September 15, 2012

Lyin' Ryan Sticks to the Broken Script.

What do you do when you have no legitimate issues to put forth with your campaign?  You lie.

And what do you do when your lies have been thoroughly debunked?  If you're Paul Ryan, you repeat the lie.  At least, that's what he was doing in Tampa yesterday.
“Here’s the dirty little secret about Medicare they don’t want you to know,” he said. “The  biggest threat to Medicare is Obamacare.”
--Tampa Bay Times, September 16, 2012
Of course, the truth about the Affordable Care Act is that it extends Medicare funding by eight years. 
It’s worth noting that there’s one area these cuts don’t touch: Medicare benefits. The  Affordable Care Act rolls back payment rates for hospitals and insurers. It does not,  however, change the basket of benefits that patients have access to.
-- The Washington Post, August 14, 2012
That's not entirely accurate: it also adds new benefits to to seniors currently enrolled in the program.  That's right; thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare costs less, provides more benefits, and the funding lasts longer. Which is exactly the opposite of what Paul Ryan is claiming.

You see, back in 2003, the Medicare Modernization Act was passed, which underwrote the costs of many prescription drugs for seniors, and paid to put a number of seniors into private insurance plans, the theory being that by enrolling seniors in various private health plans, competition and market forces would lower the costs of care.  But costs for seniors in the private health plans rose, costing taxpayers an average of 117% compared to standard Medicare costs. 

The Affordable Care Act eliminates these over-payments to bring them in line with the rest of Medicare coverage costs by re-negotiating reimbursement rates to the insurance companies.  It also negotiated savings from health care providers, further lowering costs.  So there aren't any cuts in coverage, only cuts in costs; what you and I would actually call "savings" instead of "cuts."

The real "dirty secret" that the Romney campaign doesn't want you to know is that Paul Ryan  proposed to make exactly the same cuts in expenses.
...deciding who is cutting Medicare by $700 billion just requires looking at who is cutting Medicare by $700 billion. And at the moment, that’s both Obama and the Republican  budget.
-- The Washington Post, August 14, 2012
Well, not the only dirty secret.  They also don't want you to realize this:
What Romney/Ryan are saying is that they then take the money saved from their cuts to Medicare and put it toward deficit reduction while Obama takes that money and spends it on health care for poor people... But Romney/Ryan also add a trillion dollars to the defense budget. And they have trillions of dollars in tax cuts they haven’t explained how they’re going to pay for. So those decisions make future cuts to Medicare more likely.
-- The Washington Post, August 14, 2012
But this might be the most important thing Ryan has said so far:
"We're not going to spend the next four years blaming everything on everybody else. We're going to take responsibility," Ryan said.
--Tampa Bay Times, September 16, 2012
I have a great idea for you, Paul; why wait for the election?  Why don't you take responsibility for what Republicans have done to this country now?  Admit to three years of obstructing our economic recovery, own up to the damage done by the Bush administration and its record expansion of the national debt, accept that our current financial straits are the direct result of all the deregulation that the GOP has fostered over the last thirty years.

Why wait to take responsibility?  If you're truly proud of what Republicans have accomplished, start bragging - truthfully - about what you and your party have really been doing.

Race and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Perhaps you've heard about the comments elementary school principal Verenice Gutierrez made during an interview with the Portland Tribune:
“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.  “Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”
While I can't find a quote where she flat-out states that a PB&J is racist, the article frames it as "example of a subtle form of racism in language..."

Quoting the article again:
"...the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance."
The implication we're getting is that by including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on school menus, schools are subtly pushing a diet that reinforces some kind of white privilege. Or at least, as some news sources are interpreting it; "Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches are Racist."

Perhaps it's because most people use WHITE bread.
Sound ridiculous?  It does sound unlikely.  But to simply claim that it's ridiculous isn't the same as debunking the statement.

Let's look at the history of the sandwich, to see if it really is tied to some kind of privilege.

And of course, we have to start with peanuts.

The Origin of Peanut Butter: Part 1
Peanuts are native to the Americas; the Aztecs ground them into a paste for use in many dishes.  This mealy paste probably wasn't very spreadable, but it was certainly made of peanuts. 

The Aztecs were not considered white, as far as I've been able to determine.  Neither were they Latino, although some people often confuse all denizens of Central and South America as being Latin or Hispanic, instead of Native American.

I haven't been able to determine if Aztecs reserved peanuts in any form for the noble class.

The Origin of Peanut Butter: Part 2

And it's still edible.
In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, was issued a U.S. Patent for a process of milling roasted peanuts between heated surfaces until they entered "a fluid or semi-fluid state."  The resultant product was described as having "a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment."

Peanut butter as we know it in the USA is usually credited to Dr. John Kellogg.  Yes, the man who put corn flakes on our table also put peanut butter on our tables.  In the 1890s, he developed it as an alternative protein source to meat. In St. Louis, Dr. Ambrose Straub prescribed it to patients who had no teeth.  It was introduced to the world at large in 1904, when C.H. Sumner promoted it at his booth at the St. Louis Universal Exposition as a health food.  Heinz (yes, the ketchup company) advertised its health benefits in magazines.

G.W. Carver, Man of Science
 But it took a black man to put peanut butter into large-scale production.  George Washington Carver was trying to help black farmers improve their land; their primary crop of cotton removed minerals from the ground which rendered it fallow.  By rotating crops of peanuts through their fields, the soil would be renewed for productive yields.  The farmers were reluctant to change their habits, so Carver worked out 105 practical uses for peanuts, including peanut butter.

Once he demonstrated the usefulness of the legume, farmers were willing to take a chance on a crop that had not been in demand before then.

The Origin of the PB&J Sandwich

Prior to Dr. Carver's work, peanut butter was indeed considered a delicacy.  The creation of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is credited to Julia Davis Chandler in 1901.  Variations were served almost exclusively at fashionable tea rooms.

But two things contributed to the downfall of the sandwich as a rare treat: the drop in the price of peanuts thanks to increased production (see above) and the invention of - wait for it - sliced bread.
"Sliced bread meant that children could make sandwiches for themselves without slicing the bread with a potentially dangerous knife.  As a consequence of low cost, high nutrition, and ease of assembling, peanut butter sandwiches become one of the top children's meals during the Depression."
-- Peanuts: the Illustrious History of the Goober Pea

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have become ubiquitous in school cafeterias not because they reinforce any level of white privilege; they are wide spread because they are cheap to make, and packed full of nutrients.  Further, the popularity of peanut butter and other peanut products have supported generations of black farmers, who were convinced to plant the crop by a black man, George Washington Carver.

While we can find no evidence that Ms. Gutierrez actually considers that PB&J sandwiches advance some kind of racist agenda - intended or otherwise - we can safely conclude that such claims have no substance.

September 8, 2012

Well SOMEBODY Has to Keep Track

And luckily, it's not me.

I don't have to list out all of the lies that Mitt Romney has told so far in this campaign because The Slacktivist has already done it for me:
I suppose the other approach for Romney defenders who cannot bear to face the fact of those 533 facts will be to angrily pore over all of Benen’s lists, reading each one with a lawyerly eye.

Have at it. Please. Cherry-pick. Spin. Split hairs. Hand-wave away whichever lies you wish as mere misdemeanors and not full-fledged felonies against honesty.

But how many of those charges do you think you can get dismissed? 10 percent? 20 percent? Maybe, if you’re that sort of person and you work really hard at it — if you’re willing to get even more pedantic and semantic and technical than even you are usually comfortable with — maybe you could half convince yourself that 50 percent of those lies somehow shouldn’t really count against Romney.

That still leaves more than 260 lies.
And here are the links to the 30 columns outlining all 533 lies, as outlined by Stephen Benen:

September 7, 2012

Mitt Romney; Candidate of Empty Words

It's no wonder the Republican Party has to argue with an empty chair; pressed for details, Mitt Romney's saying a lot of nothing.

He won't show us any more than two years of his tax returns; his own father originated the practice of sharing tax returns with the American people, saying that candidates who won't share their returns are hiding something.

He has criticized President Obama's handling of ending the war in Afghanistan.  Asked what he'd do different, all he can really offer is "the same thing - only I'd do it better."

And now, his plan to re-invent our tax plan is similarly lacking in substance. He'll lower taxes, but increase revenues by closing loopholes.  Which ones?  He can't say.  Can he give an example?  No, but they'll off-set the cuts in taxes.  How?  He can't say.

Even Fox "News" is getting tired of the evasive responses:

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

Part 2:

September 1, 2012

The Sad Truth about Creationism

The Controversy

You've probably seen Bill Nye's YouTube video where he pleads with parents to stop preventing their children from learning about evolution.
"I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that's completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that's fine.  But don't make your kids do it.  Because we need them.  We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.  We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems."
-- Bill Nye
What is the Theory of Evolution?

The Theory of Evolution is the basis of all our biological sciences; drugs work because we understand the biological processes that developed and continue to shape our internal chemistry.  New surgical procedures have been developed because we understand how our organs developed to work with each other, and we're even able to graft organs (or parts of organs) from other species because we understand how we're related to them.

Consider vaccines; every vaccine ever developed sprang from the application of the Theory of Evolution. And when some vaccines stopped working, scientists weren't stumped because Evolution predicted that viruses would adapt to the vaccines.  Similarly, bacteria have adapted to many of the original crop of anti-biotics, so new drugs are developed - and they work, because Evolution explains how the bacteria they fight have adapted.

That's because "theory" does not mean "we don't know so we made something up."  A scientific theory has to account for every variable of what it's trying to explain, it has to be proven through experimentation, AND we have to be able to make predictions with it. 

To follow this discussion, you need to understand the basic concepts of science:
  • Hypothesis: A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation. Usually, a hypothesis can be supported or refuted through experimentation or more observation. A hypothesis can be disproven, but not proven to be true. In other words, you may find the hypothesis to be untrue in many circumstances, but there may be circumstances you haven't tested yet.
  • Theory: A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. A theory is valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it.
  • Law: A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'.
One line of reasoning used by Creationists is that "evolution isn't true, because if it were, it would be a law."  But now that we have the definitions handy, we can see that theories and laws do different things.  Newton's Law of Gravity doesn't explain why the apple falls, it only says that it will.  Einstein's Theory of Gravity explains why the apple falls - and predicts how it will fall under other circumstances.

Contrary to what rabid fundamentalists keep claiming, Evolution has proven itself time and time again, and at no time has it been dis-proven. 

But what, actually, is the theory of evolution?  The most clear definition I've found is the one on
  • Biological evolution is defined as any genetic change in a population that is inherited over several generations. These changes may be small or large, noticeable or not so noticeable.  In order for an event to be considered an instance of evolution, changes have to occur on the genetic level of a population and be passed on from one generation to the next. It also includes the idea that all of life is connected and can be traced back to one common ancestor. This is called macroevolution.
In other words, all species today evolved from earlier species.  And it's actually quite easy to illustrate the fact of it.

All dogs were once wolves; in fact, every species of domestic dogs are descendents of the Gray Wolf.  We find the truth of this in their DNA. 

Each breed of dog breeds true; a mating of collies produces more collies, and not terriers, and not gray wolves.  That's proof of the change on a genetic level.

We even know the origins of many breeds of dogs, because mankind has developed them.  Same with most other livestock.  Even plants have been purposefully evolved through careful breeding.

Creationist will argue that these examples "aren't evolution."  But when we look at the definition, we see that evolution is "ANY change.." not just accidental or random change.  Evolution does not say that newer species cannot breed with older versions.  But eventually, the original species and the later evolved species will be so different that they won't be able to inter-breed.

The Truth about Creationism

So that's a bunch of stuff on Evolution, but the title of the post is about Creationism, and the sad truth about it.

First, let's have a working definition of the term:
  • creationism: a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis
CNN's Belief Blog reports that Creationists are rebutting Nye's plea for reason:
"At AiG and the Creation Museum, we teach children and adults the truth concerning who they are in the Creator’s eyes — and where they came from," Ham writes. "We tell people that they do have purpose and meaning in life and that they were created for a purpose. "No, we are not just evolved animals as Nye believes; we are all made in the image of God."
--Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis
This goes straight to the Creation story in Genesis, the first book of the old testament in the Christian Bible.
1:25  And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
1:26  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
-- Book of Genesis, King James Bible
Here's the sad truth; nothing in the biblical narrative disproves the theory of evolution.  In fact, it's a parable of creation that accurately describes the mechanics of evolution.

Read the entire passage, if you like. And notice the order of creation; first, the universe.  Then the earth. Then oceans.  Then dry land.  Then simple organisms - plants.  Then more complex organisms - animals.  And finally, after everything else, only does Man come on the scene.  And man evolves; at first, there was only Adam, a male.  And then there was Eve, a female, derived from the older original human, Adam.  And from that point on, every human being is derived from two genders, and has children both male and female.

This is exactly as predicted by the Theory of Evolution.

There is nothing in the biblical narrative that states that God did not use evolution to accomplish His creation.  Nowhere in the bible is the mechanism of creation described.  All it states is "God did it."  Perhaps God created evolution as a tool to aid in his creation.

Evolution is something we can see in action today, and God's creation, humankind, made in His image, has used evolution to create new species - exercising the dominion described in Genesis.

The sad truth is that the Theory of Evolution is not remotely inconsistent with Christian teachings.  You don't have exclude Evolution to follow the basic precepts of the faith.

Origin of Confusion

A common cause of misunderstanding is a fundamentalist claim that the Earth and the Universe is only a few thousand years old.  Science shows that the earth is about 4 billion years old, and that the universe is at least 12 billion years old.

Here's the thing about the age of the universe; it's not in the Bible.

The Bible says absolutely nothing about the age of the universe, or how old the earth is. 

It's not in there.

Around the time that Darwin was comparing finches from different islands of the Galapagos, a minister decided to determine the age of the universe by examining the Bible.  He made the assumption that all the begats in Genesis made a reliable measurement of the number of generations from Adam and Eve until, well, until a date that he believed they stopped counting. 

There is no way to verify when the begats actually started, or that every generation was actually included, or when they actually stopped.  Ask any modern genealogist how far back they can trace ancestry; most family histories go no further than a couple hundred years, a few trace back to the 12th century, and no credible genealogist has faith in anything going back farther than that.  And we're to believe that sheep farmers in the desert on the run from every major civilization did better?

If you believe that, you're likely to believe anything.  So call me about this bridge I can sell you.


Does creationism belong in a science class alongside of evolution?  Of course not.  It's not a theory derived from science, it's an article of religious conviction.  It doesn't contribute anything to the study of science.  It's not even an "alternative theory," because it isn't a theory.  It wasn't assembled through the scientific process that a theory goes through, and it doesn't function in the manner of a scientific theory; that is, you can't design experiments using it, and you can't make predictions with it.

I wouldn't go as far as Nye to say "don't teach your children the story of creation."  I say to Christian parents "teach Creationism as the parable it is, and teach that there is a difference between parable and science, and that the two are not exclusive, but neither do they serve the same purpose."

And then teach them about the Theory of Evolution.