At this time with so many challenges facing humanity, it is more crucial than ever that we band together using objective means of measurement and clear thinking in identifying, understanding, and finding solutions to our shared problems. Autonomy of the individual is very important, for our freedoms allow us to be fulfilled and happy. However, the public sphere cannot and should not be populated by subjective beliefs, if we are to maintain our civilizations and quality of life. This blog is dedicated to examining the political, religious, psychological, and philosophical aspects of our modern discourse in the public sphere, endorsing that which is beneficial, and exposing that which is not.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Conversion Experience

This was originally a post on facebook in response to some criticisms I received for being offensive to Christians. I think that it is also a good addition to this blog, for those who may not be friends on facebook.

I get the impression that my writings, my methods, and my motivations are misunderstood. So, as briefly as I can, I will attempt to explain how I moved from belief to skepticism. In the process, I hope to also clarify my motivations for writing about the subject matter I write about. I hope to show that my message is not one of offense, but one of necessity. Most of the material I will cover here has been covered in some of my other notes and articles. But, this is the first time that I have presented it together with the purpose of defending my actions and words.

Most people know that I spent my youth in the Protestant Christian Church. My father was a deacon when I was born, and a preacher by the time I was about 10 years old. We had nightly bible study every weekday, and church on Wed. and Sun., plus vacation bible schools, revivals, singings, dinners, etc. I spent much of my first two decades of life in one church or another. Toward the end of my time living with my parents, we began to get into the Charismatic Christian movement. Basically, this is all about accepting the promises of the bible in this life, as opposed to focusing on the after life. This includes healing of diseases, the gifts of the spirit, the five-fold ministry, praise and worship as power to defeat the forces of the devil, intercessory prayer warfare, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Baptism by Fire, etc.

Shortly after I graduated from high school, my oldest brother bought me a plane ticket to stay with him and his family in southwestern Germany. He was in the Army at the time. And, he had fallen in with a really zealous set of Baptists. I had to defend my beliefs from him and the church he was attending. Understand, I wasn't very actively religious at the time. But, I was constantly bombarded with the views of he and his church, often they would gang up against me. As a result of this, I got into the bible even more than I ever had before. It was at this time that the seeds of doubt first began to bloom inside me, not only in my view of Christianity, but in the religion itself. I began to doubt because I had begun to notice not only discrepancies in the bible, but also that those who professed to believe were not necessarily the most moral. I continued to self identify as a Christian for several more years after that, though. I even actively witnessed and went to church during that time. It was all I knew in terms of world view.

In 2000, I had really made a mess of my life in various ways by various choices. I ended up moving back in with my parents for a few months. I have noticed that one of the great patterns of life is that often when someone who was a Christian has a really hard time they fall back on the religion and the god of their youth. I was no exception to this pattern at that time. I went whole hog into Christianity, my doubt from my time in Germany forgotten. I grew a long bushy beard. I wore buttons that said things like "too blessed to be stressed". I did my absolute best to take the bible literally, and to live as it said. I fasted constantly. I prayed and sang, sometimes in english, other times in tongues. I mean I was hard-core. Jesus had said that his yoke was light. But, I didn't find that to be the case. The bible said that if I sought God with all of my strength, and all of my heart, that I would find him. I renewed my mind in the word of God daily. I tried to taste God to see if he was good. You would think, based on all these promises, that I would have been experiencing the Joy of the Lord, and the other fruits of the Spirit. Not only did I not have these experiences, but I didn't even have a basic happiness. I took quite some time, several days, where I did nothing but wait on the Lord. I needed him. And, he never showed. I was crushed. Here I was giving my all, and he didn't even give me a crumb from the table. Confused and hurt, I moved on. I began to get back into society as a "normal" person, and the whole experience faded. I was still a self identifying Christian if you asked me, but you had to ask me. I didn't talk about God or my religion any more.

My main turning point that I would point to as ending my identification as a Christian was time that I spent in an internet chat room in 2003-2004 talking to people about the bible. Once again, I was trying to defend it. But, this one person got me to get my bible out, and follow along with him. He proceeded to show me, step by step, many contradictions in the text of the bible, as well as example after example of God behaving in ways that were immoral. I had read the bible extensively. Why hadn't I noticed that before? Because I was reading it with a religious slant, a bias that it was the perfect word of God. Well, after that night, seeing that the bible is demonstrably fallible, I couldn't defend being a Christian to myself anymore. I still couldn't admit to myself that I wasn't a Christian, either. That's a scary proposition for anyone who was raised to believe that this was an express one way ticket straight to hell. But, whether I could admit it to myself or not, I was no longer a Christian at that point.

It was about this time that my wife and I decided that I should quit my management job and go back to school. I took several courses in psychology, sociology, and especially philosophy that further opened my eyes. My first philosophy class was the single most enlightening, empowering, and refreshing experience of my life. It helped me to make sense of my emerging doubts. It was in my first philosophy class that I publicly identified myself as an agnostic. Subsequent classes in Comparative Religion and Elementary Logic further elucidated and progressed the conversion process that I was experiencing. I began to examine every aspect of my life and my environment with reason and logic as the basis for understanding. I began to see the importance of thinking clearly and critically. It was not a quick process. It was a long arduous journey, a journey that I am still in the process of making.

I spent a lot of time debating people at school, people on the internet, debating with myself. My usual subject matter was god, religion, science, etc. More or less what I still bring up most today. But, I started off a lot more extreme than I am now. I used to try to convince people that god didn't exist, because I was convinced that it was always best to let go of religion. I didn't have contact with most of my friends at that point. I wasn't yet on facebook. Slowly, I began to see that the question of the existence of god isn't as clear cut as I wanted it to be, as it seemed to me at that time. I won some debates, and lost others. But, I found that losing, while difficult to swallow sometimes, is also the best way to learn. Now, normally, if I make a claim, it is because I have researched it and argued it, and it has withstood the test of argument, often more than once. I try not to write posts and make claims that I can't back with a strong argument. I get caught up in arguments and claims others have posted that I'm not quite as prepared to defend my view point. But, my own are carefully considered and researched.

I learned during this time of intense debating one of the most important things I have ever learned, that is the difference between subjective beliefs and objective knowledge. If you are reading this, and aren't familiar with those terms, it would be a great idea to look them up. I learned that the only way to hope to achieve objective knowledge is by following evidence and reason to their conclusions. If there is no evidence or reason to support a claim, then it is not objective. Subjective claims cannot be argued to any satisfactory conclusion. This is the basis of my message, why I post what I post most of the time. I want to show that even though subjective belief is fine for individual persons, it is damaging and divisive to try to apply it to groups of people. I hope that you understand and believe me when I say that I am not attacking anyone's personal belief when I post about god or anything else. I am challenging subjective belief, and it's right to be in the public sphere. I don't condone or recommend belief without evidence. But, I don't condemn it either. I am showing that it is indeed subjective, and being subjective, or lacking evidence, it should not be considered any sort of universally applicable knowledge. There is no way to work out agreement among people concerning non-evidential claims.

My main motivation for seeking to get this message out is the state of the US political system, and the great divide in our nation. So many people seem to be making decisions and taking sides on public matters based on their own subjective beliefs. For example, the abortion debate, stem cell controversy, teaching creationism in science class, separation of church and state, foreign policy, civil rights for gays, and many more very important issues are being fought by opposing sides using subjective beliefs. There are evidential points to consider in each one of these issues that are being largely ignored because of these subjective beliefs. That is another reason that I am so quick to challenge beliefs. When a person is absolutely certain that they know the truth, they are closed to other possibilities. I am hoping to shake up that certainty, to encourage people to look, to pay attention. To try to figure it out in an unbiased manner. That is why I am so insistent that a person be on topic, challenge the points of the argument itself. I am hoping that we can find truth together. But, that can only happen when we are both sincerely looking. The way things are going now, tensions are escalating, people are yelling at each other. And, we can expect this to become an ever widening divide if we don't make changes to the way we talk to each other.

That is the most driving and most important motivation for my words and my actions. But, there are other motivations as well. It's not easy breaking free from two decades of what I now consider to be a form of brainwashing (see my post on this in my notes- note that I didn't accuse anyone of being brainwashed either, as I have been accused of doing). I am still open to the possibility that someone may make a point, concerning the existence of god or any other topic about which I post, that I have never considered before. I don't think I know it all. I know I don't. If I am wrong about the existence of god, I want to know. I want to know because I want to know the truth. But, honestly, I also want to know because of the potential finality of getting it wrong. Now, while I respect and appreciate another person's faith (I am not a stranger to the concept or the experience), that faith is not going to change my mind in any way. This is a secondary motivation to be sure, but it is a motivation all the same.

I've been told by more than one person that my style of writing may be a hindrance to those reading it. As one person told me, I am saying a lot in relatively few words, so it is a bit of a dense read. So, I will briefly address that in this posting as well. Everyone has different types of intelligences, according to a wonderful theory by Howard Gardener. I highly recommend reading about this theory. It really opened my eyes to the nature of intelligence. Not everyone is equally adept at all types of intelligences. We have individual strengths and weaknesses. One of my main strengths involves words, vocabulary, grammar, denotations, connotations, etc. I have been accused of reading a dictionary for fun. I love words. I love the nuance of meanings and implied meanings between similar words. I love using concise and careful language that gets across exactly what I'm trying to say. I don't like the easy misunderstandings that imprecise language produces. Also, I am already talking about controversial subjects, I don't want to use language that may offend more than the subject matter itself. I don't sit and look up words to use to try to impress or confuse people. I try to take care to write coherently and grammatically correct. But, that's as far as the planning goes. It comes out naturally the way I write it. I am trying to be a bit more conversational in this piece. Looking back I can see places where that hasn't happened. But, I am trying.

To conclude, let me reiterate that I know my subject matter is controversial. But, for the reasons given above, I feel that it is necessary to have these conversations. Because I am aware of the controversial nature of these topics, I do my best to be neutral with my tone, and to avoid accusations or recriminations. I don't think that I have made any patently offensive statements on here. You are welcome to look back through my writings to see. If you find one that you think is overtly offensive, bring it to my attention, and I will either try to explain it more thoroughly if I don't agree that it's offensive, or I will issue an apology if it is. But, it is my opinion that it is the subject matter itself that offends most. If that's the case, then I can't really say that I am sorry for that. I hope that by explaining things here, I may take away some of that offense, anyway. If there is a point that I should have covered that I haven't, let me know. I'll try to cover it. Thanks for caring and reading.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Case For Limited Government

This is a piece written by my Brother in Law, Derek Martin, in response to my request for writing a defense of conservatism.

I don’t think that government is evil. We need the government to do some things for us. I just think its role should be pretty small. Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity sums it up pretty good.

Note that our founders wrote “promote” the general welfare, not “provide”. This seems similar to the pursuit of happiness being an unalienable right, not simply happiness. Government should set the rules of the game (regulation) and enforce them, but step back and let the players play. Be a protector, not a provider. John Locke wrote, “The care therefore of every man's soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer, what if he neglects the care of his health, or of his estate, which things are nearer related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law, that such one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or Ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves."

It seems like limited government would be an easy sell. Examples of government programs, grants, and departments that are inefficient and waste money are not hard to find. It seems common for them to extend beyond their intended life (how many toll roads are still toll roads after they’ve paid for themselves), expand beyond their initial size (the income tax), or simply be excessive (insert your own example here).

Why is this so common? Simply because the most powerful incentives—competition and profit/loss—don’t exist in the public sector. Who do Amtrak and the Postal Service compete against? When a public entity is losing money, its typical reaction is to ask for more money. When a private entity is losing money, it must improve somehow, whether that be a better product, better service, a more efficient operation, or innovation.

Too often we focus on the intent of government action and not the results (e.g. The War on Poverty). If the intent is noble then the action is presumed to be noble. Put emotion aside and examine each action: is it achieving its intended purpose? How effectively was this issue dealt with prior to government action?

The blessing of liberty is the freedom to plot our own course. It is not a guarantee that we will be successful, however we define success. Government should give us a chance to reach our dreams, not ensure that we do. In trying to ensure that we do, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Separation of Church and State

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. -Thomas Jefferson

I am an ardent secularist. I don't find fault with personal religion, other than the mindset of accepting ideas, beliefs, and practices without reason, that it seems to require. That being said, I would like to reiterate that I am irreligious not anti-religious. I recognize that it plays an important role in many people's lives. There are numerous well supported psychological studies that show that a person who believes in a god is on the average more happy and less stressed than a non-believer. Of course, a correlation shouldn't be construed as causation (and I can make an argument that this is indeed nothing more than correlation, or an analogy that shows that it is likely a placebo effect). Nevertheless, despite any personal benefits that religion may bring, it does not benefit us as a nation to mix government with religion of any type.

The United States of America is comprised mostly of people who ascribe to the Christian faith. This is indisputably true. There is an important distinction to be made between this fact and the idea that America is a Christian nation, though. There are slightly more people who identify themselves as Democrats. Does that make us a Democrat nation? No, of course not. Of course, Democrats probably wouldn't mind that label. But, those who don't identify as Democrat would. This is also true for those who do not ascribe to the Christian religion in America. Look again at the percentage of non-Christian Americans in our nation. You will see that they comprise roughly 20% of our population. This is not an insignificant number. A rough estimate based on a population of roughly 370 million shows that this percentage translates to about 74 million people. This is certainly not an insignificant number of people. These are people who pay taxes, who vote, who share the American dream. Is it the American way to disenfranchise a sizable portion of our population?

Our founding fathers created this nation in the wake of the Enlightenment taking place in Europe. They were greatly inspired by this movement in their creation of our great nation. The Enlightenment on both continents sought to place reason as the means of judging all things. This naturally led to the application of this concept to the question of the existence of a god. The result of this process was the concept of a creator god, largely unconcerned with human affairs, who nonetheless endowed us with the unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. This concept is referred to as Deism. I am not saying that all of our forefathers were Deists. I am saying that they created our nation from a Deist perspective, however. Realizing that reason is the only objective means to discern reality, they determined that reasoned debate would be the best method to make, and enforce laws.

They debated long and hard over the contents of the Constitution of the United States of America, the blueprint for our government. If you have never read it, I highly recommend that you do. However, for the purposes of this article, I will draw your attention to certain parts of it. It is first to the First Amendment of the Constitution that I would draw your attention. The part where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" is the main precedent of the idea of separation of church and state. The legislative bodies cannot establish a religion. If there can be no law made concerning it, then how could the executive branch, or the judicial branch, constitutionally make or enforce any law concerning religion, when congress is the only maker of federal law in the United States, according to section 1 article I? Of course, it can't be done, and be in line with the Constitution. The second part to which I wish to draw your attention is the 3rd clause of the VI article in the main body of the Constitution. This contains the following, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States". This is further proof that our government was not intended to be mixed with religion. This says in effect that it doesn't matter what religion or non-religion with which a person identifies; there is no requirement for a political figure to be religious, or of a particular religion. The final fact that really brings the secular intent of this document to light is that except for the date given, there is no mention of any deity in the entire document. Go ahead, look. It's not there. They didn't call upon the name of God even once, not even in the preamble.

Another document that shows our government was intended to be secular (and textually speaking perhaps the most direct proof that America is not founded as a Christian nation) is the Treaty with Tripoli. This document was read aloud before Congress, and ratified by them in 1797, including the part which reads, "Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries". I don't know how this point could be drawn more clearly than that. That is an unambiguous statement that we are not a Christian nation, albeit composed mostly of Christians. One can see, from the evidence given, that the mixing of church and state that we see in current events was not the intention of our founders, despite any faith they may or may not have held.

The final reason I will submit that there must be and remain a wall of separation between religion and government is that of subjectivity vs. objectivity. To be objective is to remove as much as possible the personal, emotional, and thus variable aspect of a given thing, idea, or phenomenon in determining what it is, how it works, or what the consequences of its existence may be. As I mentioned before in this article, reason is the most objective means of discernment of these qualities by means of its use in debate. Religion, as they are all based on faith, are by definition subjective. Despite certain sacred texts that give the precepts of a religion, these texts are interpreted in Christianity's case alone roughly 38, 000 different ways. This is the estimated number of Christian denominations in existence. Which of these interpretation should we allow to affect our government's legislative, executive, or judicial processes. As you can see, it is not only a matter of Christianity versus other religions, or non-religions, it is a matter of various sects of Christianity in disagreement with each other. This is another strong reason that reason should be the sole means of crafting legislation. Of course, some of those who comprise our government, being of a religious mind, will be affected by this mindset in their decision making. This is unavoidable. But, these people should remember the wise intention of our founding fathers to make reason the ultimate authority in matters of governance.

To conclude, let me reiterate that I am not against Christianity, or any other religion. What I am advocating is objectivity in electing and appointing government officials; and that these officials use reason as the objective means to make, judge, and enforce laws. Thomas Jefferson said it best in a letter to the Danbury Baptists where he wrote, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Forward Doesn't Always Mean Progress

This is an email that was forwarded to me a few days ago. I often receive emails like this. Usually a trip to snopes, factcheck or politifact is sufficient for a rebuttal. But, snopes had not yet addressed this one. So, here's my rebuttal. I have numbered each claim 1-20, and my rebuttal with the corresponding number below the text of the email.

1. If George W. Bush had been the first President to need a teleprompter installed to be able to get through a press conference, would you have laughed and said this is more proof of how inept he is on his own and is really controlled by smarter men behind the scenes?

2. If George W. Bush had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take Laura Bush to a play in NYC, would you have approved?

3. If George W. Bush had reduced your retirement plan’s holdings of GM stock by 90% and given the unions a majority stake in GM, would you have approved?

4. If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics, would you have approved?

5. If George W. Bush had given Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a set of inexpensive and incorrectly formatted DVDs, when Gordon Brown had given him a thoughtful and historically significant gift, would you have approved?

6. If George W. Bush had given the Queen of England an iPod containing videos of his speeches, would you have thought this embarrassingly narcissistic and tacky?

7. If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, would you have approved?

8. If George W. Bush had visited Austria and made reference to the non-existent “Austrian language,” would you have brushed it off as a minor slip?

9. If George W. Bush had filled his cabinet and circle of advisers with people who cannot seem to keep current in their income taxes, would you have approved?

10. If George W. Bush had been so Spanish illiterate as to refer to “Cinco de Cuatro” in front of the Mexican ambassador when it was the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo), and continued to flub it when he tried again, would you have winced in embarrassment?

11. If George W. Bush had miss-spelled the word “advice” would you have hammered him for it for years like Dan Quayle and potatoe as proof of what a dunce he is?

12. If George W. Bush had burned 9,000 gallons of jet fuel to go plant a single tree on Earth Day, would you have concluded he’s a hypocrite?

13. If George W. Bush’s administration had okayed Air Force One flying low over millions of people followed by a jet fighter in downtown Manhattan causing widespread panic, would you have wondered whether they actually get what happened on 9-11?

14. If George W. Bush had failed to send relief aid to flood victims throughout the Midwest with more people killed or made homeless than in New Orleans, would you want it made into a major ongoing political issue with claims of racism and incompetence?

15. If George W. Bush had created the position of 32 Czars who report directly to him, bypassing the House and Senate on much of what is happening in America, would you have approved?

16. If George W. Bush had ordered the firing of the CEO of a major corporation, even though he had no constitutional authority to do so, would you have approved?

17. If George W Bush had proposed to double the national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year, would you have approved?

18. If George W. Bush had then proposed to double the debt again within 10 years, would you have approved?

19. If George W. Bush had proposed the biggest power grab by the executive branch EVER and upsetting the balance of powers in the guise of “Health Care Reform,” would you have approved?

20. So, tell me again, what is it about Obama that makes him so brilliant and impressive? Can’t think of anything? Don’t worry. He’s done all this in just under a year — so you’ll have three more to come up with an answer.

1. Obama did use a TelePrompTer (the insistence of spelling this word like this is asinine) to deliver his opening statement at a press conference. This is a practice that has been in place for most presidents since the technology has been available. Some are better at using it than others. He has also been accused of using a TelePrompTer to address a class of 6th grade students. However, he was using it to read his remarks on his Race To the Top program. In short, yes he does use teleprompters, but not in any way that could be singled out by any except unreasonable detractors.

2. After a fairly exhaustive search, I cannot find any proof or even a mention of this one. Hundreds of thousands spent on one date? That would be really hard to pull off. Sounds more like something from Brewster's Millions to me.

3. Are they trying to blame Obama for the mess that GM got themselves into? The wording of this one is confusing. Certainly, the GM pension plan was in danger of insolvency, as was the entire company. The federal government stepped in to save the company. As far as the UAW holding majority stock, and being given this by the president, I can find nothing but this. Someone will have to explain to me what the problem is here, because I don't see it.

4. Well, you got him dead to rights on this one. Shall we begin the impeachment proceedings? He was wrong. He apologized immediately after the Tonight Show episode on which the comment was made. The audience laughed at the joke. Should we be condemning each of those who thought it was funny as well. Let he without sin cast the first stone.

5.Once again, we have truth here. But, is this really a serious indictment?

6. An iPod was given to the Queen, yes. But, it didn't contain one single Obama speech. Its contents included the Queen's visit to America, and Broadway show tunes. He also gave her a rare song book signed by Richard Rogers. I don't see anything wrong with this one.

7. It does look to me like he did bow to the Saudi King. However, I think since this is attempting to compare him to Bush, we should see how Bush greeted him. My apologies that I couldn't find a non-derogatory video. I don't know that this really is of great significance for either president.

8.Yes, Obama did refer to the Austrian language. Do you know what language is spoken by most Austrians? I wasn't certain before I looked it up. Once again, this is a simple gaffe, that has no repercussions other than showing that Obama is not infallible. Did anyone think that was the case?

9.The Obama cabinet is far from filled with people who cannot remain current in their income taxes. There were two cabinet nominees who had past tax difficulties. There are 22 cabinet level positions in the Obama administration. One of those who had the tax problems, Tom Daschle, is not even in the cabinet. So, we have one cabinet member with past tax problems. Hyperbole much?

10. I'm torn on this one. Either Obama flubbed a joke in Spanish. Or, he told a joke that doesn't make much sense. He did not continue to flub it, though. Whatever the case in the first statement, he said it correctly every time thereafter. Either way, I don't see that this is a major gaffe. Watch the video, and decide for yourself. His joke did get a big laugh, anyway.

11. Being a bit of a grammar nazi, who admittedly lives in a glass house occasionally, I must point out that miss-spelled was misspelled in this accusation. Now, after viewing the alleged misspelling, I must say that it is too ambiguous to call. You be the judge.

12. In answer to the question, no I would not consider him a hypocrite. I would consider him a VIP, who needs to travel a lot. Every president consumes vast amounts of fuel in fulfilling their duties. That this was on earth day does not make a valid point, just a convenient contrast. It is unfortunate that we have such dependence on environmentally unfriendly substances. But, until we get more renewable sustainable energy sources in place, we will continue to pollute more and more every day. That's the real travesty here.

13. Certainly, this was an example of poor judgement and communication breakdowns. The Obama administration is guilty of this, no doubt. I have nothing positive to add here. This one is a valid critique in my opinion. The very idea is incredibly insensitive to the people of New York.

14. This one is vaguely worded. But, I think this might be the incident referred to in the accusation.
I don't find any information concerning the president failing to send relief funds to the flood recovery effort, though.

15. You should know that the Czar title is not an official title for any US government position. Rather, it is a derogatory appellation, used by those who oppose a particular position or appointee to a position, that originated with the FDR administration. Bush had as many, or more, czars in place than the Obama administration. The fact is that the Executive Branch of the United States Government is charged with carrying out the legislated law of the land. Executive power has broadened and changed somewhat over the years. But, that is its basic role. In order to carry out this function, a president may appoint persons in positions to aid in accomplishing his plans. The simple fact is that this is an accepted and normal practice. It is not evidence of Obama's great mythical power grab.

16. Under the circumstances that the firing of Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, took place, yes I would have approved. What power did the president have to fire this CEO? He possessed only one bargaining chip here. That was in the form of government aid for GM. If this man remains CEO, we won't help you. What's wrong with this? Bringing the Constitution into this is a rhetorical red herring.

17-18. I will take these two together, as they are closely related. According to Politifact and their commentary on the Congressional Budget Office's updated debt projections, this assertion is only half right. Read the Politifact article for the breakdown. The fact is that, yes, the national debt will rise outrageously in the next few years. It has indeed risen outrageously already. A large part of this is the economic difficulties extant from the Bush years. You know, two wars, the wall street toxic debt debacle. It is Obama's challenge to lower the growth of our debt. Is he doing a good job? Not as well as we need him to, no. But, the economy is showing signs of growth, and steps are being taken to balance the national budget. And, the national debt doubled during Bush's time, as well, with a full trillion of it being toward the end, around the time of the economic troubles Obama inherited. So, I think that the Obama administration has a huge undertaking in getting us back to fiscal responsibility. But, to lay this all at his feet is not a fair charge.

19. Obviously, this is loaded language that doesn't even make a specific charge. Nobody is really happy with the health care reform bill in the way that it was finally passed. Some think it is the devil himself incarnated in the guise of socialism. Many of these leveled charges both ridiculous and untrue at this bill. Do you remember the death panels, and the coverage for illegal immigrants? This is more of the same baseless rhetoric. According to a poll reported on CNN, however, the people who oppose it for not being liberal enough, and those who are for it, together outnumber those who are against it. This accusation requires a whole other posting to address it fully. Maybe it will be the next topic I tackle. In any case, it is legislation that many administrations have tried to push through. But, Obama's is the first one to get it done. But, as far as power grabs go, George W. Bush's administration greatly expanded the power of the Executive. Obama's main wrong is in not explicitly giving up some of the ground taken by the Bush administration.

20. As I've shown in the last 19 point rebuttals, Obama is not perfect. He is as human as the rest of us. He has inherited a difficult economic situation. He has not done anything worthy of impeachment. Nor has he been disregarding the constitution. He is an expert on Constitutional Law, after all. He knows what it says. His administration has been incredibly successful in some ways. In other ways it has disappointed. Nevertheless, I maintain that there is not much to be gained in comparing Obama to Bush. There are plenty of valid criticisms of Obama, and his administration. But, with a few minor exceptions, this email doesn't address them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Can We Talk?

Everyone knows that there are three things you don't talk about in polite conversation: religion, bodily functions, and politics. I don't know if this is from Emily Post's book of etiquette, or not. But, as is the case with many of her proposed rules of civilized behavior, I think that this idea has its necessary exceptions. In fact, I believe that our continued success as a nation and a species depends upon having an open and honest conversation about at least politics, maybe religion, but definitely not bodily functions.

It seems that for quite some time now in America that the norm has been to largely ignore politics, that is unless the media leads us by the nose to a particular story. We are distracted by novelties and trivialities from the things that truly matter, that have an immediate and future effect upon our lives. We are more concerned with TV, movies, music, video games, cars, sports, the lives of celebrities, and the scandals of politicians than we are about the laws being made and enacted. Advertisement companies work 24/7 to convince us that there is a hole in our lives that can only be filled by their product. Meanwhile, of the minority of us who actually vote, an even smaller minority actually pay attention to what our representatives are doing in the offices into which we placed them. Our government is intended to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. But, the general apathy of the people has transformed the government into one that is of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.

I do support capitalism. Don't think that I don't. But, the problem is that capitalism is based on capitalizing on the greed of mankind. More money is earned through more effort. So, more effort is given. It works very well. But, the problem is that there is no check inherent in the system to allow for the individual rights of those who make up the system. This encourages less than moral practices in the economic sphere. The check upon this system is you and I via the government, be it federal, state, county, or city. The government is the people. When we are apathetic, and don't take the time to inform ourselves, be active in the process, and hold our representatives accountable, those who lobby, and buy, and wheedle, and make back room deals take control.

Our Founding Fathers, being greatly influenced by the Enlightenment, placed a premium upon reason. They believed that it is the only objective means of determining the truth or validity of a belief, practice, or idea. This is illustrated by quotes from many of these men from various sources. They spent endless hours discussing every aspect of our fledgling government. Our governing document, the Constitution of the United States of America, which has stood the test of time because it is a product of careful deliberation, is one product of this reasoning. Using reason necessitates having a basis for a belief or opinion. One can argue strictly on the basis of logic. But, the strongest arguments are those which present facts and evidence to support claims. When people argue subjectively, that is from opinion or belief with no evidentiary basis, they talk past each other. This, of course, settles nothing, and more often than not ends in hostility. I believe that this is the impetus for the tradition of not discussing the 3 things mentioned. Those who argue without providing facts and evidence to support their claims are showing nothing but a prejudiced attitude. So, what follows is a contest of wills, that is not even intended to serve any purpose but the inflation of the egos of those arguing. Surely, if one possesses evidence for one's claims, then that evidence will be shown to support those claims. When one has evidence and/or a logical basis for one's argument, then one's opponent must take these into account. All that is, and should be, the basis of discussion. If it is the basis of all parties involved, and they are interested in finding truth, then the discussion will be fruitful.

When we don't have the open debate and discussion concerning politics, that is when we are in trouble. We will not agree on everything. That is why we must have debate. We must be informed to have effective debate. By informing ourselves, we are as a byproduct keeping tabs on our elected representatives. Informing ourselves does not mean being spoon fed by a partisan source. It means canvassing the media, comparing viewpoints, when possible bypassing the media going straight to a reference source. For example, if someone is blasting this or that law being debated in Congress, go look at it. Too many of us are guilty of listening to only one side, of maintaining an ideology blindly, often for no other reason than our heritage. People think, "well my daddy was a Republocrat, so I'm a Republocrat too". Is being a Republocrat in your best interests? Why or why not? If you can't back your answer with some logic or evidence, then you owe it to yourself and your fellow man to find some valid reason to hold to that position. And, if you can't find anything objective to support it, abandon your position.

So, instead of being offended, and demanding that the subject not be broached. Act as our forefathers suggested that we must to maintain our freedoms, our way of life, our ideals. Engage one another, be informed, be active, find the proof that backs your claim, and boldly declaim it. You can rest assured that I will. It's the least duty I can perform for my country, as it is yours.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Are YOU Bashing the President?

Okay, so it's the natural thing to do, bashing the politician that is athwart your pet ideology. Everybody does it, right. I have not seen such bashing as President Obama has received, though. And, it appears that almost all, if not all, of it is generalized. Well, don't you think that we should be able to point to specific egregious violations that warrant the vitriolic rhetoric tossed around by so many, from the ultraconservative radio talk show hosts, down to John and Jane T. Pissed-off on the street? Don't get me wrong. I have my problems with the Obama administration. I'm especially angry at some things that are taking place lately. But, I don't see anything especially heinous. And, I certainly don't see any raping of the Constitution, or any impeachable offense, despite so many making these accusations. I am willing to entertain the possibility that maybe I am just misinformed, or under-informed. So, I ask you, dear reader, to present your case. Why is Obama such a bad president? Bear in mind, that I expect clear cut actions that show clear cut violations, or that lead to clear cut consequences. But, here you go, now it's your turn...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Tragedy, A Sign, Or Just an Opportunity for Discussion?

Read the story

This burning of the 60 ft. tall statue of Jesus as a result of a lightning strike at a megachurch in Middletown Ohio, called the King of Kings statue by those who commissioned it and the faithful, Touchdown Jesus by those amused by it's upraised arms, and Big Butter Jesus by Heywood Banks, raises a perfect opportunity to discuss the role of religion in America. To do this, I am going to look at this event from the viewpoint of some of the groups in America that comprise the citizenry. These viewpoints will include that of a Christian, an atheist, and a Muslim. My intent is to remain respectful as well as to realistically represent these views. As I am a former Christian, and a current agnostic atheist, I imagine that my Christian and atheist viewpoints will be more authentic than my Muslim view.

Of course, remembering back to my mentality as a Christian, my first thought would have been that Satan was behind the statue being struck by lightning. It was obviously a great symbol of faith for the believers who saw it. And, he took it out to attack that faith. It was yet another part of the great attack on Christianity being perpetrated by the Devil, and all of his minions, those who are aware of their status, as well as those who serve unknowingly. I would see it as a harbinger of the Tribulation, perhaps even a part of it. I never knew who to believe when it came to determining where in the book of Revelation our current times lay. Everything happens for a reason. And, whether we understand it or not, everything is a part of, and fulfillment of God's plan. I may have wondered what sins the members or ministers of this church may have committed to remove their church from God's protection. Obviously, the Devil couldn't have touched it, otherwise. I would shake my head, a little afraid of what was to come, what this sort of event signified about the state of the world. I would read again the 24th chapter of Matthew, and the book of Revelation, trembling at the disasters described therein, convinced that they were imminent, also convinced there was nothing I could do to to stop it.

A Muslim commented on this event by saying that Allah is the lord of the weather, and may have struck this false idol from his wrath. Every good Muslim knows that graven images are not allowed, for they are idols that detract from the one true God. Those who worship these idols will face the wrath of Allah at the Judgement in the Last Hour. There is one true God, all other are false. To elevate the holy prophet Jesus to the status of the Son of God is to blaspheme. He never claimed to be the Son of God. Those who blaspheme will face the wrath of Allah. They will not taste of Paradise. Rather, they will face the torments of hell. Take heed of Allah's warning, lest you share that fate.

An atheist obviously doesn't believe that there is any significance in this event. It is a perfect example of the apparent randomness of nature. It is what eventually occurs when one builds a structure of flammable materials on a metal frame. No god or devil had a hand in this. It was a natural phenomenon following natural laws. The only lesson to be learned here is to build with foresight and planning. As an atheist, I look at this media coverage as being a waste of time, a distraction from other things that really are a tragedy, events that really are of significance. The oil spilling into the gulf at an alarming rate is a very good example. The global warming taking place, which could lead to irreversible climate change, more energetic weather patterns, droughts, and other disadvantageous consequences, is another problem that needs our attention. Human population is growing toward an unsustainable level in the not too distant future. These are all real problems that we must address as a nation, and as a species, to ensure our survival, and the survival of our civilizations. That is one danger of non-objective viewpoints in the public sphere; they create division in the populace, and distraction from the issues that matter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Pledge of Allegiance

When could be a better time to talk about the Pledge of Allegiance than Flag Day? It is necessary, I think, that we should have a symbol for the values that bind us together as a nation. It is also useful for those who don't actively consider the identity of those values, and who do not consciously commit to them, to have a visceral patriotism inducing recitation to help draw them into a cohesive unit. Though I find regionalism to be as harmful as it is helpful, I will save that for another day, and another post. Suffice it to say that being part of a group allows for a common identity that hopefully engenders beneficial attitudes and, by extension, actions. I believe this to be the case for the most part in American pride.

The addition of the words "under God" by Congress in 1954, however, does not seem to serve the same purpose as the rest of the pledge. By inserting these words, they have created a divisive element in this pledge, which was intended to unite. No other ideal in this pledge is controversial for an American. But, with more and more agnostics and atheists "coming out of the closet" every day, the insistence that "under God" be in this pledge disenfranchises a growing portion of the American people, a portion that is disproportionately intelligent and educated, judging by statistical analysis. Are these not valuable Americans? Should they be forced to give lip service to a god in whom they do not believe?

I don't care if a person believes in, worships, or prays to any god or not. I am not personally offended by the words "under God" in the pledge. But, it was an example of establishing a religion, when these words were added to the pledge by Congress. It was an unconstitutional use of their legislative powers. No one, except perhaps for a few fringe radicals, is for abridging the individual rights of the religious within America. Anyone may say under God at any time. What they, and I, are advocating is adherence to the Constitution of the United States of America. There is a wall between church and state that was built by the founders of our great nation. This wall was established to protect religion from the state, as much as to allow objective reason to be the unimpaired and unimpeded means of establishing our laws. It is also a recognition that religion and state together lead to tyranny. We are a nation composed of various waves of immigrants, who hold a variety of religious and non-religious traditions. Each of these traditions is welcome, just not as part of the public sphere. We must not tear down this wall without just cause. And, we should repair the holes that have been blasted through it by well meaning but misguided persons, in the past, lest we place either of these institutions in jeopardy.

As a last example of what I am saying, I urge you to watch this video that I have seen various atheist friends posting on facebook today. It is a Porky Pig cartoon from 1938 that illustrates that the original pledge, written in 1892, did not contain the words "under God". And, for 62 years, it served its purpose of uniting Americans in saluting the flag, and uniting in common cause without those words. It can certainly continue to inspire today, without those words.