Archive for June 2015

Some Comments on Headlines Today

Drones Find Russian Base Inside Ukraine – The only people who don’t think Russia has invaded Ukraine are the Russians.  Suppose they will ever see this news report?

22 Alabama Counties Refuse Gay Marriage – Let the Religious Wars begin.  This is just another side of discrimination as a way of life for many in the South and not fully being part of the United States.  Remember that the Confederate Flag was resurrected from the museums to symbolize the South’s proud refusal to follow another court order, integration.

California Makes Vaccines Mandatory – Real science wins over pseudoscience and ignorant people who think they have the right to put other peoples kid’s at risk for their failure to grasp science can just pound sand.

Christie Promises Cringeworthy Campaign – What could be more cringeworthy than seeing his family playing ecstatic during the announcement and knowing this is probably killing them, right up there with having an enema. 

America’s Drunkest States – Clearly there has been a mistake.  The new beer capitals of the world (California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington (Go West Young Man) account for 1/3 of all brewing companies in the U.S.) did not make the top 5.  However what was really suprising was the bottom 5, 4 of which were in the South.  If I lived in the South I would sure as hell drink more.

Finance Minister:  Greece Won’t Pay DebtBoth Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman (two Nobel winning economists) are asking why Greece would want to pay debt.  What the European Union did was put them in a position of making the lenders whole while making sure Greece never recovers.  I think they should walk away to quit rewarding austerity thinking over the backs and bodies of hard working people by making recovery impossible.

California Paid Sick Leave, Fracking, and Phone Kill-Switch Laws Take Affect – Who would have thought that these good ideas would take bills to force corporations to do what consumers want.  No we don’t need no stink’in government regulations.

Chris Christie – Form over Substance

On the way to PT today I listen to someone from New Jersey being interviewed about Governor Christie’s entry into the Republican Presidential primary.  The newscaster was commenting on how Christie is behind, but is quite good at “retail politics” (means performs well in public).  The person he was interviewing responded with, “I guess if the voters of New Hampshire are more interested in form over substance he will do quite well, but I think in this election people really want to know what each candidate has done and will do, and there is no substance with Chris Christie.”

I could not have said it better. New Jersey is a mess.  Tom Moran from the Star Ledger in Trenton (the largest newspaper in the state) wrote the following and we should all take note:

Most Americans don’t know Chris Christie like I do, so it’s only natural to wonder what testimony I might offer after covering his every move for the last 14 years.

Is it his raw political talent? No, they can see that.

Is it his measurable failure to fix the economy, solve the budget crisis or even repair the crumbling bridges? No, his opponents will cover that if he ever gets tracti

My testimony amounts to a warning: Don’t believe a word the man says.

If you have the stomach for it, this column offers some greatest hits in Christie’s catalog of lies.

Don’t misunderstand me. They all lie, and I get that. But Christie does it with such audacity, and such frequency, that he stands out.

The full column is here.

David Brooks Makes My Day

Well actually it isn’t David that  makes my day, but the comments written in response to his Op-Ed pieces.  I am referring today to his op-ed in the New York Times.  This morning epistle titled The New Curltural War  was an appeal to the Evangelicals to not continue to fight old losing battles and simply live out their “virtues” in society.  He is hoping to tone down their worst side for the upcoming election. The problem with this argument is that Mr. Brooks makes some assumptions about present culture that one has to wonder about:

We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.

There is an underlying premise here that these conservative Christians have something to teach us to bring us back from the moral abyss.  It is a false premise.  In fact what is goining on is pluralism where beliefs are being questioned and many different paths are being taken and conservative Christians are trying to stifle that growth.  But I do not need to critique this as the comments section is so much fun reading.  I will leave you with my favorite from Rosemary in New Jersey:

David, you are working under a false premise. You say, “The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable. Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.” 

Religious conservatives ARE atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable, not the other way around. I’m so sick of hearing that the religious will now be the persecuted, That they will be the minority who won’t be able to voice their beliefs. The problem has been that they have always voiced beliefs and never let others live the lives they choose. They should have been the first to fight FOR the oppressed, yet in reality, they the oppressors. They were the ones fighting to keep a flag of hate, a system of discrimination, and a culture that believes Christians (and Jews, begrudgingly) were the “good people”. 

I’ve always said that faith is in the heart, not a fatally flawed structure. Those who do good don’t brag about it and lecture others. Well, the RW Christians got what they deserved; an uprising, from our gay & minority citizens and those like me, human beings just looking to allow everyone to live the lives they choose in peace and prosperity for all. We can all be “messengers of love, dignity, commitment, and grace”. Your problem, and the problem of those like you who lecture the rest of us, is that we are all over it, and are willing to fight the good fight for what we believe. 

A giant Amen from me.  Thank you Rosemary.

Republicans Really do Hate Democracy

Well apparently in Texas if you have a religious objection, you don’t have to follow the law.  Do you get that this is insurrection against the power and authority of the federal government and our Constitution?  Get out your Confederate flag because that is exactly what it symbolized before when it was brought out to fight integration. We have an implied contract in America defined by our Constitution, which says majority rules and we will follow the majorities dictates unless the judicary through judicial review, strikes down that law as not being Constitutional.  We all agree to adhere to the system. It is the implicit contract of democracy. But not in Texas and not in other states that are pushing “religious freedom” laws.

Look, what if the President decided that according to the Pope he had a moral obligation to save the planet and decided to tell the EPA to ignore the courts ruling on his ability to regulate coal plants?  What if a white supremist whose religion tells him interracial marriages are wrong, refuses to honor their marriage as part of his government function?  The rule of law would be subject to religious law and our government would cease to exist. And of course chaos would result because whose religious beliefs trumps whose?

But conservatives did not get their way in the Supreme Court.  So they reject the Supreme Court’s authority.  Interesting that they do not object to say the Citizens United or Hobby-Lobby decision, but then the court has no authority only if it disagrees with them.  It is amazing that those who supposedly so revere our Constitution and freedom could so dishonor it by not recognizing their responsibilities in a democracy.  Or maybe they don’t honor it at all and their definition of freedom is the freedom to force their will on the rest of us.  Democracy is fine as long as you all vote the way I want you to.

Think about voter suppression laws aimed not at securing the vote from voter fraud (because it basically doesn’t exist), but disenfranchising  people who generally would vote against them.  Think about the use of the filibuster in the first six years of the Obama Administration (most ever used) to block any action by a duly elected Democratic executive and legislature.  Think about the House reverting to the Republican control and then their refusual to consider bills that would pass if voted on.  The base of Republican party is not interested in democracy.  They are interested only in their own policies and losing is not an option.  Compromise is not an option.  If we haven’t learned that lesson by now, well sadly we will never learn it.

We are entering a time when the Ted Cruzes and Mike Huckabees of the world lie about religious freedom (your minister will be forced to perform wedding ceremonies) or knowingly misrepresent polices (death panels) to ralley their ignorant base.  Bobby Jindal tells us this is the darkest day in our history (legalization of gay marriage). Scott Walker says there should be a Constitutional Amendment of gay marriage. How can that happen if 36 states have already approved it? Ted Cruz tells us America doesn’t except this (only his evangelical base doesn’t accept it). It must be okay to lie because it is for a righteous cause.  It is no coincidence that these new Republican clowns (the presidental candidates) are Christian with a capital C.  They want to use government to force the rest of us to abide by their religious beliefs, whether it is abortion, contraception, or gay rights.  

But the worse thing of all is that their faith-based way of thinking denies logic and reason.  Climate change in their minds does not exist while reality is all around them. It would upset the status quo and change who are the winners and losers in the economy. They believe in an economic philosophy that continues to transfer money and power to the few, because they don’t believe the many should have a voice and don’t deserve a fair share because they are lazy.  They are the “others” who have proved by their poorness that they are undeserving.  Never forget Romney’s 47% comment.  It was a rare moment or real honesty.

I don’t know how much evidence we need to recognize the obvious.  The Republicans have become what they pretend to hate.  They want to take back their government so they can force their failed ideas down our throats using government as a tool of oppression.  No the government is not coming to take your guns, just your right to choose freely in open elections, or whether to carry a child, or who you can marry.  Welcome to the Republicans of 2016.  Elect them and kiss your ass goodbye.

Some Food for Thought on Diversity and Tolerance

Fareed Zakaria was interviewing Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and he asked what he regarded as the country’s biggest success. The answer will surprise you:

“What’s interesting and unique about Singapore, more than economics are our social strategies. We respected people’s differences yet melded a nation and made advantage out of diversity,” 

Over 80 percent of Singaporeans live in public housing. All of it well regarded, some of it very upmarket. Every block, precinct and enclave has ethnic quotas. This is what people mean when they talk about Singapore’s nanny state. And the minister readily admits it.  (From Fareed)

“The most intrusive social policy in Singapore has turned out to be the most important,” he says. “When you ensure every neighborhood is mixed, people do everyday things together, become comfortable with each other and most importantly the kids go to the same schools. When the kids grow up together, they begin to share a future together.”

Now here is the part that is going to upset those who think the free market solves all problems:

 “The natural workings of society rarely lead to diverse and integrated communities, not in Singapore, not anywhere else. They more likely lead to mistrust, self-segregation and even bigotry which we see in abundance in so many countries today.” He pointed out that in Britain half the Muslim population lives in the bottom 10 percent of its neighborhoods by income. “Did that happen by chance,” he asks. 

You cannot simply assume that the natural workings of the market or of society will produce social harmony or equal opportunity. They won’t,” Shanmugaratnam said. “Government — an elected government — has a role to play. And it’s not about speeches and symbols. It’s about specific mechanisms and programs to achieve the outcomes we all seek.”

 The point is that as inequality increases, so does our self segregation and it is to our detriment.  Tolerance and understanding come from when people grow up together.  They can see each others humanity with their own eyes.  As we segregate, whether by race or wealth, we lose touch with our fellow man, it is easy to sterotype, and we all lose. Certainly we are not going to mandate everyone live in government supplied and integrated housing in the United States, but the fact that our schools and communities are becoming more and more segregated should concern all of us. 

What is the Real Lesson From the Latest Supreme Court Rulings

The Court ruled this morning that the EPA could not regulate coal plants because the EPA had not done a cost/benefit analysis.  What again is the “benefit’ of death and diabilitating disease except it happens more in poor populations where they might vote Democratic?  Then they said the inmates who were claiming the drugs used in lethal injection were cruel and unreliable, were wrong because they hadn’t offered an alternative.  How about life without parole?

So what can you learn from these rulings?  That conservatives are clueless about reality and how most things impact us.  They lack empathy and are horribly arrogant.  But keep electing/appointing them.  The wealthy will continue to get wealthy and America will continue its slide into oblivion.   

Expect the Supreme Court to Go Seriously Conservative in Its Last Three Rulings

Well the first one is out.  President Obama can’t put regulations on coal plants without figuring out the costs and of course the 5-4 decision that struck down his ability to do this barely recognize global warming or the costs involved.  I would expect the rest of the rulings (2 left) to go conservative.  John Roberts was between a rock and a hard place on Obamacare and Gay Marriage.  On Obamacare, if he voted with the three conservatives, the court would be seen as a purely ideological batttle front since the case itself had no merit.  He then saw he could vote against gay marriage because Kennedy would save the day and not make the court look stupid.  But that leaves the last three rulings and the Court can be what it is, a conservative echo chamber. 

I guess we can take some measure of success that people still have healthcare and gays can marry everywhere, until religious freedom laws get in the way.  But the big threat to America, global warming, is still being denied by conservatives, and that really will cause the next great depression as economic consequences of heat, drought, severe storms, and our failure to prepare for them come home to roast. He, what me worry?  Should be the motto on the conservative flag.

Faith Versus Reason and Logic

From the NYT on Evangelical reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage:

In downtown Chicago, as in several other cities around the country, Sunday was marked by jubilation, the annual gay pride festivities made more celebratory by Friday’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. But here at Wheaton Bible Church, a suburban evangelical congregation that draws about 2,600 people to its five weekend worship services, it was a day of sorrow. 

“I came in with a great sense of lament, because of what happened on Friday,” the church’s teaching pastor, Lon Allison, told worshipers before reading a statement declaring, “We cannot accept or adhere to any legal, political or cultural redefinition of biblical marriage, nor will we conduct or endorse same-sex ceremonies.”

When Prop 8 here in California was tried before the Supreme Court of California, it became quite clear that there was no argument against gay marriage except a religious one. The Supreme Court of the United States found the same thing. The data simply shows that gay marriage has no effect on traditional marriage, gays make fine parents, and children suffer when their parents are discriminated against because they are gay.  There was simply no case to be made that gay marriage impacted the public good.  Well actually there was.  Preventing gay marriage hurt the public good.

Evangelical Christians, which make up about 1/4 of our population have brain freeze because they are locked into scripture as doing their thinking for them.  It is the classic example of faith based reasoning causing harm.  Isn’t it sad that Evangelicals found that people who love each other could have the same rights as the rest of us “a day of sorrow”?

There can be no stronger example of the failure of faith in terms of a literal reading of scripture written by a multitude of authors back in ancient times to see how religion in this case fails us totally.  To ignore science, data, and the reality in front of us to cause harm because we are stuck with the uninformed prejudices of people who lived in 200AD is in fact the greatest sin of all.  Evangelicals, after ISIS, give me some of my best examples of why faith and religion can badly lead us astray.  Here is a tip:  Don’t check your brain at the door.  If you believe in God and he gave you this amazing gift of reasoning, why would your belief require you to check that gift at the door of your faith?

Greece, Why Should You Care?

Because it demonstrates everything that is wrong with austerity.  And if the Euro goes into freefall, the all mighty dollar will be put in jeopardy.  I could go through the whole mess, but Paul Krugman, who has been following this closely, has rather neatly summed it up here (Greece Over the Brink).  What you have to keep in mind is that if the punishment makes the return to normalcy almost impossible, well shit happens.  That is what is happening in Greece and we have our own examples (our prison and punishment system) here in this country.  

I would like to emphasize one more lesson that Paul did not really mention.  Lenders poured money into Greece when it was a bad bet (same as banks here in America on homes during the bubble).  Now they want to be made whole again by holding everyone except themselves accountable. They created an impossible situation in Greece where the austerity to afford payback was crushing any hope of recovery of their economy and with being on the Euro, you could not devalue your currency and make your products competitive.  

I really do hope Greece leaves the Euro* and prints its own currency.  It will, after it stabilizes, give them control over their own fate, and make the banks and financial institutions that want everyone else to pay for their sins, pay their fair share.  Too bad we did not do that here.  Many more people should have walked away from their homes (See the movie Larry Crowne).

*The Euro was a grand idea that failed in its implementation.  It has united Europe and reduced tensions.  But the austerity misers may undo all of that and we can expect to see more European extremism if any other countries follow suit.  There is a downside to everything.

Justice Kennedy Making My Point About Dogmatic Religious Beliefs and the Mission of Atheist Boy

Religion, as evidenced in Chaleston last week, can be a strong force for good.  So what is so dangerous or that we atheists find so troubling.  Faith based thinking.  But as I witnessed last week, that faith based thinking can be used for good or evil.  When it is used for good, there is no real reason to challenge it.  When it is used for evil, challenging it does no good because it is their faith, unrocked by argument and intellect, my point exactly about faith based logic.

But what did Justice Kennedy say that should rock faith based thinking?  In his decision that marriage is a basic right afforded to all human beings, he said the following:  

“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone,” Kennedy writes. “They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.” 

In other words as our knowledge and understanding evolve, so does our understanding of morality and basic human rights.  That flies in the face of the only truths are those revealed in scripture or revelation.  It brings logic and reason back into the equation.  As long as our view of the world can be informed by reality, we will progress. We can argue what that reality is, but we are allowed to argue and think.  

I have always maintained that faith based reasoning, which of course is an oxymoron because there is no reasoning going on, is the real threat of religion.  It can corrupt our reasoning processes outside of religion, say in economic policy where we believe what our ideology tells us to believe and refuse to see what reality is telling us about that ideology.  I see no coincidence in the fact that conservative Republicans are locked into an economic ideology that is failing us with no new ideas, and the fact that their base is controlled by evangelical Christians.

So we atheists want a world of reason and logic.  So what are the down sides.  Many religious feel that the strength they gain from God allows them to overcome challenges that  they could not otherwise have the strength to overcome.  In addition through prayer and fellowship, they get the community support that is a spiritual connection to reinforce that strength.  If you throw out God, do you lose all of this?  

Now my contention is that God doesn’t exist in the first place and the strength they find in themselves and the connection to community and God they feel through prayer can be achieved without that belief.  But belief, albeit in a fantasy, is very strong and the real question is that if through that vehicle they can achieve a “state of grace”, what is the harm?  

The other down side to throwing out God is that faith may allow you to have hope beyond reason in certain circumstances (faith that God will see you through) and that faith in fact does gets you through.  Well the law of averages says that sometimes that belief (that you will get through even though reason says it is very unlikely) will in fact get you through.  It doesn’t mean God exists, it just means that the construct of God can be the extra strength you need when there is no where else to turn. That is why the God dilution is going to be a tough nut to crack.

So here is the dilema for an atheist like me.  I can certainly see where religion can be a positive force for good in many lives (Charleston).  I can also see where it is a terribly strong force to enslave our minds and our bodies (ISIS).  It sets up a conflict with rational and faith based logic.  Think about this:  Listen to some woman thank God for sparing her family in a massive flood, but doesn’t consider the harm he caused to other families if he is really responsible.  Is this a problem?  Well if she extends this type of logic to politicians it is.  In fact, it can lead to a convenient way to suppress empathy and understanding.  If God has a plan, what me worry (as Alfred E. Newman of MADD Magazine put it)?  It is, as in the case of evangelicals, a way to shun gays and discriminate against their fellow man (gays), ignoring their basic humanity.

So until we evolve into a more rational and deeply empathic species, religion is going to be with us.  Here are religious beliefs that I would find compatible with a progressive modern society:

  1. First, a moral philosophy not based upon dogma.  Example:  While the New Testament provides a moral philosophy, it must be informed by reality.  The evolution on gay rights is an example, a moral philosophy that we test against reality, question every day, and adjust it as necessary
  2. Worship that is inclusive, not exclusive, with a open heart and mind to other beliefs and ideas
  3. If God has a plan, part of that plan is that we make a difference and we must actively ensure that plan is inclusive, consistent with our evolving moral philosophy, and inclusive of all humans.  That there is only one condition, the human condition
  4. That religious beliefs are personal and have no place in the public square or the market place which must recognize and not discriminate against diversity of thought and belief
  5. Recognizes that human kind is connected and we are all in this together
  6. Finally, either through a belief in God or in the basic goodness at the heart of human nature, we can reach a state of grace that allows us to open our minds and our hearts to other ideas and our fellow man.  To embrace forgiveness and redemption and reject hate, revenge, and anger. We can always be wrong and nothing is written in stone

What I am trying to describe is atheism with a god.  Eventually through reason, logic, and a recognition of the basic human condition, we won’t need a god to give us grace.  We won’t need forgiveness, as we can forgive ourselves and work harder in the future.  And god’s plan is man’s plan, to make our lives better and make the world a better place for all of us.  That that plan is always open to debate based on reason and logic.  Community and spiritualism is still achievable and necessary to provide us with the empowerment of the group, but god is no longer the catalyst.  And finally as our understanding of morality and the world around us grows through an understanding of science and the impact of our moral philosophy on reality, we grow and the himan race prospers.  Hate, discrimination, and ISIS in general could not survive in such a world.  Neither could Christian discrimination and cruelty.

Until then, it will be my job to point out where religion fails these criteria and brings discrimination and cruelty into the world.  If it is in the name of God, I will prove there isn’t one, or at least your concept is ridiculous and illogical.  I will point out when some dogmatic belief from some sacred document is illogical and discredit the sacred document by showing it is full of contradictions.  When you bring your religion into the public square to justify your politics, I will be on you like … Well you know what I mean.  If discrediting your religion is what it takes to make you see through logic and reason, how that religion is hurting people, then I am all in.  And of course when your religion steps forward to help people and lead us down a more human path, I will support you.  Athiest Boy will be on the job.