October 20 2008

Why John McCain must not become president


This reminds me of some other president…except he used peace signs instead of the thumbs-up.

A lot of people think that this is just another presidential race, with the winner getting to bring their own particular ideas and policies to the table, but that little else will change. But that’s not true. At least, not for one of the two big-party candidates running.

If John McCain is elected president, he will directly or indirectly subvert or dismantle key elements of this country that have made it great, and we’ll come out of his presidency even worse off than we are now. Here are several reasons why, and hopefully at least one of them will convince you to vote for someone else.


Four More Years

Most people agree that Bush is a horrible president who has damaged this country in uncountable ways. His shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later style has made the USA a joke to some countries, and many others now look at us as a huge threat to them.

McCain has been trying to distance himself from Bush, understandably. He’s been running on a platform of change since he was nominated, though everything I’ve heard from him has sounded like more Bush policies.

But these aren’t just Bush policies. These are Republican policies. No president can get anything done without his party backing him. Bush’s advisors, cabinet members, and other policymakers are from the Republican party, and as a whole, they’re the ones who have been pushing the ideas that have been ruining this country for the past 8 years.

But McCain says he’s going to change things. How? Where is he going to get his staff? From the Republican party, of course. Most of the people who will be prominent in his administration will be people who were part of Bush’s administration, or at least the ones who haven’t resigned in disgrace or aged too much. And where’s he going to get his policies? It’s common knowledge that McCain has voted in line with Bush 95% of the time.

Four more years of Republican presidency means four more years of Republican policies driving us further into the ground.



Look, I’m not going to pretend that I understand how the economy works. In fact, I’m hesitant to even address the issue, because I’m quite possibly wrong, and I’m probably not even able to articulate my true feelings adequately. But I’m going to put what I think out there anyway, and if I’m wrong, I hope someone will correct me, and I’ll rewrite this section. I’ll try to keep this general.

It’s becoming painfully clear that letting businesses do whatever the hell they want is a pretty bad idea. Even before this huge economic downturn came about, it was obviously a problem. Look at Enron. Look at WorldCom. 8 of the 10 biggest bankruptcies in US history have happened in the past 10 years. But let’s not just look at the failures. Let’s look at the current state of business.

What are your choices for high-speed internet service? In my area, you can get Cable through Comcast, or DSL through Qwest. Those are my only options, and last time I checked, Qwest didn’t even offer DSL in my area. So my choice is Comcast or dial-up. And recently, when Comcast was filtering all BitTorrent network traffic, what was my option? Could I "vote with my feet" and switch services? No. My choice is to take what Comcast gives me.

This sort of monopolization is rampant in the telecommunications industry. Look at all the cell phone companies that have been gobbled up by larger companies – you may not even realize they’re gone. AT&T was ruled a monopoly in the 80’s and split up, but its various chunks have re-congealed like a T-1000, and now AT&T is even bigger than it once was, AND it’s in the cell phone industry now. This topic is starting to get away from me, so I’ll reign it in. I do recommend that you learn about how the cell phone industry works in other countries; what we have in the US is pretty archaic.

Letting the Free Market run free seems like a good idea – let market forces take care of everything. But everything can be tainted and subverted by greed. Huge companies can make huge profits for their shareholders, but inevitably they’re forced to make "business decisions" that affect millions of people. Huge companies can stifle innovation and emerging markets, as well as individual freedoms, with a simple policy change, like Comcast’s BitTorrent policy. (Fortunately, the FCC stepped in and told Comcast that they couldn’t limit certain types of traffic like that.) Without competition, growth stagnates, and companies bloat.

The problem with John McCain and the Republican party is that they don’t see the need for regulation in business. They think that the Free Market will take care of everything. McCain has firmly supported deregulation in the past, though lately he’s come to see that regulation CAN be a good thing, thanks to the tanking of our mostly-unregulated economy. But I don’t think that philosophy will last long enough for him, and it certainly won’t last long enough for the party.

We definitely shouldn’t over-regulate the economy and business. Too much regulation is just as damaging as no regulation. But taking steps to ensure that all markets have healthy amounts of competition and oversight is essential to the well-being of this country and its economy. It also seems that the Republicans are still clinging to economic policies that just don’t work, or don’t work very well. Supply-Side Economics (or "trickle-down" as it’s most commonly known) is a system that unfairly favors the rich, and its benefits to the general public seem pretty negligible. But McCain and the Republicans keep pushing this lousy idea, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re doing it because of their perverse worship of Ronald Reagan, or just because they like it when the rich get richer.

I don’t want this to seem like I’m saying that Republican policies caused our current financial problems. But they’ve certainly contributed. (So have Democrat policies.)


The Christian Right

This is a touchy subject. If I say the wrong thing, I could make some people think I’m some evil atheist liberal who wants to outlaw religion. But only half of that is true: I’m not evil, and I don’t want to outlaw religion.

It’s interesting that the party that claims to want as little government as possible is also allied with the fundamentalist Christian Right, which is arguably the biggest group working towards restricting and regulating what we can and can’t do in America today. They want to break down the constitutional separation of Church and State, and they want to impose their interpretation of biblical scripture on the entire country.

I don’t want to get too deep into this subject, because it’s a HUGE subject. It’s hard to separate the Christian Right from normal Christianity. Indeed, the Christian Right believe that they ARE normal Christianity. They’re not, but they ARE powerful, and they’re formidable. If you want to learn more about what they’re all about, I strongly recommend the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges. Think Taliban.

In the words of Susan B. Anthony, "I distrust
those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."


Sarah Palin

Speaking of religious nutjobs, here’s Sarah Palin. Holy crap. I don’t even know where to start.

Looking at Palin’s actions and policies, I see someone who just doesn’t give a flying fuck about the First Amendment. (I feel like I’ve been linking to that page a lot lately.) She’s a Christian Right extremist, and she’s been working for years to push her fundamentalist views on her state, and will continue to do so to the entire country if she’s given more power. And if she became President (the chance that McCain could die while in office is quite significant) the result would be…well, I shudder to think of it. It’s not just that she’s a fundy wingnut. She doesn’t even understand that evolution is real and creationism is nonsense; she wants both taught in science classes. Cripes.

Also, the most important part: she’s absolutely unqualified. Her foreign policy experience is nonexistent. She can’t explain her policies without first memorizing them verbatim or reading them from cuecards. She’s the female version of Bush.

If I had written this post 2 months ago like I intended (I’ve been working on it for about a month now) I would’ve wondered what reason McCain had for choosing her, and I probably would’ve commented on his judgement. But in the past couple weeks, the reason has become all too clear: Sarah Palin is doing his dirty work. She can (and does) suggest that Obama is a terrorist, or that he’s a Muslim, and distract people from the real issues (which the McCain campaign is weak on) and she can stoke the fires of hate and fear like a pro. By choosing Palin, McCain can keep his hands clean and distance himself from her disgusting tactics. It’s amazing to see what a party will do when they’re losing.


Judges & Abortion

There’s a very good chance that the next president will have to appoint at least one judge on the Supreme Court in the next 4 years. Currently, the court is balanced between 4 liberals, 4 conservatives, and 1 swing voter. However, if one of the non-conservatives retires or dies (which is considered to be most likely) and is replaced by another Conservative like McCain has said he’d do, it could have some pretty serious repercussions for our rights and way of life.

The Christian Right has been trying to get Roe vs. Wade overturned for decades, and there’s a very real chance that that’ll happen if we get another conservative on the bench. Why is this such an important issue? After all, I used to think it was just a red herring issue being used to divide the country (it is).

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, it will give lawmakers across the country the opportunity to outlaw abortion. This is a very real and serious issue for many reasons. For one, it lets the government take away a little part of your freedom and dictate what a woman can or can’t do to her own body. Apparently, the anti-government bent of conservativism doesn’t apply in this case.

Look, nobody likes abortion. It should be a non-issue. We need to redefine the way we look at sex as a society. We need much better pregnancy-prevention education in this country; abstinence-only education doesn’t work (illustrated best, and most ironically, by Sarah Palin’s own daughter) and in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, we need to push birth control, not wishful thinking.

So, back to abortion. Why should we keep abortion legal? Well, did making drugs illegal stop drug use? Of course not. In other countries, where abortion IS illegal, it still happens. If you want an abortion, you can get one, and the conditions are probably pretty unsafe. Or, there’s the old coat hanger method.

You can either keep abortion legal and safe, or make abortion illegal and unsafe. Stop abortion with birth control.



We all know that the world will one day run out of oil. Estimates of when that will happen vary quite a bit, but it’s probably going to be within my lifetime. So why the hell should we spend MORE money on oil and its associated infrastructure if we know it’s going to run out soon?

Running out of oil is going to be painful for our country, and the entire world. Eventually, we’re going to have to switch to something else. But a conversion at such an enormous scale is going to take decades, and cost a lot of money. The longer we put it off, the harder and more expensive it’s going to be. So why does it make sense to spend more money on oil? Where’s the wisdom in sticking with more of the same? (That may be a much better title for this post.) We can throw our money at oil, or we can throw our money at alternative energy sources.

The plan that seems to make the most sense to me is for the government to provide incentives for car manufacturers to switch to battery powered cars. This will allow us to use a variety of methods to generate the electricity to power those cars (and homes, and other stuff). Then, the government gives incentives for the production of electricity via sources like wind, solar, nuclear, water, geothermal, and other renewable sources. No single method is going to replace oil; certain parts of the country are better at generating power via certain sources than others.

Money is tight right now, and the government probably can’t fund both alternative energy and oil-based energy. We know which one we’ll be using in the future, and which one is running out. This seems like a no-brainer.


A note regarding Barack Obama

This post was written to show why a John McCain presidency would be harmful to America. It was not written to compare/contrast his policies with those of his opponent. Personally, I will be voting for Obama, and I think he’ll be a pretty good president. But that doesn’t mean I agree with all of his policies. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with any of McCain’s policies. McCain does have some good policies, and Obama does have some bad ones. Policy differences are a matter of personal preference, and if that was all that was at stake here, I wouldn’t have bothered to write this post.

I’m not saying you should vote for Obama. Go ahead and vote for Ron Paul, or Bob Barr, or Ralph Nader, or Homer Simpson, or whatever. But for the good of this country, don’t vote for John McCain.

October 7 2008

Addressing the religious claims of a guy I’ve never heard of

james-macmillan_1002045c "James MacMillan said that that embracing spirituality is now one of the most radical and counter-cultural moves a musician can make." Kinda like having eggs for breakfast is a radical and counter-cultural move.

A friend of mine, whose religious views are basically exactly opposite to my own, but whom I nevertheless have a lot of respect for, recently posted this story on Facebook. I tried to think of a way to come up with something to say about the story in less than 3 paragraphs so it would fit in Facebook’s comment field, but I finally realized that there was far more that needed to be said.

I have no idea who this MacMillan guy is, but what he’s saying needs to be addressed. This kind of intollerant thinking needs to be confronted as soon and as often as possible, because inevitably somebody will believe it.

The best way for me to comment on this article is to just cut-and-paste it here, and address its contents paragraph by paragraph.

James MacMillan, one of the conductors of the BBC Philharmonic orchestra, claimed in a speech last night that the "ignorance-fueled" hostility to faith shown by "metropolitan arts, cultural and media elites" risks making society bland and uniform.

First, the most obvious: hostility to faith. He’s probably not talking about religion in general, but the one that he believes in.

He also accused pop culture of inhibiting musical curiosity in the young and leading to greater conformity.

No arguments there.

MacMillan, regarded as the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation, added that embracing spirituality is now one of the most radical and counter-cultural moves a musician can make.

So, doing what most other people are already doing is radical and counter-cultural? I think he’s got this backwards.

In a lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Sandford St Martin Trust, a charity which promotes radio and television programmes about religion, he said: "The ignorance-fuelled hostility to religion, widespread among secular liberal elites, is in danger of colouring society’s value-free ‘neutrality’ in ways that are both bland and naïve.

This guy’s lashing out at a boogeyman that doesn’t exist.

Something that this guy doesn’t seem to understand is that atheists don’t just wake up one day and say "gosh, I hate God and Jesus and I’m going to make everyone else hate them too". Atheists, by and large (there are exceptions to every rule, of course) have simply come to the conclusion that God does not exist, after years of considering the idea. And when an atheist says "God does not exist", that’s basically a short way to say "there’s no compelling evidence that God exists, and I see no reason for him to exist." Most atheists were brought up in one religion or another, and have chosen to stop believing that their religion is true by examining their religion, and other religions, carefully. If there’s one thing that atheists are not, it’s ignorant. In some ways, we want to be proven wrong, and if anybody could do so, we’d gladly convert.

I also find it interesting, and telling, that he’s using the term "elites". First, what’s bad about being elite? Would you want an average doctor, or an elite doctor? An average president, or an elite president?

"They are also impractical, unattractive and, I suggest, oppressive. A true sense of difference, in which a genuine pluralism could thrive, is under threat of being reduced to a lowest common denominator of uniformity and conformity, where any non-secular contribution will automatically be regarded as socially divisive by definition."

Most atheists don’t want to stamp out religion, just as most Christians don’t want to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with literal Biblical law. It’s hard to even address such ridiculous fantasies.

MacMillan said surveys have shown only one in five people who work in TV consider themselves as religious, compared with seven out of 10 among the general public.

"If this is the case with the TV industry, you can be sure it is the same for the metropolitan arts, cultural and media elites," he said. "These are people who speak only to themselves and have convinced each other that the rest of the country thinks just like them. They are wrong."

This guy sounds like a conspiracy theorist. He saw a relatively unrelated poll and is connecting it to other branches of society. There isn’t a cabal of elite liberal atheists running the media, making sure that religion is stricken from everything the public sees. Besides, people watch, listen to, and read what they want to. Nothing can ever change that.

However, the composer, who is Roman Catholic, claimed that atheists have not succeeded in "beating religion into a pulp".

Nor do we intend to. We criticize religion, certainly. But we do so as a way to learn more about it, and to get people to think about religion more, rather than just accept it blindly. The worst thing you can do to a mind is not use it. Besides, if a religion can’t stand up to criticism, what good is it?

"The campaigning atheists, as opposed to the live-and-let-live variety, are raising their voices because they recognise that they are losing; the project to establish a narrow secular orthodoxy is failing."

That’s an interesting phrase: "campaigning atheists". Usually it’s "militant atheists" or "angry atheists". He prefers the quiet, do-nothing atheist over the uppity ones who won’t let religion walk all over them. Atheists aren’t trying to establish a "narrow secular orthodoxy", we’re trying to keep religious zealots from making a religious theocracy out of our secular society.

Secular doesn’t mean "Godless", it means "non-specific in regards to religion".

I can’t speak for the UK (which is where MacMillan is from) but here in America, our government and constitution were set up specifically so that no religion is favored over any other. Despite the revisionist history being spouted by many in the Religious Right these days (including John McCain), the Founding Fathers were staunch secularists, and the fact that no religion-specific statements are found in any of our founding documents was not an accident.

The First Amendment guarantees the separation of Church and State, because we don’t want a theocratic government (that’s why people came to America to begin with: to escape religious persecution) and we don’t want the government interfering with religion.

Some religion has snuck into government (such as the Pledge of Allegiance, which I’ve previously written about), but it’s unconstitutional, and people who are concerned about maintaining a secu
lar society that is fair to all people have been working to overturn such things for decades.

He added that the religious must carry on expressing their beliefs in the face of growing opposition.

Go for it. There are few things that atheists agree about, but freedom of speech is almost always one of those things. Just don’t be surprised if we argue with you if we feel you’re mistaken about something. It’s your job to be informed about what you believe.

"A smug ignorance, a gross oversimplification and caricature that serves as an analytical understanding of religion, is the common intellectual currency. The bridge has to be built by Christians and others being firm in resisting increasingly aggressive attempts to still their voices."

Again, an imagined conspiracy. And I wonder why he thinks that the atheist viewpoint of religion is an "oversimplification and caricature" when there have been thousands of books written over the centuries examining every aspect of religion. I recently attempted to read Daniel Dennett’s "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon", and he spends the first 95 pages examining the question "Should we study religion scientifically?" Atheists certainly aren’t guilty of oversimplifying religion. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that religious people often DO oversimplify religion.

He concluded by saying that our lives will become meaningless unless the "mists of contemporary banality" are penetrated and the idea of the sacred is restored.

This is basically the idea that atheists lead bland, pointless lives. Ho hum. If anyone actually believes that, I recommend reading "50 reasons people give for believing in a god" by Guy P. Harrison (which I reviewed just today).

"I believe it is God’s divine spark which kindles the musical imagination now, as it has always done, and reminds us, in an increasingly dehumanised world, of what it means to be human."

There doesn’t seem to be any difference in imagination for those who are religious versus those who aren’t. So either God favors the religious and non-religious equally in terms of imagination, or imagination is "distributed" equally, regardless of religion.


MacMillan’s thinking is rather intolerant, and shows an apparent hatred and obvious ignorance of those who do not think as he does. But I feel like I’ve already said enough, and to say more would just be beating a dead horse. So I’ll close with a quote.

Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love and the wonder of birth. That’ll do me."
          – Lynne Kelly

October 6 2008

Book Review: “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God” by Guy P. Harrison

I couldn’t find a good image on the net to steal, so I just tossed my copy in the scanner. I do plan to actually buy the book someday.

This is the book I wish everybody on the planet would read. Or at least my friends and family.

The best thing about this book is that it conveys the reasoning behind atheism without being even remotely condescending toward believers. It wasn’t written to convert people, or prove who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s just trying to inform.

Not only does the book inform you about atheism and, being a book with a “western world” mindset, Christianity, but it also delves into many other world religions, some of which I’ve never even heard of. Harrison seems to have led a fascinating life so far, traveling the world and seeing many different types of people and cultures, and he gladly shares some of his stories and experiences while at the same time using them to illustrate the idea he’s trying to convey in a given chapter.

The format of the book is ideal for this sort of topic. Each of the titular 50 reasons is given its own chapter, and each chapter can be read on its own, without having read any of the previous chapters. The chapters are, on average, about 7 pages long. This means that each chapter covers its intended topic thoroughly without going overboard with unnecessary prose or over-elaborate explanations.

No matter what you believe, this book will give you a lot to think about.