The world is subtle… and that's why it's beautiful

By Phil Plait | July 9, 2010 7:30 am

Any time I post my political thoughts on this blog, inevitably someone in the comments or on Twitter will accuse me of being a far-left nut. I typically ignore people like that, because it’s clear to me that they are not capable of understanding what I’ve actually written, and in their mind, and in these hyperpartisan times, anyone who isn’t a far-right neocon must perforce be some sort of commie or socialist.

In reality, my own thinking on political and social issues is more subtle. I am in many ways an individual libertarian (I think people should have far more personal freedom than they do in this country), a social liberal (I think one of the many roles of government is to help those who cannot help themselves, and to do what individuals and corporations cannot do or cannot be trusted to do), and a governmental conservative (in the actual sense of the old party; I want a government that is big enough to do what it needs to do and no bigger).

I also understand that ideas sometimes have boundaries in practice.

Freedoms are tricky things. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The old adage saying "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose" is wrong and dumb; in fact the act of swinging your fist at all is a threat.

I want a government that’ll help when it’s needed, but won’t when it’s not, because I know that a lot of people will take advantage of a government that is set up to help them.

I know our economy should have the freedom it needs to grow. But I also know it needs to be regulated because people are greedy, and people with nearly unlimited power and resources will sometimes spectacularly abuse that power to the detriment of the country and the planet.

I loathe the idea of killing, but I know that there are bad guys out there, and we need a strong military to keep them at bay.

I hate paying taxes. But I love our highway system, clean water, and space exploration.

I think that people have the right to defend themselves, their family, their property… and that’s why they have the right to bear arms. But I also know that many people aren’t wise enough and emotionally stable enough to own a gun, and that’s why I don’t think everyone has the right to bear every arm.

I think that everyone has the right to speak their mind. But I think many loud voices right now belong to hateful, mean, bigoted, small-minded hypocrites who will say anything to get themselves noticed or to push their agenda. I also know they all have the right, the freedom to say the terrible things they do. But I have the right — and we all have the duty — to counter their speech with our own voices.

So what do we do?

We need to teach people to think. To understand that there are balances in life, nuances, corollaries to decisions.

When I watch TV news, read political opinions online, and listen to our politicians, what I hear are low resolution ideas, chunky things that this way or that way, no in-between, with big thick impenetrable borders around each part.

But when I look around I see things being rich, diverse, subtle, poetic, minuscule, vast. I don’t subscribe to any particular ism, but look over the issues as they come, dig into my personal values and unholster my critical thinking, and come to each conclusion one at a time — though based on previous experience. Conclusions are not independent of one another.

The world I see is gloriously complex. It’s layered, with subtleties interacting with other subtleties, forcing decisions to be more difficult for me to make but more important once made, making the path more treacherous for me to walk but more satisfying to me once the journey is underway, making the view more of a struggle for me to understand but more awe-inspiring and world-changing once I do understand it.

The world I see is not black and white. No amount of shouting, no amount of name-calling, no amount of insults, no amount of spin, lies, distortion, sniping, negativity, or propaganda will change that.

Here’s how they see things:

ic342_bw

Here’s how things really are:

ic342_color

The decision is yours. Which world do you want to live in?

Image credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (193)

  1. Donovan

    I agree with you on a fair amount of that. Michael Sandel did a TED talk recently about how to use our social cognition, or how to define good ideas in a world with many people and many life goals. It was good, and it’s on YouTube.

    I think the politics in this country have been drug so far to the right that the idea “maybe we shouldn’t nuke Europe” is seen as sickeningly liberal and pacifist, and only an unpatriotic person could think such a thing. Or, to be very accurate, actually reading the founding documents to see what our founding fathers meant for this nation is seen as “rewriting history.” I’m always baffled there. The Constitution is in modern English! We don’t need to translate and interpret most of it. It’s there, in easy to read plain speak, which is perhaps the best idea the founders had. Yet 90%* of the people quoting the constitution have clearly never read it.

    *90% is an arbitrary number, and may not reflect the more horrifying reality

  2. OmegaBaby

    You’re more optimistic than I, Phil. Our political beliefs are virtually identical. Yet despite how moderate our beliefs are, they DO put us at the far-left of the political spectrum in this country.

    Just remember this sobering statistic….half of the people in the United States have below average intelligence. It doesn’t matter how logical and convincing your argument is, you’ll never change the minds of many many people. The world is black and white to them, and that’s the ways theys like it. And the political establishment (primarily Republicans, but Democrats to some extent too) have gotten REALLY good at manipulating peoples beliefs. Logical arguments don’t stand a chance.

  3. DaveH

    I think that people have the right to defend themselves, their family, their property… and that’s why they have the right to bear arms. But I also know that many people aren’t wise enough and emotionally stable enough to own a gun, and that’s why I don’t think everyone has the right to bear every arm.

    In fact, most people aren’t wise, wise and trained, sufficiently that owning a gun is anything but a danger to their family.

  4. Mike

    @Donovan:

    So, in the course of agreeing with this: “But I think many loud voices right now belong to hateful, mean, bigoted, small-minded hypocrites who will say anything to get themselves noticed or to push their agenda.”

    You post this: “I think the politics in this country have been drug so far to the right that the idea “maybe we shouldn’t nuke Europe” is seen as sickeningly liberal and pacifist, and only an unpatriotic person could think such a thing.”

    Perhaps you’re part of the problem?

  5. Clint Eastwood said it best: “The farther you go to the left or right, the more likely you are to meet your opposite number coming around the other side.” There’s probably a differential geometry theory to describe that.

    America hasn’t been this polarized since the 1850′s, and we know what happened after that. But why? Big media makes polarization easier than ever. Small Media (blogs) doubly so.

    Fortunately, only 13% of us are “Libs” and another 13% are “Cons.” That leaves the 74% of us normal, rational people to cry foul. Not sure there’s a way to improve that.

    Hey Phil, may I play Devil’s Advocate? I want to live in the top picture. It’s so much simpler! Less thinking and all that.

    Jus’ kidding, the bottom pic is for me. But where is the Dark Matter, Phil? Where did it go?

  6. Sundeep

    @OmegaBaby,

    “Just remember this sobering statistic….half of the people in the United States have below average intelligence.”

    I like that line simply because it makes a point by fudging “mean” and “median” and by assuming there’s a standard method of measuring intelligence. It’s funnier because you follow this with:
    “It doesn’t matter how logical and convincing your argument is, you’ll never change the minds of many many people. The world is black and white to them, and that’s the ways theys like it.”

    If that’s not a Manichean world-view, I don’t know what is.

  7. JMW

    I agree with most of what you say, Phil. My favorite Billy Joel song is “Shades of Gray”.

    But I have to question this: I want a government that’ll help when it’s needed, but won’t when it’s not…

    I realize that in this blog entry you don’t have space to fully elaborate on that, but Robert Heinlein touched on this in the early part of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Who defines “when it’s needed”? How do you deal with those who disagree with that definition? And so on…

    But in principle, yeah…I agree.

  8. Bee

    Very well said :-) Oversimplifying and dumbing down are indeed two great hurdles to intelligent decision making and thus progress. You might want to check the sociology literature for “muddling through,” there’s definitely some truth to it.

  9. Charles Boyer

    @Steven Colyer – good call on the polarization of America and the end-game it may once again play for its disunity. Sooner or later, shots will be fired. And innocent people just trying to get on with their lives will pay for this with blood.

    I too believe in freedom, and agree to a point with Phil’s analysis of the swinging fist. My take on freedom is that it ends where it trespasses upon someone else’s, and threats do cross the line.

    I worry greatly what we may have after 2012. Since both dominant parties want to play Mutually Assured Destruction politics, I fear a wave of extremism is about to wash over us like the recent tsunami did over parts of Indonesia.

  10. Quatguy

    Well spoken Phil. I have been an avid observer of American politics. As a godless foreigner, I am amazed at how polarized your system is and am starting to see similar trends here. The US appears to be in a defacto civil war of retoric with the right hammering away at the left and vice versa. Everyone wants to score points and shoot the other guy down. Where is the compromise? Where is the discussion? Most of your major news outlets only provide opionion and spin with little balanced and honest reporting. This is really what scares me the most. An informed populace is critical in a functional democracy. Without it, people will only see black and white.

    Love your blog. Great post.

    As an aside, I just bought your Bad Astronomy book and am working my way though it. It’s an interesting read and I am really enjoying it.

  11. Mike

    Funny things is, even most of the people generally in the “left” in US would be considered hardline right-wingers here in Europe. :-)

  12. I believe everyone has the right to their own opinion, and every now and then I love a good spirited debate about politics or religion. The left and the right both have valid opinions about things, and the fun in the debate is teasing out why your opinion is better. However, it seems lately, that I am no longer defending my opinions. I’m defending reality. When debating whether cap and trade is a cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gases, it is hard to win when you are forced to defend that climate change is actually real and and the facts and figures you use to justify your argument really aren’t the product of some vast conspiracy. If we have no common ground in basic facts, how can we accomplish anything. The idea that reality itself has become partisan makes me depressed.

  13. Chris

    What the funding fathers really meant.

    Actually couldn’t they just ban the bullets? Everyone can have a gun, but without bullets you could save a lot of lives.

  14. Rick

    Hmmm, health care, robust social programs, gun control, government regulated banking system and still protect the freedom of the individual (like same sex marriage, pro choice) and have a very high standard of living? Sounds like Canada, eh?

    Its odd how our two countries that are so similar in many respects are so different politically. I’m not an expert on anything (especially politics) but notice that the religious right is not even a minor influence in Canadian politics. Sure they pop up here and there, but are never a sustainable force.

    Cause or correlation? I vote cause.

  15. JerWah

    I find I don’t always agree with your political view points, however if you want to run for office, I would happily vote for you. At this point, I am so sick of the polarization, and the I’m right, therefore you are wrong, mentality…. I would much rather have people in office who could say… we’re both “right” and lets find a compromise…..

  16. Jason Dick

    One of the interesting things I ran across not to long ago was this blog post by Paul Krugman:
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/dimensionality/

    He talks about some very interesting research by Poole and Rosenthal done not on the public, but just on the voting practices of members of congress. They found, rather interestingly, that one only needs two dimensions to explain most of the voting practices of members of congress: race/segregation and left-right on economic issues. Since the 1960′s, though, the race/segregation dimension collapsed, and there has only been one dimension to congressional politics.

    Given that reality, it isn’t so much of a surprise to me that most of our public discourse is in such strong, one-dimensional terms.

    What this research makes me wonder is whether this is strongly a function of our two-party political system, or whether it’s actually a reflection of peoples’ real dimensionality of opinion (that is, that we’re more one-dimensional than we like to think).

    The original research, for those interested, can be found here:
    http://voteview.com/Unidimensional_Congress_1919-1984.pdf

  17. Garbledina

    One of the biggest realizations I had when reading “Denialism” is that the problem isn’t that people hate and fear science per se, it’s that they hate and fear subtlety. People want things to be simple: black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, left or right, big pharma or holistic medicine. They want to know right away whether they are for or against something based on a quick judgement and the proper buzzwords. We all know that critical thinking is hard, but that it is worth it, because even though it may be challenging to parse all of the subtleties inherent in every conflict.

    So yes, learn learn learn. Teach people to think. Because it ultimately isn’t about what you believe, but how you arrived at those beliefs. Teach people to stop parroting whatever they hear on fox news or npr, and start doing the hard legwork of asking questions for themselves. It does get easier with practice.

  18. Some guy here at work was all in a tizzy over the NASA head’s “reach out to Muslim’s” comment and I pointed out to him that this directive from the Obama administration is no different that what Reagan wanted done in the 80′s and the Soviets. His retort was that my head was up my … ahem … posterior.

    That’s what’s wrong with the debate. When one hears something they can’t grok or can’t counter, they resort with insults and/or flat-out lying.

  19. I knew right off that first image was a galaxy. I look at horribly pixelated images on a daily basis. My trick is to squint my eyes and look at it out out of focus. Whammo! Galaxy! But that requires so much more work than the second photo which is a galaxy clear as day.

    We are mostly in agreement with our views, Phil. I’m somewhere near dead center with a left view here and a right view there. I average out though.

    We need people to start thinking in a critical and logical sense. I hate to stereotype Wal-Mart but when I take a trip there (2 miles from my house, what can you do?) I see people that probably have no idea there are only 8 planets in our solar system. Let alone the 400+ that are exoplanets. Just walking down any busy street will reveal that most people don’t know a lot of basic understandings.

    Carl Sagan said we lived in a world in which we rely heavily on technology and yet hardly anyone understands how that technology works. He didn’t want everyone to be a theoretical physicist. He simply wanted more people engaged in how the world around them works. Even a basic understanding is enough. It’s funny too when you tell someone how something works. The usual reply is “Wow… that’s cool, I had no idea.” Fiction is fun but facts will blow your mind. Knowing is cool!

    The majority of people in this country lack that, I think. That or they have a misinformed view on how it all works. *cough* The Earth is 6000 years old! *cough* ;)

    So, keep beating the drum for logical thinking, Phil. You’re not alone! :D

  20. Timmy

    Most people ain’t got time to think for themselves! They just look to someone who seem to know what they are talking about and parrot their words. That’s kind of the relationship I have with you, Phil.

  21. Agus

    @OmegaBaby
    I hope you are being sarcastic: it is not at all surprising that half of the people in the US have below average intelligence. Actually, all over the world half of the people have below average, and the other half above average, by definition of average. ;-)

  22. Matt T

    @ JMW (#6):
    [voice = scruffy]Second![/voice]

    @ OmegaBaby (#2):
    Which is why democracy is such a crappy system of government (and why the US is a republic, not a democracy… although a republic is only slightly better). I read an interesting article showing why catering to wingnuts is politically astute. Basically: wingnuts are a small percentage, but are all swayed to a candidate easily on a single issue; moderates may have greater numbers, but you can’t guarantee their vote with a simple soundbite statement. So then it becomes a simple numbers game. If I say “no abortions for anyone”, I instantly have x% of the vote (x is small, but not insignificant), and I’ve instantly lost another y% (where y is close, but not equal, to x); the vast majority of the remaining (100-x-y)% are not decided yet (although they may be swayed). But discussing abortion with depth and nuance and intelligence gets me *no-one*: the (x+y)% on either wing think I’m being wishywashy, and the moderates are still not going to be decided based on that single issue. Now repeat for various hotbutton topics, and I collect 100% of all those small x%s, to make a significant accumulated total. The “art” of politics, then, is simply which combination of those positions to hold, so as to get the maximum combined vote. End result: I’m pandering to all the extremists (well, one side of each issue), and ignoring the moderates.

    BTW, this also explains some of the “strange bedfellows” you get in politics, such as libertarians and the religious right together in the GOP.

    @ Dr P (#0):
    Not much disagreement from me, in the general theory. But I’ll let Oliver Wendell Holmes quibble with your wording of I hate paying taxes. But I love our highway system, clean water, and space exploration:

    I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.

  23. Daffy

    Well said, Phil.

    However, the polarization of US politics serves the purposes of the corporate lobbyists. It won’t stop until we reign in lobby money in politics.

  24. OmegaBaby:

    Just remember this sobering statistic….half of the people in the United States have below average intelligence.

    And over 6 million people in the U.S. are in the top 5% of intelligence. :-)

    JerWah:

    At this point, I am so sick of the polarization, and the I’m right, therefore you are wrong, mentality…. I would much rather have people in office who could say… we’re both “right” and lets find a compromise…..

    Or even a nice “we’re both wrong, so let’s try something new”.

  25. I regret that I have but one vote to give to Phil in any purely hypothetical run for the political office of your choice. :D

  26. @Lewis
    You (and others in a similar vein) are right that people don’t want to think to hard. I have always considered this the fault of the school systems. We teach a great deal of data and not so much about thinking. Critical thinking, following your curiosity, research, etc. As a result we have a group of people who have been taught to ask the nearest person for the answer, rather than look into it themselves. We make schools about tests – and that teaches people that you only need to know the answer to the immediate question, you don’t need to know why, or how, or where, or when. Intelligence is not related to this issue. Many, many very smart people merely want a quick and simple answer. They don’t want to figure it out. I know people with average intelligence who like to research and know the reality of things.

    On the other hand, I have above average intelligence, but after that – I got the same 12 years of education that my fellow Americans received. I have a college diploma, but due to a lack of attendance and an ability to take multiple choice exams, I learned very little. So why do I use my brain, why do I reject the black and white versions and always recognize that answers are whole lot more complex.

    Perhaps some of it is a physiological difference in our brain wiring. So Phil’s posting today has sent me on a quest for that research (if it exists). I hope it proves that it isn’t about our brain wiring, but is just a learned response. Because if its mostly physiological, what then? How depressing.

  27. ToneDeF

    Phil, I hate paying taxes too. I would love to have a great highway system, clean water, and a space exploration agency that doesn’t end up reverting to pre-1980′s launch vehicles. Unfortunately, I don’t think we get those things too often because elected officials have to first pander to their special interest groups and funnel our tax money away. Of course we do have one good option on our side; vote out those that “waste” too much of our money.

    Yes, “wasting” money may be a matter of one’s perspective, but generally I like your reasoning that govt’ needs to be big enough to do what it needs but not too big. I think we are in a lot of the trouble we’re in now because governements (repub & dems, state & local too) grew too much when times were good. Hopefully too, this is remembered when (if?) we come out of this recession.

  28. Lewis:

    I’m somewhere near dead center with a left view here and a right view there.

    So, you’re one of those wusses that can’t take a stand? :-)

    I see people that probably have no idea there are only 8 planets in our solar system. Let alone the 400+ that are exoplanets.

    Well, I’m going to sidestep that debate :-) , but how many of them know that the Earth is a “planet”, or that the Sun is a “star”?

    “What’s the brightest star in the sky?” “What’s the closest star?”

    It’s funny too when you tell someone how something works. The usual reply is “Wow… that’s cool, I had no idea.”

    Which is why I’m glad that my kids like shows like “How it Works”, “How it’s Made”, and “Deconstructed”.

  29. Zucchi

    A lot of people aren’t comfortable with nuance. I remember in 2004, hearing somebody say about GWB (running for reelection), that “I like George Bush because he puts things in black and white.”

    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by both the complexity of the world, and the number of problems we’re facing. But we do have to face them.

  30. Plognark:

    I regret that I have but one vote to give to Phil in any purely hypothetical run for the political office of your choice. :D

    You should move to Port Chester, NY, then.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/12/nyregion/12chester.html

  31. I like this post a lot. By the standards of political blog posts, it is excellent.

    But the line about fists is a weak point, because there’s a lot of context underlying whether swinging my arm is a threat or not. There’s also a semantic ambiguity between “threat” as in “danger” versus “threat” as in “warning”, but context is important in both cases. Especially for the warning, but for the danger also.

  32. “The decision is yours. Which world do you want to live in?”

    Certainly not the redistributive socialism you and Obama have in mind for me.

  33. PeteC

    I completely agree Phil.

    The problem is also made worse by a base human nature to tribalism. We’re not really pack creatures, or herd creatures, but tribal ones. We automatically search out a group to be “us” and like to have a “them” that is not “us”. It helps explain politics, fanboy-ism and taking on whole world-views without thinking.

    It explains sports fan tribalism – how can anyone sentient regard supporters of a different sports team as an enemy? How can the points scored in just another game of a sport really be worth fighting and even killing over? Yet somehow it is. Or rather, somehow it’s hit the old animal instincts, and one team’s supporters have become my tribe, the other team’s supporters are a foreign, dangerous, enemy tribe and a threat to food, shelter, survival that must be dealt with. Not consciously, of course, but deep in the unconscious it triggers a hate that is in modern terms completely irrational.

    It explains that group of people who latch on to a technology or a company and support it totally irrationally. Apple, for example, has fans who support their products and actions irrationally, even when a product has a flaw [please note, Apple fans, this does not make me an apostate - Apple makes some very nice products indeed and if you prefer them then it makes sense to buy them, as long as you do so while thinking]. Linux, a perfectly decent OS that one could well make a logical choice to use, has fans who truly, deeply *hate* Microsoft and all its works, not because MS has ever done anything to them, but because this helps cement their position as one of “us” in the Linux Community.

    And, of course, people join “our” political viewpoint, in total and without thinking, to be part of the properly-thinking tribe. One can’t be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal, because there isn’t a tribe for that. If you don’t like deficit spending, or are worried that social programs may be doing little good for the cost, or you dislike the principles of large government, then of course you believe the Earth is only six thousand years old, global warming is a huge secret world-wide conspiracy to hurt those poor, struggling oil company executives, that the Protestant version of the Christian bible is literally true except for the bits you don’t agree with and you hate gays. It’s a package deal, to be part of the appropriate tribe. You have to believe all that – because *they*, you know, *them* – they don’t.

    The US, unfortunately, has a bad case of tribalism at the moment. Reality is less important than dogma. Who you stand with is more important than where you stand. I do sometimes wonder if you guys would be happier if you really did split into two nations, but I fear one would collapse in its inability to actually do anything, and the other would smash the statues, burn the books and think about forcibly converting their neighbours to the one, true religion.

  34. Reality

    Isn’t everyone ignoring the elephant in the room, namely religion?

    It’s my contention it bears a great deal of responsibility for the polarization. Religion pushes the idea that it has the ultimate truth, those in the group (believers) are right and those not in the group (non-believers) are wrong and not in possession of the ultimate truth. Religion does not allow for gray areas.

    Take a look at extremely religious countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, do they not have the ultimate in polarization where only one view is acceptable? Europe and Canada being less religious appear to have less polarization.

  35. #14 Garbledina: to say that NPR is basically the left version of Fox News is incredibly, monumentally wrong. You obviously don’t listen to much NPR.

    In fact, all of this wishy-washy equivalence about how “the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans” or “Keith Olbermann is just as bad as Glenn Beck” when it comes to polarization is complete BS. I am no fan of the Democratic Party, but even with a majority in both houses of Congress, they have repeatedly bent over backwards to give the Republicans a chance to offer amendments to bills (including health care and Wall Street reform), and the Republicans still complain about not being included, and continue to obstruct the business of Congress at every single turn.

    The Democrats, for their part, bear some responsibility for polarization, but it’s hardly up to the level of the Republicans.

    I would agree that both parties are dangerously beholden to corporate interests and wealthy donors, but to say that both are equally participating in the polarizing of the country is absolute hogwash. Almost all of that can be laid solely at the feet of the right.

    Rule of thumb – the political party that alienates entire groups of people in this country because of their skin color, country of origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation, is the party that is divisive.

  36. gcruse

    @PeteC,

    “One can’t be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal, because there isn’t a tribe for that. ”

    It’s called libertarian, and I am one.

  37. Robert E

    To quote the man who said it best:

    “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

    GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796

  38. dg

    Great post, Phil.

    As for those who are saying we are heading for some sort of civil war, or that these times are more polarized than at other times in the past – I’m not convinced.

    I feel the same way sometimes, sure. But remember that we are nothing more than paranoid, territorial, group-thinking man-apes, easily deceived by our prejudices. If we don’t pay enough attention, we’ll be guilty of the same chauvinism (to use Carl Sagan’s word) that has convinced millions of Christians for 2000 years that Jesus is coming back in their lifetime.

    Just a plea for perspective.

  39. Mike

    “One can’t be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal, because there isn’t a tribe for that.”

    You’re being facetious, right? Because there are a hell of a lot of us.

  40. Jason

    Phil,

    Like you, I’m often viewed as a far-left nut. The current political climate drives me crazy. Unfortunately people have been gamed to the point that politics boils down to a simple team sport. Regardless of how the individual may feel about a given topic, they vote their team.

    Without getting into the details, my wife and I voted for Obama. My grandmother in-law was so disappointed in my wife she said “I don’t know how you could do that, we raised you Republican.” That comment made much sense and at the same time was entirely disgusting.

    I try very hard to make conscious, intelligent and informed decisions. I put much more effort into my decision than the actual value of my single vote. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the act of thinking/consideration that makes me the “nut”. You either react immediately in support of your team (or against the opposing team,) or you’re a nut.

    Some things that make me a nut:
    supporting the idea vaccinations
    supporting the idea of health-care reform
    opposing/questioning the Iraq war in the beginning
    supporting equal, inalienable, rights for all (including homosexuals)
    opposing AZ SB1097 (while also being against illegal aliens)
    supporting the right to bear arms (with limits)
    supporting the separation between church and state
    opposing unlimited campaign contributions by corporations
    supporting the belief that climate change is real
    supporting offshore drilling

  41. Phil, you’ve just described the basic philosophy of the Coffee Party, a non-partisan national movement all about returning civility to politics and governance to government.

    Founded by Annabel Park only 6 months ago, the Coffee Party now has more than 237,000 Facebook friends and thousands of active chapters across the US. Anyone who’s interested should check out the “Declaration of Unity” on the Coffee Party USA website (http://coffeepartyusa.com/), or go to Facebook and look for what’s happening in your local area.

    I’m the Colorado state coordinator and invite you to check out the Boulder group at Boulder Public Library this Saturday, July 10, at 11:00am. (I’m hosting the Longmont meeting at Brewing Market coffeehouse at 4:00pm that day.) There are at least 10 active chapters across Colorado alone. You’re not alone in your views and your vision!

  42. Dwatney

    This is why, when I needed to make cutbacks in my skeptical/science feeds, you made the cut and pz didn’t.

  43. Thanks Phil; you’ve managed to put into words what I’ve been mulling for several weeks. I’m not liberal, nor conservative, nor libertarian. I have my own viewpoints which contain aspects of all those political views.

  44. This is why I have a mancrush on you Dr. Plait! <3

  45. I have a different take on the swinging fist business. I think your right ends when your fist is aimed at anyone’s nose, not necessarily just mine, and possibly including your own. (That last bit depends on whether the rest of us have to pay to fix your nose. I’m thinking of things like motorcycle helmets and drug laws.)

  46. Allen

    I agree with you on most points, I don’t have much of a problem paying taxes, because I know some of it goes to good works, and the rest of it gives allows me a chance to speak out about the things that aren’t as good, since that is what my money goes towards.

    I don’t necessarily think that a government that helps it’s people (Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, etc.) has to be an Orwellian government, and, I think, that’s the hardest thing for some people who are proponents of small government to understand.

  47. K

    Which is why be need an immortal benevolent dictator to rule over us.
    “…I think people should have far more personal freedom than they do in this country**I think one of the many roles of government is to help those who cannot help themselves, and to do what individuals and corporations cannot do or cannot be trusted to do…”

    With the California hippy mentality of every child gets a prize just for showing up (making those who truly shine to be regarded as less) or the example of retarded folk are no longer called retarded because it makes them sound…retarded. Probably because they ARE retarded, it’s not an insult, it’s a fact. Retarded means, “slow.” But no, that sounds bad. Now they’re mentally challenged. Wait a few years and that will change because people don’t want to deal with the reality of someone else actually being less in some way (or more in other ways) and not every single human being exactly equal. Some people can’t deal with anyone else being different. People aren’t colored, they aren’t black, no, now they’re, “African Americans.” Even if they’ve never been to Africa. I’m not even going to ask what you call a person of color (that term isn’t allowed anymore either) who happens to be a tourist in America.
    Anyway, my point is, everyone is terrified to stand up and make the call and tell others that they need special help or that they’re different. Humans evolved in tribes where everyone was the same, no one stood out, an outsider was attacked because your tribe had to be the best. Now look where we are? Look at old people today. No matter how many wrecks they get into you try to get old people who are impaired off the road. The AARP will eat you alive. So, the government has to make broad sweeping rules to get to try to take care of the few who don’t have the wit to take care of themselves. Truly, do we need a law saying that if you’re too drunk to drive, you shouldn’t? Well, obviously we do because people are people. They won’t be accountable to themselves and no one else will stand up and stop them either. Wouldn’t want to trample on their precious rights as an individual.

    If we just teach people to be responsible and to put others before themselves, it goes against evolution. This will destroy our survival instinct when the alien invasion comes but perhaps our planet will end up being ruled by an immortal benevolent dictator.

  48. RMcbride

    Phil I find that we are very much identical on the political spectrum and that if any debate would be called for it is in the matter of degree. For example my trust of the business community doesn’t run deep at all. They are rather like the hucksters preforming the three card monte, in my opinion.

    @ Matt T your comment about buying civilization with taxes is spot on.

  49. Lukester

    Phil,

    The only time I’ve every criticized your politics is when you shill for the democratic party / liberals.

    You ARE the person that initially referred to Obama’s NASA plan as “bold and visionary.”

    My opinion is that you let your love for Obama cloud your judgment regarding his actual plan. You are not the only person guilty of this, nor is this only a liberal issue. It happens equally on both sides.

    The problem with American Politics is that everyone is rooting for their “team” (lib/conserv, repub/dem, etc…) No one is actually trying to understand the issues, which I give you credit for pointing out in your blog post.

  50. Lukester

    @28 Carey:

    I wouldn’t say Olbermann is as crazy as Beck. However, I think he and O’reilly are about evenly-footed.

  51. Steve Huntwork

    Phil;

    We have only one basic difference, and that is something called “freedom of choice.”

    You can support the concept of global warming all you want and can do anything in your power to prevent it. This is something very important to you, and you should be able to unite with other people and make a difference.

    You have supported very poor software and research and have cheared when the people involved are “exonerated” from doing anything wrong. That is your choice, but it has also demonstrated the poor quality of research that you consider as valid.

    Where you and I absolutly depart, is when you “force” me to support your views with laws and other financial impacts, that harm my own personal life.

    “Leave my personal life alone, and I will never inflict myself into your personal life!”

    However, in today’s political environment, my personal and private life is constantly being impacted.

    Phil, I fully support your political choices and your freedom to talk about them.

    Last year, I was forced to pay $9,300 and have become rather bitter about that. Please have the balls to support your views, when the results become reality.

  52. Steve Huntwork

    Phil;

    We have only one basic difference, and that is something called “freedom of choice.”

    You can support the concept of global warming all you want and can do anything in your power to prevent it. This is something very important to you, and you should be able to unite with other people and make a difference.

    You have supported very poor software and research and have cheered when the people involved are “exonerated” from doing anything wrong. That is your choice, but it has also demonstrated the poor quality of research that you consider as valid.

    Where you and I absolutely depart, is when you “force” me to support your views with laws and other financial impacts, that harm my own personal life.

    “Leave my personal life alone, and I will never inflict myself into your personal life!”

    However, in today’s political environment, my personal and private life is constantly being impacted.

    Phil, I fully support your political choices and your freedom to talk about them.

    Last year, I was forced to pay $9,300 and have become rather bitter about that. Please have the balls to support your views, when the results become reality.

  53. Grizzly

    In Canada we’re seeing the same polarization of debate and it saddens me, not just because I can’t use my smug Canadian Moral superiority super powers anymore (big grin) but because we all lose in the end.

    I think all of us are nuanced when it comes down to it. I identify myself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. “Ah!” people will say, “A libertarian!” Far from it. I have no problem with paying taxes, I just want to be assured that the money is wisely administered and distributed to the best effect.

    Perhaps political divisions have become the new sectarian divide. I hope not.

  54. So many people think that if your opinions happen to lie in the “gray area,” you’re inconsistent or apathetic or just plain dumb. Thank you for being a shining example of someone who can see the merits of the in-between and can actually explain them intelligently.

  55. Basically agree, but I want to point out that “government should be as big as it needs to be and no more” is pretty much a tautology. I’m not sure there is anybody who’s political platform is, “Well, such and such government program really isn’t needed, but hell, let’s fund it anyway just for fun!” In practice, that may be what happens, but I don’t think anybody believes that is what they are doing.

  56. Mike

    “I wouldn’t say Olbermann is as crazy as Beck.”

    I’ll say it.

  57. @39 Lukester – I’d say that’s about right.

    @40 (and 41) Steve Huntwork: The individual choices of polluters affect everyone, so freedom of choice does not apply here. This goes back to the fist and nose analogy.

    When a company’s actions affect the environment in a negative way, they should have to pay to mitigate that damage. And that means the people that use the product that the company produces will have to pay extra. This is hardly infringing on anyone’s personal rights. It leaves personal choice completely intact.

    (There seems to be a large contingent in the US who think that paying more in taxes or paying a higher cost to a merchant to offset their taxes somehow infringes on their personal liberty. The connection has yet to be made between the two.)

  58. Lucide

    Thinking hard is depressing. You see plenty of bad things and humans are more prone to lingering in negative thoughts than positive and that makes them even more depressed. I know because I’m usually depressed when I think hard. I can and often do. But nowadays “I just don’t care anymore” would sum up my idiotic displays and silly laughter and temporarily banish my utter misery at being quite helpless at the moment to change many things.

    I no longer explain myself to people when I want them to do things, but rather simply say, “Do this, but not that” because they either do not wish to hear, have no interest in listening or even keeping my explanation in mind and refute only to learn my reasons for telling them not to later on. It makes life tiring, exasperating and downright frustrating, with little to nothing to gain.

  59. Thespis

    This essay is very much the way I was raised- and why extremists on either end of the teeter-totter make my stomach hurt. And I work with a lot of ‘em.
    May I print this essay out and frame it so that every time I want to pull my hair out I can go home and see it and be reminded there is still some measure of reason and civility left?

  60. JohnW

    I don’t think it’s so much a matter of a lack of critical thought as it is a difference of priorities. Some people value economic freedom more than the strict environmental regulations. Some people value the right to chose an abortion, others believe a fetus is alive and value that life. Some people value a helping hand from the government, others believe in self determination. There’s no real critical thinking exercise that’s going to get you past those differences, unless you assume that the priorities of everyone who disagrees with you are screwed up.

    Which I would say is a lack of critical thought in its own right!

  61. Steve Huntwork

    “I have no problem with paying taxes, I just want to be assured that the money is wisely administered and distributed to the best effect.”

    I have been paying Federal, State and Local taxes all my life, so that basic items like water, sewer and roads were maintained for the common good of all the citizens.

    Last year, the city decided to improve the water, sewer and road in front of my property.

    All the tax money that I have paid for years for this exact same reason no longer counted.

    They decided that this was a “Special Assessment” and I was forced to personally pay for 1/4 of the cost of the water, sewer and road construction.

    Of course, my personal property values decreased by $10,000 because of the housing market, and the legal definition of a “Special Assessment” did not apply, but who can argue with the government? They still forced me to pay the city $9,300 for these improvements.

    Freedom of choice…

  62. DrFlimmer

    I think that people have the right to defend themselves, their family, their property… and that’s why they have the right to bear arms. But I also know that many people aren’t wise enough and emotionally stable enough to own a gun, and that’s why I don’t think everyone has the right to bear every arm.

    With all due respect, I disagree. If there were no arms allowed, mostly no one would have one, and they would not be necessary.

    This may be a hypothetical thought, but I think no arm is the better option!

    For most of the other aspects, I second them.
    However, as a side note as a non-American, I think that most Americans actually have no idea what “left, commie, and socialist” actually means when it comes to political ideas.

  63. Steve Huntwork

    In Europe, a private person can only do what the Government has decided what is legal.

    In America, a private person can do anything that they want, unless it harms another person.

    “Cowboy Mentality”

  64. half of the people in the United States have below average intelligence

    Not necessarily true, it depends on the distribution. Imagine four people, with IQ’s 100, 85, 25, and 75. Average would be 71.25, and only one of the four is below average.

    I suspect you mean “median”.

  65. Melissa

    Bravo! Let us bolster the future by teaching critical thinking and compassion together they arm and invite.

  66. Mike

    “If there were no arms allowed, mostly no one would have one”

    Not true, of course.

  67. QuietDesperation

    that’s why I don’t think everyone has the right to bear every arm

    You can have my 40 terawatt death ray when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  68. Steve Huntwork

    Carey:

    “@40 (and 41) Steve Huntwork: The individual choices of polluters affect everyone, so freedom of choice does not apply here. This goes back to the fist and nose analogy”

    I fully agree with you. ABSOLUTLY!

    My problem, is when you have already hit me in the nose.

    Now, it is my time to get some revenge.

  69. Towelie

    It’s nice to see that there are others out there that realize people’s political beliefs can’t be boiled down to black or white, red or blue, us or them, liberal or conservative, etc. It’s sad that we have dumbed things down so much that the vast majority of the public thinks they can understand all of your beliefs just by hearing you say one word.

    The media has truly let us down when it comes to this extremism. Two-sided “debates” inevitably become just two people with opposite views yelling at each other with no supporting facts. Instead of truly in-depth stories that reveal the subtleties and nuances of all of our political debates, we get simplified 45 second blurbs. The fractured nature of our current media only ensures we keep “yelling at the other guy” instead of actually sitting down and trying to think out solutions to problems that the majority will agree with. Very sad, because I feel as if there is no easy way out of this….

    I think the “easiest” way to promote a more moderate political landscape is to introduce “automatic runoff elections” instead of our current primary/general election system. Our current system appeals to extreme viewpoints and can result in the election of candidates that the vast majority would not support if given the choice between all of the candidates from the primary. An “automatic runoff” basically gives you “points” instead of one vote. There is no primary. Say there are five people on the ballot, you can then assign your points in any way you choose. The person with the most points overall wins. This method ensures that the person the majority of the voters approve of gets elected (even if they weren’t the first choice of voters when broken down by political party) and promotes moderate views rather than extreme views to appeal to the base voters. I’ve heard Ireland uses this for their presidential elections…I fear our public would be too stupid to figure it out…

  70. My objections take two general forms: a criticism of your unrealistically benevolent view of those in power, and a criticism of your willingness to force cooperation from those who disagree with you. Examples follow.

    I know our economy should have the freedom it needs to grow. But I also know it needs to be regulated because people are greedy, and people with nearly unlimited power and resources will sometimes spectacularly abuse them to the detriment of the country and the planet.

    I agree with the first part. But how do you propose to keep unlimited power and resources from the regulators?

    I loathe the idea of killing, but I know that there are bad guys out there, and we need a strong military to keep them at bay.

    Do “we” also need to forcefully extort the funding from pacifists and people who happen to prefer not killing “bad guys” of the moment?

  71. ToneDeF

    @49. DrFlimmer:

    In the US, the right to bear arms isn’t just to protect oneself from criminals, it was and remains a last resort to protect oneself from despots. The thoughts that our founding father’s had in this repect wasn’t just abstract. They had lived through it in the revolutionary war; if individuals hadn’t been armed they would not have been able to call up a very effective militia, and we’d all still be speaking “English” in the states :) .

    This right, like all rights, comes with a responsibility and those who do not meet thier responsibilities can and do loose their rights.

  72. Robert Arrington

    Well done, Phil.

    A note to those who encourage Dr. Plait to even bemusedly contemplate the idea of running for public office; several posts here have pointed out that the irrational behavior of the electorate is such that demonstrated rationality like his would garner few votes indeed. It is sad but true that those with a preference for observable reality are greatly outnumbered by those whose reality is conjured by imagination; fueled by fear, superstition, self-interest, and an unrelenting refusal to examine assumptions against available data.

    @31 Mike My take on that phrase from 27 PeteC’s astute observations on tribalism was a bit different than I perceived yours to be. I did not infer that he was saying that being a fiscal conservative and social liberal was impossible but that in the mental construction of the “tribe” that particular dichotomy is a mandatory if erroneous belief that must be held in order to consider yourself a member of that tribe.

  73. Stan9FOS

    Beautiful phrase, “Low Resolution Ideas.” And the two illustrations are a reminder that, not too many years ago, the top image was close to the best image we had of most of the universe.

  74. It sounds like you want to live in a perfect world, and I don’t mean unattainably perfect– I mean the kind of perfection we can actually work towards and someday achieve, once everyone gains an adequate amount of ability to reason. I believe you are helping society move in this direction, so please keep up the excellent work!

  75. Mike

    @57 Robert – I think you’re right about what he was saying, but I think he’s got it backwards. I think (maybe I’m wrong) he’s saying the tribe imposes that kind of thinking to keep members in the fold. But to use his example:

    “If you don’t like deficit spending, or are worried that social programs may be doing little good for the cost, or you dislike the principles of large government, then of course you believe the Earth is only six thousand years old, global warming is a huge secret world-wide conspiracy to hurt those poor, struggling oil company executives, that the Protestant version of the Christian bible is literally true except for the bits you don’t agree with and you hate gays.”

    That is much more the kind of thing you hear being said not by the right about itself, but by the left to marginalize the right. And, of course, the right talks about the left in this type of gross caricature too.

  76. Cain

    Nothing to add here Phil; I just wanted you to know, I thought our metaphor at the end was beautiful.

  77. Great post Phil. Were that more of the audible voices coming out of our talk-boxes speaking in such rational tones.

    It would be very interesting to know what the American “founding fathers” would say if they could see how our modern-day political debates run. Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Madison…Paine and Franklin….they have become marble figureheads, but for whose side? Certainly not theirs, it seems.

    When did ignorance, spin and superstition override reason and thought in our country?

  78. Donovan

    “4. Mike Says:
    July 9th, 2010 at 8:02 am
    @Donovan:
    So, in the course of agreeing with this: “But I think many loud voices right now belong to hateful, mean, bigoted, small-minded hypocrites who will say anything to get themselves noticed or to push their agenda.”
    You post this: “I think the politics in this country have been drug so far to the right that the idea “maybe we shouldn’t nuke Europe” is seen as sickeningly liberal and pacifist, and only an unpatriotic person could think such a thing.”
    Perhaps you’re part of the problem?”

    Indeed, perhaps I am. I never refuse such a possibility. After careful consideration, though, I stand by my claim and what I have said. Perhaps you think I am way off the mark and being mean, bigoted, or small-minded in my summation? Well, I strongly disagree with you. There were many things I could have said about people, but I did not. In fact, I would wager you know quite well that I am not being loud mouthed or unfair, as demonstrated by your blatant quote mining of my post, leaving out the part of my post that I defined as “accurate,” which does imply that I admit the part you quoted was inaccurate (an exaggeration of the situation, if that help clarify things for you). Perhaps, just perhaps, YOU are part of the problem, and should stop quote mining?

  79. ToneDeF

    @62 J.Major: “It would be very interesting to know what the american founding fathers would say if they could see how our modern-day political debates run.”

    They might say, this is boring, give us an old-fashioned Burr-Hamilton Duel to the death. (Burr was at the time Jefferson’s sitting Vice President).

    I believe tense political debates have been a part of this country since inception, and reason doesn’t always win out in the short run (but hopefully in the long run). The difference now may be the type of involment with the evolution of the blogs, 24-hour news, etc.

  80. viggen

    The world I see is not black and white. No amount of shouting, no amount of name-calling, no amount of insults, no amount of spin, lies, distortion, sniping, negativity, or propaganda will change that.

    While I understand what you’re saying here, I would go further and suggest that nobody sees the world as it actually is. Part of the reason scientific method exists is to remove the fickle nature of human perception from the models by which we can describe our world and we all –individuals every one of us– live our daily lives relying on that fickle perceptual capacity. Part of the reason the behavior you’re railing against exists is because such people have no feel for their own fallibility and no understanding that people with different ideas might have a useful insight.

  81. Robert

    @60 Mike, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I want a fiscally conservative candidate I can vote for without also voting for a social agenda (whether I agree with it or not). Unfortunately, a two-party system makes that nearly impossible. I’m not saying I’d prefer a parliamentary system–they have their own problems–but it would be really nice if we could separate the functions of government enough that we don’t have to make such awful trade-offs every election. I mean, do I really have to chose between reckless spending and creationism in science classes? :( The best answer I can think of is to keep as much power local as possible. So long as we keep giving the federal government the power to enforce social agendas, we will keep having candidates that pander to those agendas. At least with local candidates we have some hope of controlling them.

  82. @64. It’s true…since we do (for now) have the right to bear arms, perhaps all of the long-winded partisan pundit debating and camera posturing can be settled via pistol on some little island somewhere. Doesn’t have to be in Jersey, but then again….why not? ;)

    Maybe it would make people think first before they opened their mouths. Even if just for a minute.

  83. Utakata

    Wonderfully written…though I’m not sure I agree with everything. Such as in the right to bare, we should choose not to.

    But that being said, I think it should be mentioned the Left – Right scale is an oudated narrow-minded inaccurate scale to gage ones’ political beliefs and values. There is a better scale that works on a x/y axis…I’m not sure what it’s called for the life of me, but a very politically astute friend showed it to me, and I have seen other examples of this since. It sorta compares you social beliefs to you economic views. Where as some having high regards to civil liberties but is an economic “pull yourself up by your boostraps” conservative, is a libertarian by definition on this scale. Where as some who regards the state before civil liberties but believes in income reditribution is a communist by definition on this scale. And for me…where I am strongly civil libertarian, but also believe in liberal income redistrubution, I am an anarcho syndicalist (social anarchist for the syllabley-challanged) by definition on this scale. And so forth. And not to mention all points in between. /whew

    I suspect BA, your close to where I am…but much more moderately to the center on that scale than me. Either way though, keep shining the light (and point to more galaxies and rainbows) in our demon haunted age. :)

  84. Mike

    @63 Donovan – I thought in the spirit of Phil’s post calling for people to be more thoughtful the hyperbole was not constructive. Just my opinion.

  85. ccpetersen

    If you want to get really depressed about the idiocy of the masses, go read the comments on any CNN story. Or on Fox, or any news site, really. (Although I can’t bring myself to think of Fox as purveying “news”… more like propaganda).

    People just pop off the most convoluted tripe as one-liners just to make themselves and their genitalia look bigger. There’s no clear thought, no thoughtful discourse, just ugly tripe. There was a story on a few weeks back about a young girl being kidnapped and more than one commenter posted that she was a “ho” for being kidnapped. It wasn’t even funny… just ugly.

  86. Mike

    @66 Robert – “I mean, do I really have to chose between reckless spending and creationism in science classes?”

    Sucks, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we’ve gone so far down that road (government promulgation of social agendas) I despair about ever getting back.

  87. Eddie

    Excellent post, Phil. Well done.

  88. jcm

    Off topic: What do you thing about this?

    <td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Marilynne Robinson
    The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
    http://www.thedailyshow.com
    Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party
  89. rtollert

    Phil, I want your manbabies, but I’d like to make a fairly harsh point. I’ll need to lean on Kuhn fairly heavily though.

    You’re making a clever but rather poor science analogy, which, far from being a nitpick, may be compromising your whole argument. Your low-res image is simply downsampled in resolution and bit depth. What if we’re not even dealing with pixels? What if the image is instead, uh, line or vector art, eg, http://img687.imageshack.us/img687/7528/vectorized.png (admittedly a rather poor attempt at vectorization heh)? Such an alternative representation of a galaxy does not *have* to be that crude. But converting from one representation to another is, fundamentally, a much more complex operation than resizing or adjusting bit depth. Especially if one is comparing the notion of resolution.

    I perceive the larger argument you are trying to make here is: you are being unfairly misrepresented in your beliefs by opponents who have no idea what your beliefs actually are, that is, they do not understand the nuance of your beliefs; these opponents have a very Manichean worldview about you, and about the world in general; this thinking is manifested in the mass media by a similar lack of nuance and thought in cultural and political debate; people would make better decisions (and hold more rational beliefs) if they paid more attention and thought to the details and nuance of the topics at hand.

    What my nitpick about astronomic imagery means, in the context of your larger argument, is this: while there *is* a profound lack of subtlety in public debate, to think of that as the primary problem is to not admit the possibility of conflicting paradigms. I think that’s a big deal. While “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” does not exactly make great political science material, I think there are several important observations to draw on. Consider how a conservative’s and a liberal’s belief systems differ to the point where they have trouble communicating meaningfully, compared to how the fundamental structures of competing paradigms are incommensurate. Or consider how, in politics just as in science, each side is able to explain all evidence in terms of its own worldview (and when such explanations are considered lacking, the political system/scientific hypothesis dies).

    Obviously that sort of model breaks down when blindingly clear evidence is simply ignored or willfully misrepresented, such as what goes on in creationism/evolution debates, crackpot science theories, etc. But when I filter out the crank factor, I think that sort of model describes debates over gun rights, government regulation and scope, climate change, etc, vastly more meaningfully than a mere focus on nuance, which captures only a small (and perhaps the most insignificant) subset of the “real” debate. Believe it or not, in at least a *few* of those debates, there are equally smart people on both sides, looking at the evidence in equally detailed ways, and yet come to vastly different conclusions.

    Indeed, I am tempted to say that by focusing so much on simplification, you are, ironically, making a gross simplification. Even when it comes to describing your personal beliefs. Hardly anybody *likes* to pay taxes (and those that say they do are arguing so in a completely nonpartisan way). *Nobody* thinks the government should be any bigger than what is necessary for do what it should be doing – real, big-S Socialism being dead in virtually all countries, and remaining conservative/liberal policy differences being about what the government is actually good at doing. And when a foreign threat is identified, the US at least has proven fairly adept at engorging the armed forces with vast amounts of money and manpower, regardless of who’s in charge. With few exceptions, those statements could be uttered with honesty by most Democrats and Republicans.

    Sorry to rag, but that’s not nuance – that’s vapidity! But I think such a description of your beliefs is natural and expected, if you believe that your opponents simply do not understand your beliefs at an adequate level of detail. Indeed, most of the comments here so far opposing your political beliefs are missing the point, but to a small degree, I think their mere existence is a counterexample to the whole nuance-is-the-problem argument.

    There are situations where black-and-white thinking naturally becomes more nuanced, and vice versa. Focusing on increasing thought and nuance in debate is addressing the symptom, not the root problem. I believe the root problem is that such discussions naturally lead to Manichean thinking, partly because too many people are sufficiently insecure in their beliefs to become offended when they are questioned, and partly because engaging in such debates solely at the level of hard evidence merely lets each side construct ever-more-durable logical artifices justifying such evidence, widening the gap in thinking even further, while doing little to tear such walls down.

    I’d like to think that the solution is twofold:
    a) thinking and communicating meaningfully in multiple worldviews at once, so that one can believe in one system but debate meaningfully in another;
    b) keep hateful emotions out of conversations to avoid irrational radicalization of beliefs.

    Unfortunately, to a certain degree, that’s just a rehash of “people should think harder!”. But that’s the best I can come up with ATM.

  90. CE

    M…m…mmaybe the answer is in the middle?

    Or maybe your examples are all either vague or ignorant?

    I know our economy should have the freedom it needs to grow. But I also know it needs to be regulated because people are greedy, and people with nearly unlimited power and resources will sometimes spectacularly abuse them to the detriment of the country and the planet.

    Is growth always good? A rising tide does not necessarily lift all ships. Even in years of growth, income disparities have continued to increase. Expanding our access to markets and resources often occurs through force and to the detriment of developing nations. Also, capitalist “miracles,” Japan and S. Korea, were able to rise to prominence in large part due to government intervention (protectionism and guidance of industrial development).

    I loathe the idea of killing, but I know that there are bad guys out there, and we need a strong military to keep them at bay.

    Oh yes, we need a strong military to combat the strong militaries of all those belligerent nations like… oh wait, no other nation has a military remotely as strong as ours. Not only do we spend far and away the most money on our military, but most of the other (relatively) big spenders are our allies. Furthermore, mutually assured destruction (nuclear threat) ensures that no nation is likely to ever openly combat us.

    The bulk of our military forces are ill-equipped to combat clandestine/guerilla units. They are rather useful for occupying sovereign nations and terrorizing their populaces, but, shockingly, this increases resentment of the U.S. and radicalizes them against us. If looking at our military history since WWII, you think that a strong military exists for our benefit, you are hopelessly naive.

    I hate paying taxes. But I love our highway system, clean water, and space exploration.

    Anger towards misuse of tax money is justified. Hating taxes is childish.

    @66, 71 Socially liberal, fiscal conservatives are children. The idea that Democrats spend more reckless than Republicans is laugable.

  91. Kevin

    [quote]28. Carey Says:
    I would agree that both parties are dangerously beholden to corporate interests and wealthy donors, but to say that both are equally participating in the polarizing of the country is absolute hogwash. Almost all of that can be laid solely at the feet of the right.
    Rule of thumb – the political party that alienates entire groups of people in this country because of their skin color, country of origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation, is the party that is divisive.[quote]

    Sorry Carey, have to disagree with you here. You can be against affirmative action and not be a racist; you can be for border control and stricter enforcement of existing federal immigration laws without being xenophobic; you can oppose legalized abortion without being anti-women; you can believe homosexuality is immoral without being intolerant.**

    I mention that, because if you believe any of those things, the left will call you racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and intolerant. Almost everybody is terrified of being labelled any of those things. Yet, ironically, the left accuses the right of playing to the politics of fear.

    Don’t take this as a defense of the far right, but rather as my recognition that people who believe many of the same “liberal” things I do are as guilty of narrow-minded, hate-filled stereotyping as our opponents on the starboard side of the aisle.

    **Please do not confuse tolerance with acceptance in this usage.

  92. Jeffersonian

    As far as I can tell, it’s rare to find somebody holding the same political positions , as I do with Phil. But one thing I’ve learned in the last year is that most people hold liberal ideas (even self-labelled conservatives) but the media, in it’ search for “equal voices” looks for rightwing lunatics and then gives them equal voice, making it look like they have larger numbers than they really do (plus, see Matt@17). Also, people routinely vote against their own self-interests.

    Just look at the tea-party-ers who, in 2004 said “who cares about the deficit, the war is worth it cuz Bush/Cheney are great men who have our interests in mind and wouldn’t lie” and are now saying “hey, this deficit is baddd and it’s not our fault, therefore Obama wants the workers to control the means of production!”. Those people fail at math and logic.

    As for gun control, sounds like we might disagree. Because “arms” include nuclear devices, it’s clear that “bearing arms” meant forming a militia against the Brits.

    The US has this weird problem where it refuses to look at countries with better medical systems and gun control laws (and marriage contracts, drug laws, etc) and learn from them. It’s so freaking xenophobic and all the anti-progression stems from this antiquated refusal to ignore religion.

  93. I agree with a lot of what you said (but we have chatted enough that is not a surprise!) I tend to get pigeonholed as liberal which I would agree with on the hot button social issues but on economic issues I am more mixed. I describe myself as a philosophically liberal engineer…I tend liberal, but I am not wedded to a particular party or politician. In the end, the engineer refers to knowing that there is no perfect solution and there are always tradeoffs and I am open to the best solution as long as you back it up well (which is sorely lacking in political speeches).

    I don’t know if I would say I hate paying taxes, although I do feel better when I see them being well spent and not so hot when I see them being wasted…and yes, I know that well spent vs wasted can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder (although most people could agree on the infamous $600 hammer not being money well spent!)

    I have a lot of agreement about the size and scope of government. I want the government to be able to act when needed but also know when to back off.

    I think one thing you missed that I would add is that I am for government based on evidence, not faith and religion. I know you have hit that point in the past (you blog entry on our laws being based on the Ten Commandments) so I am kind of surprised that didn’t make the cut here.

    I also find that there are certain offices I am more likely to vote for a Republican than others. We have a Republican Mayor here. He is not hard right socially, I thought we were getting a decent level of local services at a reasonable local tax rate, so I voted for his reelection (I didn’t live here when he was elected the first time). I don’t always agree with him, but he hasn’t done anything that made me do a major facepalm either. Seems that local politicians who aren’t looking for higher office can be quite reasonable (its the ladder climbers you have to watch out for!)

  94. “I am in many ways an individual libertarian (I think people should have far more personal freedom than they do in this country), a social liberal (I think one of the many roles of government is to help those who cannot help themselves…)”

    As long as you recognize that (a) personal freedom, and (b) a government that helps those who cannot help themselves, are competing concepts, and there must be a balance between the two, then I suppose I agree with you. I too consider myself an independent libertarian.

    I also believe that the lack of critical thinking among the American public, with respect to social, political, and economic issues, is in many ways far more dangerous than the lack of critical thinking regarding pseudoscience and “woo.” What to be done about it, though? There is no group or movement addressing the socio-political-economic problem, as the skeptical movement is addressing pseudoscience.

  95. QuietDesperation

    Do “we” also need to forcefully extort the funding from pacifists and people who happen to prefer not killing “bad guys” of the moment?

    I always wanted to have check boxes on the annual tax forms that would allow taxpayers to determine what their taxes get spent on (or not spent on). I have no idea what the results would be, but I’d be very interested to see them.

  96. Kevin

    44. Carey Says:
    [quote]
    (There seems to be a large contingent in the US who think that paying more in taxes or paying a higher cost to a merchant to offset their taxes somehow infringes on their personal liberty. The connection has yet to be made between the two.)[quote]

    Funny, true story. I learned the connection between freedom and money from, ironically, two Russian (nee Soviet) exchange students while I was in high school in the early 1980s. At a discussion in social studies class, a particularly anti-communist student in class was railing against communism by pointing out that Soviet citizens were not free to travel at will throughout the world.

    As a quick aside, our high school served low socio-economic level students (including me). One of the Russian students asked, “can you afford to fly to Paris?” The answer, of course, was no. To which the Russian student replied, “Than you’re not free to travel to Paris either.”

    Freedom, absent the resources to take advantage of it (e.g. time, health and, yes, disposable income), is only theoretical, even in the most “free” of societies.

  97. (a) personal freedom, and (b) a government that helps those who cannot help themselves, are competing concepts

    How?

  98. Personal freedom: the right to not have my property or hard-earned wealth confiscated (and other freedoms not as relevant to this discussion).

    A government that helps those who cannot help themselves must do so by forcible taxation. Hence my personal freedom must by necessity be infringed upon in order for the government to help those who cannot help themselves.

    And I am fine with that, within reasonable limits. I would prefer it be done at the local government level rather than federal, though, because it would be far more efficient.

  99. So you have a right not to pay taxes? That’s (part of) how you define personal freedom? The price of living in civilization is taxes (as it was more eloquently put above). Do you consider civilization a burden?

    A government provides all of its services through “forcible” taxation (is there any other kind?), whether it involves helping people who cannot help themselves or not. What specifically is it about helping people that deserves this grudging forbearance vs. providing free education, maintaining roads, or putting out fires?

    I would prefer it be done at the local government level rather than federal, though, because it would be far more efficient.

    A thousand little bureaucracies are more efficient than one big one?

  100. Jamie

    “A thousand little bureaucracies are more efficient than one big one?”
    Yes. To extropalte, this is why we will never have a planetary government (that isn’t put in place by militaristic means anyway).

  101. I have the right to my property, wealth, and life. That I must also pay taxes is necessary in order to have government. Government exists to protect our rights, and by necessity we must give up a bit of our wealth to pay for it. Yes, I do consider it a burden, but a necessary one.

    YES, a thousand little bureaucracies are far more efficient than a big one. Local governments can tailor aid programs to the needs of their individual communities far better than a one-size-fits-all federal program. Local programs are easier to change (and terminate, if necessary) than federal ones, too.

    I think we are way off topic at this point. You can have the last word; I’m done.

  102. Brian Too

    My thoughts, as someone who was once politically active and became disenchanted. The need to win in politics is a major failing of current discourse. Every event, every exchange, you must be wrong and I must be right! Everything you say is wrong and therefore I will take the opposite position. This leads a lot of otherwise reasonable people, down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.

    Here’s what disappoints me about the Right. They say they like small government. OK, that’s fair, although I suspect that in modern society this sounds better in principle than it is in reality. However they claim that government is inefficient and arbitrary (often true) and that the private sector is great (have they ever worked in the private sector??).

    Now if the private sector makes a mistake the Right expects them to correct it (bad employee, bad decision, whatever, just fix it). When the public sector makes a mistake, the Right does not ask for correction, they proclaim this a proof positive that government is bad and wrong. Therefore government must be strangled and squeezed. The answer is elimination, not correction.

    Here’s what disappoints me about the Left. When government makes a mistake, they so often dig in their heels and claim that process was followed, therefore by definition that was the correct answer. Even when the answer is prima facie unacceptable! It’s a setup where process matters more than results.

    Here’s what disappoints me about the citizens. Everyone claims they want what is “fair” or “just” or “right”. The problem is those are relative concepts and you cannot produce a universal definition of such things. People do wonderfully dumb things all the time and hardly ever admit that a bad outcome was completely, unequivocally, no excuses, their responsibility, their fault.

    What is the purpose of government? Is it to defend the borders? Is it to create opportunities for economic development? It is to protect the weak? Is it to attempt to create a unified voice for the people? Or is it the only available counterbalance to corporate power? Is it simply there to define a “nation” and thus merely displaces anarchy and productively channel those will will attempt, regardless of circumstances, to lead (or worse)?

    There is no universally accepted definition of government. Ask 100 people and I suspect you’ll get at least 20 different answers.

    Without agreement on what government is, and what it’s goals should be, I fear that government will always disappoint the majority. Regardless of who sits on the proverbial throne.

  103. Phil, you want people to THINK?

    Commie.

  104. Brian Too

    Also Phil, while I love the tone and the message, isn’t the problem today not about nuance, but about meaning?

    I’d suggest that the forces of darkness are not about a low-rez view of the world. They don’t see the first image of a galaxy and claim that it’s exactly like every other galaxy. They don’t even claim that every galaxy that looks the same, is in fact the same galaxy. That perhaps there is only 1 galaxy.

    No, the problem is, they look at either picture, and claim that both are an image of Jesus. They look at something and claim that it’s something other than what it is. Even in the face of ample proof to the contrary.

    It’s the ability to misrepresent reality, have thousands stand up and cheer that act, and still claim integrity as a human being that is disturbing.

  105. John

    Phil, you are a smart man.

  106. David D.

    @Jeffersonian #79–
    “Just look at the tea-party-ers who, in 2004 said . . . “

    The Tea Party did not exist in 2004. How “nuanced” of you to lump everyone on the right side of the aisle together like that. I’m sorry–who fails at math and logic?

    @Brian Too–
    “It’s the ability to misrepresent reality, have thousands stand up and cheer that act, and still claim integrity as a human being that is disturbing.”
    Aren’t you describing politicians in general?

  107. Timmy

    I have no problem with gun control,,,,,,,,,I use both hands.

  108. Messier Tidy Upper

    This is the best political post I’ve ever seen from you BA. :-)

    Love the way you see things as shown above. The “galactic” perspective – beautiful. With that analogy they can’t even say its not an astronomy post as well! ;-)

    I think the political hyperpartisanship – hyper-polarisation and hyper-oversimplification of politics is a major political problem in itself and leads to an ever shriller less saner and more divided and nasty political atmosphere.

    Socrates had it right when he (apparently) called for :

    “Moderation in all things – including moderation.” ;-)

    I’ve also recently learnt form conversations on this very blog that the US political system works very differently from how I’d thought before that it did & the US President has a lot less power than I’d previously assumed. Things are much more complicated and less simple than they appear. Frankly, I’m still baffled that your system of govt works at all but still itclearly does .. ;-)

    I’m still learning and rethinking and I guess that’s a good thing. :-)

    ************
    PS. Haven’t yet read the comments here -just my initial response.

  109. Messier Tidy Upper

    23. Ken B Says:

    I see people that probably have no idea there are only 8 planets in our solar system. Let alone the 400+ that are exoplanets.
    Well, I’m going to sidestep that debate, but how many of them know that the Earth is a “planet”, or that the Sun is a “star”?

    For starters, I’d say there are a *lot* more than just 8 planets – its a matter of opinion whether dwarf planets are planets too and a case can certainly be made that the IAU got that wrong. Don’t get me started on that topic! ;-)

    Secondly, surely even the most or majority anyhow know those last two facts – surely they aren’t quite that ignorant! I find that hard to believe.

    “What’s the brightest star in the sky?” “What’s the closest star?”

    The Sun in both cases! ;-)

    Or is it? This is where a simple question can have a lot of different answers depending on a number of ways of looking at the question.

    Are we talking stars other than the Sun or including our daytime star?

    Are we talking the stars as we see them or stars as they really are?

    Sirius *seems* to be the “brightest star” in our sky – apparent magnitude – because it is nearby but is actually far from the very brightest as we have a number of contenders like Eta Carinae, the Pistol Star, the Peony nebula Star, HD 93129A, Cygnus OB2 # 12, etc .. that are possibly the brightest known – in real, intrinsic, Absolute Magnitude terms – at least in our Galaxy!

    Are we talking of “brightness” only in visual wavelengths or in “bolometric” terms that include its total radiation output?

    HD93129 A is apparently visually brightest according to stellar expert James Kaler (back in a 1991 article) but Cyg OB2 # 12 is brighter bolometrically accoridng to the same article ( “The Brightest Stars 1991) – or was that the other way around? Also the sky looks different with different brighter stars at different wavelengths – some stars are only visible in these wavelengths yet dominate the sky in them! Cygnus X1 for ex.)

    Are we talking only about the stars that exist now or are we counting stars through all time?

    The very first generation of stars ever to form – Population III stars – were very different fromthe modern stars and according to theory were orders of a magnitude more massive and hyper-luminous than any known today. These stars then changed the cosmos itself (esp. in regard to “metallicity”) in a way that, apparently, makes it impossible for stars like them to form again.

    Then too could we be wrong about the “closest” star question’s answer (Proxima Centauri – excl. our Sun!) and find a very dim star even closer as the WISE observatory is currently seraching for?

    I love the way that supposedly simple question unravels into so many possibilities based on different ways of defining and answering it. Things are much more complicated – and interesting than they seem. :-)

    *******************

    PS. BA I will note that for all your criticism of other’s seeing things just in low-resolution B& W I do get the impression that you feel Obama can do no wrong. This sort of post here would be a lot more credible if you can point to other posts of yours where Obama cops some harsh criticism when it is deserved.

    I personally feel President Obama’s decision to cancel the Ares-Constellation program just when it was *finally* turning from blueprints and plans into a tangible, physically concrete fly-able system was a huge mistake & a betrayal of the space exploration lobby and should have been strongly opposed by supporters of human space exploration and development.

    Ares may not have been perfect – but don’t forget that Hubble and Apollo had major and severe early problems too and became NASA’s greatest successes. Ares could have (stuill mightbe?) the same tyupe of story. I think scrapping that was wrong and has stalled space exploration and vague talk of “Going to Mars instead of returning to the Moon” just isn’t good enough to mollify me. I hope Im wrong but I *do* think Obama has greatly harmed and stalled the US human space program. :-(

  110. Thameron

    We stand in a field of sacred cows grazing in a field where the flowers of unreason grow profusely. For someone who purports to found his thinking on evidence there is a glaring hole in your words. Right there in the title in fact. Where Doctor is the evidence that the world or the universe is beautiful? How can you possibly support that assertion with anything other than the statement ‘because I think so’? The universe isn’t beautiful or ugly it just is. It isn’t awesomely complex it is just complex. The awe is completely subjective it is not an inherent characteristic of our universe. For some the universe is a hideous place not a beautiful one.

    The additional irony is the picture you use of that galaxy to illustrate how the universe really is. Yeah that’s the way the world really is if your eye is four feet across and you can stare unblinking at a galaxy for days and then have your brain false-color it in. Otherwise it looks kind of like a glowing smudge.

    The argument from beauty is equivalent to the argument from authority and will remain so no matter how many times it gets used.

  111. Utakata

    Well…Thinker @ 78, you poop in our sewers…you get to pay up like everyone else. Unless you can prove you use an outhouse in your backyard. Just saying…

  112. Robert Arrington

    @ 60 Mike. O.K., I understand your point and it’s well taken. As many are alluding to in their posts we humans-and this seems unfortunately prevalent in this country- seem to have an inclination toward binary thinking. We make an effort to categorize things into zero-sum games. If one side wins, the other side must be negated-with a corresponding cognitive elimination of any possible nuancing, which is the low-resolution perspective Phil speaks of.

    Politically, I tend to be non-ideological and pragmatic, actually, anti-ideological would be a more accurate description since, as you mentioned, both sides of the currently accepted left-to-right political spectrum commit the identical cognitive, and affective errors. The inability or, more likely, refusal to test assumptions against observable, testable data knows no bounds ideologically because the basis of an ideology, I believe, is itself the acceptance of a set of assertions as being factual with the idea of questioning them being unacceptable.

    This, unfortunately, makes it difficult for me to “buy into” optimistic forecasts for the future because I do not think it possible for the majority of people to consciously let go of these assumptions. The ability to do so, I believe, is variable and may possibly be randomly distributed throughout the human population. Factors relating to acculturation, parental/close-kinship/peer group interactions, and education seem to be likely means to enhance this ability to whatever extent it may exist in each individual but the ones who are “in charge” of such social structural elements are themselves beset with their own strengths and weaknesses in this area.

  113. Here’s how they see things:

    You forgot to add “Click to ensmallenate”.

  114. Terry

    Agree with original article. As a high school teacher, I feel that my students and the politicians and public figures I see speaking or read about in the news have a lot in common. I especially agree with the following passage: “The world I see is not black and white. No amount of shouting, no amount of name-calling, no amount of insults, no amount of spin, lies, distortion, sniping, negativity, or propaganda will change that.” Politicians and cyber bullies have so much in common!

  115. agree with you on most part and especially the call to teach people to THINK and use their thinking critical faculties, to make a decision one by one and not to subscribe to just any isms.

    but i think there is far you can still go. i do disagree with your assumption that people are naturally “greedy” or there are “bad guys” out there. Yes greed is a common phenomena in our culture today, but i believe greed is just that. a cultural phenomena, an experience that reinforces the hoarding mentality the current economic structure demands. similarly the concept of bad guys is just another cultural phenomena. there is a motivation in our current socio-economic world for people to fight for resources, hence the bad guys who is out there to kill you and take your things..

    I think we have to take the planet as a whole. this divisive :us against them’ mentality might have served well in our past evolutionary stages..but its time we change the way we see things. this is one planet and this is one organism. we have to consider all humans on earth and all the resources on earth. GOVT you will find utterly useless if dig deep in to root causes of our problems. we do not need governing bodies, an elected person making all the decisions which has no relevence to human progress or human values, what we need is an intelligent system (based on science and its standards, methods) to study earths resources and manage the resources by maintaining a well carrying capacity of the earth. its pure mathematics and applied technology with correct motivation to do so.

    Resources should be available to everyone (assuming we have enough resources on planet) for basic needs. food, clothing, shelter. its hard to imagine (if we maintain a carrying capacity) that we run out of resources in a near future. and if we consider the results of nano-technology the possibilities are endless and there is no reason why we can not provide everyone on earth. If we run out, im sure humans could venture out to other planets if our goal is survival.

    I do not subscribe to any ism myself and i do not think this is any: but what im getting at is: a resource based economy proposed by Jacque fresco. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Fresco#Resource_Based_Economy

    I think either we come to the realization that the current trend of exploiting earth for profit and no concern for human and earth will eventually prove fatal to our survival. I fear our civilization could die out, if the current economic system and politics are allowed to play and current religious doctrines allowed to spread. May be Carl Sagan was right; technical civilization rise and destroy themselves quickly.
    We humans with our civilization of modern technology (industrial) is just couple of hundred years old, but we are on the brink of global war over resources, power and we have polluted the world for short term monetary profits. It will be sad to see, we become one of those technically capable civilizations destroy themsevles before reaching the stars…

    peace.

  116. Morcheeb Sanjay

    Steve Huntwork said:

    “Last year, I was forced to pay $9,300 and have become rather bitter about that. Please have the balls to support your views, when the results become reality.”

    “My problem, is when you have already hit me in the nose.

    Now, it is my time to get some revenge.”

    Poor old Steve! I hope we’re not gonna hear about you detonating a truck full of semtex outside the local government buildings near where you live.
    Having to pay for needed alterations or repairs close to your property is not an assault on you.

  117. Jeeves

    Lewis (#16) said:

    Fiction is fun but facts will blow your mind.

    Can I have that on a T-shirt?

  118. What I find most curious about conservatives is that they have no qualms about letting the less fortunate among us die for lack of health care. Yet these very same conservatives won’t hesitate to beat you to death with their Bibles when it comes to same sex marriage. It must be nice to be able to choose which tenets of one’s faith to follow and which to ignore.

  119. Paul in Sweden

    Phil, This is a good summary of the various facets of your diverse perspective on roles of government(many of which you have shared with us in prior posts). I share some of your views, particularly some of your libertarian values. It is because of some of those libertarian values; I believe government should have fewer roles than you are willing to grant them. I too want us to have a United States government that is big enough to do what it needs to do and no bigger.

  120. This is a wonderful debate, and there are a number of well-thought-out perspectives here. I’ve read them all.

    Let’s go ‘way back to #2:

    “Just remember this sobering statistic….half of the people in the United States have below average intelligence.”

    Whether you use the word “average” or “median”, no matter what we do, won’t this always and forever be the case? Are we, therefore, forever doomed?

  121. This is an astronomy blog! Your not allowed to post about politics!!1!

    I feel more comfortable now. It’s what I’m used to.

    Seriously, I like this post a lot. Nice tie-in with astronomy as a bonus. I agree to a tremendous extent with your positions, Phil. If anyone asks me my political position and I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just copy and paste this post.

  122. Steve in Dublin

    Mike (#71):

    @66 Robert – “I mean, do I really have to chose between reckless spending and creationism in science classes?”

    Sucks, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we’ve gone so far down that road (government promulgation of social agendas) I despair about ever getting back.

    So spending *trillions of dollars* fighting pointless wars is OK, but spending an order of magnitude less (100′s of billions) on social programmes like universal health care (which most of the 1st world countries sorted out long ago), and the education system to make/keep America more competitive, isn’t OK?

    Being fiscally conservative is a good thing, but the prior administration seemed to have a blind eye to the military in that regard, wouldn’t you say?

  123. #90 Utakata — I’m not sure what your point is. Of course I pay my monthly utility bill to the city, for sewer, trash pickup, etc. It is an arrangement that I freely entered into and can end at any time if I can find alternatives.

  124. t-storm

    I’ve found good and bad people on both sides. I’ve heard rational and irrational arguments on both sides.
    For every person who bitches about Obamacare is someone who will throw around Teapartier (Or teabagger). Ususally when I hear any of those terms I discount what that person is saying because they are lumping together a group of people or a point of view that maybe isn’t accurate. All republicans aren’t racist. All liberals aren’t social workers.

    As far as the personal freedoms and the Government overstepping it’s bounds an example that I’ve recently dabated with a (in her words) “bleeding heart liberal” is that the government/bank will punish me with a $15 dollar fee if I move money from my savings account to my checking account online more than 6 times a month. And yes, this did happen to me before I knew this was a law. The reasoning is that you are using your savings as a checking acct and the govt wants to promote savings. I think you should be able to do with your money what you want (take home pay, of course). The bleeding heart thinks it’s ok to punish people for not saving.

    Sorry for the rant. Love the blog. Agree with most of what you say but I think sometimes you think (or at least come across like) the the Bad Astronomer is right and always will be right.

  125. Anchor

    SPOT ON buddy.

    If any individual American ISN’T invested with liberal free-thinking and flexibility, conservative prudence and practicality, and a love of liberty, logic, and the pursuit of happiness, than they are either ignorant, deceiving themselves or are utterly brain-dead, or any combination of those.

    And you’re right: as long as there are hoodwinkers, con artists and manipulative cheats, it is the DUTY of clear-thinking people to expose them for the dirty rotten ignorant scoundrels they are.

  126. WilliamB

    What I find most curious about conservatives is that they have no qualms about letting the less fortunate among us die for lack of health care.

    [citation needed]

    Yet these very same conservatives won’t hesitate to beat you to death with their Bibles when it comes to same sex marriage. It must be nice to be able to choose which tenets of one’s faith to follow and which to ignore.

    You are just lumping people into one group and demonizing them.

    OOPS! YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM, TOO!

  127. QuietDesperation

    like universal health care

    Am I allowed to criticize the health care bill at all without being lumped in with warmongers or tea parties or whatever the Demon Du Jour is for the Left at the moment? I criticized it because I couldn’t find a person on the planet who could explain to me exactly what the thing would do, not even amongst its most rabid supporters. People are still trying to figure it out.

    I’ve read about the various health care systems in Europe. Some are fully public. Some are a mix (private for the little stuff and public for the big ticket cases, for example), and a couple seem even more privatized than ours if you consider Medicare and Medicaid.

    That’s why I have zero patience for anyone who advocates we adopt a “European style system” because when I ask which of the two dozen or more systems we should use as a base I get blank stares. And the stares are both for the fact that there are very different systems and my idea that we use the selected system merely as a model. Lots of people actually think you can take something as complicated as a health care system from one country and just plop it down into another country.

    It’s bad enough that people cling to one fixed ideology or another, but most people’s ideologies are a mile wide (oh, they have the answer for *everything*!) and a micron deep (Details? Wuzzat?)

  128. Floyd

    #101: Anchor, you hit the nail on the head. You’re advocating pragmatism over inflexible ideology. In the real world, pragmatism must win over ideology or we’re lost.

    Now we have to get rid of the con artists on both sides of Congress, and things might generally improve.

  129. Doug
  130. Utakata

    The point is you are already forcibley taxing the system The Thinker @ 99, that is why you are being forcibley taxed. Unless you find an alternative that makes you inpendendent of the system you rely on for sewage, plumbling, electricity, communication, garbage output, etc…either privately and/or publically, you are being forced to pay those because you are forcing your use on it. Just saying…

  131. Gary Ansorge

    80. Jeffrey Ellis

    “That I must also pay taxes is necessary in order to have government.”

    Not necessarily. Saudi Arabia has no income tax, sales tax or social security tax. Yet they still have government, social services(free schools and medical care and social security for the aged and poor).

    How do they do that? Simple. The Saud clan owns all the mineral wealth and distributes it to the country at large. Both directly and indirectly(through government contracts, etc.). It’s a very patriarchal society and the function of the patriarchy is to care for the tribe(which, in this case, means all Saudi citizens).

    Hey, it works for them.

    88. Messier Tidy Upper

    What Obama cancelled was a program that did absolutely nothing in the way of advancing our launch tech, ie, it was just more of the same, tech wise. I keep hoping we’ll do something really innovative, like Leik Myrabos light craft or the nuclear light bulb thruster.

    Well,,, maybe someday.

    Gary

  132. Anchor

    QuietDesperation? Perhaps you might understand how ridiculous it is to criticize anything from the standpoint of a solidly-welded predisposition which others may NOT agree with.

    After all, that is their right to DISAGREE too. Nay?

    Speaking of “rabid” behavior, from a neutral standpoint one can EASILY appreciate that the loudest snarls and snorting noises come from those who have already decided they DON’T LIKE a universal health-care system…um, because they don’t like the idea…er, because they don’t like the idea…oy, because, you know, they don’t like the idea.

    I, however, would NOT give you a “blank stare”. And, methinks you are LYING through your teeth when you claim other people who see the beneficial aspects of many foreign systems are giving you “blank stares” when you purport to ask them “which one” they think would be best for America.

    I’ll stare you down right between the eyes, nose to nose and tell you this: NONE OF THEM. Americans ought to be smart enough to have the best plan on the planet. Second to NONE. Okay?

    If I do not miss my guess, Americans are (or ONCE WERE) WORLD-CLASS INNOVATORS, INVENTORS AND SECOND-TO-NONE EXPONENTS OF INITIATIVE.

    Alas, only the military and corporate applications of those virtues remain as a kind of residue of the once proud American “can-do spirit”, and what there is in the military and corporate sector over the last 25 years seems to have masturbated itself into a farce.

    Unfortunately, because of dopes who obsess on the prospect of KILLING ANY potential universal health care system, uh, because it’s a “good idea”, Americans will have NOTHING REMOTELY like any of the European plans. However frought with imperfections they may be, nearly every single one of them is better than the crap we’ve struggled under since World War II.

    But Nooo. They don’t want to help keep America healthy, vital and prosperous. Uh uh. They do not want to adopt a plan that is BETTER than any in the world. Oh no. They wouldn’t even like it if it improved the level of the average American’s quality of life. Nosiree bobalooey.

    They would rather that Americans were (ahem) “free” to fend for themselves like wild animals at the mercy of the elements and the outrageous fortune of disease that can wreck a modest family of its life savings (if they’ve managed to acquire ANY in several generations!) in a matter of months.

    Actually, I think outrageous fortune by itself is possibly better than the non-existent health-care system this country has been burdened with over the last several generations: a nearly similar result would have accrued WITHOUT families getting torn to smithereens by a bureaucracy intent on stealing away every last cent of their hopeful savings.

    You guys are spectacularly brilliant and should be congratulated: a mindset that would continue to routinely render fellow Americans destitute must make you feel, um, “proud” in a very very VERY perverse way.

    Beyond the power of description perverse.

    Except when I exercise MY freedom to say: “you people make me sick to my stomach”.

    Okay?

    PERVERSE.

    Actually, equivalently, in a relavant sense, about as precise a definition of the word “UNPATRIOTIC” or even the phrase “TREASONOUS BEHAVIOR” as it is possible to be.

    And WHY? Because of something you call “PRINCIPLE”??? You would, on that sorry excuse of a “PRINCIPLE”, much rather have Americans had nothing whatsoever to rely on, because, um, you don’t like the idea, because, uh, you don’t like the idea…and so on, with astonishing – and I’m sure overwhelmingly “conservative” – resilience?

    Are you guys nuts?

    Then, when pressed, people like you immediately engage an automatic pre-programmed reflex: in the blink of an eye they shift over to another preposterous yet tried-and-true excuse for why they do not wish to improve the health of the citizenry of their country: they call any such attempts – get this – a “SOCIALIST” threat.

    Do they even understand what that means???

    Where I come from that kind of shabby thinking comes about from people who have been thoroughly indoctrinated to go by the marching orders supplied by the propagandist of choice. You have completely removed yourself from any democratic connection with your government: Democracy means NOTHING to you. It isn’t much of a leap from there to the point where everyone else is forced to “think” like you do (that is, forced to accept the indoctrination as you have already so easily swallowed down hook, line and sinker) instead of allowing people to exercise their FREEDOM to FREE THOUGHT and thinking for THEMSELVES, as responsible individuals see fit…which is the PRECISE DEFINITION of the term “LIBERAL”….instead of listening to a hideously obnoxious garbage scowl on talk radio that goes by the name of Rush in order to form an “opinion”.

    You lose that, and you lose your mind. You can only pretend to be excited by the fact that you hold an opinion that has been fashioned by a swine.

  133. Anchor

    Thanks Floyd. Yep. Exactly.

    [It WAS #128 when i saw your post...maybe it still is. ;) ]

  134. Jeffersonian

    @106
    In one sentence you transposed “tea-party-ers” to “The Tea Party”.
    Fail. (unless you are suggesting the members didn’t exist 6 years ago…)

    I stopped at a tea party booth a couple days ago. What I described is exactly the platform they espoused.

  135. Lucas

    @134

    Jeffersonian: hay guyz i really did go to a tea party booth. srsly im not just saying this. plz believe me… plz.

  136. David D.

    @Jeffersonian–

    You stopped at a “tea party booth”, and now claim to know exactly what the tea party platform is all about. Uh, okay.

    I’m pretty sure that if the Tea Party didn’t exist in 2004, then Tea Party members didn’t exist either. There were people in 2004 who a)probably didn’t care that much about deficits, and b) thought that Cheney and Bush were great men, but that does NOT mean that they were “tea-party-ers.” There were many on the right who were actually quite unhappy with Bush’s economic policies and how they increased the deficit (although the increase in the deficit in the Bush years is nothing compared to the rate at which it is increasing now).

    Again, your political savvy at lumping everyone together is simply amazing.

  137. MartyM

    Excellent post Dr. BA. This is what I try to convey all the time, but never as eloquently as you just did.

  138. Paul in Sweden

    On the far left-wing nuts that Phil spoke about being lumped in with…and Obamacare in particular…

    “Obama claimed Americans shouldn’t be afraid of a government [health] insurance company — the public option — competing against private insurers, because even though the government has vastly more resources than any individual company, “You’ve got a lot of private companies who do very well competing against the government — UPS and FedEx are doing a lot better than the Post Office.”
    http://tinyurl.com/y4zpeop

    The sad fact of the matter is that we can only hope that a government that mismanages EVERYTHING would aspire to run a healthcare system to today’s pathetic standards of our once highly regarded US Postal Service.

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    The federal government has no business creating a new bureaucracy to steal money from the nations citizens. Our individual states have that charter and where chosen it is managed by local politicians that we can reach out and touch.

    Being an American on the other side of the fence where the left-wing nuts think the grass is greener(Sweden) I can only dream of being granted the power of levitation so I do not go ankle deep in the still steaming cow patties.

    Some years ago after a particular market crash I found myself with my cobra insurance expired and quite pleased with the level of healthcare provided me without having any regular income whatsoever by my Green Mountain State.

    With her kid finishing High School and my wife not wanting to leave her family, I struggle every single day with the choice of yanking them up and relocating them to my home in America or just flying back home, knocking the dust back, packing everything up and selling my property back home in New England.

    My family’s first hand account of Sweden’s healthcare system could create a headline on a US Newspaper. Here in Europe where Sweden is thought to be among the best our sage would barely shrug a shoulder. They are conditioned to substandard services and quite familiar with complaints from someone from the states saying “This would not happen in America without heads rolling!”.

    omg!

    Phil did such a benign and honest post and this thread has turned into another crap fest like those religious discussions on Catastrophic Global Warming that I find myself being sucked into here.

    Phil, these threads always turn to crap. I’m going into the other room and see if ESA has resolved any other images from Rosetta of Leticia. That is what I consider exciting. Although I will again say “Thank you Phil”, for sharing and letting us in to your thoughts with what I originally thought was a warm and fuzzy post.

  139. Paul in Sweden

    Thumbs up @

    109. Messier Tidy Upper Says:
    July 9th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Most excellent Sir! :)

  140. @ Paul in Sweden ^ Thanks. Glad you liked it. :-)

    @131. Gary Ansorge Says:
    [July 10th, 2010 at 1:33 pm]

    88. [Originally. Now 109!] Messier Tidy Upper : What Obama cancelled was a program that did absolutely nothing in the way of advancing our launch tech, ie, it was just more of the same, tech wise. I keep hoping we’ll do something really innovative, like Leik Myrabos light craft or the nuclear light bulb thruster. Well,,, maybe someday.

    I disagree with your assessment of the Ares-Contellation program there. It may have looked like an updated Apollo on the surface but there were new elements and technology in it too.

    Besides we need to go back to reach the Apollo type technology because we’ve lost the capability we had to get to the Moon – and they got things right back in the late 1960′s to early 70′s. It is so tragic that we could’ve taken that type of technology further and done so much more but instead allowed political and economic obstacles to stall us and set us so far backwards. It is shamefully pathetic that forty years after NASA landed people on the Moon, it will soon have to beg for Russia and private agences to get any of its astronauts off the ground at all. :-(

    But even *if* you were right, Gary Ansorge, the stark undeniable fact is that we had a plan for human space exploration that was *finally* going somewhere. Now we don’t. Or soon won’t if Obama gets his way. :-(

    Obama cancelling Bush’es Ares – Constellation program is like building half a ship or half a building or painting half a painting then stopping, destroying everything you’ve built so far and saying you’ll just go back to the drawing board. It was a criminally stupid, short-sighted waste of all the massive amounts of time, effort, money and resources that were already invested.

    Obama’s decision is comparable to scrapping Apollo after Apollo 4 -the first unammaned test flight of that human lunar program – which took place on Nov. 9th 1967. Imagine if that had happpened?! If we’d given up on space exploration back then like Obama is surrendering and abandoning American space exploration now. :-(

    (Yes, I know there’s vague waffle about going to Mars instead. Show me the plans, the rockets under construction and near-future schedule and I might take it seriously and not a verbal sop to cover the disgraceful abandonment of NASA doing what its *supposed* to do and fly Americans into space. :roll: )

    Its one thing for Obama to be planning for a successor or alternative for Ares – Constellation, for doing his own program afterwards built on Ares success. By all means do that & have your own plan but only after we’ve seen Ares have a proper chance to fly and work first!

    Support private companies in space? Sure but as well as NOT instead of a NASA program too!

    If each administration scraps the next one’s previously working NASA plans and tries to start again from scratch – we won’t get anywhere and will just sit stupidly on the ground watching others fly as we miss our chance and fall backwards.

    NASA was already committed to building Ares – Constellation, it was work in progress and was finally taking shape from plans to real physical rockets. They successfully launched the Ares X-I back in October last year – click on my name here for a video of this. Too much work had already gone into Ares-Constellation to scrap it now.

    Obama’s decison is horribly wrong sets and sets an appalling precedent. I see absolutely NO excuse for this. Pro-science and pro-space people should remember it and make sure Obama either reverses that decision or loses office. Period.

    Yes, alternatives such as those you (Gary Ansorge) mentioned would be great but they aren’t at the test flight stage. They are extras that would be great to see work but aren’t on today’s agenda. Things for later. Hopefully not too much later but certainly for after (or as complementary secondary not replacement programs) we’ve finished what we’re doing – which is – or should’ve been the Ares-Constellation Lunar return plan.

  141. I’ll just add that the issue above emphasises the complexities and not all-Black-&-Whiteness of politics.

    Former president George W. Bush was in many respects bad when it came to science – on issues like creationism/ID and stem cell research, et cetera. However, in regard to space exploration Bush’es policies were vastly superior to the current incumbent in the White House.

    President Obama could, I think, justly be described as anti-NASA and even anti-science (certainly anti-space-science) in his decision to cancel the Ares-Constellation successor program and end the Shuttle flights with no replacement spacecraft in sight.

    Funnily enough, I don’t think Phil will ever apply this (sometimes) accurate description against Barack Obama even when it is throughly deserved and merited – nor do I ever expect the Bad Astronomer to give credit where credit is due and thank former President George W. Bush for coming up with the Return to the Moon plan and other pro-space initatives.

    The Ares Constellation program was the best thing (IMHON) that G.W. Bush came up with – & B. H. Obama cancelling it because it was Bush’es plan is hyper-partisanship at its destructive, inexcusably stupid worst. :-(

    Obama may well go down in history as one of the worst Presidents ever for that betrayal and abandonment of the USA’s inspirational, enlightening and beneficial human space program alone.

    Note here that I write this as someone who (if I was an American which I’m not) would have voted for Obama over McCain-Palin in the last US election.

    Everyone is affected by their personal opinions when it comes to politics. The BA is no exception – and it would be good if he could see & acknowledge that about himself and be a little fairer and more reasonable in his approach to the “them” political tribe.

  142. Wilson

    A couple things, Phil.

    The problems arise when the government starts taking care of people. They won’t then take care of themselves. And it costs money (wealth) which must be created by others who work. (The government has no money of its own)

    But what’s the incentive to get up at 6.am and work hard for a living, when given the choice to lie abed, when you are guaranteed shelter, food, medical, education, and other “rights” handed to you for free?

    It’s proven to be unsustainable. The actual cost for this cradle to grave unnatural paradise is just being kickled down the road to future generations. Trouble is there won’t be enough of them to foot the bill.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions, which have unintended consequences.

    It’s a rather selfish attitude in my opinion. Give me mine now, and let some unborn citizens worry about paying for it.

  143. Jack Mitcham

    I haven’t read all of the preceding walls of text, but I just wanted to say “great post.”

  144. Sean H

    I’m not being glib when I say this but I just thought the Tea Party’s platform was “white’s only”.

    I see no other conceivable reason to react so violently except that a black dude’s at the wheel now. Classy.

  145. Phil, you’re position is far too reasonable, and thus quite obviously wrong. You should know this by now. :)

  146. You accuse certain Americans of being extremely partisan and labeling any one with a different opinion a commie. But you do the same thing in your first paragraph and label them “far right neocons”. That is very hypocritical, Phil. I agree with most of what you said. You and I are very close in terms of political beliefs but I think you should practice what you preach when it comes to partisanship and labels. Lets see if you can stop using the terms neocon, right wing kook, and teabagger.

  147. zerorest

    It has occured to me that the right wing Christian nation that are the real Americans have a logical flaw in their demonizing everyone else as Socialists. I have read the Bible and I distinctly remember reading that Jesus said that to follow him you must give away all they had to the poor. Doesn’t that make Jesus a Socialist?

  148. Angus Martin

    @Messier:

    On the topic of Constellation/Ares and Obama…

    Bush had a great idea when it came to Constellation, but he never had the political will to properly fund the thing. Which is part of the reason why Obama is deciding to cancel it. The budget is well over what NASA has for it. I don’t think that’s because Constellation is more expensive than the engineers thought, so much as I think that NASA never got the money to fund development.

    Also lets not make the mistake of tying human spaceflight with “space science” in general. Obama’s decisions on NASA have actually been much better for space science than Bush was, it’s giving us more money to do scientific observation on planets, the sun and earth itself. Science under Obama will be thriving in regards to space. Human spaceflight (which I would not call science) probably will suffer, though.

    If we really wanted to focus on space science in our space program, we’d cut human spaceflight entirely. However, human spaceflight is about other things than science. It’s about human expansion into space. In that regard, Bush was much better than Obama, but to say he was a friend to space science is, I don’t think, very honest. He was a friend to human expansion into space.

    Obama has been very bad for human expansion and presence is space. I am generally under the impression that if we’re not going to the moon to establish permanent presence, then we shouldn’t be sending humans to space at all. We shouldn’t go to Mars until we are established on the moon. I am not interested in an Apollo for Mars, because that’d be a “boots on the ground, cut and run” scenario. We don’t need anymore half-measures of “well, here we are!” with no follow-through. We need plans, and we need to solidify our presence in space, and develop self-sustaining colonies.

    Bush was headed in the right direction, but he never had the political will to fund such a venture. Obama isn’t even headed in the right direction, but he’s given NASA the money it’d need for Constellation.

    That being said, I don’t think Constellation was nearly enough.

  149. Steve Huntwork

    “Having to pay for needed alterations or repairs close to your property is not an assault on you.”

    When I pay $2,000 each and every year in property taxes, so that the city can perform valid and vital functions like providing sewer, water and road pavement, yes, I do tend to get a little upset when I was forced to pay an additional $9,300 for the 100 feet of road construciton along my propery line.

    That hurt even more, since I was unemployed at the time and was trying to sell my home so that my family could move to another State. That extra $9,300 (which must be paid in full at the time of sale) made selling my home impossible. I am back to work now, thank you, but I lost a good job with a increase of income, because of those street improvements. Yes, it has left me rather bitter.

    I have already run for City Council before and received a decent amount of votes. Perhaps it is time for me to do that once again.

    What Phil wrote above, I have no major problems with. In most aspects, Phil and I would agree with each other, once we got over some basic word definitions.

    …..

    Let me tell you a little story that I learned on Monday:

    Saturday, a tiny little town in Minnesota was hit with ‘straight-line-winds” that destroyed many barns, grain silows and trees beyond count. That little town is where most of the people I work with live, to include my boss.

    Chris explained what happened to him like this:

    “Most of my farm looked like a war zone and almost every tree had been blown down. I got out with my chain-saw and was starting to clean things up. Without any warning, 20 people showed up and worked as a team to cut my trees and load them onto flat bed trailors. Thirty minutes later, every tree on my property had been loaded and hauled away.”

    Chris wondered how the land fill could handle this amount of rubbish and expected a long traffic backup.

    To his surprize, everything was amazingly efficient. When a truck and trailor arrived, a “Bob Cat” shoved the items into the pit and the vehicle was able to depart within one minute. There were no traffic backups!

    Three hours later, the entire community had been cleared of all damage and you would have a difficult time realizing that anything had happened.

    THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD WORK!

    No government was involved. Just friends and family getting together to fix a problem that needed their mutual help.

    Monday, I was so damn proud of living in farm country!

  150. Angus Martin

    @Steve Huntwork

    http://www.chryslersailors.com/discussion/viewtopic.php?p=12999&sid=17c63af9f81534f2e75d6d70bfc899de

    Check out the last comment.

    So…is the story real, or just rhetoric?

  151. Angus Martin

    @Steve Huntwork

    Actually, that poster is likely you (Shunt1 – S. Huntworth?)

    However, the post was made on July 1. There’s been a Monday since then. So you copy and pasted the comment.

    You say you learned the story…means you didn’t witness it. Where did it come from? How do you know it?

    Without that it’s just a story.

    And ultimately., it’s a moot point. No one in cities or the suburbs has the equipment to manage that. Hence, you still need taxes to do those sorts of things…because most of the time people don’t have the equipment to handle the clean-up.

    Also, most of the time even when people do have the equipment, they don’t know the safety measures one must take to deal with it.

  152. Steve Huntwork

    Yes, I copied a comment in reply to the Gulf Coast and how our company has been flying photo missions to locate the oil spills.

    I have always used my personal name, because I take responsibility for anything that I say.

    If Phil is willing to use his own personal name, then I owe him the same respect!

    While performing our duties in locating these oil spills, the people that I work with were hit with strong winds last weekend. The story that I repeated was from one of our pilots, as he relayed it to me last Monday. After a three week tour of duty on the Gulf coast, this is what he came home to.

    During this same storm, my wife and I were sitting outside and watching this amazing storm. I was watching for a tornado, so that we could hide in the basement if required. My home was not harmed, but I knew exactly what happened to the people I work with!

    “No one in cities or the suberbs has the equipment to manage that”

    That is exactly the problem, and what the people in this little Minnesota town were doing something about. “If we had to wait for the government, this would have taken over six months, instead of only three hours.”

    But perhaps, in your world, something like this would be impossible.

    Along the Gulf coast, we have millions of people personally involved. It does not take much math to figure out something rather simple:

    “I am responsible for these three feet of the beach!”

    Are you telling me that a single person can not clean a three foot section of the beach when the oil washes up on it?” Are “city” people that stupid and ignorant?

    What safety equipment is required? Has nobody ever changed the oil in their car before?

    I have listened to many people living on the Gulf coast that wanted to help. There are not allowed, because they “do not have the proper training for toxic waste removal.” Are these government organizations absolutly insane?

  153. QuietDesperation

    And, methinks you are LYING through your teeth

    *shrug*

    And I’m supposed to care why exactly? Your belief is irrelevant to objective reality.

    The rest of your post was a rant against views I don’t even hold, so, whatever, bro.

  154. Steve Huntwork

    Fair, but at least I use my actual name and take full responsibility for anything that I say. You only “methinks?”

    Objective reality is based upon factual information. I may have gotten the dates wrong by copying a posting that I previously made on a sailing forum, but those events actually happened.

    Like it or not, I am actually doing something to help.

    Phil stated his political views, and I agree with them!

    Where we depart, is when he supports the concept of forcing people to obey the current politics of the day. Remember, this can and will work both ways.

    When it comes to science, Phil and I have only one problem. I demand and require quality in scientific research, so that any other scientist can reproduce what was published.

    Any honest scientist would demand the exact same thing!

  155. Steve Huntwork

    Oh, and you can always monitor or flights over the Gulf, as we conduct our photo missions to map the oil spills.

    http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N719P

  156. #64 jtradke:
    For a sufficiently large statistical sample, such as the population of a nation, the values of any measurement ( e.g. intelligence in this example ) form a normal distribution; therefore the mean and median are equal.

    #109 Messier:
    “…surely even the most or majority anyhow know those last two facts – surely they aren’t quite that ignorant! I find that hard to believe.”

    I hate to say it, but a substantial proportion of people today are that ignorant!!! Someone recently conducted a survey in the UK into education standards, by asking a sample of people a number of general knowledge questions. One of them was what they called a “basic science” question, but I personally wouldn’t even call it that – namely, “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth?”
    The proportion who answered that correctly was… wait for this and make sure you’re sitting down… 67%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14% actually got it wrong, and 19% said they didn’t know.
    Is there any hope?

  157. shawmutt

    All we are is dust in the wind…

    Until neither dust nor wind exists…

  158. Angus Martin

    @Steve Huntworth:

    The problem is anecdotes don’t prove your position.

    Are you telling me that a single person can not clean a three foot section of the beach when the oil washes up on it?” Are “city” people that stupid and ignorant?
    What safety equipment is required? Has nobody ever changed the oil in their car before?
    I have listened to many people living on the Gulf coast that wanted to help. There are not allowed, because they “do not have the proper training for toxic waste removal.” Are these government organizations absolutly insane?

    - I’m talking about the Minnesota “farm country” example you brought up. Also, here’s what I said:

    Also, most of the time even when people do have the equipment, they don’t know the safety measures one must take to deal with it.

    - I never said anything about safety equipment, I said safety measures. People not trained cannot know the safety procedures behind certain kinds of projects. City folks generally aren’t trained to cut down entire trees, or to take down wrecked buildings. They don’t know about how to properly dispose of oil, or how to handle oil on beaches. It’s not that they’re too stupid, it’s that they’re not trained.

    They are not allowed specifically because they aren’t trained for removing toxic substances. If you have any understanding of what toxic substances are, you’d see this is a very good thing. Those safety procedures exist for a reason.

  159. Angus Martin

    @ Steve Huntsworth:

    Objective reality is based upon factual information. I may have gotten the dates wrong by copying a posting that I previously made on a sailing forum, but those events actually happened.

    - You can claim an event happened all you want, but we can’t know that. It’s just an anecdote without evidence. Which is funny because this statement completely contradicts…

    When it comes to science, Phil and I have only one problem. I demand and require quality in scientific research, so that any other scientist can reproduce what was published.

    - This comment. You don’t seem to much care about reproducible claims, or you’d give documentation of events like your anecdote.

    Also on another of your posts you say that Phil doesn’t give his name to us – yeah he does. Phil Plait. He’s very open about that.

    But again…the facts thing…

  160. Angus Martin

    Also, Steve Huntsworth…don’t brag about how you demand and require quality in scientific research, but then you turn around and actually laugh at toxic waste disposal procedures as “insane”. You don’t care about science, you only care about what agrees politically with your worldview.

    And I assume that was a jab at Phil for supporting anthropogenic global warming.

  161. Steve Huntwork

    First off, my name is Steve Huntwork! Please at least get the spelling correct, since it is on every posting that I have made.

    I should have altered the dates on my example of wind damage to the tiny little Minnesota town of Wabasso and most people will find it almost impossible to locate it on a map. But if you want to check my factual information, I am sure that even the Mayor would verify everything that I stated.

    Phil does give his name to us, and out of respect, that is why I have always given my full and actual name with every posting that I have made over the years. Not sure how you got that confused.

    I am trying to reply to all valid debate points, but sometimes even I get a little lost.

    “They are not allowed specifically because they aren’t trained for removing toxic substances. If you have any understanding of what toxic substances are, you’d see this is a very good thing. Those safety procedures exist for a reason.”

    This is nothing but motor oil, which almost every ADULT in America has had to deal with at one time or another with their personal auto.

    What “toxic substance” were you talking about?

    I have had nothing but respect for Phil for many years now. We only get into a debate when he posts something that has not been validated.

    Fair?

  162. Steve Huntwork

    The comments from Angus Martin does bother me, for this reason:

    Why, in your world, do you find it impossible that people will get together and solve a problem without the help of government?

    In my world, that is something expected, and if the people did not respond that way, I would have been shocked.

    Interesting how our two worlds are so different. No wonder you are so scared!

  163. Gonzo

    “and why the US is a republic, not a democracy… although a republic is only slightly better”

    Looks like someone bought the Glenn Beck meme. Look nutjob, most of the world calls it Representative Democracy and it’s what we have. Blindly making assertions that you heard on teh TeeVee, doesn’t help anyone. And then not only this but quibbling with the semantics as if it somehow shows the world how smart you really are is really just stroking your own ego. We get it, you’re super-duper smart, and by far outclassing all these plebes who think we live in a democracy in the United States. Yes, a constitutional republic, but a representative democracy nonetheless. It’s not really an either/or equation.

    Clearly the idea of subtlety was lost on at least the reader I quoted. Re-read, rinse, repeat. Pay attention.

  164. Angus Martin

    @Steve Huntwork:

    I should have altered the dates on my example of wind damage to the tiny little Minnesota town of Wabasso and most people will find it almost impossible to locate it on a map. But if you want to check my factual information, I am sure that even the Mayor would verify everything that I stated.

    - That’s what google maps is for :)

    Phil does give his name to us, and out of respect, that is why I have always given my full and actual name with every posting that I have made over the years. Not sure how you got that confused.

    - Sorry, went back and reread it, seems I misunderstood you.

    This is nothing but motor oil, which almost every ADULT in America has had to deal with at one time or another with their personal auto.

    - This is not motor oil. Motor oil is refined.

    What “toxic substance” were you talking about?

    - You called government insane for telling people they don’t know how to deal with toxic waste. You brought up toxic substances. I was talking about how in disaster situations, in many cases the people there do not know proper safety procedures and standards. Yes, even this oil spill falls into that category. Plus, there is more than one kind of oil and/or gas washing up on the shores.

    Why, in your world, do you find it impossible that people will get together and solve a problem without the help of government?

    - I never said it was impossible, I said that in many cases those people getting together don’t fully understand what to do, and could possibly botch something, and could even get someone hurt. Safety standards exist for a reason. I also said that in many cases people don’t have the equipment and know-how to handle a situation. Your rural community example works because the people nearby had the equipment and know-how to handle it (they deal with these sorts of things all the time, after all), but in a city most people don’t know how to take down the skeletons of buildings, or cut down trees. You have government for that.

    In my world, that is something expected, and if the people did not respond that way, I would have been shocked.

    - Again, didn’t say people wouldn’t respond in that way, I said that people may not be able to respond properly. People could get very hurt if they don’t do things properly.

    Interesting how our two worlds are so different. No wonder you are so scared!

    - Scared of what?

    Also.

    Simply because I understand safety risks and understand that not everyone has the know-how and means to handle every disaster, doesn’t mean I live in a different world than you.

  165. Angus Martin

    Essentially, Steve Huntwork…

    We live in a world where specialization is becoming the norm. We’re losing common practice physicians because the different medical fields are getting much more specialized, and no one is going into a “jack of all trades” line of work. An oil pipeline engineer cannot do the same job as an oil drill engineer. In cities this trend is much greater. In farm country it’s not as obvious, because people living in rural areas don’t have all the services, or the same kind of lifestyle, as those in the cities. However at the same time, a farmer is not an oil skiff operator, and is not a nuclear engineer, or a miner.

    A miner isn’t a tunnel engineer. Miners can’t gather together to remove their co-workers from a collapsed mine because they aren’t trained in how to deal with that sort of event. They also don’t have the equipment necessary to do so.

    What will those people at the Gulf do when they clear the beaches of oil? Where will they dispose of the oil? Oil is not like fallen trees, you can’t just dump it anywhere. It’s an environmental hazard.

    It boils down to specialization. You have the government because the government can assemble specialized personnel, and if the government is particularly well-funded and well-organized (something which costs quite a bit of money – for salaries of competent management), they would be able to react more quickly.

    The United States government is so ineffective in these cases because it is not well-organized, and its budget is not smartly developed. The problem is not the government, the problem is how that government is organized.

  166. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 156. Neil Haggath :

    #109 Messier: “…surely even the most or majority anyhow know those last two facts – surely they aren’t quite that ignorant! I find that hard to believe.”

    I hate to say it, but a substantial proportion of people today are that ignorant!!! Someone recently conducted a survey in the UK into education standards, by asking a sample of people a number of general knowledge questions. One of them was what they called a “basic science” question, but I personally wouldn’t even call it that – namely, “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth?” The proportion who answered that correctly was… wait for this and make sure you’re sitting down…67%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14% actually got it wrong, and 19% said they didn’t know. Is there any hope?

    My hope there is that the vast majority of those people were just playing with the surveyor and giving a deliberately silly answer to a seemingly dumb question thinking “That’s such a basic question I’m going to give in to the temptation to answer it sarcastically!” At least, I really hope so anyhow. :-(

    Wonder if they allow for that possibility or take steps to try and make sure such answers really are serious ones in such surveys?

    The alternative is just too depressing to be believed. :-(

  167. Messier Tidy Upper

    @148. Angus Martin Says:
    {July 11th, 2010 at 1:40 pm}

    @Messier: On the topic of Constellation/Ares and Obama… Bush had a great idea when it came to Constellation, but he never had the political will to properly fund the thing. Which is part of the reason why Obama is deciding to cancel it.

    So if funding was the problem the answer is to FUND it then! That would be the seemingly obvious answer to me. Not cancelling it. :-(

    The budget is well over what NASA has for it. I don’t think that’s because Constellation is more expensive than the engineers thought, so much as I think that NASA never got the money to fund development.

    So give them the money they need. Its not allthat muchrelativelyspeaking compared with many other things (*cough*, bank bailout, *cough*) and
    is a wrothwhile investment plus its all money that’s spent here on Earth, in America mostly, stimulating the ecconomy here as the BA has argued already I think.

    Also lets not make the mistake of tying human spaceflight with “space science” in general.

    Wait up? That’s a mistake? I disagree. NASA was created toget people -esp. Americans into space. It may not be *ALL* of space science but human spaceflight is a big component of space science & I think pretending otherwise is like covering one eye and deliberately only using one eye or ear when bothare availbale and enable us to best understand our cosmos. I agree we need a robotic space program as well but I do think we need people in space and can learn much from humans in space that we cannot learn from any other means.

    Obama’s decisions on NASA have actually been much better for space science than Bush was, it’s giving us more money to do scientific observation on planets, the sun and earth itself. Science under Obama will be thriving in regards to space.

    You think so – really? :roll:

    Your evidence to back that claim up would be .. what exactly?

    Human spaceflight (which I would not call science [I *WOULD*! - MTU.]) probably will suffer, though.

    There we go. Human spaceflight suffers under Obama. It’s one element at least where the simple “Bush = evil vs Obama = saintly” picture breaks down isn’t it? That’s what I’m saying. The BA should have the courage and intelligence tocriticise his political heroes and his political “team” especially if he is to make posts like these seriously. I don’t think there are any examples of him doing this -certainly none spring tomind. I could be wrong but I do think theBA has allowed his love for Obama to overcome his ratuional thinking proceses insome cases.

    FWIW I’ll freely admit -& have already said that Bush was anti-sceince in many respects (sympathic toID and anti-stem cell among many otehrexamples) and was not one of the best Presidents either by any stretch of the imagination. But not everything Bush did was bad and not everything Obama has done has been good.

    Partisanship that blinds us to this reality and results in political cheerleader posting is, IMHON, unhelpful and even counter-productive. I think it does turn off people and cost Phil Plait credibility when he is seen as an uncritical Obama supporter rather than a more objective, even-handed observer.

    If we really wanted to focus on space science in our space program, we’d cut human spaceflight entirely.

    I think that statement is totally wrong – although it is another debate entirely probably best saved for another forum.

    However, human spaceflight is about other things than science. It’s about human expansion into space.

    Are you saying human expansion into space is mutually contradictory with science esp. space science?

    Yes, there are other elements -national pride, military capability, economic benefits, cultural inspiration, even entertainment (Much like sport space travel can be said to be a substitute for war) – but space science is definitely part of the package as well as these other things.

    In that regard, Bush was much better than Obama, but to say he was a friend to space science is, I don’t think, very honest. He was a friend to human expansion into space.

    Human expansion into space encompasses (includes) space science – being a friend to human expansion = being a friend to space science too. How the blazes do you find that in any way “dishonest”?

    Obama has been very bad for human expansion and presence is space. I am generally under the impression that if we’re not going to the moon to establish permanent presence, then we shouldn’t be sending humans to space at all. We shouldn’t go to Mars until we are established on the moon. I am not interested in an Apollo for Mars, because that’d be a “boots on the ground, cut and run” scenario. We don’t need anymore half-measures of “well, here we are!” with no follow-through. We need plans, and we need to solidify our presence in space, and develop self-sustaining colonies.

    Bush was headed in the right direction, but he never had the political will to fund such a venture. Obama isn’t even headed in the right direction, but he’s given NASA the money it’d need for Constellation.

    Umm .. Obama wants tocancel Constellation remember? :roll: :-(

    That’s very much NOT the same as giving NASA the money to do it.

    The problem Bush had was NOT getting the funding – which brings me back to the opening point. Obama needed, first and foremost to FUND Constellation To plan for things happening after and as well sure but first to say: “Look we’re committed to this, we’re doing this, here’s the money, go do it!”

    That being said, I don’t think Constellation was nearly enough.

    On that point I completely agree with you! ;-)

  168. Nigel Depledge

    OK, I’ve been off line for a few days, and there are about 166 comments above this one that I don’t have the time to read; so, apologies if this has already been addressed.

    I agree, Phil, with most of what you say.

    However, this:

    I think that people have the right to defend themselves, their family, their property… and that’s why they have the right to bear arms.

    I disagree with.

    Seriously, guns are designed to kill. If you do not intend to kill someone, you should not draw a gun on them. I do not believe that guns are an appropriate means of defending property. Are you saying that someone deserves to die for stealing a kid’s bike, or for throwing a brick through a window, or even for stealing a car?

    In the UK, burglars can sue homeowners if they are met with excessive force. The definition of what constitutes reasonable force is fluid, and is determined on a case-by-case basis (although there is some broad guidance). For instance, if you are a 6’6″, 240-lb bruiser of a guy and you break into the home of someone who is substantially smaller, then they’d be within their rights to have at you with a cricket bat or some similar improvised weapon. Taking the converse, if the person who breaks into your home is no real physical threat to you, you can be held liable for any harm that comes to them (because you should be able to subdue them without harming them).

    I do realise that the potential threat of being shot for breaking and entering may serve as a deterrent, but, on a more practical level, there is also the risk that your home-defence weapon may be taken from you by the perpetrator.

    In the UK, gun control is quite strict. Guess what? Crime involving firearms is far rarer here than it is in the US.

    Even if you do get a licence to own, say, a shotgun or a pistol or a rifle, it is (AFAIK) almost unheard-of for a private UK citizen to own such weapons as assault rifles or submachine guns (except as historical items with critical components removed).

    You also say:

    But I also know that many people aren’t wise enough and emotionally stable enough to own a gun, and that’s why I don’t think everyone has the right to bear every arm

    I think this is self-evident, but it raises the question of how to define the exceptions.

    Perhaps a better way is to strictly control access to firearms of all kinds, with exceptions made where both a requirement and the appropriate responsibility have been demonstrated. In the UK, there is no right to bear arms. Instead, it is a privilege that can be removed.

  169. #166 Messier:
    I’ve no idea how many, if any, of those people were deliberately giving stupid answers – but unfortunately, I suspect that it wasn’t many. I’ve personally experienced the same sort of thing. Some years ago, during one of the UK’s National Astronomy Weeks, a similar survey was done, specifically on scientific literacy; members of astronomical societies, who were manning displays in public places, asked the questions to people who showed any interest. Significant numbers of people showed the same incredible ignorance.
    And furthermore, many of them just don’t care! Someone posted a story on this blog just a couple of weeks ago, about a conversation with a teenager who was fascinated by astronomy, where the boy’s father butted in with a sneering “Who cares?”
    And I personally posted a story some time ago, from my own experience, about a person who genuinely didn’t know such a simple thing as how to determine which direction was north or south, from the position of the Sun in the sky.

  170. Mike

    CE (@90) said: “@66, 71 Socially liberal, fiscal conservatives are children. The idea that Democrats spend more reckless than Republicans is laugable.”

    Who said anything about Republicans or Democrats?

  171. Terry

    Um… after this vociferous of a debate, not sure I should throw in my two cents, but I certainly agree that low resolution ideas are at the heart of the problems within political debates. People latch onto a platform and speak the platform. They unconsciously wait for the cues offered by the platforms ideologues and then adjust to make the platforms adjustments. This is how a party can go from fighting a bill in one president’s term to supporting it in the next.

    The problem is that I think people associate the concepts of ‘social liberalism’ to leftist thought. As one person said, there is a tension between providing social services to the population and taking money from others to achieve it. Ironically, this led to a sudden explosion of criticism of that person for supposedly advocating voluntary taxation. This tension exists and it must be balanced, which is all the writer had said (in that post, not others).

    The more the government removes the financial responsibilities of the people, the more it shifts that burden to other people. Eventually, if this is goes on unchecked, the government can not support the burden of the people without extracting the means to do so another way, cutting into the rights of the people. On the other hand, a government that completely ignores the preservation of the people fails to prevent suffering in any meaningful way. By its nature, capitalism can fall into a form of market tyranny where rights of the producers are abused by the owners of the means of production, the very sort of tyranny that Marx foresaw.

    The only way to prevent these two extremes, in my view is to balance the sides. Don’t be too supportive of social programs but don’t be supportive of the free market. A liberal, in my lexicon, is someone who supports government to the point that it supports the common good and is beneficial to the people *and no more*. They balance between these extremes, demanding some social programs, but not all social programs.

    If that is the case, the modern democrat and the modern republican are just arguing about how far to tip the scale, and that argument is valid and appropriate. I will continue to pull toward the marketside as long as I see the pendulum swinging that way. When it reverses, I will pull toward the other side and hope that enough other people see the world the way I do.

  172. “I think the “easiest” way to promote a more moderate political landscape is to introduce “automatic runoff elections” instead of our current primary/general election system. Our current system appeals to extreme viewpoints and can result in the election of candidates that the vast majority would not support if given the choice between all of the candidates from the primary. An “automatic runoff” basically gives you “points” instead of one vote. There is no primary. Say there are five people on the ballot, you can then assign your points in any way you choose. The person with the most points overall wins. This method ensures that the person the majority of the voters approve of gets elected

    Better, but still not good enough. These days, there is no reason to oppose proportional representation other than the vested interests of the current popular parties. (Interestingly, one of the (invalid) criticisms of PR one often hears is that PR allows extremists more chance and a two-party system produces more “generally acceptable” candidates; you claim the opposite.) If it is worth changing the system, why not do it correctly?

    I fear our public would be too stupid to figure it out…”

    No way to argue with that. :-(

  173. Terry

    Oops… meant I will continue to pull toward the market side as long as I see the pendulum swinging the other way… meh…. tired.

  174. Ben

    Phil wrote: ‘”Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose” is wrong and dumb; in fact the act of swinging your fist at all is a threat.’

    No, you’ve still got it wrong. This is how it should go: “Your right to swing your fist ends if a living target poses no threat to you and has not agreed to engage in combat sports with you.”

    Watch out for assuming the recipient isn’t willing. That’s just as offensive as assuming they are. Like you say… rights are funny things. We’ve already made a lot of mistakes by simplifying situations in precisely the way you attempted to here.

    Slavery is a good example – if you /want/ to be someone’s slave, I don’t have an objection. You should be able to do that. Just like if you want to engage in martial arts with someone, you should be able to do that. If you /want/ to sell your body, you should be able to do that. If you /want/ to drink alcohol, you should be able to do that. If you /want/ to take LSD, you should be able to do that. Etc.

    The key here is coercion; when its antithesis, informed consent, has been arrived at, the government is wrong to attempt to counter the choice. When government has a legitimate role, it is only in /ensuring/ that informed consent has been arrived at. Issues like coercion are important, but they are no less palatable when it is the government doing the coercion.

  175. @ 169. Neil Haggath : Thanks I guess. :-)

    That’s a cheery thought to go to sleep on .. not. :-(

  176. Cory

    I love your astronomy articles, and disagree with your politics. That you dismiss my politics in such an insulting manner, as if my understanding of the world lacks the sophistication of yours, makes me regret visiting your blog. I still read it, but now wince when a new article appears on my reader. I want to be fascinated by science, not lectured to about my world view.

  177. @Ben (#174):

    The key here is coercion; when its antithesis, informed consent, has been arrived at, the government is wrong to attempt to counter the choice. When government has a legitimate role, it is only in /ensuring/ that informed consent has been arrived at.

    So people in government are allowed to act coercively in order to ensure that no interactions are coercive?

  178. Angus Martin

    @Messier Tidy Upper:

    Wow, big response! Here we go.

    So if funding was the problem the answer is to FUND it then! That would be the seemingly obvious answer to me. Not cancelling it.

    - I agree! Cancelling Constellation I think is a poor decision. Though I do think we don’t need Ares I. We can human-rate our cargo rockets and a fraction of the cost.

    So give them the money they need. Its not allthat muchrelativelyspeaking compared with many other things (*cough*, bank bailout, *cough*) and
    is a wrothwhile investment plus its all money that’s spent here on Earth, in America mostly, stimulating the ecconomy here as the BA has argued already I think.

    - Again, I agree entirely.

    Wait up? That’s a mistake? I disagree. NASA was created toget people -esp. Americans into space.

    - Actually it was created to put government aerospace research into civilian circles instead of military (as NACA was), but one of its big roles has been human spaceflight.

    It may not be *ALL* of space science but human spaceflight is a big component of space science & I think pretending otherwise is like covering one eye and deliberately only using one eye or ear when bothare availbale and enable us to best understand our cosmos.

    - How is it a big component of space science? Everything we do with human spaceflight can be done with robots for a fraction of the cost. The closest I think you can say human spaceflight (as we’ve conducted it so far) relates to science is being able to conduct maintenance on objects like Hubble. Which I think is important. We also have the possibility of generating some human-oriented space science with human spaceflight, but we haven’t done that yet.

    I agree we need a robotic space program as well but I do think we need people in space and can learn much from humans in space that we cannot learn from any other means.

    - For example…?

    You think so – really?
    Your evidence to back that claim up would be .. what exactly?

    - Obama raised the budget on NASA, and a lot of that money is finally being put toward space-based observation of Earth, as well as solar weather patterns. We’re finally going to start building a network to observe solar storm activity. The cut of Constellation is going to loosen up the budget for more robotic spacecraft funding, which means more missions, more science.

    All of that being said, a lot of his focus is going toward science education in regards to NASA.

    There we go. Human spaceflight suffers under Obama.

    - It does.

    It’s one element at least where the simple “Bush = evil vs Obama = saintly” picture breaks down isn’t it? That’s what I’m saying.

    - And you’d be right. I’m not disagreeing.

    The BA should have the courage and intelligence tocriticise his political heroes and his political “team” especially if he is to make posts like these seriously.

    - Except he may not care too passionately about human spaceflight. I know many scientists who’d love to see human spaceflight die, to make room for more robotic science missions. Phil may be one of them.

    I don’t think there are any examples of him doing this -certainly none spring tomind. I could be wrong but I do think theBA has allowed his love for Obama to overcome his ratuional thinking proceses insome cases.

    - Unless he doesn’t care about human spaceflight, which is a big possibility.

    FWIW I’ll freely admit -& have already said that Bush was anti-sceince in many respects (sympathic toID and anti-stem cell among many otehrexamples) and was not one of the best Presidents either by any stretch of the imagination. But not everything Bush did was bad and not everything Obama has done has been good.

    - And I agree. I’m not criticizing you for praising something Bush did (in fact, I’d largely be right there next to you on this topic), and I am under no illusion that everything Obama has done is good. I’m very disappointed in him, but what he’s doing is precisely what I expected out of him. No major political figure in this country would make me very happy. Obama is “good for science” only to the extent that he isn’t as bad as most presidents are about it. But he’s still not good for science.

    Partisanship that blinds us to this reality and results in political cheerleader posting is, IMHON, unhelpful and even counter-productive. I think it does turn off people and cost Phil Plait credibility when he is seen as an uncritical Obama supporter rather than a more objective, even-handed observer.

    - I agree, but Phil may not actually care about the success of human spaceflight. Not everyone supports it, and a large number of people actually think it should be cut. I don’t know what Phil’s position on human spaceflight is, I haven’t read his blogs (I assume older ones) about the Obama decision.

    I think that statement is totally wrong – although it is another debate entirely probably best saved for another forum.

    - You’re entitled to that opinion, of course. But everything human spaceflight has done in terms of science could have been done cheaper without human spaceflight.

    Are you saying human expansion into space is mutually contradictory with science esp. space science?

    - Not at all, human expansion into space will open up many scientific opportunities. However those same scientific opportunities could be opened up for less money, which would open up more funds for more science missions. You get more science done with no people in space, than you do with people in space.

    Unless we start setting up permanent settlements on other planets, then the cost will be one major start-up cost, and very cheap operation and proliferation after that.

    Yes, there are other elements -national pride, military capability, economic benefits, cultural inspiration, even entertainment (Much like sport space travel can be said to be a substitute for war) – but space science is definitely part of the package as well as these other things.

    - See, I think that last example (space travel a substitute for war) is, in many ways, one of the best reasons for us to focus on space travel. I also think cultural inspiration, especially in regards to colonization, is often under-appreciated. And space science is part of the package, but that science can be done for cheaper with the same results with robots. If we want our space program to be purely about space science, then human spaceflight is a hindrance to that goal.

    We can get the space science done with human spaceflight, of course, but it’ll be slower to get the same results as we would with robots. I don’t think slowing down that rate is necessarily a bad thing, but if you look at the situation as a whole, no human spaceflight is better for space science.

    Human expansion into space encompasses (includes) space science – being a friend to human expansion = being a friend to space science too. How the blazes do you find that in any way “dishonest”?

    - Because you can get more science done without human spaceflight.

    Umm .. Obama wants tocancel Constellation remember?
    That’s very much NOT the same as giving NASA the money to do it.

    - NASA’s budget, as Obama wants it to be, would be enough to get Constellation on track. But he cancelled it. Which is bad.

    The problem Bush had was NOT getting the funding – which brings me back to the opening point. Obama needed, first and foremost to FUND Constellation To plan for things happening after and as well sure but first to say: “Look we’re committed to this, we’re doing this, here’s the money, go do it!”

    - Agreed! My point is that Bush having a vision was not enough, that’s all he had. He created the Constellation program, but never put the political muscle behind it to make it happen. It was never a priority to him, it was a feel-good talking point. Obama, on the other hand, had the opportunity to make it work, but botched it by proposing to cancel it.

    Neither, really, was any good in regards to human spaceflight.

    On that point I completely agree with you!

    - I think when it comes to this issue we largely do agree, it seems mostly where we split is on what is and isn’t good for space science, and what human space travel is and isn’t.

    We need to be in space, we need to stay in space, if for no other reason than for the very survival of our species. And of course we need to be out there, so we can help defend Earth from natural disasters, like space rocks on a killing course for us.

    There are so many reasons to get humans into space, and to keep them in space, and to keep improving our abilities in space.

  179. ASFalcon13

    There’s been a lot of criticism in this thread about how media simplifies issues, that this is somehow a bad thing, and that somehow there’s a lack of critical thinking in this country. I’ll argue that this simplification by the media is necessary, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all somehow getting dumber as a whole.

    My argument is that there are just too many issues for anybody to have in-depth knowledge of all of them. For that reason, for many issues, you’ll have a few people that really know the subject well, and the rest of society knows only a little – “low resolution ideas”, as Phil would state it. This doesn’t mean that the majority of society has a problem with critical thinking; it just means that their critical thinking bandwidth is spent elsewhere.

    Let me illustrate with an analogy. I like watching football – especially University of Texas football. I’ll usually watch a Longhorn game when it’s on TV, and will attend in person every once in a while. However, I don’t watch much other football, since there are other things I like to do with my weekends too…fly airplanes, get exercise, spend time with friends, attend to basic biological needs…you get the idea. However, even if I did put football above all else, it’d still be impossible to watch every game. There are hundreds of teams at the college level, so I’d have to be able to process potentially dozens of information streams simultaneously if I wanted to watch every game. No human can do that. Instead, I have to choose one game to watch at a time, and if I want to know what happened with the rest, I’m pretty much forced – thanks to information overload – to refer to the scoreboard and maybe a “Top 10 Plays of the Day” highlight reel to even remotely get an idea of the whole picture. I’m limited to a “black-and-white” picture: I know who won each game, but I get no sense of the ebb-and-flow throughout each game, just the final outcome.

    The evening news, with its 15-second soundbites, is the political equivalent of the scoreboard and “Plays of the Day” reel. It’s a quick summary of the day’s events. Most of the ideas here have to be chunky and simple; try to talk about the subtleties, and you’ll have to get into deeper explanations that’ll exceed the understanding and bandwidth of the audience that might not have looked into that particular issue in depth. If folks then do want to dig deeper, the resources are there – the flip side of information overload and the information age is that there’s plenty of information available if you want to dig deeper. Just realize that your digging is going to be limited to just a few of the nearly countless issues facing our nation, and, for the rest, you’re going to be reliant on quick summaries.

    To counter Lewis’s (#19) example…sure, maybe the guy down the street hasn’t been keeping up with current astronomical events, and doesn’t realize there are only 8 official planets now. Maybe that’s because he’s a world-reknowned brain surgeon, and he has more pressing matters to worry about than keeping track of how many pieces of rock are floating about in the solar system.

  180. Angus Martin

    179 ASFalcon13

    About your response to Lewis (#19)’s planets point…

    I’d add that not only do they worry about other matters, but I’m not sure how important it is for anyone that isn’t an astronomer of some sort to know how many planets are in our solar system “officially”. Space enthusiasts of course know this, but does it affect the political, social and economic realities here on Earth? No.

    I would love for everyone to know the ins and outs of space science, but when you get right down to it, who cares if people think Pluto is still a planet? That would have very little impact on how informed they are on world events.

    Now, people complaining about the federal budget, then claiming that food stamps are a huge cost for the federal government…that’s a problem.

  181. Ben

    gibson042 @ 177: “So people in government are allowed to act coercively in order to ensure that no interactions are coercive?”

    The role of government in such situations is not to coerce. It is to validate and record consent, which it has in turn validated as being informed.

    For instance, you wish to compete in a full contact martial arts (boxing, etc.) ring, you are examined, asked reasonable questions, and provided with a form to sign. Having been through this path, your liability, and your options, change dramatically, based upon the concept that you knew what you were getting into, including outlying (that is, less often encountered) potential consequences. This is just how it should be done, as far as I’m concerned.

    Every time we try to “save the citizens” from themselves by outlawing some personal or consensual choice, we’ve erred. I know of no exceptions. I’m not sure there can even be one.

  182. Jeremy Davis

    Phil, for 8 years you savaged the W. Bush administration and longed for the day when “science would be restored to its rightful place (in the government).” Now that the Obama administration has effectively dead-ended human space exploration for the forseeable future and Gen. Chuck Bolden has revealed that NASA has been reduced to a self-esteem bolster for “at-risk” youth and the “Muslim world,” what do you have to say about The One for whom you had such high hopes two years ago?

  183. You miss the point, Ben (#181). Members of your hypothetical government, unless nobly volunteering their services in a free market, are themselves acting coercively and thus contradicting stated goals. The informed-consent-validation government either funds itself through extorting taxes (coercion), or outlaws competition (coercion), or is just another unprivileged business competing for customers.

    I agree with your last paragraph. Would you outlaw my consensual choice to validate informed assumption of risk with other organizations and avoid your government entirely?

  184. Angus Martin

    182 Jeremy Davis

    Except Obama hasn’t dead-ended human space exploration. He has injured our ability to more quickly establish permanent presence, but he has not dead-ended human space exploration. We’re going to have private crew launchers available within a decade (and likely within the next 5 years), and a heavy lift rocket for beyond LEO being tested by at least 2020, with planned expeditions to asteroids by 2025, and Mars by 2030. That isn’t dead-ending it, it’s stalling it for a few years. But this isn’t the first time this has happened, it happened between Apollo and the Shuttle, too.

    Now, whether or not the plans to bypass the Moon is an intelligent move is debatable. But it’s silly (and partisan) to say Obama is dead-ending human spaceflight.

  185. Nigel Depledge

    Angus Martin (178) said:

    - How is it a big component of space science? Everything we do with human spaceflight can be done with robots for a fraction of the cost. The closest I think you can say human spaceflight (as we’ve conducted it so far) relates to science is being able to conduct maintenance on objects like Hubble. Which I think is important. We also have the possibility of generating some human-oriented space science with human spaceflight, but we haven’t done that yet.

    I think a fairly good case can be made that the scientific achievements of the Apollo programme could not have been made by robotic explorers. Or, more specifically, could not have been made at that time and in so few years. Perhaps now we have sufficiently sophisticated technology that our robotic explorers could achieve what the Apollo programme did in the same span of about 10 years (remember that the hardware design for Apollo started in the early ’60s).

    Missions such as Cassini-Huygens, Spirit, Opportunity and Voyager have achieved huge amounts. But none has yet achieved what the six Apollo landings did. By way of comparison, the Soviet Lunokhod programme did not achieve anywhere near as much science as did Apollo.

  186. Cosmonut

    Loved the “pictorial illustration” of the two world-views !
    Truly, a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words. :)

  187. Good post (I have made an exception to my usual rule of reading all the comments before posting).

    I want a government that is big enough to do what it needs to do and no bigger

    I thought of commenting on this at the time, but Ezra said it better than I could.

    I’ll just add that, in relation to any specific policy or spending decision, if smaller government has benefits, it should be possible to identify and quantify them specifically in the supporting analysis for the policy, rather than weight ‘size of government’ as an abstract factor in the mix.

    Oh, and yay for rebutting that nonsense about my fist and your nose.

  188. Ben

    gibson042 @ 183: “You miss the point, Ben (#181). Members of your hypothetical government, unless nobly volunteering their services in a free market, are themselves acting coercively and thus contradicting stated goals.”

    Not in this case, they aren’t. You seem to be advocating anarchy; I’m not on board, sorry. The left side of the Gaussian always needs some set of formal guidelines. Anarchy can’t work. Depending on corporate goals won’t work either. There needs to be a balance; personal rights should be the focal point of that balance, as far as I’m concerned.

    In any case, none of this is relevant to my original point to Phil, so I’m done here. You are welcome to the last word.

  189. Greg

    “I want a government that is big enough to do what it needs to do and no bigger”

    The question is who gets to decide what the government “needs” to do? If you were to ask most people in government they would say they “need to do” every piece of legislation. We “need” healthcare reform. We “need” to invade Iraq. We “need” this or that…

  190. itskurtins

    In my last year of high school their was a class called US History II which was a requirement for graduation. (We had lots of requirements back then, like 8 semesters of English Lit.). any way the teacher had us elect a class president, and she promptly moved her desk to the back of the room and the class president ran the class. We had to make a scrap book for every day with news clippings and comments on the news of the day. She would collect a random scrap book and go over it during class. Give it back at the end of class with little comment. We were also required to work up a project based on a subject of interest (mine was space exploration), and give an in class presentation on the subject. We were graded through the semester based on what she thought of our work. Their was no test! Their was no exam! But it was brutal. And I learned how to critically judge the commercial media. If nothing else I learned how to think. I don’t think schools are allowed to do that any more. They must prep their students for the tests. Like the Japanese.

  191. Azmi

    I have to comment on this, and I have to say I have a very similar view on the world as you do. What catches my eyes is your view on the right to bear arms. I do believe that everybody has the right to defend themselves and own a firearm, and I do know that there are people out there who are psychopaths and unfit to own a firearm and use them safely such as people with history of intoxication and drug abuse as well as criminals. No, not everyone has that right as some will take the right of life or property on someone else. I think the minimal restrictions on firearms (like limited to semi-auto, cannot have short barrel rifles, etc.) are just nice as it is enough to keep the bad guys at bay (and have a cool looking gun) while being in boundary of what you can and should have (I mean, why should I have a full automatic AK-47 while most of the time I would just shoot targets that don’t shoot back? And even if they shoot back, I don’t need that volume of firepower to get the job done. Besides, full automatic weapons for civilians is like an Indy Car to the average driver; there are safety concerns). Also, I do believe that there should be some regulations on the economy is required because human beings are greedy.

    For the UK people out there, I don’t think your arguments about guns are necessarily correct, I will therefore challenge it. Sure, they can sue you if you point a weapon at them to get them out of your house while they are stealing your 500 pound color TV, but guns are a great deterrence, and your first objective is to always disarm the situation. I don’t understand why any law of the country favors the bad guys more than the good guys like people who got robbed, killed, or left with trauma are more civilized than those who just protected their property and their family. To me, that is absurd. No, the idea of depending on police means you are taking freedom for granted. Remember, you have the fundamental right to self-defense. I think the reason gun crime is lower in the UK than in the US is just due to statistical difference, and I do know that UK statistics are corrected in that not ALL gun crimes are necessarily violent crime while the US would put gun crime in the violent crime category one way or another. Therefore, from my argument above, ownership of firearms anywhere (though you can have some restrictions based on locale as I understand one size doesn’t fit all) should be a right. Really, you don’t want to be a victim! Also, gun control that many on the far left want has been repeatedly shown to not make a difference in gun crime and gun crime statistics, but the true effect of gun ownership is still uncertain.

    Back to you Phil: I’m glad that you are actually in the middle and not being so passionate about one particular ideology, like all scientists should be.

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