Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Take the Bible Test

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, of all people, has a Bible knowledge test on their website. Actually, it’s a very slanted chunk of propaganda which focuses on the, shall we say, less than reputable passages while totally ignoring the positive passages.

In any event I scored a whopping 46 out of 50. A score that the ffrf claims means I know more than a minister, priest or rabbi. I find that conclusion highly doubtful but I would hope that I would score as well on a more balanced quiz.

The web site claims that the average score is 15. Given that there are 4 choices per question, that’s only an eyelash above the 12.5 average you could expect parrots pecking the answers randomly to score.

Of the four I got wrong, two I was just flat out wrong and the other two I was trying to decide between two answers, one of which was the correct one, and finally chose the wrong one.

The two I was flat out wrong on were:

Which one of these phrases did Jesus not say about witnessing?

I chose "If I bear witness of myself, it is not true,” which apparently Jesus did say in John 5:31. The correct answer was, supposedly, "God is my witness."

What personal sacrifice for "the kingdom of heaven" was Jesus talking about when he told his disciples, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it"?

I chose “Pluck out your eyes,” and Jesus did talk about this in Matthew 5:29, but in a different context. The right answer was, supposedly, “Castrate yourself.” However, I have to disagree with that one. The passages quoted, Matthew 19:11-12, are generally interpreted as referring to celibacy and not physical mutilation. However, Origen did interpret it that way and, well, you know (oh the pain).

The two where I chose the wrong one, although I thought about picking the right one, were:

What reason did God give for tormenting Job?

I chose "I wanted to see how far a man would bend before breaking” instead of "Satan dared me, so I destroyed Job for no reason at all."

How does the biblical god treat haughty women?

I chose “He makes them barren” instead of “He puts scabs on their heads and uncovers their private parts.”

As I’ve said many times, the Bible has lots and lots of good stuff in it. It also has lots of stuff that has to be taken in cultural context and which the modern zeitgeist demands that we reject.

How anyone, reading the book with even a hint of objectivity can conclude it’s the “word of God” is totally beyond my comprehension. What did God find so important about recording the census of the Hebrew tribes in Numbers?

The general population of the U.S. is probably as biblically illiterate as it is scientifically illiterate and the two tend to add together. If people knew what the Bible actually said, they wouldn’t be caught dead accepting its seven days of creation over evolution. So why am I opposed to teaching about the Bible in public schools? Only because I know that in many areas it wouldn’t be a balanced presentation and would effectively become an avenue for pitching Christianity.

Lethal Injection Method Flawed?

The AP reports, that a study by the online journal PLoS Medicine, has concluded that the lethal injection methods used in U.S. executions sometimes fail to work as planned and can cause slow and painful deaths in violation of the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Even when administered properly, the process may end up with the victim suffocating to death while conscious.

This is fairly strong evidence that the eleven states that have suspended executions by lethal injection have good reason to be concerned.

One of the culprits appears to be the “one-size fits all” philosophy that everyone, regardless of size, weight and body composition receives the same dosages. You have got to be kidding me? Even I know that isn’t going to work!

The study concluded that some inmates did not get an adequate dosage of the anesthetic. Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, a surgeon and co-author at the University of Miami said that under such conditions “The person would feel either asphyxiation or the burning sensation associated with the potassium. The potassium would cause extreme discomfort, something like being put on fire."

Just freaking wonderful.

Needless to say, Death Penalty proponents criticized the report and complained that the conclusions were based upon scant scientific evidence. Hmmm, personally I think that’s a good thing. It would be horrible if we had lots and lots of executions to study now wouldn’t it?

Mike Rushford, president of Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, an organization concerned with victim’s rights said "It's more like political science than medical science."

I don’t know about that. Evidence, even based upon a smaller sample than needed to reach a definitive conclusion, is still evidence, and shouldn’t be so cavalierly dismissed. If you have contradictory evidence Mike, present it.

Steve Stewart, a prosecuting attorney in Clark County, Indiana, was quoted as saying "It doesn't matter a whole lot to me that someone may have felt some pain before they were administered poison as a method of execution."

The question is the definition of “some pain.” Luckily Steve ol’ boy, the U.S. Constitution does care even if you don’t.

To be honest with you, if I could be absolutely positive someone was guilty, I probably wouldn’t care all that much either. As a matter of fact, it would probably be quite satisfying. Unfortunately the cost of the Death Penalty which is far too arbitrary, far too prone to error, far too costly and far too great a burden on the families of victims is far too great a price to pay for a fleeting whiff of satisfaction.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hiring Loyal Bushies?

Oh my God! The latest thing to come out of the nightmare that is the Bush administration is that they have been hiring graduates from Conservative Christian colleges, the accreditation of which is sometimes questionable, and placing them in key posts in the administration.

At last count the number was something like 150. The big question is why? Either the Bush administration has now violated Article VI of the United States Constitution which states “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” or they’re assuming that only Conservative Christians are stupid enough, as all the polls seem to show, to stay blindly loyal to the worst presidential administration in history! It seems all Evangelicals need to stay happy with the administration is have Bush say “God” every two sentences and take a stand opposing Gay Marriage. If Sky Daddy exists, I’ll bet he cringes every time Bush mentions him.

I agree with Lee Iacocca when he says “We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right off a cliff.” I just hope we can get to January of 2009 before the damage becomes irreparable, if it isn’t so already.

Then again, I’m not all that sure Bush is going to leave office quietly in January of 2009. I wouldn’t put it past this crew to pull off a “terrorist attack,” then declare a state of emergency and try to keep power. How in the world can anyone with half a brain even consider voting Republican in 2008?

Virginia Tech

There is really nothing I can say. Thirty-two dead is a tragedy beyond words. Could the university have reacted in a better way which could have saved lives? Probably, but it’s always easy to look back and see things like that. It’s rarely so easy to see them when you’re in the middle of the events.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Day of Truth?

The annual “Day of Silence,” a student led demonstration protesting gay harassment, will take place on College and High School campuses across the country this year on April 18. This is a stand against hatred and discrimination organized by students themselves. Ahh, it almost makes me feel young again.

Unfortunately, conservative Christian organizations have been trying to counter the Day of Silence movement the last three years with what they are calling a “Day of Truth.” On the “Day of Truth” Christians emphasize the interpretation that the Biblical position is that homosexuality is immoral and a sin. This of course presupposes that homosexuality is a choice rather than a genetic imperative such as being left handed or having blue eyes.

Let’s talk about this “Day of Truth” for a moment. I guess one has to accept the argument that this is simply Freedom of Speech in action. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Once we start trying to censor opinions we don’t like we’re going to be in serious trouble. Well, while that may be the case, I’m entitled to think some opinions stink and this is one of those cases.

I have a hard time seeing any difference between gay bashing, anti-Semitism and racism. If Christians are entitled to pitch a “homosexuality is immoral” theme on school property, are skinheads entitled to pitch a “Jews are the murderers of Jesus” message and KKK enthusiasts entitled to pitch a “Blacks are inferior” message? Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion, but aren’t the public schools supposed to be teaching equality and equal protection under the law as principles of American Democracy?

If we’re going to allow highlighting Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 as proof that homosexuality is immoral, then would it be ok to highlight Matthew 27:25 as proof that Jews are responsible for the murder of Jesus, and Genesis 9:26-27 as proof that God intended Blacks to be slaves? Let’s remember that Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death of those engaging in homosexual activities. Are we going to accept a call for the murder of homosexuals on this so-called “Day of Truth?”

No I don’t expect anyone to allow an anti-Semitic or anti-Black rally on public school grounds, we’ve at least gotten beyond that (with the possible exception of Don Imus). Yes you have the right to your opinion, and yes you have the right to express that opinion, but I have the right to express my opinion as well. So, dear Christians, I think your opinion sucks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Another Country to Cross off my List

India. I’m never going to India. According to the AFP, British model Elizabeth Hurley and her husband Arun Nayar may be prosecuted in the Indian city of Jodhpur because they allegedly mocked Hindu traditions with their "showcase" wedding.

Apparently India has a law which makes it an offence, punishable by three years in jail, to "outrage" any group's religion with "deliberate and malicious intention."

Three years? THREE YEARS!!! One wonders what the definition of “outrage” might be? Does that mean if anyone belonging to the religious group is outraged they can try to get you put into jail? Screw that. I can just hear all the right wing Christian wackos here saying hey, we could use something like that to keep outrages like The DaVinci Code and James Cameron’s tomb of Jesus from irritating Christians. Sure, to hell with free speech and freedom of the press, except for Christians of course so they can criticize and insult everyone else.

Ah yes, religion is such a wonderful thing and so compatible with democracy. When are we going to grow up and let go of this superstitious nonsense. Yo, India, allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. This is Mr. First Amendment, one of my best buddies. I think it’s time to buy my copy of the first amendment another nice present. Maybe it would like a nice new oak frame.

Death Penalty Update

The Death Penalty continues to demonstrate it’s a really bad idea. More and more states have halted executions due to questions related to lethal injection procedures and more and more editorials and legal experts are calling for its abolishment.

The latest newspaper to add its voice to the call for abolishment is the Sentinel of central Pennsylvania which noted that capital punishment has failed to deter crime, has lost favor with the public, risks innocent lives, and prolongs the suffering of victims' family members.

In the meantime there have been 12 executions so far this year, eleven of which have been in Texas. Will somebody PLEASE test the water in Texas? The only possible explanation for a state that feels it’s necessary to carry out executions at its current rate AND produced George W. Bush is contaminated water which affects brain cells! The other execution was in Oklahoma.

Cathy Henderson, the lady convicted in Texas of murdering a 3 month old baby that she was babysitting for, has had her execution date pushed back until June. An Austin judge granted a 60 day stay in “the interest of justice” although he said he was unsure of the legal correctness of Henderson’s lawyer’s intended appeal. The appeal is to be based upon the claim that new head trauma technology can show that the death of the child was in fact caused by a fall. Henderson has always claimed that she dropped the child by accident and then panicked. Medical examiners testifying at her trial said that the baby’s injuries were inconsistent with a fall. Why do I smell another conviction based upon voodoo science? We’re talking about a death sentence whose foundation is simply someone’s opinion. That’s more evidence that the term “Texas Justice” is an oxymoron.

South Dakota’s first execution since 1976, delayed last year due to Governor Rounds’ directive to hold all executions until the states lethal injection law could be investigated, has been rescheduled for July of this year. Apparently the South Dakota legislature corrected the issues with the Death Penalty statute. It seems to me that the legislature of South Dakota, based upon its Death Penalty and abortion activities may be out of touch with the South Dakota electorate based upon its activities. Allow me to suggest that the good people of South Dakota might want to do something about that.

If the South Dakota execution proceeds it will reduce the number of states with Death Penalty statutes that have never used them to four, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Kansas.

There are approximately 22 executions scheduled around the country, fully half of which are scheduled in Texas. Unfortunately that’s only through September.

Boy that was a depressing update. What the hell is with New Jersey anyway? I would have thought by now, given the commission’s 12-1 recommendation, that some movement toward abolition would be evident.

Stem Cell Research and Global Warming

We’re in trouble on both counts. Let’s start with global warming. The consensus of scientific opinion is that Global Warming is a reality and there is a high probability, 90% or so, that it is being driven by human activity. Both the Japanese and the European Union have started to move out on solutions. However, if the U.S. and China don’t get on the bandwagon, there’s not much the Japanese and European efforts can accomplish other than leaving us in the dust economically.

Why do I say that? It’s because some 85% of Americans agree with the scientific assessment and will be attracted to products and services that address the issue, especially when backed by government support and subsidies.

There’s a similar issue with Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research. This is a frontier with the potential of revolutionizing medical science. Many states, including New Jersey and California, are financing ESC research on their own but the reality is that federal funding is needed in order to keep pace with Japan and Europe on this front as well.

Bush’s Evangelical Christian based aversion to this technology is adding to the potential that the U.S. will become a scientific backwater. Claiming that the embryos that are the source of ESCs are potential humans is horribly misleading. These excess embryos are going to eventually be destroyed. That’s reality. No one is going to suddenly start maturing them in-vitro to develop viable human beings so why not use them for research? There is no moral issue here. The so-called moral value involved is purely imaginary so let’s stop the nonsense.

Is it possible the scientific community is wrong about Global Warming and Senator Inhofe and Fox News are right? Sure it’s possible; it’s about as possible as I’m going to be the next president due to a grass roots write in vote. Anyway, what would be the harm it taking measures to reduce the amount of hydrocarbons released into the atmosphere and take some other environmentally smart steps, such as weaning ourselves away from a dependence on Middle Eastern oil, as well? Oh yeah, that’s right, it would hurt Bush and Cheney’s big oil buddies at Halliburton and Exxon.

Is it possible that we’ll all go to hell if we allow ESC research? Sure it’s possible; it’s almost as possible as the scientific community is wrong about Global Warming. I go back to the quote attributed to Galileo, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”

Bottom line, the Senate should approve the ESC research bill and we should vote out any politician that opposes either ESC research or taking government action to address Global Warming. Who's going to be the JFK of the Global Warming crisis and promise a timetable for a solution like JFK committed to a timetable for reaching the moon?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Another Easter in the Books

Boy those three days went by fast. Good Friday is the first holiday I get after the long Christmas break (yes I said Christmas and not Holiday). Unfortunately the three days flew by. Sigh, I really need a change of occupation, going back is getting harder and harder.

By the way, did somebody repeal Easter Sunday when I wasn’t looking? Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and Easter Sunday I remember as days when just about everything was closed. This Easter everything seemed like business as usual. You couldn’t tell the difference from a regular Sunday, or Saturday or weekday for that matter. I’m not much for religion (how’s THAT for an understatement) but the “business as usual” trend on all holidays strikes me as a cultural loss.

Around the globe things aren’t getting any better in Iraq and a recent Newsweek poll says that 47% of Americans, including 34% of college graduates, reject the Theory of Evolution and believe the universe was created in 7 days, less than 10,000 years ago, as depicted in Genesis and calculated by Bishop Ussher.

Well, at least 53% do accept evolution. One has to wonder where the 34% of college graduates that believe Genesis is literally true got their degrees. Could it have been from the Podunk Bible College?

Time magazine raised some eyebrows by publishing an article, by its religion editor no less, supporting teaching about the Bible in public school. The idea isn’t to teach it as scripture but rather to focus on the Bible as a literary reference and the influence of the Bible throughout history.

I talked about this once before here Bible Textbook for Public Schools Planned and I don’t see anything that’s changed. Even the Time article stresses the danger of a Bible course becoming religious instruction, but that’s exactly what will happen in some areas of the country resulting in a widening of the cultural abyss that already exists between certain regions.

The other issue is that the presentation won’t be even handed. If you talk about the Hebrew exodus from slavery to freedom, you also need to address the Bible’s failure to condemn the institution of slavery in general. One needs to balance the feel good stories with the dark side represented by the “hard passages,” and the good achieved by people adhering to the Bible’s positive moral messages with the evil caused by people adhering to its negative moral messages.

Given that the only Bible study curriculums are those being developed by groups whose objectivity is, to say the least, highly suspect, I figure the chances of a balanced presentation are about zero.

That being the case, I’m opposed to isolating the Bible for special consideration. Why not combine it with other literary references? A literary reference course covering the most famous quotes from Shakespeare, the Bible, Mark Twain and Greek Mythology wouldn’t bother me one bit.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

HBO’s Rome – Series Finale

There were only ten episodes in the final season instead of twelve so it’s all over. The series finale opens in the aftermath of the battle of Actium with Antony and Vorenus leaving the smoking ruins of Antony’s fleet. They retreat to Alexandria and take refuge in the palace at while Octavian attempts to either negotiate a surrender from Antony or an act of treachery from Vorenus. He is successful at neither. Antony challenges him to single combat and Vorenus remains loyal just as PUllo predicted.

Finally Octavian finds the weak link in Cleopatra. In exchange for promises that she will retain the throne, and that no harm will come to Caesarion, she fakes her own suicide. This leads Antony into doing the real thing. As Vorenus braces his sword Antony pushes himself upon it in classic Roman fashion. Vorenus then cleans the make-up from Antony’s face and dresses him in his Roman General’s armor.

As Vorenus places Antony’s body on the throne Cleopatra shows up. That leads to a heated exchange between Vorenus and Cleopatra with Vorenus warning her that Octavian can’t keep his promise about sparing Caesarion’s life.

After a brief audience with Octavian, Cleopatra realizes that Vorenus is right, and that Octavian has played her for a fool. She ends up following Antony, courtesy of an asp bite, and Vorenus flees with Caesarion.

Octavian sends Pullo after Vorenus and they meet where they once had awaited the messengers leaving to murder Cleopatra. The two of them decide to attempt and get Caesarion out of harms way. Vorenus agrees to accompany them as far as Judea.

When I heard that I thought I had nailed the ending, but it wasn’t to be. Along the way they encounter a Roman roadblock. They try to talk their way past but the officer in charge tricks Caesarion into revealing himself. In the ensuing melee the two manage to overcome the Roman troops but Vorenus is seriously wounded and asks Pullo to take him home.

They arrive in Rome just in time for Octavian’s triumph where Atia is putting Livia on notice that she doesn’t take a back seat to anyone as she usurps Livia’s position of precedence. In the ensuing scenes of the triumph, very much reminiscent of Caesar’s triumph, they actually make you feel sorry for Atia as she is clearly remembering Antony and days past. The wounded Vorenus in the meantime is reconciled with his children.

Pullo reports to Octavian that he killed Caesarion himself and that Lucius Vorenus “didn’t make it.” It’s hard to tell from the look on Octavian’s face whether he believes Pullo or not, but in any event he rewards him and send him on his way. In the final scene Pullo tells Caesarion that “he bought it.” As they walk down the crowded Roman street, and Caesarion begins plotting to avenge his mother and his father, Pullo says, “Listen about your father…”

So they ended it very open ended. Did Octavian believe Pullo or not? If he has any doubts it would be easy enough for him to find out. Or is it that he values Pullo’s friendship enough to let it slide? Is Vorenus really dead? We only have Pullo’s word for it and he was lying about Caesarion. Is there a possible sequel? It’s certainly possible but I find it doubtful.

So each of us can put whatever spin on it we want. Personally I think Vorenus is alive and living with Lyde and the children on the farm that Caesar gave him, Pullo will convince Caesarion of his true parentage and Octavian knows full well that Vorenus and Caesarion are alive but chooses to ignore, it as long as they present no danger to him, out of his desire to preserve his friendship with Pullo. But hey, I could be wrong.