December 31, 2005

The Bush Administration in 2005: Scandal, Incompetence, and Dark Clouds Ahead

Independent Online Edition > Americas

Today is the day when many are trying to make some sort of profound statement upon which to end 2005. Any year-in-review that focuses on international news cannot help but conclude that 2005 has been an awful year. Whether one focuses on Iraq, the riots in France, terrorist bombings in various countries, or natural disasters, it seems like it has been one catastrophe after another.

For me, 2005 will always be the year of Hurricane Katrina. Whatever else happened, living through this disaster had a deep personal impact I shall not soon forget. However, I post this article because I think it does a good job of placing Katrina in a broader context of 2005 through which its lesson should best be remembered.

As we celebrate the end of 2005, I have but one simple resolution for the New Year. I want to make a difference. I want to take a more active stance in 2006 to address the many wrongs I see around me. Call me naive. Call me an idealist. But I continue to believe that things can get better. Happy New Year! I'll see you in 2006.

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December 30, 2005

U.S. Opposes Litany of Global Treaties in 2005

U.S. Opposes Litany of Global Treaties in 2005

I found some of the treaties we are refusing to sign very surprising. No wonder the rest of the world views America as a nation of hypocrites - or worse. This is another important story that seems to have slipped through the cracks. Without some form of independent media, we'd never hear about this sort of thing.

December 28, 2005

Katrina Survivors Prematurely Forgotten

The mainstream media refers to it as "Katrina fatigue." Following the hurricane's assault on Mississippi and Louisiana at the end of August, charitable individuals contributed vast sums of money while the Bush administration looked on with disinterest. When FEMA finally mobilized under mounting public pressure, it was joined by the Red Cross and other charitable organizations funded by concerned citizens. However, just in time for the holiday season, we learn that the American people are tired of hearing about Katrina, tired of giving, and would prefer to focus on buying unnecessary things for their own families rather than helping storm victims with food, shelter, and clothing.

In fairness to those who I am depicting as self-centered, many are under the impression that the Katrina-related crisis is over and that additional assistance is not needed. The mainstream media are partially responsible for this in that they are no longer covering what is going on in New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. The average American assumes that if the media are not making a big deal about something, then it must not be a big deal.

I drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, yesterday. I'm not really sure why. I had loaded up my camera equipment and was planning to do some bird photography at a park several miles inland from the coast. Instead, I ended up in Biloxi. For the first time since Katrina, I drove the stretch of road along the coast. What I saw brought tears to my eyes and was far worse than anything I had imagined.

Virtually all of the historic homes along the coast were completely destroyed. In some cases, nothing remained but the foundations. Debris covered the ground as far as the eye could see. The casinos were devastated, boats had been washed far inland, and only a handful of local businesses had managed to reopen. If debris clean-up had started, it was barely evident. The only thing I've ever seen (and only in pictures) that could compare to this scene would be cities that had been subjected to prolonged airstrikes. Words or pictures simply cannot convey the scope of the devastation or the lack of visible progress that has been made in this area since August.

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Bush Presses Editors on Security

Free Press : Bush Presses Editors on Security

Criticizing the White House is harmful to national security. It is getting harder and harder to be surprised at anything Bush does or says. After all, this is the guy who claimed that his god speaks to him.

Now we have PR firms with Republican ties attempting to buy off journalists. I suppose a free press is not needed in a theocracy. Their bloodthirsty god is the one truth, and this means that they are right in doing whatever they do. Critics should be silenced or bought off. Doesn't sound very American, does it?

December 26, 2005

Jesus Expects Fireworks?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, one could count on fireworks twice a year. Fireworks were always an essential part of the 4th of July celebrations. Most cities would have official fireworks displays on the night of the 4th, and many people would throw their money away buying fireworks for home use. One could generally expect to hear exploding fireworks until about 10pm. The second time was New Year's Eve, although this was a much lower key thing. There were no big, organized displays and virtually no family-oriented fireworks. Instead, there tended to be a bunch of drunk high school kids using them in a haphazard manner. On this night, one would expect to hear fireworks until about 1am.

I observed a similar pattern while living in Colorado except that hearing fireworks on New Year's Eve was something of a rarity.

Here in the South, there appears to be a regional obsession with fireworks unlike anything I had previously experienced. While organized displays only happen on July 4, most families appear to include fireworks in their celebration of the 4th, New Year's Eve, Halloween, and as I recently learned, even Christmas. Evidently, Jesus expects fireworks. Moreover, he expects them to continue all night. What he does not expect, however, is for those shooting fireworks into other people's yards to clean up the mess of spent fireworks. The other differences is the type of fireworks we're talking about. Families around here are using the high-powered stuff that I had only previously seen during city-sponsored displays. The day after each of these holidays, I get to celebrate by picking up debris from my yard.

December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas, Republican Style

In a speech today, Bush asks Americans to remember the troops that have died in Iraq. "We pray that God will comfort the loved ones they left behind." Now, why were they in Iraq again? Given the high cost of war, there must have been a good reason for invading another country. Bush reminds us, "The sacrifices of these brave troops have rescued millions from lives of tyranny and sorrow, and made America more secure." Oh that's right, our invasion of Iraq may have been based on faulty intel, but at least it is making us safer. Does anybody really believe that?

Bush also encourages us to find ways to help those in need. "There are many among us who are hurting and require a helping hand." Of course, he then needed to add, "We pray for their strength as they continue to recover and rebuild their lives and their communities." How does he plan to help? By cutting $40 billion in aid to the poor.

When are we going to impeach this guy?

December 24, 2005

"Let's Keep Christ Out of Xmas"

Let's Keep Christ Out of Xmas!

This is an interesting article, especially considering the source. Of course, the argument here is nothing new. Until commercialism merged with Christmas (i.e., Cashmas), it was quite common for Christians to oppose Christmas. After all, December 25th was a pagan celebration. Maybe if more of today's Christians were aware of history, there would be less of this "war on Christmas" nonsense.

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December 23, 2005

US Jews Feel Threatened by Religious Right

Print Story: US Jews feel threatened by religious right on Yahoo! News

I post this story for two reasons. First, I believe it provides one of many important responses to the "But Christianity doesn't harm anyone" claim. Persons of other religious faiths and those of us who reject faith as self-delusion are worried about what we see coming from the Christian extremist movement. Second, I hope this story might encourage some people to think twice before spewing their "Merry Christmas" nonsense to strangers. By all means, celebrate this and all other holidays you wish to honor. All I ask is that you give at least some thought to how your public behavior impacts others.

December 21, 2005

"Why Do You Hate Christianity?" My Answer

The End of Faith
The End of Faith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was asked this question in a recent comment, and I do believe some discussion is warranted. Maybe I will even be able to use this post to answer the question the next time it is asked.

To begin, let's agree that "hate" and "disagree with" are not the same thing. I can disagree with you but still respect, like, or even love you. Disagreement with someone's beliefs and/or opposition to one's agenda should not automatically imply hatred of anything or anyone.

With that behind us, I do disagree with Christianity and all other forms of religious belief. Why? I'll pick one of many reasons for this short post. All the major religions claim that supernatural entities exist. However, we have no evidence whatsoever that these things exist. Not one shred. Thus, reason, intellect, science, and even common sense lead me to conclude that there are no gods, demons, angels, ghosts, or supernatural entities of any kind. If the existence of any of these beings is conclusively established in the future, I will gladly admit I am wrong. Until then, I will continue to base my worldview on the available evidence.

At this point, most theists will feel compelled to say something about faith. After all, faith is required to believe in absurd notions for which there is no supportive evidence. But I reject this sort of faith as a destructive departure from reason that has dire consequences for humanity (see Sam Harris' The End of Faith). To suspend reason by embracing superstition is to delude oneself into a blissful but counterfeit state of idiocy, one which history has taught us repeatedly leads to bloodshed.

Now, let's return to the original question. I've provided one reason why I disagree with Christianity, but why aren't I content simply to maintain my worldview and not cause any waves? In other words, why have this blog at all? From attempting to restrict a woman's reproductive freedom to international terrorism, I am deeply upset at what I see people doing in the name of religion, including Christianity. My fellow atheist bloggers and I seek to provide a voice of reason. This voice may take the form of polite criticism to loud opposition fueled by disappointment and anger. However, the motivation to speak out is the same - we are horrified by the effects of religion in the world and encourage its abandonment.

I do not hate Christianity; I disagree with it, and I believe that it and other religions are detrimental to humanity.

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California State University Denies Charter to Christian Student Group

SoCal university denies charter to Christian group | News | Advocate.com

Still celebrating the news out of Dover? Yeah, me too. However, I want to continue this streak of good news as long as possible (since we are all supposed to be mind-numbingly happy this time of year). So here is another story you are sure to enjoy.

California State University, San Bernadino, decided not to permit the Christian Student Association to organize on campus because the group was planning to discriminate against members of the GLBT community and non-Christians. California state law prevents state universities from excluding members due to sexual orientation or religion, both requirements of membership for this group.

Naturally, the Christians are accusing the university of discriminating against them. Isn't this sort of like a rapist complaining that the legal system is discriminating against him by outlawing rape? The University is guilty of adhering to state law, and the state is guilty of honoring federal anti-discrimination law. Poor victimized Christians!

Carnival of Education

The latest Carnival of Education is up at Circadiana. I contributed to this one in the form of my post on prayer during college graduation ceremonies. This looks like another great carnival, one which those of you who often write about education-related issues may want to consider. It will provide a different audience than what we get with CoG.

December 20, 2005

Good News From Dover, PA

The court ruled today against "intelligent" design. Specifically, the judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach ID in PA public schools. This is a victory for those of us who believe that science should be taught in science classrooms. I love it when reason prevails!

For more information, visit the National Center for Science Education.

No Coke for Cashmas

Coca-Cola Faces Mounting Pressure over Abusive Practices at Plants Worldwide

I am addicted to diet Coke. I just can't seem to get enough. However, I'm done with it until this issue is resolved. Seems that we can't trust companies to exercise any moral sense. Combined with the GOP's refusal to enforce any sort of regulations governing big business, we get situations like this.

During this Cashmas season, I'll change the channel when those stupid Coke commercials come on. I'll order non-Coke products while eating out and buy alternatives at the grocery store. I'll also look for opportunities to spread the word about Coke's abusive practices. Maybe consumers can make a difference by refusing to buy their product, and if not, then at least we can know that we are not sponsoring it.

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December 18, 2005

Graduation Prayer

Kirksey Old Main building on the campus of Mid...
Kirksey Old Main building on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a requirement of my job, I am expected to attend graduation ceremonies at least once a year at the state university where I work. Every year, a Christian minister/pastor/priest is on hand to start things off with a sectarian prayer. Did I mention that this is a public university?

At yesterday's ceremony, a Catholic priest gave the prayer. It would have been very easy for him to extend some respect to the atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. in the audience by delivering a generic prayer. Instead, he twice claimed that "Jesus Christ" is the son of some sort of god. So much for inclusion. I wonder what the international students who were raised in different religious traditions thought about that.

Is school-initiated prayer at college graduation legal? In Lee v. Weisman [U.S., 112 S. Ct. 2649 (1992)], the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public school employees (i.e., K-12) cannot promote prayer at their graduation ceremonies. Justice Kennedy wrote that the Constitution "forbids the State to exact religious conformity from a student as the price of attending her own high school graduation."

Unfortunately, it was left undecided whether this ruling applied to the college level, opening the door to a Tanford v. Brand (104 F.3d 982), a 1997 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which they declined to extend Lee to public university graduation ceremonies. Evidently, the court decided that since coercion was the critical issue and college students were too mature to experience the same kind of coercion a high school student might experience, they did not deserve the same degree of protection. I'd like to invite the members of this court to spend some time in Mississippi before deciding that non-Christian college students do not experience significant coercion.

Similarly, in 1997's Chaudhuri v. State of Tennessee (130 F.3d 232), the 6th Circuit upheld a graduation prayer at Tennessee State University. Again the issue of maturity was used in the court's reasoning. This suit, brought by a professor, was dismissed because it was determined that the official university prayer did not interfere with his right to practice his own religion and because it supposedly contained some secular value. I'm still trying to figure out how blatantly sectarian prayers can be assumed to have any secular value.

From what I can tell, it appears that prayer is likely to be allowed at college and university graduation ceremonies. This does not mean that student complaints would be ineffective, as some institutions will certainly recognize the problem and may be empowered to act if they receive complaints from students. So I would still encourage students who do not think that prayer has any place at their commencement ceremonies to complain.

What bugs me about my particular situation is that I am being compelled to attend these ceremonies by my employer - ceremonies at which I am then subjected to sectarian prayer. I may have to do a bit more legal research and see if I can find some cases that have addressed this issue.

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December 17, 2005

Republicans Are About Big, Authoritarian Government

CNN.com - Report: Bush eased domestic spy rules after 9/11 - Dec 16, 2005

The Republicans constantly accuse the Democrats of being about big, inefficient government. They point to social welfare programs as the prime example of government waste and argue that the size and role of the federal government should be reduced. Then we learn that Bush approved domestic spying by the government on American citizens with virtually no legal oversight. Doesn't sound like a smaller role for the government, does it?

This apparent inconsistency can be understood as follows: both Democrats and Republicans want "big government," but they want it in very different ways. Both forms of "big government" have pros and cons. Both raise important moral questions.

For Democrats, the role of government is to promote civility, help those who are less fortunate, and minimize exploitation by corporate America. Can this be wasteful? You bet. Can this raise interesting moral issues about society's obligation to help those who may attempt to cheat the system? Certainly. Can this interfere with the free market? Absolutely.

For Republicans, the role of government is primarily about imperialism in the guise of "national defense" and social control. Without a strong federal government, Iraq doesn't happen. Without a strong government, spying on American citizens wouldn't be possible. Republicans depend on military might to provide American businesses with an unfair advantage abroad and to maintain control of the masses at home.

If one had to pick one of these positions and argue that it represented a moral choice, I believe that the decision would be fairly obvious. Of course, this would be an artificial choice, neglecting possibilities between these two polarities.

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December 16, 2005

Christian Students Sue UC Over Admissions

MercuryNews.com | 12/12/2005 | Christian students sue UC over admissions

According to this story in the Mercury News, students from a Christian are suing the University of California system because they feel that their superstitious beliefs make it more difficult for them to gain admission to the UC system. No, I'm not making this up.

The article clarifies that the UC does not recognize three classes these students took at their Christian school as meeting their requirements for college-prep courses. Only three?

But Bush Did Not Take Responsibility For Flawed Intel

Media Matters - Media falsely reported that Bush "took responsibility" for flawed prewar intel

Despite a flurry of reports on all major news outlets that President Bush has taken responsibility for Iraq, Media Matters demonstrates that these reports have been misleading. While Bush did take responsibility for the decision to invade Iraq, he has not accepted responsibility for the flawed intel that was supposedly the basis of this decision.

December 15, 2005

Limbaugh Blames Democrats for "War on Christmas"

Media Matters - Limbaugh ties Kerry and Democratic Party to "war" on Christmas

Ah, the absurdity of Christian extremists this time of year! They certainly show their true colors, don't they? Even the appearance of tolerance, kindness, or concern for the welfare of others is noticeably absent.

No surprise that Rush Limbaugh has joined fellow extremist windbag Bill O'Reilly in obsessing about a "war on Christmas." Visions of imagined persecution is often an effective tool for rallying the conservative base. The surprise concerns Limbaugh's unusual tactics. Rather than focusing on the ACLU or attempts by enlightened Americans to enforce our country's wall of separation between church and state (a wall which is increasingly starting to resemble the levees in New Orleans), he's trying a strange new tactic.

According to Limbaugh, anyone who criticizes the Republican leadership or their decisions this time of year is waging a war on Christmas. That's right, political and social critique must not happen in December. So when Herman Munster - I mean John Kerry - recently criticized the war in Iraq, he was leading a war on Christmas. Of course, Limbaugh goes on to tell outrageous lies about the content of Kerry's comments, but anyone who has followed his career is used to this sort of thing.

Taken as a whole, this story supports my evolving theory that the real job of the right-wing political pundits is to make increasingly outrageous claims with no basis in reality for the purpose of preventing discussion of real issues. In other words, criticism of the war in Iraq is to be met with swift, well-organized, and increasingly bizarre claims of persecution involving a war on Christmas. Now we are told quite clearly that nobody is allowed to speak out against the war this time of year. Can the thought police be far behind?

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December 14, 2005

O'Reilly is Homophobic: No Surprise Here

Media Matters - O'Reilly on Factor jacket he offered to Stern: "I'm not having this on some lesbian somewhere"

I take two things away from this odd story. First, it seems that Bill O'Reilly is guilty of promoting the very type of entertainment he claims to despise. Why would O'Reilly even consider having Howard Stern appear on his show when Stern's brand of humor is what O'Reilly thinks is wrong with America? The obvious answer is that he's doing it for the ratings, and this makes him as despicable (by his own standards) as those he regularly attacks.

Second, O'Reilly is a homophobe. I know this isn't at all surprising. Looking at their vocal opposition to granting equal rights and equal protection under the law to the GLBT community, it appears that most conservative Christians share his intolerance. I find it interesting how he can protest his imaginary "war on Christmas" while spewing hate and bigotry. After awhile, it starts to make one wonder whether the two are somehow related - promotion of Christmas and intolerance of human differences.

December 13, 2005

US Isolated After Climate Talks Walkout

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | US isolated after climate talks walkout

In some ways, this reminds me of the little kid who decides to take his toys and go home because he isn't getting his way. Classic American attitude that helps explain why we are increasingly despised by the rest of the world. I sincerely hope that our next president can undo that damage done by this one.

It strikes me that there are many parallels between denial of global warming and denial of evolution. In both cases, the evidence is there. In both cases, America serves as a shining example of ignorance. In both cases, we should follow the evidence, exercise critical thought, and let go of religious or corporate superstitions.

December 11, 2005

Which Bible Should I Buy?

I would like to buy a copy of the Christian bible so that I may more closely examine their god. In Sense And Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, Richard Carrier makes an impressive case that the god described in this book is evil and not worthy of worship even if it existed. It has been many years since I last read it, and I'd like to evaluate a few of his claims for myself. I know there are on-line versions, but I want one I can read away from my computer.

I went to Amazon.com to order one and discover that there are several different versions. I then spent about an hour with Google reading about the differences between the many different versions. I must say that I am now more confused than ever. This is supposed to be the innerant word of god, right? So which one do I get? Any recommendations?

BTW, I have ruled out the classic King James version because I know from previous experience that I lack the patience for the language.

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December 10, 2005

Relative of Mississippi Governor Wins Big FEMA Contract

Although the local (Mississippi) papers have long been protesting the decision of the federal government to award post-Katrina contracts to out-of-state businesses, it appears that we now have a new problem. According to the New York Times, one of the larger in-state contracts was awarded to a relative of our Republican governor.

"Mrs. Barbour, as well as spokesmen for FEMA and for Governor Barbour, all said in interviews Tuesday that Mrs. Barbour's family and political links to the Republican Party and the governor, as well as President Bush, did not play a role in her selection for the work."

What would we expect them to say. Republicans, especially in the current administration, aren't actually known for taking responsibility for their actions. In fairness, I suppose this may not actually be an example of favoritism. Instead, it could just be a coincidence. However, appearances do matter, and this doesn't look good.

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December 9, 2005

"An Atheist Manifesto" by Sam Harris

Truthdig - An Atheist Manifesto

Almost every atheist blog I read has posted about this great article by Sam Harris. On the off chance that you somehow haven't heard about it already, do yourself a favor and check it out.

December 7, 2005

On Indoctrination

English: This is the religious symbol of Ayyav...
This is the religious symbol of Ayyavazhi, an Indian Dharmic belief system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To an outsider looking at the United States in 2005, it must seem odd that theism and belief in supernatural forces are thriving in an age of scientific and technological advances. At a point where science, medicine, and technology have clearly demonstrated their worth, why do so many cling to antiquated and long discredited systems of belief? The answer is far too complicated to tackle in a single post; however, I suspect that indoctrination is the primary mechanism through which theistic and other supernatural belief persists in the modern age.

Defining Indoctrination

According to Dictionary.com:
In·doc·tri·nate tr.v. : 1. To instruct in a body of doctrine or principles. 2. To imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view: a generation of children who had been indoctrinated against the values of their parents.

In·doctri·nation n. : teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically.
Based on this definition, we see that indoctrination has two components. First, it involves instruction in a set of information. This could be "family values," the Christian bible, or even a particular worldview. Of course, it could also be a system of liberal politics, environmentalism, or just about any belief system or body of information. So far, no real problem. Any parent who attempts to teach his/her child about his/her view of the world is engaged in this first part of the definition, and this includes all parents.

The second part of the definition involves teaching uncritical acceptance of the doctrine, and this is what distinguishes indoctrination from education. It is also this second part that makes indoctrination so problematic.

The Problem with Indoctrination

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, warrants uncritical acceptance. Anything worth knowing is worth questioning, criticizing, exploring, and ultimately understanding.

Consider two people on a quest for meaning, both of whom find meaning in the environmental movement and become activists. Jim attends a lecture in college on conservation and later reads a book on the subject written by the lecturer. He joins an environmental group, surrounds himself with activist friends, and embraces the point of view of the movement to the point where it defines him. He is unwilling to consider opposing viewpoints and dismisses critics as "fascists." In his mind, you are with him or against him.

Susan attends the same lecture and begins to read voraciously on the subject, plowing through several books written by respected scientists, including some environmentalists and some with diverse points of view. As she becomes more politically active, she seeks exposure to many different viewpoints. Noting that there are many people who disagree with environmentalists, she attempts to understand both sides of these important issues. She comes to believe that it is important to protect natural habitat area while at the same time making sure that displaced workers (e.g., loggers) are not forgotten. In short, she understands the big picture and arrives at her ultimate viewpoint through careful consideration of the important issues.

Which of these individuals is more deserving of our respect? Even if they were to end up in a similar place, I'll take Susan any day. Jim has become a soldier in an ideological army who has embraced a doctrine with minimal critical thought. Susan has struggled with the issues, understands that every complex domain is going to involve multiple viewpoints, each of which merits understanding. She has arrived at her position through questioning, through struggle, and through challenging herself to consider alternative possibilities.

Indoctrination and Religion

My example above doesn't work so well for religion because of one important difference - there is scientific evidence documenting the dangers of exploiting our natural environment; there is no evidence whatsoever to support the existence of supernatural beings. Thus, Susan could go through a well-reasoned, soundly researched, and critical analysis of environmentalism and still ended up valuing it. It would be much more difficult for a believer to undertake a similar journey and reach a similar conclusion because there is no evidence supporting the supernatural.

This is where indoctrination comes in. For religious belief to survive, its teaching must involve the second component of indoctrination. The believer must not seriously question the basis of the beliefs or rely on the distorted reasoning found in apologetics to fool himself or herself into thinking that the questions have been answered. In fact, the manner in which the belief system is taught must attempt to protect the believer against questions, criticism, skepticism, and reason itself. That is, the believer must be taught to accept the belief system uncritically. Without uncritical acceptance, the system unravels as the evidence against it is overwhelming and the evidence for it is nonexistent.

Believers grow up today surrounded by the benefits of science and technology. In school, they learn about the scientific method, and most gain at least some understanding of how science works (maybe this is becoming less true recently). Many gain some exposure to critical thinking. However, they have been prepared through indoctrination to believe that there is one part of their lives that should never be subjected to any sort of critical analysis...religion.

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December 6, 2005

This is One Smart Christian

Check out this letter printed in Indiana's Herald Bulletin. This is evidence that we could find worthy allies among Christians to oppose theocracy. The author appears to want Christianity kept out of American politics as much as we do. I'm happy to see someone like this speaking up.

December 4, 2005

More U.S. War Crimes?

Here is a quick survey of recent events in Iraq not given much coverage in the mainstream U.S. media:

U.S. troops firing on civilians in Bagdad
U.S. double-standard on white phosphorus - we can use it, they can't
Military pays Iraqi news for positive coverage
Little oversight for U.S. sponsored private security firms in Iraq

Anybody else find it interesting that we are hearing so little about these events in America?

Unwelcome Visitors

About 30 minutes ago while I'm in the middle of some complex photo editing, the doorbell rings. Crap! The dog is going crazy barking. Who is bothering me on Sunday morning? Isn't everybody around here in church at this time?

I open the door to reveal...Christians. Two large African American women dressed in their Sunday best, one clutching a worn bible to her chest, are standing on my porch. I can barely hear them over the dog barking, but the one holding the bible is saying something like, "With everything going wrong in the world today, don't you ever wish there was more out there?" She then wonders if I'd like to invite them in to hear about their faith, their "good news," or some garbage like that. I reply, "No thank you, I'm really not interested in any of that" and close the door.

What is the etiquette surrounding this sort of thing? Should I have informed them that I am an atheist and quite happy without their silly superstitions? Should I have invited them in, heard their "good news," and then pointed out all the problems with it, etc.? Nah, none of this would have made any difference. Worse, had I been outright rude, it would have just confirmed their stereotypes about atheists.

In the future, I suppose the best approach would be to politely explain that I am an atheist and perfectly content to live my life without religion. Then I could thank them for coming by and wish them well. That would force them to deal with the image of a kind atheist. Of course, that would also require more patience than I seem to have on most days. Oh well.

December 3, 2005

Science Faces "Dangerous Times"

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Science faces 'dangerous times'

In this report from the BBC, the Royal Society's Lord May of Oxford speaks out against religious fundamentalism and its impact on science. He talks about the "denial lobby," of which I suspect Bush must be the leader. "By their own writings, this group has a much wider agenda which is to replace scientific materialism by something more based on faith." He also calls on scientists to be more vocal in their opposition to Christian extremists.

My favorite quote comes in the context of threats like global warming: "Sadly, for many, the response is to retreat from complexity and difficulty by embracing the darkness of fundamentalist unreason."

Reported Feed Problems

I've received some reports of problems with my RSS/Atom feed. I believe I have tracked down the source of the problem: Blogger is using an obsolete Atom specification. Unfortunately, I have no control over this. I just rerouted their Atom feed through FeedBurner, but that doesn't seem to have resolved the problem. I just have to wait for them to update their system.

The puzzle is that the feed works perfectly for me through FeedDemon. I would very much like to hear from those having feed problems as well as those not having any problems. If you use RSS/Atom, let me know whether you are having problems and what feed reader you use. You can either comment on this thread or e-mail me directly at vjack99@REMOVETHISgmail.com. I certainly want to get this fixed.

Finally, if you have been having problems, try this link.

December 1, 2005

Keep Science, Faith Separate

courant.com | Keep Science, Faith Separate

Here is a well-written editorial from the Hartford Courant. It is always encouraging to see others speaking out in defense of reality-based education.

Whenever I stop and think about how it is necessary to actually expend time and energy opposing those who wish to remove the reality from education and replace it with myth, I am struck by disbelief. This can't really be happening in 2005, can it? Did I stumble into a time machine and end up in the middle ages? When I regain my composure, my will to continue promoting reality is renewed. I have no doubt that history will be kind to those of us who remained on the side of reality and spoke out in its defense.

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