Friday, September 29, 2006

Death Penalty Update

The execution of Clarence Hill in Florida on September 20th brought the total number of executions in the U.S. this year up to 43. Hill’s story is one of those that make you shake your head and wonder if you haven’t been transported through the looking glass.

In June the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Hill’s challenge to Florida’s lethal injection law on the basis of a civil rights violation was proper and should proceed. However, a district court in Tallahassee and an appeals court in Atlanta both refused to hear Hill’s suit saying that HE SHOULD HAVE FILED EARLIER! The Supreme Court then denied his request for a stay of execution by a vote of 5-4.

Let me make sure I understand this properly. In June the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously agreed that the man’s challenge was proper. In other words that he was entitled to have his day in court and be heard. However, this was denied by the lower courts because he filed his case too late and the same Supreme Court, that said his case should be heard, didn’t lift a finger to correct the fact that it had not been heard due to a filing deadline TECHNICALITY!

Just to further add to the Wonderland aspect of the whole thing is that the American Bar Association, three days prior to Hill’s execution, issued a report saying that Florida’s application of the death penalty fails to comply with ABA standards to ensure fairness and accuracy.

Among the problems cited in the report were the twenty-two Florida death row inmates exonerated since 1973, the fact that capital crime defense counsels were inadequately compensated, that there was juror confusion about the rules related to mitigating factors during the sentencing phase, that jurors did not have to arrive at a unanimous death penalty recommendation and that judges can overrule the jury’s recommendation and impose the death penalty which occurred in 166 of the 856 Florida death sentences from 1972 to 1999.

Well at least this time it wasn’t Texas looking ridiculous.

On the plus side of the ledger New Jersey continues to display indications that the death penalty is on the way out there. A state legislator from Cape May has announced that he has changed his mind and now opposes Capital Punishment which increases the majority in the legislature leaning toward abolition and the Asbury Park Press has published an editorial calling for replacing capital punishment with the sentence of life without parole.

There are twelve prisoners, including one woman on New Jersey's death row but the state has never executed anyone under its current death penalty statute.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" for 2006 shows that the number of people on the death row in the United States is continuing to decline, falling to 3,366 as of July 1, 2006. The size of death row has been in a slow but steady decline since the year 2000.

Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 45% white, 42% black, and 11% latino. Of jurisdictions with more than 10 people on death row, Texas (69%) and Pennsylvania (70%) have the largest percentage of minorities on death row. Nearly 80% of the victims in crimes that resulted in executions were white.

California, with 657 inmates, and Texas, with 401 inmates, have the largest death row populations in the country. California has a judicial moratorium on executions in place due to problems with its lethal injection procedures but there’s nothing slowing down the death factory in Texas.

Maybe one day we’ll become as modern and sophisticated as countries like Liberia, Mexico and South Africa and realize how bad an idea capital punishment is.

Liar, Lunatic or Lord?

I watched The Chronicles of Narnia on cable Saturday night. I thought the movie rather mediocre, the Christian allegory rather obvious and the level of violence rather surprising.

I noticed that even C.S. Lewis’s famous argument, mistakenly labeled “The Trilemma,” got into the movie. When the Professor is considering the youngest girl’s story about a world through the wardrobe he says that since she’s not lying, and she’s not mad, then she must be telling the truth.

The argument was first expounded by Lewis to counter the position that Jesus was simply an inspired moral teacher. Amateur Christian Apologists are attracted to the argument due to its air of elegance and simplicity but better educated Apologists realize that it has serious flaws and isn’t going to impress anyone that isn’t either already a committed believer or not too bright.

The argument goes something like this. Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus claimed the authority to instruct people how to achieve salvation. If his claims were false then either he was delusional, and therefore a lunatic, or he was lying, and therefore committing an evil of immense proportions. In either case it wouldn’t be rational to consider him a great moral teacher. Since Jesus was obviously a great moral teacher, he could not have been either lying or a lunatic therefore his claims must be true and he must be the Lord.

Like I said, simple and elegant, and at first glance it looks like a pretty good argument. Unfortunately if you think about it for a couple of seconds the flaws become rather obvious.

The first problem is how do we know Jesus claimed any such thing? That, based upon the gospels, he instructed people about how to achieve salvation I’ll have to admit is pretty obvious but his teaching was standard first century Judaism with a twist of apocalyptic fervor. There is nothing in his game plan for salvation in the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew and Luke) that is very radical other than some very liberal interpretations of some parts of the law such as concluding that it’s acceptable to heal on the Sabbath.

Nowhere in the Synoptics does Jesus claim to be divine. To the contrary, in Mark 8, Matthew 16 and Luke 9 Peter identifies him as the Messiah, or Christ, and Jesus accepts the identification to various degrees. In Mark he simply tells Peter not to tell anyone which could be interpreted as either a confirmation or a denial. In Matthew he clearly confirms the identification and then utters the famous play on words about establishing his church upon this rock (Peter = Petros = Rock). In Luke he appears to confirm it and then makes two very interesting statements.

Luke 9: 26 “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

This statement seems to indicate that Jesus, the Son of Man and the Father are three distinct entities doesn’t it? Without getting into the whole mess related to the Trinity this statement could be interpreted as a denial of divinity.

Luke 9:27 “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Was this a bad prediction? While there are all kinds of spins that apologists put on this passage to demonstrate why it’s really not a failed prophesy, I’ve yet to see one that would impress anyone who wasn’t either already a believer or a complete idiot.

The funny part about it is no explanation is necessary. Jesus often speaks in metaphors and this could easily be a metaphoric statement that simply means that some will understand his teaching which will allow them to “see” the kingdom of God. One of the reasons I suspect that the gospels are fairly accurate is the consistency of the metaphoric language of Jesus. It's only the insistance on a simple literal interpretation that requires a defense.

Even accepting that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, or the Christ, the Jewish Messiah was mortal, not divine and certainly not on a par with God the Father.

It’s not until the Gospel of John that Jesus makes statements that can clearly be interpreted as claiming divinity.

John 8:58 "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

John 10:30 “I and the Father are one."

John 10:38 “…believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

The author of John certainly appears to think that Jesus claimed to be God and he reports the Pharisees arguing with Jesus as coming to that conclusion as well. So, what’s the deal here?

There are several possibilities. The obvious one is that the author of John, or some future modifier of the Gospel of John, put words into Jesus’s mouth that he never actually said either because he thought they were said or as a pious fiction to support the Christological position that Jesus was divine. In other words an editor made the gospel more clearly reflect what he already knew to be true. There is considerable evidence that this occured in other passages although none to my knowledge that these particular passages have been tampered with.

If you accept on faith that the bible is the inerrant word of God then this isn’t a possibility that you need to contend with. For those of us that accept the more likely definition that the bible is simply the output of pious well meaning men, with all the fallibilities of men, then it is a possibility that must be contended with.

Even if you accept the accuracy of the report that Jesus said these things, the interpretation that this is a claim to be God isn’t necessarily correct. Jesus consistently claims that he speaks with the authority of God, he equates his words with God’s words and his motives with God’s motives. In John 8:58 and John 10:30 we may simply be seeing the strongest affirmation of this claim that Jesus is speaking words that are synonomous with what God would say.

I also think it’s important to keep in mind that in John 10:34 Jesus quotes Psalm 82.

John 10: 34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'”

Psalm 82:6 "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.'”

In other words we are ALL sons of God so claiming to be a son of God is no blasphemy. In Psalm 82 God is chastising man.

Psalm 82:1 God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the "gods":

Psalm 82:2 How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?

Psalm 82:3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.

Psalm 82:4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

So the entire exercise could simply be an incredibly subtle criticism of the Pharisees that Jesus is arguing with. Anyone familiar with Psalm 82 couldn’t miss the implication that God’s chastisement in the Psalm applies to those rejecting the message of Jesus. Of course to think something like that up on the fly, in the middle of a rather heated discussion, would be the mark of a man whose mental agility ranks with that of Leonardo DiVinci.

On the other hand, Jesus could simply have been delusional. We have a number of cases down through history of mere mortals confusing themselves with divinity often with tragic results. Does this by definition render everything else they say or believe reprehensible? Not at all, men are complex entities and rarely is one all good or all bad. A man can have a delusion about one thing while still being lucid and insightful, even inspired, about another.

Most of the moral teachings of Jesus were not original but positions well established in either Jewish Theology or Greek Philosophy so inspiration wasn't even necessarily required, simply the ability to recognize a good idea when he saw one. The delusion of a religious experience as the source of the sudden recognition of a moral or philosophical truth isn't all that unknown. As a matter of fact it happens all the time to believers when it's really simply the subconscious mind intruding abruptly on the conscious mind.

So the argument that one has to either discard everything Jesus said and did or accept him as God is an oversimplification. Men, and events, are much more complicated than that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Theocracy Called for

I always figured Katherine Harris, the Florida attorney general that oversaw the chad recount in 2000 and now a Congressional Representative from Florida, was a political hack, now I see that she’s a certifiable religious loony bird with no understanding of western democratic principles as well.

Some quotes, with commentary, from a recent speech.

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”

So, in other words, only Christians are moral or is it that everyone needs to accept the Christian definition of morality? This is, always has been, and always will be, my major problem with so-called “moral values.” Who gets to chose what is moral and what isn’t?

Christians, in the immense arrogance of the breed, figure their definition is the only definition. Harris, like most religious people, can’t differentiate between what SHE BELIEVES to be true and objective truth. Her beliefs are merely opinion and, in a democracy, anyone else’s opinion is just as good.

"…we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will.”

Well in that case there’s no need to vote is there? If it’s God’s will it’s going to happen no matter what isn’t it? Personally I'd rather have people that focus on facts rather than faith in the government.

Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.”

I refer you to the comment above. If Sky Daddy is making all the decisions, then my vote isn’t worth a whole hell of a lot is it? Is it just me or does this sound a lot like the concept of Rule by Divine Right so popular in the Dark Ages? Tell me, oh great loony bird, you figure that I shouldn’t oppose the policies of Bush the Unhinged because God chose him to be President so everything he’s doing is God’s will?

"And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended."

Actually, it’s precisely what the Founding Fathers intended because they were committed to Religious Freedom. Men like Madison and Jefferson were smart enough to realize that only a secular society, with secular laws, could be relied upon to protect that freedom.

As for what God intended, I haven’t got a clue. What leads you to believe that you do?

I consider it a disgrace that a member of Congress can hold such views and the people of Florida should hang their heads in shame. Let’s hope they correct the situation next election day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the form of Evangelical Christianity as exemplified by people like Pat Robertson, Roy Moore, George Bush and Katherine Harris, is the greatest danger to American Democracy that has ever existed. It is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, it is fundamentally incompatible with science and it is fundamentally incompatible with all of the progress made by mankind since the enlightenment.

Asleep in Seattle

Last year I thought the Giant’s defense looked awful in pre-season but they played pretty well during the season. This year they looked really good in the pre-season but, at least so far, are absolutely dreadful in the regular season. Eleven grannies with orthopedic shoes could score on these guys.

I mean it takes talent to give up 35 points in the first half. Bah, enough of this nonsense, the Giants have another debacle in Seattle getting clipped by the Seahawks 42-30. Thank goodness for the bye week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why not Gay Marriage?

That’s the title of a booklet and DVD authored by Glenn Stanton and being offered by Dobson’s Focus on the Family group. The booklet promises 10 persuasive answers to the question.

Now since they want $15 for the DVD and booklet combination and I’m not about to provide any funds for Dobson, I had to go looking for a newspaper report on the thing to give me an idea what it says. The best I found was from the Baptist Press (BP) News in Nashville which, given it’s not exactly what I would call an unbiased party, gave a very neutral journalistic description of some of the questions and answers. Among the questions BP says are included in Stanton’s booklet are:

-- How will my "same-sex marriage" hurt your marriage?

Stanton answers "It hurts my marriage by teaching my children that their gender does not matter. As a father, I will never, never allow that to happen."

You will excuse me but I don’t see where gay marriage, which would be practiced by at most a small portion of the population, says any such thing. Even if it did, how could it possibly have any impact against the literally thousands of signals we get daily from parents, peers, siblings, teachers, role models, television, magazines and Hollywood that gender DOES matter.

Personally I think the reverse issue, that we’re teaching our children that gender matters way too much, is the bigger problem.

-- Could "gay marriage" lead to polygamy?

Stanton points out that some gays live in multiple partner relationships now and claims that if we accept gay marriage "There is no logical stopping point."

My reaction to the first point is so what? There were group sex communes in the 60’s and they didn’t bring the world to an end nor were they ever viewed by society as anything but an aberration. There will always be a tiny percentage of the population that will engage in what the rest of us consider a bizarre life style. Most of us learn to ignore it.

As for the “no logical stopping point” argument, this is the old slippery slope logical fallacy. The fact is there are stopping points. In a previous post I pointed out the biggest difference between gay marriage and other alternative life styles such as polygamy and group marriage. While homosexuality appears to be at least partially rooted in genetics and not in a free lifestyle choice, the alternatives are clearly lifestyle choices. I can therefore easily justify recognizing one while condemning the others.

-- Is it healthy to subject children to experimental families?

I assume by “experimental” families Stanton means other than one man one woman families. Well I have two news flashes for you bubby. First ALL families are experimental because no two families are identical.

You need proof of this? How about the fact that 50% of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce? I might also point out that evangelical Christian families have a higher divorce rate than the average. I’ve been married for 34 years and I’ve raised three children and you want to lecture me on family values?

The second news flash is while, as you properly point out, Social Science hasn’t had enough time to study the effects of growing up in a male – male or female – female parent household, it has had enough time to study the effects of growing up in a NO PARENT household and those effects are not terribly comforting. I find it hard to believe that being raised by two mommies or two daddies could possible be worse than being raised by no mommies and no daddies.

Often gay couples adopt, love and raise children that no one else will take, minority children, children with health problems or children born with drug addiction. You will excuse me again but I don’t see you Focus on the Family folks lining up to adopt these kids. I wouldn’t have the courage to do it myself but many gay couples do and I say more power to them. A loving home, even one that you think is aberrant, is a lot better than growing up in a state institution.

What the other questions may be I don’t know, but as for “persuasive,” only if you’re either already a believer or not too bright. Oh, wait a minute, aren’t they the same thing?

When I started this blog I promised myself not to use a certain word regardless of how deserved it might be. Therefore, all I have to say is, dear Mr. Stanton, go perform a reproductive function on yourself.

A Reversal of Fortune

Whoo-hoo we won one in Philly! Usually it’s the Eagles that come up with bizarre winning finishes against the Giants. This time the Giants came up with a wild one against the Eagles.

Let’s start with a lucky fumble recovery in the end zone, followed by a lucky fumble, followed by a fortuitous personal foul penalty that brought the Giants within field goal range and then a kick that just about scrapped the left upright and you had a 17 point 4th quarter comeback that tied the game at 24-24.

Then the topper came in overtime. After the Giants had penaltied their way back from a run to the 5 yard line to the 30 yard line, little brother Eli lofted one to Plaxico in the end zone to wrap up a totally improbable victory 30-24.

Good thing too. An 0-2 start coupled with a Philly 2-0 start would have been more than a little bit of trouble.

Now the guys head for Seattle, the scene of last year’s debacle by Jay Feely. Here’s hoping we do better this year.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Islam is Mad at the Pope

Uh-oh, the Pope quoted a Byzantine Emperor and has the Muslim world all in an uproar. What was the quote? It was "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Considering that the Emperor then goes on to explain how spreading faith through violence is unreasonable, which is a Greek concept not a Christian concept by the way, the implication that Muhammad was an unreasonable war monger is, I think, pretty unmistakable.

What I don’t understand is why the surprise? Interfaith co-operation my rear end. Look folks, the Pope, and ALL other Christians, believe Muhammad was a false prophet and therefore they have to believe either (a) the Quran is full of lies, (b) Muhammad was an evil liar or (c) Muhammad was a lunatic. If they didn’t, they would convert to Islam.

In the meantime, no Muslims believe that Jesus is the Lord God Savior so therefore they have to believe either (a) the gospels and epistles are full of lies, (b) Jesus was an evil liar or (c) Jesus was a lunatic. If they didn’t, they would convert to Christianity.

DUH! Get it? All this about interfaith co-operation and respect is basically “you let me fleece my flock and I’ll let you fleece your flock.” They’re smiling at each other while holding daggers behind their backs! They’re all freaking hypocrites.

If you learn nothing else young Padawan learn this, NEVER trust anyone who claims to speak for God.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Survivor’s Racial Teams

This year’s Survivor program has apparently chosen to divide the teams by race. There will be a White, a Black, a Hispanic and an Asian team. Needless to say there has been more than a little criticism and some people have even called for the show to be canceled.

I don’t watch Survivor but I have to admit I was more than a little surprised when I heard about the teams divided by race arrangement. Shocked would be too strong a word but I was surprised.

Then I thought about it a bit and decided who cares? Is this any different than dividing the teams into blue eyed and brown eyed or left handed and right handed? No it isn’t. How about we grow up and stop being offended by every little thing. I might even watch an episode to see how things work out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wal-Mart and the NGLCC

This is too delicious. The Mecca of Red State America, Wal-Mart, has entered into a partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) a staunch supporter of homosexual marriage.

As a part of this partnership Wal-Mart will be donating $25,000 to the NGLCC and will pay for two conferences scheduled by the organization. Wal-Mart will also give homosexual-owned businesses special treatment when making purchases.

Needless to say the Religious Right is going absolutely bonkers over Wal-Mart joining the Ford Corporation in supporting Gay Rights in general and, apparently, Gay Marriage in particular.

Like I said in a post not too long ago support for Gay Marriage is approaching critical mass in many states. At heart Americans are fair minded people, ignorant as hell, but fair minded. If they act like jackasses sometimes it’s due to the demagogues taking advantage of that ignorance. Once that ignorance is resolved they can usually be relied upon to do the right thing. This is the reason that the Religious Right is ultimately going to lose on the issue of Gay Marriage, because the right thing is to extend the benefits (or pain and suffering depending on your outlook) of marriage to all Americans regardless of sexual persuasion.

Let's hear it for Wal-Mart. Now if only they would give their work force decent benefits I might actual shop there a little more often than when I have absolutely no other choice.

The Manning Bowl

Yes I went to the game Sunday night to watch Peyton spank his baby brother and the Giants. I was just so annoyed with the parking debacle at Giants Stadium that I was in no mood to write about it.

The Colts offensive looked good. The Giants offense looked ok. The Giants defense was a big disappointment other than the one big turnover opportunity they supplied which, unfortunately, the offense turned right back over to the Colts. The officials refereeing the game should probably get hit in the head with semi-limp noodles. I’ve probably seen worse calls by officials but off-hand I can’t remember when.

The NFL wants parity. This makes sense because it makes more of the games exciting and keeps the playoff races going almost invariably until the last week of the season. This keeps the television audiences glued to their chairs and the revenues flowing. One unfortunate side effect however is that the officiating can loom large in more games. I wonder how many games are ultimately decided by the officials rather than the teams?

Anyway, the Colts handled the Giants 26-21 and the Giants now head down the turnpike to Philadelphia where they rarely have much luck. An 0-2 season start is more than likely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

September 11, 2006

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been five years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. I think the media is luxuriating a little too much in the anniversary this year. Perhaps it's because mother nature didn't supply them a hurricane disaster that they could blubber over and the media feels that it isn't doing its job unless it's trying to scare the hell out of us about something. For instance, I’m getting a little tired of hearing the constant argument about do we “feel” safer as opposed to are we in fact safer.

Obviously we’re safer. We would all be complete idiots if some things haven’t gotten a little safer in the aftermath of the attack. If nothing else they’re checking my shoes for explosives at airports and as little as that may be, it certainly counts for something doesn't it? Should I suddenly start hearing the chant "God is great" in my head and decide to pack some plastic explosives into my Nikes in order to take out a 747, they're going to prevent that from happening. At least I think they would prevent that from happening.

Just as obviously we feel less safe since we now know with absolute certainty that it can happen here. I feel less safe but I’m pretty darn good at not letting it affect my day to day activities. I decided a long time ago that if I allowed myself to be afraid of all the things I could be afraid of, or of all the things our society of fear would like me to be afraid of, I wouldn't be able to do anything but be afraid. Screw that.

I got stuck in Fullerton California in 2001. I had flown from Newark to South Orange airport the evening of the 10th and was greeted at 0700 the next morning by an overly excited co-worker staying at the same hotel with news of the events transpiring in New York and Washington. I saw the collapse of the towers on television from my hotel room.

The remainder of the day consisted of a series of reports filtering in about individuals lost on the aircraft or unaccounted for in the towers. It’s difficult to accomplish much in a business meeting when every few hours someone sticks his head into the room to announce someone else who was on one of the planes even if you’re not personally acquainted with the individual.

Eventually our attention focused on how, and when, we might be getting home. The hotel and rental agency told us that our rooms and cars would be available for the duration so we at least had no concerns there. Neither the hotel nor Avis Rental charged for the extra days.

There were five of us stranded in Fullerton. Two were from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, two from Scottsdale, Arizona and one poor schnook (me) from New Jersey. I was about as far away from home as I could get and still be in the continental U.S.

The two guys from Scottsdale decided to drive home and offered to take us along thinking that it might be easier to get a flight out of Phoenix than LAX. We decided against that since we at least had someplace to stay in California but had no such guarantee in Phoenix. Next we got a call from two other guys from Ft. Wayne that were stuck in California who had decided to drive to Indiana. They offered to drop me off in either Chicago or Indianapolis where I might be able to get a train. This didn’t sound like a real good idea either and again we decided to stay put.

In the final analysis it didn’t take all that long to get back it just seemed long. All of us got on flights Friday morning by which time I was on a first name basis with the Continental booking agents at both Orange County and LAX. I was on the first Continental flight out of John Wayne Airport and based upon the advice being loudly broadcast over the TV, I arrived about 5 hours before the flight or around 4 AM. It took an hour to return the rental car because they searched every conceivable place in the car, under the car, in the trunk, in my bag and on me that you could imagine. If I had suddenly woken up that morning and decided that Allah was God, Muhammad was his prophet, Satan America needed to be chastised and those 72 virgins sounded like a pretty good deal, they at least had that contingency covered.

After finally getting rid of the car I confronted THE LINE which stretched out of the terminal building and down the block. Lucky for me that was the American Airlines line. The Continental desk was completely empty so it took me all of 10 minutes to get to the gate. Four hours later I boarded a very full plane and five hours after that landed in the ghost town that was Newark Airport. Let me tell you how eerie a feeling it was to walk through what is normally a beehive of activity when it is virtually empty. We were the only passengers working our way through the terminal.

So I managed to make it home and found out about more losses in and around town. The father of a child in my wife’s 3rd grade class was killed as was the son of the interim principal at the school where she worked. All of the small towns in Northern New Jersey suffered losses. Like the man said, after 9/11 the Red States put magnets on their cars and the Blue States put coffins in the ground.

Five years have passed and I find myself annoyed at the constant drum beat in the media of how everything changed on 9/11. For many people, especially those who lost spouses, parents or children, everything did change, but for most of us things didn’t really change. Our perceptions were simply brought more into line with reality. We’re not immune from the insane acts of fanatics driven by extreme political beliefs or extreme religious beliefs and we never have been.

In the 60’s and 70’s the danger was from radical left wing organizations or those who claimed to be radical left wing organizations. In the early 21st century the danger is from right wing fundamentalist religious groups of both the Islamic and Christian varieties. Islamic fundamentalists crash planes into buildings and send suicide bombers into restaurants and hotels. Christian fundamentalists bomb abortion clinics and kill gays. At least the Muslim terrorists have the courtesy to die while they’re committing acts of terrorism; the Christian fundamentalists always seem to figure out a way to survive and continue to be a wart on society's rear end.

Ok, enough complaining and moaning. Perhaps some day we’ll all grow up enough to realize that there’s no reason to kill each other. If there is a Sky Daddy he must spend an awful lot of time weeping.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dawkins, Harris and Me

There was an article in this week’s Newsweek about atheist scholars which was, not unexpectedly, heavily related to the philosophies of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Harris and Dawkins are probably the most radical and outspoken voices criticizing religion and faith. I’m especially looking forward to Dawkins’ new book “The God Delusion” which should be released sometime this year.

So where do I line up here? I don’t make it any secret that I consider religion not only false but dangerous as well. At the moment I consider today’s brand of Conservative Evangelical Christianity the single biggest threat to Western Democratic principles that has ever existed. The hatred and intolerance that led Christianity to enslave people different from themselves, attempt to erase all traces of pre-Columbian culture and destroy the Library at Alexandria is alive and well in the message of today’s Evangelical Preachers and the oft fleeced flock, with vapid expressions on the faces, nods unthinkingly at the words like bob head dolls in the back of a car going down a bumpy road.

So in terms of religion I’m squarely in the Harris and Dawkins camp. I’m convinced that either our species frees itself from religion or religion will ultimately lead to our destruction.

I’m not as ready to side with Harris and Dawkins in terms of the existence of God. Logically speaking the only honest intellectual position is Agnosticism. Dawkins claims he’s Agnostic about God in the same way he’s Agnostic about Santa Claus which means he’s certain that God doesn’t exist. I’m not so sure. There is only one thing I’m absolutely certain about and that’s Shakespeare had it right when he put the words “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” into Hamlet’s mouth.

The universe is a strange place and the knowledge we possess is minuscule. Relatively speaking what we know compared to what there is to know is probably about the size of a flea compared to an elephant. Actually I’m more of what I’ve heard called a “Militant Agnostic.” A Militant Agnostic’s philosophy is “I don’t know and neither do you!”

I’ve also described myself as an “Agnostic Deist” which means I don’t know if God exists but if he does exist then I believe the Deist concept of God is the most accurate. So I guess I’m a Militant Agnostic Deist.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When the Levies Broke

I’ve been watching Spike Lee’s four part documentary about the Katrina disaster on HBO on Demand and I feel obligated to make a number of observations.

My first observation is that if I had any doubts that Spike Lee is THE premier film artist of our time, this documentary eliminated them. My second observation is that the Bush administration is at least guilty of criminal incompetence and my third observation is that, for all the talk about the “New South,” blacks are still treated like crap down there aren’t they?

I mean, it sounds to me like the place was a freaking disaster if you were black, or poor white, before the freaking disaster and Katrina took it from really bad to catastrophic. I wouldn’t let a dog live in some of the places shown in the film. They were little more than shacks. No wonder they got flattened by what wasn’t even a direct hit by the hurricane.

I can understand why some of the people displaced by Katrina are considering not going back. Since they have to start from scratch anyway they’re realizing that they might be better off doing it in Texas or Oklahoma or Pennsylvania.

As for the New Orleans city administration and the Louisiana governor’s office, both underestimated the impact that a category 5 hurricane was going to have. Bianco should have activated the National Guard BEFORE the storm struck and Nagin should have used them, his police force and every bus they could find to enforce the mandatory evacuation. Yes this is 20-20 hindsight on my part, but if you want to be the leader, then be prepared to pay the piper when you drop the ball.

After the storm struck I think Nagin did the best he could with an impossible situation and Bianco was more concerned about politics than doing what needed to be done. I’d vote her ass out of office but he can play on my team anytime.

Of course on the other hand, we’re not talking about the sharpest tools in the shed here. While I sympathized with what happened to them I couldn’t help observing that a lot of the people involved were not prone to logical thinking. I loved the lady that explained how Jesus helped them wade through the water to safety. Err, wouldn’t he have done better by you to keep the storm away or at least keep the levees from breaking? I’m amazed by the attitude that God helped me AFTER the catastrophe struck so that shows his love. I guess he didn’t love those that drowned did he? I think I would prefer a God that either prevented the catastrophe or was at least totally neutral rather than one that allows the catastrophe to occur and then plays favorites helping some while leaving others to their fate.

Telephone Telepathy?

You know the phenomena where you think about someone just before the phone rings and it’s the person you just thought about? That’s what, according to Reuters, a scientist named Rupert Sheldrake at Trinity College in Cambridge is calling “Telephone Telepathy” and for what he claims to have experimental evidence that it really does exists. Not only does this precognition work with telephones, supposedly it also works with e-mails!

Yeah right. The article explains that Sheldrake performed small scale tests asking people to predict, out of four family or friend choices, who was going to call and got a success rate of 45%. Granted that’s a lot higher than the 25% one would expect by pure chance but the article doesn’t give a lot of detail about the protocol used or even if it was a double-blind study. Experience has shown repeatedly that only double-blind studies can be relied upon. It’s amazing what non-verbal clues are sent out and can be picked up, especially when the examiner has a vested interest in the outcome of the experiment.

Sheldrake’s basic hypothesis is that there is an interconnectedness of minds within a social group. My reaction is that’s all very interesting but I think I’ll wait until other folks duplicate Sheldrake’s results before I get too excited.

My problem with all this is that if it works for I’m going to call you or send you an e-mail, then it should work for just about everything and despite lots and lots of trying, no one has ever, to my knowledge, come up with any credible evidence of telepathic capabilities even between the closest of family members.

As for the “Hey, I was just thinking about you” phenomena when the phone rings, it called “confirmation bias.” You remember weird stuff when it happens, because it is weird, but forget about all the times you thought about your wife or girlfriend and she didn’t call.