Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atheists know more about religion

Everyone appears to be having a good time with the latest Pew Forum survey where Atheists and Agnostics scored the highest on questions about religion.

I took an abbreviated form of the survey and got 15 out of 15 correct. It’s not exactly rocket science just basic common knowledge. My perfect score was better than 99% of the population which only averaged 50% right. Jews did the best on the 15 question survey getting 65% right. Atheists/Agnostics were next with 64% right.

In the actual survey, Atheists/Agnostics scored the highest getting an average of 20.9 out of 32 questions correct; Jews were next at 20.5 and then Mormons at 20.3. I’m not sure I would consider those differences significant.

The overall average was 16. White Evangelical Christians got an average of 17.6 correct and White Catholics 16.0. At the bottom of the list were Hispanic Catholics at 11.6 and Black Protestants at 13.4.

The two most difficult questions on the survey were related to Maimonides and the First Great Awakening. Only 8% knew Maimonides was Jewish and only 11% could identify Jonathan Edwards as a figure in the First Great Awakening.

Which sort of indicates something wrong with the quiz. There were only 5 and 3 choices respectively, so unless some folks didn’t even guess, one would have expected numbers closer to 20% and 33%. As it turns out, “I don’t know” was always an option and 71% had never heard of Maimonides and 50% answered “I don’t know” to the Edwards question.

The only question that gave me some pause was the Jonathan Edwards one. The three choices were Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney or Billy Graham. I knew it wasn’t Billy Graham and Charles Finney didn’t sound like a Puritan name so I figured it had to be Jonathan Edwards.

In questions specific to Christianity, Mormons did the best with 7.9 out of 12 correct, followed by White Evangelical Protestants with 7.3 out of 12. Atheist/Agnostics were third with 6.7 out of 12.
Some of the results were almost unbelievable. Supposedly only 16% of Christians knew that Protestants, but not Catholics, taught that salvation was through faith alone.

Any reasonably educated person should have been able to answer an overwhelming majority of the questions. There were a few that I wouldn’t expect most people to know, and we all have areas of ignorance that would surprise our friends, but most of the questions were pretty simple.

I’m not at all sure this means anything significant beyond Americans are a hell of a lot more ignorant than they should be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scalia and Virginia

The best thing for the United States would be if Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas would decide that their true calling in life is to open a bait and tackle shop in Cape Cod.

The latest from Scalia is that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment doesn’t protect women’s rights. It’s not that papa Antonio is opposed to women’s rights, or so he claims, he simply claims that wasn’t the original intent of those who wrote the 14th Amendment in the mid-nineteenth century.

Uh-huh, yet he believes that the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, written in the eighteenth century, somehow allows corporations to spend as much money as they want to influence elections.

Basically Scalia retreats to a doctrine of “originalism” when it suits his purpose but he’s quite happy to allow the Constitution to grow and be interpreted broadly when that suits his purpose.

In other words, he’s a hypocrite that’s only interested in his personal right wing opinions. He doesn’t have an objective bone in his body. Everything is viewed through a lens of personal subjectivity. He’s a small man in a job that requires someone who can see beyond himself and small men can’t do that.

As for Virginia, they are on the verge there of executing a woman for the first time in 98 years. Forty-one year old Teresa Lewis was convicted of hiring two men to kill her husband in 2002 so she could collect a $250,000 insurance policy. The two men that actually did the killing got life without parole. Lewis would be the twelfth woman executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

This is one of those cases that make it hard upon death penalty opponents. Lewis is clearly guilty. There is absolutely no chance of a mistake so how, ethically, can one argue that she doesn’t deserve to pay with her own life for the life she took?

The answer is that the argument against capital punishment is not based upon specific cases but upon the totality of the institution. I do not deny that some people absolutely deserve to be executed. But I would prefer a thousand murderers that deserve execution end up with life without parole rather than one innocent person die.

Teresa Lewis is not an argument against capital punishment. The very real certainty of errors is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Problem with Obama

President Obama has done some good things, and he’s done some not so good things. I don’t agree with the man on everything, but I’m willing to accept that he might know better than I do if for no other reason than he has better information.

Back in November of 2008 we were all congratulating ourselves on electing a black man to the presidency. The media was already preparing an obituary for racism. Unfortunately the election has had the effect of bringing racism out of the closet and into the main stream once again.

However, instead of the Ku Klux Klan, we have the Tea Party.

Republicans, Conservatives in general and white Evangelical Christians will never forgive Barack for being young, black, progressive and not fundie enough.

I don’t believe he’s a Muslim. My guess is he’s most likely an agnostic or an atheist. Heaven help the country if the wing nuts ever get hold of that one.

So what has this got to do with the problem with him? Absolutely nothing, I just felt I needed to say it. Now, the problem with Obama is, has been, and, unfortunately, probably always will be, that he thinks Americans are smart enough to understand what makes sense and what doesn’t without having to be constantly banged over the head with a two-by-four.

What he needed to do, and didn’t, was wage a constant publicity campaign to keep the American public from being hoodwinked on a regular basis. Actually, let’s be honest, he needed a minister of propaganda. Basically he has been out propagandized and now we’re all probably going to pay for it.

Of course for some Americans, nothing could have helped as they no grip upon reality whatsoever and feeding them facts would just make them hold on tighter to their prejudices.

As far as civilized western populations are concerned, Americans are, on average, the dumbest and the sorriest SOBs I’ve ever had the misfortune to run into. As a result the country has fallen behind western Europe in things that really matter starting with the levels of political freedom, religious freedom and overall tolerance. Other countries have taken our principals and out paced us on them.

The United States has abdicated its position as the flag bearer for Western Democracy. Even Argentina and South Africa extend to gays more rights than we do.

And it’s only going to get worse. The Republican Party has discarded all semblance of decency as long as it thinks it can get people elected. Racists have found an “acceptable” target in Muslims and have discovered they can disguise themselves as Tea Party supporters.

The Republicans no longer even pretend to care about the principles upon which this country was built. Hell, they have the solution; they’ll just change the history books to make it obvious that the rights and liberties in the Constitution only apply to straight white Protestants who dress the right way, think the right way and pray the right way. They won’t be happy until they turn the country into 1950s Mississippi.

I am utterly appalled that the country with the largest thermonuclear arsenal in the world has people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Sharon Angle as prominent political figures.

Pastor John Hagee and his empty headed congregation REALLY scare me.

Then there is Faux News. The fact that they haven’t been laughed out of business yet should give anyone a pretty good idea of how screwed-up we are. How any so-called news organization, that has been caught manipulating the "news" on numerous occasions, can be held is such high regard by a large segment of the population is beyond my comprehension. I believe this demonstrates that Americans are not interested in what is true, only in what they want to be true.

I have two choices. Choice number one is to say to hell with it and head for Denmark or Holland. The problem with that idea is those damned nukes.

My other choice is to fight. The slide into fascism isn’t inevitable. There may well be enough people in this country that, once they realize the implications of the right wing agenda, will stand up and say “hell no.”

There may be. To be honest with you though, I’m not all that optimistic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Education as a Cure for Christianity

The percentage of college graduates from Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

Atheist & Agnostic – 42%
Mainline Protestant – 34%
Mormon – 28%
Catholic – 26%
Evangelical Christians – 20%

Enough said?

It’s hard to swallow stuff like Creationism and Biblical Literacy if you’re intelligent enough to get through college.

Of course Jews boast 59% college graduates. But I’m always hesitant to quote statistics about Jews because of the ethnic and cultural aspects. I know a lot of Jews who look upon their Jewishness as more of a nationality than a religion.

Then one has to consider the age situation. The percentage under 50 years of age from the same survey was:

Atheist & Agnostic – 70%
Mormon – 66%
Catholic – 59%
Evangelical Christians – 56%
Mainline Protestant – 50%

I also always find the gender distribution of some interest. The percentage of males from the same survey was:

Atheist & Agnostic – 66%
Evangelical Christians – 47%
Catholic – 46%
Mainline Protestant – 46%
Mormon – 44%

Then there is the political spectrum distribution. No real surprise there.

Mormon – 60% Conservative, 10% Liberal
Evangelical Christians – 52% Conservative, 11% Liberal
Catholic – 36% Conservative, 18% Liberal
Mainline Protestant – 36% Conservative, 18% Liberal
Atheist & Agnostic – 15% Conservative, 46% Liberal

Of course there is no guarantee that everyone is interpreting Conservative and Liberal in the same way.

As for income level, the percentage making $75,000 a year or greater are:

Atheist & Agnostic – 42%
Mainline Protestant – 36%
Catholic – 33%
Mormon – 32%
Evangelical Christians – 24%

So Atheists & Agnostic tend to be better educated, more affluent, younger, more liberal and more male than Christians. There are no real surprises here. This survey just reinforces what other surveys have said consistently.

Maybe if we started teaching reality earlier we could get high school students to stop relying upon imaginary friends.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Viva Fidel?

It takes an interesting man to accept that either your ideology no longer works or perhaps it never worked to begin with.

Reuters reports that Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic monthly, asked Castro whether the Cuban Model, based upon Soviet style Communism, was still worth exporting to other countries and Castro replied, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

I guess I would have asked at that point whether it ever worked.

According to Goldberg, he was summoned to Cuba by Castro to discuss the possibility of an Israeli-Iran conflict because of Iran’s growing nuclear program.

Goldberg also reports that Castro criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for anti-Semitism and denying the Holocaust as well as his own role in the Cuban missile crisis.

Reuters claims that Castro has become an “anti-nuclear weapon crusader expressing concern about the future of the world.”

I guess at some point in time we all need to get some things off our chest as the lights begin to dim. I’m sure Castro has blood on his hands but what world leader doesn’t? I’m willing to consider what he says as a sort of Statesman Emeritus.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Dennis Prager's Principal Speech

Dennis Prager had an article on his web site about a speech he believes “If every school principal gave this speech at the beginning of the next school year, America would be a better place.”

I doubt it. As a matter of fact one has to wonder what Prager’s idea of a “better place” would be? Sounds to me it’s a place where everyone looks the same, acts the same and thinks the same. You will excuse me but that’s a horrible idea.

Anyway, here’s Prager’s speech, with commentary.
To the students and faculty of our high school:

I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school. I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.

Really? And what evidence do you have to justify this statement? I’m not saying you are wrong, but you are making a totally unsupported assertion. Do you have any evidence to support what you are saying?

First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.

Define “better American.” Who decides who is a “better American?” Do you decide? The segregationist racists in the 1960s, wearing their sheets and hoods, considered themselves “better Americans” than blacks and what they called outside agitators.

If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America, one of its three central values -- e pluribus unum, "from many, one." And this school will be guided by America's values.

You are misinterpreting the meaning of “e pluribus unum.” The motto does not require the homogenization of everyone. It doesn’t require everyone to look the same, act the same and think the same. The motto simply means that while we are different, there are certain fundamental goals, freedom, democracy and equality, which we can all agree upon.

Again you use a term, “American values,” which you do not define. I defined what I consider to be three "American values" above which do not require us to submerge our individuality nor require us to not celebrate our unique heritages. Personally I don’t feel threatened by a Cinco de Mayo or an Eid ul-Fitr celebration.

This includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.

Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more. If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interesting in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.

Who cares? Why do you find this an issue? Do you deny that certain ethnic groups have special problems or interests? What would be wrong with groups that want to explore their unique cultural history? You seem to look upon diversity as a weakness. It’s not. It’s a strength.

Second, I am uninterested in whether English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible. The English language has united America's citizens for over 200 years, and it will unite us at this school. It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country. And if you leave this school without excellent English language skills, I would be remiss in my duty to ensure that you will be prepared to successfully compete in the American job market. We will learn other languages here -- it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English -- but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.

Actually, I happen to agree with this 100%. A proficiency in English, speaking it, reading it and writing it, is an absolute necessity for many reasons.

Third, because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning's elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for Hollywood events than for church or school. These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.

Granted there should be some minimal dress code but it should be precisely that, minimal. Even work dress codes are slowly fading away. Safety and comfort contribute more to creativity and productivity than so-called formal dress. Besides, whose definition of “elevated status” are you using?

Here’s an idea for you. When I was in high school we had a uniform. It was khaki trousers and shirt with shoulder patches, brown belt and tie for lower classmen and blue belt and tie for seniors. Honor students wore pins on their chest over the wings which were the school emblem and seniors wore wings on their collars. The uniform was worn on special occasions such as assemblies, but never less than once a month. This accomplished what I think you’re aiming for here without making it a daily chore which had no meaning whatsoever. It wouldn’t take a “formal uniform,” just special dress code days of some sort.

Fourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school's property -- whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events. If you can't speak without using the f-word, you can't speak. By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission, plus epithets such as "Nigger," even when used by one black student to address another black, or "bitch," even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.

I agree with you here. Obscenities, even when used in a so-called friendly manner, are indications of disrespect and the single most important thing we need to teach students is to respect each other and themselves.

Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way -- the way people attained it until decided otherwise a generation ago -- by earning it. One immediate consequence is that there will be one valedictorian, not eight.

I agree with you here as well. What is important is to appreciate ourselves for what we are and what we can contribute rather than to foster some imaginary inflated illusion that’s going to come crashing down sooner or later.

Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue. There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual or not Christian. We will have failed if any one of you graduates this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately lucky -- to be alive and to be an American.

Then you would be ignoring a critical part of what young adults must understand. Do you deny that smoking is bad for everyone? I smoked for 40 years. Take my word for it that it’s a REALLY bad idea. Global Warming is a scientific reality. By not informing students about it you are doing them a great disservice. Do you deny that racism, sexism, homophobia and religious discrimination exist? If you do, then you are either a fool or a liar.

I agree we all should be thankful that we’re alive and living in the USA. However that doesn’t mean we should be complacent or ignore the fact that many Americans are homeless, go hungry and don’t have access to adequate health care. Until every American has the basic necessities of life, America is still a work in progress. You seem to think it’s a finished product.

I might also point out that much of our affluence is built upon the poverty of others elsewhere in the world. Do you consider fairness an "American value?" If so, isn't this something that should concern us?

Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country. As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.

I can do that but you will excuse me if I exercise my right of free speech and omit the words “under God.” I consider these words to be unconstitutional and I stand by the Constitution. Do you stand by the Constitution?

Quran Burning

Pastor Terry Jones is an idiot. His plan to burn Qurans on 9/11 is the idea of an idiot.

This is NOT free speech. Free speech does not entitle you to engage in speech that risks the safety of others. You cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater and call it free speech.

General Petraeus’ warning that this will give terrorists a propaganda and recruitment boost which will endanger the lives of American soldiers makes it evident that this is a reckless action that will accomplish nothing good.

And before you say it, allow me to point out that this is fundamentally different from the Vietnam and Iraq anti-war protests. Those were a policy disagreement and had as an objective saving lives. If there is any policy issues here its Pastor Jones opposition to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

This is a prime example of fundamentalist Christianity thinking it has special privileges. Pastor Jones has also been denied a permit by the local fire department so I’d arrest the son of a bitch as soon as he tries to burn anything.

I find it amazing that those that wave the flag the most, and pound their chest the hardest about being patriotic Americans, are the one who understand the principles upon which this country has been built the least.

These are the psychological descendents of the people that waved confederate flags and chanted segregationist slogans in the 1960s. They’re the ones always telling everyone else “if you don’t like this country then leave.”

Allow me to suggest that Pastor Jones and his congregation should find themselves another country to be a part of because they sure as hell don’t belong here. I’ve been fighting these right wing morons for 45 years and I’m not about to stop now.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Slow August?

Was it a slow August? I don’t know, perhaps, perhaps not. I suspect the low number of posts has more to do with my growing pessimism on the state of affairs and potential survival of civilization.

I’m seriously concerned that my generation will be the last to live out their lives in relative peace and prosperity.

At the root of it all is ignorance. I never cease to be amazed at the number of people that are so certain about the solution when they don’t even have an understanding of the problem.

The first rule is to realize that if the problems facing the nation weren’t so complicated, they would have been solved already. So what do I see as the major problems?

Problem #1 – Income Inequity

To my mind the Income Inequity that has developed over the past 30 years is at the root of the current economic weakness. After consuming based upon credit, the American economy has finally gotten to the point where we can no longer afford to deny the endemic weaknesses that have been created over the past three decades.

I’m not about to pontificate a solution because the causes aren’t all that clear, but the first problem is to get this recognized as an issue. Increasing the real buying power of the working and middle classes would strengthen the foundation of the economy and feed needed funds into local small businesses and industries.

Notice that I said “real buying power.” What I mean by this is buying power based upon increasing the income available to be spent and not a buying power based upon credit. Substituting credit based buying power for income based buying power is one of the reasons we’re in the economic mess we’re currently in.

Problem #2 – The National Debt

This is closely related to the first problem. Things simply cannot continue the way they are. The budget deficit has to be addressed by resolving the raising health care costs and then the deficit needs to be brought down to a more manageable level. I am absolutely NOT in favor of a balanced budget amendment. There are times when deficit spending is necessary.

I suspect that the solution to this issue lies in tax code reform. I think, I’m not certain, but I think, we should be taxing consumption more than income. Income taxes should perhaps be restricted to the higher income brackets and a progressive consumption tax, where the tax rate increases with the expense of the item should be instituted.

A sweeping tax code reform would also help to address the first problem.

Problem #3 – Immigration Reform

For both economic and security reasons we need to get control of our borders. I’m not in favor of kicking out all of the hard working illegal immigrants nor am I in favor of a blanket amnesty.

I think a set of qualifications should be established for gaining resident status. These would include no criminal record, gainful employment, a permanent residence, English proficiency and a limited time frame to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Problem #4 – Education Reform

There is something fundamentally wrong with our educational infrastructure when so many people are so ignorant about so many things.

You should NOT be allowed to vote without demonstrating a reasonable level of general knowledge. I would have a mandatory High School course called “Stuff You Really Need to Know” and not give anyone a diploma or voting rights that didn’t pass a final standardized test.

I suspect part of the problem is the “one size fits all mentality” of our educational system. Let me tell you a secret. Not everyone is intellectually and physically equal nor is there anything wrong with that. We need to get back to High School graduates being armed with the knowledge and training they need to make a decent living without the necessity of getting an undergraduate degree.

If college is your thing, great, if it’s not, also great. There’s nothing wrong with a good technical or administrative education. The Liberal Arts aren’t for everyone.

Problem #5 – Social Values

We spend far too much time and energy sticking our noses into other peoples business and trying to restrict the rights of people we happen to not like. It’s a waste of time and energy.

Abortion is a medical issue and is no one’s business other than the people directly involved. Gays are citizens of the United States and entitled to equal rights and that includes the right to marry.

If you believe abortion is murder, don’t get an abortion. If you believe homosexuality is immoral, don’t participate in homosexual acts. Why do people have this need to enforce their opinion on everyone else? Where I come from “keep your nose out of other people’s business” was a survival imperative and that’s the way it should be.

Ok, so much for venting. It’s not going to accomplish anything but its fun.