Archive for August, 2009

Some sort of joke?

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

So Holder is going to appoint a prosecutor to investigate CIA detention abuses. Only those who acted outside the guidelines set by the Yoo and Bybee memos, though.

That largely makes sense. We can’t expect CIA interrogators to be able to spot fraudulent legal arguments, but we can expect them to follow the guidelines given to them. So, okay, I’m on board here.

But low level abuses aren’t the real problem, as everyone knows. The outrage is over the Bush administration’s conduct. It’s about lawyers who made arguments in bad faith to justify unchecked executive power. It’s about administration officials using those arguments to shield themselves from accusations of war crimes.

It’s probably too much to ask the executive branch to check itself. We have a system of checks and balances for a reason. But we have a legislative branch that is made up of people either too stupid to do their job or too corrupt. I suspect there’s a lot of both. The judicial branch is better, but it can only do so much when American citizens rarely have standing to challenge these abuses.

So in conclusion, we’re fucked. But at least we’re going to get major, progressive health care reform. Oh, wait…

Categories: Bush, Civil liberties, Obama

Why didn't I think of that?

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

This is almost as good as rapture bonds.

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each
Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

I wonder how much money they’ve made.

Categories: Religion, Silliness

Everything's gay

August 17, 2009 Leave a comment

So there’s this campaign called Think B4 You Speak, which has the aim of reducing the use of gay, fag, and dyke as insults. Not an easy task as anyone who’s been on in high school or on Xbox Live within the last fifteen years (at least). This popped up on a gaming blog I read, with less than encouraging results.

I have to say, this is very true. This sort of scolding is just not going to work and will probably make things worse. You see defenses of the use of gay as an insult running along the lines of “oh, it’s just another word for stupid in that context, so it’s okay.” Which is almost true, in that people aren’t necessarily consciously anti-homosexual, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s rare, but you occasionally see this same sort of defense with the word nigger. I remember in high school a group of kids arguing that nigger wasn’t a racial slur, it was just another word for asshole. In another instance, someone said that I don’t “know the difference between a nigger and a black person.” That’s slightly different, but it’s an attempt to remove a word from its established context. Given that there’s not much of an argument in the ads, that’s probably the reaction you’re going to get.

I don’t have a solution and I’m sympathetic to the campaign, but it’s not going to work. It’s not biting enough to have an impact. And there’s a real risk of going to far in the direction and making the ads look hysterical. I really wish I had a solution, especially because those insults are a pet peeve of mine, but I don’t.

Categories: General

The kill your grandmother movement

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I think I’m less surprised by the “death panels” and related nonsense about health care reform. It’s a leap that’s surprisingly easy for them, no matter how insane it is. For example, this was said about me in 2004:

I’m glad I’m old – maybe I’ll get to die naturally before his generation wants to kill me off.

That comment was prompted by my support of John Kerry and abortion rights. I said nothing relating to even euthanasia.

The far Right has been primed to believe the Left is a death cult. Abortion is the classic example with the rhetoric about encouraging a “culture of life.” It stands to reason that those opposing you are participating in a culture of death. Terri Schiavo is a more recent example; the Right went nuts claiming she was alive and Leftists were supporting her murder. Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a book called The Party of Death, for crying out loud.

The fact is that the far Right in this country already has a mental landscape that is perfect for these claims to take root. Existential issues with death, worries about increasing secularism, a deeply held belief that we’re participating in genocide, and the the fervent paranoia that accompanies Democratic presidents all work together to produce this kind of insanity. Honestly, could anything less absurd come of this?

Categories: Religion, The Right

Can you repeat the question?

August 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Because I’m sort of masochist about these things, I was perusing the Biologos site earlier. Biologos is Francis Collins’, our new head of the NIH, organization. It’s aim is to reconcile science and religion, or at least provide its own perspective on how they interact. It’s pro-evolution, thankfully, but still mostly ridiculous.

For example, here they are talking about the atheist retort “If God created the universe, what created God?”

In many faiths, God’s origin is straightforward. Christian doctrine teaches that God is eternal and thus had no beginning.

Theologians have debated the relationship of God to time for centuries and no doubt will continue to do so. It is a question that we probably cannot answer. In one thoughtful response, God is the creator of time itself, and thus exists outside of time seeing all of history at once. Verses like those above are often used to support this view. On the other hand, this view is often critiqued by Biblical scholars including Clarke Pinnock, John Sanders and Gregory Boyd4, who point out that God is portrayed in scripture as acting in time….God certainly seems to be in time and responding to the unfolding course of events. But of course, given the difficulty our time-limited minds have in grasping this philosophical problem, there is no compelling reason that God could not be both outside of time and capable of acting within it.

This is the sort of silliness that our high-minded theological betters come up with fairly often. Well, it could happen, so what the hell, eh? It is indeed difficult to find compelling reasons against nonsense. How can you have a moral agent that exists outside of time? Thinking, making a decision, and then acting is so bound up in the concept of time that to separate them is to make it incomprehensible. Even if you were to someone how say that an agent could exist outside of time and not make decisions there, to place itself in time is a decision that would require time. Or maybe he’s in both realms simultaneously and this is like trying to prove that love is green.

The next section is pointless meandering (not that I’m criticizing, I’ve done plenty of that on this blog). After that comes this:

Suppose as a religious believer you ask the question, “What kind of a universe is most compatible with my belief in an eternal God?” In this case the response affirms but does not prove the reality of God. The universe that we experience appears to have had a beginning; it appears to be finely tuned for life; it appears to have a place for love and purpose. These appearances affirm as plausible your prior belief in God.

Now suppose you start from the atheist assumption. In this case the universe must not really be as it appears. It cannot have a real beginning, be tuned for life and love, and purpose can’t be anything other than illusory epiphenomena — the curious byproducts of chemistry and physics. The whole picture has a claustrophobic bleakness.

This is cute, but wrong. First, is the universe really the most compatible with belief in a God? It seems to me that for thousands of years human beings though they were a) the center of the universe and b) the direct creation of a higher power. What we currently know is that the Universe is vast and overwhelmingly hostile to human life and that we occupy a suitable niche in some insignificant corner of it. It seems like an awful waste of space, doesn’t it? Furthermore, we are the end result of several billion years of very gradual change. Directed or not, it’s what I’d expect of a god who created us in his image. Compatible? Sure. The fact that there are religious believers shows that. But it wouldn’t be my first pass at the question. Then again, God works in mysterious ways so who’s to say what’s the most compatible?

As for their account of the atheist view, what the fuck? I confess to not understanding the idea that we all have nothing to live for if there’s no purpose to the Universe. It’s like they expect a conversation like this to be the formative experience of our lives:

[Boy|Girl] 1: Wow, I really love that [girl|boy].
[Boy|Girl] 2: You know, your feeling for that [girl|boy] is a mechanism to encourage you to further our species.
[Boy|Girl] 1: You’re right! My feelings for that [girl|boy] have now vanished.

If you’re really stopped from enjoying life by the thought that you aren’t an invisible man’s special snowflake, I think you need to relax a little.

Furthermore, I think an atheist would point out that the assumption that all conceivable universes are possible is not a good one. The parameters of our universe are likely constrained, though how and why are open questions for scientists to answer.

Now, the conclusion!

But we can also state confidently that denials that God is creator are fraught with even more unresolvable difficulties and ultimately provide a far less satisfactory grounding for a worldview in which meaning and purpose play important roles.

Err, okay then. A whole article of muddled confusion and hand wringing about how atheism is bleak and we get a completely unsupported conclusion. Did you expect more?

Categories: Religion

Mmm, climate change polling

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve had my amusement for the day: I got polled about CO2. I missed the name they gave at the beginning, then forgot to ask again, but it was pretty strange. It was essentially a bunch of questions about Carbon Dioxide. The main part was a list of “facts” about CO2 and how they changed my opinion about it. Stuff like plant life increasing because of it, it being in soft drinks, etc. It was a long string of “No opinion” answers from me, given that it’s a ridiculous premise. I don’t have positive or negative opinions of molecules (curiously, the caller’s script referred to CO2 as a element several times). There was one question that asked if CO2 was green, which I just laughed at and say “no opinion.”

In any case, this definitely seemed like “market research” designed to attack the idea of climate change. I don’t know if their approach is clever or stupid (that CEI ad was roundly mocked, but maybe it was effective). Do people really hold the opinion that CO2 is teh evil and must be eradicated? Is that a useful line of attack? CO2 is necessary, but too much causes problems for us. Holding that (correct) opinion makes it nearly impossible to answer the survey, which I think limits its usefulness.

But what do I know? My mind’s made up.

Categories: Environment