Tag Archive: politics

July 15 2011

Sooooo…capital punishment…

I’m sure this one won’t be controversial at all.

We’re reading The Last Day of a Condemned Man, by Victor Hugo, for my monthly book club. It’s the journal of a man in 1820s France who has been sentenced to execution. Needless to say, we will be talking at great length about capital punishment at our next book club meeting, because this book is very much against it. I suggested that everyone in the club write down what their current opinions on capital punishment are, to see if/how they change after reading the book. I’ll probably be the only one to actually do that.

I know this is a rather volatile topic, so only read on if you’re open to considering opinions that may be different from your own. And that’s really all this is – opinion – and I’ll try to avoid using any biased information. As always, if you disagree, please let me know – nicely.

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June 12 2011

Determining our fates with cold, apathetic, wonderful math

Minnesota is currently debating how to redraw our state district borders, as we do every 10 years, with new census data to guide us. Creating fair, impartial boundaries seems impossible, because it’s always tempting for the party in power to gerrymander everything to give themselves more power. I’ve long been critical of the shape of our 6th district, home of state shame Michele Bachmann. It conveniently bends around liberally-leaning downtown areas and grabs many of the richer, fiscally-conservative parts of the state and merges them with rural, socially-conservative parts of the state.

But how the hell do you draw fair, unbiased district boundaries? On the one hand, people don’t want their communities split down the middle. On the other, it’s really easy to lump certain communities together to create districts that are easy for one party or the other to control.

Here’s one way that’s pretty interesting: math.

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August 13 2010

Our #1 priority: change the way our leaders are elected

If you’re anything like me, you’re racked with anxiety, fear, frustration and rage over the state of modern US politics. News story after soul-crushing news story, I feel like I’m being mentally beaten with hammers, and I want to just shut it all out and pretend that everything is ok. I used to look down on the people who were oblivious to the goings-on of the world; now I envy them.

We seem to be stuck in a never-ending cycle between a party of high-order incompetents (the Democrats) and a party of angry, hateful zealots (the Republicans). Both are only interested in power. Both are firmly entrenched. Both are crooked to the bone. Neither represents what America needs or even wants.

I ask myself, how can we fix our political system? I come up with some answers I think are pretty good: term limits; public funding of elections; more oversight and transparency. Simple solutions like these could go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with America. There’s just one problem: none of it will ever happen. Not in any meaningful way.

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April 24 2010

Abortion: where do you draw the line?

I’ll start this out by saying that I’m in favor of abortion rights. I’m pro-choice. I’ll spare you my reasoning, because you’ve probably heard it all before, and who the hell wants to hear it again?

But one question I’ve always wondered is: where do you draw the line? When is it too late to perform an abortion? When does an embryo become a human?

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July 6 2009

Who doesn’t like Communism and Atheism?

A couple months ago, the Atheist Talk radio show (by Minnesota Atheists) aired an episode where their guest was Sunsara Taylor, a member of the Communist Party here in the US. It was really interesting, if for no other reason than because I don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual communist speak their mind, explain their platform, and defend their position. That’s just something you almost never see, even decades after the Cold War.

However, they recently had an episode which featured biologist Massimo Pigliucci, who came on the show specifically to rebut many of Taylor’s claims. And what he has to say is just as fascinating, if not moreso, although that may just be personal bias.

Anyway, I just wanted to post links to these two episodes to get people to listen to them, since they are so interesting.

If anyone was wondering, my own political views are essentially liberal, with a bit of libertarianism and a dash of socialism. Yea, I know that doesn’t make sense.

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May 21 2009

Choosing death: should Daniel Hauser be allowed to die?

Many of you out there have probably heard about the case of Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old who was recently ordered to receive chemotherapy for his cancer, instead of sticking to “alternative” treatments like a special diet, vitamins, and ionized water. At the moment of this writing, he and his mother are on the run to avoid the chemo and deal with the cancer their own way. (Look at me! I’m writing something that’s actually current! This must be what being a journalist feels like!)

I could focus on criticizing their choice of treatment, but I’m not going to (beyond this paragraph). It should be obvious to most of us that this family has bought into some crazy, dangerous nonsense. This is a perfect example of why “alternative medicine” is dangerous: not because most of it is completely worthless, but because it causes people to forego real, scientifically-proven medical treatments.

The bigger issue here is whether it’s ok for the government to step in and choose someone’s medical treatment, and how far we as a society should allow someone’s faith and beliefs to go, and whether society as a whole has any say at all. Essentially, the question is: should we let Daniel Hauser die?

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February 20 2009

Who’s to blame for the National Debt?

As a Graphic Designer by trade, an artist in general, and a scatterbrain in particular, I like to see data in graphs and charts. To me, it’s just much more useful to see information graphically represented (see my previous post for a good example) than to examine tables of raw data. So when I see a good chart, it makes a big impression on me.

This chart (or others like it) isn’t exactly new. It’s been floating around the net for a few years, and it clearly shows that the National Debt increases at a significantly greater rate when we have a Republican president. I’ve seen this chart pop up on Digg and in message board comments all over the place. There are apparently a lot of people who have it bookmarked and are ready to post a link to it at the first sign of praise of Republican fiscal policy or criticism of Democrat fiscal policy.

However, one of the first criticisms this chart gets is always something along the lines of “the President doesn’t really have much control over the economy” or that it’s really a problem caused in the Senate, since they’re the ones who come up with the bills. The inevitable response to that is “yes, but the President can veto those bills”. Who’s really to blame?

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December 10 2008

Merry _ _ _ _ _ mas

1196856652_fChoose your poison.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the “Holiday Season” is upon us once again. Bleh.

I don’t pay much attention to right-wing “news” sources, but apparently they’re once again blowing the “War on Christmas” horn, to rally the faithful against the rampaging atheist hordes. Never mind the fact that the atheist hordes are such a small part of the population, or that they’re most likely armed with library books and cappuccinos.

I think fellow non-believing Minnesotan PZ Myers said it best: “The war on Christmas is over. We won.” Some time in recent history, perhaps even in the past decade, Christmas went beyond its Christian origins and became something that everyone can celebrate, like Halloween. It has become less about the birth of Jesus, and more about getting together with friends and family members and share gifts, or even just enjoy their company.

For Christians, it’s naturally still about Jesus, and that’s perfectly ok. No matter what Bill O’Reilly says, nobody* wants to stop you from going to church or putting an angel on your tree or putting one of those little manger scenes on your table (in fact, I’m tempted to do it myself, because they’re pretty neat). In fact, feel free to put a big inflatable light-up Jesus on your front lawn if you want. It’s your property.

But issues arise when these things are set up in public places, and this is where the disagreements (and the only fuel for the War On Christmas fire) appear. Some government and public facilities allow local Christian groups to set up manger scenes on their property during Christmas (and 10 Commandments displays year round, but let’s not bring that up right now), and when the atheists, secularists, Church/State separationists, and non-Christian religious groups make an issue of it, they’re labeled as bad guys.

Once again, it comes down to the First Amendment and how you interpret the Establishment Clause. I personally (and other Church/State separation supporters) support the interpretation by Justice Souter: “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion“. Yes, Christians are the majority in the US, but to favor any religious group over others necessarily restricts the freedoms of people who aren’t part of that group. And that’s bad.

Generally, there are two ways of dealing with the issue of religious displays on public land: either everyone gets to put one up, or nobody does. If you allow a manger scene from the Christians, you have to allow a menorah from the Jews, various Winter Solstice displays from numerous other religions, a bust of L. Ron Hubbard from the Scientologists, a bust of the Flying Spaghetti Monster from the Pastafarians, a disrespectful deliberately inciteful sign from the atheists** (see below), and who knows how many others. Eventually, you may run out of room for displays, you have to deal with vandalism and theft, people will no doubt complain about the placement of the displays…sounds like way more work than it’s worth. I recommend just not allowing religious displays on public ground at all.

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October 20 2008

Why John McCain must not become president

untitled

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.

 

Deregulation

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.

 

Energy

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.

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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

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September 21 2008

Health care debate

I had a hell of a time finding this. MPR really needs a better search engine.

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Last Thursday, as I was riding home from class, I turned on NPR to listen to the news. I don’t do this very often, because I normally have my MP3 player with me, so I listen to podcasts. But, I’ve gotta replace its hard drive, so I was forced to listen to whatever happened to be on the radio at the time. On-demand media has spoiled me.

I’m glad I did though, because NPR was broadcasting a debate on health care between E. Richard Brown and Daniel Kessler, advisors to Obama and McCain (respectively) on issues relating to health care (possibly other issues too; the beginning of the audio is cut off).

Sounds really boring, but it was actually pretty fascinating. Brown calls out Kessler repeatedly on his distortions, and generally flogs him. The audience even began to turn on Kessler too – when he says that nobody actually wants single-payer health care, the audience actually boos him. This is the type of audience who would go and watch a health care debate, and they booed someone.

Needless to say, I think Obama has the superior health plan. I firmly support universal health care (not just because I’m broke and healthcareless), and he’s planning to take steps in that direction.

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September 21 2008

Sam Harris vs. Sarah Palin (and, what I’m up to)

I feel like I haven’t been posting much lately. Probably because I haven’t. I could offer up excuses like “I’ve been really busy with work” or “it’s the end of the quarter and all my classes have final projects I’ve had to work on” or even “I’ve been racing rams in WoW so I can get a subscription to the Brew of the Month Club”.

I’ve been working on two pretty big articles for this blog, actually. The first is a pretty thorough examination of the Quinquae Viae, which are St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. The second is simply titled “Why John McCain must not become president”, and you can probably guess what that’s about. But those are both pretty detailed articles, and hopefully I’ll have the time to finish at least one of them in the next couple days.

In the mean time, I strongly urge you to read this article from Newsweek, published on their web site just yesterday. It’s written by Sam Harris, and he talks about why elitism is considered a bad thing in politics, and specifically how it relates to the simple-minded Sarah Palin, who makes Bush look like a rational and scientific person.

One especially nauseating thing spoiling this otherwise brilliant article is the headline that Newsweek gave it (“When Atheists Attack”), which basically tells people that these are the opinions of a damn dirty liberal atheist who thinks he’s better than you, and are therefore not worthy of your consideration. Once again, sensationalism trumps quality journalism.

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September 6 2008

A poll on the differences between atheists & Christians

Yesterday, I found Sam Harris’ web site, and I’ve been going through it reading all the articles. As I mentioned (or at least alluded to) in my review of his book “Letter to a Christian Nation”, I think he’s a great author, and he seems able to explain even hard-to-understand issues in ways that everyone can follow. One of the best articles I’ve read explaining atheism to the religious (besides Harris’ actual books) is “10 Myths – and 10 Truths – About Atheism“.

But what I really want to point out in this post are the results of a survey he conducted in preparation for an experiment to examine the brains of atheists and Christians using fMRI, which should be quite interesting when it’s completed.

Following the 3 links at the bottom of the page will lead you to graphs showing the results of the poll, which are quite fascinating. Some statements, such as “I am in very good physical health” show pretty much no difference between atheists and Christians (or at least, their opinions of themselves). However, some show some very telling differences, such as the graph that shows political stances – atheists are mostly liberal, while Christians are mostly conservative. Not a big surprise, but it’s interesting to see just how true it is.

The first link’s graphs are a mix between statements that both groups think the same on, and statements that they differ on. The second link is almost entirely statements that both groups agree on, like “I’m worried about the state of the world” or “I am very honest with myself”. The third covers religious beliefs, and there’s where the huge differences come in. Most of the graphs display most atheists on the far side of an issue, while most Christians come in on the far opposite side of the graph. These are questions like “it’s important to raise children with a belief in God”

If you’re a graph junkie like me, you’ll probably spend at least half an hour going through this stuff.

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September 3 2008

Funding for what?

I was just reading the newspaper (it’s like a web site without links) and there was a story about McCain’s insane new VP choice, Sarah Palin. The story mentioned something about how Palin thinks that abstinence-only education needs more funding.

FOR WHAT? What could they possibly be spending the existing abstinence-only budget on? Books? Here, let me write you an abstinence textbook:

Abstinence is Fun! (No, Really)
by Bevans

Chapter 1:
Don’t have sex until you’re married, because God says so.

The End.

Maybe they’re spending all the money on little action figures with extremely well-articulated hands, so they can teach kids how to hold hands instead of doing what every single other source of information in the world (including their own bodies) is telling them they should do. The high cost could come from the fact that the figures are rigged to explode if two of the same gender get too close to each other.

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August 28 2008

The Pledge

I’m putting off writing a big Church/State separation history post by writing a bunch of small ones. (The previous one is here.)
During the past few years (perhaps even longer than that), there has been a lot of argument about whether or not we should require kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, and it inevitably comes up once or twice during election “season” (when did 3 years become a season?) although I haven’t seen it pop up yet.

Requiring kids to recite the Pledge seems pretty harmless on the surface, but many people have forgotten what it really means, sort of like how most people have forgotten that “Ring Around the Rosey” is a poem about the plagues. (EDIT: No it’s not.)

First, let’s look at the name. Pledge of Allegiance. It’s an oath of loyalty, a vow to faithfully serve. Such a vow is not something to be taken lightly. So…why do we make kids say this every morning?

When I was a kid, I had no idea what half the words in the Pledge even meant. I heard words like pledge, allegiance, republic, witchistans, indivisible, liberty, justice, and had no idea what their meanings were (one of them turned out to be three words), and didn’t even have the faintest notion of the solemnity and importance of such words. It was just something I was expected to memorize in school and recite back with everyone else in my class. (Actually, I was one of those kids who didn’t like to speak up in class, so I usually just mouthed along with everyone else.)

Pledging your allegiance to a person, or group, or nation, is a powerful act that should only be undertaken by those who fully understand what they’re doing. So why the hell are we forcing children to take it, when they’re too young to know what they’re doing, or even to understand the words they’re speaking? And why require it at all? A pledge is something you should only take willingly, and a forced pledge isn’t a pledge at all.

Well, I’ve gotten this far, and I could stop now and be able to say that I’ve argued my case pretty well. However, I haven’t even mentioned the huge controversy surrounding just two words in the pledge, which seem to be far more central to the national argument than the issues I’ve just covered. And those two words are: “under God“.

Those two words loom forebodingly over what is an otherwise pretty good pledge. Anybody who’s familiar with the US Constitution (and who isn’t trying to push their own agenda) can tell you that requiring any US citizen to recite something that prescribes anything even remotely religious violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. So why did we adopt such a pledge?

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August 14 2008

Protesting, within reason

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When you imagine that this is a top-down view of the elephant, it looks like it’s been crushed to death by a tank, complete with treadmarks.

I’m trying to find a word that describes how I feel about the Republican party that isn’t "hate". Loathe? Sure, that’s good. I loathe the Republicans. They’ve consistently shown that they don’t give two shits about this country, and seem to be actively working to destroy it.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But needless to say, I want to do whatever I can to make sure that "Bush Light" McCain isn’t elected. Shockingly, he’s currently tied in the polls with Obama, which just goes to show that there are a lot of people who still haven’t learned from their mistakes.

Well, "good" news: the Republican National Convention is being held here in Minnesota, in St. Paul, which is only 15 minutes away from where I live. So, maybe I should join one of the protest groups!

Well…maybe not. Here’s the thing: there aren’t really a whole lot of level-headed, reasonable protest groups out there. Where they say "get out of Iraq NOW", I say "come up with a sensible plan to get out of Iraq while at the same time stabilizing their government, helping their citizens, and preventing full-scale civil war". That’s not something that fits on a protest sign very easily.

There’s another protest for immigrant rights. I’m certainly in favor of treating people like people! What a novel concept! Except…there’s a whole lot of Spanish on the information page. I don’t mind Spanish (I even know a little bit of it) but I think providing non-English translations for everything is the wrong way to go. It basically allows for a language-based caste system. People who don’t know English in this country don’t get nearly the same benefits and opportunities that English-speaking people do. And part of the reason why there are so many people in this country already who don’t know English is that our immigration system is currently pretty poor, which is why I support immigration reform in the first place…

And then there’s a music festival of some sort. In other words, HIPPIES. I guarantee that’ll be nothing but white people with dreadlocks, people wearing hemp necklaces, dirty people poorly playing poorly-written songs on cheap acoustic guitars, and drum circles.

But the worst part? All of it will probably be completely ineffective. For one, the police don’t seem to be allowing anyone near the Xcel center in any meaningful way. Second, these are Republicans. They don’t care what the common people have to say.

So…I’m probably not going to go to a protest. I’ll probably wind up sitting at home and blogging about it. And honestly, making fun of the Republicans is fun. I just wish they didn’t have any control over our country.

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August 12 2008

It seemed like a good idea, at first… (the Boy Scout coin)

I was listening to Atheist Talk this morning, and their guest, Lori Lipman Brown, brought up an issue that I had assumed was settled, for good or bad.

The issue is the minting of a special coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The bill was introduced months ago, but apparently it’s being held up due to lobbying by people like Brown.

I want to tell you exactly why the hell I’m opposed to this bill, but first I need to talk about my history in Boy Scouts.

For most of my childhood, I was involved in Scouting. I started in Tiger Cubs when I was really young (I don’t even remember when that was…6 or 7 probably) and then moved up to Cub Scouts, working my way up the ranks until I entered Boy Scouts. I went on nearly every camping trip, I made a lot of friends, and learned a lot of important stuff. As I got older, I took on certain leadership roles in my troop, and held the position of Scribe, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and eventually even Senior Patrol Leader (the non-adult leader of the troop). I earned at least a dozen and a half merit badges and got to the rank of Life Scout (which is one step down from Eagle), and even became a member of the Order of the Arrow before I succumbed to being a teenager and lost interest.

So it’s with great sorrow that I say that I can no longer support the Boy Scouts. And here’s why:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members." (source)

Religion has always been a part of Boy Scouts, of course. And I always just tried to ignore those parts as much as I could when I was a member. However, the unstated premise here is: no atheists or agnostics. Interestingly, they don’t seem to care which religion you practice, just as long as you believe in God (or, presumably, gods). It’s worth pointing out that 62% of all units (troops, packs, etc.) are sponsored by religious groups, the largest being the Mormons, Methodists, and Roman Catholics.

Then there’s this:

"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs." (source)

So, they discriminate against atheists, agnostics, AND homosexuals.

I could point out that they also don’t allow female members, but then it IS called the BOY Scouts. And besides, seeing female leaders, camp counselors, and even the occasional scout wasn’t that uncommon in my time.

And I should also point out that not all scout groups are discriminatory. In fact, most of them aren’t. Most are led by people who live by the morals that they teach and know to treat all people with respect and dignity, no matter what the official position of the organization is. And I think that eventually, the whole organization will change its stance on these discriminating issues. However, right now, the official position of the BSA is to discriminate against atheists, agnostics, and homosexuals.

Now, for some Libertarianism: I believe that any privately-funded organization is fully within their rights to discriminate against whomever they wish. I don’t have to like it. However, the BSA is NOT a private organization. Which brings us back to the coin. Remember the coin?

According to the bills, they intend to mint 350,000 of these coins and sell them for $10 per coin, with all of the profits going directly to the BSA. That’s $3.5 million going to a religious organization with discriminatory policies and practices. Why don’t we just send the Pope a check?

This bill is clearly in violation of the First Amendment and Church/State separation. The government should/must not fund religious organizations, no matter how much good they do. And it certainly shouldn’t fund organizations that discriminate against ANYONE. Indeed, this bill seems to be a very sneaky way to support religion, disguised as a way to honor one of this country’s most beloved organizations.

Just for the hell of it, here’s what I think the BSA needs to do:

  1. Stop discriminating against atheists and agnostics. Stop discriminating against homosexuals (and bisexuals and all that). Stop discriminating against females. In fact, just stop discriminating against anyone.
  2. Modify your programs to allow for alternate paths for the nonreligious. For example, where advancement regulations currently require a scout to attend their church/temple/mosque and discuss what they saw with a leader, allow them to visit a secular center or read a secular book, watch a secular documentary or TV program, or something like that. It’s kinda hard to say what exactly, since atheists don’t have churches.
    In fact, even better: require kids to attend a church AND a temple AND a mosque AND a secular…thingy, and so on. Having kids learn about different cultures is one of the most worthwhile things the BSA could do.
  3. Stop with all this "you need God to be moral" nonsense. You don’t. This is definitely a topic that needs its own post, but I did post an article I found recently that is a good start.
    How about replacing "reverent" in the Scout Law with "moral"? It seems to me that the inclusion of "reverent" instead of "moral" indicates that you think that they are one and the same. However, how is it moral to discriminate against someone else? Again, a topic for another day.

I really hope the BSA shapes up. My memories of my time as a scout are some of the happiest I have, and it makes me sad that I can no longer recommend it as it is today.

I also recommend an episode of Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit (season 4, episode 1), which tackles the boy scout/church & state issue specifically (though not the coin bill).

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