Saturday, December 30, 2006

The End of Saddam

The pseudo Iraqi government finally did what it’s been threatening to do, it executed Saddam Hussein along with two of his cronies.

If anyone ever deserved having his neck stretched, Saddam was the guy. Although I don’t see this solving anything, at least we can be pretty sure the guy wasn’t innocent.

I don't know what else to say really.

Saints at Giants

Good grief! What a miserable season. Tiki’s last game turned into a total bust. I think only the water boy didn’t drop a pass. I mean that was truly pathetic.

Things started out ok with Tiki Barber being the only Giant player introduced on what was his final game at Giants Stadium. Then the Giants scored first on a 50 yard pass play. Things went downhill rapidly after that.

The early chants of “Tiki Barber, Tiki Barber” deteriorated first into “Fire Coughlin, Fire Coughlin” and then hit rock bottom with “Let’s Go Yankees!” The final chant being the fans putting the team on notice that not only had they given up on the season, they had ceased to care.

Oh well, there’s always next year. Final score Saints 30 and Giants 7.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas 2006

Well it’s that time of year again. I don’t send Christmas cards, and haven’t for many years, but I send out a few holiday greeting e-mails to old friends I don’t have much contact with any more and put holiday greeting posts on a few forums. For my current acquaintances I prefer to provide greetings in person.

I see the usual assortment of “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs up and wonder whether or not these folks understand that virtually everything that we’ve come to associate with Christmas is really pagan in origin. Hey, as a matter of fact it was originally the old Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia that was adopted by the church and not really tamed until the 17th or 18th century.

That being the case, it’s not so much a matter of keeping Christ in Christmas as it is a matter of a sort of hostile takeover along with the enforcement of puritan Christian morality. Luckily most folks haven’t lost their appetite for a good time and pretty much ignore the whole idea.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or whatever makes you happy.

Eagles and Giants

SOB! Boy, this has been a terribly depressing season. We got whomped again, this time by the Eagles and two touchdowns in the last 4 minutes, 36-22. I hate to complain, but with two critical interceptions, including the crusher at the end of the game, Eli is not helping any.

I see in the N.Y. Post that a son of Wellington Mara decked an Eagles fan on Wall Street after being heckled over the loss. Assuming the Post story is accurate, because with the Post you never know, I'll bet that felt good. I had this female Eagles fan yelling in my ear last Sunday. If it had been a guy I guarantee you he would have had his teeth rearranged on the back of one of the seats. Unfortunately females have an immunity from that kind of stuff.

Oh well, the last game is Sunday against New Orleans. I'll probably go to say farewell to Tiki. To add insult to injury, I didn't realize the bill for the "just in case" play-off tickets was due a week ago. Not that I expect to miss any games by sending it in late, but I hope it doesn't jeopardize my regular season tickets. At least I think I hope it doesn't jeopardize them.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Civil Unions and Stem Cell Research in New Jersey

As expected the New Jersey state legislature passed a bill on Thursday approving Civil Unions for gay couples four months ahead of the deadline issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The bill will extend all of the legal benefits of marriage to gay couples. Governor Corzine is expected to sign the bill after what he called a study to insure that “we’re getting what we intended to get.”

The only thing withheld by the bill is the word marriage itself, but the battle isn’t over. The measure passed easily, 56-19 in the Assembly and 23-12 in the Senate, and both legislators and the Governor indicated that periodic reviews of the language left the door open for ultimately exchanging the term “Civil Union” for marriage.

Well it’s certainly a step in the right direction and with a friendly populace, a friendly legislature and a friendly governor, New Jersey will most likely remain a place where gays can push their agenda with a fair likelihood of success. New Jersey could easily become the first state to legalize gay marriage through the legislature as the Zeitgeist moves onward.

The same legislature approved $270 million in appropriations for stem cell research at Rutgers University over the objections of religious and antiabortion groups. At least some parts of the country are trying to move into the 21st century despite the medieval attitude in Washington.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Giants at Panthers

Hey, we won one! Actually I thought they were going to blow it again. There is something fundamentally wrong with this team’s “we have the lead so let’s just hold ‘em” defense.

Actually that’s probably not true. I played defense myself and by the end of the game you’re beat especially when there’s a lack of substitutes. Defense takes more out of you than offense. On offense you know what to expect on each play. On defense you never know what’s coming. I was a cornerback and about the last thing I wanted to see in the 4th quarter was a fresh set of legs coming in at wide receiver. Anyway, the final score was 27-13.

With Dallas getting mauled by New Orleans and Philadelphia beating Washington, things are suddenly up in the air again. This Sunday’s game between the Giants and Eagles, currently the #5 and #6 seeds, should have a major impact on the Wild Card race in the NFC or even possibly the NFC East title because Dallas goes to Atlanta, which is currently the #7 seed.

Elsewhere, one has to wonder how Indianapolis can get blasted by Jacksonville 44-17 and New England could get blanked by Miami 21-0. I guess anyone can have a bad day, but it really makes you wonder.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

HBO’s Rome, Second Season

The second, and rumored last, season of HBO’s Rome begins on January 14th 2007. WOOHOO!!! I’ve been trying to put bits and pieces together from the clips on the HBO web site, but there isn’t a lot of information.

Octavian does get adopted by Caesar in his will and Pullo puts it straight up, saying “you’ll be wanting revenge then” and volunteering his services. Looks like Vorenus decides to take over the Aventine, but exactly why is unclear. Cleopatra shows back up and it appears like they’re going to skip the whole Antony marries Octavia bit and go right for the Antony and Cleopatra angle. Either way, Atia’s reaction should be a joy to behold.

I did see a file clip related to Phillippi so we get to at least 42 BCE. The affair between Antony and Cleopatra starts around 38 BCE but you can’t tell from the clips what will come first in the show. Let’s keep in mind that the little gold digger Cleopatra has what she can claim is Caesar’s son, Caesarion. The battle of Actium, which would sort of signal the end of the series, occurs in 31 BC.

The first season started around 50 BCE. A number of events including the death of Caesar’s daughter Julia, the battle of Alesia, the surrender of Vercingetorix and crossing of the Rubicon are sort of smudged together in the first two episodes although they took place over a period of five to six years. Caesar crossed the Rubicon (iacta alea est) in January of 49 BCE and was assassinated in 44 BCE so the first season covered something like six or seven years and included events stretched out over ten years. That means taking the second season all the way to the battle of Actium wouldn’t be out of the question. Since this is supposed to be the last season it would make some sense to take it to a convenient conclusion and Actium, plus the aftermath in Egypt with the asp and all that, would be a logical place to end it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Healthiest State?

Minnesota is the healthiest state according to the United Health Federation which bases its ranking on a series of factors including prevalence of obesity, prevalence of smoking, motor vehicle deaths, violent crime and infectious disease rate.

At the bottom of the list was Louisiana which slipped into last place probably due to the aftermath of Katrina. Last years #50, Mississippi, managed to claw its way up to 49.

Right behind Minnesota were Vermont, New Hampshire, Hawaii and Connecticut. In general the Northeastern and Northern Midwestern states ranked the best. Just ahead of Mississippi were South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. The South did just horrible. The ten worst states were all from the South.

New Jersey ranked 14th overall and 1st in the High School Graduation category but 49th in Adequacy of Pre-natal care and 45th in incidence of Infectious Disease. Indiana was 33rd overall. Its highest ranking was 17th in Motor Vehicle Deaths and incidence of Infectious Disease. It was 49th in Prevalence of Smoking, 47th in Cancer Deaths and 45th in Poor Mental Health Days.

Giants and Cowboys

Good game, a lousy ending, but a good game. I guess I need to go locate my “Wait until next year” button. Unfortunately I have a feeling it’s going to take more than a year to put together another winning team.

I hope Coughlin has his resume updated, because I think he’s history after this year. There were far too many questionable decisions on his part. Final score, Cowboys 23 and Giants 20.

I've still got two more home games. Wonder if anyone would buy the tickets? Nah, I'm going.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Letter from the Iranian President

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, issued an open letter yesterday to the American People. Since I’m a member of the American People I figured I’d better read it because it might be important.

First I had to put aside my three reasons for distrusting Ahmadinejad. First, and foremost, he was a member of the Basij movement during the Iran-Iraq war. These are the lovely folks that sent children out as human mine sweepers with little plastic “keys to Paradise” around their necks. Second, he doesn’t have a problem with a Theocracy, and third he’s a religious Muslim, or at least he claims to be one.

Ahmadinejad addresses a number of areas but makes the mistake of putting the one he is least likely to get support for from the American People first. He starts by attacking the “Persistent aggressions by the Zionists.” While I sympathize with the Palestinian People, I also sympathize with the Israeli People. There is plenty of blame and suffering to go around in that conflict and I think it’s unjustified to put all the blame on the Israelis.

From then on however I found myself nodding in agreement more often than shaking my head. Some excerpts, with commentary.

“Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially.”

I don’t know about exponentially but it certainly has grown. The level of terror is beyond imagining and the country appears on the verge of full scale civil war which can only make it worse. I think the Iranians, as neighbors of Iraq, have every reason to be concerned.

“Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.”

And we don’t seem to be doing much to alleviate it. It appears to me that the administration is more concerned about making Halliburton stockholders rich than it is about the welfare of the Iraqi People. A welfare by the way, that the United States became responsible for, at least in part, when we sent the 3rd Infantry across the border.

“I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.”

I’m certainly not happy about it. Unfortunately there are those, especially those making a bundle off the war, that are happy about it and they tend to have a lot more influence with this administration than peons like me.

“You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. “

Yes, and I think it’s a disgrace.

“You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed ‘war on terror.’ But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations. “

I can’t really find much fault with this assessment. The activities of the Bush administration HAVE helped to spread terrorism and have tarnished the reputation of the U.S. around the world. I’m certain that the verdict of history will be that this was the worst presidential administration ever and it ushered in a dark age in American history. A dark age which hopefully will end with the exit of Bush and his cronies on January 20, 2009. I say hopefully because I don’t think another Republican presidency will raise the veil any. We need a total housecleaning.

“The US administration’s illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of ‘the war on terror,’ civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed.”

As the myriad ACLU newsletters keep reminding me in increasingly shrill language. I now know how concerned Germans must have felt as the Nazis managed to use the legal political system to destroy that system. The Bush administration seems to feel that it is above the law and at liberty to flaunt the law whenever it feels like it and I’m flabbergasted that more people aren’t outraged about that.

“I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.”

Some of us do. Unfortunately a fair number seem perfectly willing to wave goodbye to civil liberties in the United States as long as the President says “God” every two sentences and Gay Marriage remains illegal.

“We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?”

Clearly war, destruction and the killing of innocents is simply going to fuel terrorism if people feel that it’s their only option for fighting back or defending themselves. But what’s the answer? You identify a non-solution but offer nothing in its place.

Unfortunately the letter then goes into another rant about Zionists including the resurrection of the tired old anti-Semitic charge about control “of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors.”

While the man raises some valid points, his unjustified ranting against “Zionists” plus his history (yes, I’m now bringing my prejudices into the analysis) leave me doubting the sincerity of the letter. I’m not convinced this is a man that should be trusted. That doesn’t change the truth in some of what he says, it just means I’m not all that certain I would want to be “good buddies” with the guy. I think I smell a rat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Death Penalty Update

The current number of executions in the United States for 2006 stands at 52 with three more scheduled during December. That would bring the total to 55 down 5 from the 60 executions in 2005.

Of the 52 executions, 43 took place in the South, 6 were in the Midwest with 5 in the state of Ohio and 3 were in the West. The Northeast had no executions in 2006.

Fourteen states had at least one execution in 2006. Texas had the most with 24 followed by Ohio with 5. One of the three remaining scheduled executions is also in Ohio which would bring that states total to 6.

Texas already has 11 executions scheduled for 2007 including the execution of a female, Cathy Henderson, in April of 2007. The state of Tennessee, which has only had 2 executions, has 7 executions scheduled in 2007.

In other words, nothing much has changed. The South, with Texas leading the way, continues to be the region of the country where executions are the most common and the Northeast continues to be the region where they rarely occur. As a matter of fact, of the 4 executions that have occurred in the Northeast since 1976, all were of so-called volunteers, individuals that, for whatever reason, ceased appealing their death penalty sentence.

The New Jersey committee studying the death penalty was supposed to have issued its report by November 15, 2006 to the governor and legislature, but I haven’t seen anything to that effect so far. The hope is, of course, that the committee will recommend abolition. We shall see what we shall see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Angels in America

I read something one time that theorized that there were multiple parallel dimensions of reality. The closer ones were very similar, perhaps with only minor differences, and that it was sometimes possible to exchange places with your alternate self in one of those closer dimensions. You can sometimes detect that this has happened by noticing a difference.

At least that’s the theory. More likely is that you haven’t switched dimensions but are merely suffering from a faulty memory. I mentioned this because of “Angels in America,” a six part mini-series that appeared on my HBO on Demand movie list and for which I have absolutely no memory. Yet it appears that the six part mini-series, based upon two three hours plays, should have been something that I recalled.

Looking it up on the web led to the revelation that not only were the plays critically acclaimed, winning a slew of drama critic circle awards as well as the Tony Award for Best Play, but the mini-series was the most watched made for cable movie of 2003 and won both the Golden Globe and the Emmy Awards.

So how the heck did I miss this? Yes, granted I was struggling through some personal problems at that time but it still strikes me as a tad strange that I have absolutely no memory of this program.

Anyway, I’ve managed to watch five of the six episodes and I’m not all that sure what to make of the whole thing. It’s sort of weird and funny about non-funny things. The fantasy sequences are really bizarre and on the verge of comical but there’s nothing comical about the situations that the characters find themselves in.

Some of the dialogue is absolutely stunning. In one fantasy sequence Mary-Louise Parker, who plays a Mormon, has this exchange with Justin Kirk, who plays a gay man with aids.

Parker: I'm a Mormon.
Kirk: I'm a homosexual.
Parker: Oh. In my church we don't believe in homosexuals.
Kirk: In my church we don't believe in Mormons.

But my favorite is Jeffrey Wright, who played Martin Luther King in “Boycott,” as the gay nurse Belize. He matches wits and insults with Al Pacino as a dying Roy Cohn, of the Rosenberg Trial fame, often with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, played by Meryl Streep, looking on in bemusement. Like I said, it’s a very weird show made weirder by the fact that there are actors playing multiple roles. I thought there was something a little strange about the rabbi in one of the opening sequences only to find out later that “he” was being portrayed by Meryl Streep who has three roles.

I’m not sure if I’m enjoying this show as much as I’m exploring it.

Giants at Titans

Ouch. Every once in a while you get a game that it takes YEARS to recover from. This was one of those games. A blown 21 point lead in the first as the result of a series of errors any one of which, if it hadn’t been made, might have salvaged the 24-21 loss.

The first error was the lob pass call on a second and four early in the fourth quarter. The second mistake was Plaxico Burress giving up on that pass which resulted in an interception. The third mistake was the personal foul on the 4th and 7. Without the flag the Giants would have taken over on downs with the score still 21-0. The fourth was, of course, Kawanuka letting Young go when he appeared to have him wrapped up on the 4th and 10 with less than 2 minutes left.

I don’t blame the rookie though because I know precisely what happened. He was afraid of getting called for roughing the quarterback so he made the mistake of releasing his grip prior to the whistle.

I blame Coughlin. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way this team is playing and I can only blame the coaching for that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Imams Get Kicked off of Plane

Well you knew it had to happen eventually and it did yesterday. Six Islamic Imams, returning from a conference in Minneapolis to Phoenix, were asked to get off a US Airways flight due to “suspicious behavior.”

Apparently what triggered the incident was three members of the group praying in the terminal. Yes, I think I would have been more than a little suspicious if I saw three Muslims praying just before getting on board an aircraft especially if the other three in the group weren’t praying.

To make matters worse, the six were seated in different parts of the aircraft. Yup, that would just about clinch it for me.

Guys, I’m sorry if you have been inconvenienced or insulted but better safe than sorry. Get used to the idea because it’s probably going to get worse. If you don’t like it, feel free to move to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

Boy, I sound like a gun totin’ Red Stater don’t I? The Dukes of Hazzard got nothin’ on me does they? I openly admit to this hypocritical chink in my liberalism. I find Islam to be the worst of the religions, both in terms of doctrine and the culture that has grown up around it, and don’t find myself feeling particularly tolerant towards it. The fact that its version of a religious fruitcake keeps threatening to explode a dirty nuke in my backyard hasn’t helped any either.

One of the Imams involved expressed frustration that, despite extensive efforts by Muslim leaders, many Americans know so little about Islam. "If up to now they don't know about prayers, this is a real problem," he said.

Not for me its not. I couldn’t care less. Of course it might be for you if every time you decide to pray they chuck you off an airplane. Like I said before, have you given any thought to relocating to a more sympathetic country like Afghanistan maybe? If not, then have you given any thought to chucking the philosophy of hatred and death that you’ve adopted?

What do You Mean IF you’re Wrong?

My question is a reaction to an opinion piece written by Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, a Baptist Minister with an upcoming book entitled, “10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).”

The opinion piece is entitled “When Religion Loses its Credibility” and bemoans the danger inherent in religion digging in its heels about homosexuality being a choice. The scientific evidence is mounting up that it’s determined at birth, by any number of genetic and physical factors, and is about as much a choice as being left handed or having blue eyes. Buzz is concerned that religion will lose its “moral authority” once proven wrong.

I have a number of observations about this piece. First of all, religion has no moral authority. At least it doesn’t have any in this country at the moment. It carries some weight for those who adhere to its dogma, but that’s voluntary. It has no moral authority because it no longer has any means of enforcing its definition of morality upon those of us that find it laughable. Religion lost it's authority when the 1st Amendment was ratified and a Constitutional expert like Thomas should know that.

Second, I doubt that science proving that homosexuality is not a choice will have any impact upon religion whatsoever. The right wing evangelical fruitcakes will simply ignore the evidence as they ignore the evidence about evolution. The so called liberals will probably start telling us how instrumental religion was in getting homosexuals, who are after all God’s children, accepted. Both will be lies, but lying is what religion does best isn’t it?

As for Thomas, I looked him up and he’s a Baptist Minister that belongs to the ACLU and has an abiding faith in the first amendment and the separation of church and state. I can’t understand how someone with his credentials swallows the whole Christianity thing. On the other hand, does he swallow it or does he just recognize a good gig when he sees it?

My last observation is a question. I wonder what the 10 things are? I bet I could come up with 10. Oh boy, my own 10 things list.

Alencon’s “10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).”

#10 – You really don’t have to drag your butt out of bed to go to church every Sunday.
#9 – All of your “Christmas Traditions” are pagan in origin.
#8 – You should really keep your donations to the church to feed your own family and fix up your own house. If Jesus could feed 4,000 people on a few loaves and fishes, why can’t he provide food and shelter for those who bring his word to the masses?
#7 – Men really did evolve from lower order animals.
#6 – Homosexuality isn’t a choice.
#5 – Jesus would be horrified to see what Christianity has done to his teachings
#4 – The bible IS full of errors, contradictions and absurdities.
#3 – Revelations is total hogwash.
#2 – The bible is NOT the word of God
#1 – You’re NOT going to heaven when you die.

Giants at Jaguars

God I hate Monday night games, especially those as ugly as last night’s. With seven defensive starters, plus Amani Toomer, sidelined with injuries, it could be a very long last few games.

If last night is any indication of what’s to come, maybe I’ll take up watching hockey. The final, very ugly, score was Jaguars 26 and Giants 10.

Elsewhere, the Eagles lost McNabb for the season and the Cowboys handed Indianapolis its first loss as Tony Romo begins to take on the appearance of a mobile John Elway. God I’m so depressed over the idea of Dallas winning the NFC East. Maybe Ronde can return three interceptions for touchdowns Thursday because that’s about the only way I can see Tampa Bay beating Dallas on Thanksgiving.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Jesus Doll for Christmas?

The Marine Reserve Toys for Tots program initially turned down an offer of 4,000 talking Jesus dolls from the manufacturer.

I understand the Marines’ logic since the toys could go to any needy child but it’s still hard to miss the irony of a decision that says that dolls of Jesus aren’t appropriate gifts at Christmas.

At least that was the initial decision. Now the Marines have decided to accept the 4,000 dolls and claim they have located appropriate places to donate them.

Well, that may be, but the fact that the toys needed special treatment sort of underscores the fact that maybe they weren’t a good idea to begin with doesn’t it? Now before everyone starts pointing out that Christmas is all about Jesus, allow me to point out that I covered that one last year here “Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?”

What most of us associate with Christmas, including the giving of gifts, is actually pagan in origin and was simply adapted by the early church for the new religion. That being the case, I don’t have a hard time associating the Toys for Tots program with the general holiday season rather than looking upon it as a Christmas specific thing.

I am uncomfortable whenever an agency associated with the government does anything that can be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religion or religion in general. If its Jesus dolls this year, what is it next year, video tapes of bible stories?

Yes this is the old slippery slope argument and I know full well that it is pure logical fallacy. Ignoring the slippery slope for the moment, there is still the concern that even the hint of government endorsement leads to two classes of citizens. There are the fully enfranchised citizens that are members of the endorsed group, and the second class citizens, that aren’t members of the endorsed group.

This was the division created by the Jim Crow laws in the past. This is the division created by Defense of Marriage Acts in the present. This is the division that too many evangelical Christian organizations advocate in defiance of the American tradition of the separation of church and state and the American principle of equal protection under the law.

Still, with that being said, I find it hard to justify not giving a toy to a child especially around Christmas.

I was on the company’s web site and they have five biblical dolls. For $20 you can choose from Jesus, Mary, Moses, David or Esther. The pitch is pure evangelical Protestant right down to Jesus mouthing John 3:3, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

So, according to the Jesus doll, if you’re not a “Born Again Christian” you’re going to hell. Will Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Greek Orthodox please form an orderly line by the down escalator? Non-Christians, please wait until the heretics are serviced.

I find it especially amusing that that the entire “Born Again” idea comes from a conversation that could only have been held in Greek because the play on words only works in Greek and not Aramaic, Hebrew or English. While it’s quite possible that Nicodemus spoke Greek, and not out of the realm of the reasonable that Jesus spoke Greek, it’s rather unlikely they would be talking privately in that language rather than Aramaic. In other words, I doubt that the conversation ever took place.

Anyway, I hope the kids enjoy the dolls.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Russ Isn’t Going to Run

I got an e-mail yesterday from Russ Feingold saying that he has decided to remain the junior Senator from Wisconsin and will not run for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

Shucks. Feingold struck me as a honest competent guy that would make a fine President. Oh well, maybe some other time. He’s still pretty young.

So who the heck does that leave me with? Rudi, Hillary, John Kerry or John McCain? Of course there’s always Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, but I know absolutely nothing about him.

I didn’t vote for Kerry the last time around as much as I voted against Bush so he doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Besides, John will be working on getting his foot out of his mouth for years after that stuck in Iraq crack.

I lost my respect for McCain when he suddenly supported the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution. If someone is willing to trade his integrity for the nomination, how can I have any confidence that he’ll do the right thing once he’s in the Oval Office?

That leaves Rudi and Hillary. I’d have to go with Rudi at the moment.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bears at Giants

My God what a depressing game. First of all I wasn’t all that thrilled at getting Flex Timed and then there was the rain, which really doesn’t bother me because I’m under the overhang in the lower deck, and then, and then, there was that absurd performance.

The game pivoted on two plays. The first was a third and 22 that the Bears had on their own 20 with 1:30 in the first half. Instead of having to punt they managed a draw play to pick up the first down. A few seconds later we got to half with the Giants only ahead 13-10 rather than 13-3. The funny thing is, the half would have run out if Coughlin hadn’t called time-out.

The second play was, of course, the botched field goal that was run back for a touchdown in the second half. There were 75,000 people yelling “NO, not a 51 yarder in the rain with a shaky kicker,” but Coughlin made the call and it turned into a complete disaster.

Bah. Final score Bears 38 and Giants 20.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lieberman in Control?

With both the Montana and Virginia senate races now going to Democrats we have a rather interesting situation of the Senate being composed or 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two Independents, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Joe Lieberman from Connecticut.

Both Sanders and Lieberman say they will vote with the Democrats for organizational purposes which is why the Democrats have been declared to be in control of the Senate. Sanders is so far left that I think his head would explode if he ever even considered siding with the Republicans on anything but Lieberman is a whole different story.

After being beaten in the Democratic Primary and mounting a successful re-election campaign as an Independent, Lieberman owes nothing to anybody (or should it be nothing to everybody?) and can pretty much write his own ticket. Watch for Joe to do some maneuvering and horse trading over the next two years.

In the meantime Rumsfeld has "resigned." All I can say about that is it's about time. Now if we can only convince the other two spokes on the Axis of Evil, Bush and Cheney, to resign, we might be able to make some real progress toward entering the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election 2006

Throw the bums out! That’s more or less what the voters did yesterday in what can only be interpreted as a repudiation of the Bush administration and the constant stream of scandals afflicting the Republican Party.

At last count the Democrats had gained 27 seats in the House. That will give them control of the House for the first time since 1994 and Nancy Pelosi stands ready to be first female Speaker and third in line for the presidency. The Democrats gained 4 seats in the Senate. Two seats, in Virginia and Montana, are still undecided. If both go to the Democrats then they will effectively control the Senate as well.

Closer to home Bob Menendez easily beat Tom Kean Jr. for the New Jersey Senate seat by something like 10 points. Junior will be back however and probably has a run for governor in his future. I don’t have a problem with Junior, and his Dad is a good guy, but I still voted for Menendez.

In other senate races I was interested in, the people of Florida soundly rejected Katherine Harris and, in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, despite losing the Democratic primary, held on to his Senate seat. Good for the people of Florida but I'm not sure the folks in Connecticut made the right decision. Despite the fact that Lieberman says he will support the Democrats he strikes me as way too tolerate of the Bush Administration's policies.

Now let’s move on to some other stuff. Yes, seven states approved amendments banning gay marriage but by much smaller margins than in the past and, wonder of wonders, Arizona became the first state to defeat such a measure.

The extreme abortion ban, passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in South Dakota, was equally overwhelmingly rejected by the voters 55-45. In Missouri an initiative supporting stem cell research passed by a 51-49 margin.

I read these results as a repudiation of the extreme conservative position being pushed by the lunatic fringe in the Republican Party. By being loud and visible they’ve apparently managed to make it look like the country has abandoned its liberal roots. But this isn’t at all true. Like I’ve said many times, the average American is fair minded, ignorant as hell but fair minded. Right wing demagogues try to take advantage of that ignorance by establishing a climate of fear when there’s nothing to be afraid of. Once that ignorance is eliminated by education or knowledge the climate of fear, that the extreme right wing depends upon, evaporates.

Around the world people viewed the election results with a sigh of relief. Some sample quotes reported by the AP.

"’Of course, the citizens of the United States are humans with a conscience. It's a reprisal vote against the war in Iraq, against the corruption’ within the Bush administration, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said. ‘All this fills us with optimism.’”

You have to admit that the man has a way with words. I agree Hugo, I’m more optimistic that the world won’t go up in a big fireball today than I was last week.

“In an extraordinary joint statement, more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament hailed the American election results as "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world.’”

We still have a long way to go though. The Bush Administration hasn’t been shy about doing whatever it wants in defiance of the law, what makes us think it will be shy about doing whatever it wants in defiance of Congress?

We still have to get rid the #1 Bum and replacing him with some equally moronic right winger in 2008 will just put us back where we started. Hillary is starting to look better and better but I’m still holding out for Russ Feingold. Although Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, was on the Bill Maher show a while back and he struck me as a very competent guy who might make a darn good president if he decided to run.

“One Frenchman, teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, 53, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew.”

Hey, let’s remember that more than half of us voted against Bush in 2000 and almost as many voted against him in 2004. Let's just say that it was about time more of the electorate figured it out.

“In Copenhagen, Denmark, 35-year-old Jens Langfeldt said he did not know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush's values. He referred to the president as ‘that cowboy.’”

LOL! I like that, “that cowboy!” That is absolutely classic! Too bad it’s an insult to self-respecting cowboys everywhere.

“One opposition lawmaker (in Pakistan), Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said he welcomed the election result but hoped for more. Bush ‘deserves to be removed, put on trial and given a Saddam-like death sentence,’ he said.”

That might be a little extreme, then again, on the other hand, maybe not. Just make sure you get Cheney at the same time Hafiz. We certainly don’t want to trade in Bush for Cheney.

Now let’s just hope that the Democrats don’t screw up so badly in the next two years that not only do the Republicans regain the House but keep the White House as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Texans and Giants

Well that was really ugly. Actually it was beyond ugly; it was downright disgraceful. Good thing it was just a game.

You have to win the ugly ones though and the Giants managed 14-10 but I wouldn’t write home about this one. Was everyone, except Tiki, out drinking the night before and hung over? Talk about playing down to an opponent.

Next week I get the “benefit” of flex scheduling as the Bears game gets shifted to Sunday night. I’m more than a little miffed about that. The game doesn’t start until 8:15. That means, unless we get blown out, not heading for home until after midnight. These people do understand that some of us work for a living don’t they?

Elsewhere the Bears turned the ball over 6 times and got butted by the Dolphins 31-13. The least they could have done was saved some of those turnovers for next Sunday. That loss leaves the Colts, at 8-0, as the last unbeaten team.

The weirdest game appears to have been played in Washington where three potential game winning field goals occurred in under a minute of play. First the Redskins missed, then the Cowboys got one blocked and then the Redskins put it away 22-19. That win sort of resuscitates the Redskins who would have been on the edge of elimination with another division loss. The Eagles looked the best of all the NFC East teams. They had a Bye week.

So half the season is over and how do things look? I know you’re just waiting for me to look like a complete idiot by getting everything wrong again aren’t you? Last year I did worse than someone could do by reading tea leaves or flipping coins but that’s what makes it fun.

AFC East
New England wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

AFC North
Baltimore wins the division. Cincinnati grabs a Wild Card berth.

AFC South
Indianapolis wins the division. Jacksonville gets a Wild Card spot.

AFC West
San Diego wins the division and both Denver and Kansas City get eeked out of a playoff position.

NFC East
Philadelphia wins the division and Dallas manages a Wild Card slot. My poor Giants fall victim to mounting injuries and an impossible schedule and miss the playoffs this year.

NFC North
Chicago wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

NFC South
Atlanta roars back in the second half of the season to win the division. New Orleans manages a Wild Card slot.

NFC West
Seattle wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Biblical Counseling?

I am constantly amazed at the depth of my ignorance related to the general irrationalness of American society. I keep running into things where my immediate reaction is “you have got to be kidding me!”

This time around it was a passing reference on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” which I will confess I sometimes watch while wolfing down dinner. By way of introducing herself a contestant said that she was pursuing a degree in “Biblical Counseling.” I looked at my wife and asked “what the hell is biblical counseling?” But she didn’t know either. So I fired up my trusty PC and looked it up on the web.

It appears to be psychological counseling encumbered by biblical correctness and, as far as I can tell, looks very, very, dangerous. Essentially these people toss out all of modern psychology and psychiatry where it conflicts with biblical interpretation.

Allow me to quote from the covenant of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), an organization that certifies biblical counselors.

“We deny that secular theories and practices are manifestations of General Revelation or Common Grace. We affirm that they are, in fact, attempts to substitute the “discoveries” of rebellious human thought for the truths revealed in Scripture, and are, therefore, in competition with a proper interpretation of General Revelation and with biblical counseling. They cannot be integrated with the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

I don’t know much about psychology but I think I would hesitate tossing out Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner and Carl Rogers wholesale. The word “Nouthetic,” by the way, comes from the Greek verb “noutheteo” often used by Paul and interpreted as either to admonish, to correct or to instruct.

I found some of the justifications for tossing out modern psychology illuminating. So here are some quotes from a page on “Biblical Counseling.”

“Conventional psychiatry believes that mental illness exists.”

Yeah, are you saying that it doesn’t? Actually, that’s precisely what they seem to be saying.

“Most problems stem from a faulty relationship with God.”

Really? So does that mean that you can predict the existence or absence of mental problems based upon someone’s relationship with God? How does one determine what someone’s relationship with God happens to be? Is there a database of God’s relationships that I’ve overlooked?

“Man is not a higher form of animal but rather a creation of God.”

Oh well, so much for the sciences of biology, paleontology, zoology, astronomy, cosmology and geology.

“According to the Scriptures man is responsible for his behavior.”

In general this is accurate as long as one is competent to understand the potential consequences of that behavior and the difference between right and wrong. Biblical counseling however appears to accept this as an unconditional statement. The last I looked, that wasn’t the accepted medical opinion.

“Mankind at the core is sinful, inherently evil.”

This is total bullfeathers. Mankind is nothing at the core other than an advanced form of animal bred by natural selection to have strong survival and reproductive instincts. The instincts are good; the available paths one may follow to satisfy those instincts are labeled by society as either good or evil. These definitions are enforced by sanctions that are essentially the behavior modification strategy talked about by Skinner.

Then we go into what are called “presuppositions” critical to biblical counseling. This is what they’re calling them and not me so first let’s consider the definition of “presupposition” which is “to believe that a particular thing is true before there is any evidence of it.”

This means that these people are counseling mentally disturbed individuals based upon axioms that have absolutely no evidence of being correct. Freud and Skinner may have been wrong but at least their theories had some basis in evidence and experimentation. If you don’t consider this dangerous I’d like to know why?

“The Bible is the inspired, inherent Word of God, the final authority regarding faith and practice (II Timothy 3:16,17). It thoroughly equips for living.”

Let’s start with the fact that the authorship of II Timothy, one of the three pastorals, is open to debate. While traditions, and most conservative Christians, firmly attribute the authorship of the letter to Paul, critical scholarship places the authorship in doubt.

Then let’s consider what the quote actually says.

II Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I don’t see the conclusion following from this quote. The passage is simply saying that scripture is useful for moral instruction and even I wouldn’t debate that. Note that “useful” does not in any way imply complete or “final authority” regarding practice. Nor does the passage in any way imply that scripture “thoroughly equips for living.” This is another example of heroic eisegesis forcing the text to say what one wants it to say.

“Man's basic problem is a sin problem (Romans 1, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 51)”

No man’s basic problem is not a sin problem. That has got to be the single stupidest idea in all of Christianity. The concept of “sin” has undoubtedly caused more grief for mankind than all other causes put together. What defines sin anyway? Paul said that sin was defined by the law but righteousness was defined by faith and grace rather than simple obedience to the law. In other words, if you broke the law you sinned, but if you obeyed the law you got absolutely nothing unless you also had faith.

Paul, in Romans, spins a complex, at times downright illucid, tapestry trying to explain the relationship of sin, the law and faith. Paul does take the position that man is by nature corrupt. Of course Paul also takes the position that sexual relations are a bad thing and that marriage should only be for those that can’t control themselves. That sort of leaves any and all of Paul’s opinions more than a little suspect.

As for Jeremiah, Isaiah and Psalm 51, we have more heroic eisegesis. Psalm 51 is David’s lament over committing adultery with Bathsheba and addresses his own personal corruption. It has absolutely nothing to do with mankind in general.

Isaiah 53:6 is in the middle of the Suffering Servant passages and simply laments that all of the people have turned away from God and as a result God has laid upon the Suffering Servant of Israel punishment for the unfaithfulness of the people. Specifically this probably refers to the siege of Jerusalem and capture of King Manassah by the Babylonians.

Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jeremiah 17 is a lament, and a threat, because the people of Judah have turned away from God and established altars to false gods. This is a specific, and not a general, indictment about acts that are about to be rectified by King Josiah so, again, I don’t see this as leading to the supposed conclusion.

“Man was created for God's pleasure, as a morally responsible being.”

You mean I’m a toy? Gee whiz, imagine that? If God exists, and is responsible for the creation of the universe, then I am indebted to him for the gift of life. But I am not obligated to exist merely for his amusement nor do I think that would be his purpose. Again I find the pettiness of the deity assumed by fundamentalist Christianity absolutely appalling. If I were God I’d be terribly insulted, or, perhaps more likely, highly amused.

I find the entire concept of people attempting to treat folks in mental distress based upon biblical presuppositions while disregarding all of modern psychology and psychiatry absolutely horrifying. This strikes me as the psychological equivalent of faith healing. The fact that these people actually believe in this approach doesn’t excuse the harm that they may be doing. A faith healer merely betrays the individual he claims to heal. It’s unlikely that person’s infirmity is going to endanger someone else. This however is a whole different kettle of fish. Someone with mental problems may very well be a danger to people other than himself.

Hopefully I’m over reacting here, but I’m really afraid that I’m not.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

God in America

I’m a member of the Counsel for Secular Humanism. The last newsletter I received from the counsel was advertising a debate schedule for November 2 in Chicago on “whether believing in the existence of a god affects the nation in any moral, social or political sense. “

The main participants will be Edwin Kagin, the legal director of American Atheists, and William Lane Craig. I’m familiar with William Lane Craig and I suspect that Kagin is about to get his clock cleaned. You see Kagin probably expects an honest exchange and I'm not all that sure that Craig will let himself be shackled by little things like truth and honesty.

I remember one lecture by Craig, where he reeled off the handful of documents providing possible historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, and then declared that all historians accepted them as incontrovertible proof that Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught and died in Palestine in the first century. This was a statement which I knew to be untrue and which I was pretty sure Craig knew was untrue as well. If Craig didn't simply mispeak, then it was a lie that he was hoping his audience would accept as fact.

This is the Eusebius approach to theology and evangelicalism which believes that lying for the benefit of the faith is ok. In other words, the end justifies the means. This only works if the flock never learns, or never accepts, that you lied to them. With modern communications, more, and more, religion has to rely on the latter to keep the faithful in line. It’s really too bad that humans are so good at self delusion. If they weren’t, religion would be an endangered species. But would that be a good thing?

That gets us back to the original question; does believing in God affect the nation in any moral, social or political sense? I don’t see how anyone in his right mind could answer that question in the negative. Of course it affects the country morally, socially and politically.

The easiest one is socially. The local church is still a focus of social activities in many places and there is nothing wrong with this. Humans are social animals and contact with other humans is something that most people need and relish. Of course a secular social club would work just as well, but sometimes you just can’t fight tradition. Are the social activities used to foster church dogma? Maybe, but I doubt that’s the objective. In other words I don’t think there are ulterior motives here.

As for politically, DUH, do you think that we would be fighting as much over things like abortion access, stem cell research and gay marriage if there wasn’t a belief in God? I’ll grant you that one can believe in God without getting all wrapped up in religion, and the claims of religion to speak for God, but that’s usually not the case. Most people equate their religion with God. I would say that right about now the belief in God, and religion, is one of the driving factors in the political spectrum of the United States.

That brings us to morally. The faithful would argue that it is morality that defines the political position. The faithful would say that they take the political positions they take because they’re concerned about “moral values.” I’ll concede that, but I want to talk about something else, I want to talk about the question of whether the removal of the belief in God would affect the moral behavior of the country.

Unfortunately I have to say yes, I believe that it would. I’m well aware that there is no current difference in the morality of religious folks and secular folks; as a matter of fact some surveys indicate that secular individuals are MORE moral and ethical than religious people. However I’m also aware that the current pool of secular individuals represents the highest strata of education and intelligence in the population.

Most of the intelligent and educated are people who would probably adhere to the philosophy of Diogenes and Plato that virtue is its own reward. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule but it clearly applies in general. But what about the lower portion of the bell curve? I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, even today, most crime is associated with that portion of the population that has the lowest intelligence and the least education. Much of the reason for this is economic rather than moral philosophy but the overwhelming majority of people that are economically deprived (that’s a euphemism for poor) are also morally beyond reproach. I’m willing to bet that most of them are strong people of faith too. If you removed their faith, would they still be moral?

Seneca the Younger said “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Napoleon observed that “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” Both are implying that religion helps hold the lower orders in check and therefore provides a benefit to society. If one removed the belief in the authority of God and the fear of punishment after death what would happen? I’m not sure that I can answer that question completely but I suspect that it would remove the constraints that are currently holding a portion of the population in check.

One more quote, this one from Polybius.

"Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death."

It’s rather a depressing thought that something as irrational as religion may have a value to society that we can’t do without isn’t it?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Judicial Restraint?

As predicted, Republicans and assorted right wing demogagues are crying loudly about the New Jersey Supreme Court decision giving equal protection under the law to same sex couples.

The court stopped short of declaring gay marriage legal in New Jersey and left it up to the legislature to decide what to label this new legally equal arrangement. A minority of the court, including the retiring Chief Justice, did want to declare it marriage but the majority, by 4-3, decided to strike a compromise.

One set of comments I read was by Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council. In what appeared to be an editorial written for USA Today Sprigg manages to demonstrate his ignorance. This is one article but it’s pretty typical of what I’ve heard.

The title of the editorial is “Where’s Judicial Restraint?” Judicial Restraint is what the right wing complains about whenever the court satisfies its charter to protect the rights of the minority by ruling against the conservative position. Courts never have to protect the rights of the minority from the liberal position because liberals don’t stomp on minority rights!

Anyway, some quotes from the editorial with commentary.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court has professed respect for judicial restraint by refusing to change the definition of ‘marriage.’ But they have imperiously commanded the state Legislature to either redefine marriage itself, or create a ‘statutory structure’ (such as ‘civil unions’) to grant 100% of the legal rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.”

Actually what the court has done is order the legislature to redress what it has declared a violation of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey State Constitution which states:

“All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.”

The court said:

“Article I, Paragraph 1 protects not only the rights of the majority but also the rights of the disfavored and the disadvantaged; they too are promised a fair opportunity for ‘pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.’"

This is equal protection under the law for “ALL PERSONS” and, in the state of New Jersey, that includes gays and lesbians. The New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the interpretation of New Jersey law and especially the interpretation of the New Jersey State Constitution and it certainly can direct the legislature to redress a violation of that law or that constitution. Note that most folks in New Jersey just sort of nodded their heads and went, “yeah, makes sense to me.”

“This is not judicial restraint. Courts have no power to command the legislative branch to enact a particular law.”

The court didn’t order the legislature to “enact a particular law.” It directed the legislature to redress a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens of the state of New Jersey and this is clearly within the scope of the court's authority. This is typical of the kind of misinformation that the right wing throws out constantly. I’m certain Sprigg understands the difference, he’s just hoping those reading his article don’t.

“The New Jersey Legislature should therefore simply ignore this command. Indeed, we urge them to go further and follow the lead set by 19 other states, by amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

LOL!! The New Jersey Legislature should simply violate the law and disregard the court? How long do you think they’d be the legislature if they did that? About until the next election which will be in 2007.

As for a constitutional amendment, the people of the state of New Jersey are overwhelmingly opposed to such an amendment so I guess the legislature should ignore the will of the people too? I wonder if Sprigg is one of those Evangelical Christians that think the bible should take precedence over the will of the people. Yo Sprigg, go perform a reproductive biological function on yourself.

“…the burden of proof must rest upon the advocates of homosexual unions to demonstrate that such unions (gay marriage, civil unions etc.) benefit society.”

Wrong again Spriggy baby. It is not the roll of the individual to benefit society or the government; it is the roll of government to benefit the individual. Allow me to quote the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Get it? Governments are instituted to secure the rights of the individual. Men are endowed with unalienable rights and governments exist to secure those rights. Among those rights are the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of happiness often consists of tying the right bond with the right life partner.

“Because homosexual unions never result in natural procreation and never provide children with both a mother and a father, this is a burden (provide a benefit to society) they simply cannot meet.”

Aside from the fact, as pointed out above, that homosexual unions in our democracy have no need to provide a benefit to society, many marriages don’t produce children, nor could they ever have been expected to produce children.

Older folks, often in their 70’s or 80’s, marry for companionship and financial tax benefits. Would you want to call these unions something other than marriage? Some people are physically incapable of producing children yet they marry, often with plans to adopt children. Would you want to call these unions something other than marriage?

To be honest with you I’ve not surprised at the blithering idiocy coming out of the right wing. I am disappointed in USA Today and Yahoo for publishing this tripe. There may in fact be valid arguments against gay marriage or valid arguments against a court decision in favor of equal rights for gay couples but there aren’t any in this article. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of any, anywhere, at anytime.

The Giants and Buccaneers

Finally we had a home game last Sunday at a wild and windy Giants Stadium. I don’t know how strong the wind actually was, supposedly there were gusts up to 50 mph, but I can tell you it was hard walking through it.

The wind also played havoc with passes, punts and kick-offs. It looked like they were throwing knuckleballs out there. The result was not a very strong performance by either quarterback but the Giant’s defense was way too much for the Bucs to handle and Bruce Gradkowski spent a miserable afternoon trying to stay in one piece. He was only sacked twice but was under constant pressure and it showed in a 20-48 for 139 yards performance. Manning wasn’t much better going 16-31 and 154 yards but it was more than enough as the Giant’s defense kept Tampa out of the end zone 17-3.

At halftime they had a ceremony commemorating the 1956 Giants Championship team which 50 years ago beat the Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. There were a half a dozen members of that team, including Frank Gifford, Harland Svare and a very overweight Alex Webster, along with about 40 other Giant’s alumni including Otis Anderson, Harry Carson, Bob Tucker, Brad Van Pelt, Ernie Koy and Zeke Mowatt. Like Wellington Mara always said, once a Giant, always a Giant.

Elsewhere the Eagles came out flat and lost one at home to Jacksonville 13-6 and after spotting the Panthers a 14-0 lead Tony Romo and the Cowboys went wild and whipped Carolina 35-14. Romo went 24-36 for 270 yards, 1 TD and 1 Int. which ain’t bad at all especially against Carolina. I guess Drew Bledsoe better get used to the bench. Sort of makes my questioning the wisdom of giving Romo the starting job look a little dumb doesn’t it? I guess that’s why Parcells is on the sidelines and I’m watching from the stands.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gay Marriage Wins a Big One in New Jersey

Allow me to quote from the Syllabus prepared by the Court Clerk of the Supreme Court of the sovereign state of New Jersey.

“The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed same sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes.

The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.”

In other words, equal protection under the law for same sex couples and the legal term to be used for that protection is left to the legislature. The legislature has six months to enforce the ruling of the court.

I’m surprised the court went this far. I fully expected it to simply leave the ball in the legislature’s court. The legislature can now either amend the marriage laws to extend marriage to same sex couples or create some other legal state with equal provisions and protections. Some additional quotes from the Syllabus, with commentary.

“There has been a developing understanding that discrimination against gays and lesbians is no longer acceptable in this State.”

That’s the Blue State of New Jersey folks. No matter how you twist and turn the argument against gay marriage it’s discrimination. The fact that this discrimination has a religious source is irrelevant. They quoted Genesis 9:27 as a justification for slavery and segregation too.

“…the Court will not speculate that identical schemes offering equal rights and benefits would create a distinction that would offend Article I, Paragraph 1, and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude.”

Creating a different legal state smacks a bit of “separate but equal” doesn’t it? We all know how well that worked out don’t we? Separate, or different, is inherently unequal. If the legislature goes this way, then I expect it to be challenged on the basis that a difference in name is a difference of constitutional magnitude.

“However the Legislature may act, same-sex couples will be free to call their relationships by the name they choose and to sanctify their relationships in religious ceremonies in houses of worship.”

Regardless of what the legislature chooses to call it, it will be called marriage. If “different but equal” somehow manages to be stable then 10 or 20 years from now the fact that there are in fact two separate, but equal, legal states will probably become little more than an oddball bit of trivia.

“Article I, Paragraph 1 protects not only the rights of the majority but also the rights of the disfavored and the disadvantaged; they too are promised a fair opportunity for ‘pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.’"

Some U.S. Supreme Court justices may have forgotten that the charter of the courts is to protect the minority as well as the majority but the New Jersey Supreme Court hasn’t forgotten it.

“Plaintiffs' quest does not end here. They must now appeal to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives.”

Let the games begin! We all know that words and labels have meaning. New Jersey should become an absolute circus over the next six months while everyone tries to sort this one out. I can’t think of a better battlefield to fight the battle. Let’s see if we can get gay marriage legalized as well as dump the death penalty in New Jersey.

New Jersey, like Massachusetts before it, will need to take into account the issue of out of state residents. I suspect that a rule, similar to the rule in Massachusetts, limiting whatever the legislature comes up with to state residents only will be enacted.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Just as the country couldn’t sustain remaining half slave and half free, it’s not going to be able to sustain two different de facto definitions of marriage.

I might also point out that the New Jersey decision opens the door for subverting even a constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage. Different but equal right? Equal protection under a different name is still the same. What did the man say, a rose by any other name? I think most people would draw the line at an amendment which prohibits equality under a legal state called something other than marriage.

By the way, don’t be confused by the statement that the decision was 4-3. The dissenting opinion concurred that the equal protection guarantee of Article I Paragraph 1 was being violated so the opinion there was 7-0. The dissent was “from the majority's distinguishing those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage.”

In other words, the three "dissenting" justices wanted to go for the whole enchilada.

Let’s hear it for the Blue State of New Jersey. I just wish the court would have waited a couple of weeks. I’m sure the Republicans will start spouting misinformation about what this decision means in order to rally voters of the Religious Right who might otherwise have passed up this election due to disillusionment with the Republican’s performance in office.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sometimes it’s Hard to Hold Your Ground

I’m opposed to the death penalty. I don’t believe that as a species we’re smart enough to administer something that requires perfection. It requires perfection because when a man’s life is at stake any error rate, be it as small as 1 in a million, is too great when it can so easily be avoided by the substitution of Life without Parole.

That’s an intellectual position and a position held in the abstract. Unfortunately life isn’t an abstraction. I will be the first to admit that when I read about the specifics of many capital cases emotionally I’m ready to chuck my so-called intellectual position out the window and advocate the application of extremely cruel and unusual punishments.

Last night Ohio executed one Jeffrey Lundgren. Lundgren was convicted in 1990 of murdering, execution style, an entire family of five including three young girls aged 15, 13 and 7. Apparently, after dinner one night, he took them one by one to a barn and shot them using the noise of a power saw to cover the sound of the shots from other folks in the house cleaning up after dinner. His motive was what he considered to be their lack of faith in the teachings of the religious cult that he founded.

You see Lundgren thought that God talked to him. At his trial Lundgren argued that he didn’t deserve the death penalty because “I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet.”

According to Lundgren God commanded him to kill the family, including the 7 year old, through the interpretation of scripture. The words were plainly there in the bible for all to see, but only Lundgren could interpret the meaning of the words.

This is an extreme case of the delusion held by some (many? most?) religious people that somehow, somewhere, in “the book,” is the answer to all life’s questions and that God’s direction on literally anything can be discovered by the proper interpretation of the scriptures. Of course the identity of “the book” changes from religion to religion so either God produced redundant but different sets of instructions (why?) or, since the books contradict each other, it is mathematically provable that all but at most one religion must be false. To paraphrase a very smart man, when you truly understand why you reject all religions but your own, you will understand why I must reject yours as well.

Even if it were true that “the book” held all the answers, and it’s clearly not, the degree of arrogance required to believe that you, and you alone, are capable of interpreting the words properly and discovering the instructions from God is beyond imagination.

The death penalty, intellectually, in the abstract, is a bad deal and should be abolished, but I’m not going to shed any tears for Lundgren. I might shed some tears for the three young girls that were betrayed by their parents and sacrificed that night to a religious delusion. I’ll also hope that these will be the last although I know they won’t. I thought about praying but, if Sky Daddy exists, he didn’t lift a finger to save those three young girls and I’m sure they were praying that night for all they were worth. If he didn’t listen to them, why should he listen to me?

It has been proposed, as a matter of moral rectitude (is that redundant?), that those that have the capacity to act also have the obligation to act. If there is a final judgment then it is upon this principle, and our myriad failures to stand by it, that we will most likely be judged. But doesn’t this same principle apply to God? Given his infinite capacity to act how is his failure to act in cases like this one justified?

At this point I usually get a horrified reaction to the effect of “how dare you question God?” I dare because God, if he exists, appears to have given me the capacity to frame the question, and if I have the capacity to frame the question, then I have the obligation to ask the question.

A Strange One in Dallas

The Giants are the worst Monday Night team in football and the Cowboys are one of the best. Scheduling the Giants against the Cowboys on Monday night, especially in Dallas, is roughly the equivalent of dropping a lamb into a den of hungry lions. So what happened last night?

The answer is I’m not really sure. Near the end of the 1st half it looked like the Cowboys were going to take advantage of a Tiki Barber fumble deep in Giants territory, erase a 12-0 early deficit and go up 14-12. But then Drew Bledsoe threw a pass that was picked off at the 1 yard line and the Giants managed to run out the 1st half.

Then, wonder of wonders, Tony Romo comes out at the quarterback spot for Dallas in the 3rd quarter. On the first snap he’s intercepted by Antonio Pierce and three plays after that it’s the Giants up by 19-7. Two Romo TD passes and two Romo interceptions later, including one returned 96 yards for a touchdown, the Giants were running like thieves to get out of town with a 36-22 win and the Dallas season was up in the air.

This is the NFC East and I fully expected another four way scramble trying to get into the playoffs but the drama is never what you expect. Going in I figured that the Eagles had the best team, and I still think that’s the case, but that Dallas had the best shot at upsetting Philadelphia’s apple cart. I figured the Giants and Redskins as primarily spoilers.

Now who the heck knows. Like I said, looks like another four way scramble. I certainly wouldn’t rule out Dallas. You never rule out a Bill Parcells team, but who plays quarterback next week at Carolina?

I don’t think the expectations in Big D were for a rebuilding year at the quarterback spot even if Romo is the wave of the future for the Cowboys. By the way, is he the future? The interception by Pierce was the first pass ever thrown by Romo in his four year NFL career. The Cowboys don’t have a third quarterback so unless they go find one it’s either return the helm to Bledsoe or go with Romo. I find it hard to believe that Parcells is going to place the Cowboys season in the hands of Tony Romo. I’m betting that Bledsoe will be back at quarterback next Sunday (of course given my track record on NFL predictions that sort of guarantees that Romo will be starting doesn’t it?).

Monday, October 23, 2006

I’m Having Trouble with this One

Every once in a while you read a news story, shake your head, read it again and then finally admit that you’re having trouble comprehending what the story seems to be telling you.

The story in question is the AP account of a congressional election race in Garden Grove California where the Republican candidate’s campaign is being investigated for sending intimidating letters to Hispanic immigrants warning them that they could be deported or jailed for voting in next month's election.

However, the focus of the story wasn’t on the letters or the investigation, it was on the Republican candidate’s tirade against his opponent implying that she was the instigation behind the probe into the letters.

Uh-huh, uh-huh, and this is a problem because? Note that he is NOT denying the allegations, rather he is, I think, criticizing his Democratic opponent, who I might add is the incumbent, for having the matter investigated. Personally I think the lady should get a medal. Isn’t this the kind of thing a Congressman should be doing for his or her constituents?

I’m also a little confused about the strategy here. Illegal immigrants can’t vote and neither can legal aliens. Only American citizens can vote and they can’t get deported without a very long process to revoke their citizenship. So what the hell is the threat here? Are you telling me that either illegal immigrants are voting in California or some people there are so dumb that they think they can get confused with illegal immigrants simply because they’re Hispanic? They think the INS might stake out the voting booths? Or is the Republican candidate’s campaign so ignorant of election law that it thinks illegal immigrants can vote and they sent the letters in an attempt to scare them away from the polls? How about the campaign is banking on the naturalized Hispanic voters being too dumb not to know that they can’t be deported for voting?

I don’t get it. Can somebody, anybody, please explain this one to me? I might also point out that if the Democratic opponent wasn’t Hispanic herself the Republicans would be doing everything they could to get Hispanics, legal, illegal and in between, to the polls since they tend to vote Republican. Another example that assuming that people will vote their self-interest only works with rational voters. The American electorate ceased being rational when it elected Ronald Reagan and hasn’t recovered since.

I became convinced a while back that universal suffrage is a really bad idea and this story isn’t doing anything to make me change my opinion on that one. I’m convinced that some sort of minimum educational level or the passing of some minimum knowledge test should be required before people are allowed to vote. I think voting should be a privilege that is earned and not something freely given simply based upon an accident of birth.

We ask people to take a test before they get a driver’s license and you can kill a lot more people by voting poorly than by driving poorly. Consider all the people that have died in Iraq because so much of the American electorate cast their votes based upon an illusionary concern about what queers do behind locked doors.

Try as I may I just haven’t been able to come up with something appropriate to wish on the voters that voted for George W. Bush in the last election based upon so-called “Moral Values.” It should be lingering and annoying but most important it should make them realize how tragically wrong that vote was. It’s that last part that makes it hard. Anybody can come up with something to just make them suffer. How do you make them realize that they were so, so wrong?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The End of Faith

I finally got around to finishing Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith.” Harris’s fundamental hypothesis is that religion is an anachronism that the human race, given the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, can no longer afford.

His primary concern is with Islam to which he devotes all of chapter four entitled “The Problem with Islam.” Harris contends that the West is “at war with Islam” and that, regardless of what the politicians would like us to think, this isn’t a case of “an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’” but rather we are “at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.”

To Harris a “future in which Islam and the West do not stand on the brink of mutual annihilation is a future in which most Muslims have learned to ignore most of their canon.”

This is strong stuff. I guess that it’s unnecessary to state that Harris doesn’t believe that religion should be accorded a special measure of respect simply because it’s religion.

Where Harris can scare the daylights out of you is when he contends that a cold war with Islam, similar to that between the West and the old Soviet Union, would be impossible since death and destruction are no deterrent to people with an eye on Paradise in the next world rather then living long and prosperous lives in this world.

Harris also contends that democracy wouldn’t be an answer because these people would probably vote in a theocracy given the chance.

I agree with Harris’s basic hypothesis but I have to give more thought to his position on Islam. If you agree with Harris then you have to believe that the so-called Islamic Leaders are as willing to die as they convince the flock to be, yet, I don’t see any of them strapping bombs onto themselves. They were the ones handing out plastic keys, made in Taiwan, to children about to clear mines with their bodies and telling them the keys would open the gates to Paradise. However they didn’t keep any keys and blow themselves up clearing a mine now did they? I think there is more than a little hypocrisy here.

I do agree that religion shouldn’t be respected simply because it’s religion and Harris is probably right that given a choice, at least at the moment, democracy in the Islamic world would collapse into theocracy. So I guess our best bet would be a strong secular dictator like, oh say, Saddam Hussein?

Along with Harris’s primary hypothesis are a number of other related but somewhat independent positions.

Harris is at odds with Noam Chomsky because he accuses Chomsky of ignoring the idea of intent. Harris gets into this discussion in a chapter related to the ethics of so-called “collateral damage” and torture.

I’m not so sure I can give Harris 100% of my support here. While I agree intent matters, or more generally motives matter, there are times when the price is to high to pay. Harris’s position on things like “collateral damage” and, shall we say, strong interrogation techniques, strikes me as coming dangerously close to “the end justifies the means.” Should we ever accept that then we’ve already lost.

Harris is in favor of legalizing and regulating recreational drugs rather than spending billions trying to enforce unenforceable laws. He specifically mentions marijuana but other than that doesn’t identify which drugs he’s talking about.

To my mind the legalization and regulation of recreational drugs is highly dependent upon which drugs. Marijuana certainly and perhaps cocaine but I would draw the line at meth and heroin I think.

At the outer fringes of the book Harris devotes a whole chapter to spirituality and mysticism which sort of had my left eyebrow arched. He also says that there “seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.”

In support of his “psychic phenomena” statement Harris has an endnote referencing books by Dean Radin of the Parapsychological Association and Rupert Sheldrake of “Telephone Telepathy” fame.

For a man who spends a lot of time saying one shouldn’t accept things without adequate evidence I find his “psychic phenomena” statements puzzling. While I agree that one should keep an open mind and consider the evidence, I think Harris is way off base when he implies that there is any reputable evidence “attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena.”

Certainly I’m not aware of anything that either Radin or Sheldrake have come up with that comes even close to what would be considered reputable scientific evidence. I suspect that James Randi would be terribly upset with you Sam.

I think that The End of Faith would have made an excellent theoretical paper focusing on his primary hypothesis but Harris really didn’t have enough for a book, even one that ended up being one third endnotes, bibliography and index.

The key here however is the attack on religion. The idea that this is somehow impolite and should be avoided in polite company Harris flings out the window and stands shoulder to shoulder with Richard Dawkins. I also agree with Harris that either we figure out a way to eliminate religion or religion will lead to the elimination of us.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tempting Faith

“Tempting Faith” is the name of the book written by David Kuo who worked for the Bush Administration as the number 2 man in the Faith Based Initiatives office. Kuo claims that the faith based office was never funded to the level promised and used taxpayer funds to hold events to rally Evangelical Christian support for Republican candidates.

Kuo blames a lack of commitment on the part of the administration in funding the planned charity work. In other words Bush and company “used” the Evangelical Christian community for political ends. DUH, no kidding, could this guy be that na├»ve?

I saw Mr. Kuo on 60 minutes and have since been reading some of his articles on the internet. I really have no intention of reading his book since I believe him. As a matter of fact it doesn’t surprise me at all.

While I sympathize with his disappointment that more wasn't done for the poor, allow me to suggest that the entire "Faith Based Initiatives" program is a really bad idea. It’s in violation of the principle of the separation of Church and State and should never have been funded at all. Mr. Kuo’s own observation that grant requests from non-Christian groups tended to be ignored underscores why. Whether, as Kuo claims, Al Gore proposed something similar is really sort of irrelevant.

In one article Mr. Kuo couldn’t understand why Liberal organizations got "upset" when Executive Orders are “issued permitting an organization to simply display a cross” using public funds. Allow me to explain, they, and I, get upset because that is using tax dollars to push a religious agenda.

Not all of us believe that Christianity is a good thing so we’re not at all happy about public tax dollars being used for its benefit.

There are two problems with this Faith-based initiatives nonsense. The first is that there is no evidence that so-called Faith-based charities do a better job than secular charities and the second is that often public dollars end up being allocated for religious purposes such as prayer sessions and Bible study. I find this totally unacceptable. Christianity is not a universally recognized benefit. As a matter of fact I could make an argument that it has been the source of more human pain and misery throughout history than all other causes combined.

I did find it amusing that Kuo claims, with indignation, that prominent religious leaders such as Robertson, Falwell and Dobson were dismissed behind their backs and described as “ridiculous,” “out of control,” and just plain ‘goofy.”

Well, maybe that’s because they are “ridiculous,” “out of control” and just plain “goofy.” Have you even listened to what these guys say? This is one of the few things that I and the Bush Administration agree on. Unfortunately they’re dangerous as well and using public funds to enhance their position just makes them more dangerous.

I’m sorry that you were disappointed Mr. Kuo as I do get the feeling that you honestly hoped that this program would do some good. Unfortunately you now know that hope was misplaced from the beginning.

Giants at Falcons

The Giants managed to take the Falcons 27-14 which means they somehow figured out a way to keep Michael Vick under control. That control translated into 7 sacks, 180+ yards on the ground by Tiki Barber and two touchdowns by Jeremy Shockey.

A 90 yard touchdown run by Warrick Dunn at the start of the second half put the boys behind 14-3 but from then on it was pretty much downhill for Atlanta. I wonder if there is some imperative in the psyche of this team that requires it to fall behind? I've been convinced for years that they had some kind of rule against doing anything the easy way but this penchant for spotting the other side a few touchdowns is taking things a bit too far in my humble opinion.

One really odd bit of trivia is that the last eleven games between the Giants and Falcons have been won by the visiting team which is really bizarre when you think about it.

Now on to a Monday night fiasco with Dallas. I say fiasco because the very idea of the Giants beating Dallas on a Monday night in Dallas is simply ludicrous.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Laptop for Every Child!

What a fantastic idea! Provide a laptop computer with internet access for every schoolchild. This isn’t a dream. The plans are actually already in place to provide inexpensive laptops for each and every schoolchild.

But don’t get your kids all excited about this because it’s not happening here, it’s happening in Libya.

The non-profit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has as it’s objective supplying an inexpensive laptop, target about $100, for EVERY CHILD! The laptops will only be available through government ministries and not directly. Libya joins Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand as countries with preliminary purchase agreements with OLPC. Libya has also indicated that it would be willing to pay for the laptops for poorer African countries including Chad, Niger and Rwanda.

The actual laptops, Linux based, with a color display, 500 mhz processor, 128 MB of DSRAM, 500 MB of Flash Ram but no hard drive, are being developed in Taiwan.

Wait a minute, what about the telecommunications infrastructure you ask? Not to worry, the OLPC laptop will also include ad-hoc networking software developed at MIT so the units will network right out of the box and the group is looking at low cost backbone network access techniques. OLPC is headquartered in Cambridge Massachusetts.

You notice anything missing in this picture? This is something that makes some sense. So, who’s the Senator working on the bill to buy a laptop for every American schoolchild? No one? Why the hell not!

Too expensive for a large country you say? Bullfeathers!. There are approximately 80 million school children in the U.S. That would be a cost of approximately 8 billion dollars. Well ducky we’ve spent 30 times that much in Iraq already. Current estimates place the cost of the war at more than 250 billion dollars. For that kind of money we could have bought $3,000 laptops for every schoolchild and I defy you to find a laptop that expensive. A top of the line unit, retail, goes for about $2,500.

Alternatively, rather than splurging on our own kids, we could have bought $100 laptops for every child in North and South America and maybe looked as good as Libya.

You can find out more at One Laptop Per Child.

Giants vs. Redskins

Ok, I’ve finally given in to the fact that I’ve got to leave an hour earlier for Giants stadium in order to avoid the construction problems. Given that concession the day turned out quite pleasant.

I got to park in my favorite place, it was warm and sunny and the Giants beat up on the Redskins 19-3. The only problem is now we have to play them in Washington.

The defense finally looked like the defense from the pre-season and the offense had the balanced look it’s supposed to have with Tiki and Eli both humming. The only two areas of concern were Jay Feely missing another field goal that he probably should haver made and the number of
penalties. My goodness the penalties! Yo, guys, those bases on balls will kill ya!

Next Sunday the nightmare schedule continues as the boys journey to Atlanta to chase Michael Vick around the field for two hours. That should be about as frustrating as usual.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Conservative or Liberal?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducts some interesting surveys and I’m finding them being quoted more and more often. They simply report the facts without embellishment or interpretation.

The current report that I’ve downloaded is on Social Issues and was released in August of 2006. The report investigates American attitudes on five issues, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, stem cell research, abortion and the morning-after pill. Collected opinions are sliced and diced based upon demographics and geography although not always consistently.

I suspect that it would surprise no one that the Northeast and West lean left while the Midwest and South lean right. I use the word “lean” because, according to Pew, we’re not as polarized as some demagogues would like us to believe.

The most interesting set of statistics was related to the question of how real is the so-called “Culture War?” Now I have to admit that Pew demonstrates that I’ve been wrong on this one. I always sort of believed there were clear camps here and that most people took either consistently Conservative or consistently Liberal positions. Wrong! Perhaps I fell into this error because I tend to fall on the left side of the aisle on just about every question.

What Pew did was establish what it called a Conservatism Index based upon how many of the five social issues in the survey individuals took a Conservative position. If someone took the Conservative position on 4 or 5 issues their Conservatism was considered High, on 2 or 3 issues Medium and on 0 or 1 issue low.

Of the total sample 28% were rated High, 34% Medium and 38% Low. This means the right wing has by no means become the majority in this country. They just tend to be louder and more obnoxious I guess.

Men tended to be more Conservative than Women, which I have to admit surprised me, and Blacks much more Conservative than Whites which REALLY surprised me. Only 26% of Whites were rated High compared to 40% of Blacks and only 24% of Blacks rated Low compared to 40% of Whites. 31% of men were rated High and 34% Low compared to 25% of women rated High and 42% Low.

The Northeast was the most Liberal region with 50% rated Low and only 22% rated High. The West was next with 46% rated Low and only 20% rated High. The South was more Conservative than the Midwest, and was the only region with more people in the High category than the Low category, with 32% rated High and only 30% rated Low while the Midwest had 33% rated High and 35% rated Low.

The more education you have the more Liberal your outlook tends to be. This is no surprise as virtually every study I’ve ever seen is consistent on this point. Of those with at least a college degree 52% were rated Low and only 18% were rated High. For those with High School or less 33% were rated High and 29% were rated Low. For those with at least some college 43% were rated Low and 29% High. So I guess the solution to Conservatism is more education?

Age also plays a big role. For those 65 or older 37% were rated High and 25% Low. In the youngest group, 18-29 years of age, 50% were rated Low and only 23% High. Interestingly enough the Flower Children of the 60’s appear to have kept their Liberal ways, 42% of those aged 50-64 were rated Low and only 23% High.

No surprises in the religious affiliation numbers. Evangelical Protestants were the most Conservative with 46% rated High and only 18% rated Low. Mainline Protestants, with 54% rated Low and only 12% rated High, only had Secular folks on their left with a whopping 66% rated Low and only 10% rated High.

Of course perhaps if the topics were different the ratings would change, but then again, perhaps not. I think the implication from this survey that the country may not be as polarized as it sometimes feels, and as some people would like us to believe, is encouraging.

This is good because I’m in the process of reading Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” and so far I haven’t found anything encouraging there. As a matter of fact Harris’s evaluation of Islam is scaring the daylights out of me. More on that when I finish the book.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't Play it Again Sam

While searching for information related to the Clarence Hill execution I encountered a column by Sam Cook at the Southwest Florida News-Press (no, not Sam Cooke, this newspaper dude is White and besides the R&B Sam Cooke with an “e” has been dead since 1964). The newspaper Sam Cook is comfortable with the death penalty. In his article he says things like:

“…Hill’s death is a step in the right direction for capital punishment.”

“Long live the death penalty.”

“If you don’t think death is a deterrent to murder, you’ve never held a gun in your hand.”

“Paying the ultimate price is the lone obstacle that stands between killer and victim.”

I think Sam is comfortable because he is focusing on this one instance of the death penalty and on an individual whose guilt is certain and, as much as anyone, probably deserves the ultimate penalty. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Clarence Hill beyond that he deserved to have his case heard and was denied that based upon a filing deadline.

Still, I think Sam needs to step away and look at the wider picture so I sent him the following e-mail.

Dear Sam,

I read your article about the execution of Clarence Hill. While I respect your position, I think that you misunderstand the problem that many of us “bleeding hearts” have with the death penalty.

You ask “Didn’t Hill deserve to die for taking the life of a cop, a man sworn to serve and protect?”

Yes he did, but are we smart enough to play God with men’s lives? The fundamental problem with the death penalty is that, as a species, we’re just not smart enough to administer something that requires perfection. If you don’t believe it requires perfection then what kind of error rate are you willing to live with?

Would it be ok with you, in order to insure that people like Hill get what’s coming to them, if one execution in a thousand were of an innocent man? What about one in a hundred? What about one in ten? There has to be an error rate because men aren’t perfect and never will be.

If you don’t have a ready answer to this question then you’re not being realistic about the situation. Consider the number of men that have been exonerated and released from death row. And no I’m not talking about those who are released because they get a new trial based upon a legal technicality and the evidence and witnesses can no longer be located, I’m talking about real exonerations such as those based upon DNA.

If we haven’t executed an innocent man yet, then it’s only a matter of time. Personally I’d rather see ten thousand Hills living out their worthless lives in prison than have to live with the suspicion that one innocent man has been executed.

You rightly bemoan the length of time prisoners spend on death row and the terrible effect this can have on the families of the victims.

Well the problem here is that we know we’re not perfect and we have to go through all sorts of contortions to reduce the probability of a mistake. I have a simple solution. Life with no possibility of parole and I mean absolutely no possibility. Closure is immediate and the victim’s family can at least try to get on with their lives as difficult as that’s going to be.

You say “If you don’t think death is a deterrent to murder, you’ve never held a gun in your hand.”

While I’m a bit uncertain what holding a gun in my hand has to do with death as a deterrent to murder, study after study appears to show no deterrent effect from the death penalty. The South, with by far the highest rate of executions, continues to lead the nation in murder rate year after year while the Northeast, with only four executions, all of so-called volunteers, continues to have the lowest murder rate year after year. Where’s the deterrent effect?

Would the death penalty deter rational men from committing murder? Sure it would. The problem is that most murderers aren’t rational or they aren’t rational at the instant they commit the crime.

The death penalty is riddled with uncertainty, the convoluted appeals process is torture on the victim's family, it demonstrates no deterrent benefit and is arbitrary as hell to boot. Perhaps you can explain to me why the state of Texas has found it necessary to execute 376 people since 1976 while the state of New York hasn’t found it necessary to execute anyone. Are there that many more evil people in Texas than New York or are New Yorkers just too kind hearted?

Heck it even costs more than Life in Prison without Parole. What’s the benefit? While it may be satisfying to see those who clearly deserve the needle, or a date with Old Sparkey, get what’s coming to them, overall the death penalty is a bad deal.