Why Phil Plait is a Dickhead

Or how an alleged scientist eschewing logic, research and objective analysis, supports scrawling political graffiti calling someone a dickhead on the heavens for perpetuity to satisfy current agitprop.

July 9, 2014

Introduction

Phil Plait, who presumably in an effort to be ironically self-deprecating, tweets under the handle @badastronomer (being closer to the mark than he realizes) penned the following article for the on-line US based Slate magazine gleefully supporting the naming of a star under the Pale Blue Dot project by Ukranian astronomers for an epithet for Putin.

Beginning by writing   

thus inviting this article which does precisely that and why, he writes

As you can imagine, folks in Ukraine aren’t terribly happy with Russia, especially in the form of its President, Vladimir Putin. I would think having part of your country invaded by Russia and then seeing a suspiciously high (96 percent or more affirmative) voter referendum to join the Russian Federation would make anyone a little sore.

Phil Plait claims to be a scientist (ie one who believes in the principles and methodology of science) and a skeptic (which in context means that he debates superstition and nonsensical propaganda with facts and logic). Yet while Plait may or may not be successful applying these principles in his chosen field, he is obviously horrible at applying these to geopolitics or in understanding what’s really going on in Ukraine. He dutifully follows the official US Government line , much as any religious fanatic follow the books and fables imprinted on them at birth, with no questioning. Indeed he does his evangelical duty to spread the US Government gospel to his disciples. In the name of Science.

So he believes that Russia “invaded” Crimea. Kind of like the US government invaded Iraq. Except you know without the shock-and-awe bombings, million dead, mass refugees, stirring up ethnic violence, the total destruction of the social and physical infrastructure that make day-to-day functioning in a society possible. 

Events in Crimea

 The sequence of events in Crimea are clear and in the historical record. The salient points are that many Crimeans who are of Russian ethnic origin (given that Crimea was part of Russia for centuries and gifted to Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev) were alarmed at the unelected take-over the Government in Kiev by members of right-wing ultra-nationalist anti-ethnic-Russian groups, and their replacing of various governors of regions with their own chosen candidates. The elected parliament in Crimea voted to hold a referendum (as they did in 1991, 1992, 1994 on various measures of independence from Kiev. (See a 1992 article from the US based self-styled “paper of Record” New York Times). The security was provided by Crimean self-defense forces backed by the Russian military. (Incidentally the same was true (say) in prior elections in Afghanistan and Iraq where security was provided by the US military which were trumpeted around the world as exercises in Freedom and Democracy.

In line with polls and historical data from prior referendums, of the 83.1% who turned out (many Crimean Tartars stayed home), 96.8% approved it.

There was then an accession to Russia vote. Again given a choice between being independent and open to hostile forces from Kiev, joining with their ethnic countrymen (as East Germans did with the West) made sense.

Plait without evidence – you know the thing that distinguishes science from random belief – calls this “suspicious”. (note when Kosovo had a 1991 referendum on independence from Serbia, the Serbian minority stated home for a turnout of 87% and more than 99% of the respondents voted to secede and this was trumpeted by the West as an exercise in Freedom and Democracy.)

Ironically even Neil McFarquahar of the New York Times (which is as anti-Putin as Fox is anti-Obama), in an expectedly gloom-and-doom piece on Crimea (and reporting without interference from there) admits two things:

1. That most Crimeans are (still) in favor of the unification with Russia.

2. The Kievian government has shut off water flowing to the fields of Crimea to damage crops and so forth. (He uses this of course not to blame Kiev but by inference Crimeans and Russia because it’s their fault for pissing off Kiev)

The latter is sheer revenge (and can be considered a war crime) and a scorched earth policy by the Kievian government (which by bombing civilian facilities, water supplies and so on in a recalcitrant South-East has shown its antipathy towards ethnic Russians). Indeed this and the events in the South East bolster the decision that Crimea made. 

Plait displaying complete Ignorance

Plait – after displaying a complete lack of historical knowledge and understanding of factual evidence – goes on to write admiringly about “plucky” Ukrainian astronomers (apparently calling people epithets – especially from a distance – requires courage) and

I have to admit chuckling over this. I’m no fan of Putin, who seems to pine for the good ol’ days of the USSR. And if I have to choose between him and a group of plucky thumbs-to-their-noses astronomy enthusiasts … well.

Again without evidence he writes Putin seems to “pine for the .. USSR” which is said to an audience who only know two colors: black and white. And USSR is of course Evil.

The fact is that Putin has repeatedly decried the lack of democracy and openness in the USSR (most recently when criticizing Khrushchev’s signing away Crimea to Ukraine as totally undemocratic as was the norm then, without as much as a referendum), while praising the Soviet investments in education (including Science – Soviet Scientists were and are some of the best in the World), arts and social welfare (taking care of the old and veterans) which Russia is only now getting back to.

Of course Plait doesn’t read much of what Putin actual says (available on the Kremlin website) or any other media but the Western corporate ones. Kind of like not bothering to do research but just read the Holy Book of choice. Why think when others do it for you?

(And why does he “have to choose” between Ukrainian astronomers and Putin? As a scientist he shouldn’t present false choices. Do you believe in the Biblical creation story or the Mayan creation story – you must choose one!)

Plait’s Dickishness Revealed

So is Plait a dickhead because he so gullibly swallows the propaganda put out by the Corporate Western media which in matters of US Government Foreign Policy (in sharp contrast to Domestic Policy) gives the benefit of the doubt to whatever the State Department briefs them about?

No that just makes him an idiot. His dickishness is in the supporting of all the polluting the heavens with politics, especially violating the concept of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot metaphor.

Sagan writes:

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

We can debate politics; beat our chests in patriotic fervor. In a 100 years none of us will be alive: all this aggression, personal animosities, geopolitical strategies and so on would be just static from a blip of time in the Universe. 

 And yet Plait, who as an alleged scientist should know better (if he wasn’t such a dickhead) finds it admirable that we write our insults in the stars. This should be the one thing he should find sacrosanct from our petty human and tribal affiliations. Way to spread Science! 

Epilogue

Incidentally I assume Plait would think I’m being very plucky for insulting him from a distance. Or perhaps not till I plunk down the astronomical sum of $10 to get my own star called “Plait Dickhead”.

And so it goes.

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