Thursday, January 26, 2012

The CNN Republican debate is starting...

I may or may not throw up some comments, depending on what transpires.
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Gingrich wants English to be "the official language of government."
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Santorum clams that the US supports leftist governments in Central and South America.  What planet is this guy living on?  Paul on the other hand wants to back off supporting governments militarily and instead use "free trade" to develop relationships.

Of course this is one of maybe two things a reasonable person might agree with Paul on; otherwise, he's a racist social darwinist sociopath.
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A break.  I don't know if I can keep taking this at all seriously.
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Gingrich wants the Tea Party's "flat tax," maybe at Romney's 15%, to apply to everyone.  Gingrich wants 0% on capital gains.  Paul wants to eliminate all federal tax (get rid of the 16th Amendment).
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Gingrich's call to "repeal Obamacare" just got a pretty healthy round of applause.  Who are these nitwits in the audience?
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Romney: "Obamacare takes over health care."  He also wants to repeal "Obamacare."

Paul:  Get government out completely, turn it all over to individual decisions.
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Gingrich hints that he might recruit Marco Rubio, another Tea Party dick, as VP.
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Turning to Cuba.  Santorum wants the US to "stand with the Cuban people" by, essentially, siding with the south Florida terrorists.   Paul wants to end the sanctions (Cuba is "not going to invade us") and encourage trade with Cuba.  Romney wants to end Cuban remittances.  Gingrich wants to stick with Helms-Burton, which as Paul points out hurts the people more than the government.
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Question from a Palestinian-American.  Uh-oh...  Romney doubles down on support for Israel.  Gingrich sticks to his "Palestinians are an invented people," says he will move US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
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Religion.  Oh, gods...  Paul suggests that religion would not enter into his functioning as president.  Romney OTOH thinks that the US was founded on Judaeo-Christian principles.  Gingrich:  "war on christianity."  Santorum:  rights are "god-given."
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Signing off.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Summing up the previous post

Random thoughts on the presidential candidates

I know I've been lazy, but it's really just that so many insane things have been flying through the air for a while now that it's been hard to focus on just one. Catching up a little, with a bit of anthropological spin here and there...


Marriage is a 3,000 year-old sacrament
Candidate Newt Gingrich said, in the "debate" on January 7:  "The sacrament of marriage is based on a man and woman; has been for 3000 years."


Now, Gingrich likes to present himself as an "intellectual," after all he does have a PhD in history from Tulane.  He even taught history and geography for a while at West Georgia College, but he was denied tenure in 1978.  One wonders how much human history he really learned in his academic wandering, if he thinks that the "sacrament" of marriage, which refers primarily to the Christian/Catholic ceremony, is 3,000 years old, since the religious cult of Christianity is barely 2000 years old.  If he means "sacrament" in a more general, as simply a ceremony in which supernatural beings are presumed to participate, he's still off by at least tens of thousands of years.  Anthropologists regard marriage, i.e. the ritual uniting people and defining their rights of sexual access to each other, as a human cultural universal.  As such it must have existed for at least the last 50-100 thousand years, maybe longer, but the point is made.


Furthermore, even within the last 3,000 years, marriage has not always been stipulated as only between a female and a male.  Gingrich the historian might have read or heard at some point about the berdache or two-spirit people among Native Americans.  These were women or men who elected to play the opposite gender role in their society, including marrying people of the same sex.  They were generally respected, and sometimes revered as having special spiritual powers, among Native Americans, until of course the European Christians came along.


Life begins at conception
Back in August candidate Rick Santorum stated in an interview on CNN: "I shouldn’t say I believe it, it’s a biological fact that life begins at conception."

Apparently Santorum missed as many high school biology classes as Newt missed in history.  If he had been paying attention, he would know that "life" cannot possibly "begin at conception" because the egg and sperm that come together to produce a zygote are already alive!  If either is dead, nothing happens.  As philosopher George Carlin has pointed out, life began a couple of billion years ago and has never stopped.

Of course, and to be charitable, by "life" Santorum may or may not mean "human life."  But that too is wrong: all modern humans can trace their ancestry back to a small group who were (apparently) "alive" in Africa some 100,000 years ago.  There is, from then to now, a continuous, never extinguished thread of "human life."  Then again, maybe he means "an individual human life": the particular genome resulting from the unification of a particular sperm with a particular egg.  This ground is still shaky, since that genome doesn't actually become a pregnancy until it implants itself in the uterus (many don't make it to even this point; is each one of them a murder?  So maybe he means "fertilized egg implanted in the uterus"; but I doubt it, because Santorum is insane.

The anthropologist notes in passing that people in different cultures have different notions of when "life begins."  Some separate biological personhood from social personhood, which in some places begins when children are given a name, or begin to use language.

You're envious if you even mention the One Percent
Our third contestant, Willard "Mitt (Corporations are People my Friend)" Romney, told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today what he thinks about people calling attention to the increasingly and grotesquely uneven distribution of wealth in the US: "I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare."  When Matt gave him the opportunity to soften his message, he doubled down.  He suggested that issues of class and wealth should be talked about only in "quiet rooms," presumably out of hearing by the envious public.

Again, anthropologists and other social scientists have no problem demonstrating the nature of the US class system, as well as the ways in which that class system had become ever more rigid and punishing over the last thirty or so years.  Romney would prefer to ignore this reality.  After all, he pays about 15% in taxes on his income, which he "earns" by producing absolutely nothing but rather extracting wealth from other people.  His paid speeches brought in about $374,000 in pocket change last year, an amount he considers "not very much" (I have to work full-time for over six years to earn this amount; a median wage earner in the US, at around $20K, has to work full-time for nearly nineteen years!).

What we see here is a collection of willfully ignorant, plutocratic numbnuts.  And that's without mentioning the vicious racism of Paul and Gingrich, the hypocrisy of Gingrich's history with women, or Santorum's desire to ban all contraception and make raped women who become pregnant bear their rapists' babies.

The scariest thing of all: with a little electoral shenanigans like those of 2000 or 2004, one of these creosoids could end up in the White House.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Objectivity revisited

Back in July of last year I wrote a post about objectivity.  In that post, I complained about the general misunderstanding of the term, and also about how that general misunderstanding plays into the hands of people who want to bash science.  I was particularly hard on cultural anthropologists Emily Schultz and Robert Lavenda:
...let me call your attention to Schultz and Lavenda's textbook, Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition (Oxford 2012).  This book is written largely from the perspective of non-scientific, postmodern, and interpretivist anthropology.  On page 44, they define objective knowledge as: Knowledge about reality that is absolute and true.
I went on to explain how this is a bad definition of scientific (or, really, any other) objectivity, and I offered a more appropriate one:
[Knowledge] is objective in the scientific sense of the term if it is both publicly verifiable and testable.
Well, now they've gone and done it again.  In their new edition of Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human? (Oxford University Press 2012), they offer this in their glossary (p. 474):
Objectivity: The separation of observation and reporting from the researcher's wishes.
This is not really better.  The reason it's not better is that it makes objectivity an individual trait, rather than a feature of the collective attempt to understand the world. Now, they do discuss this distinction between the individual researcher and the research community in their text (pp. 25-26), and it's not a bad treatment of the problem.  But why, then, do they keep the wrong (i.e. non-scientific) definition of objectivity in their glossary, which presumably some students might consult as an aid to understanding?

To the extent that they do this, Lavenda and Schultz contribute to the problem of the public perception of science in general, and social science in particular.