Monday, March 26, 2007

The crutch

I just read Steve Alderman's response to Sam Harris' oped in the LA Times...

Alderman argues that real "ethics, morals" etc. come from a foundation in belief in god. I find this offensive and respond:

Alderman's response to Harris' thesis demonstrates a lack of "American thinking"...

Harris doesn't go into the "deeper reasons" in his oped, but to the thinking man there are an abundance of reasons to be compassionate, moral and ethical. They are infinitely more "deep" than "because god wants me to".

Conceiving of such is no harder than realizing we are social creatures: who depend on one another for all facets of our existence. Evolution has built familial compassion into each of us -- and a social nature (as it has for many species). How successful would a colony of ants be without such evolutionary behaviors let alone mankind?

We also have reason: the ability to rationalize and realize that the golden rule is really a practical way to conduct our affairs if we wish to remain members of a society. It takes realizations no more "deep" to conclude that compassion holds very real "meaning" for every person.

However, attributing our sense of compassion to "god" is demeaning in the extreme. It places us lower (on the behavioral evolutionary scale) than most social animals -- it implies the only reason we behave somewhat socially is because of "His" influence. I need no such "patriarch" to keep me in line -- I have my brain.

The sooner mankind discards this crutch the sooner we'll be able to use our gray matter to make real progress in the areas of ethics and morals: areas that are now discussed in bronze-age terms revolving around sex and sexism instead of their real foundation in human suffering.

Money quote...

From Sam Harris in his debate with Andrew Sullivan:

The inadequacies of the Bible: What is the intellectual justification for considering the Bible to be the inspired word of God, given how much bad stuff (like slavery) is in there, and how much good stuff (like all of science) isn't? Do you really think that no mere mortals could have written Mark, Matthew, John and Luke? Not even the combined talent of a first-century Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy? It seems to me that this textual claim really lies at the core of the matter: either the Bible is a book like any other great work of literature, or it's a magic book. Once one accepts it to be a magic book, I agree that a wide range of religious implications follow; but if one doesn't accept this claim, it seems to me that the basis for being a Christian (as a opposed to anything else) evaporates. Would it really surprise you if God told you that the Bible was a product of fallible, human minds? And if this wouldn't truly astound you (in the way that finding out that George Washington never existed presumably would), how can you claim to be so certain of the doctrine of Christianity?

Kind of sums it up...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Biggest Threat...

The comptroller general, David Walker, is currently on a "Fiscal Wake-up" tour...

"I would argue that the most serious threat to the United States is not someone hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan but our own fiscal irresponsibility."

"The prescription drug bill was probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s," Walker argues. With one stroke of the pen, Walker says, the federal government increased existing Medicare obligations nearly 40 percent over the next 75 years.

"On cost we're number one in the world. We spend 50 percent more of our economy on health care than any nation on earth," he says.

"We have the largest uninsured population of any major industrialized nation. We have above average infant mortality, below average life expectancy, and much higher than average medical error rates for an industrialized nation," Walker points out.

Where is the leadership?

You're probably expecting to hear from someone who disagrees with the comptroller general's numbers, projections, and analysis. But hardly anyone does. He is accompanied on the wake-up tour by economists from the conservative Heritage Foundation, the left-leaning Brookings Institution, and the non-partisan Concord Coalition. The only dissenters seem to be a small minority of economists who believe either that the U.S. can grow its way out of the problem, or that Walker is over-stating it.

"The Wall Street Journal for example calls you 'Chicken Little,' running around saying that the 'sky is falling, the sky is falling,'" Kroft remarks.

"Unfortunately they don't get it. I don't know anybody who has done their homework, has researched history, and who's good at math who would tell you that we can grow our way out of this problem," Walker replies.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke validated much of Walker's take on the situation at congressional hearings this year. 

Over the next year, the nation's top accountant will be traveling to the early primary states, telling voters that we need to begin raising taxes or government revenues and put a cap on federal spending if we want to maintain our economic security and standard of living. 

"If you tell them the truth, if you give them the facts, if you explain this in terms of not just numbers but values and people, they will get it and empower their elected officials to make tough choices," Walker argues. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Old Fashioned Conservatism

Andrew Sullivan had a great post the other day.

Talking about Ike:

Can you imagine a Republican candidate saying the following today?

"Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace."

Those were the days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tom Delay – Enemy of all that is American…

I didn't get to see the former majority leader on Russert's show, but I did catch him on NPR this morning. It simply astounds me that someone can rise to such power in the American form of government without a basic understand of what that government stands for.


The interview was a study in altered realities: the man known as "The Hammer" denied that he was authoritarian leader who used a strong arm to keep the republican caucus in line. Instead, he painted a picture of his time in congress as a consensus builder: even if only for his republican colleagues.


However, his world-view couldn't help but peak-out when asked about working with democrats from across the isle: "Why would I want to work with the enemy?" … Maybe because they are elected representatives and fellow American's who have a different perspective on an issue?




He freely spoke of doing what it took to keep the republican majority in power… and was obviously proud of the K-Street project: the mob-style extortion scheme he spearheaded to remove any democratic influence from the lobbying system and ensure 1-party received the VAST majority of funding.


Not that the lobbying system wasn't already broken: but at least lobbyist worked with representatives from both parties – hedging their bets. Delay introduced the "innovation" of demanding that any lobbyist who worked with him and his party completely disassociate themselves from any of "the enemies" from across the isle. His "winner take all" approach to funding paralleled the way his congress rammed legislation thru without much debate or open dissent.


Many would say that he simply was vigorously representing his ideals and those of his constituents… But ideals – as expressed by our representatives -- should be grounded in an understanding of a free society based on the protection of the "inherent" rights of the citizens. That means "all citizens" – not just white Christians. A brief look at the way the man used power quickly dispels any illusion that Delay understands that premise – the premise of the American experiment.


From the Shaivo case to his attempts to enact laws based on conservative Christian dogma, Delay embodied everything that was anti-American. His agenda was not only partisan, but anti-American in the sense that is was based on narrow religiously-founded beliefs in "right and wrong" – beliefs not based on the governments right to restrict or punish behavior that infringes on the rights of others… but on the belief that certain behaviors were an affront to the Christian god.


His perspectives are hardly surprising however. Delay spoke about his "born-again" experience and his redemption from a life of booze and partying: There's nothing scarier than a reformed drunk, high on self-righteousness, in a position of power. Coupled with an absolute belief in the power of the free market to address all of society's ills, you have the recipe for governance based on a radical-ideology: an ideology based on the premise that "not only do I have the answers, but I know I have the answers because god is on my side…"


And that's what we had during his tenure in congress… I only hope people see the radicalism of his approach to governance – and continue to reject it as they did in the midterms.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Brownback - bigot, enemy of freedom

Capt Fogg has a great post on Sen Brownback... He captures my feelings exactly.

These people simply don't know what "morality" means.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Swan song...

One question for Mr. McCain... who supports the continuation of the war in Iraq: "What do you hope to gain even if the violence subsides?"

The Iraqi rulers have demostrated that they are not interested in creating a liberal democracy... What do we hope to gain by staying and getting more Americans killed?

This is the issue that killed the '08 McCain presidential bid...

The Republican senator from Arizona was one of 11 presidential candidates -- Democrat and Republican -- to address the annual gathering of the firefighters union. But he was the only one to risk making a passionate case before the left-leaning group about why the war in Iraq must continue.

Reading his speech and stealing quick glances at his listeners, he continued. "The hour is late, but we must try, we must!" Beefy firemen, arms folded on chests, stared back silently.

"We do have some evidence that the new tactics . . . have begun to make progress," he pleaded. Audience members whispered. Some shook heads. One raised the comics section in front of her face.

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The silliness of it all...

The conservative Christian is a study in contradictions. The ability of these folks to delude themselves is simply amazing.

I’m currently wasting my time by posting comments to another blogger’s site: of course, as many conservatives like to do, the comments are moderated so they have to make it by the censor before being posted. To his credit, my first set was posted.

Anyway, as we exchanged thoughts it quickly became apparent that this blogger, like many others, filters his world view thru the bible. When you accept such axioms you – as Kurt Godel showed – end up with some inconsistencies.

For instance, on homosexuality:

Survival of the fittest and natural selection specifically rule out homosexuality as a norm as homosexuality would cause certain distinction of a species. Sorry, but your arguments just don't hold an ounce of water.

Evolution would preclude homosexuality as being a normal part of any species. It would be a mutation or deviation that would be harmful to the propogation and proliferation of the species.

However, on the age of the earth (and its implications on evolution/Darwinism):

You start with the assumption that evolution is true and force all your "facts" to fit those conclusions; hence your belief in the myth of the billion year old fossil record.

These people are walking contradictions: for they believe what a preacher/holy book says about matters in which the evidence is not “iron clad”, but – for instance – when they are sick they go to a medical doctor. What about “moving mountains with prayer” as the bible indicates is possible for the believer?

I’m sure the apology is “god gave us a brain and we now know how to treat many injuries and diseases” … apparently god simply wanted the ancient believers to suffer and die horribly then – since many sought faith-healers in the face of disease.

What I find most amazing about most fundamentalist is that they haven’t even read their holy books. They have pondered individual passages… they have correlated conclusions that support their beliefs. But the vast majority really has no idea what it says and frankly how evil the book really is.

Just a couple of quick examples. If the book were actually either inspired-by or written-by the creator of the universe, you’d think you’d be able to get straight answers on some of the most basic questions – such as:

Was man created before or after the “beasts of the field”? Well, Genesis 1:25-27 says one thing, while Genesis 2:18-19 says the opposite.

Ok, maybe that’s not that important: god obviously thought it important enough to have it written down, but maybe the scribe got it wrong (so much for god’s omnipotence).

What about the 10 Commandments? Out of the entire bible, these laws were the only ones the creator of the universe deemed it important enough to write with HIS OWN HAND (i.e. – on the stone tablets). These must be some pretty important teachings. Let’s take a look: Exodus 20 (of course different denominations extract them differently so there’s not even agreement on what they are):

1- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image

3- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

4- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Etc. etc.

And finally

10- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Interesting that the creator rounded out his edicts with an admonishment not to covert your neighbors ox or ass. You’d think that since he was only gonna directly give his laws to us this one time, they might be a little more ‘moral’ … something like the Jains admonition to: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” A lot more succinct don’t you think?

Aside from the fact that most of the commandments don’t really deal with morality, but give instruction on who/how to worship, you’d think god would make sure the scribe would get them right when he reiterates them after the tables are smashed. But we find a completely different set of commandments delineated in Exodus 34 (Exodus 34:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.) … a few pages after the originals:

3- The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn.

6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.

7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.

8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning.

And my favorite

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

It is truly laughable that so many in our population think the creator of the universe gave us such instructions. Not to mention the two passages completely contradict one another.

Only the forces of human reason have been effective in staying the cruel hand of religious fundamentalists… of most any ilk. All we have to do is look back a few hundred years to see what kind of society humankind was capable of when taking the writing of these bronze-age tribesmen as the word of god…

We called the time the Dark Ages.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bizzaro-thinking from the right... or, "how to blame the left for EVERYTHING"

I was just reading an article by Dinesh D'Souza on the NRO... D'Souza has written "The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11".

While I can't claim to have read the book, D'Souza summarizes a couple of his arguments from the book:

Consider whether, without the Khomeini regime coming to power in Iran in 1979, 9/11 would have occurred. Radical Islam has been around since the 1920s, but for decades it was on the margins of power. Then in 1979 it captured a major state. Khomeini was the first Muslim leader to call America the Great Satan and to call for a worldwide revolution of Muslims committing martyrdom and jihad against the U.S. The Khomeini revolution paved the road to 9/11.

So how did we get Khomeini? When Jimmy Carter was elected in 1979 his liberal advisers told him that he could not consistently uphold human rights and support the Shah of Iran. Carter withdrew American support for the shah, and in trying to get rid of the bad guy, he got the worse guy. So here is a concrete way in which liberal foreign policy handed [emphasis mine] radical Islam control of its first major state.

Is this what passes for thoughtful analysis on the right? Carter's withdrawal of support for a despised tyrant and US puppet was responsible for the rise of Khomeini? Come'on!

Iranians hatred for the Shah pre-dates the Carter administration. Organized protests may have only begun in 1978, but the populaces' disapproval with the Shah and his policies didn't spring up overnight -- His regime was one of extravigance, over-indulgence and corruption. You'd think anyone looking at the situation might consider those to be the major factors in the populace's disenchantment with the ruling class... But somehow, in D'Souza's eye, our lack of support for this corrupt man caused the state to fall into Islamic revolutionary hands.

ad absurdum...

But not for D'Souza: for him -- as for many who call themselves "conservative analysts" -- the error is always traceable back to some left-leaning leader.

I simply don't understand how anyone can read this drivel and buy it... it takes only a few moments of reflection to realize the conclusions are built on a house of cards. Yet I'm sure his book is selling well.

What hope do we have when such non-sense passes for insightful discourse?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Modern day Sadducees

Apparently, the Republican "moral and values" crowd's hypocrisy knows no bounds...

Affairs, divorce (during his wife's cancer treatments no less), marrying his congressional aid ... etc. etc. etc. ...

How many examples does the public need? The rule is simple: if someone stands up and preaches "morals and values" to you, watch out... they likely have some big skeletons rattling around in their closet.

People with that actually have morals don't preach them to others -- they just live them...
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Gingrich admits impeachment-era affair

Gingrich, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, was
asked by James Dobson of the conservative Christian group Focus
on the Family, whether he was engaged in an extramarital affair
when former
President Clinton
was involved with White House
intern Monica Lewinsky.

"The honest answer is 'yes,"' Gingrich said in an interview
released on the group's Web site. "But it's not related to what

Gingrich has been married three times. In an often-told
story, he discussed divorce details with his first wife,
Jacqueline, while she was recovering from cancer surgery.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How to dumb down your children

Born again?

By my reading of the news, educational statistics, etc.; a large percentage of American's reasoning faculties seem still-born...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Pot for pain

I think the Christian right is really behind the "no to medicinal pot" efforts...
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A new study in the journal Neurology is being hailed as unassailable proof that marijuana is a valuable medicine. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine that we still need "proof" of something that medicine has known for 5,000 years.
The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found that smoked marijuana was effective at relieving the extreme pain of a debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy.
It was a study of HIV patients, but a similar type of pain caused by damage to nerves afflicts people with many other illnesses including diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Neuropathic pain is notoriously resistant to treatment with conventional pain drugs. Even powerful and addictive narcotics like morphine and OxyContin often provide little relief. This study leaves no doubt that marijuana can safely ease this type of pain.

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Libby Found Guilty In CIA Leak

"Scooter" Libby was convicted Tuesday of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

So where is all that love-of-the-troops been during the last 4 years?

The Republican's in control of the House, Senate and White House love to make a show of their "love for the troops" ... but again we see it's hollow rhetoric.

Sandy Karen was horrified when her 21-year-old son was discharged from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego a few months ago and told to report to the outpatient barracks, only to find the room swarming with fruit flies, trash overflowing and a syringe on the table. "The staff sergeant says, 'Here are your linens' to my son, who can't even stand up," said Karen, of Brookeville, Md. "This kid has an open wound, and I'm going to put him in a room with fruit flies?" She took her son to a hotel instead.

"My concern is for the others, who don't have a parent or someone to fight for them," Karen said. "These are just kids. Who would have ever looked in on my son?"

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The Russian Slide

Remember, W said "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy."

So much for W's super-powers of perception...
clipped from

Vladimir Putin has just chosen Ramzan Kadyrov as the new president of Chechnya. Kadyrov and his associates are some of the prime suspects in the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya last year, and Kadyrov's forces have been accused of serious and sustained human rights abuses.

Just to give you a sense of Kadyrov's character, when he publicly denied killing Politkovskaya recently, he did so by saying, "I did not kill women," which can't be considered a good sign for the thousands of men in various jails throughout Chechnya (the EU, among others, has reported the horrific torture that goes on in these prisons).

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Contained by faith...

A fellow member of the Humanist Society of Phoenix captured it succinctly:
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Will believers run amok?

We had all better hope that the claimed discovery of Jesus' stone ossuary is a hoax.

You can't believe how many times I, as a non-believer, have been asked, "What keeps you from killing and stealing if you don't believe in Jesus?" Apparently, if the discovery should prove to be true, then Christians will run amok in the streets killing, raping and stealing since their belief is all that holds them back. - William M. Hooks, Mesa

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Sam Harris vs. Andrew Sullivan: Smackdown on Religion

Are religious moderates any better than fundamentalists? Atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan duke it out in a fast-paced blogalogue.

Here are a couple (devastating) excerpts from Sam's responses...

Where I think we disagree is on the nature of faith itself. I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not. Perhaps I should acknowledge at the outset that people use the term "faith" in a variety of ways. My use of the word is meant to capture belief in specific religious propositions without sufficient evidence-prayer can heal the sick, there is a supreme Being listening to our thoughts, we will be reunited with our loved ones after death, etc. I am not criticizing faith as a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty, of the sort indicated by phrases like, "have faith in yourself." There's nothing wrong with that type of "faith."

Given my view of faith, I think that religious "moderation" is basically an elaborate exercise in self-deception, while you seem to think it is a legitimate and intellectually defensible alternative to fundamentalism.

You have simply declared your faith to be immune to rational challenge. As you didn't come to believe in God by taking any state of the world into account, no possible state of the world could put His existence in doubt. This is the very soul of dogmatism. But to call it such in this context will seem callous, as you have emphasized how your faith has survived-and perhaps helped you to survive-many harrowing experiences. Such testimonials about the strength and utility of faith mark off territory that most atheists have learned never to trespass. This reminds me of the wonderful quotation from Mencken: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

Challenge to the faithful -- give it a read, if you dare...

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ahmadinejad faces domestic criticism for tough line on Iran's nuclear program

Iran will eventually implode -- if we let it... However, if the administration has it's way, we'll escalate the rhetoric (and possibly bomb them) and incite more nationalism in a country who's populace would like to move closer to the west... not away from it.But if the Bush administration has it's way, tough talk and "more" will likely strengthen the hand of the Ayatollahs.

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