Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arabs Fear Iran?

So our government's war mongering rhetoric directed at Iran has been vindicated by none other than Wikileaks. Secretary of State Clinton says that yes, Iran's "neighbors" regard it as a threat. Iran is a serious concern far beyond her region.

That's actually true if keep to a very narrow definition of who Iran's neighbors are. It's not the population. It's the few thuggish propped up dictators in the region. Some Arab dictators have indicated they would like to see Iran attacked.

What if we widen the definition to include the Arab populace? In fact their views are well known and meticulously documented in a study put forward by the Brookings Institute in conjunction with Zogby International. The results are quite fascinating. Most think that yes, Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But they likewise think that it has every right to do so. Here are some questions and answers from the poll:

There is international pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program. What is your opinion?
77% - Iran has the right to its nuclear program
20% - Iran should be pressured to stop its nuclear program.

If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which of the following is the likely outcome for the Middle East region?
57% - More positive
20% - Would not matter
21% - More negative

Name TWO countries that you think pose the biggest threat to you.
88% - Israel
77% - United States
10% - Algeria
8% - United Kingdom
10% - Iran
3% - China
1% - Syria

Hillary Clinton wants to pretend that the opinions of the Arab populace don't matter. She probably would prefer that their opinions were irrelevant just as she would like to think the opinions of Americans were irrelevant. This is really why the political class hates Wikileaks. There really isn't much in the way of danger to individuals in combat, but there is real danger to the political class. They don't want the population to know what they are doing behind a wall of secrecy. Public reaction can cause consequences that Hillary wouldn't like.

I imagine it's kind of demoralizing for 88% of the Arab world when they hear these things. 88% of Arabs think Israel is the threat, so they'd rather see the US attack them then attack Iran. Yet an individual Arab watches TV and gets told that in fact his country doesn't think like he does. He's told that the rest of his country would rather do the bidding of Israel, the very country that this individual Arab regards as a threat. He would probably like to think that he's not crazy and he's the only one that thinks this way. But he'd have to do a research project to figure it out. People aren't talking about the Brookings study. They talk about how "Iran's neighbors" want Iran bombed.

Buffalo Bills Receiver Unhappy With God

So apparently Steve Johnson dropped a pass in the end zone and the Bills ultimately lost to the Steelers last Sunday. He's ticked and he tweeted about it. Here's what he says.
I can't say I blame him. You do all your grovelling, stroke God's ego telling him how great he is all the time so he can feel good about himself, tell him you love him, etc, and he's all powerful so he can easily see to it that you catch a ball. Like "Angels in the Outfield", right? All that worship invested, and for what?

But Johnson should keep it in perspective. He is probably a multi-millionaire. There are kids starving all over the world begging for help and God likewise does nothing. If anyone should be ticked it's them and their parents. Or maybe we should all be ticked.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Democracy?

I talk a lot about polls and how our society doesn't reflect the values expressed by the general population. If it did, we wouldn't be at war in Iraq. We wouldn't be in Afghanistan. We'd have a nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east, we'd have a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Palestine, NAFTA would not have been ratified, we'd have a health care system similar to that of the rest of the industrialized world, we'd have adopted the Kyoto protocols, radically reducing our greenhouse emissions, etc. Aggression and the embargo against Cuba would end, methods for fighting drugs would change for the better. (See here, here, and here for some of my sources on these points). The list goes on.

But we don't have these things because our society in fact reflects the needs and values of a privileged, propertied minority. These people are largely immune to the negative consequences of these policies, especially over the short term. So take global warming. Who will suffer first? The poor. The rich will run the A/C more, pay extra for food from newly developed crops. They can afford to drink bottled water. They don't depend on glacial runoff. Since they don't feel the consequences, but do reap the rewards of large profits due to the sale of fossil fuel and consumer goods, it's natural for them to pursue policies that don't reflect the will of the public at large.

Take war. Those that suffer of course in Iraq are poor Iraqi's. Something on the order of a million dead so far. The next group that suffers is US military personnel. Finally the American public as people from occupied regions react with violence in the only way they can: assaults on civilians (though there hasn't been a lot of this yet). The wealthy can insulate themselves from this better than the poor can. And the upside is substantial. The worlds largest proven oil reserves are of course a source of revenue and profit.

The two greatest threats to human survival are probably environmental catastrophe and nuclear destruction. Because our society reflects the needs of a privileged few rather than the public at large, the policies that are pursued in fact exacerbate both of these threats. If our society enacted policies that reflected the values of the public at large our society would be organized in such a way so as to reduce these threats.

These problems must be addressed. But what can be done if not the imposition of democratic values? And how to do that except through democracy?

Some suggest that we get away from democracy and government intrusion and move to free markets. People are the best judge of their own needs. Let them, via free interactions, engage in their own exchanges.

Well, we know what the values are of the public at large. We have the polling data. What values would be reflected in a society without government intrusion or democracy? That's obvious. Those with the most property would have the largest involvement in shaping that society, and that society would reflect their needs and desires. These are the people that just turn up the AC when things get hot. These are the people that pay more for food when it becomes more scarce. These people would send their own private armies, consisting of their poorer employees, to enact policies that they favor by force. The victims would be the peoples that were attacked and the private army personnel that suffered the reprisals. We would expect the same kind of society that we presently have.

Privately owned businesses are nothing but totalitarian institutions. The decisions made are not based on the will of the public at large, but on the needs and desires of the few owners. Therefore the decisions made reflect their needs. What reason is there to expect that abolishing democratic government entirely would change the societal structure given that the needs and desires of the heavily propertied peoples should be expected to match the policies presently enacted by the government we have which is not responsive to democracy but only private power? These two systems have the same incentive structure, so they should be expected to produce the same results.

Darf tells us that Arrow's Theorem shows that no voting system can entirely satisfy the needs and preferences of a community. True enough. But neither can an exclusively price based system. Democracy is imperfect, but so is every other system. So let's get out of our ivory towers and offer solutions to the serious problems our world faces. Democratic values reflect a move toward alleviating these serious problems. The values of the few and the wealthy are already in force and are exacerbating the problem.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Empty Tomb Doesn't Matter?

DagoodS got me thinking about this "minimal facts" argument offered by Christian apologists. There are several minimal facts that are believed to be known about the life of Jesus, but 5 key ones relevant to the resurrection are these:

1-Jesus died by crucifixion
2-The disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them
3-The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity
4-The skeptic James converted to Christianity
5-The tomb was empty

Sometimes an apologist would appeal to more and sometimes less. For instance when Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman in fact he only appealed to 1, 2, and 3 alone. Why not talk about 5? That's a big deal I figured. Maybe Licona avoids it because the consensus is not as strong on that point.

I'm prone to disputing all 5 of these points. I don't think the evidence justifies them. But Ehrman responded to Licona in a different and probably better way. As to point 1 his response is this: So what? Jesus died. Big deal. Everyone dies. Since everyone dies there's no need to waste time proving that Jesus died. So I'm left explaining why some people believed Jesus was raised. I would think there is no need to invoke a miracle to explain such an ordinary phenomenon. Some people have thought that Moses was raised. Some thought John the Baptist was raised. Who cares? That's not uncommon. I figure Licona needs to add the empty tomb to have any kind of a more persuasive case.

But does that matter either? Here's something else that's not uncommon. Moving a dead body that is presently buried in the wrong tomb. It was done all the time in ancient Israel. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea supposedly. Fine. Now it's a new day. Time to move him to the family tomb. The original tomb is empty. So what? That's actually to be expected.

The apologist will say that's unlikely because of the guards and also because the initial Jewish reply to the claim that the tomb was empty was that the disciples stole the body. OK. But it's possible that the story of the guards was contrived. It's also possible that the Jewish polemic also was contrived, or these critics were speculating and didn't really know that the body was being moved. They might be wrong. In fact most people would say they are wrong.

Let's suppose the Christian judges this to be unlikely. The Jews likely would have known that the body was being moved by the family and would have pointed it out. Well, they might have, but it's certainly possible that they wouldn't. So we have to judge which is more unlikely. Is it more unlikely that a body could be moved unbeknownst to the early critics or is it more unlikely that a body that had been dead for three days rose again to life? What would a rational person conclude?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Law? That's for Poor People.

President Bush's new book contains an outright admission that he authorized torture. This is an open admission of criminal behavior. The ACLU has the relevant information. So they call on Obama's attorney general to prosecute him. But there's no need for Bush to worry. Obama wants to look forward, not backward.

As Fred Hiatt explained in the Washington Post, a trial would be really messy. Justice is tough. Why not rather just have a commission chaired by Sandra Day O'Conner and David Souter. They can issue a report and then we can all go home. Criminal trials? That's for black people or impoverished people or generally weak people. You know, people that smoke marijuana even though it's pretty much harmless. Not supremely wealthy people born to luxury, especially when the victims are weak.

Laws are for weak people and weak countries. When Saddam invaded Kuwait that was clearly a problem. He needed to be removed violently, because that violates international law. You can't just invade a foreign country unless you have UN authorization. That's a crime. It must be punished. Except of course when it's done by a powerful state. In that case it was necessary because they were a threat to us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why The War In Iraq Was Immoral

A couple of weeks back Bob Dutko spent some time justifying the invasion of Iraq. This was prompted by the publication of Bush's new book. In response I'd like to lay out a basic case for why I think it was wrong, and also respond to Dutko's arguments.

I see two main reasons for why it was wrong. First, it was illegal. Second, it was immoral. I'll justify these claims in turn.

The UN Charter is the supreme law of the land. It was ratified by our government and is therefore binding. People like Dutko don't really like the UN, but I don't know why that matters. Most people agree that following the law is almost always the moral course of action. Sometimes it is right to break the law, but that is a position that carries a strong presumption against it. If you don't like a law the solution is not to just go out and break it. You must persuade your fellow citizens and your government and attempt to change it. If Bush wanted to violate the UN Charter he needed first to pass a Congressional resolution saying we no longer adhere to it. To simply go out and violate the law, and then after the fact just say that you don't like a law so it doesn't matter, is almost always wrong.

The UN Charter provisions for war under 2 conditions: 1-When authorized by the Security Council and 2-In the case when it is necessary to repel an imminent attack (Article 51). Since neither of these conditions obtained, the war was illegal.

The US government attempted to claim that the Security Council did authorize war because Resolution 1441 called on Saddam to disarm or face "serious consequences." The US interpreted "serious consequences" to mean an invasion. France and Russia had made clear that they did not regard this phrase as an authorization for war, and at the time it was adopted this was the same interpretation held by US ambassador John Negroponte. So the US case seems dubious. The solution to figuring out what was intended would have been easy. Put it to a vote at the Security Council. The US knew it didn't have the support, so it didn't allow a vote. To my mind this is just contempt for the rule of law and so the war was illegal.

But this leads to the second argument against the war, which is relevant to the first argument. The war was immoral. Here's why.

A fundamental moral principle, a foundation of every moral theory as far as I know, is the principle of universality. That is, if it's wrong for you to do it then it is wrong for me to do it. This is something that is the key to Jesus' moral philosophy just as it is key to everyone else. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the hypocritical Pharisees. He tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves. Do we want them to treat us poorly and in a way that grants them special privileges? Obviously not. We must treat them in a way that does not grant special privileges to ourselves if we want to follow Jesus' maxim. War supporters like Dutko must reject the principle of universality and the golden rule.

As best as I was able to understand, this was Dutko's argument. In light of 9/11 it was necessary to look at terrorism differently and recognize that the world is very dangerous. This enormous danger had to be neutralized. We believed Saddam was dangerous because all intelligence agencies believed he had a WMD program and WMD's. He'd used them on his own people. Though the inspectors hadn't found anything Saddam wouldn't allow full access. Keep in mind that even the Democrats urged Bush to invade. Clinton himself had ordered military strikes and a resolution to remove Saddam from power.

So the logic is that if you have good reasons to believe a state is dangerous and a threat to you, you are entitled to attack them without UN authorization. So let's apply this reasoning to others. I'll use Cuba as an example.

Cuba is a state that not only has good reason to fear the United States for future attacks. Cuba has in fact been attacked via terrorism for many years, and according to Chomsky is a state that has been subjected to more terrorism than any other. Chomsky has a good article detailing some of these operations here. Consider Operation Mongoose. Consider Orlando Bosch, a man that admits to bombing a Cuban civilian airliner among many other terrorist crimes. He lives comfortably today in Miami where he plots more terrorism and enjoys a gift from President George H. W. Bush - a presidential pardon for his crimes.

Consider The Cuban Five. A group of Cubans infiltrated terrorist groups in Florida and provided the FBI with evidence of their long record of terrorism, including audio tapes of conversations implicating the terrorists. The FBI responded. By arresting the five Cuban's that had successfully infiltrated the terrorist cell. Today they rest in jail. That's absurd enough, but the point is terrorism directed at Cuba based in the United States is ongoing.

Saddam has used WMD on his own people (with US weaponry and support at the time). But the US has the distinction of being the only country to use nuclear weapons on members of a foreign country. The US is the only country to be convicted of state sponsored terrorism at the International Court of Justice due to action in Nicaragua. The United States undoubtedly possesses WMD. And the US imposes a crippling and illegal embargo on Cuba, making it even more susceptible to violence

Cuba can very plausibly argue that the United States is a threat to itself. I don't think there can be any doubt about it. So by that reasoning we must ask Dutko and those that think like him a question. Does Cuba have the moral right to bomb Washington? Forget whether they have the capacity to do it. Obviously they do not. But morally, are they entitled to do it? For Dutko to say that they are not entitled to attack is to reject the principle of universality, which is the foundation of all moral theory.

The conclusion follows in a straightforward manner. Nations do not have the moral right to attack others merely because they believe they are a potential threat. The US should not be attacking Iraq or Cuba simply due to a perceived threat. And Cuba should not be attacking the US due to a perceived threat. Both nations should follow the law. Because if you are going to affirm the principle of universality, which you must in order to have any kind of coherent moral worldview, you cannot allocate to one nation the right to attack others due to a perceived threat without granting all that right. And so the war was immoral.

Christian Comedy-Tim Hawkins

Gotta give Christians credit. This is really smart. It's Christian comedy. A night out with the family. The humor is good and clean. And it's at church so you almost feel like you are fulfilling your obligation to go.

Tim Hawkins was at Woodside Bible Church in Troy Michigan, along with Jon something or other. They packed this mega church out. In fact it was overflow capacity. They had hundreds of chairs set up in the gym for people to watch via closed circuit TV. Something like 3,000 people showed up. I had to park across the street. I went with my 10 year old, who desperately wanted to go, and also with low expectations. I've been to comedy clubs and just figured Christian would probably drop the quality just a notch, like they often do. Like Bart Simpson says all the best bands are affiliated with Satan. I understand that if you watch "Left Behind" you realize that Kirk Cameron is a pretty good actor. His talent contrasts rather starkly with his co-stars, who may simply have been pulled out of church and thrown in front of a camera.

But it was quite good. I was impressed. Not the best I've seen, but good. And the price was right. Free. They took donations for Grace Centers of Hope, which helps orphaned/neglected kids. So I gave them a few bucks.

Mostly the material was the kind of thing you might hear from any comedian, with a few comments sprinkled in about how "God gave us laughter and it's good to laugh." Otherwise, not a lot of bible verses. No sappy alter calls. Straight comedy. But towards the end there was a little politics, which of course I'd love a chance to counter, but there's no way to do so.

It's clear to me that Christians don't concern themselves with global warming not because of the evidence, but because of their (quite logical) conclusion that since God is in control and worried about us there's no way he's going to let things get out of hand, but if he does I guess this was part of his plan for the end of the world anyway, so why bother inconveniencing ourselves? So this was one comment from Tim. He basically said he's not worried about it "because God is in control." Good applause for that line. Then he did a song about it, and how driving a Prius is lame, so he'll just drive his SUV because he just doesn't believe driving an SUV has much to do with global warming. Here he is singing it at Woodside. I'm in the audience coping with my irritation.

He just can't believe it matters. It's frustrating that 3,000 people sit in the audience and get infected with this kind of nonsense and it's difficult to counter it.

Unfortunately driving an SUV does matter. Not a single person driving a single SUV of course. But millions driving them? Yes, it does matter. A good series of videos is available at youtube, starting at the embedded clip below, which can help explain in simple terms why it does.

Probably the only mechanism that could conceivably prevent potential catastrophe here is the government. Like it or not there's nothing else. Tim has another song ridiculing the government and it's ability to get anything right. That's an opinion I used to share, but I've come to believe that while there is some truth to the fact that government sucks there's also truth to the claim that the government has done a lot of good and has the potential to prevent much pain that could be inflicted on the general public.

I've also come to believe that the corporate world does like strong government, specifically a strong government that serves their interest. But they also recognize that government has a weakness. It is susceptible to public pressure and democratic forces, which is potentially a limitation on their profits. So it's a tricky game that must be played. Bash government insofar as it works on behalf of the people, but grow government anyway so corporate interests can be served. Bush and Reagan are perfect corporate presidents, expanding government to unprecedented levels, but not so much in the areas of public interest. Pretending that government is the problem and must be reduced, but in fact expanding government on behalf of the various special interest groups.

Anyway, here's Tim Hawkins with "The Government Can".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christian Funerals Are Annoying

These non-religious views of mine make formerly easy things difficult sometimes. I was at a funeral this week of someone I didn't know very well. I know her husband better. So I'm sitting through the funeral service and I realized about half way through. They've turned this whole thing into something entirely about Jesus. Why does it have to be about Jesus? Why can't it be about the deceased? Why can't we take some time here and focus on this person we've lost?

Near the end 3 individuals were able to get up and briefly reminisce about this person. They talked about who has been lost to the world, what she was like, what she enjoyed, how she treated others. Kind of giving this person, who I barely knew, a lot more depth in my mind. And it was in fact beautiful. Probably 15 minutes of about a 90 minute service were truly devoted to focusing on this person and remembering her rather than infusing every statement with something related to Catholicism. Down to your knees. Doing the cross thing. Taking the bread and wine. Singing hymns about Jesus consoling us and our future in heaven. This is wasted time in my world.

Of course it's not about me, and if this is the service the deceased would have wanted and I knew that then it would have been easier to sit through it. Not knowing though I tend to suspect it was being hijacked by religion to make it about religion instead of what I think it should have been.

I'm going to be a difficult person if and when I lose a close loved one. I would be so annoyed if anyone tried to console me by telling me that we will see them again in heaven. And I'm going to want the service to be about them rather than about whichever God the mourners happen to believe in. It might be a problem.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Google's Pro-Islamic Propaganda

OK, you can't make this stuff up. Bob Dutko has to raise an eyebrow due to Google's logo for today. He says, yeah, maybe he's over reaching. Yeah, maybe it's nothing. But Google has a history of being left wing. They donate money overwhelmingly to Democrats. Don't you find it odd that Google, this organization that has a history of ignoring patriotic holidays, should finally under pressure modify the logo for Veterans Day and do it in such a way that sort of looks like they've created an Islamic crescent? Is this their way of sticking it to us and promoting Islam?

You decide.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Corporations vs People

Corporations are not immoral. But neither are they moral. They are amoral. If doing good is profitable, they will. If doing evil is profitable, they will. They can do tremendous good. But they can also do tremendous evil.

Would a corporation assassinate people that attempt to organize resistance to environmentally destructive policies? Ask Shell Oil. The evidence is that they'll hire militias, provide the weaponry, and pay additional monies in gratitude for the destruction. After all, it's profitable.

Cutting costs associated with safety measures can boost short term profits. Union Carbide's cost cutting measures probably were good for stockholders. Not so good though for the thousands killed when toxic gases were leaked into the slums surrounding the factory.

Monsanto made decent coin selling Agent Orange to the US government. This defoliated trees and then worked it's way into the food and water supply, leaving probably a million people with major health problems.

You could go on and on. You could look into IBM making the holocaust possible, you could look at British Petroleum in Iran. Why should it be any different? Corporations are designed to maximize profits. All else is secondary.

Today they are working to reduce costs associated with lawsuits that stem from their evil actions. Right now they are fighting to eliminate class action lawsuits. That will boost profits, so it's what we should expect.

The problem is that in free market economics the actors usually don't consider what are called externalities. So for instance, if I buy a car I consider what I want and how much I can afford. A car manufacturer considers the costs required to produce the car, and we arrive at a price. What we don't consider are the externalities. What is the cost that will be paid by the public at large due to things like pollution, noise, or traffic congestion. Those costs aren't paid by either the buyer or seller, but they are real costs that will be paid. They'll be paid by the public at large.

The same is true for other industries. So Goldman Sachs engages in transactions and attempts to maximize their returns. Like any good salesman they talk up a product they are trying to sell, trying to make it appear valuable, even if it isn't, just like a used car salesman would. They sell it, but then take out insurance on it's failure because they know really it's a poor product. When it does fail and they go to collect, the insurance company (AIG) can't pay because the bet is too large. But AIG's failure puts the whole financial system at risk. That cost is an externality that GS knows it won't pay. The taxpayer will. So bailouts come, the taxpayer props up AIG, who simply funnels that money straight to GS, who already has made enormous money selling a crappy product. What else should they do? They're here to maximize profits. As the taxpayer money was funneled to GS, GS decided to reward it's employees, who had done such a good job producing huge profits. The bonuses were at an average of $500K/employee. Today they pursue the same actions, extrenalizing the huge costs that they know must be endured by the taxpayer in the form of a bailout. So we wait for the next crash of the financial sector.

Corporations are designed to do whatever it takes to maximize profits. That may mean imposing risks on the entire financial system that must be repaired by the public at great cost. But it could be worse than that. It may mean assassination. It may mean spewing toxic gases in to your home. It may mean overthrowing your democratically elected government. Or it may mean taking control of your government, since government is the only possible check on their behavior.

What if the externality is the fate of the species? What if 98% of scientists are right and global warming due to emission of greenhouse gases is really a serious problem, despite fossil fuel funded propaganda? If continuation of the present path is profitable should we expect CEO's to consider the externality or will they instead be compelled to maximize the stock price?

To stop this pending train wreck we need to wrestle control of our government away from corporations and move it back into the hands of the public. I think the fate of the species is in the balance. Our world is not about the left vs the right or Republicans vs Democrats. It's corporations vs the people.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Constitution and Prayer In Schools

Listening to Bob Dutko inspires me to address various issues. I disagree with him most of the time and would love to argue with him, but obviously I can't call in every day. My next couple of posts will address some of his recent claims I've heard from him.

Dutko tells us that the Constitution permits teacher lead prayer in schools. It is obvious that the founders of our country had no problem merging church and state. Depictions of religious figures are all over Washington. The 10 Commandments were always displayed prominently at various places. Congress opens with prayer. Prayer was common in schools until only a few decades ago. Why are we suddenly realizing the Constitution forbids this behavior? Our early founders didn't object to this behavior so obviously they didn't regard these actions as a violation of the first amendment.

Atheists reply with various arguments, including the fact that the 14th amendment changed things. They point out that the Treaty of Tripoli asserts that the US is not a Christian nation. They talk about Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, where you get the "separation of church and state" language for the first time (it's not in the Constitution).

Bob is well aware of all of these arguments and comes back at them hard. I think his replies sound plausible. But on the other hand I'm not a Constitutional lawyer. I think it would be useful for Bob to admit his own limitations and concede that he may not have the training required to know. Constitutional law is probably more complex than simply reading the Constitution. The fact is fallible men write laws and sometimes they are inconsistent. It is the job of the courts to work out illogical and inconsistent laws as best they can. Are you really so sure that the Supreme Court has done it wrongly?

Because what follows if Bob is wrong about the law? Does that mean we shouldn't as a country permit a teacher to lead a prayer to Jesus in school? Does Bob believe that all laws are correct? Forgetting Roe v Wade, what was the law in various states concerning abortion prior to 1973? Abortion was legal in many states. Does that make it right in Bob's world? Obviously not. So the issue is not just "What is the law" but more importantly "What is right"?

But when it comes to the founders of our country there's a sense in which people think that the laws they enact are like the Bible. As if everything they say is ideal. When the 1973 Roe court determines that the law says abortion must be legal in 50 states Bob dismisses that because it's just wrong. When Obama passes health care legislation Bob does not presume that this is the way it ought to be because it is the law. He opposes it vigorously. But for some reason if a law has the approval of founding fathers we pretend that this makes it more worthy of support. Why think that?

There's this third grade mentality people have of our founders. It's like the Simpsons and the founder of Springfield, Jebediah Springfield. He said "A noble heart embiggens the smallest man." So inspiring. Tall and handsome, he's a god like figure, while the founder of the neighboring and evil Shelbyville was an incestuous, short, fat scumbag. That's the propaganda we're offered in elementary school, but at some point you should grow up. Not everybody does.

There are plenty of good things that can be said of our founding fathers. But, like most leaders of a state, there's plenty awful that can be said of them too. George Washington may have done the right thing by limiting himself to 2 presidential terms. Good for him that he didn't want power concentrated in that manner. But here's something that he did that was not so good. He slaughtered Iroquois in a genocidal fashion. Consider some citations from David Stannard of the University of Hawaii.

“In 1779, George Washington instructed Major General John Sullivan to attack Iroquois people. Washington stated, 'lay waste all the settlements around...that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed'. In the course of the carnage and annihilation of Indian people, Washington also instructed his general not 'listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected.'" (Stannard, David E. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.)

In 1783, Washington's anti-Indian sentiments were apparent in his comparisons of Indians with wolves: 'Both being beast of prey, tho' they differ in shape', he said. George Washington's policies of extermination were realized in his troops behaviors following a defeat. Troops would skin the bodies of Iroquois 'from the hips downward to make boot tops or leggings'. Indians who survived the attacks later re-named the nation's first president as 'Town Destroyer'. Approximately 28 of 30 Seneca towns had been destroyed within a five year period. (Ibid)”

Here's an interesting description of the reaction the Iroquois still had to the name Washington 11 years after the destruction.

"When he met with Washington 11 years after the devastating campaign, Chief Cornplanter, who headed the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois, stressed the durability of "Town Destroyer" as the commander in chief's nickname. "And to this day when that name is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers," Cornplanter said. But the title stuck even tighter than the Seneca chief could have imagined. To this day, "Town Destroyer" is still used as an Iroquois name for the president of the United States."

This was not an isolated example of the treatment afforded to the natives. And it's not as if the settlers didn't know what they were doing. Here's a comment from John Quincy Adams in his later years when he was no longer in a position to do anything about the atrocities. He deplored:

"the fate of "that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty … among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement."

Bob wants the children of Hindus, Atheists, and Muslims to be subjected to teacher lead prayers to the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn't seem to mind whatever impacts would result on these children. OK. I don't want it. Suppose our founders would have sided with Bob. So what? These are not just imperfect people. In many cases these are deplorable people. If this is what they intended then they were wrong and the law should change. The courts have ruled, based on what is probably inconsistent laws, that teacher lead prayer in school violates the establishment clause in the Constitution. Truthfully I find the legal wrangling to be confusing and I'm just not sure who is right based on my limited understanding of the law. I think it's reasonable to side with the experts. But if those experts are wrong all that means is that the law should change. It doesn't make teacher lead prayers right.

To presume that the imprimatur of the founders gives additional credibility is to adopt a third grade Simpsons mentality that says politicians from long ago were god-like while politicians today are just ordinary people that can be readily ignored. The founders are probably not better than modern politicians when the third grade mythos is discarded.

Congressman Thaddeus McCotter Replies

A couple of months back I wrote a letter to my Congressman to express opposition to the present war in Afghanistan. He was good enough to respond.

In summary he tells me that the war in Afghanistan was launched to end the Taliban's ability to provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda and to end Al Qaeda's use of Afghanistan as a base of operations. He explained some historical details about how the war in Afghanistan has developed. And he explained a couple of House resolutions that are being considered to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan. Despite that he tells me that he will keep my opposition to the war in mind.

This does not address much of what I asked. Is it worth $37 billion to fight 100 individuals? Does the war make sense in light of the fact that the Taliban offered to hand over bin Laden? What of the fact that this war makes Americans less safe and more poor? What of the fact that if there was concern for democracy and freedom we'd listen to Iraqi and Afghan citizens who want us out? These issues McCotter did not address.

What he did offer was another reason for why Afghanistan was invaded. Al Qaeda used it as a base of operations and it offered safe haven. But I already explained that the Taliban was willing to hand OBL over. That's not a safe haven. Also when the bombs began falling in Afghanistan it wasn't even clear that Al Qaeda was responsible.

Consider the words of FBI Director Robert Mueller. In testimony before the Senate, a full 8 months after the bombs had begun falling and after one of the most intensive investigations ever undertaken in the history of humanity, Mueller tells us that he does "believe" that the idea for 9-11 came from Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan though the actual plotting was done in Germany and the financing came from the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan.

Maybe it's true that Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was responsible, but that wasn't known at the time. It's difficult to believe that an attack was initiated to destroy an organization that wasn't known to be responsible. Unless punishing people that aren't known to be guilty is a reasonable action.

Remember The Sound of Music?

I just watched this movie again after many years. It brought back a lot of memories. My parents were quite controlling with the TV and only allowed us to watch a select few approved shows. This was one of them. So we saw it many times. I watched it again with my wife and kids.

The movie is set at a time when the Nazi's were about to move in to Austria. Captain Von Trapp is not a fan of theirs. Some of the dialogue was interesting to hear. Liesl is the eldest daughter and has a crush on the boy that delivers telegrams, Rolf. In a scene late in the movie Rolf enters to deliver another telegram, but this is after the Nazi's have moved in. Here's the dialogue.

Liesl. Liesl!
I'm so glad to see you. It's been su--
Good afternoon.
Give this to your father as soon as he's home.
-He's on his honeymoon. -I know.
-You do? -We make it our business to know all.
-Who's "we"? -See that he gets it.
-What is it? -It's a telegram from Berlin.

Later a Nazi official approaches Captain Von Trapp regarding the telegram:

You never answered the telegram. . .
. . .from the Admiral of the Navy of the Third Reich.
I was under the impression, Herr Zeller. . .
. . .that the contents of telegrams in Austria are private!
At least, the Austria I know.

Von Trapp's response to Herr Zeller is full of outrage initially and finally sadness at the realization that the Austria he knew no longer exists. It's simply taken for granted that a violation of privacy like that is an outrage.

Meanwhile in America we had one Senator that had the courage to vote against the Patriot Act, which is a massive violation of personal privacy and yielding of our rights to the state. He lost in his re-election bid last Tuesday.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rand Is Not Ron

I wish that Rand's victory in the Kentucky Senate Race meant we had a Ron Paul clone there, but I really don't see it. Rand appears to be a bit of a party hack. Ron is a principled liberterian.

Ron Paul was the original focus of the tea party. He didn't start it himself, but a grass roots movement created it in support of his presidential run. As it grew corporate interest decided to get involved. In came Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Ron did what he could to warn those involved and he has since in various ways distanced himself from them. He asks if we should pat ourselves on the back for cutting a few thousand dollars from an inner city project while turning a blind eye to the billions sent overseas to fight aggressive and illegal wars. His hostility to them earned him tea party backed primary challengers. Rand embraced the Tea Party and rode their wave to victory.

Sure, Ron would love to see less regulation. But it seems to me he understands that the corporate takeover of government means that in the interim there is no check on corporate power without government. So take the repeal of Glass Steagal in 1999. This act is largely believed to be responsible for the financial crisis from 2008. This would be perceived as a repeal of regulations, which you might think Ron Paul would support. Ron voted against repealing it.

Here's Rand Paul bragging
about how he has the support of the Chamber of Commerce and how he wants to do what it takes to help big business. He wants automatic sunsetting of various regulations. Does Ron Paul have the support of the Chamber of Commerce? He gets their lowest ranking amongst Republicans. That's a badge of honor in my world.

Take Rand on the war. His positions as described at his website don't say a single word about how our overseas wars are not only costly, but immoral. If you are really concerned about out of control deficits why are you only talking about spending that helps the poor and not the far greater amount of war spending that helps the rich? Ron talks about this constantly. Rand doesn't have a word to say about it at his website.

The so called "Ground Zero Mosque" issue is being played up by war mongers to induce additional fear so they can further their designs of world wide hegemony. Ron gets it and Rand doesn't.

Rand sounds like the kind of guy that will cut government everywhere that it might stand in the way of the rich exploiting the poor. The Chamber of Commerce crowd is really principled about small government on those issues. But when it comes to the far more costly and far more immoral aggressive wars that help corporate cronies, suddenly things get really quiet for Rand. That's why he's not Ron.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Censored From Your Textbooks

Seems lately I'm frequently hearing from creationists arguing that various young earth evidences are censored from our textbooks. Often it's Bob Dutko, but not always. Here's a post to address several of these claims.

Bob Dutko recently interviewed Ted Rall and told him that every formerly living that has been C14 dated has "plenty" of measurable C14 still present, which is unexpected if C14 dating is reliable. It should all be pretty much gone by 50K years. But there's a reason some C14 is always showing up on the measurement equipment. The reason is that it is being made in the atmosphere all the time and cannot be entirely eliminated in the laboratory. So if a specimen is older than 20,000 years it has less C14 than is present at all times all around us. So you can't tell how much is in the specimen. You could date a piece of tin and your tools would still see some C14 because of the background radiation.

Bob went on to say that dinosaur bones were radiometrically dated via C14 methods by the University of Arizona and he has the documentation to prove it. Normally you wouldn't expect C14 to work on dinosaur bones because they are too old. He probably has in mind something like what you see here (no need to read the whole thing, just keyword search "Arizona"). If this is what he's referring to, then you can get more of the background story here. In sum creationists under false pretenses provided samples to the University of Arizona for radiometric dating. They claimed that the specimens were bones. Small amounts of contamination can radically effect the test results and these specimens were radically contaminated. All scientists involved are now in agreement that these dating results are meaningless for this reason. Additionally all indications are that the specimens were fossils, not bones. The creationists assert that these are bones, but there is no reason to think so.

Young earth creationists claim that unfossilized dinosaur bones have been found in Alaska. How can these items be at least 65 million years old when they haven't fossilized entirely? Preliminary indications are that this claim is also bogus. Some untrained creationists found a specimen they are calling a dinosaur bone and they say it isn't fossilized, but nobody else has been allowed to examine it. Give me a break.

Another is that a T-Rex specimen with soft tissue was discovered. Once again, no. Or perhaps rather than saying "no" I should say we don't know. A specimen did have something present that was able to exhibit some flexibility when hydrated and worked over, but scientists aren't sure what it is. The tissue may have been replaced in a manner not unlike fossilization by some polymer which is difficult to characterize, but which does have some properties that permit flexibility unlike typical minerals.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some George Carlin on Voting Day

Still haven't decided if I'll bother voting or not. I probably will.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scary Muslims are In Demand

In the course of discussions I have with people regarding the causes of Islamic terrorism I find that my opponents are often duped by fakes. Recently I had a discussion with an atheist friend and as proof of the scary nature of Islam and how the religion itself is the primary cause of the violence he appealed to Hassan Butt. Here's an excerpt from the article in the Guardian:
When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy. By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the 'Blair's bombs' line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.

Pretty scary. But it turns out it's a scam. Even the extremist Muslim bashing right wing blog Jihad Watch has had to concede that Butt is a scam artist, going so far as to stab himself in the arm and blame it Muslims so as to portray Islam poorly. Wikipedia has more.

More recently the proof was offered in the form of a guy named Anjem Choudary and his interview on Hard Talk. See!! Islam is a violent religion!!

Well, let's do a little googling first and see if we don't have a case where somebody realized he can get a lot of attention by simply saying outrageous things. So Choundary is an ex-LSD using, pot smoking womanizer. He has no Islamic credentials, never studied under anybody. But he did grow a long beard and put on a hat. Kind of looks religious now. Smells like a rat.

Then there's Ergun Caner. More of the same. Here's a guy that couldn't speak Arabic but pretended he could, so he'd make up what he thought were Arabic sounding phrases to gullible audiences as he talked about the jihadi ways of scary Muslims. It was enough to propel him to President of Liberty Seminary. There's money to be made and attention to be had pretending to be a scary Muslim. Or ex-Muslim.