Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Itchy Okie trigger finger


Please read the original interview transcript, linked above, before reading this post.  Without the full context, we run the risk of misinterpreting the words of a man who hopes to be elected to the highest office in Oklahoma.  There have been more than a few bits of disinformation circulating about this particular interview, and so I’d like to try to clear up a few things for the record. 


“Keep and bear arms” originally meant, at a minimum, the idea of owning personal firearms and using them in warfare or training.   Assuming, then, that our elected officials are generally familiar with the political terms of art they employ, this means that when Brogdon says “I have the right to keep and bear arms and to provide and protect our families from an overreaching federal government” he means to convey the idea that he perceives a need to arm and train in preparation to slay federal employees.


Now, I’m no longer directly on the federal payroll, but I spend the bulk of my working hours directly supporting federal civil servants, as well as Air Force officers and airmen, and I’ve got to say that they are all fairly decent folks.  I’ve also met Mr. Brogdon on occasion, and he seemed like a pretty nice guy.  As a result of these experiences, I’ve a good deal of difficulty imagining him shooting to kill my co-workers on account of their overreaching efforts.  Who, then, are the “out of control” feds against whom Brogdon hopes to prepare a well-trained militia?  Here, one is left to speculate because Mr. Brogdon was not so incautious as to precisely whom his proposed Oklahoma militiamen ought to be targeting.  Nevertheless, it is ominous that the anti-government rhetoric advocating training in preparation for insurrection (once the exclusive domain of marginal radicals) has become so mainstream that even gubernatorial candidates of major parties have no problem going on the record with such talk.


There are those who will say that it is premature to link Brogdon’s assertion of the need for an explicitly anti-federal militia to the far-right wing militia movement, but to them I must point out that the rhetoric used is too strikingly similar to be merely coincidental.  Consider, for example, the following quotation from Thom Robb:


“You should be in the movement out of a sense of duty toward our children.  Our duty in life is to assure a peaceful life for our children.  There is a war in America today.  In one camp is the federal government…[t]heir goal is to destroy us.  Our goal is to destroy them.  There is no middle ground.  There is only right and wrong.”


Notice several elements in common between Robb’s and Brogdon’s worldviews here: Both men divide the world into patriots and their beloved families on the one side and evil faceless agents of federal government on the other; both of them anticipate an armed conflict between these two groups; and both assert the duty of patriots to arm themselves and train for to fight in this conflict.   The notable dissimilarities between these men are that Brogdon has not (yet) claimed that armed conflict is inevitable, and that Brogdon tends to frame the opposing groups in terms of spiritual and ideological purity, whereas Robb focuses on spiritual and racial purity.  These distinctions do not make enough of a difference to comfort me.  How about you?




Monday, April 12, 2010

Steven Pinker at USAO

Last week, the campus of USAO in Chickasha was graced by one of the greatest minds of our time, and for once I can say that (by the grace of one of the greatest wives of our time) I was in attendance and paying attention.  The lecture was rooted in the concepts of Dr. Pinker’s most recent book but he managed to make it significantly more accessible and even more entertaining than the book itself. 


One of the highlights was a breakdown of English dysphemisms, their appropriate uses, and the strong emotional reactions that each category conjures up (e.g. revulsion, shock and awe).   Also, a reading of the Congressional attempt to ban naughty words by enumerating all of them.