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Tuesday potpourri

October 28, 2008

Here’s a completely random smattering of stuff I’m reading on the internets the last few days:

(1) Hitchens unloads on Sarah Palin for her ridiculous fruit fly comment:

With Palin, however, the contempt for science may be something a little more sinister than the bluff, empty-headed plain-man’s philistinism of McCain. We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of “teaching the argument,” as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now. This would make DNA or any other kind of research pointless, whether conducted in Paris or not. Projects such as sequencing the DNA of the flu virus, the better to inoculate against it, would not need to be funded. We could all expire happily in the name of God. Gov. Palin also says that she doesn’t think humans are responsible for global warming; again, one would like to ask her whether, like some of her co-religionists, she is a “premillenial dispensationalist”—in other words, someone who believes that there is no point in protecting and preserving the natural world, since the end of days will soon be upon us.

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(2) This site allows you to choose up to 10 colors from a standard color chart and then it searches Flickr for photos with those colors. What? … Awesome!

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(3) If you don’t have the Boston Globe’s The Big Picture photo-blog in your reader … well, get with it. Each and every one of these simply blow me away. Recent posts have highlighted Encaledus and (shown below) World Animal Day.

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(4) Why the heck is an 8-year old firing a machine gun?! The boy accidentally shot himself in the head and died. It’s interesting that some mainstream media articles include commenting like blogs now. Since these articles get huge numbers, the comment thread typically becomes a shouting match. This particular thread, perhaps predictably, started discussing gun control issues. I didn’t read all the comments, but skimming through I found this one from a vet that struck a chord:

As a US Army Infantry Vet, I can tell you, automatic weapons are tricky and have no place in the hands of an eight-year old– nor even in the hands of the general population. I own two guns, but– listen– if you’re such a lousy shot that you can’t defend your home with a pistol or semi-auto rifle, then go practice. Even the Army A-4 (m16) rifle is usually fired on semi-auto, and hasn’t had a fully auto setting for years. And don’t give me any nonsense about your “2nd amendment rights.” The 2nd amendment is the right to form “a well-regulated militia.” Well guess what, we have a well-regulated militia. It’s called the National Guard, and you’re welcome to go join it. They’ll give you a rifle and let you go learn how to use it in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of playing soldier at gunshows and backwoods america.

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(5) Check out this post from The Dynamic Earth about the recent Haq & Schutter paper in Science presenting a sea level curve for the Paleozoic. A very good summary complete with historical context and witty banter about Exxonian sequence strat … you won’t find that in a ScienceDaily press release (this is what the science blogosphere is all about!).

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(6) From GraphJam … this is really dumb, but made me laugh.

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(7) Finally … if you check out some of my past posts it’s no secret I’m supporting Obama. I think almost everybody has made up their mind at this point … a lot of people, including myself, are feeling fatigue over thinking and talking about this election.

I’ve always despised the use of false dichotomies and false choices in complex and nuanced issues. I was pleased to hear Obama address this directly in a speech yesterday. Here are a few snippets that introduce full paragraphs about the particular issue:

We don’t have to choose between allowing our financial system to collapse and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street banks.

The choice in this election isn’t between tax cuts and no tax cuts.

When it comes to jobs, the choice in this election is not between putting up a wall around America or allowing every job to disappear overseas.

When it comes to health care, we don’t have to choose between a government-run health care system and the unaffordable one we have now.

And when it comes to keeping this country safe, we don’t have to choose between retreating from the world and fighting a war without end in Iraq.

This doesn’t mean that tough choices won’t have to be made … they do. Whoever gets elected will have very tough choices to make and probably end up scaling back some of their proposals (even though neither would ever admit that during a campaign). But, I am eager to listen to a leader who appreciates a complex world – who doesn’t make rash decisions from their “gut”. Someone who doesn’t boil everything down to absolutes, false dichotomies, and an us-vs-them mentality.

Finally … I was especially pleased to hear this statement from Obama:

We don’t need bigger government or smaller government. We need a better government – a more competent government.

Exactly! The debate of big vs. small government misses the point … NEWS FLASH: We have a big government. I want it to be effective. There was a time that true, old-school conservatism made a lot of sense to me … it was about effective and responsible government. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Perhaps conservatism can reinvent itself in the coming years. But for right now, I simply don’t want those that despise the very notion of government in charge of mine.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2008 1:46 pm

    Great post! I have come to really enjoy the geoblogosphere; those posts are the first I read each day. I don’t really consider myself a member, though I frequently comment and participate, because there’s too much non-geology stuff I post on. But the thing that distinguishes one blogger from another is the personal, the human, the idiosyncratic- and it’s the person I get to know over time. It’s pleasing to see a geoblogger put up some non-geology stuff.

    And I would like to issue a loud “Hear, Hear!” to everything you say in point #7. It’s not so much conservatism that has disgusted me, as it is modern Republicanism.

  2. October 28, 2008 1:54 pm

    Lockwood … thanks, the non-geology stuff I usually post is because I can’t think of anything interesting to say geologically!

  3. Thomas M. permalink
    October 29, 2008 9:33 am

    I have a few comments to make on some of the things discussed in this post. I’ll get to the ugly stuff first:

    It is unfortunate that this vet has no idea what was intended by a ‘militia’. If one bothers to do research into the history of the 2nd Amendment, it is very clear that the intention was for the public to have the same weapons as the military so that they would not be slaughtered if a revolt was necessary. Hell, Thomas Jefferson instituted what amounted to a welfare program for guns when he in his presidency. If you were too poor to be able to buy a gun you could request one and the government would send you one which was paid for by federal money and at no cost to you, with no strings attached. I very much wonder why he would have done this if the intent of the ‘well-regulated militia’ meant that only people who were part of a military force that acts as a militia were meant to have guns. I would also like to point out that the US Code (which is theoretically a codification of laws and a guide to what the constitution means and how congress should it) defines a militia in this way:

    (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

    Part B even specifies that there is an organized and an unorganized militia, the latter being people who are NOT in the National Guard. At very minimum, every man between the ages of 17 and 45 is granted the right to own and use a gun.

    This is listed in the US Code under: Title 10, subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 13 § 311

    Even barring the fact that it is clearly unconstitutional to ban automatic weapons (if one bothers to do a modicum of research on the topic) there is no good reason to ban the population from having them since they are almost NEVER used in crimes. Saying ‘we should ban them because they’re potentially dangerous, even though they’re almost never used by criminals’ is akin to thought crime and puts a person on one nasty slippery slope. I could think of several things that are potentially dangerous and that could be banned for that reason (and cite isolated incidents where someone gets hurt due to this being legal)…it would be a very, very long list that ranged from certain kinds of weapons, to the internet, all the way to certain social programs. Where exactly do we draw the line if we’re banning things on nothing more than a potential danger factor? We should not be removing peoples’ freedoms because an occasional accident occurs that kills less people on a yearly basis than a lightning strike. There is no rational excuse for imposing that kind of a nanny government on the population just because certain groups of people suffer from unfounded paranoia about automatic weapons (I define it as ‘unfounded’ since there is not an ounce of evidence that a large number of deaths result from them yearly, nor that they bring the crime rate up). He also displays his ignorance when he claims that the M-16 does not have a fully automatic setting. It has a fully automatic setting, but fires in three shot bursts. (One trigger pull = three shots being fired. Anything more than one shot fired per trigger pull constitutes an automatic setting. The purpose of this modification is to help with accuracy, by the way.) This guy is clearly either ignorant about the subject or letting his political bias get in the way of the available facts. Either way, he is not a good source of information. That said, I think it is also relevant that they’re hard as hell to get (legally!). To get one you have to go through a rather extensive, expensive process which involves going through a long, difficult licensing process, registering the weapon with the police in your area, and even agreeing that if you transport it to another city (or across district or state lines) that you will immediately inform your local police about the plans to transport it and inform the police in any area you transport it to that you will be transporting it to their area. If you do not do this and are caught traveling with it, you will be arrested. You are also required to give the police two sets of finger prints to run through the system to see if you have a criminal record and to keep on hand for future use. (Anything more than a speeding ticket and you’re probably going to be denied the license and you’ll be out a few hundred dollars for it.) You must also go through an extensive interview with the local police where they decide if you’re of ‘proper moral character’ to own such a weapon. I think it goes without saying that the kind of person who plans on mis-using a fully automatic weapon is going to get one through the black market, not go through legal means. That said, you should not be letting your eight year old child use an automatic weapon. I had access to guns when I was eight — under strict parent supervision — but I fuck sure was not allowed anywhere near an automatic weapon. However, I’ll say again that this is an issue for people who wish to possess such a weapon to concern themselves with, not the government. Not until people come up with a more substantive reason for a ban than ‘it makes me paranoid/uncomfortable for people to own this’, at least.

    More ugly stuff:

    Sadly, I think Hitchens is dead on about Palin and that is truly ugly.

    Now for the prettier stuff:

    Well, if I’m operating off of puns, anyway, that flickr feature is AWESOME! And it seems to have some beautiful results. The Big Picture blog is great, too.

    On another more political note:

    “There was a time that true, old-school conservatism made a lot of sense to me … it was about effective and responsible government. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Perhaps conservatism can reinvent itself in the coming years. But for right now, I simply don’t want those that despise the very notion of government in charge of mine.”

    I think is pretty much dead-on, except for the last sentence. It used to be about downsizing the government for the sake of trying to keep things neat, tidy, and effective – now the mainstream of the libertarian party are about the only people advocating this position. However, given that the republicans of the last several years have focused on expanding the government, expanding their powers, and making it larger and larger, I do not think it is fair to see that they a republican president would be someone who ‘despises the very notion of government’. Just the opposite, in fact – the game is now about getting as much power as you can and doing whatever the fuck you want at all costs (Bush exemplifies this) at all costs, and if this means expanding the size of the government or making it more inefficient (please note that I DO draw a line between the two), or doing both, so be it; all the ranting about a ‘small government’ and disliking government control over the population is pretty clearly nothing more than a charade aimed at keeping idealistic paleo-conservatives who like to think that they’ll be voting for the lesser evil (the person that will take less direct control over their lives and try to make it more efficient) in the fold. The only ‘conservatives’ that I can think of that really despise the notion of government are anarcho-libertarians who likely do not make up much of the Republican voter base.

    On a lighter note, thanks for the great post on the depositional slope system that you made recently.

    Hm, given that large portions of this post were politically oriented I should probably declare my political biases as of now: I’d classify myself as a moderate with strong libertarian leanings that doesn’t give much of a shit about party lines (my primary interest is how many issues a candidate is wrong about, how important those issues are, and how likely they are to act on them). My libertarian leanings are primarily expressed in my philosophy that we have no excuse for denying any given right/freedom unless we have good, solid empirical evidence that (1) Allowing that right causes extensive harm and (2) that disallowing that right will cause more good than harm. Assuming (2) isn’t testable, I fall back on (3) which is that if the test is run and the removal of the freedom causes more harm than good that the people in charge need to admit that they were wrong and give that freedom back. I think we would be much more well-off if politicians would apply that set of ideas across the board. But I know this is never going to happen. The third one in particular is damn near impossible to set into motion.

    By the way, I think this is my first comment on your blog (though I’ve been reading it off and on for a while through my reader) and I want to apologize for my first comment being so long-winded and politically oriented. I generally try to avoid the subject (and certainly don’t want it to be my first comment on a blog!) unless the blog I’m commenting on is an explicitly political one since political arguments tend to get ugly and divisive almost as fast as religious ones, but I feel that certain issues are too important to let slip through the cracks when they come up. Gun control happens to be one of those issues. Ah well, here’s to (mostly) commenting on science-oriented posts in the future!

  4. October 29, 2008 9:46 am

    Thomas M. … thanks for the comment, don’t worry about being long-winded! Anytime.

    Thanks for the info on militias, you obviously know more about that than me. For me, when it comes to gun rights (note: I don’t own one, never have), I like what Obama said in his convention speech that we can maintain our 2nd ammendment rights while, at the same time, working to keep machine guns from getting in the hands of criminals or domestic terrorists. Again, it’s not an all-or-nothing thing.

    I have a question for you. From your perspective and political leanings do you think a fracture of the modern Republican party could ultimately be a good thing? That is, a reevaluation of the priorities and ideals? If they do suffer an across-the-board defeat next week, it seems those kinds of events (for any political party) are good for ‘cleansing’ and reinvention. Personally, I would like to see the social/cultural/xenophobic right-wing marginalized and have the fiscal/rational/intellectual conservatives rebuild their brand.

  5. October 31, 2008 5:27 am

    Thomas M.

    Thank you for your wonderful breakdown of the law. As an ARMY Vet myself; I have a license to carry and own a gun. I also agree that I should be able to own any gun the military is able to use and as many guns as I desire. As the intent was and should be to balance government control with civilian ability to take control should the need arise. If a law went into affect that took away my right to own a weapon; I would do so anyway~! My life (as well as my loved ones,) in my own home, will not be compromised by law. I only get one life and no government is going to regulate the level in which I can protect myself from harm.

    Now, children running with sticks can poke their eye out. Should we outlaw sticks? Can we outlaw trees that children climb, brooks that children swim in or pools for that matter? Accidents happen, a minor case of tragedy is not a reason to enact or change law and this is the precise issue with the American Legal system. You must allow accident percentages and some risk in order to enjoy FREEDOM.

    KAS

  6. October 31, 2008 7:45 am

    KAS says: “Now, children running with sticks can poke their eye out. Should we outlaw sticks? Can we outlaw trees that children climb, brooks that children swim in or pools for that matter?”

    And I bet more kids get hurt or even die from playing sports each year too … but the thing is, sticks, trees, pools, sports, etc. aren’t DESIGNED TO END HUMAN LIVES … sticks aren’t designed to deliver metal into a human body at great speed for the sole purpose of killing them … yes, accidents happen. This argument just doesn’t persuade me that much.

    I have no problem with people shootin’ stuff for fun and having their guns, I really don’t … but an 8-year old that is allowed to fire an Uzi by his parent and the gun show officials is ridiculous. No accountability?

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