Atheist Airman Denied Reenlistment

Posted by Jim Newman on September 8th, 2014 – 2 Comments – Posted in religion

united-states-air-force-oathSeveral days without internet and the entire family went ozone. Finally, I call Frontier again and they say oh, yeah, it’s working. Not in our house. Turns out not only were modem and RJ-11 jacks fried by lightning but the line through the wall to the first jack. I fed a long line through a window. Family is no longer threatening to move to hotel. Service says Frontier has to come out and swap line to first jack, they installed it.


You can’t fight for your country unless you believe in a sky daddy.

The American Humanist Association is threatening to sue the Air Force on behalf of an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada after he was denied reenlistment into the service last month because he refused to say “so help me God” in the Oath of Enlistment.

An Air Force official explained in a USA Today report that taking the oath to God is a statutory requirement and the only way the atheist airman can opt out of acknowledging God is if Congress changes it.

A “statutory requirement?” Really? All these changes being made in the various military corps and they found one the requires an act of congress?

The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center noted. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

The Air Force did their bureau-hand-waving.

AFI 36-2606 “is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘so help me God,’” she added.

So you can be gay but not believe in a sky daddy?

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason. com  @jimnnewman

Five Positive News Bits to Foil Dark Forecasts

Posted by Jim Newman on August 29th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Science

Positive-DayThe news is always so sensationally dark as are entertainment media. Drama still trumps comedy. Though many shows reveal triumph over adversity the goal of positivity still reeks of justified violence along the way. Though I suppose these are helpful in a Theatre of Grotesque kind of way, I chose, today, to respond to a need for just plain old cynical free, good, positive, news bits. Can I least have a cynical slant? Hmm. I like a challenge, so no.

  1. Ebola is not the next Bubonic plague. Research of it may glean valuable information in communicable disease control. MD’s are heroes again.
  2. Young adults, students, are showing progress in social justice, restorative justice, and earth justice. Giving hope for our future.
  3. Studies are showing neuroplasticity, learning, enables people to change more than they thought, yet, still be themselves.
  4. A good therapy if you’re having relationship issues is to write down ten things you like about them that day. Seven is okay. Repeat.
  5. Beyoncé showed many young people that feminism is not dead and is accessible to them. Serves as springboard to greater feminism.

Image source.

Jim Newman,

Scientific Realism and is Philosophy Relevant?

Posted by Jim Newman on August 27th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Science

structural realismIs there such a thing as realism, really, or just useful constructs? Is structural realism, or scientific realism, real? Classifications? Often many things, thought to be not real, are later shown to be so. We tend to use the word real to mean something we agree with.

Philosophers wade through this territory to make things clear, and scientists push back saying philosophy is dead. As if critical thinking, logic, reasoning, and thought experiments weren’t philosophy.

Here’s article and below is a video from it.

Image Source

Jim Newman,

Spectre of Brocken Appears as God or Spirit in Sky

Posted by Jim Newman on August 25th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Science

brocken largeI can easily imagine a time before astronomy, or demonstration, this optical illusion would either terrify or amaze people. Even if told or shown how it works, many would see this as a miracle. I bet many would still now.

NASA’s Astronomy picture of the day posted the explanation.

The city of Veszprem, Hungary was only briefly haunted by this mysterious spectre. On the morning of August 11, its monstrous form hovered in the mist above municipal buildings near the town center. A clue to its true identity is offered by the photographer, though, who reports he took the picture from the top of a twenty story building with the rising Sun directly at his back. That special geometry suggests this is an example of an atmospheric phenomenon called the Glory or sometimes “the Spectre of the Brocken”. Also seen from mountain tops and airplanes when looking opposite the Sun, the dramatic apparition is the observer’s shadow on clouds or fog, the small droplets of water scattering light back towards the Sun through complex internal reflections. Careful night sky watchers can also encounter this spectre’s analog in astronomy, a brightening of zodiacal light opposite the Sun known as the gegenschein.

A Brocken also can cause a halo to appear around the figure.

The “spectre” appears when the sun shines from behind the observer, who is looking down from a ridge or peak into mist or fog. The light projects their shadow through the mist, often in a triangular shape due to perspective.[1] The apparent magnification of size of the shadow is an optical illusion that occurs when the observer judges their shadow on relatively nearby clouds to be at the same distance as faraway land objects seen through gaps in the clouds, or when there are no reference points by which to judge its size. The shadow also falls on water droplets of varying distances from the eye, confusing depth perception. The ghost can appear to move (sometimes suddenly) because of the movement of the cloud layer and variations in density within the cloud.

The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appear directly opposite the sun when sunlight is reflected by a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets. The effect is caused by the refraction of visible light.

Here’s the full image. Kinda looks like Bigfoot coming your way, or would that be King Kong?


Jim Newman,

Racism Due to Low Intelligence?

Posted by Jim Newman on August 22nd, 2014 – 2 Comments – Posted in Racism, Science, Uncategorized

sammy-davis-archie-bunker-kiss-2Wray Herbert reports on new studies showing racism to be more frequent in people of low intelligence. While liberals knew this all along (#sarcasm) we tend to avoid this topic. Most people believe they are above average. Further it is a big taboo to talk about relative intelligence and politics, much less social topics. Yet, it may be true that the Meathead in Archie Bunker was more intelligent than his racist father-in-law Archie, or at least more compassionate, begging the question of whether the ability to empathize has some relation to intelligence or education to intelligence.

While division of labor supports expertise in a variety of areas as being useful, few want to acknowledge that nature and training, education, in thinking creates an expertise worthy of attention. While many would agree that if your car is broken taking it to a mechanic is a wise choice, or educating yourself to compensate for those people that seem to be able to fix anything mechanical. In intelligence we tend to refer to reliance on expertise as an ad hominem or appeal to austerity argument; because it is true or because it’s hard to follow the argument? Choosing a good car mechanic can be tricky. Mechanical Blue books and repair guides flatten the differences in native and educated expertise. Could something like these be developed for situations requiring intelligence?

The hot button is if racism is related to intelligence what do we do about it; what are its consequences?

Part of democracy is our insistence of any individual to be able question everything and anything, regardless, whether trained, educated, or intuitive. Or not. This does get us into trouble as in global warming where a few people can hijack the research of an overwhelming majority. It also works the other way where a majority of people who are racists overrule the few who keep trying to point out its continued existence, not to mention the vaccination debacle, or ebola fear.

In “Is Racism Just a Form of Stupidity?” Hebert goes where few are willing to trend–which is enough for me to respect him.

I think that a lot of us are shying away from an obvious truth: that the kind of blatant racial prejudice we are witnessing in Ferguson, Missouri, has everything to do with stupidity.

I’m talking about low intelligence, lack of mental ability, cognitive rigidity. Racists may be a lot of other things — hateful, insecure — but let’s not sugar-coat what most fair-minded thinkers believe in their hearts: A person of intelligence cannot embrace such authoritarian and racist views.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. Prejudice declines with presence of intelligence.

Let’s not stop there, however. It’s important, when dealing with such a controversial topic, to get down into the evidentiary weeds a bit. One of the problems plaguing the early research was that the results were confounded by other possible causes, like financial status and class and education. That is, it could have been these things, and not intelligence per se, that led to prejudice. Scientists had trouble sorting all this out. Scientists also didn’t have longitudinal data — data gathered on the same subjects over time — so they could not address the important issue of cause and effect. Plus their study samples were not representative of the population. But scientists have over time solved these problems, and the key finding has held up: Empirical evidence has consistently linked low intelligence with prejudice.

Importantly, scientists have measured intelligence in a variety of ways, and the main conclusion always holds up. In one study of white children, for example, some were less able to see that a short, wide glass holds the same amount of water as a taller, skinnier glass. This ability is known as “conservation” in the jargon of the field, and it’s widely considered an important mental ability. In this study, the kids who lacked this ability also held more negative views of black children. Other researchers conducted an ambitious meta-analysis — a statistical aggregation of findings from many studies — and this also documented a link between cognitive style and ability, on the one hand, and authoritarian attitudes on the other.

Longitudinal studies provide some of the most convincing evidence. One such study looked at general intelligence in 10- and 11-year-old kids, and then re-studied those kids as adults two decades later — and found a clear connection between low intelligence and subsequent racism and sexism. Similarly, higher intelligence in childhood has been shown to predict less racism in adulthood. These analyses strongly suggest that low intelligence actually leads to hateful attitudes later on.

But is this collateral or causal? Supposedly this has been compensated. Herbert goes on to echo others that say certain personality types self align with peers in their politics; authoritarians choose authoritarian-promoting politics.

Dhont and Hodson believe they have an answer to this, again one based on rigorous abundant evidence. Their theory is that right-wing ideologies attract people with lower mental abilities because they minimize the complexity of the world. Right-wing ideologies offer well-structured and ordered views of society, views that preserve traditions and norms, so they are especially attractive to those who are threatened by change and want to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Conversely, smart people are more capable of grasping a world of nuance, fluidity and relativity.

The empirical evidence supports this link, too. Low intelligence and “low effort thinking” are strongly linked to right-wing attitudes, including authoritarianism and conservative politics. And again, there appears to be a demonstrable causal link: Studies have found, for example, that children with poor mental skills grow up to be strongly right-wing adults.

It is interesting to consider that some people fall prey to specific heuristic biases more than others.

The scientists elaborate on this idea in the Current Directions article: Intelligence and thinking determine how people assess threats in the world. Those with lower ability — reasoning skills, processing speed, and so forth — prefer simple and predictable answers, because that is what they are capable of processing. Any uncertainty is threatening, and they respond to such threats by trying to preserve what is familiar and safe, the status quo. These conservative reactions are basic and normal — they reduce anxiety — but over time they harden into more stable and pervasive world views, which include stereotypical thinking, avoidance, prejudicial attitudes and over discrimination.

Along with others I call this the Bullshit Meter. Nassim Taleb recently Tweeted that he thinks the ability for qualitative logical analysis is like perfect pitch or a musical ear. It can’t be taught. My mother and other music teachers have taught pitch and ear to some degree but it usually requires effort and must be kept up or is diminished, if not wholly lost back to their base line–much like Lykken’s Happiness Setpoint theory. I wonder if intelligence is this way as well. Education and continued education, or exposure to social groups that provide intuitive education, allow people to make more complex and nuanced choices. But that can be lost if you move or change groups.

The truth of this was posited long ago by Plato who said truth, beauty, and goodness were a tight braid. Knowing the truth also means knowing goodness and beauty.

The big issue is how do we talk about this without offending, insulting the crap out of, many people. On the other hand we easily recognize that a fit person can run faster. An unfit person can learn to run more fast. Perhaps, we should value intelligence and educate towards that. Another problem is it’s easier to see a superior gymnast than a superior intellect.

Jim Newman. bright an well

James Foley Beheaded, Journalists Tease Death in War

Posted by Jim Newman on August 20th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in politics

James FoleyJournalists and medical staff have special access in war zones and should not receive harm. Many conventions have been developed to protect them. One of the lessons in war, odd though it may be, is the least harm you do, the more compassion you show the less hatred towards the oppressors. Since war is usually a divided issue, even within the country committing war, showing some sort of humanity indicates reluctance to just kill everyone period. It’s an odd dichotomy to be sure as some have said war is war. Yet, most are repugnant at shooting unarmed civilians, women, children, medical staff, and POWs. And journalists.

The Kurds have well utilized women as soldiers and Hamas has used civilian buildings and people to shield military personnel and weapons. Israel has used excessive force to sway the genocide sworn to them. In Japan, in WW II, from 100 to 200 thousand people died from nuclear bombs, and any other living thing that happened to be in the way, proving the US to also be ready to do what it takes with desperate and fearful abandon. Japan, fearing land evasion had begun filling its sea coastal caves with small boats carrying bombs, using citizens as suicide pilots.

Terrorists transgress humanity, long before the situation seems desperate, in the hopes they will shock people to compliance or scare others to stay away.

Hemingway wrote how grand it was to report on the Spanish war but since then the plethora of journalists risking their lives for a story has escalated dramatically. In 2001 Geraldo Rivera startled journalists by carrying a rifle in a war zone where 8 reporters had already died. His claim that he was in a dangerous place sounds ridiculous as how does carrying weapons make it less dangerous? Especially since modern war is not a place where you see your shooter and can shoot back like some face-to-face western. The best choice is to stay hidden or not be there, More radically it clouds the issue of whether a reporter is a combatant or not.

That journalists are not trained to fight in war makes it more difficult to understand why they would carry weapons or even be in war zones. When they are in danger, the military must decide whether to defend them and risk their own men or allow them the freedom to commit what can essentially be called passive suicide. It may seem reasonable that journalists should be allowed to make their own choices about engagement but they have a special privilege. The military does not allow sincere and willing citizens to catch a plane and join in combat or be bystanders to combat scenes.

The American desire for sensationalistic news and the rising competitiveness of young journalists to make a name in a difficult field encourages doing more and more dangerous activities. The old reporter who waits until the bullets lesson misses the story and photo that make the evening news. New reporters laugh at the old journalists still alive that wait at hotels having drinks until it’s safe to go out. It’s not quite like that but it is true that journalists are willing to take more risks than ever before.

65 journalists have died in Syria in 2012. 151 journalists died in Iraq. From 1992 to 2011 880 US journalists have died in war. Was the gripping photo worth it? Was receiving some news a little more early essential for the public’s assessment of what’s going on?

54 journalist died in World War II. A war that caused the death of between 50 and 80 million people, 20 to 25 million soldiers. It is an impossible comparison as no war since has begun to have that kind of death toll. By proportion the number is small.

The Islamic State has certainly capitalized on the capture and beheading of James Foley as yet another horror. They certainly must feel more important as the media blazes with anger and indignation.

The importance of getting the most immediate photos and story of war is balanced against a drama that elevates the status of terrorists to greater terror. Terrorists who were always willing to kill anything in their way.

Has it been worth it? Has the public benefited from the 1,000 deaths of journalists during the last 20 years? Do you feel better informed, more certain of the horrors of war, and more likely to make good decisions about any given war? For me, I would rather see them alive, returning  home, and continuing to support their families and society.

Jim Newman,