6 Silly Narratives About the Gay Marriage Ruling and the Confederate Flag Flap

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What, the world is still standing? After the Confederate flag started coming down and the rainbow flag started popping up in a single week, the word on the street was that The Final Days were at hand. Although the two developments had little if anything in common, the same reactionaries tended to react to both, and in a similar fashion. And they did their damnedest to squeeze both into a cohesive narrative of degeneration, persecution, oppression, and ominousness.

If you thought the cultural purge over the Confederate flag was breathtaking — wait until you see what LGBT activists do with Christians.  (Todd Starnes of Fox “News”)

Talk show host Bryan Fischer, who evidently can get better drugs than you can, commented about the Court’s ruling, “I saw Satan dancing with delight”. And of the backlash against the Confederate flag he said:

If we are going to remove symbols of oppression from our culture, if we come to the point where we say any flag that represents bigotry, any flag that represents hatred, any flag that represents slavery or oppression needs to be removed, then I want to suggest to you that the next flag to go ought to be the rainbow flag of the Gay Reich.

Fischer is a one-person Bartlett’s of loony right-wing soundbites. As is this guy:

This could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – that camel being the up till now silent, passive Americans who have been cowed into “tolerating” societal changes that go counter to their fundamental beliefs (Allen West)

These people have been silent and passive up until now??? Heaven knows what kind of earplugs we’re going to need if they ever decide to start mouthing off. West and Fischer didn’t go it alone, of course, but had plenty of other people echoing their inflammatory rhetoric.

“Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history”, lamented Ted Cruz to Sean Hannity of fairandbalanced Fox “News”, who promptly agreed, “I couldn’t have said it more eloquently”. (All too true, alas.) Which presumably puts this ruling right up there with Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and the same court’s hijacking of the presidential election in 2000.

Some individuals mused about what would happen if a gay couple wanted to put a Confederate flag on their wedding cake — would the baker have to oblige? Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. This is a simple conflation of a hypothetical refusal to portray a certain image on a cake with a hypothetical refusal to serve an entire class of citizens.

Other responses to these disparate events didn’t necessarily try deliberately to bundle them together, but did often place them on parallel tracks. Here are six of the most frequent narratives.

Silly Narrative #1: It’s an anti-American thing

Many Americans responded joyously to the news of the Supreme Court’s decision by decking out their Facebook pages with the rainbow flag. Not to be outdone, many right-wing reactionaries responded in protest by draping their pages with the American flag. Huh??? How exactly is that supposed to be a protest? Is it intended to suggest that gays aren’t really Americans? Not even James Buchanan, a gay U.S. president who was elected more than 150 years ago? If they are Americans, how can it be un-American for them to get married?

The reactionaries also denounced it as un-American that some people aren’t in love with the Confederate battle banner. Just try wrapping your head around that one for a moment.  The Confederacy, lest we forget, was a treasonous faction that fought  an extremely bloody war against the United States Of America, brandishing this very flag – a battle fought primarily (contrary to revisionist spin) for the “right” to enslave and oppress an entire race. (Note that the iconic X-flag so often displayed was not the official national flag of the Confederacy itself, but a flag specifically designed for military forces.) Yet now, many self-proclaimed “patriots” proudly celebrate their Dixie “heritage” by exhibiting this symbol of bigotry, tyranny, insurrection and violence alongside the Stars and Stripes they claim to revere.

Silly Narrative #2. It’s a government overstepping thing

How dare the government try to dictate to us what flags we can and cannot fly? Well, don’t look now, but the big bad guvmint has done no such thing. What did happen was that the government of South Carolina, via due democratic  process, resolved to stop rubbing its “proud tradition” of insurrection and oppression in the public’s face, and no longer fly the Dixie rag on government property. And a few retail chains decided, of their own volition, to stop selling such emblems, at a loss in profits to themselves – the free enterprise system at its finest. But nobody is trying to tell you that you can’t fly that flag in your own yard or stick it under the gun rack on the back of your pickup or even tattoo the damn thing on your scrotum if you choose to.

And the Supreme Court decision? Though reactionaries have almost unanimously bemoaned that the Court has “redefined” marriage, it has done no such thing; what it has done is extend the right to get married to all Americans. Don’t look now, but governments at various levels have been dictating for a long time who can and can’t get married. The Supreme Court just put an end to that. You’d think that anti-guvmint fanatics would be out dancing in the streets along with Satan rather than bitching and wringing their hands over the impending End Of The World As We Know It.

Silly Narrative # 3: It’s a political correctness/ liberal tyranny thing

Ah yes, political correctness. It’s been the source of many wretched excesses, hasn’t it? Actually, it would be very hard to find a single example of supposed “political correctness” or “liberal hypocrisy” that pans out to be anything like it’s portrayed by right-wing reactionaries – who never bother to define what political correctness is really supposed to be. We just gather that it’s something often perpetrated by them librulz – who are never really defined either. But apparently both are identified with progressives and the Democratic Party, which sometimes at least makes a pretense of being progressive.  And that makes the reactions to recent events very curious indeed.

Right-wing reactionaries are very fond of reminding us, when it suits their purposes, that it was the “Democrat” Party that was on the wrong side of slavery and the Civil War – and pretending that the two parties haven’t changed a whit in the interim.  The governor of South Carolina who spearheaded the movement to remove the Confederate flag form the capitol, Nikki Haley, is herself a Republican. (She’s also a native of her state, contrary to assertions by the eternally clueless Ann Coulter.) As is a solid majority of the state legislature that voted to back her up.

Meanwhile, many of these reactionaries would prefer to forget that there are a good many gay Republicans (though it’s hard to fathom why), and even an official organization for them, the Log Cabin Republicans. Furthermore, the Supreme Court justice who cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize gay marriage was appointed by none other than St. Ronald himself.

Silly Narrative # 4: It’s a First Amendment/ religious freedom thing

Even though nobody is saying that you can’t buy or fly a flag (see above), some people see the recent reactions to its presence as, somehow or other, an incursion against freedom of expression. Evidently, that freedom is supposed to apply only to people who love the Rebel banner, not to those who don’t.

If you think that’s batty, try this: many of them also believe that the court’s ruling damages, somehow or other , “religious freedom”.  Both reactions seem to be predicated on the notion that freedom is a finite commodity; and whatever you grant to one person, you must take from someone else. They see no irony in proclaiming that gay marriage tramples their First Amendment rights because their religious beliefs should dictate the actions of everyone; and they forget, if they ever knew, that not so terribly long ago, Good Christians believed that God gave them the right to fly their Confederate flags over their slave shacks.

Okay, we get it:  many fundamentalists hate “Sodomites”. No, wait, we mustn’t put it that way. It’s really all God’s fault – He’s the one who’s declared that they’re “sinners”, and so the fundies are just following His wishes by condemning them. Yeah, that’s the ticket. And while they can’t prove it by quoting Jesus, who never seems to have gotten around to mentioning homosexuality at all, they can pull up an out-of-context injunction from the Bronze Age code laid out in the Old Testament that seems to support their cause –while ignoring even more draconian passages from the same book, including one that instructs them to sell their daughters into slavery.

Well, guess what? If hating fags – oops, mustn’t use that word – if condemning fags unto hellfire is part of your religious bag, you’re under no obligation to stop it just on account of 9 guys and gals in black robes.  You don’t have to like gays or gaydom. You don’t have to perform or attend gay weddings. You don’t have to enter into a gay marriage yourself. You don’t even have to give up your own marriage.

Please note, however, that this does not mean you always can use religion as a shield against the responsibilities of doing your job; most employers either want you to do your duties, quit, or be dismissed. This is particularly true if your employer happens to be a government entity, because government entities in the U.S. are committed, officially at least, to non-discrimination.  You have the option to comply with that commitment or step aside and make room for someone who will. But it’s entirely your choice, not an assault on your “religious freedom”.

Here’s a helpful tip, free of charge. If you really and truly believe that gay weddings somehow infringe on your religious freedom, then maybe it’s really, really time you started shopping around for a new religion.

Silly Narrative # 5: It’s a slippery slope thing

The “slippery slope” is one of the favorite tropes of the reactionary crowd to just about anything they don’t approve of.  Rarely do any of those things actually involve a bona fide slippery slope – don’t hold your breath until wingers get their thongs in a bunch over environmental desecration, for instance. But the decision to remove the Rebel banner from government property and certain retail outlets? Totally different thing, doncha know. After all, let THEM, whoever they are, snatch away the Confederate flag, however exactly they’re doing that, and they’re certain to do the same to the flag of the Confederacy’s enemy number one. Makes sense in a very nonsensical sort of way.

The pants-pissing over gay marriage is even more intensely Jeremiah-ish. For a long time, the reactionaries have been warning that if gays are allowed the same rights and rites as us unperverted folk, it well lead to all sorts of sexual aberration: polygamy (you know, like certain right-wing Mormons), bestiality, pedophilia, marrying your sofa, etc, etc.

Some people in the Alex Jones/Glenn Beck brigade are even warning, with cobbled evidence too scant to even qualify as tenuous, that pedophiles already have been inspired to make a drive toward legitimizing their thing under the same logic that gays have legitimized theirs. Well hey, it wouldn’t be unheard of for fringe groups to try to capitalize on a court case; but it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll succeed in that laughable endeavor.  They’d have to make it past the courts. And courts, however radical, will surely understand that there is a big difference between matrimony involving two consenting adults and predatory behavior toward minors. Almost everybody understands that. Even right-wing reactionaries understand that. Don’t they?

Silly Narrative # 6: It’s a (insert inappropriate analogy) thing

Naturally, one way to convince people how terrible these two events were was to compare them to other things that people already know are terrible. We’ve already seen how some commentators suggested that “banning” the Confederate flag (which Bill O’Reilly said stands for “bravery”) will almost certainly lead to “banning” the U.S. flag. Chairman of the South Carolina League of the South Pat Hines, meanwhile, characterized the movement to remove the flag from his state’s capitol as “cultural genocide”, while a certain perennially pompous radio talk show host declared it was all about “destroying the South as a political force”.

When it comes to excoriating court rulings they don’t like, wingers have a favorite whipping boy that they frequently juxtapose with Roe V. Wade:

What if no one had acted in disobedience to the Dred Scott decision of 1857? What if the entire country had capitulated to judicial tyranny and we just said that because the Supreme Court said in 1857 said that a black person wasn’t fully human… (Mike Huckabee)

It hardly could be a worse comparison. The Dred Scott ruling limited the freedom of an entire class of people while the current ruling expands the freedom of an entire class of people.

And there was a whole truckload of other inappropriate comparisons, including these:

Next we’ll get the arena and the lions, get the arena and the lions and bring them in from Tunisia.  (Michael Savage)

Essentially, this is gay Sharia … “Love” has won; now it’s time to shoot the prisoners– (columnist John Zmirak)

I fear for our country, quite frankly, because this is a spiritual 9/11. (Tim Wildmon, American Family Association)

I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch.  (Mike Huckabeeagain)

June 26, 2015: a date which will live in infamy. (Bryan Fischer, yet again)

What’s next? What’s next is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. It is just a question of how soon the wrath of God is going to come on this land. (Pat Robertson)

And of course when all else fails, there’s always a certain short dictator with a funny mustache:

…the parallels to Germany in the Thirties… when German people had no idea where this was really going to end up… (talk show host Eric Metaxas

Are you okay with a baker saying that he’s not going to make any goods for a Nazi party rally? (Bill O’Reilly)

Another obligatory tactic is to suggest that rejection of intolerance constitutes intolerance itself, at least as intolerant as the intolerance it isn’t tolerating. Forty percent of the American public still disapproves of gay marriage, the reactionaries say, so why shouldn’t their wishes be respected too? Would they say the same if forty percent disapproved of interracial or interfaith marriage? Besides, who says their wishes aren’t being respected? Nobody’s forcing them into a gay marriage. (See above.)

Well, here we are two months later, and Obama’s storm troopers still haven’t raided anyone’s house to search for Dixie flags or hetero marriage licenses. Nobody has married their alpaca or DVD player. And God hasn’t unleashed a plague of locusts on America. In fact, the results of these two actions have been overwhelmingly positive; while there have been zero negative consequences. Get back to me in 20 years if any of that changes.

Teller Tells All: How Magicians (and Others) Manipulate the Mind

Teller

Like just about everyone else on the planet, I’m a big fan of Penn and Teller. Indeed, I’ve probably been a fan longer than most – since I first saw them in 1980, long before they became global superstars. That was literally before they were Penn and Teller; in those days, they were a three-person troupe billed as Asparagus Valley Cultural Society.  The third member, a geeky-looking fellow known as Wier Chrisemer, reportedly left the act because he objected to some of the risqué material the other two came up with.

Years later, when I spoke to Teller after catching one of their performances in Las Vegas, I asked him whatever happened to Wier.  Without missing a beat he replied, perfectly deadpan, “we killed him and took his clothes.”  It was a characteristically quick-witted response. Though Teller doesn’t speak onstage, he was once a high school Latin teacher; and he’s always been, like his longtime partner, highly articulate and highly intellectual.

I recently read an article he wrote for Smithsonian magazine outlining the techniques magicians use to fool their viewers. It’s worth reading the original article, because he goes into more detail and illustrates with some specific tricks. But here in a nutshell are the 7 principles:

  1. Exploit pattern recognition.
  2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.
  3. It’s hard to think critically when you’re laughing.
  4. Keep the trickery outside the frame.
  5. To fool the mind, combine at least two tricks.
  6. Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself.
  7. If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely.

All of these are interesting to anyone who appreciates a good magic trick – and who doesn’t? But some of them (especially 1, 6 and 7) are quite relevant to other forms of mental manipulation as well.  In fact, one of the most illuminating things about magic is that it helps underscore a fact about human nature that, depending on the context, can be either delightful or disturbing: people enjoy, and quite often crave, being deceived — even many people who are quite intelligent and well-educated. Witness the enormous success of Fox “News”. And many, many cases of the public willingly offering its eyes for the wool to be pulled over.

In the last post, we discussed a deceptively edited video distributed by “pro-life” manipulators that supposedly proved Planned Parenthood sells “body parts” from aborted fetuses. This was unquestioningly distributed by millions of shocked individuals who apparently never stopped to think that “pro-life” radicals might be able and willing to tamper with videos, even though they’d already done so not too long before. The video showed people what they wanted to see, so they assumed they were seeing it.

An even more vibrant example involved a video that wasn’t even tampered with. It was attached to a viral blog post claiming that the clip depicted a lawyer for President Obama admitting his birth certificate was a forgery. The video, of course, showed no such thing; yet millions of people passed it on, believing they actually had heard the lawyer say this, because that was what they really, really wanted to hear.

Or take the Second Amendment. Please. Anyone literate in the Mother Tongue need only read it to see that it absolutely does not unequivocally state that American citizens have a right to own firearms. Yet many Americans are willing to live and even die for such a nonexistent “constitutional right”.  Five prestidigitators on the Supreme Court told them it was there, and they believe that settles it. Not that they needed convincing; they’d already long insisted very loudly that they saw such a right clearly enshrined in the Constitution, no matter how much it wasn’t really there. The fakirs of the gun lobby had already been telling them, long before the Court got around to it.

When a magician fools us, we get something useful out of it – namely, diversion and delight. When a propagandist deceives us, other people get something out of it, to our detriment. Keeping an eye out for the techniques magicians use can enrich our appreciation of being taken in by a trick. Keeping an eye out for the techniques propagandists use can help prevent us from being taken in.

“Pro-Life”, Anti-Truth

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So, were you shocked and outraged when you heard — as you almost certainly did — that Planned Parenthood has been “selling body parts” of “murdered babies”? Congratulations, that’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel. But the real congratulations are due to the folks who concocted the whole story in the first place.

That would be the Center For Medical Progress, a”pro-life” activist group that released an undercover interview with Planned Parenthood’s Deborah Nucatola, deceptively edited to make it sound as if Planned Parenthood sells the tissue of aborted fetuses. The hoaxsters also released the full unedited video, which clearly shows Nucatola decrying the idea of selling fetal tissue; but the fanfare was all about the shorter video, and they surely must have realized that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on. It was the dishonest edit that got Facebooked ad infinitum.

Even the supposedly intellectually viable organ of rightwingnuttery, the ever-entertaining National Review, took the bait. In an editorial titled Let’s Face It: Planned Parenthood Is Evil (don’t mince words, folks, what do you really think?), NR lamented that

In America, it’s illegal to donate money to a candidate without first reporting it to the government. Even then, if you give more than is permissible, you could end up in jail. In this country, you can’t add trans fats to your foods or smoke cigarettes in your own bar. Here, the Little Sisters of the Poor can’t tell the state they’d rather not buy condoms, and bakers can’t tell a couple they’d rather not participate in their wedding. But it’s completely legal to kill an unborn baby for convenience and then sell its parts for cash.

Except that’s totally untrue. And the ever-entertaining National Review knew that, or else didn’t bother to look it up. Either way, it’s inexcusable for anyone masquerading as a journalist to make such utterances. Just as it’s inexcusable for anyone pretending to be “pro-life” to support policies that are anti-life (however you define it) and to indulge in this kind of devious smear tactics.

Yet this is very far from unusual. Planned Parenthood has become the favorite bogeyman of the “pro-life” movement, which has no qualms about how it goes about persecuting them.  And as we’ve seen before, many “pro-life” fanatics have no problem with lying their righteous asses off. We’ve asked this question before, but it’s certainly worth asking again and again: if they really are so convinced that their cause is noble and righteous and true, why do they so consistently feel the need to promote it with lies, deception, sleazy attacks and intimidation?

Myths About Myths About Vegetarianism

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I’ve been a strict vegetarian for more than 20 years. Before that, I was a half-assed vegetarian for at least 20 more. In all that time, I’ve frequently researched nutrition, and experimented with and reevaluated my diet. And I’ve always been happy to discuss the matter with people who express an interest, either because they’re vegetarians themselves or because they’re just curious. But there are two things I have not done: I have not criticized anyone else’s diet, and I have never tried to recruit anyone to the “cause”. Not once. I’m annoyed by proselytizers myself, and I know many other people are too.

Many meat eaters, however, are not nearly so accepting. They remind me at every opportunity of what I’m missing, as if I’d never eaten meat before in my life. They warn me that I’m committing suicide by not ingesting animal flesh. If we eat out together, they never pass up an opportunity to comment on my meatless regimen. Never. Sometimes it’s all in good fun, and I have no problem taking a good, er, ribbing. But some of them are highly judgmental in their missionary zeal, and behave as if they consider it a personal insult that I don’t eat the same things they do. (Yes, I’m certain that some vegetarians are just as obnoxious.) Some people are just as defensive about their meat as they are about their guns or their religion — and often for reasons just as ill-informed and irrational.  Just recently, the Gotcha Squad descended on me with accusatory soundbites ablaze (“You’re obviously a so and so who believes such and such”) after I dared mention here in passing that it’s perfectly possible to live a perfectly healthy life without meat — a fact that anyone can readily verify. I was denounced as a pseudoscientific, bigoted, propagandizing mountebank after mentioning a proposed discussion of this topic that I haven’t even written yet!

Well, I’m not out to improve anyone’s manners or reasoning skills any more than I’m out to improve anyone’s diet. But I am out to correct misinformation. And there’s quite a bit of it propagated in the name of the meat cause. Accordingly, I’ve been planning for some time now to do a series about popular meat myths. But it seems I should first address the myths about vegetarianism and the people who practice it, as these also have gained a great deal of traction.

This became apparent after I read an article called Myths & Truths About Vegetarianism. I’m rather embarrassed to confess that I’ve discovered it only recently, as it’s been around since 2000, and it has become something of a staple among meatsters, a standard piece of propaganda they cut and paste and hurl in the faces of vegetarians with a “chew on that, rutabaga head”. This piece is often transmitted in a digest version that makes its argument even more oversimplified and dogmatic than it already was.

The article was written by a doctor, the late Stephen Byrnes, ND. And to many people, that means he must have been an expert nutritionist. As it happens, he was also a registered nutritional consulting practitioner. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. An astounding,  shocking, horrifying, disgusting secret. Ready? Here goes: most doctors receive woefully inadequate training in nutrition. Most medical schools do not even meet the absolute minimum recommended standard of 25 hours. (That’s for the entire 4 years, folks.) In many cases, students receive far less than that — often only three to four hours, even at the nation’s top schools. Dr. Andrew Weill says that he received only ONE hour of nutritional training at Harvard — only slightly more than your plumber or barber. Moreover, the bulk of this training tends to come early in the curriculum, when students are learning basic material.

Hippocrates seems to have recognized 2400 years ago that food is medicine; but many medical practitioners today still have not caught up with him. Of course, doctors are qualified to speak about matters of health, which is related to nutrition — whether they realize it or not. But all too often, they’re perfectly content to jump on the conventional wisdom bandwagon, and recommend that everyone eat meat because that’s just the way things are done.

It may not always be fair to judge people by the company they keep, but it may be useful to note that Dr. Byrnes republished his article for the Weston A. Price Foundation, of which he had been a board member, an organization often denounced for quackery that advocates, among other things, the consumption of raw milk and large amounts of animal fats. It was named posthumously after a dentist, Dr. Weston A. Price (1870-1948) who developed some unorthodox theories of nutrition that earned him a quack badge himself. The interesting thing is that his nutritional recommendations were rather different from those of the organization that purports to honor his legacy.

Despite all of this, Dr. Byrnes does manage to include some accurate and useful information. He is quite correct in pointing out, for instance, that vegetarians, and particularly vegans, run a greater risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can have some serious consequences. But he is quite misguided to shoehorn that bit of information into the premise that we absolutely must eat meat in order to survive and thrive. The B-12 problem is an interesting and important one, and it isn’t quite as simplistic as Byrnes and other flesh pushers would have you believe. We’ll be examining it in a little more depth in the future.

Unfortunately, Byrnes mixes his truths with half-truths, distortions, fabrications, and bizarre out-of-the-ass utterances, so that the end result is he promotes more myths than he debunks. And he didn’t restrict his commentary to the topic(s) about which he was an expert, but also spoke authoritatively on matters which he appears to have known little about. Agriculture and ecology, for instance, in his very first “myth”:

Myth #1: Meat consumption contributes to famine and depletes the Earth’s natural resources.

There are several environmental and socioeconomic concerns about the livestock industry — it contributes as much as 22 percent of greenhouse gases, for instance (yep, that cheeseburger is producing a big chunk of climate change). But Dr. Byrnes chose to ignore these (other writers he quotes give them a cursory nod) and just focus on the “myth” he thought he could dispose of handily.  His conclusion is that grazing land “is being put to good use”, but the case he presents is very far from convincing.

He is correct that only about a third of the earth’s dry land is being used for agriculture, and that only about a third of that (some 11 percent of the total land mass) is used for growing crops. But this does not mean, as he suggests, that little of the remaining land could be used for crops. With today’s technology, cropland has been established in deserts and other areas that once might have been the most unlikely of farmland. In fact, the increased demand for crops to feed a growing population has led to cropland expansion that has embraced deforestation and other practices that have an additional negative impact on the environment. If land is suitable for large-scale ranching, then chances are it’s either suitable or adaptable for farming as well.

Just for good measure, he throws in a few red herrings that reflect circular reasoning:

Furthermore, at the present time, there is more than enough food grown in the world to feed all people on the planet. The problem is widespread poverty making it impossible for the starving poor to afford it.

Even if perfectly true, how does that alter the equation between the land used for meat versus the land used for crops (except for emphasizing that meat is more expensive)? And while acknowledging the prevalence of  “business-besotted farmers running intensive livestock units, battery systems and beef-burger bureaucracies”, he insists that ranching when “properly practiced” will not damage the environment. Ah, but there’s the rub. Those alliteratively described “business-besotted farmers” [ranchers] are almost inevitably the norm when there is such a rapacious global appetite for animal flesh. Meat producers, like many other business owners, want to maximize their profits.

He quotes another author who states that “[s]ince ancient times, the most destructive factor in the degradation of the environment has been monoculture agriculture.” That may have been true in “ancient times” when there were no factories or automobiles, but today? Furthermore, farming need not be monoculture, and ranching is quite likely to be.

He also quotes yet another source:

The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or completely unsuited for human food.

Yes, but one reason is that a portion of the land is designated specifically for raising feed for animals rather than humans. And he notes that animals are a “renewable resource”. Okay, but what does it take to “renew” them?

Not content to don the hats of agriculturalist and ecologist, Dr. Byrnes also puts on his wizard hat and gazes into his crystal ball to predict what would happen if the world embraced vegetarianism on a large scale.  The results, he assures us, would not be pretty: “there would be less food available for the world to eat”.  His source for this conclusion is another article published by (ahem) the Weston A. Price Foundation, but since I haven’t been able to find a copy of it, I can’t tell you what (mis)information that author drew on. I can tell you, however, that it flies in the face of what actual experts say. Researchers at the University Of Minnesota, for instance, found that:

Currently, 36% of the calories produced by the world’s crops are being used for animal feed, and only 12% of those feed calories ultimately contribute to the human diet (as meat and other animal products). …We find that, given the current mix of crop uses, growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could, in principle, increase available food calories by as much as 70%, which could feed an additional 4 billion people (more than the projected 2–3 billion people arriving through population growth). Even small shifts in our allocation of crops to animal feed and biofuels could significantly increase global food availability…

Furthermore, as reported in The Guardian, leading scientists at the Stockholm International Water Institute have issued a projection that is quite at odds with that of Dr. Byrnes — who somehow neglected to mention that livestock production also requires massive quantities of water. These scientists’ projection is also even more apocalyptic: the worldwide population, they warn, may be compelled to embrace vegetarianism by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophic global famine.

Notice, by the way, how Dr. Byrnes slyly reframes the issue, shifting from a question of whether meat production has preventable disastrous consequences to a question of whether vegetarianism can eliminate world hunger. In so doing, he sets a very high bar that meatism itself has been failing miserably to attain for quite some time. This tactic is not at all uncommon among people who want to ridicule vegetarianism; they redefine its success in terms they believe it inevitably will fail to satisfy. We just might be seeing more of this tactic in future discussions.

8 Boringly Predictable Responses to the Charleston Massacre

Reuters

Reuters

Ho-hum. Another week, another gun massacre in the U.S., another round of boringly predictable responses. How predictable can they be? Let us count the ways:

1. More guns

If guns are used to commit mass murders, then even more guns would mean fewer slaughters, right? Makes perfect sense. At least to gun profiteers. You can count on them to use every mass murder like this as a golden opportunity to drive home the message that the real cure for the plague of violence is a hair of the dog — or rather lots and lots of hairs. (The guvmint wants to take away your guns; but if you buy one gun for every federal agent out there, you should be able to fend them off.) They’ve convinced a good many impressionable souls that more guns equals less crime, though the evidence strongly suggests otherwise.

2. Guns don’t spout soundbites, people do

And heaven forbid that anyone might suggest, as President Obama did, that we have a problem when guns get into the wrong hands. Why, that’s… that’s… that’s (horrors) CAPITALIZING ON A TRAGEDY.  And we all know that guns are not really to blame. If the punk in Charleston hadn’t had a firearm, he just as easily could have slaughtered those folks with a pipe cleaner or toothbrush. Besides, criminals just ignore laws, so what’s the use in having any?

3. Pay no attention to that racist behind the curtain

Stop calling it a racist attack, already. It’s just a coincidence that all the victims were black.  There must have been other factors contributing to the attack. Like drugs and the librulmedia. Or “diversity”. Or transgender people. And of course we mustn’t forget the vast conspiracy against Christianity. Never mind that the killer announced his racist motives at the scene, and that he has a distinguished white extremist history. Racism doesn’t exist in America anymore, remember?

4. It’s all about mental illness

Oh, and since the shooter was a white male, his violence must have been triggered (oops) by mental illness.

5. Enough with the victimization — they asked for it

Stop calling the murdered congregation members victims. Maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe some of them, at least, brought it on themselves.

7. If all else fails, blame Obama

Somehow, the buck must go back to the black guy in the formerly White House. Somehow or other. Surely.

8. Instant fame

Immediately and very frequently thereafter, the killer’s name and  likeness got splashed all over TV, print and the Internet. A killer who admits to having been inspired by the highly publicized killer of Trayvon Martin. Don’t we ever learn ANYTHING from these incidents?

Singular Proof

roger bannister

If you read the prior post on cherry picking, you may recall that I cautioned about seizing upon isolated incidents as “proof” of something. Now, however, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that an isolated incident is always proof of something. A contradiction? Not at all. It just depends on what it is you’re trying to prove.

Consider a popular example: the use of guns for self-defense, commonly called defensive gun use (DGU). You’ve no doubt heard about plenty of these incidents; chances are your gun-loving friends will Facebook or Tweet every time such an incident drifts into their crosshairs, perhaps passing it along with the comment that “this proves that guns make us safer”.

But does it? “Us” is in this case a very inclusive pronoun. In order to prove that guns make “us” safer overall, you’d have to demonstrate that they effect a net reduction in crime — i.e., that the are used to prevent more crimes than they are used to commit. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate anything even close to this.

For that matter, these incidents don’t even prove that guns make the individuals involved safer. They do prove that in some cases, guns can be used in self-defense. And that is essentially the value of an isolated incident: it demonstrates that such an occurrence is a possibility. When Roger Bannister ran the first recorded 4-minute mile in 1954, he proved once and for all that such a feat can be done. He didn’t prove that anyone could do it, but he did prove that it was at least humanly possible. (Since then, it’s been accomplished many times.)

Another thing about the singular proof, then, is that it also disproves something — Bannister disproved the commonly accepted notion that running the 4-minute mile was unattainable. He didn’t disprove a generality (running the 4-minute mile is very difficult) but he did disprove an absolutism (the 4-minute mile is impossible).

It’s been established that tobacco and excessive alcohol are harmful to health. Yet every now and then, you’ll hear about a man who’s lived a century even though he’s savored a cigar and a glass of whisky every day for years. Has he proved that medical science is wrong? Or that — as some of these superannuated persons maintain — these vices actually promote longevity?

Of course not. He disproves the absolutism that tobacco and alcohol invariably lead to premature death. And he proves that some regular smokers and drinkers can live long lives. But he’s done nothing to discredit the science that says such indulgences are harmful in general.

Scientists, however, are sometimes scornful of anecdotal evidence, declaring it to be totally worthless. Which is ironic, given how dependent they are on it. A scientific experiment is preceded by a hypothesis. And where does the hypothesis come from? Anecdotal evidence, quite often. Like the rest of us, scientists exercise inductive reasoning: they notice specific events and extrapolate from them that there might be a general pattern. Unlike the rest of us, they undertake methodical tests in an effort to prove this hypothesis — or hopefully, an effort to disprove it, since that’s really the only way to accomplish either proof or disproof. And how do they do this? By collecting more anecdotes, either in a laboratory or in the wild. But this isn’t considered anecdotal evidence, since the events are collected systematically rather than haphazardly.

Still. every anecdote does prove something. The trick is interpreting correctly what it proves, rather than being led over the lemming ledge of unwarranted conclusion.

(For more on the role of anecdotes in science and medicine, see here and here.)

A Reminder About Comments

Once again , it has become necessary to remind readers about the reluctantly adopted comments policy for this site. This is spelled out clearly on the Comments Policy page, but because it has been so blatantly ignored lately, I’ve felt it necessary to reiterate a couple of key points, and to adopt a stricter enforcement.

Basically, your comments probably won’t get published if they are rude, antagonistic or childish. Such remarks rarely offer anything of value, and are not worth my time or most readers’.  Likewise with comments that are just plain ignorant and/ or nutty. Don’t bother protesting that the Holocaust is a hoax, or global warming is fraudulent, or homosexuality can be cured, or Fox isn’t really right-wing.

There are plenty of places online where you can post such things. This isn’t one of them.