Friday, December 11, 2009

Out with the Old?

"Old" atheism = quietly sitting in the corner, keeping it to yourself.

"New" atheism = not quietly sitting in the corner, keeping it to yourself.

That's pretty much it.

It's not like Prof. Dawkins has found a cutting edge way to not believe in gods, or Mr. Harris has broken new ground in disbelief, or Mr. Hitchens is in possession of an innovative manner of unbelieving, or Prof. Myers has distilled a previously unknown debunking of the supernatural mindset.

They, and others, are just talking about it, and we have the technology to know that they are talking about it. Often at the moment they talk about it. And their talking about it has made others who also disbelieve less afraid to talk about it.

Though, in geological terms, I am a "new" atheist, having only been one for about 20 years. That's not even half a blink of an eye in the roughly 4.5 billion years the planet has been chugging along without the aid of Odin or Zeus, Yahweh or Baal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

*sigh* Tiger Woods

Just, something that Mr. Limbaugh said, or read, about Tiger Woods "letting down the black community." This is the sort of thing that no one would ever say about a white guy. Governor Mark Sanford was not criticized for letting down the white community. First of all, because there is no such thing, and secondly, because white people are not expected to represent their race, but all not-white people are.

Has he also let down the Chinese, Native American, Thai, and Dutch communities? After all, he's got those ancestries as well. Has he let down professional golfers or golfers everywhere? The PGA probably could have the biggest bone to pick, out of all parties aside from his wife, who... well, I'll leave the bone metaphor alone.

Maybe Tiger Woods has let down his fans and his sponsors, but he has especially let down his family. He has not let me down. I am neither a golfer, a fan of golfers, Chinese, Native American, Thai, Dutch, African American, nor a corporation with a vested financial interest in his success.

Has Mr. Limbaugh let the fat community down? The fat, white community? The ignoramus community? The white, male community? The male community? The white community? The conservative community? The human community?

I would argue that he lets at least a couple of them down every time he opens his mouth. He certainly does one of them proud.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Aside/Stage Whisper

This has nothing to do with anything aside from the Flashback/Wow-People-Really-DON'T-Change sense of wonderment I am having right now.

Back in the late 1990's, the guy I had been dating for three years cheated on me with a 19-year-old waitress at the bar where he was a bartender. We were living together at the time. It was awesome. Quite the self esteem builder, I can tell you. And what a thing for me to look back on, thinking about my relationship decision-making skills. Not so hot. Luckily, my judgment improved. Eventually. Like, almost six years ago.

In the intervening ten years, ex-boyfriend broke up with waitress (while cheating on her with someone else with a K-name, all three of us had K-names), moved to California, had a kid, moved to Oklahoma with baby and baby mama, then left them in Oklahoma and moved back to Minnesota.

Now, ten years later, he's living in the waitress's old apartment above the bar where he is once again a bartender, and he's dating the waitress again.

It's things like this that make me feel better about my life.
Is that so wrong?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Wish I Had Cable

Not all the time, but every once in a while.

Like when people like Michael Specter are going to be on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

I am in the middle of Mr. Specter's book "Denialism," and I am finding it really interesting, even as it challenges me and my organic food sensibilities. I'll have more to say about the book when I am done, but here are a couple of choice quotes:

"Denialism is not green or religious or anti-intellectual, nor is it confined to utopian dreamers, agrarians, or hippies. It is not right- or left-wing; it is a fear expressed as frequently and with as much fervor by Oxford dons as by bus drivers." (Introduction, page 12)

"Fear is more infectious than any virus, and it has permitted politics, not science, to turn one of the signature achievements of modern medicine into fodder for talk show debates and marches on Washington." (Vaccines and the Great Denial, page 62)

He's on the show tonight. Watch it for me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crap like this pisses me off

PZ Myers Biology Talk

It's tomorrow.

I can't go.
I don't have a babysitter.

I can't wait to hear all about it, though.

It's nice to be back online after a long vacation.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Keep your Religion off my Laws.

This is old news, and it was going to be a post specific to the latest legislative travesty pushed upon the American public by religious operatives working through conservative legislators, but as I think about it, it's more general than that.

I am so sick of one group's morals influencing public policy to the point where 66.3 million people (22% of the population) (Roman Catholics, according to the BBC) gets to say what 149.1 million American women (50.7%) get to do with their reproductive choices. This time, they are reaching out through health insurance, further sucking the marrow out of an already hollow bill.

It sucks. And it makes no logical sense. As if the Hyde Amendment wasn't bad enough, now we have the Stupak Amendment. It's not a matter of keeping your laws off my body, it's keep your religion off of my body. These morals come from a belief that life starts at conception. This is by no means a fact. Americans do not seem to be able to distinguish between the two. There is powerful evidence, in fact, that our brains process facts and belief in the same way, which is most likely one of the reasons that so many people are confused as to which is which.

Well, that plus a critical thinking failure on an epic scale.

Here's an example:

Evolution is a fact.
Creationism/Intelligent Design is a belief.

You do not get to have your own set of facts. If you need to believe that the earth is 6 thousand years old and God made every living species and Noah really had an ark because your religion tells you so, you get to believe that, and you get to be wrong. You do not get to use that belief to say what is taught in the public schools or what the government does. That's a principle of our godless Constitution.

And now, I need to finish my coffee.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanks, Mr. Pawlenty!

What you have done in your terms as governor of Minnesota doesn't equal balancing the budget without raising taxes, though I am sure that will be in your stump speech in the run-up to 2012.

Many of us are poorer due to your decisions, and not just the unallotment.

Our school districts have to borrow this year specifically because you would not work with the legislature. They are borrowing to pay their teachers, costing them even more money.

That's not the least of it. Just ask the 33,000 people laid off of health care by your cuts to the General Assistance Medical Care program. Those people will either suffer or have to access care at higher rates to the system and, therefore, to the taxpayers. Someone always has to pay.

Spin it all you want. The buck stops at your desk, though it does make for a stunning trophy to show your financial supporters. Too bad it crapped all over the citizens before it got there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barbie? Is that you?

When I was young, I loved Barbies. Truth be told, I still do. Do I think they are unrealistic and present an ideal of femininity that is unattainable and possibly damaging? Yes, I do. Do I have a bin of unopened Barbies in my basement. Yes, I do.

I played with Barbies into my early teen years. Am I a feminist? Yes, I am.

In spite of Barbie? Well, certainly not because of her.

So my sensibilities really don't know what to do with Burka Barbie.

Step forward for Barbie in cultural awareness? Achievement for women everywhere?

Um, no and no.

It's one patriarchal oppression to another, and I gotta say, Barbie's doing better for herself in hot pants and a belly shirt.

This does not wash with me: "I know Barbie was something seen as bad before as an image for girls, but in actual fact the message with Barbie for women is you can be whatever you want to be."

Sure. On Barbie's website, she says she can be whatever she wants to be, from a rock star to a race car driver, and so can I.

And now, Barbie can be stoned to death for adultery.

That's progress.

Hey, Ladies!

I am not sure what I want to say about Sarah Palin, so I'll dive in and see what happens.

Ms. Palin continues to be disappointing. Everything about her makes my feminist sensibilities twitch. She's a "guy girl," and it's no wonder that men like Mr. Limbaugh fall all over themselves showering her with grodey compliments. (No, I am not going to read her book; there are too many other things to read, and for autobiography, I think I will stick to Ulysses S. Grant.)

For those who are not in the know, "guy girls" are women who reproduce the western, patriarchal, female norm, almost to parody in some cases, and tend to direct their attention toward men, sometimes in order to gain power, sometimes just attention. They usually will not have a lot of close female friends, and a lot of women will not like them and won't really be able to pin down why that is. Guys will love them and not understand why girls don't.

A lot of the talk about Ms. Palin during the campaign revealed that we are clearly not in a post-feminist world, as if most of us needed more proof of that. The discussions often dealt with appearance and usually included a few swipes at Hillary Clinton.

I just read a Media Matters piece about Newsweek's cover story on Ms. Palin. You know, the one with the shorts? They ask where the cover shot of Joe Biden in shorts is. Well, the answer to that is that Joe Biden has not posed in shorts, on purpose, for a national magazine campaign. Sarah Palin did. Perhaps Newsweek should have chosen a different picture, but perhaps Ms. Palin should have chosen a different portrayal of herself, if she wants to be taken seriously. Women need to be intentional about such things as presentation, otherwise we open ourselves up to ridicule and scorn. Is it fair? Nope. Is it the way things are? Yup. Ms. Palin chooses to present herself as the perfect guy girl, and then she whines when it's replicated.

Does the media portray women differently? Yes. Do they talk about Hillary's pantsuits? Yes. And this is the flip side of things. When women such as Hillary Clinton do not present themselves as stereotypically feminine, they are called ugly, aggressive, and bitchy.

But heck. I am probably just mad because I am an unattractive liberal.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'll help you, if...

Aside from all the stuff you say in the Apostles or Nicene Creeds, it seems to me that a central doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus Christ "came to earth to teach about love and fellowship. He represents the person that all Christians must strive to be."

That's simple enough, and as long as out leave out the Son of God stuff, and don't pick too much at some of the things the Bible says he did and said, I think a lot of people can get behind the ideas of love and fellowship and striving to be a better person.

I understand the concept that religious charities can choose who they want to fund or help based on their beliefs; it's their money. I just don't think that excluding certain groups or people who need help, based soley on their beliefs or lack thereof, is very nice. Nor do I think it's charitable, altruistic, unselfish, or any kind of social justice. I also don't think that people who are seeking aid should be witnessed to. It's just not very helpful.

I think that trying to help without expectation of saving souls or gaining new followers or indoctrinating in any manner is probably a better way to go about it. I don't think that any charity is really selfless; we all get something out of helping others, whether it's just that warm feeling of self-satisfaction. It just seems to me that certain groups are putting their beliefs above their stated ideals, and it's unfortunate, especially when there are so many more people who need help. It's like charity blackmail: "We'll withhold your funding if you do/support/believe X."

This is what is happening in Washington, D.C., where the Catholic Archdiocese says that they will be "unable to continue service programs" if the District adopts a same-sex marriage law. This is what is happening with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is only in favor of their version of which poor people are deserving. This is what is happing with the American Legion in Bloomington, Minnesota, which was asked not to include a prayer in their Veteran's Day program in the public schools. They said that if they can't do the prayer, they will hold back their 25-30 thousand dollars worth of scholarships.

Using your religious beliefs to justify holding disenfranchised people hostage is disgusting behavior.

Heck, it's even bad PR.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The thing that really gets me... that this is so so very very important to them. It was the first thing I thought about when I heard about the debate in the first place. (Can you tell I don't get out to this sort of thing very often? I can't stop thinking about it. Gotta chew the cud I have, so to speak.)

I know I am mid thought here, but I was reading some of the comments, and thinking about how important it is to creationists that they be right and evolution is not true. Most of the time, I find myself wondering "Why? What changes in your daily life if you are wrong?" Will you no longer be able to wash the dishes or love your children? Will gardening not be fun anymore? Will you lose the urge to watch sports? What?

Will you have to die some day?
Because I gotta tell ya; it's going to happen.

It's the same sort of brain stall I go through when I am confronted with racists or homophobics. I don't get it. It all seems like such a colossal waste of time: marinating in hatred or pushing your weird ideas about the origin of life when there's just so much other stuff to do! I mean, once you are done with work and your day to day responsibilities, this is really how you want to spend your time?

OK, not fair. I am sure they have hobbies.

But I guess the problem for me is that I don't remember what it felt like to be a believer, and I don't remember any moment when it fell away and everything changed. Because everything did not change. It was just one day, I realized that I had not been buying it for awhile, and then later on, I realized that I did not buy any of it, at all, and a little after that, I realized that I was an atheist. It was very gradual.

Maybe it's because I was never, in all my believer time, a creationist, and I always found that to be ridiculous and unimportant. The Garden of Eden was so obviously a story, like all creation myths, that it was clearly metaphor.

Even debates like the one a few nights ago strike me as weird. What's the point? There's no debate. And the Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the other..." starts running through my head. What has evolution ever done to them?

On second thought. Don't answer that.

Dr. Bergman wanted to have a different debate, anyway. It seemed like he wanted to debate about atheists and what is wrong with being one. And since atheism and evolution are the same to many of these people, maybe he thought that was a legitimate place to start. But expected him to lay down a case for why ID should be taught alongside evolution in the schools, I really did. I did not expect to agree with it, but I thought he would present one. I think he expected Dr. Myers to be all fire and brimstone and atheisty all over him, so instead of actually preparing a case, he was defensive from the very beginning.

Either that, or this is the only thing they CAN do because they have no case.

Atheist Crusade

OK, I skipped this over yesterday because Ms. Bachmann exhausts me, but it popped up again today in my news searches, and now, exhausted, I guess I'll say something.

41 representatives and 3 senators want a lawsuit stopped. In July, The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed that lawsuit because in that same month, the House and Senate decided that it would be a good idea to have "In God We Trust" and "one nation under God" engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Now, the American Center for Law and Justice says that lawsuit is a "crusade" that "serves no purpose other than to waste judicial resources at a time in our Nation’s history when those resources are needed in cases involving real threats to American liberties."

I am too tired to say anything other than Who is wasting what time now?

Things Some People NEED To BELIEVE

(in no particular order, randomly picked out of the air)

Oswald was not acting alone.
Vaccines cause autism/are more dangerous than the diseases they caused/don't really work anyway.
Someone/thing is looking out for us.
God created the universe.
We did not really land on the moon.
The Holocaust never happened/was exaggerated/was not Hitler's fault.
George Bush knew about and allowed 9/11 to happen/The government is responsible for 9/11.
The earth is only 6000 years old.
You Must Recycle/Recycling all goes to the dump anyway.
Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys.
Evolution is "just a theory."
President Obama was not born in the United States of America.
The flu vaccine will give you the flu.
The H1N1 vaccine is more dangerous than the disease itself.

I am still trying to figure out how to distill the Beliefs associated with health insurance reform. Is it as simple as The Government is out to get me? That seems like base paranoia and not so much a belief. Or do all the Leetle Beliefs like death panels and "g-men coming into your house to tell you how to raise your children" exist because of the base paranoia?

I am still mining my own brain for what mine are. I am picking up Denialism at the library this afternoon, and I hope it will be insightful.

More Beliefs?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Based on Your Browsing History"

Thank goodness. Looking up that grotesque Hitler book that Dr. Bergman was waving around did not change my recommendations on Amazon. I was concerned that I would open it up, and I would see a creepy vomit of weirdness from the darkest depths of the human psyche, and I would have to spend an hour looking up Star Trek movies, evolution books for children, and knitting patterns just to get rid of it. But thankfully, I see knitting patterns, children's bath toys, and Paul Simon.

Sarah Palin's number one, though.
That makes me sad.
Though not surprised.

Yet more on the debate

But this time, from Greg Laden.

Pay attention to the comments. Some of them made me giggle at my desk.

Is this real?

My iPod is charging right now, so I can't download it and try it out, but I did find it in the iTunes application store. I rarely pay for apps, but this one might be worth the two bucks. It could give me some good bus hilarity.


Anyone have it?

That's your argument? More thoughts on the debate.

I woke up this morning with pictures in my head of Dr. Bergman waving around that copy of "Hitler's Ethic," needing us to understand that no scientists openly resisted Hitler; needing us to acknowledge that this was somehow supportive of the case for intelligent design. It made me wonder about the lengths to which people will go, in order to maintain belief.

That length for arguing against atheism is often Hitler, and now I guess it works for creationism, too. He's the worst example of palpable human evil that we can come up with, and the events of the Holocaust happened practically yesterday in the scope of time.

It's pretty extreme, I think, and it's meant to be a trump card: you don't believe in God? Well, Hitler was an atheist. So there. You use science to achieve knowledge? So did Hitler. So there.

Hitler has become the biggest "So there" in the history of debating.

And the thing is, it's not an argument. Even if it were true that no scientists openly opposed Hitler, it would not mean that scientists are bad or science is wrong. Even if it were true that Hitler was an atheist, it would not make atheists bad or atheism wrong.

Plus, I don't see that it's helpful to their own argument: saying that scientists supported Hitler and then bragging about all the scientists who support you.

It has made me wonder about myself: are there beliefs* that I hold onto, only seeking out evidence that supports that belief and denying everything else? I'll be thinking about that for awhile as I evaluate the world around me and my reactions to it and assumptions about it, and if only for that reason, last night's debate was a good thing.

*by "belief" here, I mean assumptions about the way things are, that are held based mainly on emotion. I do not "believe" in evolution; evolution is a fact that is not there for me to believe or disbelieve. It is there to be understood and studied.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I thought it went really well, until he brought up Hitler.

The discussion was civil, and though there was some eye rolling, sighing, and muttering in the audience, no one shouted; no one gesticulated wildly; no one hurled insults.

Right up until the Hitler reference, everyone was playing relatively nicely.

This was a debate between two men, and the question was "Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in the Schools?" The two men were Dr. Jerry Bergman and Dr. P.Z. Myers.

I came in wondering if I could tell who the creationists were just by looking at them, and I looked at the relatively empty room (I was early), wondering which side I should sit on. I observed the tables at the front, and observed that one had a computer, water bottle, and papers on it while the other had nothing but a microphone. I chose to sit on the side of the room in front of the empty table because I knew from previous observation that Dr. Myers had not arrived yet. I was just thinking "Is this like a wedding, where there's a bride's side and a groom's side?" when the woman sitting near me asked "Is this like a wedding?"

I had brought my knitting, so I had something to do. I have to use all the baby-free minutes I have.

My initial thoughts were that this whole debate does not really seem like a debate to me because a debate is supposed to present two sides of an issue, and creationism/ID does not equal evolution. The question "Should ID be taught alongside evolution" answers itself:

No. Can we have beer now?

Dr. Bergman, on the "Yes" side of the debate, spent the first half of his twenty minutes talking about himself and all the atheists he knows. In fact, he was an atheist! Many of his friends were atheists! But he found the atheist movement to be deficient, scholarly. He defined evolution as "from the goo to you by way of the zoo." There's nothing like a catchy, rhyming phrase laden with panting sarcasm to make me warm to your argument. He said that "you cannot judge a religion by those who don't follow it," and that sentence still does not make sense to me. He talked about debunking Darwinism step by step, stating that doing scientific research was what led him to theism and creationism.

I was wondering what this had to do with teaching ID in schools.

He conducted a survey with three thousand Ph.D. scientists, which showed that they overwhelmingly rejected "orthodox Darwinism," flashing some questions up on the screen that were clearly intelligently designed to produce ambiguous answers that could be interpreted to support his hypothesis.

He told me that "everyone is a creationist," that it's "not a good idea to teach religion in a science class," and that "you don't teach astronomy in a math class."

At this point, I noticed that my chest was really tight.

"The problem is," he said, "we don't teach enough about evolution." Science equals religion, he went on. Apparently if you say it's a fact, and it's true, then it's a religion. I think there's supposed to be something about evidence in there, but he thinks that the only answer you ever get from scientists is "evolution did it," or "it evolved that way." He's very concerned that we "cannot teach the problems with evolution" and that "atheism is taught in the schools, legally, indoctrinating students in a world view." Yup. That's how I came to my atheism: in my 10th grade biology class with Mr. Rosendahl, when that red-faced round white man preached to a rapt, entranced audience about frogs from his entitled throne of High School Biology Teacher.

It's the same crap. Atheists are winning, indeed, we have already won, and the poor Christians are persecuted. Ah! To be part of the persecuted, overwhelming majority group, dictating policy and whining in the corner about how nobody likes you.

Then he went into irreducible complexity, and I heard groaning all around me. Did you know that Carbon 12 is irreducibly complex? Neither did I. Someone else can better go into the weirdness that ensued during this section, as I stopped taking notes.

Then it was Dr. Myers' turn. So far, I had not heard a cohesive position in support of teaching ID/creationism alongside evolution in schools. Dr. Myers answered the question: "No, emphatically no. It's not science, so there's nothing to teach."

Science, he went on, needs a mechanism or theory and evidence or data showing that the observed mechanism works. You need real world observations to plug into the theory. ID has neither a mechanism nor data. There is no theory, which has been admitted to by proponents of ID. So what are we supposed to teach? How do we focus our research without a theory? How do we get data to support these positive claims distinguished from evolution; something that shows specifically that a designer did it?

I found him to be clear, concise, soft spoken, organized, and polite.

Dr. Myers pointed out that complaining about evolution is not part of a positive idea of science. You need theory and data if you want to teach intelligent design. If these cannot be provided, it cannot be taught. "Teaching is not a playground for teachers to spout off whatever they want." They are ethically and legally bound by states and districts. "They are responsible to students to give them accurate information to make informed decisions. Teaching creationism is a violation of professional responsibility."

Dr. Bergman? Rebuttal?

I teach Darwin's finches, too.
There's no theory, yes.
There are thousands of published papers, though, by ID people who are "in the closet." One individual has over 600 papers in major journals.
The appendix serves several functions, there are no vestigial organs.

(But why should it be taught? I am still wondering.)

There are quite a few studies that creationist students are 1-2 grades ahead of public school students.

(Citation and study design, please.)

Irreducible complexity, Aristotle, we need a heart, brain stem, kidney...

(I am just transcribing my notes, now. I mean, this is done, right?)

The periodic table of the elements is irreducibly complex, and a teacher was fired for teaching it.
Everything is irreducibly complex.
Show me the radio that works on a single lepton.

(What do radios have to do with evolution? Aside from the fact that humans evolved to the point where we could make one.)

Evolution is in the way of our knowledge of the biological world.

He equated god and evolution, you know the old game. There was nothing really new here. There's the God of the Gaps, and scientists have Evolution of the Gaps. But he "strongly supports the scientific method."

Dr. Myers? Rebuttal?

If the papers are not about ID, then they are not ID papers.
Dr. Bergman's definition of vestigial organs is peculiar; it's not the same as the biological definition. "No use" is not the same as "reduced function."
"That's the strangest definition of irreducible complexity I have ever heard," he said. Irreducible complexity is about biochemical pathways, specifically, and applying it to a carbon molecule makes no sense. Irreducible complexity has been refuted, and does not disprove evolution. When it comes to carbon molecules, it's not "little angels knitting them together"
People do teach the periodic table.
Yes, teachers have lost their jobs for not doing their jobs.
There is no positive case for ID, it's just complaining about evolution.
Schools have the right to set their curricula.

Question from Dr. Bergman to Dr. Myers: Do you know of any out of the closet ID'ers who have gotten tenure?
Dr. Myers: No. The problem there is?

Question from Dr. Myers to Dr. Bergman: How can you say that the Carbon 12 atom is irreducibly complex?
Dr. Bergman: restated the same thing.
Dr. Myers: That's not a useful argument for ID.
Dr. Begman: Yes it is.
Dr. Myers: open-mouthed silence.

During the questions from the audience section, Dr. Bergman quoted from Dr. Dawkin's book "The Greatest Show on Earth," (I think he said page 451, but I am tired, and the baby is crying), and he used to quote to conclude that genes are not the boss, there is a boss above the genes. Dr. Myers replied "Richard Dawkins would be mad at me if I let it slide that you quoted his book, supporting intelligent design. Natural processes are quite capable of producing increasingly complex information."

Question: "You admitted that ID has no theory in your rebuttal. For me that was 'game over.' Do you want to take that back?"

It was soon after this that he brought up Hitler. Hitler had enormous support from the scientists, he said, holding up a book called "Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Support of Evolutionary Progress." Oh, man. Really? Did you have to? See, right up until then, I was just feeling sorry for his rambling and inferior performance, and then... he brought up Hitler. No scientists, he said, openly opposed Hitler. Really? You want to say that again? You want some time to think about it, first?

It's the same old thing. Arguments from authority. Disparage science and scientists, but talk about all the support you have from science and scientists. Mislead with weird things like the irreducible complexity of a radio.

It was a good evening out, though. I figured out some things on the knitting pattern I am working on, and I got to thank Dr. Myers for his admirable job of sticking to the question.

My comment on the evaluation was: I think that the conversations and questions were remarkably civil, given the subject matter, but as an intellectual discussion, I do not feel that the "yes" side of the argument presented a rational case, based on evidence, for the teaching of ID/creationism in the public school science classroom.

And I'd just like to point out that, some of my best friends are Christian.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reprehensible, Religious, Repugnant

The Question of the Day for our public radio station was "What should the US do to promote religious tolerance at home." This is of course in response to the recent, apparently religiously motivated, shooting at Fort Hood. I thought that the question quite missed the point, but I was pleasantly surprised to note that most of the answers did not.

I wrote that religion enjoys an abundance of tolerance in the United States of America, to the point where it has become exempt from critical discussion and responsibility. Furthermore, tolerance between religions is fundamentally impossible as long as each declares itself to be the one true faith. And, if religious individuals want to make arguments based on faith, those arguments need to be subject to the same critical thinking and scrutiny as all arguments.

(I would add that this is especially true when those religious people are using religious arguments to influence public policy.)

Then today, on another blog, I read an exchange by two believers regarding lying: whether it was ever, ever OK to lie. The example used by the questioner was Nazi soldiers knocking on your door, looking for Jewish citizens, and you know where they are. The questioner thought this was clearly a time when you could, and probably should, lie.

Oh no no no no no.

Lying is 100% wrong, all the time, no matter the circumstances, according to the answer. He uses scripture to prove this, citing, among other things that the devil is the father of all lies. Lying to protect the lives of those Jewish people in hiding would be wrong wrong wrong because we are all sinners and are going to die sometime, anyway; how could we know what would really happen if we lied?; and... well, I'll let him sum up:

"Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life—keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway."

Am I really supposed to tolerate this sort of reasoning?



I think I have been reading too much about evolution and Mr. Darwin, because this sounds yummy:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Support our Troops

It's such a cliche, and I really think it has lost all power. What does it really mean? What are people doing to support our troops? Are they slogging away in the minefields of public policy, pushing for veterans' rights? Are they working in general toward a more just world that will somewhat abate the need for war?

And what about the term "troops"? That's a generic reference to a group of soldiers, a unit, or a company. Personally, I find "Support our Troops" to be dehumanizing and distancing, and it makes it easier for us to give lip service to something that is complicated and often brutal. But that's what slogans do.

Me? I don't have blanket, unthinking support for much. No individual or institution is always right and no individual or institution is above criticism or improvement. Real support is not just saying you support something and sending along some knitted dishtowels. Real support should involve thought and evaluation.

If there has to be a slogan, I would rather it be "Support our Soldiers." Because I don't think that "Remember all those Americans who, throughout our rather short and storied history, have given of their resources, up to and often including their lives, in support of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" fits as well on a magnetic ribbon.

Me? I am thinking about General George Washington and his men and all men and women who supported the revolutionary effort from 1774-1783, with special notice to Col. Henry Knox, Gen. Nathaniel Greene, and Maj. Gen. Lafayette. Everything would have been different without them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


OK, so I have never watch Glenn Beck. I only have so many hours in the day and many, many positive, life-affirming things to do during those hours. When I get angry, I like to keep it at a simmering Tim Pawlenty level and not purposely elevate it to the rampaging four-alarm heights that I think Mr. Beck would induce. Also, I am exposed to enough crazy from the right as it is.

So, I have to ask: John Stewart's parody of Glenn Beck. Really? Is that really what it's like?

Oh, America. Can you please stop having dance parties on the grave of Critical Thinking?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dear Mr. Pawlenty

Today on his radio show, our governor, who wants to be Your President, made the following comment:

"Right now, they can't even reasonably and efficiently live up to their promises for the manufacturing and distribution of vaccine for the flu. Doesn't that foreshadow problems with them try to take over even more of your health care decision making? If you can't even manufacture and distribute flu vaccine in the manner that you promised, do you really think they should take over more of the system?"

Not only is he wrong and, oh, by the way, lying, he's apparently getting talking points from an ad being run by The American Future Fund. Which is also wrong and lying.

It's a further example of the irresponsibility of the modern GOP. And it's a further example of the morphing of our supposedly once moderate governor into a tea party fundie.

Assertions like Mr. Pawlenty's are irresponsible contributions to the hysteria surrounding both this virus and the debate about health insurance reform. As I am willing to wager that he is well aware of the fact that the government is not manufacturing the vaccine or distributing it but has instead bought the supply in order to provide it free to the public, then I am forced to conclude that it is indeed his intention to lie in order to win support and PAC dollars. While it is true that the American voter has come to expect such distortions from politicians, it seems that the GOP of the 21st century has made this its modus operandi: win through fear, by any means necessary.

I am also willing to bet that he knows that the government will not be taking over health care, let alone the ability of individual citizens to make decisions.

This sort of rhetoric is neither helpful nor useful; it is only a means to power for its own sake. Mr. Pawlenty's continued transformation into an example of the worst element of the Republican Party is embarrassing to me as a Minnesotan and should be shameful to him as a human. I expect more out of a leader, but clearly, this is not what Mr. Pawlenty is.

He either knows he is lying and is doing it on purpose, or he is ignorant. Neither of these possibilities are virtuous.

p.s. I won't even get into the gross misunderstanding of the vaccine manufacturing process evident in his comment.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I got no strings...

I have decided that the lyrics to "I Got No Strings" from Walt Disney's Pinnochio, with some slight alterations, pretty much sum up how I feel about being an atheist:

I got no gods
To hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had gods
But now I'm free
There are no gods on me
Hi-ho the me-ri-o
That's the only way to go
I want the world to know
Nothing ever worries me
Hi-ho the me-ri-o
I'm as happy as can be
I want the world to know
Nothing ever worries me
I got no gods
So I have fun
I'm not tied up to anyone
They got gods
But you can see
There are no gods on me!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, President Carter

"A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity."

"America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Teaching Charity

In the United Kingdom, a manifesto from the Community Foundation Network has called for the teaching of charity in schools to achieve “a long term shift in the culture of philanthropy in the UK.” This means that an organization of community groups is calling on the national government to get involved in promoting charitable behavior in children in the public schools.

It got me thinking: Could this happen in the United States?

In one sense, it is, in that President Obama has made a call to Americans to serve our communities, but that's a general "be a good citizen" type of thing, and by no means is it a lesson plan, heaven forbid. We saw how well that went over when the president just wanted to say "Welcome back!" to our nation's schoolchildren.

On, there is a link that includes ideas for starting a service project, and the education components are "read to kids," and "start a bookdrive." Both good ideas, but hardly earth-shattering curricular innovations.

I poked around online a bit, to look into this idea of children and philanthropy. I found a bookmark to an article I read back in July. I thought it was great, but I was not sure to do with it. An 11-year-old boy walked 59 days and 668 miles to bring attention to the cause of homelessness. He said it was tiring, but "then I thought about the kids who do not get to quit being homeless.” The Philanthropy Project, an organization devoted to enhancing citizen philanthropy, followed Mr. Bonner and plans to make a movie about him.

If this were my kid, I would be so smug with pride that I would be unbearable. My kid is 16 months old, and his charitable acts are sharing raspberries (that I picked) and small chunks of cheese (that I cut). He is also willing to show me his toys and even let me hold them for short periods of time.

But I would like him to grow up with a sense of social justice and civic responsibility, and charity is a first step down that road.

How do we teach charity and philanthropy to kids? Can it be taught at all? Is this even a subject for the public schools? Many would argue that only religious schools can approach such topics, insisting that they are grounded in morality and therefore are the purview of religious traditions, and that public institutions should not be pushing morality.

I disagree.

I think that learning to be a good citizen is smack dab in the center of public education, and morality and ethics are human traits. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson's ideas on public education form much of the basis for the beginning of our system here in the United States, and the Common School movement of the 19th century believed that public education could create a united, moral citizenry, helping to prevent crime and poverty. (It was greatly due to this movement that a free elementary education became available to all American children regardless of wealth or religion.)

One need not talk about religion to teach civic responsibility and charity. In public schools, the Socratic method can be used in many different subjects to begin talking about what it means to be a "good citizen," and there are often ways to localize even the broadest topics. Of course, each teacher, knowing his or her students and their general demographics, will best know how to approach the subject, bearing in mind that some students may already be recipients of charity.

I would be pleased if my child were being taught about charity school, not only when it is understood as "generosity and helpfulness," but in a broader sense, of "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity." We are already working on it, trying to teach about sharing and getting him to stop hitting the cat.

The sharing bit may prove easier to tackle.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I think it's reprehensible for what is supposedly the "mainstream" of the republican party to be sitting on their hands while the birthers, death panelers, and other hate-mongers spread their outright lies. They are facilitating the spread of this nonsense through their silence.

I am trying to think of a present example on the left that would further explain this to a broader audience, but it eludes me at the moment... I can only hope that if the democrats began heaping on absurdity in the same manner, I would have the sense to speak out, and I would expect the same of my democratic representatives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


If I lost my job, and babywhumpus and I had to switch to daddywhumpus' insurance, and then daddywhumpus lost his job, and we had to try to afford buying insurance for the boy, at least, would a company insure babywhumpus? I think "extreme prematurity" might be a pre-existing condition.

Just wondering out loud...
I am becoming thoroughly exhausted with the idiocy often displayed in this country.

Friday, September 11, 2009

This Day in History

September 11, 1609. According to some records, English explorer, Henry Hudson, working for the Dutch, lands on Manhattan Island, marking the beginning of the Dutch colony that would become New Netherland. Fort Amsterdam, on the tip of the island, would eventually become the city of New York. New Netherland was a company owned and operated business venture of the Dutch West India Company.

September 11, 1773. Benjamin Franklin’s “Rules By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A Small One” is published, listing twenty ways in which a powerful government can reduce its might, including odious taxation, the appointment of ineffectual cronies as official representatives, and restricting the rights of citizens: “However peaceably your Colonies have submitted to your Government, shewn their Affection to your Interest, and patiently borne their Grievances, you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt, and treat them accordingly.”

September 11, 1906. Mahatma Gandhi addresses mass meeting of Indians at Johannesburg, and takes an oath of passive resistance against a newly promulgated Transvaal Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance which subjects all Indians to compulsory registration and identification by means of finger prints. Registration Certificates (Passes) were to be carried at all times and produced on request to a police officer under penalty of fines or imprisonment.

September 11, 1941. Construction begins on The Pentagon.

September 11, 1943. The liquidation of the Minsk and Lida ghettos begins. In Minsk, one and half-square meters (about 12 square feet) were measured out per person, not including children, and it is estimated that 100,000 people died over the course of the three years of the ghetto’s existence.

September 11, 1944. The first allied troops of the US Army cross the western border of Nazi Germany. The allied bombing raid on Darmstadt and the following firestorm left 12,300 dead, 70.000 homeless, 78% of inner city area destroyed, and only 50,000 inhabitants.

September 11, 1962. The Beatles record their debut single, “Love Me Do.”

September 11, 1978. U.S. President Jimmy Carter, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel meet at Camp David and agree on a framework for peace between Israel and Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

September 11, 1987. Three armed men break into reggae musician Peter Tosh’s Kingston estate and murder him and a friend, wounding four others. He had just released his album “No Nuclear War” for which he would be awarded a posthumous Grammy.

September 11, 1990. President George H. W. Bush delivers a nationally televised speech in which he threatens the use of force to remove Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait.

September 11, 2001. Three hijacked planes destroy the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 2,829 people, and part of The Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, killing 189. A fourth hijacked plane crashes into a rural area hear Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 44.

September 11, 2006. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber blows himself up inside a minibus full of Iraqi army recruits, killing 13 people and wounding seven.

September 11, 2006. A married couple sits on the couch in their livingroom before work. The air outside has been changing, making the switch to fall, and they hold their warm tea mugs in chilly hands. The husband asks the wife what kind of tea she is having, looking down into its amber steaminess, and she says “Earl Grey. Hot.” He laughs, then she laughs. “I like these weird little gourd mugs that James bought for our wedding,” she says. “Good,” he says.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

If I were a guy, and I apologized like this, I don't think I'd be gettin' any.

“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.”-Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Translation: I'm not really sorry, but I got in trouble, and the grown-ups made me say this. And to prove that I am not really sorry, I am going to repeat the lie within my "apology" just so I can get it out there one more time.

Ahem. Mr. Wilson, you don't get to "disagree" with a fact.

Should Congress have bothered to formally admonish him? Perhaps not. But it was awfully classy of President Obama to accept this forced and lame "apology."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Boys and Girls, the President of the United States

OK, America. Pull your head out.

At least, those of you who have your collective panties in a bunch over the POTUS wanting to address public school children on their first day of classes. Were I Mr. Obama, I would be screaming in the shower nightly over the hateful insanity running rampant through this country.

Can you imagine? You are thinking how nice it would be to welcome kids back to school, wish them luck, and remind them how important a good education is. You feel that, as the leader of the country who in fact has two school-aged children, it's your duty to be a good example.

And then this hot mess happens.

President Obama, I would like you to know that I wish my boy were old enough to be in school to hear your speech, and I might make him watch it anyway, even though he will be more interested in his blocks because he's only 15 months old.

To me, it makes sense for the POTUS to address school children, regardless of his political affiliation. He's the commander-in-chief; the man. Why should he not check in to say "Hi, how's it going? Good luck!" Like it or not, he was elected, he is the president, and if you think that a short speech is going to "indoctrinate" your children, like, say, into being better citizens or listening to their teachers or caring for their fellow students (OH, the HORROR), then maybe your children need some help in the critical skills department.

Anyway, weren't public school children being bussed to some McCain/Palin campaign events? Was that OK?

In my mind, if you are going to use public resources to transport public school children to campaign events, then you would have to take the same children to events from both sides and do critical thinking exercises with them, which would be educational.

Pres. Obama's desire to address public school children on the first day of classes is a different situation, in that he is the duly-elected President of the United States of America, though teachers could still use critical thinking exercises to get kids to consider issues. Like the whole controversy itself.

Mr. Obama is the president. Deal with it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hey you, with the deep fried Twinkie! What do you think about these important issues?

Apparently, this poll is being taken by visitors to the Minnesota State Fair. I am glad that I found it before I go to the Fair, so I have a chance to actually be thoughtful about my answers. I certainly hope that the answers are not being weighed with any importance for decision making at the legislative level, because I just don't think that the answers will be informed.

Minnesota House of Representatives State Fair Poll

Should the use of medical marijuana for terminally ill patients be permitted in Minnesota?

I say "yes." Further than that, I also believe that drugs should be decriminalized and regulated like alcohol and cigarettes.

Should Minnesotans be permitted to fish with two rods at once?

See, now my first reaction to this one is "who cares?" But I bet I will have an opinion once I look into it. My knee jerk answer is one person-one rod. I found some comments from interested parties, and I am going to stick with my original answer.

When a person registers for a driver's license or state identification card, should they automatically be registered to vote?

I want to say "no" because I have this idyllic belief that registering to vote should be a thoughtful action that all responsible citizens will take by themselves. I wonder what the argument for this is.

Should Minnesota voters be allowed to cast their ballots as early as two weeks before Election Day?


Under current law, the governor is permitted to unallot to prevent an anticipated budget deficit. Should he or she have this power?

No. In my mind, this was a disaster, a violation of the separation of powers, a dismissal of the legislative process, and it enabled Gov. Pawlenty to advance his campaign for national office.

Should bill and budget negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders be required to be open to the public?

What are the arguments for and against this? I can see that transparency would be one, and I can also see how some things should probably be private. After our recent budget debacle, however, I might lean toward "public."

Do you generally support budget cuts as opposed to increasing certain taxes in times of economic distress?

Generally, no. Generally. I do believe in efficiency, but I do not believe in cutting programs out of political avarice.

Should speeding violations be placed on a person's driving record if the driver was traveling no more than 10 mph over the speed limit in a 60 mph zone?

Um, what? I thought that tickets went on your driving record. So, they wouldn't go on your record if it was only a little bit illegal?

Should the state lottery be permitted to operate slot machines inside the ticketed area at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, meaning only air travelers with valid tickets could use the machines?

Please, no. If only because of the sound nuisance. Waiting in airports is pain enough, thank you.

The Minnesota Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires after the 2011 season. Should any public financing for a new or refurbished stadium be contingent on voter approval?

I am generally opposed to public financing of private, money-making enterprises. If the Vikings want to help pay for my remodel, then I might consider it.

If a charter school does not offer a specific extracurricular opportunity, such as a hockey or debate team, should its students be allowed to participate in such an activity in their resident school district?

I don't know enough about charter schools or this issue to answer.

Should a local disaster assistance fund be established to help local governments deal with the aftermath of a tornado, flood or other natural disaster?

I need more information.

When a homeowner prevails in a court action against a contractor or builder to have a warranty enforced, should the homeowner also be entitled to attorney fees and other costs related to the legal action?

Hmmm... perhaps.

Here's the thing: I try to stay informed, and I know almost nothing about most of these topics. It will be interesting to see if my questions can be answered at the booth tomorrow when we go to the Fair.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thank You, Senator Kennedy

I will never forget your heartfelt sympathy at headquarters on the day that Paul Wellstone died. Your voice will be sorely missed in the United States Senate.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Planning on a Vacation?

You may not want to use this map.

But it is something to think about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Truth Will Out?

The left continues to believe that the best offense against lies is the truth. And this is why we keep losing the Big Arguments. The truth has almost no power over fear and emotion.

Recent hateful, paranoid assertions getting airplay will not be refuted by calm repetition of the facts. When someone believes that an army of AmeriCorps members is going to be taking over the country, telling him that "AmeriCorps is a program that provides math tutoring, neighborhood improvement, and technology assistance to low income residents" is not going to make him go "Oh. Ok! I was just misinformed." Some part of the American population wants to believe that the government is coming for them.

The only thing that can be done, the only thing that has a possibility of even opening a chink in this alarmist armor is turning it back on the individuals. Ask open ended questions. Make them think about what they are saying. Make them elucidate and then support their beliefs. Turn their accusations back on them. Some may only be parroting what they have heard on talk radio, and no one has questioned them. Some may be beyond reason.

But it's not as simple as offering up the truth. The truth is more accessible than ever with our information systems.

And the lies keep getting bigger.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's about time.

Thanks, Mr. Frank.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Clunkers for Charity

Remember when people used to donate their crappy cars to charity and take a tax write off?

Yeah, that was cool.

Cash for Clunkers (Thank goodness the government did not fall into the Krazy K spelling and commit the heresy of calling it Kash for Klunkers) has cut into charity's take of the crappy car market (Krappy Kar?). It's another example of how interconnected people and issues are. One things affects another, and unintended consequences can pop up all over the place.

Officially, Clunkers is the "Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS)," but if I wrote that, very few people would know what I meant. My gloss on the program is that it's a good one, at least from a demand/consumer perspective; the environmental returns may prove to be dubious, but at least it's something to goes directly to citizens.

I have an old car. It's a 1991 Honda Civic DX. It runs really well, but we have consolidated our car usage to the point where we are only using one, our 2005 Toyota Corolla. We don't qualify for the CARS program because our cars already get good gas mileage. Even my old Honda comes in at around 30 mph, and Clunkers have to get a combined EPA gas mileage rating is 18 mpg or below. Also, it has been off insurance for a number of months, though its registration and plates are current.

What am I going to do with it?

I'll probably donate it to charity. "Clunkers" has resulted in a decrease in charity cars, and I have my choice of charities in the Twin Cities area. As my car does not qualify, it's not really much of a choice, but I could sell it for significantly more than the average tax deduction of $500. Some charities and nonprofits say they've seen a decrease in the number of donated cars since the program was launched last month. That's not surprising, because the average tax deduction for most donated cars is about $500 and CARS pays $4,500.

Now I just have to decide: Twin Cities Public Television, Goodwill-Easter Seals, Minnesota AIDS Foundation, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, The Courage Center, breast cancer, veterans, arthritis... it's a rather dizzying array of choices. I think I would like to choose something that is local and provides a direct service, but the idea of The March of Dimes is also alluring, as my son was born very premature, and the economic costs of prematurity are staggering: around 26 billion per year in the US alone.

My old-car-that-still-gets-good-gas-mileage is doing no one any good parked in our driveway, and though it's a form of passive charity, it is something I can do right now, like being a celebrity and auctioning off my kidney stone (no kidding), though much less gross.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Action

Petition for the public option.

Write to these guys and tell them you support a public option.

Make the call: support the public option

The White House comment line: 202-456-1111
The office of Nancy Pelosi: 202-225-4965
The office of Harry Reid: 202-224-3542

Contact Other Elected Officials.

Flagrant Mis-use of Baby

I want you...
To call your senator and your representative. Call your governor. Call The White House. Tell them not to drop the public option for health care. Tell them not to cave in to the corporate oligarchy. Tell them not to succumb to their lies, fear, and misinformation.

This is ridiculous.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Little Family

In the car at 26th and Hiawatha, in extremely premature labor, I thought "I wonder if there is anything they can do with the baby; if we can donate it to research or something. I wonder if anything good can come of this." Then I thought "I wonder if our health insurance will cover this. We can't afford this."

After he was born and he was stabilized, I had a chance to revisit my nervousness about money. I called my health insurance representative from my hospital room. They said we were 100% covered. I asked again. "What about the baby?" "100 %" the voice said. I didn't really believe it, but I was relieved.

This was going to be expensive.

As I wound my way through my son's hospitalization and the statements started rolling in; as I learned more about prematurity and read up on the statistics, I started to wonder about other people. Sure, we are fine, but if other people are not, are we really fine?

According to The March of Dimes, in 2006, 12.8% of babies (542,893) were born preterm--an increase of 16 percent over ten years. Furthermore, "during 2004-2006 in the United States, preterm birth rates were highest for black infants (18.3%), followed by Native Americans (14.1%), Hispanics (12.1%), whites (11.6%) and Asians (10.7%)." The associated economic cost in 2005 was $26.2 billion. Preterm birth rates are highest for women over 40 and women under 20. Everything I heard from doctors was that they "don't really know" what causes it in most cases.

If you add in health insurance statistics, it becomes pretty likely that many of these preterm babies are born to women who do not have health insurance: 19.8% of women of childbearing age are uninsured; Hispanic women of childbearing age are twice as likely to be uninsured; Native American and African American women are also more likely to be uninsured; and 40.7% of all births were covered under Medicaid in 2002. Apparently, the care for one baby like mine could pay for the care of 12 "healthy births." To sharpen the focus: 40 percent of preterm births in 2005 were covered by Medicaid (1).

I am not uninsured. I am fortunate that my employer provides excellent benefits, and I would not choose a public option at this point. But what would happen if I lost my job, which is likely due to funding cuts? What would happen if I could not find another job that also provided benefits? Well, in my case, I could go on my husband's insurance. But he works for the same public entity as I, and his job could go away, too.

What would this little family do then?

My baby cost $20,482.62 to be born and another $355,316.80 before he could come home, and he had no complications. What if, like many of the mothers of premature babies, I had no health insurance? If it's not a "right," then is it just too bad, so sad about my tiny baby? After all, he has never worked a day in his life. What happens to the little family? That baby will be cared for, and someone will have to pay. Maybe it will be medical assistance. Maybe it will be the little family, for the rest of its life and beyond, most likely putting them onto, or keeping them on, some sort of public aid. For the rest of their lives. And beyond. Someone will have to pay.

Someone always has to pay.

Do I benefit from the despair of others? Do I benefit when fellow citizens are sinking under economic pressures, many of which are caused by health care expenses? In my mind, we all suffer. We none of us live in a vacuum; our society is only as strong as our most marginalized people, and we will sink or swim together, in the end. Someone always has to pay.

It's pretty obvious where I stand on this issue. I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. I think that tying health insurance to employment does little more, in many circumstances, than keep people in unsatisfying jobs, often thwarting creativity and ingenuity in favor of very real concerns about the household bottom line. I do not believe that "the market" is the appropriate place to put our health and our lives. I do not believe that "the market" has our best interests at heart. I believe that "the market" cares most about "the market," and allowing it more license and access will not make it more responsible to real human needs. When profit is allowed into our health, I think our health suffers. I do not understand why people put so much trust in "the market." And yes, given the choice, I trust the government more. At the very least, the government has an agreed upon charter in The United States Constitution. "The market" has no such responsibility to the public trust.

I believe that Republicans are exploiting libertarians and marginalized people for their own gain, much as they exploited Christian fundamentalists. They use fear and negative emotion to get people on their side, people who--in the end--will not benefit from their policies or their platform. This is not to take a paternalistic view of the American voter who is Not Me. Emotion is a powerful tool, and politicians have always known that. It is the most successful politician who can exploit emotions to his or her own gain. If done in a positive sense, then both participants can gain from the relationship; if done negatively, people line up to participate willingly and loudly in their own demise to the benefit of those in power. I believe that many of the people against health care reform are benefiting or have benefited from some form of government assistance, even as they loudly decry it.

I believe that the current "debate" around the subject of health care reform, while not outside the bounds of historical, American political discourse, is dangerous and deplorable because of its disregard for the ideals of a civil government, its exploitation of fear, and its subtle (and not-so-subtle) manipulation of racism in order to gain a political end of dubious value.

I believe that dissent is essential in a republic in order to create balance and foster healthy disagreement and informed dialogue, but I believe that the current climate is precisely the opposite. I believe that protest from either side should be respected only when it behaves respectfully, and I do not believe that the current protests fit the bill. I believe that the lies being disseminated by the instigators of the opposition are an insult to the intelligence of our nation and are also, in their continuous use of Nationalsocialist comparisons and echoes of the Holocaust, an affront to the many different groups who did suffer cruelly and wrongfully in the 1930's and 40's in Europe.

I believe in this country's ability to eventually rise above this morass of hateful invective, but perhaps not before we can effect real change in how we go about taking care of one another. I believe that everyone who has heard the lies and who agrees with the need for a public option for health care coverage needs to speak out and be heard.

Because I believe that our numbers are larger.

1 Preterm birth By Richard E. Behrman, Adrienne Stith Butler, Institute of Medicine (U.S.).
Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Episodic Philanthropy

This is old news, but the first paragraph of the New York Times review of the new television program "The Philanthropist" reads to me like the first sentence of a review of "Iron Man:"

"Teddy Rist (James Purefoy), the playboy tycoon hero of “The Philanthropist” on NBC, is negotiating an oil deal in Nigeria when a near-death experience tears away his smug complacency."

The review is actually pretty good, so the producers should be happy (USA Today did not like it so much), but it really does not sound "new" to me. Not that anything really is.

I don't watch a lot of television. I don't say that only to brag and make myself sound superior, I say it because once "Friends" went off the air, I lost interest in anything but PBS. I admit to being curious about this program, given my constant news searches on subjects concerning philanthropy and nonprofits, but I am skeptical, and I admit that I will probably never watch it. "Billionaire playboy turns do-gooder" is not exactly a hot storyline. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark kind of cornered that market, didn't they?

(Aside: Why not a female philanthropist? I guess she would have to be a former beauty queen turned celebrity billionaire turned action adventure philanthropist. Hey! Paris Hilton might not be busy.)

USA Today writes, amusingly: "The Philanthropist has no more to do with actual philanthropy than Superman does with journalism." And Steve Gunderson, CEO of the Council on Foundations reiterates: "His life is exciting. His solutions arrive in sixty minutes. And he always succeeds... I wish philanthropy was really that fun and that easy"

Here's one of my favorite things to do when something like this is in the news. Look it up:

philanthropist: - someone who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being

From the reviews, it sounds to me as if the protagonist of "The Philanthropist" is doing good deeds to exorcise personal demons, not out of a thirst for social justice. But a billionaire writing a check for a gosh-darn-good proposal does not make for good TV. A dirty, perhaps even bleeding, billionaire racing through the jungle with a vaccine for an African child apparently is. Maybe the title should be "The Vigilanthropist."

I suppose it's intended as irony. I mean, it could be, right? I just can't think how, at this moment. Apparently, it's based on a real person. Loosely based. But his story is not interesting enough for a summer TV series. After all, he's married and travels the world with his family. Blah.

If "The Philanthropist" wants to be philanthropic, is NBC selling its ad space at cut rates to nonprofits and having a lot of public service announcements? Does it contain a segment at the end, addressing the realities of each episode's situation, such as vaccination issues and Africa, including action ideas for viewers? Let me know if it does; that would be interesting. (I note that there is a small "Outreach" section on the show's website.)

The actor admonishes us with comments like "I think your heart is a little blackened thing if you don’t like this show." Yup, I am not going to watch "The Philanthropist" because I am dead inside. I am the Tin Man before Dorothy came along. Then again, this actor also says "He’s giving, not taking, and it makes him feel really f*#%ing good. " This is a classic contradiction in terms and also an example of a not-very-critical consciousness.

Next up: "Teddy and Phillip's college friend asks for their help to negotiate with the Indian and Pakistani governments to rebuild the region's water system." I am sure it will get into the intricacies of the history of those two countries, including a lesson on the religious nature of many of the conflicts. You'll have to let me know how it is.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What a Colossal Waste of Time

Hey, have you heard that we are in the midst of an economic downturn, something like the worst recession in the collective memory? I think I heard that somewhere. Did you know that the American health care system it teetering on the verge of collapse? There seems to be some data out there that pointing in that direction. Were you aware that we are facing environmental challenges registering at the "catastrophic for humanity on a world-wide level" level? Seems to me I read about that somewhere.

So what are our legislators working on?

Well, I'll tell ya.

They actually wasted our public time and resources on this steaming heap of bullshit:


Agreed to July 10, 2009

One Hundred Eleventh Congress of the United States of America

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the sixth day of January, two thousand and nine

Concurrent Resolution

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring),


(a) Engraving Required- The Architect of the Capitol shall engrave the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Motto of ‘In God we trust’ in the Capitol Visitor Center, in accordance with the engraving plan described in subsection (b).

(b) Engraving Plan- The engraving plan described in this subsection is a plan setting forth the design and location of the engraving required under subsection (a) which is prepared by the Architect of the Capitol and approved by the Committee on House Administration of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate.

Attest: Clerk of the House of Representatives.

Attest: Secretary of the Senate.

And the vote?

Passed by the House, July 9, 2009: Aye 410, Nay 8, Present/Not Voting 14
Minnesota delegation:
AyeMN-1Walz, Timothy [D]
AyeMN-2Kline, John [R]
AyeMN-3Paulsen, Erik [R]
AyeMN-4McCollum, Betty [D]
AyeMN-5Ellison, Keith [D]
AyeMN-6Bachmann, Michele [R]
AyeMN-7Peterson, Collin [D]
AyeMN-8Oberstar, James [D]

The Senate: 7/10/2009: Received in the Senate, considered, and agreed to without amendment by Unanimous Consent. (consideration: CR S7372)

I do believe that some of my Minnesota Congresspeople are going to be hearing from me. I am certainly not shocked about the republicans, least of all Ms. Bachmann, but I am heartily disappointed in Mr. Walz, Ms. McCollum (she's mine), Mr. Ellison, Mr. Peterson, and Mr. Oberstar.

What difference does it make? Why do I care? What does it really change in my life? Well, as a nonbeliever, it pushes me further out of public discourse. It contributes to the culture of sanctimonious, hyper-religiosity and to the rewriting of history we have been enduring in America during this round of evangelical madness. It actually carves in stone the false notion that this is a "Christian Nation" that was founded on "Christian Values."

I was not alive when this happened:

A law passed by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-140) and approved by the President on July 30, 1956, the President approved a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress, declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States. IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. The first paper currency bearing the motto entered circulation on October 1, 1957. US Treasury Fact Sheet

Neither was I around when "under God" was added to the pledge in 1954. I doubt we are going to get rid of either any time soon, even though we seem to have had this pesky little thing

Article the third [Amendment I]
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

around for even longer.

Oh, and this:

Treaty of Tripoli, 1797
Article 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.[27]

Congressional moves like H Con Res 131, "under god," and "In God We Trust" are official actions, taken by the government, that sanction religious beliefs. They are a waste of time, mere political posturing, they place Christianity above all other religions, and they leave out a whole population of Americans checking the atheist, agnostic, nonbelieving, spiritual, and "other" boxes.

Until we stop only putting our patriotism into abstract symbols of nationhood and our trust into deities instead of into our fellow citizens, we will be mired in the same "country first" mentality that plays to politics and not to people. We have real problems, and spending public money to chip arcane and irrelevant words into a visitor center wall will get us no where. Apparently, some section of the American population thinks that America is in a godless tailspin into depravity, and this is a congressman's idea of how to slow it down. I have no idea, but are these not the same people who get their collective feathers all a-ruffle if the government so much as sniffs around their property lines, screaming about privacy? But they are all-too-happy to allow the government into the most private places, as long as it is their own cherished beliefs that the government is supporting or endorsing.

I understand that these are official United States words being carved into official United States walls, but wasn't it bad enough that they were made official in the first place? It's a step in the wrong direction. Mr. Ellison was given loads of heat for taking his oath of office on a Koran. Thomas Jefferson's Koran. He voted "yes." Even if they want to say, well, it doesn't say "in Yahweh we trust," we all know that they certainly don't mean "Allah," and it's a load of bunk to suggest that "God" is somehow all-inclusive, especially in America in 2009.

Wait until Thor finds out.

We could use a good thunderstorm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

one of these things is not like the other

One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you guess which thing is not like the others
By the time we finish our song?

If you guessed "the red one," you'd be right.

Methinks Mr. Goldberg is playing fast and loose with the word "history."

And so is

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I don't know where to start

This poster, advertisement, travesty is hanging in a hallway I pass through on my way to the "expression room," a.k.a. "The Bunker."

Again, anyone who thinks we are living in a postfeminist world, feast your eyes.

Do I need to go into an analysis, or is it as obvious to you as it is to me?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yeah, we don't need feminists anymore.

We're all set.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Thomas Jefferson, in a new light.
No, really.
Congratulations, Senator Franken.

Monday, June 29, 2009

150 Years at the Mast

How does putting Bernie Madoff in jail for 150 years help anyone he defrauded?

Shouldn't he have to do something productive that will make it possible for him to pay them all back?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

smart questions

Hmmm... maybe if mortgage companies had used similar tactics and used data...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Give, Don't Tell

Apparently, among charitable circles, there has been an approximately 14 percent jump in large ($1 million or more), anonymous gifts.


Well, there are many possible reasons.

Two common ones, according to Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, are "aversion to solicitations from other charities, and a desire to keep a gift secret from family or friends." Because you don't want your backward, mean, conservative second cousin in Appalachia finding out you gave $3 million dollars to the Foundation for Godless Liberals, even if it does mean she's willing to become an evolution-toting atheist for the sake of the cash. And you don't want the Godless Liberal Foundation barking after its equivalent sum, either.

OK, I guess I can buy that.

Now, some are speculating that this trend reflects Rich Guilt, or not wanting to flaunt one's wealth when so many are suffering. (Tell that to our local Luxury Home Tour). Correspondingly, giving lavishly and publicly could lead to questions like, "Hey, Lou, where'd you get all that spare cash? Little insider trading?"

And who wants that?

I think it's most likely that people are shielding themselves from the capacious need that exists out there nowadays, especially in the social services sector. I guess I can understand that. You have some extra funds; you choose your benefactor; you give; you walk away; no one ever bothers you again; collect your reward in heaven.

Thing is, the people who have a million or more to give, probably do have a few more spare millions to give, and they know it, and that's where the guilt comes in. Proportionately, they have more, and more to spare, and it's just a fact.

My little family is middle class, I guess, though I don't really know what that means, economically. Some shoddy internet research shows me that no one in America really knows what it means, but that most Americans think they are it. The Census Bureau said that the middle 20% of the country earns between $40,000 and $95,000 annually, and a nonprofit reports that it "conventionally" means families with incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 each year. (Please note that "shoddy internet research" means that it took me 12 seconds, I chose PBS because I trust Bill Moyers, and the data is 6 years old). But it was clear from the last campaign, that once poverty was out of the picture with Mr. Edwards, the "middle class" was the siren song of all politicians. In any case, the 40-95 seems more reasonable to me, as there is a gulf of difference between 25 thousand for a family and 100 thousand for a family. So, yeah, we're middle class, by that definition.

I don't give to charity. I am a member of public radio and public TV and a few nonprofit organizations, and I have kept giving to them, but other than that, I am saving money because we could be mere inches away from slipping out of that middle class into hard times, and the safety net is not what it was. If I were giving, would I do it anonymously? Probably not. I don't think that my C-note would set off any bells and whistles around here.

Charity knitted dishcloths, anyone?

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Fly

PETA is kind of upset about The Fly.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

However you look at it, someone has to pay.

Our governor (watch out, America) refused to negotiate on the budget this year, again. If anything includes tax increases, he won't listen to it at all, but he blames the democrats for everything. Since they know he will just veto it, they should not even bother. Thing is, it's Mr. Pawlenty who is being recalcitrant; playing politics instead of being sensible.

He likes to talk about how government needs to live within its means, just like a family. Well, I am thinking that no sane family would sit down to talk about solutions and, out of hand, reject something like, oh, I don't know, raising revenue. Like us. I was cut to 75% at work. Should I have refused the freelance editing project I was offered over the summer?

Someone will always have to pay. Mr. Pawlenty made his own cuts, and many of them will require that my family pay in the end. And most likely, we will be paying more than we would have under the democrats' plan, which raised taxes.

The governor cut 730 million in spending and made up the rest of the 2.65 billion deficit using massive accounting shifts.

I don't know about your family, but massive accounting shifts are not going to help us in any real way here in the McCauley household. I thought that we had pretty much decided that these accounting shifts are gimmicks and are not good for long-term financial health. I could be wrong.

Minnesotans lose 100 million more from state colleges and universities, disabled Minnesotans will receive fewer hours of in-home care, renters' credits drop by 30%, and chemical dependency, emergency housing, and child support grants will be cut, among other things.

The accounting shift is $1.77 billion in education, and is money that will have to be paid back at some future date. Some future date when Mr. Pawlenty is no longer governor.

Here's the thing: if you cut health and human services, does that mean the fewer people need them? If you cut aid to local governments, does that mean that they won't need it? If you cut aid to universities and colleges, does that mean that nothing changes for the students and employees?

Um, no.

It's pushing expenses down and abdicating responsibility, which is what Mr. Pawlenty has been doing for his two terms as governor due to his no-new-taxes pledges. It's all about being able to say that he did not raise taxes but still balanced the budget. It's all about being technically right, which is all you need be when all you need is a soundbyte on the national political stage. Meanwhile, my property taxes go up 12-16% a year or more, even while the value of my house goes down. My school districts have to have referenda to raise money. Tuition goes up for students, and both our jobs are at risk.

And my family is in relatively good shape. What about the people who need health and human services aid? What about renters who rely on that credit? What happens to those who need the help? They will get it somehow, or someway. At some point, the system will have to pay. The need does not go away, it just gets shifted.