We are the 99%

August 27, 2014

PASTAH Conference

Hey, did you know that a whole buncha godless heathens will be conferencing in our lovely city this weekend?

It's called the PASTAH (short for, as I understand it, PA State Atheist/Humanist) Conference and it's taking place at the Doubletree dahn-tahn.

For tickets/schedule and so on, go to the atheistpa website or their facebook page.

From the P-G:
Pittsburgh has the honor of hosting its first Atheist/Humanist conference, the 2014 PASTAH Conference to be held August 29 through August 31, in Downtown Pittsburgh at the DoubleTree! A lineup of fantastic speakers has been recruited, including Jerry Coyne, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Fred Edwords, Jamila Bey, Jerry DeWitt, John Loftus, Monette Richards, Lauri Lebo, as well as local musicians and comedians. The conference is an excellent opportunity for freethinkers to socialize, network, and commune.
Lynn Cullen did a segment on it, about halfway through her show, with local godless heathen, Ann Norman:

I still can't believe they're gonna let the godless heathens have their own goddamned conference.  Next thing you know atheists'll be demanding the same equal rights the Constitution guarantees to all the good faithful normal Americans.

Imagine that!

August 26, 2014

Professor Harris-Perry Has The Floor Again

And shows us all how it's done.  Again.

Crooks and Liars has the set up:
Melissa Harris-Perry did a nice job of taking apart Villager Joe Klein for his "cringe-worthy" op-ed he wrote this week for Time, where he did his best to malign Michael Brown for his own shooting and opined about the need to have an honest discussion about race relations in the United States. That discussion, as Harris-Perry discussed in her commentary above, is something Klein really doesn't seem ready to have yet when you dissect his article.
 And here's Professor Harris-Perry's analysis (cringe-worthy yes, but for Joe Klein):

You can find the transcript at Crooksandliars.

August 24, 2014

Yea, This Is Disappointing

Usually, I love watching John Oliver on HBO.  Usually, he's funny, moving, and completely right.

Last week, however, I watched as he got caught up in the Gender Gap story.

And, he got the story wrong.

We've written about this before but I guess it might be a good idea to revisit the issue, if only to point out Oliver's mistakes.  The biggest mistake happens whenever Oliver uses the phrase "for equal work" except when he says this about 5 minutes in:
Paying people less for the same work is clearly wrong.
I could not agree more.  The problem Oliver has is where and what to other sentences he pastes the "for the same work" phrase.

Let's take a look at his numbers.  His piece gives a number of different pay gaps  Along with the by now well known $.77 he gives us talking points saying the gap is:
  • $.81
  • $.88
  • $.91
  • $.95 to $.93
They're obviously different, but are they conflicting?  Throughout the piece Oliver mocks the presence  of different numbers as evidence that...there's something wrong with all those numbers.  Implicit in the mockery is the "fact" that the reality is "$.77 on the dollar for the same work" and so all the other numbers must be so much dishonest number fudgery.

But that's just simply not true.  You have to look at what the numbers represent to see that each tells a slightly different story.  Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post explained this a little more than 2 years ago:
We were struck by the disparities in the data when we noticed that a news release by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) trumpeted the 77 cent figure, but it included a link to a state-by-state breakdown that gave a different overall figure: 81 cents.

What’s the difference? The 77 cent figure comes from a Census Bureau report, which is based on annual wages. The BLS numbers draw on data that are based on weekly wages. Annual wages is a broader measure — it can include bonuses, retirement pensions, investment income and the like — but it also means that school teachers, who may not work over the summer, would end up with a lower annual wage.

In other words, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics may be less reliable for examining the key focus of the legislation — wage discrimination. Weekly wages is more of an apples-to-apples comparison, but as mentioned, it does not include as many income categories, The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — it is 86 cents vs. 100 (see Table 9) — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers. But, under this metric for people with a college degree, there is virtually no pay gap at all. [Emphases added.]
So what did Oliver's numbers represent?  Let's look one at a time:
  • $.81 - This is a BLS survey released in 2012 that compares weekly earnings.
  • $.88 - Factcheck.org quotes BLS to say that, if I am reading it correctly, Since men tend to work more overtime their weekly earnings edge higher and that when comparing male and female workers who each work only 40 hours, the gap is closer to $.88.  
  • $.91 - Hanna Rosin over at Slate.com cites this paper to say that "The big differences are in occupation and industry. Women congregate in different professions than men do, and the largely male professions tend to be higher-paying. If you account for those differences, and then compare a woman and a man doing the same job, the pay gap narrows to 91 percent."
This is where we clash with Oliver's other bit of mockery: that if the gap exists, it's actually women's fault. [OMG, how can anyone in their right mind believe that?]

But as we've seen, the Stanford paper says that women do congregate in lower paying jobs and no less than the Association of American University Women says that the different choices that men and women make in college and in the job market are in fact a part of the gap.  From page 8 of the AAUW report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap:
In part, these pay gaps do reflect men’s and women’s choices, especially the choice of college major and the type of job pursued after graduation. For example, women are more likely than men to go into teaching, and this contributes to the pay gap because teachers tend to be paid less than other college graduates. This portion of the pay gap is considered to be explained, regardless of whether teachers’ wages are considered fair.
It's not the entire explanation for the gap, of course, but it's not non-existent either.

So a large part of the gap is based on the the difference between the choices men and women make in choosing an education and the details of the career that follows.

Once we accept that premise, how can we be possibly be talking about "equal pay for the same job"?  We simply aren't.  Saying that $.77 on the dollar is evidence for unequal pay for the same job was simply incorrect 3 years ago and it was simply incorrect last Sunday.  And yet that's exactly what John Oliver was doing to BS the facts.

When all of the other factors (yearly vs weekly vs hourly wages, educational and career choices and so on) are taken into account, the gap is in the still unacceptable single digit range.  Too large, obviously, but still much smaller than the currently accepted rate of "77 cents on the dollar."

And whatever the gap is (even if it's "only" 5%), it's something, according to The Equal Pay Act of 1963, that's still illegal.

August 21, 2014

Obama Denounces ISIL

Good afternoon, everybody. Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL.

Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend. He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away. He was taken hostage nearly two years ago in Syria, and he was courageously reporting at the time on the conflict there.

Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world. He was 40 years old -- one of five siblings, the son of a mom and dad who worked tirelessly for his release. Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.

Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers. Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages -- killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims -- both Sunni and Shia -- by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail. They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.

The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done. And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others.

The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.

From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.

Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism, and replace it with a sense of hope and civility. And that’s what Jim Foley stood for, a man who lived his work; who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings; who was liked and loved by friends and family.

Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim. All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss. We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.
No place in the 21st Century.

August 20, 2014

Still, No Actual Science Here

And by "here" of course I mean the editorial page of the Tribune-Review.

Take a look at this warning about some upcoming legislation.  I want to jump all the way to the bottom to the "science" that supports the whole argument:
As Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute points out, atmospheric and surface warming began in the late 1970s and ended in the mid-to-late 1990s. In effect, the “Great Carbon Chase” is a nonstarter.
So who's this Benjamin Zycher of AEI?   (Let's not forget that AEI is itself a beneficiary of millions of Scaife money.) Is he a climate scientist?

Um, no. From his AEI bio page:
Ph.D., economics, University of California, Los Angeles
M.P.P., public policy, University of California, Berkeley
A.B., political science, University of California, Los Angeles
And what does this econ Ph.D. actually say about the carbon legislation?  Specifically the "science" about how the warming ended in the late 90s?

Take a look:
With respect to the explicit assumption about the "warming of our planet": The most recent warming period ended 15 or more years ago.
Ah, that argument.  The warming ended in the late 90s.  The "link" above is actually two links.  One leading to an actual scientist (Roy Spencer, Ph.D.) and the other leading to another non-scientist (Christopher Monckton) who is more or less a quack.

So let's look at the scientist.  He actually gets his own page at the Skeptical Science website.  (Actually, it's a page devoted to him, titled "Climate Misinformer: Roy Spencer).  And here's how Skeptical Science debunks Spencer's "no warming in x number of years" argument. I wrote only yesterday about how it's still warming outside (FYI - that's where the science points)

It's the same old selective evidence fallacy that's been used countless times before.

And the Trib is still using it.

August 19, 2014

Meanwhile, Outside

What's going on in Ferguson is the most important story of the day, by far.  Without a doubt.  No one deserves to be gunned down in the street like that.  No one.  No one's corpse deserves to be left there for hours.  No one.  No one's pre-shooting reputation deserves to be smeared like that by the local police - especially since it was the police that did the shooting.  No one.

This is America.  Crap like that isn't supposed to happen.  But it does.  All too often.

That being said, it's still getting warmer out there.  From NOAA:
  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 was the fourth highest on record for July, at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F).
  • The global land surface temperature was 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.3°C (57.8°F), marking the 10th warmest July on record. 
  • For the ocean, the July global sea surface temperature was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), tying with 2009 as the warmest July on record. 
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July period (year-to-date) was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F), tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record.
It may have been cool round these parts, but overall it's still getting hotter out there.

August 18, 2014

Stop Believing In Evolution

It's a fact to understand, not "believe in."

For a Monday morning, this is a pretty good read:
It's remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily "debated" it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.
And Keith Blanchard, of The Week, goes on to give a simplified version of those rules:
  • Genes, stored in every cell, are the body's blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you. 
  •  Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen. 
  •  Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies. 
  •  This modified code can (but doesn't always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans. 
  •  When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.
It really is quite simple.  Not something to "believe" in - like, say, how the Sun stopped in the sky during the battle of Jericho (Joshua 10:13).

Blanchard ends:
So if someone asks, "Do you believe in evolution," they are framing it wrong. That's like asking, "Do you believe in blue?"

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don't believe in it — you either understand it or you don't. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that's how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they've been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.

But there's no reason for people of faith to reject the mountains of data and the evidence of their own senses. Reconciling is easy: Believe, if you want to, that God set up the rules of evolution among His wonders, along with the laws of physics, and probability, and everything else we can see and measure for ourselves. But don't deny evolution itself, or gravity, or the roundness of Earth. That's just covering your eyes and ears. And only monkeys would do that.
Have a good Monday morning.