Belief In God Down And Belief In Evolution Up In Harris Poll

A Harris poll shows declining belief in God and associated religious views:

Three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009, a Harris Poll indicates.

The Harris Poll found 57 percent of U.S. adult say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, down from 60 percent in 2005, and 72 percent say they believe in miracles, down from 79 percent in 2005, while 68 percent say they believe in heaven, down from 75 percent. Sixty-eight percent say they believe Jesus is God or the son of God, down from 72 percent; and 65 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, down from 70 percent.

Sixty-four percent say they believe in the survival of the soul after death, down from 69 percent in 2005; 58 percent say they believe in the devil, down from 62 percent; 58 percent say they believe in hell, down from 62 percent…

Just under 2-in-10 U.S. adults described themselves as very religious, with an additional 4-in-10 describing themselves as somewhat religious down from 49 percent in 2007. Twenty-three percent of Americans identified themselves as not at all religious, nearly double the 12 percent reported in 2007.

Not surprisingly, a decrease in belief in various religious views correlates with decreased belief in creationism and increased likelihood of believing in evolution: “Forty-seven percent say they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, compared to 42 percent in 2005.”

While it is somewhat disturbing that in the 21st century a sizeable number of people reject science and believe in creationism, the number is comparable to those who believe in other crackpot ideas including astrology:

The survey found 42 percent of adults say they believe in ghosts, 36 percent say they believe in creationism, 36 percent say they believe in UFOs, 29 percent say they believe in astrology, 26 percent say they believe in witches and 24 percent say they believe in reincarnation, or that they were once another person.

No report on the number who believe that the earth is flat or that the affordable care act includes death panels.

Breakdown by political party is also as might be expected. The survey found that 49% of Republicans believe in creationism compared to 30% of Democrats and 34% of Independents, unfortunately leaving a substantial number of non-Republicans still denying science. Republicans are slightly more likely to believe in witches than Democrats (27% to 26%) with fewer independents believing at 27%. Numbers believing in UFOs was pretty close in each group. Slightly more Democrats (31%) believe in astrology compared to 29% of Republicans and 27% of independents.

While the general trend in compared with previous polls is likely valid, consistent with what appears to be the case regardless of the polls, the exact numbers might not be exact considering that this was a fairly small online poll with margin of error not listed.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Homeland; Hannibal; The Americans; Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series; Welcome To Yesterday

BBC America has released the above extended trailer for The Time Of The Doctor.

With the regeneration almost here, see the above video in which David Tennant tells Matt Smith about the inevitable fate of every actor to play the Doctor.

Steven Moffat felt it was wrong to kill off the Doctor (not that this is stopping him from doing it:

“Regeneration scenes are the toughest but most exciting part of Doctor Who – you don’t really know the show until you’ve written one.

“Previously, I’d only written Matt’s end of David’s regeneration – this is the first time I’ve actually killed off a Doctor. “It feels like a very wrong thing to do to your childhood, not to mention one of your friends!”

Above is a clip from The Time Of The Doctor in which Clara and the Doctor find that they need a time machine to finish the Christmas dinner turkey

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Besides scenes of cooking a turkey, the Christmas special includes a nude scene. Regrettably it is of Matt Smith and not Jenna Coleman. At least having Jenna Coleman’s name and nude scene in the same line should be good for several additional hits.

Moffat has discussed what would have happened if Christopher Eccleston had been willing to return for the 50th Anniversary episode, The Day Of The Doctor:

In the latest DWM, Moffat confirms that Eccleston would have filled what became John Hurt’s role: “Yes, but I was pretty certain Chris wouldn’t do it, although he did agree to a couple of meetings. So instead we had the challenge and excitement of introducing a BBC audience to a brand new Doctor.”

Asked if it would have been Eccleston ending the Time War instead: “Yes, but do you know, I was always nervous of that one, because it doesn’t fit with [2005’s] Rose at all.

“[Eccleston] is a brand new Doctor in Rose, he’s absolutely, definitely new. It couldn’t have been is who pushed the button in the Time War, cos that’s a new man, very explicitly, in that episode. I also had trouble, I have to be honest, imagining it being Paul McGann’s Doctor.

“So all of this led me to the idea that if you’re going to sell to the Not-We audience a Doctor who essentially they haven’t seen before, then you have a freer hand than saying it has to be one of the ones you’ve already had. And it was predicated in getting an enormous star to be able to do it. We got John Hurt, so that was cool! Think of the fuss it’s created for us!”

Strax has issued a field report on Christmas in the video above.

Homeland Carrie Pregant

The season finale of  Homeland was essentially a reset for the entire series. (Mayor spoilers here for those who have not seen it yet). During the first season of the show, I had wondered how they could possibly do a second season with Brody. We learned later that the producers had planned to kill him off but Showtime intervened. They managed to find a way to do a second season with him, but it was not as good as the first season. There had to be a limit to how long they could base a show on questions of Brody’s loyalties. They even managed to drag this out into a third season, but the quality suffered.

They did manage to have a moment of suspense in which we weren’t sure whether Brody would seek asylum in Iran or complete the mission. The finale allowed for even more suspense as this was a rare situation in which viewers really could not be certain if the star of a show would live or die. We had hints that Brody would not make it. The show runners discussed in interviews how Showtime had not allowed Brody to be killed off earlier, but did agree he could die at some point. Shortly before the finale aired we learned that the roles of Brody’s wife and daughter would no longer be series regulars. Despite these opportunities, the past season was a disappointment compared to previous years.

Next season we will no longer face questions of Brody’s loyalties. Other aspects of the show were also reset. Carrie gave up her baby, and her mental illness does not appear to be an issue, at least for the moment. Even her disputes with the new CIA director are forgotten with Carrie being made a section chief. It remains to be seen whether Claire Danes can continue to carry the series, but it was clear they could not redo the first season yet again.

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Two of the best new series from last year return in February. NBC has released the above poster along with the release date for Hannibal Season 2–February 28. The Americans also returns in February–teaser below:

At the time of his death, Stieg Larsson had been at work in the fourth entry in his Millennium series which included The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. There had been hopes that someone else would complete the book but so far this has not been possible. It was announced last week that the series will continue with a new author:

With Larsson’s own fourth book unlikely to be completed soon because of a dispute between Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family, the publisher, Norstedts Forlag, has sought another author to take up Larsson’s standard. On Tuesday the publisher said that it has found its man in David Lagercrantz, a journalist and author who has published several novels and biographies, and is the co-author of “I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic” (2011) the autobiography of a Swedish soccer star.

Larsson’s unfolding tale of the computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and the journalist Mikael Blomkvist has sold more than 73 million copies worldwide. Film versions of the first three books were produced in 2009, followed by David Fincher’s 2011 English language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

The next book in the series is scheduled to be published in August 2015.

Welcome to Yesterday trailer is above. Looks like fun, even if not an original idea, with the movie set for release on February 28. I will be watching Hannibal that night, but if reviews are at all decent I will catch this movie eventually.

Quote of the Day: More Conan on Megyn Kelly

“Fox News host Megyn Kelly now says she was just kidding when she said Santa Claus is white. However, she’s standing by her statement that the Grinch who stole Christmas, definitely Jewish.” –Conan O’Brien

Bad Free Deals–Temporary Cloud Storage

Lots of companies give away things which are free or discounted as part of a marketing ploy to actually entice consumers to spend more. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but buyer beware. An offer from Microsoft shows the type of deal I find among the most worthless–temporary free cloud storage. Microsoft has a promotion offering 20 GB of extra SkyDrive storage for one year.

Extra cloud storage is always welcome. (Anyone want to pick up a Dropbox account from my referral  so we both get extra storage?) But what do you do with extra storage which is good for only one year? If you were already going to pay for the extra storage, then it does save you one year’s payment. Otherwise people aren’t very likely to store a lot of material in the cloud and then let it all be deleted a year later.

I don’t mean to pick on Microsoft here. This is a common type of promotion. It just happened that I ran across a post on this offer from Microsoft today.

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False Objectivity, Media Bias, And The Budget

One area where conservative media bias can be seen is in reporting on the budget. Media reports commonly report measures which cut the deficit as good and those which increase the deficit as bad. This view may or may not be correct, but it is not an objective position. There are counter arguments that, during a time of economic slowdown when interest rates are low and the infrastructure has largely been neglected, the economy would do better in the long run if we did borrow more to stimulate the economy and improve infrastructure. Continued austerity budgets are not necessarily the best policy. Looking at priorities beyond shrinking the deficit might make sense at a time when government spending is dropping at the greatest rate since the demobilization after World War II.

The  Columbia Journalism Review looked at media coverage of government spending, finding that the media often confuses support for what is seen as a centrist view in support of cutting the deficit as objectivity:

Under the norm of objectivity that dominates mainstream political journalism in the United States, reporters are supposed to avoid endorsing competing political viewpoints or proposals. In practice, however, journalists often treat centrist policy priorities—especially on fiscal policy—as value-neutral. That’s wrong. While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets, there is significant disagreement, including among experts, over the priority that should be given to reducing current deficit and debt levels relative to other possible policy objectives. It is, in other words, a political issue. Reporters often ignore this conflict, treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political. That’s why it’s not accepted for reporters to explicitly advocate, say, abortion bans or recognition of gay marriage, but criticism of the president for not advocating entitlement cuts with sufficient fervor can run in a “factcheck” column.

This confusion between centrism and objectivity cropped up again in coverage of the budget deal, which often portrayed the fact that the agreement did little to cut the federal debt as a failing. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery, for instance, was implicitly critical, writing that “the deal would do nothing to trim the debt, which is now larger, as a percentage of the economy, than at any point in U.S. history except during World War II.” McClatchy’s David Lightman also suggested that the lack of more aggressive deficit-cutting was a flaw. The bill is “likely to still increase the federal deficit, if only slightly, this year and next,” he wrote, and is “hardly the grand bargain that’s eluded Washington for years, much less a plan to make a serious dent in the government’s $17.2 trillion debt.”

Stories in the Associated Press and Christian Science Monitor opined even more directly about the bill’s supposed merits. The AP’s Charles Babington tried to take a value-neutral perspective by aligning himself with “[p]eople hoping for a government that works better.” These people, he writes, “can’t decide whether to cheer or lament a bipartisan budget bill,” noting that it “should avoid a repeat of this fall’s government shutdown and flirtation with default” but “comes nowhere near the more ambitious efforts to address long-term spending and debt.” He again reiterates later in the article that the deal “does little to dent the nation’s $17 trillion debt.” The CSM’s Mark Trumbull similarly wrote that “Congress can postpone a grand bargain that reforms the tax code and restrains the growth of entitlement spending, and the economy won’t collapse,” but added that “delay isn’t a good thing for the economy.”

The same pattern often crops up in the sourcing for budget stories. I’ve questioned the media’s insistence on “he said,” “she said” reporting about matters of fact, but there’s no reason to think that centrist deficit hawks have a monopoly on wisdom about the nation’s federal budget priorities. So why are the claims of groups like the Concord Coalition or the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget presented in articles like Montgomery’s and Lightman’s as neutral, non-ideological perspectives that don’t need to be balanced with offsetting quotes from other points of view? The same deference is rarely given either to conservatives who want more aggressive cuts in the size of government or liberals who would give greater priority to public spending.

The root of these problems is the philosophy of “objective” journalism itself, which forces reporters to try to draw lines between opinion and fact that often blur in real life. But even if reporters aren’t willing to rethink objectivity, they should try to understand why prioritizing deficit reduction over other competing values is a kind of ideology of its own.

Evaluating a policy based upon what is thought to be centrist is especially hazardous in the current political climate where both parties have moved towards the right on economic issues in recent years, with the Republicans taking an especially radical position. As a consequence, what is now thought as centrist in this country would be to the right in much of the world.

Duck Dynasty And The Religious Right’s Defense Of Bigotry

I would defend the right of Phil Robertson to express whatever opinions he has, however hateful. The creator of Duck Dynasty had this to say in an interview with GQ:

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson has the right to express his views. However, this does not mean he has any right to be provided an outlet for his views or work, such as a cable network. I don’t really care either way whether A&E dumps his show, any more than I really care about MSNBC dumping Alec Baldwin. That is a decision each network has the right to make, but I’m not sure why anyone at A&E is all that surprised by the views expressed by someone from a redneck fundamentalist Christian reality show.

Despite uninformed cries from the right wing, which always loves to claim to be the victim of an injustice, this is not a First Amendment issue or an issue of free speech, regardless of what Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz might believe. This is hardly the first time Palin has showed a lack of understanding of the First Amendment, as I have pointed out here and here.

The religious right believes it is okay to express hatred based upon sexual orientation because they find support for their vile views in the Bible. The Bible is a work written by men, and interpreted in different ways by different men.  They are free to have whatever religious views they desire and attribute whatever significance they desire to the Bible or any other book. They cannot expect that everyone else will simply ignore their expressions of prejudice because this is their religious view or because their views are supported in the writings of their religion. The Bible is a book written by men in a different era, some of whom did not hold the same ethical views we hold in the modern world. Finding support for one’s views in a book does not legitimatize them. To use the Bible to support expressions of hatred toward homosexuals is no more legitimate than to use Mein Kampf to support expressions of hatred toward Jews. These evil and hateful views are evil, regardless of the source. They have the right to express their views, but should not be surprised by the reaction from those living in the modern world which the religious right rejects.

Some conservatives see this as a war against Christ and Christianity. If secular liberals are engaged in a war of ideas, it is a war in support of individual liberty and reason. This has been the war of ideas being waged by liberals since the age of enlightenment. If the religious right sees themselves as the opponents in such a war of ideas, so be it.

Study Finds Obamacare Not Significant Cause Of Rate Increases In Individual And Small Group Insurance Plans

Besides the massive amount of misinformation being distributed by conservatives, the Affordable Care Act faces two significant public relations problems: 1) Many people are unaware of how they are benefiting and 2) Many people attribute problems which are unrelated to the Affordable Care Act to the new law. The second is exacerbated by conservative misinformation.

Many people remain unaware of the major problems which occurred in the past such as people losing their insurance coverage after developing a major medical problem. As they will no longer experience this under Obamacare, they no longer have any reason to consider this issue, but this also means many will not take this major change into account when evaluating the Affordable Care Act. People also have short memories of many long-standing problems, such as premiums which rise every year. Many are blaming premium increases this year on Obamacare as opposed to factors which were already present. The Commonwealth Fund looked at premium increases of 10 percent or more and found that only 1 percent of the increase was due to the Affordable Care Act:

From the summary:

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to justify rate increases of 10 percent or more for nongrandfathered plans in the individual and small-group markets. Analyzing these filings for rates taking effect from mid-2012 through mid-2013, insurers attributed the great bulk—three-quarters or more—of these larger rate increases to routine factors such as trends in medical costs. Insurers attributed only a very small portion of these medical cost trends to factors related to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA-related factor mentioned most often, but only in a third of the rate filings in this study, was the requirement to cover women’s preventive and contraceptive services without patient cost-sharing. But, the insurers who point to this requirement or other ACA-related costs attributed only about 1 percentage point of their rate increases to the health reform law.

While the Affordable Care Act did not significantly increase these premiums, the “reform law’s rate review program boosted state regulators’ oversight and scrutiny of insurer rate hikes, saving consumers $1.2 billion on health insurance premiums last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.”

Unfortunately, many who would benefit from the Affordable Care Act have not checked into coverage yet. It is likely the number will continue to increase as more reports of the benefits get out to counter the conservative misinformation designed to sabotage Obamacare.

Effects Of Another Republican Appointee To The Supreme Court

Barack Obama has certainly not been perfect (even if his faults have been greatly exaggerated) and the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president leaves me quite unexcited about voting. Despite this, it is important to remember the alternative. One of the most significant differences between potential Democratic presidents and Republican presidents is the type of people they will appoint to the Supreme Court. Nothing is definite as Republican appointees have sometimes voted for liberal positions (most recently John Roberts supporting the Affordable Care Act), but with the increased ideological gap it is best to fear the worst.  While I would separate this from any pressure for Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire before she is ready, Think Progress does have some warnings as to what will occur if she is replaced by a Republican president:

  • No More Marriage Equality: United States v. Windsor — the decision striking down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act — was a 5-4 decision with Ginsburg in the majority. If Ginsburg is replaced by another conservative, DOMA could roar back to life. At the very least, the nation’s drive towards nationwide marriage equality could come to a screeching halt.
  • Criminalizing Sex: Although Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas’ “sodomy” law, was a 6-3 decision, one of those six justices has since been replaced by the staunchly conservative Justice Samuel Alito. If another member of the Lawrence majority is replaced, it could lead to gay sex being outlawed entirely in several states. Lawrence‘s holding, however extends far beyond gay couples to prohibit laws criminalizing non-commercial sexual activity between consenting adults. Thus, if Lawrence falls, the government could find its way into every American’s bedroom.
  • The End of Abortion Rights: Roe v. Wade is already on life support. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is the so-called swing vote on abortion, hasn’t voted to strike a law restricting the right to choose in 21 years. Nevertheless, Kennedy provided the key fifth vote to retain “the essential holding of Roe v. Wade” in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, there will likely be only four votes willing to retain that holding.
  • Watering Down Minority Votes: Five justices voted in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry to strike part of a Texas redistricting map because it tried to protect an incumbent Republican congressman by reducing the impact of Latino voters. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, these kinds of tactics could become common.
  • Executing Children & The Intellectually Disabled: There are almost certainly four votes on the Supreme Court to permit executions of children and the intellectually disabled. Ginsburg’s replacement could be the fifth.
  • Judges for Sale: Four justices joined a dissent arguing that there’s nothing wrong with a wealthy businessman spending $3 million to place a judge on a state supreme court — only to have that judge cast the key vote to overturn a $50 million verdict against the businessman’s company. Ginsburg’s replacement could places judges up for sale.
  • Millions Without Health Care: Finally, the decision that largely preserved the Affordable Care Act was a 5-4 decision, with four justices voting to repeal Obamacare in its entirety. If those four justices gain a fifth vote, it could not only strip millions of Americans of the health insurance that they will soon gain under this law, but it could toss the entire American health care system into chaos. Among other things, if the dissent’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety were to actually happen, Medicare could lose its ability to pay claims until the agency that administers the program completed a lengthy rulemaking process that can take months.

And on top of all this, we could wind up with a president who believes in creationism, or who would choose a Supreme Court justice who would support the teaching of creationism in the schools.

Quote of the Day: Conan on Megyn Kelly

“Yesterday Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly told viewers that Santa Claus is white. Then she said Santa’s elves are Mexican and they are stealing jobs from American elves.” –Conan O’Brien

Federal Judge Rules NSA Surveillance Is Unconstitutional

Earlier this year, Edward Snowden released information on NSA surveillance, including the accumulation of information on American citizens which appears to be far in excess of either what is necessary or what is allowed under the Constitution. A federal judge agreed with this criticism today:

A Federal District Court judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, and he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs’ personal calls and destroy the records of their calling history.

In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia called the program’s technology “almost Orwellian” and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Leon wrote that old judicial decisions with regards to privacy rights need to be reevaluated in light of modern technology with previous cases (such as Smith vs. Maryland)  not necessarily remaining relevant:

[T]he almost-Orwellian technology that enables the Government to store and analyse the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979. In Smith, the Supreme Court was actually considering whether local police could collect one person’s phone records for calls made after the pen register was installed and for the limited purpose of a small-scale investigation of harassing phone calls. The notion that the Government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction.

More on the decision at SCOTUS Blog.

This decision will most likely be appealed and ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.