Saturday, December 29, 2007

Question for the ages...

What is there about wills, estates, etc., that brings out the worst in family members? The most vicious fights over the most trivial stuff? And it's not stuff that has any sentimental value... we're talking about dilapidated junk. Yet there's a huge amount of "I GOTTA GET MINE!!!" going on.

I know, I'm not the first to ask that question. I'm just seeing it up-close-and-personal for the first time, and it's not pretty.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Helpful Suggestions

I saw a link to this article, revealing that President Doofus is planning on spending time next year traveling the world trying to boost America's image in the world.

With all due respect, it's going to take more than some speechifyin' to do that, mostly because of stuff President Doofus has done.

So, in the helpful spirit of the holidays, here are some suggestions on what he could do to boost America's image and standing in the world, that would definitely have more effect than any number of speeches he could give (because face it, speechifyin' is not his long suit):

  1. Announce that effective immediately, waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques are contrary to the policy of the United States, and will not be applied against any person in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.
  2. Reaffirm our historic adherence to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, prohibiting cruel and inhumane treatment of persons in custody. (This would NOT extend POW rights to detainees; but all persons in custody are entitled to minimum decency.)
  3. Instruct the Justice Dept to appoint a special counsel to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes as potential obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy.
  4. Announce our immediate commitment to the Kyoto Protocols and strengthening the Bali agreement. Additional funding in alternative-fuels research to be funded by a carbon tax. (Drive up the cost of crude, and the market will find an alternative.)
  5. Announce your plans to reduce troop presence in Iraq by 50% by December 2008, and to have all troops out of Iraq by December 2009. In order to help the Iraqi government transition, non-military foreign aid may have to increase substantially. But if we're no longer spending a billion a week in Iraq, we can afford it.
  6. Double the funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to stop the disgrace of toxic toys.
  7. I was going to say "Resign," but then I realized that would lead to President Vader. Stay where you are, the alternative would be worse. So, instead of resigning, announce that your primary focus will be the day-to-day operations of a caretaker administration, pending the next President. In the meantime, you will try to clean up some of your messes and attempt to restore the rule of law.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Further evidence religion makes you stupid

Or, "I don't understand it so it must be wrong. The Big Bang is silly, the universe didn't just blow into place, saying God did it is SO much more logical."

I'd think this was a parody, but the fool is apparently serious.

This illustrates the problem with religion. Once you throw out your thinking brain and start accepting absurdity on faith, your ability to understand anything else goes out the window.

[h/t: Ed Brayton, John Wilkins, both of whom deconstruct the fool's rant in more detail.]

Religion vs spirituality

The last couple of posts (heck, a continuing thread of posts throughout) beat up on the Bible-beaters. (But they're such an easy target.)

And yet, "spirituality" is one of the things I've listed as a semi-regular topic for the blog, though I haven't discussed it much. Maybe it's time to address that.

"Spiritual but not religious" is, I suppose, the closest I can come to describing my own outlook. (Some would say that's a null referent, that there is no such thing as spirituality without religion; I'm not so sure. In fact, I am sure; it's not a null.) A higher purpose to life, a long-term trend toward enlightenment and awareness of how we affect each other beyond our own tribe, recognition of our responsibilities toward each other, a commitment to live a little closer to "love thy neighbor as thyself" today than yesterday--those are what I try to aspire to.

Is there Something out there, Something Much Bigger Than Us? Perhaps. It can't be proven; there's no positive proof of anything that's convincing, and a negative can't be proven. (See the Black Swan fallacy.) And of course, "I would like this to be true" is no proof at all. I'd like to own a sports car, but no matter how much I want it, just wanting it isn't going to make a Ferrari appear in the carport.

But there are several things my spirituality is not. I reject dogma. I reject "You must believe this because our great-great-grandfathers believed this." I reject any system that requires me to ignore evidence or abjure reasoning. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I refuse to give up my right to ask any question I please. I reject any system based on blind obedience or accepting the ridiculous "on faith," especially any system that uses my ability to accept the ridiculous as a measure of merit. I reject any system requiring me to pay homage to a tribal sky-god in bad need of a 12-step program, or that takes ancient texts of dubious authorship as unquestionable ultimate authority. I reject any system based on who it excludes or who it hates--if there really is a Big Is out there, then it's out there for everyone, not just those who agree with me or who have names I can pronounce easily.

Thus, I reject organized religion, a man-made institution in which the control freaks have run amok, institutionalizing their privileges and consolidating their control. I particularly reject the toxic combination of religion and politics, which brings out the worst qualities of both. (See the Romney and Huckabee campaigns for easy examples; Pat Robertson's presidential run also comes to mind.)

Some people claim to be able to find spirituality through religion; personally, I've not seen much evidence of it. And for every person who does, there seem to be several more who clearly don't, who find in religion a way to confirm and reinforce their bigotry and let their worst instincts run rampant. I suspect those who found spirituality through their religion, would have found it by some other means if religion hadn't been there. Thus, no net loss if it were gone.

So as long as the Bible-beaters keep acting the fool, I'll keep mocking them.

And so it goes.

That's not what "separation of church & state" means

Sen. Grassley is asking several of the richer megachurches for information about how they're maintaining their tax-exempt status and how they're spending donor's money. Only 2 of the six he's contacted have sent any information back; one said he's welcome to subpoena them (I can see the press conference where they play the martyr card already). The others have said nothing.

The leaders of two ministries contacted by Mr. Grassley’s office who have answered his queries are Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Tex., and Joyce Meyer, who with her husband, David, runs Joyce Meyer Ministries from Fenton, Mo.

Popular with women for her no-nonsense brand of self-help, Ms. Meyer was asked by Mr. Grassley’s office to explain the “tax-exempt purpose” of purchases including a “commode with marble top” bought for $23,000 for her headquarters.

Hmm. I have a hard time seeing how that level of luxury is needed in a church organization.

Oddly enough, none of these megachurches belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and of course they're not audited by an outside auditor.

My favorite argument, though, is that because they're churches, the Senator is violating Church-State separation by even asking the question. Amazing how the Bible-beaters talk about how separation is a liberal humanist myth when they're talking about forcing religion into public life, but they scurry and hide behind it when it's convenient. But why shouldn't snake-oil salesmen also be hypocrites?

It's really quite simple. There are laws that say you don't have to pay taxes on donations, provided you're using them for church purposes. The government is within its rights to verify that you're obeying the law. Otherwise, let the church pay you an outrageous salary, pay income tax on it, and buy your own $23,000 commode.

Poor Huckabee, Victim For Jesus

Once again, Huckabee misses the point:

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made no apologies Sunday for the religious tone of a recent holiday campaign commercial and said it is important to look for Jesus at this time of year.

"You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discounts in every store," Huckabee said from the pulpit of Cornerstone Church. "But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day."

No, Governor. No one's upset that you said Merry Christmas. Put away your persecuted-Christian complex. It riles up the base, but it makes you look like an idiot to the rest of us.

The problem is that you can't decide whether you're running for President, or Pastor-In-Chief. Different roles. It's fine for a preacher to preach religion. For a President, not so much.

Of course, deep thought isn't his long suit. On the one hand, he says:

Asked whether he was running for president of Christian America, Huckabee said he was campaigning to be the "president of all America, to be the people's president."

However, on the same day, he delivers a sermon at church, where he says
"The great truth of Christmas is that no matter how good we are, we're not good enough to know God without the Christ," said Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. "And no matter how bad ... we are not so bad that he cannot find us."

"So while some people seem to want us to lose Jesus, I would like for us to do our best to find him," Huckabee said at the megachurch, where televangelist John Hagee is the senior pastor and founder.

And he insists his church appearance isn't political. So when he's president, will he occasionally take time out to make non-political, non-presidential church appearances to promote Christianity?

Seeing no contradiction here, no hypocrisy in his behavior, reveals his lack of consideration, the shallowness of his analysis. Feh. I'm with Hitchens on this one. Though part of me hopes he does well enough to cause serious problems for the GOP establishment. They spent years listening to Rove; let them reap the whirlwind.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another semester down.

Wow, I hadn't intended to let 3 weeks go by. Long story short: Grading is finished. I had two students plagiarize their final papers for the ethics course (yes, irony is dead). End-of-semester statistics are gathered & turned in, & next semester's Blackboard sites are underway.

We're also in the middle of a blizzard. It must be December.