Sunday, December 27, 2009

Does freedom *from* religion exist in the USA?

In light of the annual "you can't take the CHRIST out of CHRISTmas" screaming, this article (which I discovered via Richard Dawkins' Twitter account) seems disturbingly appropriate.

What is it going to take for Christian zealots to stop imposing their will upon other supposedly "free" Americans? This country was founded on the notion of freedom from religious oppression. While many will say "The pilgrims were still Christians fighting for their own Christian ideals and this is therefore a Christian nation" (see this insane interview with Indiana's bonehead governor), it seems silly to base our ideas of fairness in 2009 on principles laid out in the 1600s. Why are we not allowed to progress in our attitudes toward religion?

It is frightening to me to think that there is still so much religious hatred and persecution against non-believers. It seems Christians have more hatred for non-believers than they do for even Jews or Muslims. There are so many ridiculous statements floating about non-believers--several good examples are cited in the above links, especially the Gov. Mitch Daniels interview--it is difficult to even address them. What hubris does it take for a Christian, whose primary religious document warns strongly against casting stones, to accuse non-believers to be a group of morality-lacking lunatics? As if there are not Christian lunatics (Timothy McVeigh, Scott Roeder, any sampling of KKK group you want to cite). This is not to say that there are not good Christians, or that they are predominantly bad as a group, but rather to point out that there are bad applies in ANY group, but they hardly ever can accurately define a group.

This should be kept in mind when atheists are lumped into a category with Hitler and Stalin to point out what atheism does (the argument is usually that a lack of religion is a lack of morality/consequence that leads consistently to immoral behavior and moral decay). For one thing, Hitler wasn't an atheist! But even if he was, he no more represents all atheists than the KKK represents all Christians. This tactic is a logical fallacy known as "poisoning the well", and is weak at best.

But back to the point at hand: what about atheists inherently disqualifies them from being fit for public office? The first link about the North Carolina councilman is disturbing for several reasons. First of all, the hatred displayed toward the councilman--who has just taken office--is based on nothing more than the fact that he is not Christian. The man that was quoted as basically saying there is something wrong about having a non-Christian in elected office is shocking, because I have the strong suspicion this guy is also the type that says we need to "protect American values". The core of American values are the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and endorsing a Christian theocracy (which is the de facto result of this man's statements) is a DIRECT VIOLATION of those values. This is a prime example of personal religious conviction being placed above the foundation that is supposed to make this country great, and makes hypocrites of a great many self-proclaimed "patriots" that want prayer in public schools (just for a brief example).

If a candidate meets the requirements for public office and is qualified for the job description, there is absolutely no reason to take that person's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) into account. That is because any person in an elected office should in NO CIRCUMSTANCES base a decision for constituents on their own personal religious convictions, as it is in direct violation of our most cherished documents. It was disturbing to hear President G.W. Bush cite scripture in his official duties, as it is any time a governor (Mitch Daniels) or senator or even a councilman quotes some religious text. There is separation of church and state in this country, and we CANNOT let it become optional.

The fact that there is any debate whatsoever about the Ten Commandments in courthouses or gay marriage shows the very sad state of affairs in the United State when it comes to maintaining distance between the church and our governmental functions. Because Christians are the predominant religious group in the USA, those in control are likely to be Christians and therefore are imposing their beliefs upon the nation as a whole. Little by little, religious thought is creeping into the gears of the government, in the form of hatred for science, gays, other religions and non-belief. If Christians, Jews, Muslims, non-believers and every other flavor of religious identifier do not step up and maintain the laws of the land, it would not be surprising to wake up one day after a major terrorist attack or natural disaster and find ourselves being led into a theocracy (see PATRIOT Act).

The good news is that more and more non-believers, secularists, and rational thinkers are beginning to make noise and fight back. This is where the preservation of our Constitution and Bill of Rights must be protected, as to prevent ANY religious group from exercising a strong upper hand against equality and fairness.

Many people would deport non-believers (and gays, and those practicing other religions, etc). The "if you aren't with us, you're against us" mentality is as strong as ever. We are facing unprecedented economic, social, political, and environmental challenges, yet our politicians are spending time debating gay rights, for example. In the face of all these very REAL issues, our politicians are waxing poetic to defend their religiously-based views on relatively unimportant issues. I mean, really, how do two men marrying impact the future of our country more than the threat of bankruptcy, or terrorism, or global warming? These issues--which exist ONLY because of religious convictions--are holding this country back. There is absolutely NO reason to prevent gay marriage if you remove the Bible from the equation, no legal consequence or illegality; why is public policy being shaped by ONE religion?

These are very disturbing questions that will likely not be answered any time soon, if ever. But these are issues that must be addressed to protect the American spirit in a very ominous future.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Commercialization of Christmas

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I couldn't find the Lewis Black clip I was looking for. In the clip I was looking for, Lewis claims the US economy is "tied to Santa's ass!" While that commercialization of Christmas may be discouraging, another kind of Christmastime commercialization bothers me even more.

For each of the past two years, my fiancée (okay, she was my girlfriend last year) and I have attended Christmas pageants with the expectation that we would get to see some kids act and sing. We got a couple songs and no acting both times. Instead, we got a bait-and-switch live-and-in-person infomercial with larger-than-life screens and audio backing trying to sell their church to us.

These shows were not designed to spread goodwill and cheer. These shows were not even designed to push beliefs. These shows were designed to sell a product. These shows used marketing tactics and fearmongering to persuade and to try to persuade audience members to regularly attend (and presumably pay for) their products.

I'd like to take a moment to present you with a commercial of my own, but not for anything that directly benefits me. Pete Goebel has an excellent blog in which he shares his in-depth cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. The following passage from December 12's article (The Book of Proverbs) illustrates my concern with this type of product-payment system.

One more notable passage (I have a feeling I'm going to end up copyrighting that phrase before this is over):

"Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine."

We've already read about "tithing," the thing about giving ten percent of your produce to God (assuming you're a farmer). More specifically, giving it to the Levitical priests who would store it up both for themselves, and the poor. So basically, it's a sort of taxation/social services combo. Well, at least that's what it was. Nowadays, tithing is a bit different. You're supposed to give ten percent of your income to your local church. If you're not completely clear on how that's the same thing, well, neither am I.

Not that I'm against charitable donations, at all. But it gets a bit icky to me when giving to churches goes beyond a "freewill offering" and becomes this spiritual obligation, like this is what's expected of you as a Christian. Why is it icky? Because the people telling you to give are the ones whose income is dependent upon that giving. It's even more icky when you look around and realize that most of your money is paying for stuff like this:


I say "most" because that's where church budget dollars tend to go -- their Sunday services. Now, I can understand a church getting in your face about being more charitable as a person. That makes sense as part of the whole "spiritual maturity" thing. Don't be focused on yourself; start to think more about others and their needs. Fair enough. But if a church spending the majority of its income on a weekly show for its members isn't "focusing on yourself," then I don't know what is.

But here's the ickiest part: the promise of divine blessing in the second verse. Give to God and he will give back to you abundantly! I can't tell you how many times I've seen cash-strapped couples advised to start or continue tithing on the basis of this passage. Credit card debt? Student loans? Crushing mortgage payment? Don't worry about it. Give to your local church and watch the financial blessing pour in. And that's real advice that people actually give. Heck, I was given that advice myself. And the irony is that Proverbs is often held up by Christians as a handbook for proper financial management.


In the presentation we attended this year, 50% or so of the songs opened by asking the listener if (s)he had ever lost a close friend or family member to death. The songs in each of these two pageants were separated by short skits (commercials) that illustrated or attempted to illustrate their respective church's relatablity and hospitality.

IMHO, this commercialization is more dangerous dangerous and unsettling than the simple buy-our-stuff-for-people-as-presents kind of commercialization. Instead of pushing a product as a product, these snakeoil salespeople are pushing a product as a matter of morality. These kinds of shows might be more extortion than pageant: If you decide not to embrace our product, everyone you love might go to Hell forever!!!.

On the other hand, some of the music was nice, and the kids were cute and had fun.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Criticism, How to Take It

According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, including multiple life change units for multiple occurrences of the same major life event (i.e., +25+25=+50 for moving twice instead of just +25 for moving), my fiancée and I each score around 1200 for the past year, on a scale where anything over 300 LCU indicates a high-risk of mental illness. Amidst all this personal life change, I noticed something about life change: periods of life change tends to involve a lot more criticism than periods of life stability. From this observation, I began to think about criticism in general. I've noted a few things.
  • Criticism can be very useful and very helpful.
Whether criticism comes from oneself or from others is irrelevant to this point (perhaps irrelevant to all points). To improve anything, we need to know that something needs to be improved.
  • Criticism can be very hard to take.
Even though I almost always appreciate criticism, and I am always looking for ways to improve, specific instances of criticism still often makes me mad.
  • Some criticism is worthless, useless, pointless.
I never welcome criticism of non-flaws, such as gender, race, height, or appearance. I think criticism is not even an appropriate word in these cases.
  • Criticism often meets a harsh response, even if such criticism is warranted and helpful.

  • Criticism is often accompanied by suggestions, only some of which are worthwhile.
Some critics of Sarah Palin suggest that John McCain should resign from the United States Senate for choosing her as his presidential running mate. Palin was only 22 when McCain was first elected to the Senate. She was only 18 when he was first elected to Congress. She was only 9 when he was released from North Vietnamese war prison. She was only 3 when he was captured. His choice of presidential running mate does not affect his abilities as a Senator, a Congressperson, or as a person dedicated to the United States. At most, his choice of 2008 running mate rendered him inappropriate as 44th President of the United States. McCain is not the 44th President. Some useful suggestions might include "Don't choose Sarah Palin as your running mate" and some preferable alternative running mates for future potential presidential campaigns. To resign from a different job because of such a criticized choice would be silly and inappropriate.
  • Critics are often themselves critized or attacked in the guise of criticism.
"Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. Those who can't teach gym, criticize," is a ridiculous aphorism, mostly untrue on each count. Surely exemplars exist for each statement, but these statements are hardly rules to live by. After spending a nearly insignificantly brief time thinking about criticism so I could write this article, I have come to realize that criticism is one of the most important actions that anyone can do. Also, anyone can criticize.

Now that I have begun thinking about criticism, I doubt I will ever stop. The topic fascinates me, especially the duality of its inherent helpfulness and unpleasantness. Whenever you are criticized, try to remember to appreciate the criticism (unless the so-called critic is just attacking a (some) non-flaw(s)). And please, criticize me often.

For more information about criticism, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism or visit your local library.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Art of Negotiation

Healthcare reform long ago took on the semblance of a three-ring circus. It seems that the crazy mudslinging (see: death panels, socialism, death of insurance, etc) has become nothing more than a tool in a war of attrition. Whereas Democrats are asking above and beyond what they actually expect to be in a bill, Republicans are shooting these plans down out-of-hand, generally without any sort of counter-proposal. I guess it should be that surprising, because American politics have long lived by the motto "I don't have an idea, I just know your idea is stupid". That somehow passes for rational democracy here.

It reminds me very much of John Lithgow's Bud Brumder character from the immensely underrated film "Orange County". While negotiating an endowment for a new athletic facility at Stanford, Brumber offers this advice:

"No, no, that's not how this works. You give me your offer and I counter with some ridiculous lowball offer, say $1,000 for a medicine ball."

There is your Republican strategy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HOUSE DEMOCRATS PASS GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER OF NATION’S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM; Republicans Offered Common Sense Alternative

While the title of this post sounds like something crazy that you might find on The Onion, this headline is directly from a real-life press release from Indiana's 4th district US Representative Steve Buyer. I saw the press release because I am a member of the press and a member of Congressman Buyer's district (Indiana-4). When I first read the press release, I wondered how Bloomington, Indiana, with Indiana University's main campus and all of its diversity, could elect and re-elect a Congressperson that would defame legitimate legislation from the other political party. I looked my district up and discovered that I am only in Indiana-4 because the district is gerrymandered to include the rural areas south of town and my house in in the connecting sliver. Regardless of his constituents, Congressman Buyer would do well to refrain from slander when presenting his spin.

Senator Dick Lugar, in the other chamber of Congress, for example, released a newsletter simply titled Senator Lugar to vote against health care reform after releasing a press release this summer titled Lugar says ailing economy is the wrong time for costly health care remedies. While I disagree with Lugar, he presents reasonable arguments and is willing to discuss the issue. Senator Evan Bayh will possibly vote for a Senate bill today, and although Lugar will not, he is opposing earnestly, with honesty and integrity.

Congressman Buyer, on the other hand, is opposing with obstinance, name-calling, and defamation. Buyer represents a conservative district, and he has a responsibility to look out for his constituents. However, Buyer also has a responsibility to be honest. With a scheduled procedural vote in the Senate today, I expect to see more exaggerated libel, but I hope not to see any. The House bill passed without Representative Buyer's vote or support, and he is trying to make the bill he opposed look bad. When health care reform finally passes into law, Buyer doesn't want his top campaign contributors to look at him distrustfully. And what better way to build trust than slander?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Auf Wiedersehen, Little Miss Beauty Queen!

Carrie Prejean is, at least in some respects, intelligent. Or at least has a handler (ie, agent) that is intelligent.

I say this because she turned a meaningless beauty contest victory into a pity-fueled war against "liberal America". Her views on gay marriage landed her in hot water (rightfully so, IMHO), which she parlayed into a claim of religious discrimination and, naturally, a friggin' book deal. Apparently any bozo with a story can get a book published these days.

Long story short, Ms. Prejean is a little self-obsessed. She finds herself much, MUCH more important in the American discourse than she is. Does she realize that if she hadn't said some really dumb stuff almost EVERYONE would've forgotten about her by now? Or is that precisely WHY she said the stuff she said that ultimately made her famous? The old "any press is good press" routine?

But it appears she may have jumped the shark. Last night she appeared on The Larry King Show. King, known for his fair-handed questions and guest-friendly interview style, asked Prejean a very simple and, in my estimation, harmless question. I mean, why would she appear on his show if she wasn't prepared to answer some tough questions? Not having a scripted answer prepared is no reason to be uncooperative.

Well, long story short, she had a meltdown. Or at least a beauty queen meltdown. Smiling through her teeth when asked why she settled her complaints with the pageant board, she removed her microphone and effectively stopped the interview. Larry King appeared to be really surprised, even confused. He'd clarified what he meant (she didn't listen), and then moved on to a caller, yet she didn't let it go. She kept being difficult, acting like a 4-year old and being wholly uncooperative.

What can be learned from this? For the average person, that even when a "celebrity" shares your views that doesn't mean that person is any sort of role model or authority. The Argument from Celebrity is not a sound one. What do you wanna bet she lost a big chunk of supporters last night with her whining? Time will tell. Hopefully it hurts her book sales and she will learn a lesson!

Secondly, why would she think she could take on *THE* Larry King? He's a broadcasting legend! Nothing helpful (for her) could come from her tantrum. She can say bye-bye to interviews with legitimate news outlets now. Not to mention having even less credibility than she did when this began (which was minimal on a good day).

Thirdly, should we be surprised that a beauty queen, who idolizes Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman while thinking Sonya Sotomayor and Michelle Obama are radical liberals, really has nothing of value to say?

Here's the video:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Poor Lisa Drozdowski

Driving home from work today, I heard a wacky deejay say something along the lines of (I paraphrased because I was driving and not taking notes),
Some people have all the luck. A Pennsylvania woman won a lawsuit against her company for $150,000 because she had to wear diapers to work. They didn't have any portable bathrooms where she worked, so a bathroom break 'involved walking a quarter mile to her car and driving several minutes to the nearest restroom, often came after she had already urinated on herself.' So this lady got 150 grand just for peeing on herself at work? Worth it.
This commentary is insanely insensitive and offensive. She didn't get $150,000 "just for peeing on herself at work." She was compensated $150,000 for being forced to pee on herself and then going through the nearly intolerable struggle of a lawsuit against a well-funded and well-organized entity (Danella Construction Corp. - PRIDE IN EVERYTHING WE DO®) and winning. For a compelling but still less-than-experiencing-for-yourself account of a struggle like Ms. Drodowski's, check out

Fair use poster image from Quentin X

Fair use book cover image from C. Merced
the 2005 film North Country or the 2002 book the film is based upon, Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.

What I heard on the radio this afternoon was disheartening. I'm afraid of what wacky morning deejays will say tomorrow and on Monday.

I, for one, am happy that Ms. Drozdowski won her suit, and I am sorry that she was only granted $150,000 in damages. I will also be sure not to use Danella for any of my construction projects.

Zero Sum

I am disheartened and confused as to why people assume that economics and health-care are intrinsically zero-sum games. The world population has long been growing. If economics and health-care are zero-sum games, then each generation will by definition have less money per person and less health-care per person. Since a zero-sum situation is clearly disadvantageous to the world in general and most people in particular, let's stop acting like zero-sum financial and health-care economics is the best or only model! With more people, we need more money and more health-care to spread around. Let's figure a new model out, one that doesn't involve cutting a cake into infinitely small pieces.

Jon Stewart fills in for Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart fills in for Glenn Beck, who is out with apendicitis.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary

Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary edited by Carol Serling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read Twilight Zone 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary without ever having seen an episode of any version of the book's namesake television show.

The collection seemed forced to me. An interesting assortment of authors are included, and, having worked on anthologies myself, I am impressed with the turnout here. However, the stories are uneven, as other reviewers have mentioned. Most of the anthology seems to be written as an introduction to fantasy/horror/sci-fi/thriller short fiction. Perhaps the book is intended as an introduction. As a collection for collectors, I'm not sure this book stands up and holds water. A few of the stories stand out, but most of the anthology is filled with clichés and cheap thrills.

I think if the stories had been in a different order, an order that felt like a progression of short stories instead of simply a collection, I would have given the collection a higher rating (3/5 stars instead of 2/5). I understand the motivation to begin with "Genesis" and end with "El Moe", but I would have rather read the collection in the following order (original placement in parentheses):

1. "The Art of Miniature" (4) by Earl Hamner
2. "Your Last Breath, Inc." (16) by John Miller
3. "Ants" (15) by Tad Williams
4. "The Street that Time Forgot" (11) by Deborah Chester
5. "Truth or Consequences" (6) by Carole Nelson Douglas
6. "Genesis" (1) by David Hagberg
7. "Vampin' Down the Avenue" (9) by Timothy Zahn
8. "El Moe" (19) by Rod Serling
9. "Torn Away" (8) by Joe R. Lansdale
10. "A Chance of A Ghost" (10) by Lucia St. Clair Robson
11. "The Good Neighbor" (18) by Whitley Strieber
12. "Ghost Writer" (13) by Robert Serling
13. "A Haunted House of Her Own" (2) by Kelley Armstrong
14. "On the Road" (3) by William F. Wu
15. "The Wrong Room" (12) by R. L. Stine
16. "Family Man" (17) by Laura Lippman
17. "The Soldier He Needed to Be" (14) by Jim Defelice
18. "Benchwarmer" (5) by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
19. "Puowaina" (7) by Alan Brennert

Try this order out if you like, and let me know what you think!

This review originally published on Goodreads.com

Sunday, October 25, 2009

3 deaths in the name of "New Age" are infinitely too many, but who can stop it?

I'm by no means an expert on much of anything, but there are some things that I can emphatically say are wrong without having to be an expert. Somewhere Richard Dawkins and a gaggle of moral philosophers are chuckling, but I digress...

In case there were not enough reasons to doubt the authenticity of New Age spiritualism, this week came
the deaths of three seemingly healthy individuals that had been duped by a guy that appears, frankly, to be full of crap. For the Wikipedia version of the story, click here.

James Arthur Ray's website screams kookiness. I'm not going to link to it because I don't want to increase hits to his website by default, but rest assured Google makes it very easy to find. Here's an actual quote from his website:

Throughout his life, James Arthur Ray has studied and been exposed to a wide diversity of teachings and teachers – from his collegiate learning and the schools of the corporate world, to the ancient cultures of Peru, Egypt and the Amazon. Armed with this comprehensive and diverse background in behavioral sciences, coupled with his experience as a successful, entrepreneur, and an avid thirst for spiritual knowledge, James boasts the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.

You read that correctly. This man took diverse knowledge that has been long unknowable or too complex or "hidden" or what have you, and combined it into a "easy-to-access formula" for "true wealth".

Not seeing the red flag? Here it is: anytime a guy (or gal) decries having unlocked an ancient secret, or cured cancer, or otherwise solved some intensely sexy mystery and only they know the simple answer, rest assured they are 1) selling something and 2) are hoping you believe them. How many "miracle" cancer cures have failed over the years?

For example, this dude appeared in the The Secret, the beloved-by-Oprah piece of crap that the weak minded have latched onto in place of hard work and careful planning. Give a human a cure-all and they'll pay whatever you demand. James Arthur Ray seems to be no exception. I only wish he'd applied The Secret to keep his marks safe in the Arizona desert last week.

After subjecting his subjects to days of fasting and "spiritual" meditation and cleansing, he fed them a breakfast buffet and stuck them in a sweat lodge (the genesis of which is a mystery, according to the blame-shufflers in Ray's camp). Unfortunately there was not appropriate medical supervision by Ray's staffers and three lives were lost.

Why?

Here's a comment from one of the retreats participants that should shed some light on the issue:

A woman identified as Barb told the callers that a channeler at the retreat last Friday said the deceased had an out-of-body experience during the sweat lodge ceremony and "were having so much fun that they chose not to come back."

Really? Or is it possible that these "Spiritual Warrior" goons didn't know what they were doing and didn't act in a manner conducive to preserving human life? Is it not possible that caution was thrown to the wind in order to give "a show" to the participants, hoping they would spread positive word of mouth and return with new individuals in the future? Judging from the way these sort of New Age retreats are run (generally speaking), I have my suspicions there was some sad ignorance at work in this situation.

There needs to be some sort of oversight over the cranks that operate in the margins of naturalism and medicine and science. There should be a requirement that trained medical professionals are present at all times during these dangerous retreat activities. Furthermore, the leaders of these retreats should be bonded and held personally responsible for the activities that take place while participants are under their guidance. These dudes shouldn't be able to hide behind corporate shields and blame-shifting to continue practicing their crap. Plain and simple.

Let me be clear: my heart goes out to the families of the victims of this crime. The Yavapai County Sheriff's office is investigating the deaths as homicides. Hopefully some justice will come from this senseless tragedy.

These are the dangers present from New Age and hardcore naturalism and homeopathy when left unchecked (not to mention Christian Science and other religions that are anti-medicine). Kooks operate in the margins and speak to the uninformed or the unskeptical or the desperate, and sometimes legitimate care is foregone (i.e., Westernized medicine and treatment) in favor of unproven, "woo-woo" cure-alls that have no more effectiveness than sugar pills.

For that Barb woman to say the victims were "having so much fun" during their out-of-body experiences that they didn't want to come back is childish, naive, asinine, and cold. Does she honestly believe the families of the victims will believe that garbage, or at least take any comfort in it?

But true believers will never admit their beliefs are flimsy at best and dangerous at worst. Scientists and medical professionals need to take a stand and encourage oversight over this New Age bunk, before it can claim any more innocent lives in the name of "holistic" total wealth cure-alls and, I'm afraid, buying the cult's ringleader a new summer home and luxury auto.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2 CIT 2 Fail

A couple weeks ago, CIT Group Inc. found itself on the brink of collapse, pleading that the company was too big to fail.
Timothy Geitner in MC Hammer pants
Timothy Geitner in MC Hammer pants
In other words, CIT, like MC Hammer, the Goldman Sachs Group Inc., American International Group Inc. (AIG), and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., is too legit to quit.

If Joseph McCarthy was alive and powerful today, I suspect he would be enraged at everyone who has or has had anything to do with financial bailouts. NeoMcCarthies should be wrongfully imprisoning market intervention sympathizers. Instead, the neoMcCarthies are attacking health care reform supporters. Why???

Bailouts of economic powerhouses are exactly the kinds of assaults on free market capitalism that the late Senator McCarthy fought so unethically against! Propping up a financial cartel does serious harm to all banks, businesses, and individuals who are not owners or employees of some part of this this cartel. Furthermore, these bailouts only prolong the inevitable failure of these too-big-to-fail anti-anti-trusts.

Instead of dealing with this real assault on American capitalism, the neoMcCarthies for some reason are choosing to make boobs of themselves using their effective political tactics against popular, beneficial, and characteristically American (and capitalist) health care reform. Financial reform should be incomparably more controversial than health care reform, but for some reason the neoMcCarthies seem to be content spending time and resources making themselves look bad without benefiting many people, including themselves.

Joe McCarthy was hereIf John McCain had voted against the bailout last fall, he might have won the presidential election. If Barack Obama had voted against the bailout, he might have won the presidential election by a greater margin. Although opinion polls at the time showed popular support for the bailout, the situation was abnormally complex. People were afraid of the state of the economy and of the future. Racists, sexists, age-discriminators, and others were afraid of White House candidates. The presidential election was temporally near enough that people had selected a favorite candidate and were echoing that candidates views to make their choice look cooler and more popular. Obama and McCain both supported the bailout, so major-party supporters from both parties were voicing their support for the bailout. I suspect that most of the public support for the 2008 financial system bailout (and most other recent economic bailouts) came from fear and acquiescence response bias.

Arguing for or against (and participating in or protesting) this kind of uncapitalist financial policy is mostly academic and impractical. The times, they are a-changin', as Bob Dylan said, and "the Great Recession" (as we like to euphemize these days) is a bigger force than we can control. Within the decade, CIT, Goldman Sachs, Bear Sterns, and AIG will be as bankrupt as Lehman Brothers, as bankrupt as MC Hammer in 1996, unless these entities radically transform.

Of course CIT has been bailed out - at least this time by bondholders instead of the government. Bailouts can't save anyone though. Substantial changes have to be made, or these companies will run themselves right back to -- and through -- the ground.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thank you, Bill Kristol, for demonstrating what's wrong with America in 30 words or less.

This article is in response to a Politico post via Yahoo! found here.

Bill Kristol--not to be confused with the immensely talented, nice, and undouchey Billy Crystal--is a tool. Don't believe me? Okay, read this:

“The Left has dozens of organizations and tens of millions of dollars dedicated to undercutting the war on terror. The good guys need some help too.” --Bill Kristol

Yeah, you read that correctly, folks. An example of yet another neoconservative genius insulting half of America to enrage the other half of America. This has flavorings of past Republican tools (*cough* Sarah Palin *cough*) referring to the Midwest as the "true" America (or some such raving bullshit), insinuating very plainly that places such as Los Angeles and New York are not "truly American".

Republicans aren't alone, however. Democrats are not above insults either.

I just have one question: are you people morons, or just plain ignorant?

It makes no sense to insult District A to garner votes/support from District B. Why, you ask?

BECAUSE DISTRICT A AND DISTRICT B ARE BOTH IN AMERICA!!!

Since when is it appropriate or patriotic or within the job description of elected officials to put down New Yorkers, or Californians, or Pennsylvanians for no purpose other than to preach to their own choir, so to speak? I find it egregious, outrageous, unprofessional, and unacceptable to cast off certain individuals--AMERICANS all, mind you--because they disagree with your politics or are "different" than you.

In another setting this behavior would be called "racism", "sexism", "homophobia", "xenophobia", or just plain "stupid ignorance".

But because these politicians know they are preaching to the choir when they make these statements, they get away with it. They rally support for "the cause" by firing up supporters and pissing off opponents. Would they be so cavalier to make such asinine and thoughtless statements to a crowd of opponents? Not likely.

Back to Bill Kristol for a second. "The good guys need some help too" versus "The Left". Kristol actually stated the "good guys" are the guys that aren't on "The Left"; meaning that the "bad guys" are The Left. Ipso facto, Liberals are categorically bad.

You know what else they are? AMERICANS.

These intellectually vacuous bozos--as we all know, everywhere in government and politics--claim to hold a patent on patriotism and "God Bless America" and morality and freedom und so weiter. Meanwhile, they will disparage any other American simply for conflicting views. Is it just me or does that completely fly in the face of what this country is supposed to stand for? Is it not supposed to be free for all people? Is it not the United States? To quote the Kentucky state motto: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall"?

Someone should remind these bozos of that fact. When these people make such comments, they indicate to the masses that this kind of vociferous mudslinging (more like "social civil war") is what politics should be, and the political discourse suffers as a result (see: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh).

Politics mean more to many politicians than the United States of America, and these peoples' actions speak louder than their allegedly patriotic words.

Hopefully the next generation will attempt to take this country back from the vapid, hostile edge of insanity back to the glory we all know can thrive in AMERICA.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Public Option... From Space!!!

Last week, Media Matters Action Network combined data from the latest New York Times / CBS News poll and a 2007 Associated Press / Ipsos poll to show that 1.04-1.67 times as many Americans believe they know someone who has seen an extraterrestrial spacecraft than oppose a public option. Without the two-year-old shock-value space-alien statistic, the numbers are still striking: a solid majority of Americans support a public option and have all along.
  And there continues to be support for a "public option" -- a health  insurance plan like Medicare administered by the government.    GOV’T HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN     Now  8/2009 7/2009 6/2009    Favor  65%  60%  66%  72%  Oppose 26  34  27  20     But those who favor a public option divide on whether they would  support overall health care reform without the public option. 42%  would, but 39% would not.     SUPPORT HEALTH CARE REFORMS WITHOUT A PUBLIC OPTION?        View on public option:      All  Favor  Oppose  Favor   38%  42%  35%   Oppose  40  39  48  Don’t know  22  19  17
The second question included in the included snippet of the poll results is telling and scary. While a substantial majority of Americans want health care reform with a public option, we as a nation are split right down the middle about whether we want health care reform without a public option.

Also last week, NPR's Julie Rovner ran a story that speaks for itself titled "Poll: Public Says Voice Not Heard In Health Debate".

A few things are clear. A substantial minority of Americans stand to lose a lot of money and power if meaningful health care reform of any sort becomes law. This substantial minority has a lot of money and power to lose. This substantial minority does not want to lose their money and power. This substantial minority will do what it can to protect their money and power. With the strength of a mandate, America supports a government-run health insurance system as a cornerstone of health care reform. Without a (federal or state-by-state) government-run health insurance system, the current health care reform measures are not enough to make substantial positive changes. The substantial minority knows all of these facts. The substantial minority is loudly and powerfully fighting the public option because without a government-run health insurance system, this substantial minority can continue to exploit the majority of the country.

As is often the case, the substantial minority is substantial largely because of their power, money, and organization. Although 3-4 times as many Americans want a government-run health insurance system than oppose one, the minority are organized, loud, motivated, and have money to throw around. We have the numbers, but they have the guns, so to speak. We need to rise up and bury this powerful, exploitative substantial minority.

We can worry about the visiting space aliens later.

Friday, October 9, 2009

So God's real? Then prove it, or leave me alone.

I hate to post two religiously-themed articles back-to-back (the last was only indirectly religiously, actually).

It is with increasing disgust that I face believers of varying religions. Personally, I'm agnostic--I don't pretend to know if there is or isn't a god or gods, and at any rate don't believe the existence of such a god should determine how I live my life; I answer to myself and those around me and hold myself to a high moral standard.

What is increasingly tiresome is being urged to "just believe" instead of being "so logical". Really? Since when is being logical bad? Forgive me when I think through a problem before coming to a conclusion. I forgot this is America, where we slap one another on the back for instantaneous action instead of a reasoned response. "Ask for an apology after the fact, not for permission before the fact," or something like that.

It seems to me that if you are going to presume the existence of a god (a giant assumption, based on what we know from science and logic), the
ball is in your court to prove such an assertion. There is no logical reason whatsoever for me to just "believe" the Bible because it's the alleged word of God (which god? Yahweh? Flying Spaghetti Monster? Who knows!). The Bible was written hundreds of years after the alleged events described within. Would you believe something I wrote about some dude fighting in the Civil War, based solely on the fact that I claim I received the information from the spirit of that very dude? Would you not call me crazy? So why do we not question believers? Moreover, why do we let believers get away with such nonsense?

Imagine this scenario. You're sitting in a living room: TV, couch, coffee table, etc. etc. Nothing special. Out of the blue I tell you my coat closet is full of little demons that will drag you to Hell if you open the door after dark. Here's the question: how do you respond? Do you believe me, because since I live here I should surely know "the truth" and have no reason to lie to you? Or do you ask me to prove it? Threaten to open the door and see whether or not I try to stop you?

The point is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You can't suppose there is a magical space being that created all that ever was, is, or will be without
some proof to believe such a thing. How do you know your supposition is the true supposition? What about all those other folks that say you're wrong? Are they all wrong, or are you mistaken?

What we need in this country is a more questioning attitude. Americans seem to question their politicians almost as a point of pride, yet many dismiss religious questioning as heathen activity for godless morons. The truth is, when you have so many people preaching different versions of The Truth, it means (by logical terms) either we are all wrong or we are all right. Neither end result really
tells us anything, and certainly doesn't give us any divine guidance.

Regardless of there being a god or not, do you feel more or less compelled to pay taxes? To not murder? To not steal? If the only thing keeping you from murdering, raping and pillaging as you please is the notion that doing so may prevent you from going to heaven (or avoiding hell), then get the hell away from me! I want to be surrounded by people that do what's right because they have an inherent sense of rightness. Like the old question goes, "Is it right because God commands it or does God command it because it's right?" The former leaves you with the untenable position that God makes arbitrary decisions based on nothing more than his/her fancy. The latter leaves you with a notion that there is a larger set of principles that are so righteous even God himself believes in it. In that case, why do you need to believe in a god? At this point god seems redundant or, at best, necessary to live a moral and good life.

Understand that if you believe in Creation or the Biblical account of the world, it is up to YOU to find a way to justify that. I'm not going to be persuaded by hearing "the Bible is the word of God" (unprovable) or "you don't want to go to Hell, do you?" (unprovable). Creationists say God put fossils here to test our faith, to see if we would trust the Bible or "evil" Science. If that is true, what makes you believe He didn't put the Bible here as a test? Maybe the
true reward goes to those that live good lives regardless of their beliefs; maybe there is only Hell, and religion was devised by a god to see who would have the guts to enjoy themselves and who would live in fear of what they cannot see? The point is that none of these assertions are more or less provable than anything in any religious document, and you have no more or less reason to believe that then you do to believe in Faeries.

Religious folks will say "if you are so sure there is no God, then prove it!" Clearly they don't have a grasp on even basic forms of logic (which our entire understanding of the universe are based on and have been proven time and time again). You
cannot prove a negative. You can never say something doesn't exist, because there's always an "out": Nessie may exist because when people search for her, she just "hides" in the forest (for example).

But you
can prove a positive. If God does exist, there should be some proof somewhere. It is on the shoulders of the believers to present this evidence. If not, they should be prepared to acknowledge their beliefs are based on nothing more than faith. Not science. Not reality. Faith. And they therefore must accept that there's a chance they are wrong about it and there is no God, or they're worshiping the wrong god.

It's always quite amusing to hear a pious believer speak of the Absolute Plan of God, that "what will happen
will happen no matter what mere mortals do to try and change it." Is that so? Then why do these same people look both ways before crossing the street? Why do they begin praying in airplanes? If God has predetermined it's your time to die (and you lived a life worth of Heaven, as you believe you have) then crying and whining and being scared seems silly. If you really believe what you say, you should fear nothing. Period.

To those that say "God
makes us look both ways before crossing the street; that's part of His plan, too!" I say only, "HA!" Let's see where this takes us: if God plans everything down to the details of individuals looking both ways before crossing the street, then it's not unreasonable to assume he's determined your career, spouse, salary and breakfast too. There goes the notion of free will! And with the removal of free will we are left to question the value of faith. If God decides who will be faithful and who will not, we are literally nothing more than active little figures in his sandbox, made for the exclusive purpose of worshiping Him and for His entertainment. That's a depressing notion to me.

Instead, be accountable to yourself. Be accountable to each other.

That's something I hope we can
all believe in.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bill Maher--Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Allow me to begin by saying I love "Real Time with Bill Maher". I think it is the exact kind of show that's needed to balance the insane screaming Glenn Beck provides.

But if you are a skeptic--as I am--you know there are two sides to Bill Maher: Hero Bill, and Bizarro Bill. Confused? Not for long.

Hero Bill is the Bill I watch the show to see. He confronts disruptive audience members, he is not afraid to have a panel of conservative foes and debate them three-on-one, he does not tolerate celebrities that are still spreading 9/11 conspiracy garbage, he voices a liberal yet well-reasoned view of what he thinks America is all about. You may not agree with him, but if you watch the show it is clear that he loves his country but disagrees with what we've become.

Bizarro Bill is the Bill that claims modern medicine is what makes Americans so unhealthy. Bizarro Bill claims drug companies run the country, that complementary and alternative medicine is better-equipped to treat disease than most medications. For all the good Hero Bill does, he is a shill for the alternative medicine and anti-vaccination crowd (which I hate to say is very strongly concentrated among liberals) and encourages that ignorance to be spread. His rejection of medicine is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's Scientology-backed rants.

So who cares, right? Big deal! Well, usually I agree. I kind of give Bill a pass because of his political toughness and willingness to go toe-to-toe with the much more aggressive and hateful conservatives.

But recently Bill Maher was awarded the Richard Dawkins Award. From its website:

"The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins."

The issue I have with Maher receiving this award is that the award's criteria requires the recipient to advocate INCREASED SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage.

Bill Maher is anything but a beacon of scientific knowledge.

It seems that the award is being given to Maher because of his high-profile as a celebrity, as opposed to his true skeptical and scientific credentials. How can anyone who rejects modern medicine in favor of antiquated bologna (that's been shown to have no effect whatsoever in treatment) be considered for such an award? It's simple: a celebrity with a certain level of visibility was chosen over a no-name "true blood" candidate.

I will not argue that Bill Maher is totally unqualified for the award: part of the criteria regards promoting a nontheist lifestyle, which Maher certainly does. But should skeptics be willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater just to be more visible? Does selling out now not compromise the backbone of the movement in the future?

I love Bill Maher's show. I think his stand-up routines are usually hilarious. But I draw the line at making him a role model for skepticism.