Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deliberate Ignorance...

From Keith Taylor...



Keith Taylor

I gave a talk to the Atheist Coalition, a group affiliated with American Atheists and headed by one of San Diego's firebrands recently.

It's refreshing to be where we are allowed to call things what they are, and to use the proper name for ourselves. I'm proud to call myself an atheist because that describes me completely. Pretending otherwise is just plain dumb.

Probably if I told you that Americans are really dumb, you'd call me arrogant, and you'd be right. But, maybe, we can agree that Americans do really dumb things. So let's call it deliberately ignorant. Being deliberately ignorant is so democratic. You are not restricted to just one answer. You can choose what to believe, and you can choose to believe as many wrong things each morning as Alice in Wonderland..

And that's what Americans do, especially when it comes to religion. Just confront a theist for his role in any of the excesses of religion such as denying science and trying to prevent its being taught in schools, or for allowing children to die rather than accept scientific medicine and sooner or later you'll hear "I choose to believe.

The Patrick Moyinhan quote: 'Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." doesn't faze them one bit.

By the way did you ever notice that the phrase "I never argue religion" always comes from those who are religious. I submit that's because they have no argument except "I choose to believe?"

Politicians know about this deliberate ignorance. Those candidates who tell the majority of folks what they want to hear get elected, and they make laws, and they make foreign policy, and they choose who we are going to bomb into oblivion, and we've been doing far too much of that.

Turn on C-SPAN and the chances are good you'll see a legislator leading a blind charge into the land of make believe of his own choosing. Some time back, the chair of the Science Climate Change Committee invited a science fiction author, not a scientist, and certainly not a climatologist, to testify.

Then, having heard what he wanted to hear, the Senator joined the sci fi author in declaring that our concern over the looming disaster was a myth. That year was the hottest on record. So was the next and the one after that.

The pattern continues, but thanks in part to the senator and his advisor , the myth about a myth persists, and the folks in Oklahoma are comfortable with that as long as they stay in their air conditioned houses while their air conditioners contribute to the climate change they choose not to believe in.

Americans want their answers from that immutable source, God Almighty! Who gives a damn what a bunch of scientists think when an omniscient being is just waiting to answer all our questions? And be patient. He's thousands of years behind now.

Deliberate ignorance is my rant lately. In fact I have an article upcoming in Skeptical Inquirer with that title. It should be out next issue, but without the histrionics.

According to the book The Faith of George W. Bush, our recent president said "I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President."

Why, oh why didn't someone hang up that damn telephone?

That president was also quoted as telling a Palestinian foreign minister that god wanted him to bomb Baghdad. The veracity of this is questioned but one thing is certain, he did bomb hell out of a country that presented no danger to ours.

Is this an example of deliberate ignorance or is it blasphemy to say so? "

Deliberate ignorance! Those who take such comfort in it insist we all believe in it. One of the arguments for keeping the cross on Mount Soledad is that it isn't really a cross, and certainly not a religious symbol. It's a war memorial and always has been.

Except when it wasn't like all the years before Howard Kristner and Phil Paulson filed and won a suit to get a religious symbol removed from public property. The confusion may have been caused because The Mt. Soledad Easter Cross was dedicated to "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" in a dedication bulletin by the grandmother of William J. Kellogg, President of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association on Easter Sunday, 1954.

In fact not one ceremony or plaque or anything mentioned wars or veterans until Howard and Kristner won their case. Then memorials were put up.

And the claim that the unmistakable Christian cross is a secular symbol is an insult to our intelligence, but don't wait on Roger Hedgecock or any politician to apologize.

If you are a Christian you get all incensed at anything except abject reverence in connection to anything symbolic of their belief. That's why San Diego, in debt a billion and half bucks keeps throwing money in their effort to disobey the law and the constitution.

And why not? The same inspiration worked for the guys on the crusades, the inquisition, countless book burnings, beheadings, and torture.

Amazing things happen when people choose what to believe.

Are we wrong in calling it deliberate ignorance?

If so I have a history of writing about it. One of my favorite projects as a freelance writer was Operation Stargate.

During the cold war we had a paranoia of being outdone by the Soviets, even in things paranormal. In the late sixties our intelligence services suspected the commies were keeping tabs on us with remote viewing. Not to be outdone in dumb ideas, our army set up a program headed by the Stanford Research Institute -- no direct connection to the university.

By 1985 no useful information was gleaned by folks sitting around thinking real hard, so the Army ceased funding it. Still when an idea, no matter how wacko, gets the attention of the likes of Senator Claiborne Pell and Representative Charles Rose it's life is extended and the money keeps flowing.

Operation Stargate, as it was sometimes called, was kept alive. It only cost 20 million dollars and had some interesting results which couldn't be denied because they were never tested. In 1996 the Science Applications International Corp, a San Diego Based super think tank -- and super money maker -- conducted some of the experiments. When I called them, they admitted they participated in the program but all results are classified.

I called the FBI and was told they couldn't comment because it was classified. The best I got was from a less reticent source, the grapevine: There I "learned" one remote viewer got a peek inside a Rusky submarine but wasn't able see anything classified. Nor was she able to determine which ocean the U-boat was in.

Is there help in stemming this tide of deliberate ignorance? Not from Texas it seems. In May, the Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum which undermined much of what we know about science and our past. Evolution would be taught as just a theory. The Civil War was about states rights, not the right of one group of citizens to own another. This even though the constitutions of every seceding state listed the right to own slaves as a reason. Four cited states rights.

I'm telling ya, when we choose to believe anything is possible: often phrased as "in god anything is possible."

Thomas Jefferson warned us, "An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic Self-government . . ." You have to wonder what ol Tom would have to say about a citizenry which elected today's leaders.

I hate to be contrary, but was anybody except me frightened when, at a political debate of would-be presidents, Senator Sam Brownback, Governor Mike Huckabee, and Representative Tom Tancredo admitted they do not believe in evolution.

Who do you suppose elected those people to their offices, and who do you suppose would support them for the job of the most powerful person in the world? And how much different are they from the rest of the candidates who will grudgingly admit they do believe in the most tested scientific theory of all time, but refuse to confront those who choose to deny it?

I devoted fourteen years to this business of fighting deliberate ignorance as president or program chair of SDARI. I quit because I became an octogenarian and was goddamn tired. The deal was sealed when an ambulance hauled me off to a hospital while I cried out in agony with horrific chest pains. I was certain it was a one-way trip, but my knee didn't bend in adulation of a myth.

I'm proud of my affiliation with a skeptics group. It and others like it are needed in this world of superstition and religion, if there is a difference. My one regret is that our group and the larger one in Buffalo tries to draw a line between superstition and religion.

The claim seems to be that religion cannot be falsified therefore it can't be debated. That looks like a nebulous reason to me. The claims of religion may not be falsifiable, but their claim of being enlightened can and should be constantly held up to scrutiny. A candidate wanting to run for the most powerful job in the world should be asked to show his credentials for critical thinking, not a belief in things unproved and extremely unlikely.

So, at SDARI we may have not changed the world or helped thinking candidates get elected,. but I'm sure we caused a few people to think. I just wish we'd done more of that. Thinking is in short supply in this world. and I hope SDARI keeps it's campaign to confront deliberate ignorance.

Whether we made a dent in this deliberate ignorance thing or not, I insist our cause is a noble one. Rather than proclaim "the truth" and demand folks accept it we must continue to demand those who make decisions look for the truth, then test what they find, then have others test it. Then they must be willing to change their minds if their ideas are found to be wrong.

That's what science demands, and it's the right way. And let me quote my favorite scientist, Elie Shneour, in this regard, "Science is not for the scientists." It is for us to understand, use, and defend.

But we have a higher duty than to defend science. It's our patriotic duty to confront credulous and sophistic ideas. The people choosing to believe, and the leaders telling them what they want to hear are making us a third-world nation. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Development shows that our fifteen-year-olds rank in the bottom quarter of the participating countries.

I just pulled that off the internet, but study after study indicates we are lagging terribly. And I doubt studying the bible is going to solve that problem.

Nothing will unless we follow the dictum of my old outfit: DARE TO THINK!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

More On Wikileaks...

From Secrecy News....


Department of Defense employees who downloaded classified documents from Wikileaks onto unclassified government computer systems may delete them without further "sanitizing" their systems or taking any other remedial measures, the Pentagon said in a policy memo (pdf) last week.

The release of classified State Department cables and other classified documents by Wikileaks has produced special consternation among security officers, who have tended to respond "by the book" to this unprecedented breach of security procedures. But "the book," which is the product of an earlier era, is quickly becoming obsolete. And in the worst case, some officials say, the government's unimaginative response to Wikileaks could do more damage than the original disclosures.

But now some tentative signs of flexibility can be detected from Pentagon policy makers.

Under the new guidance, DoD employees and contractors who have downloaded classified documents from the Wikileaks website onto an unclassified government computer or network -- which is still prohibited -- do not need to take any extreme corrective measures in response, the Pentagon said. In particular, there is no need to prepare a formal incident report or to "sanitize" their information systems by overwriting or degaussing them. Instead, the documents can simply be deleted.

"In the case of classified documents inadvertently accessed or downloaded from the WikiLeaks website or other websites posting WikiLeaks-related classified documents, the IAM [information assurance manager] will document each occurrence and delete the affected file(s) by holding down the SHIFT key while pressing the DELETE key for Windows-based systems," said Acting Under Secretary of Defense Thomas A. Ferguson in a January 11 memo.

Using the shift and delete keys simultaneously is a way of "permanently deleting" a document, so that it is removed from the file directory and does not appear in the Trash or Recycle Bin. This action does not, however, physically erase or eliminate the document from the computer's hard drive. In other cases of inadvertent transfer of classified information to an unclassified system, a more rigorous response is often required. But this will now be good enough for the purpose of eliminating classified Wikileaks documents.

"No incident report or further sanitization of government IT systems is required," Under Secretary Ferguson continued.

The new flexibility only extends to Wikileaks-related documents, not to other "spillages" of classified information, he said. "This guidance pertains only to the accessing or downloading of the classified documents described above because of the extent of the compromise and the prohibitive cost of standard sanitization procedures. All other classified spillages must be handled in accordance with existing regulations," according to the Pentagon memo.

See "Notice to DoD Employees and Contractors on Protecting Classified Information and the Integrity of Unclassified Government Information Technology (IT) Systems," memorandum for senior DoD officials from Acting Under Secretary of Defense Thomas A. Ferguson, January 11, 2011.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hmmm...Wikileaks Needed?

From Secrecy News...


The Air Force issued updated guidance (pdf) last week concerning its highly classified special access programs, including new language prohibiting unauthorized communications with Congress.

Special access programs (SAPs) involve access and safeguarding restrictions that are more extensive than those that apply to other classified programs. SAPs are nominally established "to protect the Nation's most sensitive capabilities, information, technologies and operations."

The new Air Force guidance emphatically limits contacts with Congress concerning SAPs.

"It is strictly forbidden for any employee of the Air Force or any appropriately accessed organization or company to brief or provide SAP material to any Congressional Member or staff without DoD SAPCO [Special Access Program Central Office] approval. Additionally, the Director, SAF/AAZ will be kept informed of any interaction with Congress." See Air Force Policy Directive 16-7, "Special Access Programs," December 29, 2010.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Info on Social Security & Disability....

The Social Security and Disability Resource Center website ( provides a detailed overview of how the federal disability system works (social security disability and SSI) and also provides answers to many questions that applicants typically have, but often have trouble finding answers to. For the most part, the site is based on the author's personal experience as a former disability-medicaid caseworker, and also as a former disability examiner for the social security administration.

Here is a link to the site: