Saturday, September 6, 2008

Abolish State Sanctioned Marriage

With the nomination of Sarah Palin as VP by the Republican Party, and the upcoming vote on an anti-gay marriage proposition in California the question of gay marriage has once again come to the fore. Everyone from Obama to McCain seems to have a problem with gay marriage except for the people most directly involved who, of course, are firm advocates thereof.

There is a way, however, to resolve the issue once and for all, abolish marriage as a state sanctioned institution. Marriage as presently constituted is a contractual agreement between two parties. Until recently these parties have been restricted to one male and one female. But why should this be the case? Under most circumstances a contract, whereby the rights and obligations of the signatories are delineated, should be universally applicable. Why not then establish civil unions as the contractual agreement by which the rights and obligations of two parties who enter into a relationship of cohabitation are codified? In this fashion everyone is treated equally. Once a couple enters into a civil union, which would convey the rights and obligations presently given to married people, they could then have that union sanctified by whatever religious or secular ceremony they wish. The status of marriage would thus no longer to certified by the state but would be something that would be bestowed upon the couple by whatever institution is willing to sanctify it. Thus the Catholic Church could grant or deny a certificate of marriage to whomever they want. The couple nevertheless would have a legally constituted civil union with the same rights and privileges as any other. To be married by the church or any other institution would require the legal standing of having entered into a civil union but having done so would not obligate the body that sanctifies the relationship to concur. Marriage would henceforth not be a legally recognized institution and the controversy would cease to exist, other than within the ranks of whatever group by which the couple wishes to be sanctified.

PS: I'm apparently not the only one to put forth this argument. For instance, see Michael Kinsley at Slate.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin's Family Values

Our potential VP, Sarah Palin, has a set of well-articulated first principles regarding childbirth and raising families. She has put forth these believes without hesitation and they provide her ideological appeal to the right wing Evangelical base of the Republican Party. These first principles are 1) abstinence only education, 2) a ban on secular sex-education in the public schools, 3) prohibition of abortion except in the case of an imminent threat to the life of the mother (and this seems to be only grudgingly accepted), and 4) disapproval of any means of contraception.

These positions basically entail the following – if an underage child becomes pregnant she should carry the fetus to term. A further corollary of this way of thinking is that the father of the child should take responsibility for his behavior, marry the mother and support the family. Without passing judgment on the appropriateness of any one of these believes lets look at the consequence of their articulated acceptance. Given the biological realities of adolescence, promotion of abstinence only sexual behavior, without recourse to any other form of sex education and with an aversion to the use of condoms or other birth control devices will willy-nilly produce a significant number of teen pregnancies.

Under Palin’s ideology the prohibition of abortion precludes the teenage mother from any real choice as to whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy. The infant hence will be brought to term. After birth the pressure will be for the family to rally around the mother and child and force the young father to marry the mother, promoting the notion that the mother should for-go her education and rear the child at home. The only alternative would be to give the child up for adoption, in which case the teen mother has basically served as a baby factory, enslaved to produce the infant as a commodity to be dispensed with after birth.

For Palin and her ilk this would seem to be an unlikely outcome. The young family will then have to either rely on the resources of the adults to survive or the father will have to seek employment in a low paying job. In order to make ends meet there would be a great incentive for the young husband and father to enlist in the armed forces for the benefits that would accrue to the young couple.

When you combine Palin’s evangelical belief’s regarding abortion, contraception, and family values with her staunch support of the NRA and other similar stands, the picture that emerges is a tacit endorsement of teenage pregnancies and teenage marriages, with stay at home mom’s home schooling their children in creationism and other biblical fantasies while the fathers go off to wage war in the Middle East against the diabolical heathens, in preparation for the end days. These are the type of family values implicit in Palin’s ideology, which might find residence in the White House if worse comes to worse.

More on this topic can be found at Slate.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That "God Forum"

I felt like writing volumes on this non-debate debate, but managed to keep it pithy. "'God Forum' Pits Candidates Against Truth - McCain Wins."

An Athiest In 10 Downing Street?

Our brethren in the UK are leagues ahead of US in the promotion of rational thought. While they still have hidebound proponents of religiosity stalking the corridors of power such as the discredited Tony 'God and Country' Blair, when surveyed more than half of the current Labour government cabinet members expressed their non-belief. Read AC Grayling's take on the issue which recently appeared in the Guardian.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All Hail Our Righteous Leaders!

Well, as we all know Rev. Rick, that is Rick Warren, the mega-church huckster, conducted a bogus sit-down with Barack Obama and John McCain. This was one of the most absurd two-hours that I’ve ever witnessed especially when the topic came around to exchanges about "evil".

As Marwan Bishara notes:

When asked how they would deal with evil if they were elected president - would they ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it - Obama said he would "confront it" while McCain said unflinchingly that he would "defeat it".

After this "civil forum" was broadcast on CNN, the network's so-called "best team on television" commented on the candidates' performance.

This only managed to add insult to injury.

One pundit commended McCain's steadfastness and courage in wanting to defeat, not merely confront, evil if elected president.

For the Republican contender evil is embodied in communism, Islamic fundamentalism and notably Osama Bin Laden, who he promised to hunt down.

Obama was also praised for acknowledging the existence of evil. He thought it present in Darfur but also on the streets of the US as well as in homes where parents abuse their children, and so on.
Well, well, well, once elected our dauntless crusaders will be tilting against the windmills of evil! I certainly hope they will be victorious! Imagine our chivalrous Lancelots clad in impenetrable armor (made in China?) confronting the devil incarnate in the guise of evil. Evil lurks everywhere in the hearts of man (and woman I can assure you). Smite that bastard evil oh you righteous McCain! Stare down that intractable evil oh Saint Barack. How lucky we are to have two such heroic figures leading us to a bright and gracious future!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gulag Americana

Alexander Solzhenitsyn made famous the phrase "Gulag Archipelago" to describe the system of penal servitude and internal exile instituted by the old Soviet Union. Millions of Soviet citizens, quite frequently innocent of any crime, or honest revolutionaries who crossed an invisible ideological Rubicon, were capriciously ensnared in this vast and degrading enterprise.

Anybody who has watched the recurring MSNBC series "Lockdown" knows that over the last 30 years we have initiated our own internal Gulag, what may be aptly called "Gulag Americana." This nation of prisons is spread throughout our country, from sea to shining sea. Of course, many who deserve incarceration, dysfunctional criminals who have victimized law-abiding citizens, populate it. There is, however, a base line that can be established for western industrialized nations regarding the proportion of their citizens jailed at any given time, which is approximately 1 in 1000. That was the historic rate in the U.S. until the 1980s, and the current rate in most European countries. Based on that statistic we should have approximately 300,000 people in our prisons. In point of fact, we have a nationwide inmate population of about 2.1 million, a rate 7 times greater than should be the norm. This is a result of our "war on drugs" which has had a disproportionate effect on minority, in particular, African-American, males. As a result nearly one third of all young African American males 20-35 year of age will have spent time in jail during their lifetime, with all the stigma and trauma associated with that experience. This criminalization of a whole demographic is unprecedented in the annals of modern civilization. The Prison-Industrial Complex, which has been spawned by the “war on drugs” profits enormously from the vast outpouring of public funds needed to maintain and expand our homegrown gulag. The article referenced by the above link was written in 1998 and a decade later things have only gotten worse with an increase in the prison population of 300,000 (16%) from 1.8 to 2.1 million. During the same decade our total population has grown at an 11% clip from 270 to 300 million. In other words, the problem is becoming ever more acute as our prison population continues to grow at an ever increasing rate relative to total population growth.

As reported at ScienceDaily, "The mammoth increase in the United States' prison population since the 1970s is having profound demographic consequences that disproportionately affect black males.” Obviously the ramifications of our insane system of criminal injustice are having profound societal effects. It means that at present there is an excess of 1.8 million inmates incarcerated in our jails. People who under any regime of human and civil rights should be getting treatment for their addiction and given gainful employment. If the number of non-violent inmates housed in our jails is factored into our unemployment statistics it would raise our unemployment rate from the current 5.7% to nearly 7%. Of course, when the true unemployment rate is calculated using the parameters employed in the 1960s it’s more on the order of 12% or 13% if convicts are factored in as well. It can be readily seen that the burgeoning prison population particularly amongst young adult African American males is a convenient release valve for chronic unemployment in our county’s inner cities. Better to have the proletariat languish in jail than be on the streets “looking for trouble.”

So what are the implications of the “Gulag Americana?” They are that our gulag is a systemic part of our socio-political order. It is as much an assault on human rights as the Soviet system ever was and the devastating impact it is having on untold millions of our citizens is for all intents an untold story that our candidates for office will not even discuss.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

As the Air is Slowly Let Out of the Tire...

Well it looks like political expediency has derailed the Obama campaign, at least as far as I'm concerned. First the dissing of the 4th amendment with his backsliding on telecom immunity, then his acquiescence to the SCOTUS ruling on gun control and his equivocation on the death penalty. Now the straw that broke the camel's back with his support for "faith-based" initiatives. Looks like Bush in sheep's clothing to me. I'll still vote Democratic, but once again as the "lesser of two evils." quite a come down from some earlier wishful thinking.

Below is the full text of the Council on Secular Humanism's response to Obama's recent address on faith:


July 01, 2008

Senator Obama’s Concession to Faith-Based programs unfortunate, says Council for Secular Humanism

The Council for Secular Humanism regrets that Senator Barack Obama has seen fit to affirm a willingness to extend the unconstitutional faith-based diversion of tax dollars to religious institutions as begun by President Bush. “This is basically religious pandering,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

In a speech delivered today in Zanesville, Ohio, the Democratic candidate for president proposed that federal money diverted directly to churches, mosques and synagogues would promote a “bottom-up” approach to serving the nation’s underprivileged, regardless of the fact that the money taxed from the public is meant for secular purposes. And although he stressed that the money can only be used for secular programs, the result will be the same, as regular contributions not used for these programs are freed to proselytize, make building improvements and grow the faith community—a clear favoritism of believers over nonbelievers.

“We find it regrettable that the current climate in the United States requires candidates, who obviously should know better, to promise grave compromises of the wall of separation between religion and government in order to even stand a chance of being elected to high office,” continued Lindsay

The Council is disappointed that Obama’s plan appears to allow federal funds to flow directly to houses of worship. "Not only does this impermissibly entangle religion and government, Obama's plan threatens the autonomy of religious bodies by allowing government intrusion directly into the activities of the house of worship," said Lindsay. "The audits, compliance reviews, and reporting requirements that the government will have to perform to account for the funds will threaten the autonomy and integrity of the house of worship."

Monday, June 23, 2008

We Lost A Great One - RIP George Carlin

He set the stage and had a great follow through. Hey Georgie give the big guy a whack on the tushy, he's obviously been jerking off for all eternity. Tell it like it is George:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Taking God out of Politics?

Godless. That’s the title. No subtitle. A major newspaper allowed the printing of such free speech (in an op-ed), calling for God to be removed from Presidential politics. This is a rare event, even in the supposedly Godless offices of the New York Times. We may just be standing on the cusp of a new era in American media.

All I can say is, it's about time! Well actually, I said a bit more - take a look at my post about the article, or read the article itself.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

In Defense of Bridget Bardot

According to the Huffington Post blog site Brigitte Bardot was convicted Tuesday of provoking discrimination and racial hatred for writing that Muslims are destroying France by their imposition of blood rites associated with the slaughter of sheep for the Muslim feast of Aid el-Kebir. Her comments, written in a December 2006 letter to the then-Interior Minister, now French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, contravenes French anti-racism laws that prevent inciting hatred and discrimination on racial or religious grounds. Bardot had been convicted four times previously for inciting racial hatred. Bardot, a long-time animal rights activist, should be applauded, not condemned for her conscientious stand and outspokenness. Confounding criticism of religious practices with racial hatred is a misguided policy. All citizens should have the right to expose bogus religious practices of whatever sort, practiced by whatever denomination. Don’t keep the faith, Bridget!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

China Visit - Part 3

I had a very interesting discussion with my college age Chinese nephew, Tiger. His English has come along and he hopes to study in the US next year. With my Chinese and his English we were able to fully communicate. I wanted to better understand Chinese perceptions of their domestic situation. One of our talks revolved around the degree of freedom experienced by a young person in China today. I asked Tiger about the degree of cultural and social freedom he experienced. When I first visited China, cultural freedom was still largely repressed and social mores were very conservative (no outward displays of public affection, etc.). Now the floodgates have opened. According to Tiger, and based on my own observations, there are no restrictions on cultural expression. Modern abstract art, music of every sort, western literature freely available. Social mores are totally transformed. Young people can dress in whatever outlandish fashion they like. Young people hold hands and kiss in public. Educational freedom. No longer are you assigned a subject to study. You can pursue whatever educational goals you’re capable of achieving, and jobs are no longer assigned for life. This goes hand in hand with economic freedom to find a job to your liking, set up a small business or a large corporation. With this freedom have come some loses as well. The so-called iron rice bowl has been smashed. Job security and social security are no longer as assured as they were twenty years ago. So let’s look at the freedom ledger. When challenged Tiger admitted that in today’s China he felt that there was cultural freedom, social freedom, educational freedom and economic freedom. He was annoyed by the lack of political freedom and had an idealized notion of our two party political system. When I began griping about the political situation in the US Tiger began to understand its limitations, but I also began to appreciate some of what we take for granted. The conclusion I came to is that the political system in China needs to evolve and assuredly will. I asked my sister-in-law if she could have anticipated the changes she’s witnessed over the last twenty years. She said in retrospect she could. I asked if she expected similar changes to occur in the future, in particular politically. She answered in the affirmative. China is in a continual state of flux. Rapprochement between the Communist and Nationalist parties is on the agenda. My sister-in-law saw the possibility of the Nationalist party entering into a political coalition with the Communists as in the early 1920s. I broached the idea of the CPC (Chinese Communist Party) dividing in two, with both parties adhering to the PRC’s constitution. Tiger thought that was a good idea, just so there was more accountability and the opportunity of some degree of political choice. I will go out on a limb and predict that something along these lines will occur in China by mid-century.

Well, those are some of my observations. Hope they’re of interest, more thoughts to come.

China Visit – Part 2

While in China I had the opportunity to talk with friends and relatives about the current situation there, as well as make my own observations. There are a number of issues that have garnered a large amount of press play dealing with China. I will address a number of these below.

1. The situation in Tibet. China is a multinational country with 58 recognized national minorities. These minorities all have well delineated rights and privileges based on their special status. These involve a heightened degree of autonomy and exemption from certain obligations (for instance, the one child per family policy). Tibet is recognized as an Autonomous Region of the PRC and on paper, at least, has a considerable amount of autonomy. In practice the central government has full control, but is nevertheless constrained in certain ways by its constitutional limits. As in this country what’s written in the constitution is not always applied as it should be, and there is a legitimate demand by Tibetans for the full implementation of their national rights. Both the Communist and Nationalist parties consider Tibet an integral part of China. There is a long history of interaction between the two. The Dalai Lama also recognizes that Tibet is part of the PRC. The Dalai Lama of course, from a secular humanist perspective, is as much of a fraud as a Moslem Grand Ayatollah or the Christian Pope. They all sugarcoat their superstitious ideology with a façade of pious reasonableness. The history of Lamist Buddhism is, however, replete with all sorts of horrors, from the abject enslavement of the peasantry, to the sequestration of whole generations of males in austere disciplinarian monasteries and the adulation of each new Dalai Lama, chosen at random from amidst the population, as a child god-king. No matter what the historical exigencies may have been, maintenance of China’s territorial integrity, a legacy of its imperial past, must be accepted as a starting point for any discussion regarding Tibet’s future. It may be argued that the Soviet Union was likewise a product of Russian imperialism and that its breakup can serve as a prototype for the dismemberment of China. The Soviet Union was, however, just that, a voluntary Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and its peaceful breakup basically bore out that reality. China has a different history and its constituent parts are not free to disengage in the same fashion. In this regard it is no different from any other nation sate. There should be no greater onus put on China than any other state to voluntarily commit suicide. China has problems regarding the proper treatment of its minority peoples, just as we do. Let the Chinese work out their own problems without undue interference. This attitude does not preclude criticism of how the central government behaves, but protests such as those directed against the Beijing Olympics, in my opinion are unwarranted.

2. The Beijing Olympics. The Chinese people throughout the world are proud to host the 2008 Olympic games, just as citizens anywhere else would be. China has gone all out to create new ultra-modern sports venues in Beijing, some of which I saw. The “controversy” surrounding the Beijing Games is a non-starter. China cannot be compared to Nazi Germany and the 2008 Beijing Games cannot be compared in any fashion to the infamous Berlin Games of 1936 or the Moscow Games of 1980. China does not adhere to a racist ideology and China is not an expansionist power as was Germany in the 1930s or occupying a foreign nation as the Soviets did in Afghanistan (and isn’t it ironic that we now occupy both that country and Iraq!). The protests against the Olympic flame relay were to my mind totally inappropriate. They were ostensibly directed against Chinese repression in Tibet and Chinese support of the Sudanese government and its involvement in the Darfur genocide. These protests are extremely disingenuous. Where were the protests against the continuing abuse of our native peoples when we held the Olympics in LA or Atlanta? Where were the protests of the 1992 Spanish Olympics in Barcelona against their policies in the Basque region or the 2000 Australian Olympics in Sidney against their policies towards their aboriginal populations? How can anyone protest Chinese behavior in Sudan when compared to our aggression against Iraq? It is again, holding China to a higher standard than we expect of other countries or ourselves, for that matter.

3. China’s Industrialization and Outsourcing. China’s economy has been growing at a double-digit rate for nearly two decades. If that pace continues into the future China will be an advanced, middle-income industrial nation by mid-century. A lot of baggage (Made in China) and manifold abuses come with that remarkable achievement. Our Chinese counterparts are now confronting many of the problems that we have encountered and addressed with varying degrees of success or failure over the last century. China achieved its economic transformation at break neck speed and is still in the throes of remarkable economic and social upheavals. These changes took the West centuries to achieve and have occurred in China over mere decades. I could delineate a litany of problems that China confronts. These include environmental degradation, mine safety, lead-based paints, fraudulent goods, sweatshop abuses, corporate corruption, etc., etc. All industrializing countries have faced similar problems as we have and still do. Along with these problems have come both governmental and non-governmental responses. The Chinese government is accountable to public opinion. Its legitimacy is predicated on public acceptance and acquiescence. When the Chinese people feel that the government is no longer responsive they do not hesitate to rebel. How can the Chinese people’s propensity to rebellion and resistance be squared with their supposed passivity in the face of government repression? It can’t. The Chinese accept their government because it has maintained its mandate.

4. Slave wages. Quite frequently it’s alleged that Chinese employees work for “slave wages”. I had a number of discussions about living conditions while in China. The bottom line is that Chinese wages have to be viewed relative to living costs. The Chinese Yuan is equivalent to the US Dollar. In many respects there’s a good correspondence. The average Chinese wage is about 3000 Yuan/month, similar to the average US wage of $3000/month. Living costs can be evaluated in light of this correspondence. For instance my son is renting a two-bedroom apartment in Xiamen for Y1300/month (US $195.00), similar to what a similar apartment would cost in the U.S. in U.S. dollars ($1300.00). Obviously the Chinese apartment is very cheap in US dollars. The apartment can easily accommodate three adults (there is a spare room that can serve as a third bedroom) at a cost of approximately Y450/month (US $30.00). As can be seen the Yuan is valued at about US $0.15. So a monthly wage of Y3000 is equivalent to US $450. That’s about $112.50/week or $2.80/hour. Some low-skilled migrant laborers from the countryside make about $1.00/hr. They tend to live in dormitories and send much of their income home (like American migrant workers). $1.00/hour is about 1/7 the prevailing US minimum wage rate, about what a US worker made 40 years ago (I remember making $2.00/hr working at a warehouse in Boston in 1971). By Chinese standards the average wage in China is equivalent to what an average worker makes in the US today. Of course a US manufacturer will prefer spending $2.00/hour rather than $20.00/hour, hence outsourcing. Its ridiculous to say that the Chinese worker has a slave wage, not when public bus transportation costs 20 Chinese cents, the equivalent of $0.03. So it’s important to keep things in perspective when comparing Chinese apples with US oranges.

To be continued…

Monday, June 2, 2008

China Visit – Part 1

I've visited China multiple times over the last 25 years and speak serviceable Mandarin. I've seen vast transformations in the socioeconomic system practiced there. When I first arrived in Beijing in the early 1980s the Beijing Airport was straight out of Casablanca and we drove into the capital on a long, straight single lane road through the Chinese countryside, which eventually flowed into Chang'an Ave and past the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. There were hardly any cars on the streets, and men and women dressed in plain, austere, monochrome clothing whizzed past on a blizzard of bicycles. The Friendship Hotel where I stayed was one of the premier hotels in town and would have been considered rather dingy by Soviet standards of the time. Being married to a Chinese woman I eventually arranged to stay at the family residence in the section of Beijing reserved for members of the Academia Sinica. It was a spacious yet non-ostentatious apartment. Life was very quiet and serene, the daily routine almost bucolic. Socialist morality prevailed. If you left a hairbrush behind in your train compartment it would be returned to you at your next hotel room. Food stables, health care, apartments and most everything else was subsidized and unbelievably cheap. I could get by in China on a few dollars a month. Consumer goods were very utilitarian but readily available. Socialist ideology was still spoon fed on the 2 or 3 broadcast stations that were available, although the excesses of the Cultural Revolution were quickly receding. Over the next decade and a half, China slowly began to change as it opened up to the West. By 1989 there was foment in the air. The Soviet Union and the Communist bloc were disintegrating. The status of China as a communist led nation hung in the balance. Reforms had begun but many half measures only whet the appetite for more substantive change. I was in Beijing to witness this and was staying at the Xiyuan Hotel with colleagues from UC Berkeley, just blocs away from the location of the most severe actions taken during the Tiananmen incident. China slowly recovered from the shock of those days, eventually leading to the initiation of a full-fledged market economy and the vast growth and modernization seen in its urban areas. I hadn't returned to China for a decade, until last month. The China I saw was totally transformed. The Beijing Airport is a massively efficient, ultramodern edifice that seems to engulf the countryside. A multilane superhighway connects the airport to a network of expressways that gird the city. We drive by row after row of high-rise apartment buildings. When I arrive at Zhongguancun (the Academia Sinica zone) I can't recognize the area, its full of glittery, new office buildings and thoroughfares. I also get to see similar changes in Wuhan the capital of Hubei province in central China. We travel from Wuhan, at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze Rivers in eastern Hubei, to Yunxian, the archeological site in the Chinese countryside towards the provinces far west, not far from Sichuan where the recent earthquake struck. The last time I traveled there, over a decade ago, it took nearly two days over a single lane highway, similar to a back country road here in the U.S. Now we travel along a multi-lane superhighway, identical to an Interstate and make the same journey in six hours. China is now crisscrossed with similar expressways, stitching together the country’s length and breadth. While China in the 1980s and early 1990s was characterized by the break up of the communes, the “responsibility system” and a rural resurgence, the more resent trend has been for the cities to outstrip the farmlands in the pace of development, with a widening urban/rural income gap and the migration of tens of millions of itinerant workers to China’s cities. Nevertheless, new two and three story farmhouses are seen throughout the countryside and county-level towns are thriving. This is all reflected in the recent tragedy surrounding the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan. I’ve been in many similar areas in China and construction standards are not uniformly adhered to. Especially during the early boom years of the late 1980s and 90s many corners were obviously cut. China builds with brick, concrete and tile. In the rugged, mountainous region of Sichuan, where towns have populations in the tens of thousands, vs. the few hundred you’d find living in similar areas sate-side, it’s no wonder that casualties were high. For China is no paradise. There are inequalities and abuses that occur. And the citizenry can be scathing in their criticism of authorities in power. Many schools that cater to the less privileged collapsed during the earthquake, killing thousands of China’s daughters and sons. This should never have been allowed to happen. But China responded as one. The whole country rallied and troops and other first responders rushed to the rescue. State leaders, especially Premier Wen Jiabao, took personal command and were camped on the scene, consoling the victims. Concerts were held nationwide to raise funds and a lively competition ensued as China’s newly wealthy celebrities were challenged to contribute large sums of money to aid the relief effort. Foreign help was solicited and welcome. This was truly the New China functioning at its best.

To be continued…

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Fascistic Religious "Connection"

For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of a secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.

While much has been made of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s rhetorical depredations of the American way, and McCain’s endorsement (or visa versa) of the fundamentalist viper Rev. Hagee, little attention has been paid to Hillary Clinton’s religious affiliations. Her close association with a quasi-religious cult termed “the Family” is perhaps more troublesome than either Obama’s or McCain’s religious imbroglios. “The Family” is the name given to a coterie of religious fanatics akin to the Roman Catholic “Opus Dei” that covets political power and wields immense influence in Washington D.C. and other foreign capitals. Exposés of the Family and it’s head Douglas Coe, and Hillary Clinton’s involvement with and support of the group, have recently been published in Harper’s, Mother Jones and The Nation. This is an extremely insidious group of which we all should be more aware. It seems that no matter who gains power in Washington we will continue to have a fanatical religious agenda foisted on an unwitting populace.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Another victim of the inquisition

Be it suicide or murder the death of the so-called “DC Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, is a tragedy. To think that consensual sex between adults is still considered a criminal offense in our society is nearly beyond belief. Like the criminalization of drugs, the criminalization of adult sex allows abusive practices to develop and flourish. The drug dealer and the pimp are manifestations of criminalizing normal human behavior. People have been utilizing psychotropic drugs for millenia as a means to alter states of consciousness for both religious and purely hedonistic reasons. Prostitution in various guises has been an integral part of human society from time immemorial. These are human behaviors that must be accepted but regulated to ensure public safety.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Religion in the Military

Here's a recent New York Times article about a free-thinking soldier sent home from Iraq because of threats leveled against him from religious soldiers. NYT article

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Democrats' Religion "Debate"

In case any of you missed it, like I did, here's a transcript of the April 13 "religion debate" between Clinton and Obama. (Actually it wasn't a debate; they answered questions separately.)

Like the ABC debate more recently, little of substance flowed from this media creation. Questioners asked about the candidates' beliefs and how they might influence their decisions, but they clearly knew there was little to gain that night and everything to lose by a verbal slip-up or perceived insult to the faithful. If either candidate harbors any doubts or anti-religious beliefs, they certainly weren't going to air them on the road to the Presidency.

The fact that a much lower portion of Congress admits to being non-theists (just over zero percent) than the general population (around 12 percent) probably doesn't mean that Congress is more religious, but that for politicians, the stakes are higher for coming out of the secular closet.

So both Democrats carefully walked that wide line between not appearing as blindly religious as President Bush and not saying anything significant that might offend (or challenge) the assumptions of anyone.

Clinton's answers seemed more vague and focus-group tested ("I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being..."), yet both candidates' answers seemed rather incredible and inconsistent with a belief that I would suspect both Clinton and Obama hold - that human suffering suggests the absence of a loving God, and an hour praying for mercy is less fruitful than an hour working to relieve the suffering that persists regardless of his existence.

Though the audience laughed during some of the lighter moments - e.g., Obama: "And should it be part of God's plan to have me in the White House, I look forward to our collaboration." - no one laughed at one of the truly amusing moments.

The questioner asked how Obama would respond if one of his daughters asked whether God really made the world in six days. Obviously aware that the idea of a six-day construction timeframe for the Earth is preposterous, he hedged that they might not be true "24-hour days." Yet he saw nothing fantastical about telling his child that an invisible lord created the entire universe.

Of course, Obama also said that the story of God creating the Earth "is fundamentally true." I didn't see the video - perhaps when he said the word "fundamentally" there was a twinkle in his eye.

Social Justice Update

The NY Times has an article that updates and amplifies on how deranged our penal system is. It's part of a series called "American Exception: Millions Behind Bars" that "examines commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are actually unique in the world," to say the least . Not only unique but, I would suggest, extremely egregious. Be sure to check out the accompanying interactive graphic, "Prison Population Around the Globe."

Monday, April 21, 2008

2nd Annual Social Justice Conference

This past Saturday we set up a literature table at the 2nd Annual Social Justice Conference at Cabrillo College. By all indications it was a successful event. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to attend any of the conference sessions, but I did have a chance to talk to some of the attendees. They were all interested in what secular humanism had to say about social justice issues.

I for one think that our so-called “criminal justice system” is in fact a “criminal” injustice system, if you get the gist of my drift. The statistics don’t lie and the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated in California and country-wide are testament to that fact (1). On a broader scale the USA has a larger proportion of its population in jail than any other country including the much-maligned People’s Republic of China (2). As of 2002 the total number of prisoners in all jurisdictions in the US exceeded 2,000,000. Of these nearly 800,000 were African-American males! That’s nearly 40% of the prison population from a population that represents only 12.7% of the country’s total (3). Of course a large segment of those jailed are incarcerated on drug offences (4) compounding the problem. I can’t imagine that any of this is news to anybody. To my mind, however, it represents one of the greatest crises facing our nation in terms of the waste of human lives and material resources it all entails. More money is spent in California building prisons and warehousing prisoners than is spent on higher education. As an indication of the depths of denial in this country, nary a mention of these circumstances has been made in any of the innumerable presidential debates held to date and it is not an issue that has been raised at anytime during the campaign’s of any of the candidates.

As a secular humanist I would argue that our whole system of jailing prisoners in modern day dungeons, as depicted on TV in such series as MSNBC’s Lockup, is an anachronism of unimaginable magnitude. The whole raison d'être of our penal system is based on socially sanctioned retribution and punishment of the transgressor with its roots in the patriarchal tenets of the Old Testament. It only serves to perpetuate and exacerbate criminal behavior. Even when rehabilitation is considered a part of the process it is within the context of the total degradation and dehumanization of the prisoner. The humanist position should be (1) recognition of the need to remove the offender from society at large in order to protect the citizenry from injury; (2) placement of criminals in secure facilities that prevent them from escape, and (3) creating facilities that preserve human dignity, and give the prisoner opportunities for education and socially constructive and productive activities. This may sound like pie in the sky, but I think a human system of incarceration and rehabilitation is possible if we put our minds and commit our resources to the task.

Friday, April 11, 2008


$261,048.27. That's the cost incurred by society to give me a life. I've been fortunate enough to be employed by a community college district that supplied me with adequate health insurance coverage, so my life-saving quadruple by-pass operation was fully covered. My co-payment: $250.00. There have been times, however, when I lacked any health insurance coverage whatsoever. And if my life hadn't gone in the direction it did I could very well have been uninsured at present. If so, I may not have sought the tests that led to my surgery and very well could be written up in an obituary rather than writing this blog entry. As a humanist I can only hope that we as a society finally realize the urgent need for universal health care. 'Nuff said.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Religious Left?

As it becomes more clear that another age of unchecked conservatism is coming to a close, some on the religious right seem to be seeking a new horse to back. Knowing that staying tied to the Republican party will ensure they're kept on the sidelines for the next decade, some pastors are beginning to cozy up to the Democratic party, and at the same time, some Democratic strategists are thinking it's hight time they courted religious voters.

Should the left go after these voters? Can there be such thing as a "religious left"? Would we want one?

If the Democrats resort to borrowing God from the G.O.P., I think they’ll be running away from the very reasons people vote Democrat, when they do. Here's more...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The age of american unreason

If you've had your fill of books on atheism and secularism for the time being, you might check out Susan Jacoby's recently released "The Age of American Unreason." It attempts to put all recent anti-rationalist trends - evangelicalism, scientific backlash, "facts are just opinions," etc. - into historical perspective.

I can't comment it on it yet since I've only just ordered it, but I'm happy to provide a review after. Incidently, I did read Jacoby's last book, "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism," which was thorough and engaging. I'm happy to loan it to anyone who'd like to read it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Vet embarrassed by Bush's actions

The following letter by our Vice-President Irv Ottenberg appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Friday Feb. 15:

As one who served in the armed forces of this nation from October 1942 to June 1954, I wish to congratulate your editorial board for having the courage to print the editorial condemning the use of torture by the present administration. I can think of almost nothing that is so against what America stands for and what many of us served to defend. I served this country because I loved it and what it stood for, but I am now embarrassed by the actions of our president. This country has the capacity to once again be the beacon to lead other countries to assure all people are treated in a humane way and that the basic dignity of all is preserved, but we must be careful to elect people who believe in these principles.

Irwin Ottenberg

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pleas for condemned Saudi 'witch'

Another example of the medievil (sic) judicial system in Saudi Arabia. Will our government condemn these barbaric acts and impose economic sanctions on the Saudi's? Don't hold your breath.

Obama inspired by 'open-minded' mom

Interesting story about Barack Obama's mom. I can only believe that Obama is a closeted secular humanist and that his professed "christianity" is a mere charade due to political expediency. Unfortunately, in this day and age, no self-avowed atheist or free-thinker has a snowball's chance in hell of sustaining a viable political career. All things considered, Obama is the closest thing to having a true secular humanist in office that we're likely to get in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Huckabee strikes again

To a growing list of odd or just downright disturbing statements uttered by Mike Huckabee, add to it this: "I didn't major in math, I majored in miracles . . ."

Everyone is wondering why Huckabee is staying in the race when he's so far behind McCain in delegates. Here's my theory, from my Political Relief blog, involving what would be a troubling "miracle," if it were to play out: Huckabee-Christ '08. I'd be curious whether people think I'm off base on this one. Either way, I think Huckabee has yet to add many more bizarre statements to the growing list.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Paulos makes Comments at ABCNews

Here's a commentary by John Allen Paulos, the mathematician mentioned by Chris in a previous post, on religion in politics posted at ABCNews. Glad to see that the mainstream media is starting to air ideas such as these. Maybe the resurgent Humanist movement is beginning to have an effect on public discourse. So let's renew our commitment to do our part to help build a secular humanist community in Santa Cruz!

Maher on Larry King

Wow! Try to catch Bill Maher on Larry King tonight or when the show repeats. I'll try to get some clips when they appear on Youtube to post here. Maher is one of the most outspoken critics of religion and an ardent advocate of rational thinking. He's an equal opportunity skeptic and lambastes mormons, catholics, jews and muslims with equal vigor! King sits there rather flabbergasted and tries to move the conversation on as if he hadn't heard what Maher just said. What a kick!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Darwin Day

February 12th is Darwin Day, a holiday celebrating the scientific contributions of Charles Darwin and the contributions to humanity of science in general. The evolutionary concepts that Darwin introduced are as important now as they were in the 19th century. The theory of evolution is the basis for a rational, scientific understanding of all life on earth, and therefore a consideration and appreciation of evolutionary thought is essential for the formulation of a thorough secular world view. Darwin put himself on the line for his work, rejecting reasonless beliefs and dogmatic faith in favor of critical reasoning and the search for objective truth. Please celebrate this remarkable scientist's upcoming 199th birthday by taking some time to reflect on his contributions and those of subsequent evolutionary scholars and theorists.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Candidate Swears to Undermine the Constitution

If there' s still any doubt that Gov. Mike Huckabee is unfit to be President, in Michigan he declared the Constitution should be changed to "God's standards."

Besides the clear problem that there are thousands of opinions on what God's standards are, and probably hundreds within Christianity alone, there's also the small problem of how - if Huckabee were to somehow win the Presidency - he could swear to uphold the Constitution, which he believes should ignore the laws of man.

Here's more on the story.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Next Up: "Irreligion"

It looks like the next book in the recent series of atheist books has arrived. It's called "Irreligion," by John Allen Paulos, and there's a review in the NYT Books section. I haven't read it so I can't comment yet, but it seems what distinguishes this one from those of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. is that the author is a mathematician, and uses probability and other mathematical concepts to make his arguments.

There's also a link on the Times website to the book's first chapter.

If anyone's read it, share your review here!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Say A Prayer for Rudy

Apparently the desire of religious people for others to reaffirm their questionable beliefs is wide and deep. And political candidates are now learning that if they kneel in the same way or pray in the same church, they can get a pass on just about anything.

Enter Rudy Giuliani. He asked churchgoers in Florida to pray for him (and Rudy didn't mean Him, he meant pray for him, i.e., pray for his campaign). If prayers mean anything to religious people, why didn't Giuliani get any criticism for pushing past starving children and dying patients on the way to the front of the prayer line?

I think this is why - when someone makes adeliberate show of being religious, they're not so much saying, "This is what I believe;" rather they're saying, "I am one of YOU." And the desire of many religious people to see their beliefs affirmed is so strong that they will give the genuflecter a pass on everything else.

The inevitable result is pandering politicians who have learned to clasp their hands together as reflexively as a canine sits for a treat.

Here's my recent post on it including Rudy's remarks, at Political Relief.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coming to a Parish Near You: Christian Sharia Law

I'm sure that anyone reading this has heard about the Rev. Huckebee's latest pronouncement. What follows is the full quote:
"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards,"

Well, if anything can motivate us to become active IN SUPPORT of the CONSTITUTION AS IT STANDS it's comments like that. Statements such as Huckabee's should serve as a great rallying cry for all Americans who do not want to see christian sharia law run rampant here in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Victor J. Stegner's God: The Failed Hypothesis

I read this book this past December, and it was excellent. If you've already read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, then Stegner's book will be a nice follow-up. He's an astro-physicist, and he pursues God as a scientific hypothesis.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Questions for Candidates

Here is a list of interesting questions for political candidates which I origionally posted on the Santa Cruz Atheist blog. It comes courtesy of the American Humanist Association.

Pointed Questions for Presidential Candidates.

Over the past seven years we've watched as the president and congress have repeatedly breached Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state. But now you can act to prevent a continuation of this process. At every opportunity you have, ask the candidates pointed questions on this issue. Or call on your local media to ask such questions. Write letters to the editor expressing church-state concerns. Request that your friends ask such questions. Let's make 2008 the year we begin to set things right as we publicly hold the feet of all presidential candidates to the proverbial fire.

Here are ten questions to draw from or to modify in your own words.
1. Leaders of the religious right often say that America is a "Christian Nation." Do you agree with this statement?
2. Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax exempt status?
3. Do you think public schools should sponsor school prayer or, as a parent, should this choice be left to me?
4. Would you support a law that mandates teaching creationism in my child's public school science classes?
5. Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?
6. Will you respect the rights of those in our diverse communities of faith who deem same-gender marriage to be consistent with their religious creed?
7. Should "faith-based" charities that receive public funds be allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on religious beliefs?
8. Do you think one's right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone else's right to believe?
9. Do you think everyone's religious freedom needs to be protected by what Thomas Jefferson called "a wall of separation" between church and state?
10. What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?

These suggested questions were developed by First Freedom First, a joint project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation. First Freedom First is cosponsored by the American Humanist Association and its allies in the community of reason. So we urge you to use one or more of these questions if you attend a Town Hall meeting or another event where candidates for office will be gathering.

You may also want to copy and paste these questions into an e-mail message to the candidates, an e-mail message to your friends, or a posting on an Internet discussion group or blog.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Imagine that!

Remember Barbara Bush's comments about the huddled masses at the Superdome after hurricane Katrina? Well with that in mind check out this video of Burak Obama's granny. What a paradigm shift!

U.S. last in preventable death rate

The following story from UPI says all that needs be said about the sorry state of US healthcare. Imagine the "richest country " with the "best healthcare system in the world" (Rudy Giuliani - Jan. 5, 2008 New Hampshire Republican Debate) has the worst record amongst industrialized nations in preventing unnecessary deaths. Rudy and others of his ilk are always touting the fact that people come from all over the world to take advantage of our advanced healthcare services. Well, duh. If you have the money and resources. If not die baby die. And what about all the stories I hear on NPR about US citizens going to India for operations they can't afford stateside? And I forgot to ask - where are the pro-life activists when real live people's lives are on the line?

BETHESDA, Md., Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The United States ranks last among 19 industrialized nations when it comes to deaths that could have been prevented.

The report by The Commonwealth Fund, published in the journal Health Affairs, said 101,000 deaths per year could have been prevented by access to timely and effective healthcare. The top performers were France, Japan and Australia.

Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at deaths "amenable to healthcare before age 75 between 1997-98 and 2002-03."

The researchers found that while other countries saw these types of deaths decline by an average of 16 percent, the United States experienced only a 4 percent decline. "It is notable that all countries have improved substantially except the U.S.," said Nolte, lead author of the study.

Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen said the finding that other countries are reducing preventable deaths more rapidly with less money "indicates that policy, goals and efforts to improve health systems make a difference."

Copyright 2008 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Support Proposition 92

Well, my last semester's grades are in and the winter break is over so I'm once again posting to the blog. I encourage others to do so as well. My topic today relates to my profession as an educator within the California Community College system. While I'm not a great fan of the Santa Cruz Sentinel they have taken a bold step in supporting Proposition 92 which will ensure equitable funding of community colleges and lower students fees. The community colleges are a key link in the educational system in California serving as a transmission belt between the K-12 and CSU and UC systems. We've been the step-child of California education for too long. For Secular Humanism's sake please support Proposition 92!!