break. When we return, George Smith of the San Diego Zoo is going to bring out some baby koalas.

(At the mention of baby koalas the band members become still more animated with pleasure.)