Archive for July, 2008

Damn kids

July 28, 2008 3 comments

Every year we have random high school graduates (I think, anyway) wander through our building trying to get “points” towards some trip by selling overpriced magazine subscriptions. That’s the pitch anyway. It’s typically prefaced by the fact that they’re working on their public speaking or something, as well.

In any case, they’re annoying and I think it’s a scam. This year is different in that there’s a sign on the door to my building that says “no solicitation.” I, apparently naively, assumed that would be the end of them knocking on my door. Not so. When I mentioned the sign, he said “I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was for the church people.” So clearly he noticed it and at least sort of knew what it meant. And let’s face it, I’d much rather be greeted by church folk than a salesman (as it stands, they just leave fliers on my door).

So, do kids really not know what solicitation means? That’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

Categories: Silliness


July 27, 2008 6 comments

Pretty much the only reason to read TNR these days is Johnathan Chait, who’s one of my favorite liberal writers. His review of Naomi Klein’s recent book is a good read.

Categories: The Left


July 23, 2008 2 comments

There’s a post over at Montana Headlines complaining about people attacking Bobby Jindal’s apparent belief in exorcisms. It’s a fun exercise in how we balance secularism and religious beliefs.

Whatever the phenomenon was that the youthful Jindal observed, the net effect was that it left him believing in “the reality of spirits, angels and other related phenomena…” Shocking, truly shocking, that any Christian might believe in the reality of the spirit world.

It seems to me that there’s a strange balance going on with some religious public figures. On the one hand, they do believe in lots of supernatural-type phenomena. On the other hand, it’s a little weird to attribute certain things to the supernatural. Maybe a Christian believes that God can talk to people, but does he believe God is telling Pat Robertson what the future holds? I would hope not, generally. Maybe he believes in demonic possession, but does he believe that random bad person x is possessed? Every year some fundamentalist comes out and says some natural disaster is the wrath of God. Christians believe God can influence world events, right? Things are getting a little fuzzy. For better or worse, our society generally accepts and defends those who believe in such things in the abstract. But there’s less protection for those who believe in concrete examples.

MH seems to glide past this feature of our discourse when dismissing those who criticize Jindal. Are we to accept any assertion of a real example of supernatural phenomena? It’s not shocking for a Christian to be a creationist. Should we not criticize creationists? It’s not shocking for a Christian to believe in angels that protect people, so what if someone believes President Bush is under the guidance of the divine? Would it be intolerant to wonder if that person is fit for office?

While the event Jindal relates appears to be from his early days of being a Catholic, and took place within the loose structure of a generic college Christian organization, it is worth noting that exorcisms are, unless things have changed recently, a standard part of every Catholic baptism. Pope John Paul II approved a specific rite for exorcisms in the late 1990’s. A belief that there are demonic forces that can specifically oppress an individual, and that prayer has efficacy in dealing with it is not something that comes from the fringes of Christianity.

The counterpoint to that is that the Catholic Church only recognizes exorcisms performed by an authorized priest and warns against confusing possession with mental illness. Exorcism in the abstract is mainstream Catholicism, but you’re on shaky ground when you’re dealing with a handful of typically credulous believers outside of Church control. Jindal also seems to believe that the rite cured the possessed’s cancer. Not shocking for a Christian, I guess, but shouldn’t he be a bit skeptical about faith healing after all the scams and obvious self-delusion? Jindal’s credulity goes beyond standard Catholic doctrine.

MH is right when he says bringing this up won’t help Democrats, but his defense of Jindal is troubling. Even if you’re inclined to accept Jindal’s faith as a normal human belief system, religion shouldn’t be a free pass for people avoiding critical thinking and skepticism about everyday events.

Categories: 2008 elections, Religion

The Pope on tour

July 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I see the person with the world’s lowest merit to fame ratio is out and about. I wonder what he has to say?

“A new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected, and cherished — not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed,” the pope told a congregation estimated by the organizers at 400,000 gathered at a Sydney racecourse and nearby park.

Yes, they’ll build a world where God’s “gifts” are welcome and denial of such things will be rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. I look forward to it.

“In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair,” he warned.

The Pope knows this because of his extensive interaction with your average member of such societies, which is done via telepathy from the Vatican. I guess.

He said that in the absence of God, “what was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation.”

Well, it’s nice that he’s admitting there’s an absence of God in the Catholic church.

“Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division,” the pope said, “of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises.”

And now he’s explaining to us why we shouldn’t be Catholics. I’m sold!

Despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of young visitors, 125,000 of them from overseas, there was almost no trouble. The police reported only one arrest, of a young Australian Catholic who punched a demonstrator who was throwing condoms into a crowd of pilgrims to protest the church’s stand on birth control and its opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Really? Throwing condoms at people gets you decked? Presumably they weren’t used condoms…

But wait, that wasn’t the dumbest religious babbling of late. This might be worse:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called on followers of the world’s main religions to turn away from extremism and embrace a spirit of reconciliation.

He said the great conflicts of history were not caused by religion, but by the misinterpretation of religion.

Yes, that’s the leader of Saudi Arabia promoting religious tolerance.

Man, he sounds just like those fluffy, moderate religious apologists, doesn’t he? It’s almost like those are just empty platitudes.

Categories: Religion

Obama the politician

July 17, 2008 5 comments

Regardless of the ridiculous controversy over the cover, this New Yorker article on Obama is worth reading.

It’s not flattering, but it’s by no means a negative article. The man is smart and he figured out how to work Chicago’s political landscape and propel himself into the U.S. Senate. He learned from mistakes and made it to the top. A bit ruthlessly, maybe, but politics isn’t for timid folks like myself. The story also does a good job showing just how absurd the allegations that he’s some kind of left wing radical are, as well.

It does cut against his idealistic message of hope change a little, though. He used Chicago’s political machine when he needed it, he didn’t try to change it. He didn’t push sweeping changes at any level. I’m tempted to say that’s really what the controversy over the cover is for – to redirect attention from this article – but it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble.

UPDATE: Jesus, I should read these more carefully before I post them.

Categories: 2008 elections

Are we there yet?

July 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Seriously, is it November yet?

I’m trying and failing to not care about this election for at least a few more months. There’s pretty clearly nothing I can do to change anything about the way things are going (which seems ok, so far, but not where it should be, in my opinion), especially now. So I have to just sit back and watch the fake media scandals and awkward campaign responses. It’s not fun. I can barely muster enough energy to mock McCain’s failure at the Internets. Or even the unrelated matter of Bill Donahue’s claim that it’s hard to come up with a more vile act than desecrating a communion wafer. Mr. Donahue, meet Cardinal Law. I’m sure you’ll be fast friends.

On another subject, this song is awesome.

Categories: 2008 elections

A conundrum

July 9, 2008 Leave a comment

You know that McCain web ad that asks if you think we should meet unconditionally with anti-American foreign leaders? There’s a yes and a no box. I clicked on the yes box and I was taken to a McCain page asking for my email or my money. It’s surprising that McCain endorses that kind of thing, isn’t it?

Categories: Silliness

Commenting on comments

July 9, 2008 6 comments

Warning: This is a pretty trivial post in the finest traditions of blogging navel-gazing. You may want to skip it if you don’t like that sort of thing.

So Craig just shut off comments on his blog. Obviously, it’s his blog and he can do what he wants. It’s an interesting subject, though.

I’m always a little wary of blogs that don’t allow comments. For a while, it seemed rare for top tier right-wing blogs to have comments. I understand Craig’s comment about them being tedious. There’s definitely value in having a place just to vent, and if you constantly have to defend yourself, well, it’s annoying. I’m pretty sure I’d find comments a lot more tiresome than I do if every serious post I made had a comment disagreeing and demanding a response from me. On the other hand, there’s also some value in allowing someone to put up a counterpoint to your thoughts. Maybe it’s tedious, but it also keeps you honest. If you know you’ll get ripped for saying something dumb, you’re going to think twice before put up half-assed commentary. You will if you’re honest, anyway. Then again, maybe we’re so set in our ideologies that it doesn’t matter.

So I won’t say it’s “stifling dissent” or anything so overwrought, but closing comments is removing a check on your opinions, even if it’s a very noisy and tedious check. That’s a little disappointing.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

Categories: Blogging, Montana

Learning from creationists

July 9, 2008 Leave a comment

This is great. McCain put out an economic plan (in the loosest sense of the word) that was purportedly signed by 300 economists. The catch being that some of them don’t even agree with that plan, but signed a short, vague statement about McCain’s broader economic perspective.

It seems the McCain camp is getting tips from creationists and global warming denialists. Fake surveys are their stock and trade. The party of the backwards and ignorant marches on.

Categories: 2008 elections, The Right

Obama's faith-based initiative

July 6, 2008 1 comment

I’ve been ignoring this for some reason. The initial outrage was based on an inaccurate AP story, but there’s still a lot to think about.

On the second day of a weeklong tour intended to highlight his values, Mr. Obama traveled to the battleground state of Ohio on Tuesday to present his proposal to get religious charities more involved in government programs. He is scheduled to give an afternoon speech here outside of the Eastside Community Ministry, a program providing food, clothes and youth ministry.

“Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square,” Mr. Obama intends to say. “But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.”

Presumably I’m one of those people bristling. What role faith has in the “public square” isn’t really the issue for me. It’s whether we should be giving religious groups money.

He thus embraced the heart of a program, established early in the Bush administration, that critics say blurs the constitutional separation of church and state. Mr. Obama made clear, however, that he would work to ensure that charitable groups receiving government funds be carefully monitored to prevent them from using the money to proselytize and to prevent any religion-based discrimination against potential recipients or employees.

This seems awkward. Say you’re considering giving money to a charity run by the Church of the FSM. As part of their mission, this group proselytizes to those receiving aid and hires only those who agree to a statement affirming their faith in the FSM. So, the group has to change its hiring practices. Would a religious charity want to do this? Some would, some wouldn’t, presumably. What about proselytizing? I suppose the lowest impact change they’d have to make would be to stop proselytizing as part of whatever program was receiving aid. The government wouldn’t be directly funding proselytizing. But aren’t you indirectly, at that point? Unless you’re forcing the group to cease any proselytizing, at which point it would seem that you’ve made it into a secular charity, isn’t that group just going to reroute money from the program the government is funding to other programs which do proselytize? Is that really much different than funding them directly? Granted, you can take that logic and make a case that funding any group is indirectly giving money to those whom your new aid dissuades contributions from. Still, it seems possibly reasonable if applied only to money routed within a group.

My questions become:

1. If the groups receiving aid have to cease all proselytizing and discriminatory hiring, why is this program different from one that allocates money to secular charities?
2. If a group doesn’t have to cease all proselytizing, just that which occurred as part of the program the aid is earmarked for, aren’t you indirectly funding exactly what you’re trying to avoid? The caveat to that question is that I have my doubts that that logic is generally accepted for other restrictions on government aid.

Let’s take a quick look at a possible application of the Lemon test, which is always a fun exercise:

1. The program has a pretty clear secular purpose: increasing charity work.
2. Its primary effect is a little more tricky. If government isn’t allowed to fund religious charities in general (presumably because they do advance religion) and if the program directs more non-government money to the normal work of religious charities, isn’t one of its primary effects to advance religion?
3. My sense is that safeguards are going to be tricky to define and difficult to enforce. Maybe it’s more trouble than its worth.

I think Obama’s on dangerous ground, but it’s not surprising. It seems like his governing philosophy is one that wants to include faith as much as possible, so it isn’t inconsistent for him to advocate this. Of course, you’d have to pretty naive to assume that the prospect of evangelical votes isn’t behind this to some extent. I guess we’ll see once Obama is elected.

Categories: 2008 elections, Religion

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