Charging Tsarnaev

According to what I’m reading, Dzhokar Tsarnaev has been charged with using a WMD.

I find this to be an encouraging sign.  I applaud the executive branch for choosing to not pursue this as an act of terrorism, but as a criminal act.

Esentially what I think the president is doing here is seeking to set a legal precedent for what will and wont be considered “terrorism”.  Or, to put it another way, the POTUS is effectively saying that “terrorists are members of radical organizations w/ a heirarchy and organizational structure, but lone wolfs are merely criminals”.

Whether this is a semantically sound distinction,I’m glad he’s trying to establish a clearer definition of what terrorism is…hopefully that will have positive implications for how things like a domestic drone program will evolve… (303)

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Four Lions and Two Turds

Today I had what I thought was a novel realization – After finding out that the Caucasian Mujahadeen disclaimed all ties w/ the Boston Marathon bombers, I realized that the Tsarnaev brothers were, knowingly or not, reenacting the very black British comedy “Four Lions“.

However, as this article from Slate from a week ago makes clear, my thought wasn’t so novel…

Oh well, I encourage anyone w/ netflix to watch Four Lions, and anything else (e.g. IT Crowd, Peep Show) that the creators have done as they are thoroughly brilliant and unapologetic. (313)

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No, rationalizing state power is NOT the hallmark of the New Atheists

[Update below.][Update 2, April 8: On his blog, Sam Harris responds to Greenwald and other critics.]

In his column on April 3, 2013, Glenn Greenwald discussed the troublingly Islamaphobic views of the prominent atheist Sam Harris. The two columns that prompted Greenwald’s post were sloppy in their characterizations of Harris’ views on torture and racial profiling (among other things), but Greenwald’s column was relatively fair. As Greenwald documents, Harris is guilty of taking especially pernicious examples of Muslim practice and ideology and declaring that these examples should be viewed as the hallmarks of Islam generally. However, in the course of exposing Harris’ ethnocentrism, Greenwald uncharacteristically stumbled into the similar ideological trap of overgeneralizing. This led Greenwald to make the outrageous claim that “the hallmark of this New Atheist movement” is “exploiting rational atheism to support and glorify US state power and aggression.”  Continue reading (1374)

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Funny/Depressing conspiracy theory poll

Apparently there’s a polling firm called Public Policy Polling that was all the talk last election due to their “unorthodox” questions (the example given in the article, “If God exists, do you approve of its handling of natural disasters?”, sounds like it could have come from an Onion poll) and they have released the results of a survey about common American beliefs in re conspiracy theories….

In sum – over 1/2 of Americans don’t understand fluid dynamics (RIP Bill Hicks, but you were ignorant there); I wouldn’t call  the second item a conspiracy really, more just like speculation as to motive (i.e. was he feckless, demented, or both?); over 1/3 of Americans think April 1 is Earth day; the rest really don’t surprise me except for the NWO one…I assume that’s all wrestling fans?  And big foot…only 14%?  Wow, cryptozoolgy isn’t the sexy beast it used to be…


Conspiracy Percent believing Number of Americans believing
JFK was killed by conspiracy 51 percent 160,096,160
Bush intentionally misled on Iraq WMDs 44 percent 138,122,178
Global warming is a hoax 37 percent 116,148,195
Aliens exist 29 percent 91,035,072
New World Order 28 percent 87,895,931
Hussein was involved in 9/11 28 percent 87,895,931
A UFO crashed at Roswell 21 percent 65,921,948
Vaccines are linked to autism 20 percent 62,782,808
The government controls minds with TV 15 percent 47,087,106
Medical industry invents diseases 15 percent 47,087,106
CIA developed crack 14 percent 43,947,966
Bigfoot exists 14 percent 43,947,966
Obama is the Antichrist 13 percent 40,808,825
The government allowed 9/11 11 percent 34,530,544
Fluoride is dangerous 9 percent 28,252,264
The moon landing was faked 7 percent 21,973,983
Bin Laden is alive 6 percent 18,834,842
Airplane contrails are sinister chemicals 5 percent 15,695,702
McCartney died in 1966 5 percent 15,695,702
Lizard people control politics 4 percent 12,556,562


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Absence, rescission, and income inequality (but maybe i’m just jealous…but I don’t think so)

I haven’t posted to this blog, the blog I started, in a long time….partly this is b/c I got carried away with other things like starting a new job, buying a house that needed remodeling, DIY’ing that same remodeling for two months…and partly b/c I’m lazy…partly b/c my family found out about my blog and gave me shit for posting private family matters, and that made me feel bad….partly b/c I despaired and got disgusted with politics…and partly b/c I just got tired of “skepticism” in re this blog.

That’s not to say I stopped being a “skeptic” (i.e. I stopped using skeptical tools/heuristics in my everyday life like reflecting on my own thinking via metacognition, being on the lookout for specious reasoning/logical fallacies, and applying Bayesian heuristics to everyday claims (i.e. extraordinary claims require extraoridianary evidence).  But listening to the SGU every week like I do, I just grow weary of how insular I perceive the skeptical community to be compared to the approach of someone like NDT on “Star Talk” (which features one of the funniest people I know of – Eugene Mirman)….

But that’s not really why I got “tired” of skepticism in re this blog – I got tired b/c I couldn’t find a way to effectively apply skepticism to politics – to give it an effective voice – that wasn’t already being done better somewhere else (factcheck, 538, snopes, SGG, etc.).  And, I kind of hate to say, most of my blog posts were filled w/ conjecture that was not backed up by much more than my own anecdotal experiences at best, or stereotypes at worst (e.g. Greek bailout posts which it now seems missed the mark quite a bit).

But over the past few months I’ve done some thinking about this blog and what I’d like to contribute to it…and I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that I would like to still keep posting, but I’m going to not really worry about trying to systematically focus on skepticism.  If it incidentally comes up, great. If it expressly comes up, also great.  But ultimately, I’m just going to write about shit I want to write about… (1353)

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Glenn Greenwald Champions Skepticism (with regards to American Exceptionalism)

Today Glenn Greenwald, already my favorite writer focusing on non-Skeptical issues, directly addressed the need for Skepticism when considering our political beliefs, particularly as concerns our nationalistic tendencies. He even analogizes it to one of my favorite arguments about religious belief (which I first heard from Richard Dawkins when he spoke at my college in 2003). Consider this passage:  Continue reading (1060)

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Finding the Time for Justice

[Update below, January 24]

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a few weeks. I simply have not found the time to post. There have been many, many things I’ve wanted to write about, from Aaron Swartz to Savita Halappanavar to Dan Carlin’s recent meeting with Centcom. Although I have been listening, reading, and thinking about justice issues, I feel remiss not having done more. When people fail to find the time and energy to address the things they see in the world as unjust, those things are unlikely to improve. The simple truth is that it’s easy to get caught up in my own daily life and ignore egregious injustices when those injustices do not directly affect me. It takes real effort to take time out of one’s day simply to take a stand in solidarity with the plights of others, especially for those of us who are not paid to do so and have no vested interest. However, there are people who are suffering from injustice and need our solidarity. Finding time for this can be thought of as a simple necessity for our overall health, something akin to exercising. It’s something that we all need to work into our daily (or at least weekly) schedules in order to keep ourselves and our society healthy.

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If rationalists made a parody of the CIA’s hunt for bin Laden, its trailer would look an awful lot like Zero Dark Thirty’s

[Update below (Jan 14).]

The film Zero Dark Thirtywhich depicts a fictionalized version of the hunt for Osama bin Ladan and presents it as fact, has caught a lot of flack for being essentially a propaganda film for the CIA and (especially) the efficacy of torture. Observers such as Jane Mayer and Glenn Greenwald revile the film’s lack of moral conscience and worry about the damage the movie will do to the accuracy of the accepted American narrative of the event. Already predisposed to despise the film, I was quite amused to see that its trailer makes the film look absolutely ridiculous from the standpoint of rationalism. Indeed, if you start watching this trailer from 1:10 in, it would be almost indistinguishable from a skeptical parody trailer that mocks the worldview of the main character.

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Posted in bin Laden, Greenwald, Jane Mayer, skepolitical post, Skepticism | 2 Comments

The bin Laden raid was not worth it unless you view “revenge” as a valid national interest

[Update below; December 20.]

With the imminent release of Zero Dark Thirty, the movie depicting the hunt for Osama bin Laden, I thought this would be a good opportunity to address my controversial views on the topic of the raid on his compound in Pakistan. There is almost unanimous agreement among Americans that the raid was a huge success.

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Posted in 2012 Election, International Politics, nationalism, Obama, skepolitical post, Skepticism | Leave a comment

For most Americans, nationalism seems to trump conscience when it comes to Bradley Manning

[Update below. Dec 6.]

The story of Bradley Manning is one of the most multifaceted, revealing, and emotionally moving stories since 2001, yet Americans are mostly content with the following narrative: “Bradley Manning joined the military voluntarily and then broke his oath to protect America’s classified information. America is the greatest country in the world and insubordination in our military is intolerable. There are clear laws against that and justice demands he be punished. He deserves no sympathy for anything that is done to him by our military’s justice system.” This narrative is an amalgam of various sources, especially the comment section on a Reddit link to Glenn Greenwald’s recent piece.

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Posted in Bradley Manning, education, Greenwald, Maryland, media, nationalism, New York Times, Obama, skepolitical post | 1 Comment