Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Muggy Sunday, Nearly August

It's an overcast, quiet morning in Rockville. The family is sleeping, even the dog is trying to stretch this night out. It's been a big week, and I'm going to do something I've done before, which is to go through the open tabs in my browser and tell you what's caught my eye that I haven't mentioned here.

First, I thought you would find it interesting to see this AP story that says that the US is winning the war in Iraq.
BAGHDAD - The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government. Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost

I'm not going to say anything about that. The story doesn't really say who lost the war, who we beat.

Oh, and here was an interesting story. In California, you know, there will be a referendum to overturn a law that lets gay people marry each other. The Secretary of State there yesterday changed the wording that will go on the ballot.
When Californians get their ballot pamphlets in the mail, they'll see a new description of the proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Proposition 8 on the November ballot had been described as a measure to limit marriage between a man and a woman.

But the Secretary of State's office says that description was changed to reflect a May 15 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

The ballot title and summary now describe the initiative as a constitutional change to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.

The revised language also says California could lose several tens of millions of dollars in sales taxes if same-sex marriage were banned.

Critics of the measure say the change accurately shows the initiative would take away a current right of Californians. Title for Calif. gay marriage ban changed

The nuts are howling, of course. You can read the new wording HERE.

This one caught my eye. A local MoCo Gypsy is suing the county because they won't let him tell fortunes in Bethesda.
A fortuneteller is suing Montgomery County after he learned he would not be allowed to open a shop in Bethesda because the county bans the business of forecasting the future.

Attorneys for Nick Nefedro, previously of Key West, Fla., say county officials violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and discriminated against his “Roma,” or Gypsy, culture when they refused to give him a business license. Montgomery code dating back to the early 1950s prohibits collecting cash for predicting the future.

“The underlying purpose is to prevent people from being taken advantage of, because it’s a scam,” Clifford Royalty, a lawyer in the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said. Fortuneteller suing to overturn Montgomery ban on forecasting

Luckily no other businesses in our county are scams. All stores sell good quality products at reasonable prices.

Skipping down...
Council Members Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich, who both sit on the economic development committee, said there did not seem to be support for repealing the measure.

“There are a lot more important things for us to worry about,” Floreen said. Elrich said the county should not encourage businesses “that take advantage of people.”

Seems to me there is a big difference between encouraging a business and having a law that says somebody can't do something harmless. Fortune-telling is legal in all the jurisdictions around us, only Montgomery County residents are so helpless they need protection from palm-reading Gypsies taking advantage of them.

Here's a story you might miss, with some interesting implications. The LA Times (I'm skipping the first part):
The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades, found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign.

You read it right: tougher on the Democrat.

During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.

Network reporting also tilted against McCain, but far less dramatically, with 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative, according to the Washington-based media center. In study, evidence of liberal-bias bias

I saw one of McCain's tear-stained campaign emails this week, and that isn't what he's saying.

In other election news, something you might want to hear about. From The Post:
Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling.

Oil and gas industry executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month -- three-quarters of which came after his June 16 speech calling for an end to the ban -- compared with $116,000 in March, $283,000 in April and $208,000 in May. Industry Gushed Money After Reversal on Drilling

Our Republican readers will see that as good news.

What else ... the people who live on the island of Lesbos filed a lawsuit to stop calling lesbians "lesbians." They lost.

Oh, I almost forgot this one. P.Z. Myers is a biologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, and one of the current crop of strident atheists. He did something this week that caused a lot of people to grit their teeth, but I guess he made his point. He had somebody steal a consecrated Catholic communion wafer, and then broke it up using a rusty nail and threw it in the trash along with a copy of the Koran and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, who is another strident atheist arguing that belief in God is delusional. Myers' point was that these are merely inanimate objects. I guess if you're trying to pick a fight with religious people this is the way to do it! BTW, I am not expressing an opinion about his acts, just relaying it to you as a significant event in the culture wars that we are part of.

Something else you might have missed -- girls do just as well as boys in math, at all ages: No Gender Differences In Math Performance.

This week, as you know, the court ruled that the referendum on the new nondiscrimination law can go forward. The judge ruled that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever did not gather a sufficient number of signatures, but that doesn't matter because the paperwork complaining about this was not filed on time. I'm sure an appeal is being considered, but don't know what the decision will be on that. It seems to me that the legal fees for an appeal are peanuts compared to the cost of a countywide publicity campaign, and if you can stop it in court it would save everybody a lot of hassle. I think the appeal would have to focus on demonstrating that the law is not clear about when the deadline for filing is. And it's not. A ten-day deadline is specified, but nothing that says when the ten days start.

While I wrote this the clouds cleared away, it is one of those intensely muggy summer days out there. Could be thunderstorms, might hit ninety or close to it. Well, now I can x out of some of these tabs on my browser and start surfing the blogosphere all over again.


Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Wow, quite a wide range of topics...where does one begin? Well, there is that LA Times article on bias reporting as related to the presidential campaigns of McCain and Obama. Since I rarely watch any tv news, I cannot say what my opinion of them is; I mostly get my news from the net (where I read The Washington Post, The New York Times and the WSJ op-ed page, not to mention NPR.

I do think this obsessing about bias (whether of the liberal or conservative variety) is shortsighted, and shows an arrested development in thinking about the media. I thought this comment by the reporter was quite on spot:

Such pronouncements, sorry to say, tend to be wrong since they describe a monolithic media that no longer exists. Information today cascades from countless outlets and channels, from the Huffington Post to to CBS News and beyond.

And all one needs to do to verify this is to check out this at The New York Times,

Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

This is more of a threat to the mainstream media, as represented by ABC, CBS and NBC combined than anything FoxNews, Bill O'Reilly and Bernard Goldberg could ever throw at them. Of course, O'Reilly and company have to say what they do, that they are fighting this fight alone, yada, yada, yada.

The truth for me is this: I catch up on news when I have a chance, but I do not have the time to sit for tv news. The only exception to this is the CBS news program Sunday Morning, and this program is a different sort of tv news program. This morning the lead of was a piece on the resurgence of bicycling, esp. commuter bicycling, which only made be green with jealously at how much ahead Portland, Oregon is than Fort Collins.

July 27, 2008 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"PRINCETON, N.J. (July 27) - Barack Obama now leads John McCain among national registered voters by a 49% to 40% margin in Gallup Poll Daily tracking conducted July 24-26.
This represents a continuation of Obama's front-runner position evident in the last three Gallup Poll Daily tracking updates. The margin, coincident with the extensive U.S. news coverage of Obama's foreign tour, is the largest for Obama over McCain measured since Gallup began tracking the general election horserace in March."

While one may think this is impressive, remember that Dukakis, Gore and Kerry had larger leads at this point. And none of them had a PR blitz like Obama had this week. Aliki is apparently voting for him as are most Germans.

Still, no matter how well things go for Democrats, why is it that, although the number of registered Deomcrats far exceeds registered Republicans, they never seem to have ths support of the majority of Americans? Why won't more than 50% of Americans ever support a Democrat for President?

"In the contest for president, Barack Obama is a magnetic candidate supported by a disciplined, well-organized campaign. John McCain seems wooden, with a campaign that appears to be in shambles. Yet Obama's lead in the polls over McCain is fragile because he so far has not won the support of a majority of American voters.

An effective and massively publicized foreign trip failed to push Obama above the 50 percent mark. Democratic hopes and Republican fears that he would get a major bounce in the polls when he clinched the nomination and then on his campaign trip abroad have not been realized.

Overnight surveys by Rasmussen for the past two weeks have shown Obama hovering around 46 percent, while McCain has declined to 41 percent from 45 percent after the wild acclaim for Obama in Berlin. That five-point advantage is by no means insurmountable. These numbers have prompted speculation among Republican political practitioners that McCain can back into the presidency, just as he backed into his party's nomination.

Not even Bob Dole's dismal candidacy in 1996 generated less enthusiasm in GOP ranks than McCain's current effort. In winning the nomination this year, when he had been counted out after the disintegration of his campaign structure, McCain showed more fortitude than skill. He was blessed by a weak field of Republican competitors, who eliminated each other and left McCain as the last man standing.

But Obama is no Huckabee, Giuliani or Romney. He is the most spectacular campaigner of his generation, with an appeal that extends well beyond Democratic ranks. That he lingers below the 50 percent mark is a mystery among politicians in both parties. It is particularly troubling to Democrats who recall past Democratic presidential candidates taking a huge lead over the summer before being overtaken or nearly overtaken by a surging Republican opponent. In 1976, Jimmy Carter took a 33-point summer lead over President Gerald Ford and won in a photo finish. In 1988, Michael Dukakis led George H.W. Bush by 17 points after being nominated in Atlanta but ultimately lost the election. Al Gore and John Kerry were ahead of George W. Bush in the summer.

One candid Republican consultant says that the massive Carter and Dukakis summer leads were illusory, based on large generic Democratic leads. But the party's generic lead is back at 15 points after eight years of George W. Bush and, until 2006, 12 years of a Republican Congress.

Clearly, Obama has not yet convinced the people to accept a young, inexperienced African American as their president. Obama had virtually clinched the nomination when white working men in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia poured out to vote and comfortably delivered their states to Hillary Clinton. This was not because of unalterable affection for her.

Obama's difficulty in reaching the 50 percent mark reflects an overwhelmingly white undecided vote of 10 to 15 percent.

These were the voters Obama was targeting when he ventured into the war zones to demonstrate his mettle as a future commander in chief. He looked good, sounded good and committed no serious gaffes. But sitting by the popular Gen. David Petraeus and disagreeing with his military judgment may not have been the way to win over undecided white working men.

The toughest interrogation of Obama came from CBS anchor Katie Couric in Jordan last Tuesday. She asked four times whether the troop surge he had opposed was instrumental in reducing violence in Iraq. Obama answered straight from talking points by citing "the great effort of our young men and women in uniform." That sounded like the old politics. He would have sounded more like a new politician if he had simply said, "Yes, the strategy did work." That would have infuriated antiwar activists but not enough for them to drop Obama.

Several Democrats I have talked to noted that recent Democratic presidents were elected with a minority of the vote and also that McCain is further below the 50 percent standard than Obama. But McCain, running a flawed campaign in a big Democratic year, is dangerously close. He still could back into victory unless Obama closes the deal."

Truth is, while there was wild adulation for Obama is the Western Europe, it's a good thing he didn't go to Asia or Latin America, where his opposition to free trade is resented or Africa, where Bush's billions for AIDS relief is widely appreciated.

Obama said things on his trip that will come back to haunt him. His refusal to acknowledge he was wrong about the surge; his insistence that Afghanistan has greater strategic importance than Iraq.

And how about this:

In Berlin, he saluted Berliners who never gave up on freedom and Americans who were willing to pay any price to support them.

How can he reconcile that with telling Iraqis that, while it's nice they want to be free, it's just too damn expensive for Americans to help them?

July 28, 2008 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dinesh is at it again.

Making Dawkins look stupid:

"My Youtube exchange with Richard Dawkins on Al-Jazeera is finally up on the web. You can watch my segment here and the subsequent Dawkins segment here. This is the famous "debate that never was." And that's the real pity. Dawkins insisted on appearing separately from me and being interviewed after me. This way he ensured that I could not rebut anything he said on the show. Fortunately I have a blog where I can carry on the conversation.

Dawkins made some good points, noting for instance that evolution does not rely on mere "chance," but he also made some obvious blunders. When a caller pointed out that World War II was motivated in substantial part by a "survival of the fittest" ideology, Dawkins pretended to be completely baffled. He proclaimed the caller's reference "absolute nonsense." Yet Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler provides extensive documentation that the Nazis repeatedly invoked Darwinian evolution and that Nazi doctrine used "survival of the fittest" as a virtual recruiting phrase. So Dawkins is either historically ignorant or wilfully obtuse.

Here I want to address Dawkins's response to my argument that the effect that is the universe requires a causal explanation. It seems unreasonable in the extreme to say that even though nature had a beginning, somehow nature is the cause of itself. So God is the name we give to the supernatural being that is the cause of nature as a whole. Dawkins argued: "This leaves open the question of where did the creator come from?" Since the creator is this "great big complicated thing," what good does it do to invoke one complex thing to explain another? "If you postulate a designer you haven't explained anything." Basically what Dawkins is saying is that there is no point in using complex explanation A to account for complex phenomenon B if you cannot account for A.

This is a fallacy. We can see this by applying the logic to evolution itself. The logic of evolution is a "great big complicated thing" with all its elements of replication, natural selection, mutations, genetic drift, and so on. Yet it is invoked to explain another complicated thing: the exquisite fit between living creatures and their surroundings. How reasonable would it be to argue: "We are invoking one complicated thing, namely evolution, to explain another, namely living things. Yet this leaves open the question of where evolution came from. We have no idea how and why evolution originally started. Since we cannot account for evolution, our explanation is useless. Simply to postulate evolution is to explain nothing." This is precisely Dawkins's argument regarding God, and here we can see how it boomerangs on evolution!

But consider the argument itself more closely. Is it really true that Complex Explanation A for Complex Phenomenon B only works if we can give a full account of A? Actually it is not true. Gravity may account for why objects fall at a certain pace, but this does not require that we give an account for where gravity comes from or why it exists in the first place. If we find various signs of intelligent life on another planet we can conclude that there are aliens on that planet without having any idea of who created them or where they came from. In summary, the best explanation for something does not require that we also provide an explanation for the explanation.

The problem I think for Dawkins is that his trademark snorts and sneers only work against televangelists who do not do much more than hurl Bible verses at their opponents. When he is confronted with history, philosophy, and logic, Dawkins seems to have very little to say. And perhaps this explains his peculiar insistence that I be given no chance whatever to respond to his statements on the Riz Khan show."

July 28, 2008 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quoting Robert Novak, Scooter Libby's willing accomplice in the outing of Valerie Plame's identity, and Dawkins-obsessed Dinesh D'Loser won't win you any friends or converts here.

July 28, 2008 9:59 AM  
Blogger The skepTick said...

Seems to me there is a big difference between encouraging a business and having a law that says somebody can't do something harmless. Fortune-telling is legal in all the jurisdictions around us, only Montgomery County residents are so helpless they need protection from palm-reading Gypsies taking advantage of them.

Even so, people do give away their money to these frauds, sometimes lots of it in special scam cases. These tend to be single older ladies worried that they have some curse hanging over their heads or that some loved one can't rest peacefully until some inheritance is "cleansed". I wouldn't mind seeing the law stay on the books, but, from the point of view of free speech, the law may not stand to scrutiny. See, for example, the related Law and Magic blog posting.

But is there really any need to go to trial? Why waste the time and expense when the judge can just ask Nick Nefedro what the outcome will be...

July 28, 2008 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Quoting Robert Novak, Scooter Libby's willing accomplice in the outing of Valerie Plame's identity, and Dawkins-obsessed Dinesh D'Loser won't win you any friends or converts here."

Brilliant...and irrelevant.

Again we see that TTF's only response to any challenge is to demonize the messenger.

They wonder why they're losing.

July 28, 2008 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Novak and D'Loser's columns have exactly nothing to do with Bill 23-07 and will have no influence the outcome of the battle over it. Both columns are completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Quit posting claptrap.

July 28, 2008 11:19 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Hey Skep, this is a more complicated question than you suggest. There is a religious component to it, as well as a racial/cultural component, and most importantly there is an issue about prohibiting people from doing something they may freely choose to do.

I think the better discussion is HERE, the First Amendment Center's review. It's based on a case down South, and not this one, but the argument is the same.


July 28, 2008 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like AnonBigot's friend is at it.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Knoxville's police chief says the man accused of a shooting that killed two people at a Tennessee church targeted the congregation because of its liberal social stance.


Chief Sterling Owen IV said Monday that police found a letter in Jim D. Adkisson's car. Owen said Adkisson was apparently frustrated over being out of work and had a "stated hatred of the liberal movement."

Adkisson is charged with first-degree murder. Police say a gunman entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a children's performance Sunday. No children were hurt.

The church is known for advocating women's and gay rights and founding an American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

July 28, 2008 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Both columns are completely irrelevant to the issue at hand."

Actually, Jim's "muggy Sunday" post addressed both the Presidential election and "strident atheism" so I thought my stuff fit in.

BTW, I don't mind the mugginess so much as the mosquitos. Usually, they don't think I taste good but they're all over me this year.

I'm on Jim's side about the fortune teller. Rational adults should be able to make their own discriminations. They don't need the government to determine who's a fake for them.

July 28, 2008 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, Anonymous...maybe those skeeters have found something sweet about you that has never been obvious to us here at the TTF site! Maybe if we could probe underneath that coat of biased armor that you shield your self with, we could find that too!!

July 28, 2008 12:12 PM  
Blogger The skepTick said...

I originally blogged about this here. That post deserves an update in light of the Law & Magic blog as well as the link you provided (thanks). I still maintain that all psychics are frauds and the business of psychics is a fraudulent one. If they want to go into business, perhaps the county should require they be "licensed" psychics, meaning they would have to take a test that shows they can make accurate predictions and not just high-probability hits.

July 28, 2008 12:35 PM  
Blogger The skepTick said...

Myers' point was that these are merely inanimate objects. I guess if you're trying to pick a fight with religious people this is the way to do it! BTW, I am not expressing an opinion about his acts, just relaying it to you as a significant event in the culture wars that we are part of.

I think Myer's point was really that no one has the right to tell him what he should hold as sacrosanct. As a symbol, the sacrament is important to Catholics, but PZ Myers does not consider having one in his home equivalent to holding Jesus Christ hostage, as does Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. As an atheist, he doesn't believe the wafer ("frackin' cracker" according to him) turns into the flesh and blood of Christ. Honestly, I know sure that all Catholics believe this, according to the Vatican, is what actually happens. I think many of them believe this to be nothing more than a ceremony, with the wafer symbolizing the body, the wine symbolizing the blood. Nor is their any scientific evidence for transubstantiation.

So Myers sparked some controversy within the Catholic League, though the Muslim community has been silent on the issue with the Qu'ran. What any of this has to do with Dinesh D'Souza is beyond me, other than this post mentioned a book by Dawkins and Dawkins recently debated D'Souza. That's at least 2 degrees of separation.

July 28, 2008 12:50 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Skep, it would be un-American for businesses including psychics to have to prove they aren't fraudulent. What would a stockbroker have to do, show that he can guess which way the market will go? Doctors would have to prove they could diagnose accurately, mechanics would actually fix your car the first time... it would get out of hand. There is some amount of trust and some risk of hucksterism in everything.

Of course Gypsy fortune-telling is fraudulent, of course they can't tell your future! Everybody knows that. Maybe people go for some other reason, maybe the Gypsy's gift is in telling people what they want to hear, maybe it just makes them feel better. And speaking of that, how would we certify politicians?


July 28, 2008 1:19 PM  
Blogger The skepTick said...

But doctors, stockbrokers and even mechanics are licensed professionals or at least certified. And if they aren't, then regulations have been crafted to minimize fraud.

I take your point, though. We can't license, or certify, or regulate everything under the sun. However, if a psychic makes a claim, like any business making a claim about their product, they should be liable for suit under FTC guidelines of false advertising.

July 28, 2008 2:09 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Skep, I doubt you'll find a Gypsy fortune-teller who will say, "Everything I tell you is absolutely accurate." The customer is the one who brings the gullibility to the meeting.

Really, there are two things here. Maybe it's ten bucks to get your palm read, okay, you pay that you're a sucker, it should be your choice. But there are also associated scams, perhaps the customer is told their luck will change if they bring ten thousand dollars in cash in a paper bag and leave it with the Gypsy for thirty days, and the Gypsy disappears. That would be a hard crime to prosecute for several reasons I admit, but running off with somebody's cash is a crime under existing laws.


July 28, 2008 3:03 PM  

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