Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama’s Libya Speech

Wow, I felt like I was getting scolded.

The President took the high road last night and threw around a lot of glittering generalities about freedom, support of the international community, the self determination of the Libyan people and how the U.S. involvement would be a limited one.

If we were addressing all of the serious issues facing this country, perhaps not solved them yet but at least seriously addressing them, it would easily have satisfied me. But, I am getting very frustrated at what I see as the total lack of action in areas like the deficit and the national debt.

While I don’t begrudge the Libyans help, I would like to see some action to clean up our own house. I’m not pitching isolationism but simple common sense. We’re not going to be of any help to anyone if our economy collapses under this escalating debt. Enough is enough already.

I honestly do not believe that Obama understands the issue and that is a terrible disappointment.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day of Silence 2011

The Day of Silence, the GLSEN yearly student protest against LGBT discrimination, is Friday April 15th this year. The opposing Day of Truth, started by the ADF in 2005, and run unspectacularly last year by Exodus International (the homosexual cure app people), appears to have died a quiet unlamented death and then was resurrected by Focus on the Family as The Day of Dialogue. It will be April 18th.

A different name but the same concept that homosexuality is a choice that Jesus and Christianity can help you overcome.

Now, in my last conversation about this a Christian claimed that this was a question of Free Will. If one had Free Will, they could choose not to be homosexual in the same way that they could choose not to steal or murder.

Well, that sort of depends upon what you mean by “not be homosexual.”

If you mean refrain from participating in homosexual acts, then yes, that is apparently a Free Will choice and even the American Psychology Association (APA) agrees that homosexuality can be suppressed.

But why should someone choose to suppress it?

If it’s part of who you are and not simply what you choose to do, and it doesn’t harm anyone else, then why should someone suppress his or her sexual inclinations?

It all comes back to the question of morality. Civilized human beings have developed a code of things that are considered immoral. It’s not a static definition either. It changes with time.
Just about any sane person would agree that, without some form of justification, killing, theft and lying are bad. Most people would also agree that slavery, racial discrimination and racial segregation are also bad but, within my lifetime, there were millions of people that argued that racial segregation was not only not a bad thing, but the moral thing.

The line moves over time. Not that long ago interracial marriage was illegal in many states and gay marriage was illegal everywhere. Now interracial marriage is legal in all states and gay marriage is legal in a few states.

Free Will allows you to choose what you do but not who you are. One cannot choose to be tall, green-eyed, handsome or intelligent. You’re sort of stuck with the genetic cards you’re dealt.

My father was left handed and he told me that when he went to school the teachers tried to get him to favor his right hand for things like writing because that was the “right way” to do it. That sounds ridiculous today doesn’t it? I imagine in the future things like The Day of Dialogue will sound just as ridiculous.

Illinois Abolishes Death Penalty

The moratorium of the last 12 years has now been transformed into an abolition of the Death Penalty in the state of Illinois.

There had been 12 executions in the state since the Death Penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. Governor George Ryan suspended executions in 2000 after of number of death row inmates were found to have been mistakenly convicted and, three years later, commuted the sentences of the 167 death row residence to life without parole.

Illinois becomes the 16th State to abolish the Death Penalty.

In the rest of the country there have been 9 executions so far in 2011. There have been 1243 executions since 1976; 1022 have been in the South, 147 in the Midwest, 70 in the West and 4 in the Northeast.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In God We Trust

The House of Representatives is considering House Concurrent Resolution 13 which states that, the Senate concurring, “Congress reaffirms ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supports and encourages the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.”

The resolution provides a fairly long list of “whereas” justifications, most of which are simply fact and others, perhaps, one could argue with.

You’d think we weren’t $14 trillion (yes that’s trillion with a “T”) in debt that the House has time to worry about this kind of stuff.

Considering that the courts have already decided that “In God We Trust” is not unconstitutional, I have to wonder about the point of this resolution.

I disagree with that decision.

As I’ve said before, I think this is a case where one has to consider intent, and in this case the clear intent is for “God” to refer to the Christian God and the Christian God alone. Therefore the reference is inexorably entangled with the Christian Religion and is therefore unconstitutional.

The fact that I might be right is, of course, irrelevant. The chances of every court, up to and including the Supreme Court, acknowledging that are somewhere between zero and nonexistent.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why “In God We Trust” is constitutional other than what amounts to a historical precedence argument. If historical precedence arguments were valid, then blacks would still be segregated and women wouldn’t be able to vote.

The Cure Homosexuality App

Exodus International, a ministry that specializes in “curing” gays, released an iPhone application that was dubbed a “useful resource.” Exactly what it was supposed to be useful for is a bit unclear but lots of folks immediately figured out it must be for “curing” homosexuality.

Actually it looked more to me like a list of events and seminars about “curing” homosexuality.

Then Apple put its foot in it by rating the APP as having “no objectionable material.”

Needless to say the whole thing set off a firestorm of protest. Actually, it set off two firestorms. The first was by those outraged by the App and the second by those outraged by what they called a double standard. The attempt to censor Exodus International’s free speech.

So what’s the deal here?

Here’s the problem. In 2009 the American Psychological Association (APA) officially issued a statement opposing what is known as Reparative Therapy, therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation because it concluded that there was insufficient evidence that it worked.

The APA also expressed concern that “the hope of sexual orientation change followed by the failure of the treatment was identified as a significant cause of distress and negative self-image.”

In other words, there is no evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Telling someone they can change inevitably leads to a failed attempt which leads to distress and a negative self-image. Both of which can be precursors to a suicide attempt.

Now, the people most at risk are younger people still struggling with their sexual orientation. The precise group aimed at by the Exodus International App.

So, the bottom line is, the App could, in extreme cases, harm someone that took its message to heart and then failed trying to follow that message.

Is this WHY people protested? I don’t know. I’m not those people. But it’s why, after initially being somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing, I finally came down on the side of maybe this App isn’t such a good idea.

Under the mounting pressure Apple has removed the App from its stores which was probably the right thing to do.

As to all those Right Wingers screaming about double standards and Freedom of Speech, allow me to suggest that, just for a change, you consider the potential impact on people that are very different from yourselves.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Filming of The Hobbit finally begins

The often delayed prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, has started filming in New Zealand. I have to admit though I’m a bit confused about the inclusion of Cate Blanchett as Galadrial, Elijah Wood as Frodo and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown as none of these characters appear in The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit Tolkien’s world is much less developed. Elrond’s Rivendell and the Kingdom of the Dwarves are the major overlaps. Even The Shire is not terribly developed. I don’t even think it’s called The Shire.

Then again, nobody ever accused Peter Jackson of staying with the original material so who the hell knows what we’ll get.

Martin Freeman gets the title role as Bilbo Baggins which sounds like a fine choice to me. I wonder if they will have all 13 dwarves or cut the list down? So far I’ve only heard about Balin and Nori and Kili. I also saw a reference to Thror and Thrain which means there will be flashbacks in the movie. Perhaps that’s where Galadrial comes in as well.

How close Jackson stays to The Hobbit should give us plenty to argue about in December of 2012 and 2013 when the movies are expected to be released. This is assuming of course that the country doesn’t descend into civil war before then and I haven’t kicked the bucket yet.

More Attacks on Libya

There are reports this morning that US, French and British aircraft destroyed tank columns headed toward rebel positions.

So I can only assume that the western governments have decided that whatever type of government the rebellion ushers in will be better than Gadhafi. I'd be curious to know how they came to that conclusion.

This strikes me as a "rush to action" with little or no justification. I'm not saying it's the wrong thing to do but I'd like to understand a little better why it was determined that it was the right thing to do.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Assault on Libya

U.S. and European Naval forces have begun attacking Libyan defensive positions along the Mediterranean coast. U.S. Destroyers and a British submarine have firing cruise missiles to take out the defense installations.

The military action is supposedly to enforce the U.N. no fly zone and to prevent Gadhafi from continuing to attack the Libyan rebels.

I have two questions about all this. First, how is this not interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation? I guess quaint things like that got buried sometime during the last century.

My second question is will the U.N. compensate us for the 112 cruise missiles fired? A Tomahawk costs about $1.2 million and we fired 112 of them. That's $134 million just for the goddamned missiles and that's not to mention the cost of deploying the destroyers.

You'd think we weren't $14 trillion is debt wouldn't you?

Why does everyone have to always start shooting? WTF?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marriage Equality Fails in Maryland

The bill to legalize Gay Marriage in Maryland has been sent back to committee where it will most likely die a quiet death.

A black bishop, Harry Jackson by name, is saying that credit for the defeat of the bill resides with the black churches of Maryland which had warned African American legislators that there would be price to pay if they supported the legislation.

So again we see blacks standing firm against Gay Marriage.

And why is that?

It’s a question that Gay Marriage supporters really need to grapple with. The black community has consistently opposed Gay Marriage by a wide margin.

Some of that, I would guess, is driven by a conservative Christian outlook and some of it out of pure ignorance. No one has ever accused the black community of being the sharpest tools in the shed.

Back in the day when blacks were fighting for their rights, the unions forgot for a while what it was like to be on the outside looking in and now blacks appear to have forgotten what it’s like to have to fight for simple equality under the law.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the same people who are spearheading the fight against gays are the spiritual descendants of those that spearheaded the fight against integration and, if given the chance, would like nothing better than the return of Jim Crow.

You think I’m exaggerating? The Zeitgeist never stands still. Either it moves forward or it moves back. If they can restrict the rights of gays today, they can restrict your rights tomorrow. You are being used by those who will have no use for you after your usefulness is over.

Dear Bishop Harry, when them good old boys come looking for your black ass with a rope, don’t come running to me for help. I fought that battle once, and if you’re going to voluntarily give up what was won, then you’re just flat out of luck the next time around.

Japan

All I can say is ouch.

An 8.9 earthquake and a massive tidal wave has completely devastated the northeast coast of the country. The official death toll is at 2,800 but the fear is that it’s going to go higher, much higher.

Then there’s the nuclear power plant in Fukushima that is threatening a meltdown. There have already been several explosions and the U.S. has repositioned the U.S.S Ronald Reagan for fear of radioactive contamination. Supposedly an exposure of the fuel rods has already occurred although, supposedly, the radiation levels are still within acceptable levels. I having a bit of trouble understanding exactly how that could be the case when helicopter crews from the Reagan had to be decontaminated.

I sent $200 to the Red Cross which is like completely inadequate. I’ll probably send more later in the week. There’s not much else I can do. What an absolute mess.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Welcome to the Republican Party

There are a number of jokes going around that end “Welcome to the Republican Party” and, I have to admit, they are pretty good pieces of propaganda.

All are related to the idea that someone is getting something for nothing at the expense of hard working Americans and if you’re opposed to this gross injustice, then the Republican Party is for you.

The latest one I heard had the young daughter of a Liberal couple explaining to her Republican neighbors how when she grew up she was going to make sure that the unemployed and homeless had enough to eat and a place to live. The neighbor said to her she didn’t have to wait; she could come over to her house, do some chores and the neighbor would pay her. Then she could take what she earned and use it to help the unemployed and homeless.

After thinking about it for a while, the child asked why the unemployed and homeless didn’t just come and do the chores themselves. The punch line then followed, “Welcome to the Republican Party.”

So being a Republican means giving up your job so an unemployed or homeless person can have it?

Because that’s what’s happening in the story. You will excuse me, but I suspect it will be a cold day in hell before anyone, Republican, Democrat or Independent does that.

Nor is anyone proposing that; nor is anyone proposing that the unemployed or homeless be maintained at anything approaching the economic level of even the lowest level worker. The much repeated story of people living high off the hog on welfare is a myth. Tell you what, if you think they're doing so well, how about you change places with them?

What we’re really talking about is a small percentage of income for the general good and this includes caring for those that have fallen on difficult times. Clearly there is much to discuss here about how small a percentage and how much caring is necessary. Personally I like “as little as possible” and “just the basic necessities” as answers to those questions.

But I suppose the real moral of the story could be something like why don’t those lazy bums earn their own living?

Well, the truth is that the overwhelming majority would be quite happy to earn their own living. Are there some people jobbing the system? Absolutely. My mother-in-law used to work for the welfare department and had stories that would make you grit your teeth. My favorite (or perhaps “favorite” isn’t exactly the right word) was the one about the women who arrived, in a taxi cab, to establish her daughters own welfare account on the daughters 18th birthday. There is clearly a chronic welfare society in our culture that needs to be addressed. The anecdotes are depressing, but the reality is that the dollars involved are fairly small.

The overwhelming majority of people getting financial assistance are not chronic welfare recipients. There are some of those, but there are also the temporarily unemployed and those with ongoing unemployment issues.

There are a number of reasons why an unemployed person might not be unable to get a job. The most obvious reason would be there aren’t any available. The same Republican politicians that tell you to moan about contributing to unemployment and welfare appear to be ok with corporate America outsourcing millions of manufacturing jobs overseas in order to make more money for the wealthiest segment of society.

They want you focused so much on the nickels and dimes taken from your paycheck to help the less fortunate that you overlook the $5 bills and $10 bills that never make it into your paycheck. Why don’t they make into my paycheck you ask? They don’t make it in due to the unfair share of American income diverted to the already rich in order to make them richer.

While the real income (in other words adjusted for inflation) of the bottom 80% of American wage earners has increased by 19% over the past 30 years, the real income of the top 20% has increased by 88%, the top 5% by 245% and the top 1% by a whopping 345%.

Please explain to me how this is right, fair or even rational?

In contrast, in the 30 years prior to that, the real income that marked the top of the lowest income quintile rose by 99.5%, the 2nd quintile by 95.4%, the 3rd quintile by 107.9% and the 4th quintile by 109.9%. At the tippy top of the income scale, the minimum income to be in the top 5% rose by 103.4%.

No wonder so many people remember those as the good old days of economic prosperity. It wasn’t so much that there was more prosperity, the prosperity was simply shared more evenly.

A second reason the unemployed might not be able to get a job might be the jobs are simply not where the unemployed are. If you live in Nevada or Florida, a job in Nebraska doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. If you live in Buffalo or Syracuse, a job in New York City may not do you much good either.

But the third, and most troubling reason, is that you just may not be qualified for that job.

The minimum educational requirements for well paying jobs in the U.S. has steadily risen over the past 20 or 30 years. Some of that rise is real, and some of it is illusionary; a matter of employers wanting employees to be better educated whether it’s necessary or not. Yes there are still jobs where you can make a decent salary without a college degree, but they are getting fewer and fewer.

This all goes along with the manufacturing jobs being outsourced. You could do a fine job on the assembly line with a High School diploma. Dedication and a willingness to work hard for an honest day’s pay meant more than being computer literate, knowing how to calculate sales margins or being able to do calculus.

Those days may well be gone. Even if a college degree might be unnecessary, a technical degree or specialized training might be. Retraining is often the key to helping people get back into the work force. So part of that welfare you’re complaining about goes for retraining and isn’t simply doled out as cash.

Now, in fairness, let’s address the strongest argument against welfare and unemployment compensation.

One can argue hey, wait a minute, why isn’t the contribution to the general good voluntary? What gives the government the right to decide who deserves my charity? The choice should be mine and not some politician’s.

This is a fair observation and, in a perfect world, or even a significantly less complex world, this would be the best solution. But things are just too complicated these days for private charity decisions to work well. The first problem would be that funds would tend to be readily available in prosperous areas and scarce in areas with severe economic problems. Unfortunately, as inefficient as it often is, government is probably the best suited for addressing the issue on the local, state and federal levels.

So while the jokes are clever, a little objective analysis shows them to be what they are, well designed, but very inaccurate, propaganda, intended to leave you with a totally misleading set of impressions.

Wisconsin Anti-union Bill

Well, the Republicans figured out a way around the requirement for 20 Senators; they simply pulled the key provisions eliminating collective bargaining for municipal unions out of the revenue bill and made it a separate non-revenue based measure.

I’m not going to criticize them for the end-run. It’s the same sort of trick the Democrats pulled in Congress on Health Care Reform to get around the Republican filibuster. It just goes to show how difficult it is to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

I am going to criticize them for taking away what has been a basic right in American society for most of this century, a right that has been paid for in blood by past union members, the right to collectively bargain.

For those that are condemning the municipal workers for having pensions and other benefits which are too lucrative, allow me to remind you that these things were accepted for years in lieu of pay raises. For decades this kept municipal workers behind private sector employees in salaries. I don’t remember anyone in the private sector complaining when they were making more money than municipal employees.

Now, thanks to big business outsourcing all of those lucrative manufacturing jobs, what the municipal unions “settled for” in the past has suddenly become something they don’t deserve.

New realities are new realities, and everyone has to work within the new rules going forward and the unions were clearly ready to do that. Stripping them of the primary benefit of a union, the ability to collectively bargain, however strikes me as more aimed at union busting that resolving a budget crisis.

I’d like to think the Republican Party will pay dearly for this, but they won’t. They’ll find someone to pin the blame on for something and distract the electorate again. Someone else taking nickels and dimes out of the electorate’s tax dollars while the Republicans divert $5 and $10, which never make it into the electorate’s paychecks to begin with, to the already wealthy.

Let’s face it, the American electorate is just too stupid to realize that big business, and its partner the Republican Party, have just robbed them blind again.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Atheists Don’t Exist

One of the more delusional positions I’ve encountered taken by theists is that atheists don’t actually exist. There are two approaches to this position. The first is based upon some sort of “logical” argument (I place “logical” in quotes because, as usual, the theist is being anything but) and a second based upon biblical authority which I’m going to ignore for the moment.

I found a typical essay espousing this position by a gentleman using the name of Dante Tremayne. Below are excerpts, with commentary.

“I do not believe in the existence of atheists. “

You’re off to a really bad start. What you believe, or do not believe, is irrelevant. Reality has a way of persisting in spite of our “beliefs.”

“By ‘atheist’ I am referring to the ideal person who does not believe in the existence of God, not the person who labels themselves as an atheist.”

What the hell is the difference? Usually one arrives at a conclusion first and then accepts the label. Ah, but I suppose we must await further elucidation which is, I presume, yet to come.

“All people who label themselves as ‘atheist’ are not, by definition, atheists, because they all believe in the existence of God.”

I see. So should I presume that any self-label implies the opposite of the label? So are theists then non-theists, stamp collectors then non-stamp collectors and chess aficionados then non-chess aficionados.? Ah, but again, perhaps we just need to be patient and an explanation of this quixotic statement may yet be forthcoming.

“I know they believe in the existence of God by their irrational behavior. I am not referring to the inconsistency of their lives with their claims. For instance, the nonbeliever (I believe I will refer to our “atheist” friends by that term for the duration of this article) necessarily holds the belief that we are the result of time plus matter plus chance, merely evolving accidents, the product of random collisions of matter.”

Well, I have to admit that this is a rather unique description of Cosmology, Abiogenesis and what I suppose is Evolution. Let’s see, where does one start with this one. While chance plays a part, there is nothing random about Organic Chemistry or Natural Selection. Both follow well defined sets of rules and can be relatively easily modeled with mathematics. Is it possible some super intelligent deity designed and enforces those rules? Sure it’s possible, it just doesn’t seem all that likely.

“Yet they wish to believe that these accidental collisions produce truth, fact, and a coherent understanding of the universe.”

No, but the Big Bang, the formation of the stars and planets and the emergence of life and its evolution on planet Earth has left hints and evidence which can be studied and analyzed by a logical mind following the rules of scientific investigation. After several hundred years of doing this we have a vague sort of understanding of the way things might work. If you think it is totally coherent you’ve missed out on the lack of a unified theory and haven’t delved much into Quantum Mechanics. What we have is a series of as yet unconnected areas of fairly well substantiated conclusions separated by complex questions and gaps in our knowledge. It’s unclear to me why the fact that we are steadily expanding our knowledge and understanding is always a source of abject fear for the theist. Perhaps because the more we learn, the less need we have of the god hypothesis.

“The irrational behavior I am referring to is the nonbeliever’s inability to admit when they have been defeated.”

What’s this? Am I to understand that someone has actually come up with adequate evidence for the existence of god? Stop the presses! Warn the television and radio outlets! Huh, what’s that? No, nothing new has in fact been put forward beyond the same old teleological, ontological and cosmological arguments that have failed to impress skeptics for hundreds of years? Then allow me to suggest that so-called “defeat” exists only in your own mind. It's just another delusion.

“Instead, he retreats to his study to continue his search for one — just one — argument or proof that God does not exist. And he will repeat this over and over.”

Err, no, you have it backwards. The atheist has no burden of proof as he makes no positive claim. Disbelief is the null hypothesis; the default position. If you claim that a god exists, that is a positive statement and the burden of proof is upon you. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, then you don’t understand what an atheist is. Perhaps that’s why you, mistakenly, don’t believe they exist.

“If God were just some unicorn theory that had no real affect on a person’s life, as some nonbelievers claim, then why don’t they treat it as such? Why don’t they just shrug and go on?”

God, as he doesn't exist, may have no effect upon a person’s life but, unfortunately, his followers do. Personally I would love to simply “shrug and go on.” The problem is Muslims hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings and their Christian counterparts push their special brand of delusion into the public square every chance they get. As Chris Hitchens says, religion poisons everything. Left to their own devices Christians would have Christian prayers in the public schools, the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and Creationism taught in lieu of the science of Evolution. I don’t really care if they want to wallow in their delusions and ignorance in the privacy of their own home or church but, when they infringe upon me and mine with their lunacy then I cannot “just shrug and go on;” I have to waste some of my precious existence defending my right to be free from their delusion.

“Here is how this works, and how I know I’m right. When the believer is discussing the existence of God with a nonbeliever, ask them why they don’t like God. Every one of them will present a list.”

Whoa, hold up a second there Tonto. That list relates to the believer’s CONCEPT of god and not to god as a real entity. Concepts can exist in and of themselves. I can acknowledge the “concept” of a unicorn and the “concept” of a leprechaun without accepting that these things exist. Similarly I can recognize the existence of the “concept” of a god, such as the Christian god, without having to accept his (her? Its?) existence. The point is that it is unclear to us why you would even desire such a god to exist. Luckily, he doesn’t.

“There are no atheists. If you were to find one real atheist, as G.K. Chesterton says, you will have found a madman.”

Nope. Sorry, but you’re wrong again. I’m a true atheist and I’m about as sane as anyone can be in this insane world. Actually, I wish I was insane, then perhaps the world might actually be sane and I could sleep much better at night.

To be honest the position is so ludicrous that the only way you can respond is to laugh at it. I suspect that it is rooted in the deep fear of the theist that his god may in fact not exist.

Those that espouse the biblical argument are usually very conservative fundamentalist Christians that claim the bible is inerrant and for them the stakes are even higher. The biblical argument is based upon Romans 1:20 where Paul makes the argument that god’s “eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.”

So clearly that everyone, by definition, knows he exists. Now Paul wasn’t talking about atheists, but about pagans for he goes on to say they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

But I suppose one could argue that an atheist is a special kind of pagan.

Now I say the stakes are higher because accepting that Paul is WRONG means the bible isn’t inerrant and the entire foundation of their religion collapses.

In the final analysis however both arguments rest upon the theist not understanding what an atheist believes and the long road most of us have taken to get where we are. I’ve encountered many theists that have never really thought about their beliefs. They just sort of accepted what they were taught and never saw any particular need to question things.

I’ve met very few atheists that haven’t spent a considerable amount of time thinking things through and the more religious their upbringing, the more thinking they’ve done. This is not an area that theists untrained in the realm of Apologetics should venture into. I saw many well meaning people walk into buzz saws on the now defunct General Apologetics Forum. A forum disbanded by Christian Forums because it became a deconversion pit.

So much for Christianity’s obvious truths.

The Question of Abortion

I have made it no secret that I have been struggling with doubt in relation to the question of abortion. I have now resolved that doubt.

Allow me to make a definitive statement, the only good number for the number of abortions per year is ZERO. Unfortunately, there are instances where an abortion may be justified or necessary.

Don’t ask me to articulate what those instances are. I freely admit that I’m not smart enough to identify them and, I’m a hell of a lot smarter than 98.3% of politicians, so they aren’t smart enough to identify them either.

So who can identify them? Only the people involved on a case by case basis. I don’t trust generalities here at all. It is no one else’s business so I cannot, under any circumstances, support any arbitrary restrictions upon abortion access regardless of how reasonable they might sound. Nor can I support measures designed to intimidate someone from making one decision or the other such as forcing pregnant women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion performed.

So what about the “abortion is murder business?”

Well, by definition abortion is not murder because murder is illicit killing and abortion is not illegal.

What about the sixth commandment which says “Thou shalt not kill?”

Well, actually the sixth commandment doesn’t say that. The King James Version has the wrong translation and this has been corrected in the New King James Version to “You shall not murder.”

The updated translation is actually correct. “Kill” applies to all killing regardless of whether it is legal, illegal, justified or unjustified. You can “kill” in self defense. You cannot “murder” in self defense because “murder,” by definition, applies only to illegal and unjustified killing. The Hebrew word equivalent to the English “kill” is “harag.” The word used in Exodus 20:13 is “ratsah,” which refers to criminal acts of killing and is properly rendered “murder” in English.

So, guess what, the bible doesn’t actually condemn “killing,” but only “criminal killing” or murder.

Please don’t tell me I’m picking nits here. This is a lot more than a nit.

The other biblical passage said to be related to abortion, and often quoted by anti-abortion folks, is Exodus 21:22-25 which states:

“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. “

The problem with using this as a prohibition for abortion is that the woman involved did not determine that the abortion was justified or necessary. In fact, the choice has been removed from her by an act of violence. It’s not nearly the same thing.

Abortions have been practiced for thousands of years and for various reasons. It’s hard to believe that midwives in Judea 3,000 years ago weren’t armed with the same herbal remedies for an unwanted pregnancy as their Ancient Greek counterparts.

I’m not defending abortion in general. I am saying that I understand that sometimes it may be justified, and the only person that can decide if it is justified, is the woman involved. I am also saying that who she consults with before reaching a conclusion, is also her decision so I also must reject attempts to play upon her emotions as a type of intimidation.

How do you insure that she understands the implications of her decision? Unfortunately, I don’t believe you can. Like war, this is something that cannot be completely understood without experiencing it.

So, I guess I’ve sort of come full circle back to where I was to begin with. Except, perhaps, now I better understand why I’m there.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

There are Nuts Under Every Tree

Democrats in Pima County Arizona are mumbling about making a new state because they’re upset with the “extremist policies” of the state legislature.

The new state would be called Baja Arizona.

There is only one small problem with this idea (actually there are several but I’ll focus on one). The small problem is Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution which reads:

“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

I find it hard to believe that the "extremist" legislature of Arizona would approve the seperation and neither would a Republican Congress.

West Virginia was formed out of a section of Virginia but only because Virginia, as part of the Confederacy, was in rebellion at that time.

Guys, at least READ the document you are sworn to preserve and protect.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Deal with DOMA

Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage, for federal law, as between one man and one woman regardless of what the states say. In other words, two males may be married according to the state of Iowa or Massachusetts or Vermont but, as far as the federal government is concerned, they’re not married.

The distinction is vitally important for things like federal income taxes and Social Security and this is the sole exception to the rule that the states determine who is married.

There are several cases working their way through the courts challenging the constitutionality of the law. It has already been declared unconstitutional in a federal court in Massachusetts.

In the latest development, Attorney General Eric Holder has sent notification to the U.S. Congress that the Obama Administration believes that any law affecting lesbians and gay men deserves “heightened scrutiny” by the courts, that section 3 of DOMA is discriminatory and the Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot, and will not, defend it in court.

Now, this has nothing to do with not enforcing DOMA as some fundies out there appear to think it does. The administration must, and will, enforce all laws. Only the courts can overturn a law and only Congress can repeal one.

What it does mean is that (1) the DOJ will not defend DOMA in the case in the 2nd circuit nor in the current California case. It has already defended it in the 1st circuit but, should the ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional be upheld there, the administration will not appeal.

Congress can decide to assign its own special counsel or a private group can petition to defend DOMA as was done for Proposition 8 in California when both the governor and attorney general refused to defend it.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has indicated that congress will appoint a special counsel. So you see, the Republicans have no problem spending money on some things. Actually, given the rapid anti-gay marriage position of a good portion of the Republican under 80 IQ trailer park base, I don’t see how they could possibly do anything else. Still, it should be very entertaining to hear how congressmen that declare the federal government can’t regulate health care explain how it can regulate marriage.

But make no mistake, this is a BIG deal. Why? Because the courts tend to listen to the Justice Department and should the courts choose to use “heightened scrutiny” on cases involving homosexuals, defending legal differences between gays and straights becomes much more difficult as the burden of proof becomes greater.

Of course Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) which is fiercely anti-gay marriage and is currently defending Prop 8 in California, is touting the DOMA announcement as the death knell for both Obama and Gay Marriage. I doubt it. The issue is still a legal one and the American electorate probably isn’t going to equate the administration announcement as having anything to do with the upcoming legal decisions.

As to her assessment that this will help win the legal case for DOMA, I don’t see it. The courts are becoming more and more hostile to homosexual discrimination as are the legislatures. It’s only the general electorate that hasn’t caught up. And they haven’t caught up primarily because of the kind of unsubstantiated swill peddled by organizations like NOM. Judges aren’t swayed by fear mongering and that’s about all the anti-gay marriage forces have left. It’s only a matter of time before the electorate realizes there must be a good reason for all those legal decisions in favor of gay marriage.

In the gay marriage fight victory is assured. The only questions are how long will it take, and what will be the cost. I look forward to seeing Gallagher and the rest of NOM boiled in their own bullshit. We’re not quite there yet, but the days of the long march appear to be over and the time for a new offensive appears to have come.

This just in...

After getting fed up with what it considered Westboro's publicity seeking accusations, Anonymous has brought down the church's web site just seconds after, in a video exchange, being told it couldn't manage it.

“The world (including Anonymous) disagrees with your hateful messages, but you have the right to voice them. This does not mean you can jump onto Anonymous for attention."

This is vigilante justice but, you know what, it feels right.

SCOTUS Rules for Westboro Baptist Church

The United States Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, decided that “Reverend” Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing of soldier’s funerals carrying signs such as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” was protected speech under the 1st Amendment.

Judge Samuel Alito dissented.

This is one of those rulings that makes you grind your teeth. Albert Snyder, the father of Matthew Snyder who died in Iraq, sued the church for “emotional distress” after it picketed his son’s funeral and posted a poem on its web site attacked how Matthew’s parents had raised their son.

Snyder originally won an $11 million judgment against the church, which was later reduced to $5 million, but the decision was overturned by a Federal Court in Virginia which also assessed Snyder $16,000 in legal fees which he refused to pay until the Supreme Court had ruled on the case.

The legal fees are almost a moot point because Bill O’Reilly has said that he’s going to pay them if Snyder loses. This is probably the first thing O’Reilly and I ever agreed upon.

I understand the theory that if everyone’s speech isn’t protected then no one’s speech is protected and the idea of supporting the right of people to say things you don’t like, but there are limits. As I said the last time, the issue wasn’t WHAT Phelps was saying but WHERE he was saying it.

Veteran’s Groups, forty-eight states and 42 U.S. Senators supported Snyder claiming that what the Westboro Church was doing amounted to “psychological terrorism” but it didn’t do any good.

The conclusion in the decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts was as follows:

“Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. It did not disrupt Mathew Snyder’s funeral, and its choice to picket at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech. Because this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled, Westboro must be shielded from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”

Judge Alito in his dissent said:

“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.

Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right…The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.”

I cannot agree either. Remember the old saying, your rights end where my rights begin. The court got this one wrong.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Conservatives with their heads where the sun don’t shine

So what else is new?

The latest conservative absurdity is playing itself out in Tennessee where a state legislator from Murfreesboro has introduced legislation that would make following some portions of the Islamic Shariah law a felony.

The bill was provided by the Eagle Forum and, apparently, was drafted by an Arizona lawyer by the name of David Yerushalmi. This dodo represented “Stop the Madrassa” in NYC a while back in the witch hunt over the assignment of Arab American Debbie Almontaser as principal of a dual language Arabic-English elementary school. In that case, despite repeated assurances that it was a public school with no intention of teaching Islam, the group managed to get Almontaser replaced but did not stop the school from being opened anyway.

Of course the result, despite all the hysteria, was a perfectly benign public school that was part of a larger dual language school program in the city.

This time around, according to Yerushalmi, "The legislation simply states that Shariah that follows the law of jihad, which calls for the violent overthrow of the Tennessee and U.S. government, is the Shariah that is at issue.”

And you’re a lawyer? Here’s a news flash for you sport, it’s already illegal to advocate the violent overthrow of a state or the U.S. government. That would make your legislation redundant if that’s all it covers.

There are two things I’ve found conservatives good at, lying and coming up with really stupid ideas based upon complete misconceptions. This looks to me like a little engaging in the former in order to cover the extent of the latter.

The First Amendment Center has called the bill a "really distorted understanding of Shariah law."

Again, I have to ask, so what else is new? Conservatives are famous for making decisions and coming up with policies based upon really distorted understandings. Would you like a few examples? Let’s try Slavery, Segregation, Gay Marriage, Evolution, Health Care Reform, Fiscal Policy, War and Peace, Economics and so on and so forth.

The world would be a dramatically different place if they would take their heads out from their rear ends and look up THE FACTS before forming their opinions. Of course that would require reading and thinking, neither of which are skills conservatives are very good at.

Let’s talk Libya

Mommar Gadhafi has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to be the latest domino in the Arab World. The protests in Libya have quickly become violent as forces loyal to Gadhafi appear trying to quell the latest unrest.

At least one Libyan city, Zawiya, has been taken by the rebels and an assault to retake the city appears to have failed. There are reports that elements of the army have joined the gathering rebellion. At least two Libyan pilots are reported to have fled to Malta rather than bomb their own countrymen.

In the meantime the U.N. is levying sanctions and American and European Union military forces appear to be moseying into the area just in case.

I don’t know where this one is headed but it doesn’t look encouraging.

In the tiny country of Bahrain the government appears ready to negotiate with protesters. I suspect the problem is going to be finding someone that can speak with authority for the people in the street. In Saudi Arabia the government is reported to be showering gifts on the populace to head off any possible disturbances there where, at least so far, things have been quiet.

Overall a dose of democracy in the Arab World could be a good thing or it could be a disaster. I don’t think democracy is the right sort of government for everyone. I mean, look at how Americans tend to screw it up by electing people like Michelle Bachman and Rand Paul. The danger of course is either a slide into theocracy or the emergence of a new strongman after it becomes obvious that things aren’t going to get enormously better overnight.

Still, a least for the moment, we can hope that things turn out positively but I’m not all that optimistic.

The Eye of the Beholder

It seems Iran is upset with the logo for the 2012 London Olympics. So upset they’re threatening a boycott.

Now anyone with a sense of artistic style would be upset with the logo because, to be quite honest, it looks like stuff shoved hastily into a closet. But the Iranians aren’t concerned with condoning sloppiness, they see a far darker implication.

The Iranians claim that the logo spells out the word “Zion” and is therefore racist.

Well, I guess if you start in the upper left that could be a “Z;” then go down to a lower case “I” with the dot displaced to its right side; then go catty corner to the upper right where we find a filled in “O;” finally it’s straight down to a sort of drunken “N” and, voila, “Zion.”
You have got to be kidding me.
If this isn’t a conspiracy by the art world to get the dumb looking thing scrapped, than I say screw them. Let them stay home if that’s what makes them happy.