Friday, June 27, 2008

Zen and the Church of Reason


I've been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's a good book. One that I was ready to read, which is odd, because the first time I picked it up I was actively searching for something to satisfy my "spiritual side" while I gave up on faith, and religion, and god, and I put it down because I wasn't that interested.

But maybe I had to forsake the idea that the "spiritual" me ever existed before I could begin to understand that it does, in fact, exist, but is not "spiritual" in the way that the religious or woo-practitioners mean.

I've done no research into the book, but it's fairly famous, so I'm sure that when I'm done, if I want to find out more, there'll be plenty of information lying around. It's ostensibly about a man, a genius, whose mind drove him mad with the search for "truth", trying to carry on with the new life "therapy" gave him, while trying to reconnect with the man he used to be. There's a great deal of discussion about objective reality, subjective perceptions, the relationship between the two, the mind-matter duality, and a thing he calls Quality, which is shaping up to be something like God (or rather a god, or the god, but not a traditional god).

There's more to it, but I didn't want to spend my 100th post on a book review. This is a little bigger, and the book was a spark.

It got me thinking about reason, and rationality, and the way we treat it, especially as atheists. Our most devastating criticisms of god and of religion are born of logic and reason. Our sureness of lack of faith comes from rational discourse. Our reason, rather than faith, guides us in our ethical considerations, our political choices, and we hope, in our lives.

Skeptics of a buch of things, including religion and woo, use reason to debunk the garbage that pollute our culture. We do what we can to get god out of the schools, woo out of the white coat, and bigotry out of society. Reason is our best tool, our greatest weapon, and has laid waste to wingnuts of all stripes. People persist in fallacious beliefs, they cling to faith, and they still see psychics, but reason is gaining on them. In fact, they now try to adopt the methods of rational thinking to irrational beliefs, hoping, I guess, that it'l work this time.

It's stupid, as I've said before, to prop up your faith with proof. If you can prove it, you've negated the need for faith anyway. But they keep trying, because reason kicks ass.

But reason isn't the only thing. In fact, I don't think it's the most important thing. Reason has its limits, and most of those are posed by human nature.

Ethics are more complicated than reason would have us believe. Rationally, we ought to execute repeat offenders. It would be the ultimate "three strikes" rule. They're not contributing, so get them out of society. Enforced sterilization of people carrying genetic defects makes logical sense, too, to breed true. And based on how far humans have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, we ought to be encouraging homosexual behaviour. However, basing your ethical code on something completely unreasonable is much, much worse. Reason coupled with compassion seems to be the answer.

Logic guides us through difficult scenarios, but it can't do everything. Human rights logically apply to everyone. But it's anger or sorrow or empathy that get us off our rational asses and into courtrooms, marches, or onto blogs with pithy remarks. Anger draw placards, anger writes protest songs, and anger makes unarmed kids take on the National Guard. That's clearly not reasonable.

Reason taught the North American GLBT movement to emulate the suffrage and civil rights movements, but anger is what motivated them to seek action.

Without reason, Medecins sans frontieres would be travelling witch doctors and Engineers Without Borders would be young people digging ditches, but it was empathy that founded those organizations.

Reason gave us the structure of the UN, but it was hope that brought it into being. It is fear and selfishness that cripple it now.

Fear kept millions of Americans shopping, checking their mail for fucking anthrax, allowing their government to strip them of their rights, and sent them into a war they should have known they wouldn't, couldn't win. Reason had nothing to do with that (except perhaps the logic of the propagandists).

Inertia prevents action on climate change, or perhaps fear. But reason should cause us to act. The same with resource depletion.

Imagination draws heavily on reason, but the spark of creativity is irrational. Reason allows us to predict the future, but imagination allows us to change it. And intuition, while probably a function of reason, happens when you aren't looking, so it's not logical.

In personal relationships, emotion is a lot more influencial than reason. I didn't marry my wife for any logical reason. Logically, I should protect and care for my daughter, because she carries my genetic material. But my feelings for her have nothing to do with reason. My feelings about my dog aren't rational, either. About the only thing she does for me is clean up when I drop something in the kitchen.

Obviously, logic has a great deal to offer. You can tell because inherently irrational worldviews try to coopt it all the time. It's methodical, predictable, and clearly beneficial. It gives us godless ethics, science, medicine and technology. It gives us human and animal rights, and democracy. But it is, at its essence, a tool. A tool for spreading our compassion, for building our hope, and for eradicating our fear.

Clearly there's more to life than rationality. I have a lot more to offer than my reason. Clearly, we must not forsake or ignore it, not in any part of our lives, and not for anything as nebulous as our soul, our spirit, or our salvation. I believe that we have a "spiritual side", and while it doesn't actually have a spirit in it, it's where we keep our intuition, our imagination, our fear, our anger, our empathy, our hope, our love and our joy.

It might be useful to find a system, like Taoism or Buddhism, that can help you codify all that stuff without god, but I'm undecided yet. That stuff comes from within us, not from a teacher, or a preacher, or from god. Instead, we must use reason to temper all those other things. But I'm not ready to subject them to reason. A world of cold logic would be worse, I think, than one of woo or god.

But I did not give up on religion so I could worship at the altar of Reason.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Justice delayed...

I'm sorry.

I was very busy today, in addition to having a stupid head cold that makes me stupid. As such, I have no snark. I think I left it in a tissue at some point today.

Instead, here's some good news:
Law School to Plan Bush War Crimes Prosecution
Press Release: Massachusetts School Of Law

17/06/08 "
ICH" -- - A conference to plan the prosecution of President Bush and other high administration officials for war crimes will be held September 13-14 at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover .

"This is not intended to be a mere discussion of violations of law that have occurred," said convener Lawrence Velvel, dean and cofounder of the school. "It is, rather, intended to be a planning conference at which plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth."


"We must try to hold Bush administration leaders accountable in courts of justice," Velvel said. "And we must insist on appropriate punishments, including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top German and Japanese war-criminals in the 1940s."
There you go. I'm not holding my breath.

Also, this is post number 99. So in honour of this momentous occasion, here's some more Anne Hathaway:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ben Freaking Stein


You guys are going to love this:

Intelligent Ben Stein
Vanessa Farquharson, National Post
Published: Monday, June 23, 2008

On the table in front of Ben Stein is a cup of herbal tea with extra honey, a tape recorder and an extendable back-scratcher. But on the proverbial table is the subject of Intelligent Design and the controversy that has surrounded Stein's latest documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Wearing his trademark dress suit and running shoes, the economist, actor, game show host and now filmmaker sat down at a Toronto hotel recently to defend the work, which has been labelled propaganda by some American critics, including one at The New York Times who referred to it as "a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry." The film currently has a 9% "rotten" score on RottenTomatoes.com.

"I didn't realize we'd have quite as many critics as we've had," Stein said. "Some of it has really infuriated and saddened me. There have been a lot of nasty comments from people expressing anger and contempt ... even people who've been friends for decades have gotten quite angry and contemptuous towards me, besides the fact they know nothing about the subject."

I'm not a journalist. I know a bit about journalism, but I'm not a journalist. However, this story is absolute tripe. There is no criticism of his stance at all, no representation from a scientist. Or even a science fiction fan. Or anyone who does have a problem with religion in scinece classes. In fact, Stein gets to speak, virtually uninterrupted for the entire story. And yet, I don't get the feeling that Farquharson is giving him enough rope for the proverbial hanging. No, this interview seems lobbed to him.

The National Post is a funny animal. Created by a man who may have been a genius, but was certainly sure he was, it was designed, I think, to be an antidote to the "liberal media" (read: CBC) here in Canada. It's now owned by CanWest, which is in turn owned by the Aspers. Izzy Asper (dead now, I think) was a pretty severe conservative, and wasn't too big on editorial independence.

It seems to be a family tradition. Incidentally, and I might be wrong here, but I think the Post is the only daily in Canada to run up against the HRC.

But back to Stein briefly:

  • "I didn't realize we'd have quite as many critics as we've had." Apparently his head is up his ass. Saying, essentially, that biologists are Nazis is bound to upset some people.

  • "There have been a lot of nasty comments from people expressing anger and contempt." Probably because they're angry and ID is comtemptable.

  • "... even people who've been friends for decades have gotten quite angry and contemptuous towards me, besides the fact they know nothing about the subject." Hello, kettle? The pot's on line one.

  • Next Paragraph: "Stein insists he, himself, knew nothing about the subject until 2005, when a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching Intelligent Design." See what I mean? It gets better.

  • "Ultimately, it seems that Stein - who is preparing to make another documentary, one which he predicts will be even more controversial than Expelled and make Americans in particular go crazy - is more interested in morality than in the scientific process, focused more on questions of religion than the nitty-gritty of cell structure." Making a movie about ID vs. evolution, and he's not interested in evolution?

That's it. Let PZ handle it. I'm just pissed that the Post was so obsequious. Even the title kisses his ass. It's short. The last paragraph is choice. Read it. Gnash your teeth. Write a letter to the editor. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Human Rights Again

I'm a big fan of the free speech. As Jennifer Lynch, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission here in Canada would say, I'm a "free-speecher". I'm also, as she would say, a "human rightser". In theory, there is no conflct there.

Until you get to hate speech.

I used to be a fan of nailing bigots to the wall. I wanted the government to arrest and detain people who incite hatred or violence. I wanted to protect the vulnerable in socitety from those who would harm them verbally, or coax others into harming them.

But recently, I've been seeing what can only be called abuse of provisions meant to protect the vulnerable, used by the malicious to attack the blunt, the tactless, the ones with dangerous and dangerously popular opinions. There are people on both sides of the argument that I can get behind. Richard Warman is one who has gone after neo-nazis here in town, and nobody likes neo-nazis.

But even fucking neo-nazis have rights, and I'm afraid the HRC might be going to far in muzzling hate speech. Further, actual dangerous speech is already covered by the criminal code: uttering threats, or inciting others to violence, or calling for genocide, or anything that actually exposes other people to violence is already illeagal. And crimes motivated by bigotry are already more severe than others. Beat up somebody, and your an assailant. Beat somebody up because he's a Sikh, and you're a racist and an assailant, and punished accordingly. I don't know for sure that sexual identity is protected yet against hate crimes in Canada, but it needs to be.

But at the same time, while I advocate the reconsideration of the HRC, this is hyperbole that does no one any good:

Few institutions conjure up George Orwell’s dystopia of 1984 as readily as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A premature baby, born seven years ahead of Orwell’s schedule, the CHRC has been as smugly doubleplusgood as the satirist’s Ministry of Love, though not remotely as powerful or quite as evil.

Give it time, I say.

Worried that time isn’t on its side, the CHRC launched an independent review of some of its policies this week, coupled with an in-house review of some of its practices. “Independent of what?” you may ask. Rest assured, not of the Zeitgeist that created the 1977 Human Rights Act and its notorious Section 13-1. The likelihood of an organization like the CHRC instituting a probe for any purpose other than self-justification is remote.

To borrow Orwell’s language, anyone retained by Canada’s thinkpol should be a goodthinker, fluent in newspeak. He ought to bring to his task a bellyfeel about crimethinkers and the correct way of dealing with them. He should have a
capacity for doublethink and recognize the importance of keeping anything
malreported out of the public discourse, especially away from such prolefeed as the Internet.

This is probably spurred on by the fact that the Post has met with the HRC before. And I'm not at all sure that I disagree with the general thrust of the piece. But George Jonas is not helping the situation by comparing the HRC to the Thought Police.

I've come around recently to thinking that protecting all speech is too important to allow anyone to censor it. There are a lot of ideas that are unpopular, dangerous, and even just plain wrong, but we can't allow any one group to silence another, especially before they've had a chance to have their say.

It's sticky, and I've reversed my position on this, but I'd rather some people have too many rights, than having some people without them.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just a reminder...


The war in Iraq was not for oil.


After five grueling years of war, Iraq's most cherished prize — its mammoth hydrocarbon reserves — might finally be within reach of Western oil companies. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP appear set to win no-bid contracts allowing them to work in some of Iraq's rich oil fields. The negotiations between Iraqi officials and those companies, first reported in Thursday's New York Times, are for "technical support agreements" for two years and renewable for a third, rather than for lucrative contracts to pump oil out of the ground. Under the envisaged deals, the companies would help Iraqi oil managers overhaul decrepit operations and modernize their equipment in the hope of boosting Iraq's output by about 500,000 barrels a day — an increase of nearly 20% over the best days the Iraqi industry has had since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. At the current sky-high oil prices, that could bring in billions more every week for the Iraq government, which sorely needs funds to rebuild the country. And the companies, which had for decades been partners in the Iraq Petroleum Corporation before Saddam Hussein nationalized the industry, would tentatively return to some of the biggest oil fields on the planet. Such arrangements, the corporations hope, will position them to seek long-term access to proven reserves that are second only to Saudi Arabia's.
That is all.

Russian Oil

Heard this on the radio the other day. It's long, and it's not really that fascinating, but there it is. It's a 20 minute radio documentary on Russian oil, Medvedev and Putin.

Apparently, there has been some nastiness recently (and for the last hundred years, apparently) in the Russian oil industry. There are some oil companies who are in bed with the politicians, and they are appropriating assets to make a profit. It's like the wild west. Bits of it sound like it'd make a cool movie.

Two things I'd like to point out to any potential listener:
  1. The sense of astonishment that oil companies would behave in an unethical manner, buy politicians off, and resort to force to get what they want. It speaks of a naivete that is nothing short of breathtaking.
  2. The horror at the fact that it's difficult to draw a line between the oil company and the federal government. The idea that you have to cross the Atlantic to get that kind of story (or leave the fucking country, for that matter) is wonderful. Apparently, it has escaped everyone's notice that Cheney used to run Halliburton, and Bush is neck deep in oil. Or that Ed Stelmach is clearly in the pock of Alberta Oil, is as our PM, Mr. Harper.
I know that most reporters are smarter than that. And I'd like to think that our National Broadcaster recruits some pretty bright lights. But after this story, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I support your war of terror.


It's no secret that I don't support the war in Iraq. It was an exceedingly bad fucking idea. Also no secret that I won't support the war in Iran. Another exceedingly bad idea. And it's also no secret that I don't support the war in Afghanistan.

Enough with the obvious. I go further.

I do not support our troops.

First, I disagree with the mission. We invaded Afghanistan because a bunch of guys from Saudi Arabia attacked the US. We went into Afghanistan to catch a Saudi who probably had (almost certainly had) already fled to Pakistan. We couldn't invade Pakistan because it's friendly. Not friendly enough to give the US Bin Laden, but still friendly. Besides, they needed to put a pipeline through Afghanistan, and the Taliban wouldn't let us.

The narrative now is that we went in to take out the Taliban and free the Afghan people. These Afghan people. (There are a lot fo things currently wrong with Afghanistan, from a corrupt parliament, to drug lords, to sexism, to sharia law, to whatever.) We went to export democracy. We went in to free the people. We went in to get rid of the Taliban 'cause they were bad. Let's forget that the CIA created the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We went in because apparently nobody ever watched Rambo fucking III, or The Living Daylights, or if they did, they clearly missed the point: Don't fuck with Afghanistan.

Second, Canadians serving in Afghanistan decided to join the military. No draft here. We've been in Afghanistan for seven years. Many joined after the invasion. Many decided to stay on after the invasion. So they, of their own free will, have chosen to take part in this barely legal war which has killed nearly a million people. They are killing Afghans at the behest of NATO, with a bleated blessing from the UN.

Third, I didn't ask them to do it. Canada was not attacked. Canada hasn't been attacked in a hundred years. And it was the Americans that did it. (Except for the Fenians, and that was in the 1850s, and they were Irish Americans. That was a debacle.) I have never asked them to defend me. I never asked them to kill anyone on my behalf. They are not fighting for my freedom. They are not. They might think they are, but they are not. My rights are safe. Nobody is threatening me with a gun. In Afghanistan, however, some of the threatening people with guns are Canadian.

Fourth, I don't think the new narrative will work either. Nation building? My left nut. They only have to rebuild their nation 'cause we tore down the old one. Exporting democracy? Are you fucking kidding me? Killing a bunch of people is exporting democracy? And have you seen what they're doing over there? It's not working. The place is chaos. Society is falling apart. Fortunately, our troops have a mandate to stop anal rape when they see it. But not to get a journalism student out of prison.

Fifth, the position that they're just following orders doesn't fly after Nuremburg. I don't care what you're told to do, if you're doing it, it's your fault. You're culpable

And sixth, I don't feel the need to support them because they're Canadians. It's a big place, and I clearly have little in common with them. I don't have much in common with a guy who speaks Mandarin in Vancouver. Or a fisherman in Newfoundland. Or a roughneck in Alberta. Or Stephen Harper. If a Canadian comes from B.C., then I live closer to George Bush then I do to them. I don't support Bush, why should I support some guy who lives farther away simply because he sings the same national anthem I do? Or because he's been to the same cities I have? An accident of geographic proximity (relatively speaking, of course)? An accident of language (also complicated in Canada)?

I'm not better than anyone else. Luckier, sometimes, but not better. When armed men and women are injuring, caprturing or scaring other people, I don't feel obligated to support them because their home town is in the same set of lines as my home town. I don't support their mission because a government I didn't elect (this one, or the previous two) sent them out there. I don't support them because they speak English. I don't support them because they are allergic to cats like I am. Nationalism is one of the last accepted bastions of tribalism (religion, too, but that's eroding slowly). It's a way to feel superior to other people. I admit that I succumb to it occasionally (see this post, and others), but I do my best. I'm not going to support them because of the Queen is on the money in their pocket, too.

I have no good reason to support them.

I want our troops (and everyone else's) to come home. I want them to stop killing people in other countries. I want them to be good people, to be better than they were, to be working towards something great.

Propping up a friendly incompetent dictator in a nation famous for dictators and hating invaders is not something great.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Q&A


When I say I'm going out for a drink, I don't literally mean one drink. Who thinks that literally means one drink?
My wife.

"I'm off for a quiet pint - followed by 15 noisy ones"

-- Gareth Chilcott

Because the Bushes are just plain nuts.



There are days when I am exceeding glad to not be an American. This is one of them. Here's why:

Bush has engineered onto the November ballot two initiatives that would eliminate the state constitution’s strict church-state separation provisions, mandate funding of religion and water down language requiring a quality public school system.

For advocates of church-state separation and strong public schools, it’s a political showdown with breath-taking possible consequences.

Watch!
In incredulous horror as Florida becomes even more backward and contemptible!
Scream!

In terror as Bush comes back from beyond the gubernatorial grave to sabotage the youth of the nation!

Flee!
North, to more forward-thinking and rational states like Georgia, Tenneessee and Kentucky!
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that not everyone in the southern U.S. is a superstitious redneck. Vjack at Atheist Revolution is a good example.

Sustainability Geek

I was out in the park enjoying the moderate temperature and sunshine an hour ago. There's a church down the street. Someone's getting married, probably as I write this. One of the monstrosities above was parked outside.


It made me annoyed, because the SUV limo is essentially a big "fuck you" to the rest of us. Climate change? Fuck you. Peak oil? Fuck you. Poverty? Fuck you. Blood for oil? Fuck you. See? It looks like an SUV, but really, it's one of these:



I just fucking love that kid.

It put me in mind of this editorial from the New York Times a couple of days ago:

It’s hard to convince most Americans that there is a silver lining to $4-a-gallon gasoline. But General Motors provided a nugget of good news when it announced that it would shutter much of its production of pickups and sport utility vehicles — and might even get rid of the Hummer, the relative of the Abrams tank unleashed on the streets in the cheap-gas days of the 1990s.

It’s hardly the solution to global warming, or the country’s dependence on imported oil, but it’s a start.

...and a related story from the Toronto Star of a couple weeks back. I'm amazed that people think our governments can do anything about the harsh economic realities facing the big three automakers.

And I'm getting a bit tired of harping on this (probably not as tired as you are of hearing it), but not everybody gets it. You, loyal reader, undoubtably do. But many people don't, and think that any attempt to reduce our dependance on oil is just hippies being pushy. I started a fight on the local fishwrap's blog yesterday by asking why us sustainability geeks inspire such venom. One regular responded:

Brett,those crappy jobs that you speak of, are worked by real people, with real families. If those jobs disappear, there is nothing to replace them. Good for you that you are fortunate to work at a job that does not emit carbon, and your workplace will be able to absorb the cost of a carbon credit to keep you employed. It is economic suicide for any city to put its inhabitants out of work. The city coffers cannot absorb the number of people who will be unemployed thanks to the the green hysteria movement. It is fortunate that you have the surplus income to be able to afford to pay higher gas prices to drive your car, to heat your home and to light your home. Without a job, there are many that will be unable to do that.

I made a reference to McJobs being crappy in my comment. And I still believe that those jobs are crappy, nay, shitty, and I wish a sector of the population didn't have to rely on them. It's the job itself that is shitty, not the poor bastard who's stuck doing it (which has been me in the past, and may be me again in the future).

And I don't know how the editor will respond to my link or quote. So don't tell him.

The "stay the course" mentality is disturbing to me. You can deny climate change all you want. Tell that to the people standing neck deep in a river that used to be their cornfield in the midwest. Tell that to people in deserts that used to be meadows. It was 32 fucking degrees here last Thanksgiving. That's not normal. But fine, climate change ain't happening. Knock yourself out. But the ideal that an economy so dependent on one resource is the best plan for North America makes me gape. I have no idea what to say to people who think that oil is limitless, virtually free, and convenient.

I know a petroleum based economy seemed like a good idea at the time. It's only faith, stubbornness, ignorance or fear (and those four things are very closely related) that keeps us on this path.

I see a lot of parallels between being an atheist and an environmental activist.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Snap, Crackle and Pop

I'm not gonna call this full-out woo, but chiropractic has some explaining to do:

Paralyzed woman sues chiropractic for half billion
rabble.ca exclusive story
by Paul Benedetti and Wayne MacPhail

An Alberta woman, paralyzed after her neck was manipulated by a chiropractor, has launched the biggest-ever class action suit against chiropractic in Canada.

The suit, filed yesterday in Edmonton, is asking for more than a half billion dollars in damages not only for the victim, Sandy Nette and her husband, David, but for an entire class – anyone in Alberta treated or harmed by chiropractors who deliver "inappropriate and non-beneficial adjustments."

This is not the worst part, in my opinion. Okay, so she went to a "medical professional" because she was having health problems. Instead, she ended up paralyzed. It happens all the time, and it's a real drag. Doctors (actual medical doctors) accidentally harm patients all the time. Pobody's nerfect, as the stupid signs used to say.

What caught my eye was this:

But, most interestingly, the class action suit challenges the foundation of chiropractic - the vertebral subluxation. Many contemporary chiropractors believe that the body can heal itself, so long as an innate energy flows unimpeded from the nervous system out the vertebrae of the spine.

Innate proponents also believe that a "misaligned" vertebra can impinge that energy and cause ill health. According to chiropractors, these vertebral subluxations interrupt energy flow resulting in health problems that include: organ disease, circulation problems, cancer, allergies, infections, bedwetting, even learning disorders. Those beliefs, that have no basis in science, and are not shared by
medical professionals, come from chiropractic's founder, Canadian D.D. Palmer, who invented chiropractic at the end of the 19th Century. Couched in more contemporary language, this belief system informs much of chiropractic promotion and practice in Canada today.

In fact, The Alberta College and Association of Chiropractic website makes precisely these kinds of claims: "The chiropractic adjustment is thought to restore the body's powerful ability to heal itself ... Chiropractors can play a major role in preventative care, protecting against future pain and health problems."

Innate fucking energy flows? Innate fucking energy flows? Does that sound like science to you?

I went to a chiropractor a long time ago. I had neck pain. He put it back where it belonged (I guess), and the pain went away. It seemed to make sense: there was massage, and manipulation, and some lasers (please don't ask me to explain the lasers), but the massage and manipulation makes sense to me, my spine wasn't where it was supposed to be, so Dr. Millar put it back.

I'd even buy the body's innate ablility to heal itself. It's just one of the things is does.

But this innate energy flow, it's like chi, right? WTF?

I've heard some pretty wacky claims by chiropractors (second-hand), that chiropractic can cure diabetes, for instance, or depression. I thought that was horseshit (still do, in fact), and couldn't fathom how the fuck they thought that cracking one's back could get one's pancreas off its lazy ass. I thought they figured the back cracks felt good, so it could alleviate depression.

Now I get it. It's the goddamn chi, healing everything.

Changed my mind. It's woo.

"Calm down! You're going to give yourself skin failure!"

Jesus Hates Fags

I caught this on a clickthrough from Canadian Cynic:

The Search For The Pederast Brain
Scientists are desperate to establish a scientific justification for homosexuality. Public money is being spent. The belief is that if it can be demonstrated that homosexuality is in some way intrinsic rather than chosen, this will normalize and justify it. Proponents of homosexuality are hoping that this will provide a knock-out blow against Christian objections to homosexuality.

It will, of course, do no such thing. Christians understand that, since the Fall, man inherits a corrupt, that is, sinful, nature through Adam. We are born into the world with defective, disordered natures. Put it this way: we are not sinners just because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Homosexuality will continue to be seen, in this
light, as objectively disordered against the objective standard of male and female which can be seen in nature, and, if you can't see it there, in Scripture. The remedy is not the normalization of sin; it is Christ.


I love the breathtaking arrogance of that last sentence. It is just fucking awesome, in the sense that it fills me with awe.

Of course. Jesus can fix all the gays. All they have to do is accept Jesus into their hearts, and they will no longer be gay. At least their hearts won't be. The naughty bits, as we've seen, remain gay.

This is sustained, and cloaked in a wonderful filmy gauze of compassion. You see, Ball himself loves gays. It's Jesus, you see. The devil has corrupted us all (especially gays), and it's just not natural. Want proof? Check the scripture. The thrust of it is this, unless I misunderstand. We have allowed gay people actual status as people, but that was misguided, and ultimately discriminatory, because we don't allow pedophiles to be people:

Personhood - Gay vs. Pederast
This discriminatory bias of secular society is also seen in the concept of personhood. Clearly, in our society, the terms gay and person have been twinned, to the point where gay is considered the definition of a person, as opposed to simply a descriptive trait associated with a person. (The media never talk about the rights of "men engaging in homosexual activities", it is always about the rights of "gay persons" -- the "gay" identity being stronger than the "male" identity.) The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. It is the foundation of all arguments in favour of homosexuality. And it is the foundation of all that is wrong with these arguments. Christians who understand that God has made us male and female understand that homosexual and gay are, ultimately, false identities. It may be what a person feels, it may define a person's urges, but it is not who a person is. (And that is why, ultimately, catering to these false identities is neither helpful nor kind -- gays are, like us, first and foremost, males; and lesbians, are, like us, first and foremost females. Rather than viewing homosexuals as some class of "other" with rights, we view them as being "ourselves", welcome them and embrace them as such, while holding them to the same moral standards as we hold ourselves.)

He's clear to separate the gay activities from the person, I assume because he's supposed to love the person, but it just makes him sound all weaselly, in my opinion. The phrase "men engaging in homosexual activities" seems all accusatory and discriminatory, even more so than "fag" (IMO). The implication is that a man can deny his homosexual attraction even while accomodating another man's penis. If you are enjoying another man's (or woman's) gear, I'm not saying you're gay, but you're not exactly straight and narrow.

And the phrasing of that last bit is eerie, too, about moral standards. In fact, I do hold gay people to the same moral standards as I hold myself. Where they stick their junk has very little to do with it, so long as everyone consents.

And that's where the argument falls down, Dear Reader, though he does try to accomodate it:
Both Christians and secularists have an understanding of normal, and, from this, right-and-wrong. Secularists find theirs in the amoral idea of adult permissiveness; if two adults are predisposed to do it, and want to do it, how can we say it's wrong? (Especially when we've paid for science that backs us up!) On this basic, they judge homosexuality to be OK, but pederasty not so; Christians, with minds rooted in reason and revelation, have a higher view of humankind, and, because of this, a narrower view of what constitutes a baseline of normal or moral behaviour.
Here's my baseline: consensual acts between adults. I don't care who fucks whom, unless it is me being fucked.

But I'll go one further, and this is where things get sticky, friends and neighbours. I agree that "pederasts" (what an icky word) do not choose their sexuality. And furthermore, I suggest that they warrant pity rather than revulsion. There's no fucking way they chose to be attracted to children, but because we view that "orientation" with such horror, they repress it until they succumb, rather than seeking support. Natasha at Homo Academicus does a much more thorough job of explaining this point, and I am in complete agreement. And his final declaration, that I am the bigoted one, is just fucking gross.

This is a good example of how religion can screw a person up. He sounds all kind and concerned, but he ultimately equates homosexuality with "pederasty", and uses that to validate his bigotry.

His bigotry comes from the Bible, not the science.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Agent 99


Anne Hathaway is hot. I find that disturbing. She used to be Ella Enchanted.

She also shares a name with Shakespeare's wife.

That is all.

It's pronounced nucular...

This is a bad fucking idea:

Darlington to get 2 new reactors
Durham cheers jobs as massive expansion will almost double nuclear
plant's output


Power-hungry Ontario wants new sources of electricity near Toronto. Hard-hit Durham Region wants jobs. Those factors won out over environmental fears and huge costs yesterday as the province announced that the Darlington nuclear plant will be expanded to accommodate two giant reactors.

Canada's first new reactors in two decades are expected to generate up to 3,200 megawatts of power. That is almost enough to power all homes and businesses in Toronto and nearly doubles Darlington's current capacity.

Energy Minister Gerry Phillips said construction should begin at the existing station in 2012 with electricity being generated by July 1, 2018. Phillips declined to give a price tag for the Darlington project other than to say it would fit within the province's $26.3 billion plan to upgrade its nuclear capacity over the next 20 years. Phillips said Darlington was selected because its transmission capacity is more accessible than the privately operated Bruce site on Lake Huron.

And I know you're just itching to know why. Well, here it is:
  1. Nuclear power is not safe. Yeah, I've heard it, blah, blah, blah. The fact remains that if something goes wrong, it goes very wrong, and insurance companies won't insure nuclear plants, and will not compensate Ontarians in the case of a nuclear accident.

  2. Nuclear plants are expensive, and conservation is cheaper. Duh!

  3. "Cost overruns have dogged every nuclear project in Ontario history."

  4. At current rates of usage, we have thirty years of unranium still to mine, at the outside. That means that these reactors will come online just in time to shut down. It's like peak oil, only faster and more expensive.

  5. The jobs created will boost one community, while green power is diffuse, benefitting most communities.

  6. The grid is unsustainable.

  7. Nuclear power is not green: it pollutes, and it produces carbon. Actual fission doesn't produce carbon, but everything else does: building the plant, mining the ore, refining the ore, transporting the ore, building waste dumps, transporting the waste, the commute for employees (since they try not to build these near inhabited areas) and maintaining the grid.
I'm not a luddite. I'm not a hippie. I'm just pissed off at short-sighted planning. This plant is a really bad fucking idea. As Frank De Jong says, kill a watt, don't build a watt.

Tagged! The Atheist 13

Dr. Poodles and Adrian Hayter popped my tag cherry . I'm all fahklempt. Double-teamed for my first time (or are they the same person?)

It's kind of cool, because it gives me something to write without coming up with an idea first. Somebody tell me why it's thirteen. There're only ten questions.

1. How would you define “atheism”?

I'll just fall back on the dictionary definition and say that I lack belief in gods. I want to make sure to point out that I don't actively disbelieve in gods, I just haven't seen any evidence. Any gods that are hiding out there are jerks anyway, since they could help us out and don't, so I'm not sure that theistic or deistic proof would change my attitude much. I guess I'd just have someone specific to be pissed off at.

2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

For the early part of my life, my family's religion was benignly Baptist, if such an animal exists. I knew about god and Jesus and the whole thing, and I learned the ten commandments and the like, and I felt vaguely bad about myself.

When I was about ten, I think, we moved back into the Ottawa region, and joined a church not too far from our house in Gloucester. It was fundamental, premillenial and evangelical. It was an experience. I learned about Chick Tracts, and consumed them voraciously. I feared gay people and popular music. I got saved and I got baptised. I joined the youth group (I was saved in the back of a minivan on the way home from five-pin bowling). I learned just how dirty and sinful things were all around me, and I was afraid for my soul. We lived there for about two years, and then we moved to London. The church in Gloucester has a sister church here, and they told us to check it out. Instead, we started going to one that was five or six blocks from the house.

We were lucky to escape. The new church was again benignly baptist, and there was a lot less hell and damnation. We just didn't go as much, and I eventually fell away from the faith. A lot of what I learned in Gloucester still sticks. I have an overdeveloped sense of shame for which I will be eternally grateful. And, I still have Jack Chick.

Shortly after we came to London, our previous pastor was arrested for abusing his two-year-old daughter. He was big on the corporal punishment (he may have actually thought "spare the rod, spoil the child" was in the Bible, but he was really horny for that commandment about honouring one's parents), and when the girl was admitted to the hospital for something else entirely (asthma, I think), they saw bruises on her ass. He was in a cell faster than you can say "She fell." And recently, there has been sexual abuse allegations at the Ambassador Baptist Church here, which is obviously the sister church.

That answer was even longer than Adrian's.

3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?

Lies. I'd like to expand, talking about how it's stupid to cloak one's faith in science (see previous posts), but I've only got one word.

4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

SETI. Probably because it's a lot like praying, but the odds of someone actually responding are much greater. And it makes for great movies. And mediocre ones that are still fun.

5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

I'd make it an actual community, for one. And I'd increase its size. That's two things, so I'd just make more of us.

6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

"You realize they won't let you have sex, right? Well, have fun with that. See you at Thanksgiving." She's catholic, so she'd be a nun. It'd suck. She wouldn't even get to abuse altar boys.

7. What’s your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

My wife likes to call our daughter a miracle. I say she's pretty fucking cool, but millions of people are born every day. It's not a miracle. That's stretching the definition a bit. If my daughter is a miracle, then every death is a miracle. Every moonbeam. Every cloud. Every mosquito bite. Every bowel movement. Every headcold. Every tapeworm. People usually see the fallacy when I get to the shit part, but I think the tapeworm gives it a little extra.

I also like the prime mover argument, because it simply defers the mover by one. It also doesn't mean I have to go to church, because even if it's so, the rest (Bible, Jesus, Mohammad, etc.) doesn't necessarily follow.

8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I guess within the atheist community, the fact that I actually miss religion. I liked having a big imaginary friend who was looking out for me. It was comforting, even though I was a terrible disappointment to him. I also haven't completely dismissed the whole parapsychology thing. (I know, I know.) Probably because I like ghost stories.

Outside the atheist community, I get a lot of funny looks when I say I don't belief that I have a soul. It's a fundamental belief that transcends religion, and it makes us feel special. It's one thing to say we share an ancestor with chimps. It's another to say we're just meat.

9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Dawkins, because I've read more of his stuff, and he's nice.

10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

My wife, because it would make my life a lot easier. I was tempted to say Stephen Harper, but he'd still be a smug douchebag, so it goes to Tasha.

And now I must tag.

I'm gonna hit Homo Academicus, because she doesn't post as often as I wish she did, and this might poke her a bit. Next is Riding with Rickey, 'cause he's funny, and he might actually do it. And finally, Canadian Cynic, which, while not strictly an atheist blog, is still pretty harsh when it comes to god. and it further boost the CanCon quotient of the blog.

If I didn't tag you, feel free to do it anyway, and leave a link here.

Thank you. Have fun.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Lesson? Check your sources.

Okay. Pardon my french, but this is retarded, and it's not getting enough face time, even in Ontario:
CityNews Exclusive: The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic

Monday June 16, 2008
CityNews.ca Staff

Colleen Leduc already had a lot going against her. The Barrie woman was holding down a job while struggling to raise her autistic 11-year-old daughter. She couldn't afford to give the child the intensive therapy she needed, and was forced to send her to a public school in the area.
So she was completely unprepared for what happened to her and the youngster, an almost unbelievable tale of red tape involving a strange claim from a teaching assistant, a bizarre decision by a school board, a visit from the Children's Aid Society (CAS) and most improbably of all, the incorrect pronouncements of a psychic.
The psychic told the kid's EA that one of her students was being sexually abused by a man in his 20s. The student's name started with "V".

So Leduc drops her kid off, gets a phone call at work, and rushes to the school, met by the administration, who tell her that they have phoned Children's Aid. They tell her that her kid has been sexually assualted, and I presume they disclose their source. Apparently there had been other indicators, besides the psychic:
Victoria, who is non-verbal, had also been exhibiting sexualized behaviour in class, actions which are known to be typical of autistic behavior. (See other typical actions here) That lead authorities to suspect she had a bladder infection that may have somehow been related to the 'attack.'
This is wild. first, the allegations are dismissed quickly by CAS. Good for them. Incidentally, there's proof (and not just that the psychic was wrong):

The mom, who is divorced and has a new fiancé, adamantly denied the charges, noting her daughter was never exposed to anyone of that age. And fortunately she had proof. The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions.

As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.

So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far. But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately - and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.

And so a case worker came to the Leduc home to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct, only to admit there wasn't a shred of evidence that anything had ever happened at all. They labelled Leduc a "diligent" mother doing the best she could for her child under difficult circumstances, closed the file and left, calling the report "ridiculous."

I'd say that this has quite clearly kicked this scam artist's credentials in the chakras. I only wish that the offending fraud's name had been publicized, so that s/he could never do this to anyone else.

But WTF. The school admin needs to be reprimanded, the EA needs to have her head examined, and the mother needs to get her kid the fuck out of the care of these suckers.

And the province, the school board, or the losers at the school need to pay for enhanced care.

Human Rights


A throwaway comment I made somewhere (I can't remember where, it might have even been on this blog, but I can't find it) was about human rights, and it was pretty damn astute, and I'd like to spend a little time on it now.

In Canada, human rights are very much in the news. If MPs criticize Israel's human rights record, they're hit with the "antisemite" stuff, and it doesn't come off very well. Calling someone a bigot in Commons is okay, because speech is protected by law (libel and slander can't reach there), but it's still akin to asking a fellow member "So when did you stop beating your wife?" It sneaks the idea in there, and the more vehement your denials, the worse you look.

There's also the much bally-hooed apology by the PM for the treatment of Natives at residential schools. I've said before that my criticism of the Conservatives is largely policy-based (though I just don't like that dude), and I am proud of him for accepting responsibility on our behalf.

Macleans Magazine recently faced the BC human rights tribunal for publishing an article by Mark Steyn. I don't like Stryn, either, but he has a right to his opinion, and Macleans has a right to publish it. I'm a big fan of the human rights, but one of those rights is the right to free speech. You ought to be able in Canada to say whatever you want, and then everybody else should have the right to call you on it if you're wrong. Incidetally, from what I've read of the piece, it doesn't look to be wrong, bigoted or inflammatory. I'm not a fan of the way Canada handles its human rights. Free speech is too fucking important.

South of the 49th, California has a gay marriage holiday, until the voters go to the poll and revoke that right. Even now, assholes are being caught out because they think gay people are icky and don't want to marry them (to each other).

Everybody and their dog has an opinion, it seems, on the Beijing Olympics, because they're not nice to Tibet, or to dissidents. Most of the nations criticizin China have no moral high ground, but they're strident in saying that China is bad. I've commented on this before.

But the question of human rights is really never at issue, despite what people think. Honestly, everyone agrees what human rights are: freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, equality before the law, no slavery, no torture, no murder, fair trials and access to legal council, etc. The Canadian Charter and the Bill of Rights are more or less in sync (though that whole 'right to bear arms' thing is still a bit baffling), and agree largely with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No argument. Here are the rights.

But who has them?

To whom do these documents apply? That's the million dollar question.

In theory, everyone. But in theory, communism works, and in theory, Chirstianity says we ought to be nice to each other.

But let's be realistic. We spend an inordinate amount of time deciding who gets these rights, who doesn't, and thn providing justifications for our discrimination.

Mark Steyn and Macleans don't have the right to free speech, because it apparently infringes on someone else's right to not feel threatened (or at least their right to not feel abd about anything). In 48 states, gay people do not have the right of equality before the law because they are cunning linguists or like penises and other people have the right to follow a religion that teaches them to hate fags. Suspected terrorists do not have the right to a fair trial, dignity in prison, or to not be tortured in American Prisons becuase they're brown and Muslim. In the past, Canadian Aboriginals did not have the mobility rights or free association rights because white folks knew what was good for them (apparently it was raping and beating). Minors don't have the right to vote (admittedly, I don't trust most adults with their ballots...). In fact, the right to vote has a very checkered past: first only citizens, and then everyone who owned property, and then only white people, and then only men, and now only adults. And that's in actual democracies. There are dozens of countries that don't even pretend to let their people have a say in governance.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is far from universal, and most of the signatories have bloody hands, Canada included. I don't stand on our record as a good example. It's appalling. And yet we have the gall to criticize China, to badmouth the 48 states that don't allow gays to marry, and to say that Israel is engaging in Apartheid in Palestine, or call the people that say that nasty names.

But that gall, that chutzpah, is vital. It's the only thing that might drive us forward. We are all guilty, and thus no one can stand in judgement. However, we need to keep calling each other on our crimes. No one else will. There's no higher power, there's no ultimate authority, except each other. That's the point of democracy, and that's the ideal of the United Nations.

What we need to do is stop pretending. Human rights documents do not apply to everyone.

They should, but they don't. Until they do, we must keep fighting.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finally. Some consistency.

Special thanks to Brian at the Primordial Blog.

I'm going to go against the grain on this one. I support the church's position here, not because it's reasonable, but because at least it's internally consistent.

It's an interesting story about a Catholic priest refusing to marry a couple because there is no hope of conception. Here's the story in its entirety (it's short):

Impotent paraplegic told: no church wedding

June 9, 2008 - 3:52PM

An Italian bishop has reportedly told a young paraplegic he cannot have a church wedding because he is impotent, despite his fiancee being aware of the problem.

Salvatore de Ciuco, spokesman for Bishop Lorenzo Chiarinelli of Viterbo in central Italy, told SkyTG24 television: "No bishop, no priest can celebrate a wedding when he knows of admitted impotence as it is a motive for annulment" of the marriage.

The 26-year-old groom, who took part in a civil marriage ceremony on Saturday in Viterbo, has been paraplegic since he was involved in a car accident.

The curate of the parish who was banned from marrying the couple was present at the ceremony.

The favourite defense, by Catholics I know, of the church's stance on gay marriage is that the purpose of marriage is to procreate. "We're not bigots," say the faithful, "It's God's plan!" (I used a capital "G" because they would.) In other words, god's the bigot.

I point out that clearly that is not the case, as people who can't have children get married all the time. My mother-in-law got remarried, and she's not likely to have kids (menopause), so there you go.

And so finally, some bishop says what I've been saying all along. This guy, at least, is allowed to keep his homophobia.

Monday, June 16, 2008

WWJWD

My in box continues to grow with news that is worthy of comment. It's reassuring in a funny way to know that the planet is not getting any saner.

Did you know that while Jehovah's Witnesses can receive a new organ, they can't get a transfusion during the operation? True story. I live in London, Ontario, and I used to work for the Canadian Liver Foundation. I learned while there that JWs come from all over Canada to receive liver transplants at London Health Sciences Centre because the docs here can do it fast enough so that the patient won't bleed to death. Obviously, this puts them at greater risk, so while a JW gets an organ and takes a stupid chance, some other bastard dies of hepatitis. So chew on that, and then put your moral outrage aside for a minute.

I've often wondered about quirky religious prohibitions. Jews and Muslims can't eat pork or shellfish, or rabbits or camels (not that I'd want to eat camels, either). Mennonites can use a butter churn or a horse and buggy, but not metal nails or bicycles. Catholics can't take the pill. Hindus aren't supposed to kill anything but widows. Some of the wackier Baptists can't dance. (Know why Baptists can't have sex standing up? They might accidentally dance.) And JW's can't have transfusions.

So check this out:
Court upholds seizure of surviving sextuplets

VANCOUVER–A B.C. court says a child's right to life trumps a parent's charter right to guide their medical treatment in the case of four sextuplets taken from their Jehovah's Witness parents.

B.C. Supreme Chief Justice Donald Brenner has ruled that the seizure of the four surviving infants for blood transfusions, contrary to their parents' religious beliefs, was medically necessary to either save the children's lives or keep them from harm.

That's right, the B.C. courts have infringed upon a couple's right to let their children die. I'm impressed.

Some of you may wonder how a parent could let this happen. It happened in Wisconsin not that long ago. We often hear stories of parents killing children because god said so (one happened here in London a couple years ago). Abraham and Isaac is another good example. Another is Jephthah and his daughter. Apparently, god's a big fan of the dead kid. But people now cry foul: god would never ask such a thing. Never.

But he did. And he does, often. Abraham was a hero because he was about to kill his kid. What makes that dude in London any different, besides four thousand years?

Just that. Four thousand years. So maybe taking the Bible at face value is a bad idea in other areas of endeavour.

But about these quirky beliefs. You have to wonder why they hold onto them in spite of such astonishing evidence. God really wants you to bleed to death? God really says that condoms are a sin? God really cares if you cut your hair? God really wants menstruating women to be ostracised, and then to kill some birds?

Really?

I heard an explanation of the JW tansfusion thing that makes a twisted sort of sense. There're obviously religious rules against cannibalism. And when you're unconscious, they feed you with an IV: a needle in your arm. You can take nourishment directly into your bloodstream. So, getting blood put into your bloodstream is like drinking blood, whereas getting a kidney has been okay since the eighties.

I don't think this is what Dawkins means when he says that religion is child abuse.

But this is as clear a case as you can get.

Normally, we let shit like this slide, because it's a religious belief, and they're entitled to it. And adults are. Absolutely. You wanna bleed to death? Great, go nuts. Walk into the parking lot and slit your fucking throat. Just get off that operating table and let some sane guy have that liver.

So you have to wonder if the parents even want those kids back now. Aren't they tainted? Cannibals? Damned?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jesusland


Sounds like a shitty amusement park. But no. It's a map of the Bible Belt:

The map is a depressing image for Americans and Canadians alike, because they lose Florida, and we lose our country. It's a real drag all around, unless they want to join the Dominion of Canada, and I can't see that happening any time soon. The last time they tried to annex us, it ended badly for St. Catharines, and then for the White House, and it's only gonna get worse. But they outnumber us about 10:1, so if the US did decide to move in, there's really very little we could do about it. Fortunately, there's plenty of room.

Don't get me wrong; there is much to admire in the States, and I welcome any poor Yankee who has had enough and wants to move to a more civilized society. And to be fair, the map as drawn gives us the best parts (or at least the most cosmopolitan parts), and while I know we be reluctant to give it up (or parts of it), there's a good chance Alberta would swing red. Quebec might take the opportunity to skive off, but they'll not get a better deal anywhere else, and maybe they'll realize that.

We have a lot in common, and have only had one major dispute (and it was before we even got our nationhood), but the fact remains that when I saw that image, I felt a little chill.

I am, to cliché things up a bit, proud to be Canadian, and amalgamation would be uncomfortable.
Incidentally, the website is about some sane and sensible things happening in the Bible belt, and it's reassuring. They're not all wingnuts, apparently. Check it out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Crisis of Modernity

There are several likely reasons for my fascination with the pope. First, there's the whole Catholic wife thing. Arguably, this man has more influence in my house than I do. (Not true, but it was a fun bit of hyperbole while it lasted.) Second, there's the fact that he looks like Palpatine. Third, there's the fact that he's taking steps to regress the Catholic Church in order to save it.


There's a school of thought, one I explained to my neighbours the other night after six or seven drinks, that any growth in religion is only coming from fundamentalist denominations: evangelical Christians and Islam, most notably, and more tolerant, accepting, even lax denominations are experiencing sharp declines in membership. After twenty-odd years (or is it thirty-odd?) of JPII and his more liberal stances on things like heretics, Catholics are falling away from the church in alarming numbers, while Islam spreads like a virus.


Don't fatwa me. It's a simile. Or go ahead; I don't care.


The feeling is that when people seek a faith, they want a faith that's challenging, that has tradition, that provides that shrill denial of progress that we all find so endearing. People want tribalism, damnit, and they're going to keep searching until they find a church that confirms their suspicions that they are, in fact, better than other people, and god hates gay people. Benedict is reversing the stance of the Vatican on one or two issues, and reaffirming its position vis a vis things like condoms and other forms of contraception. He's also reassuring catholics that the gays are still bad, and Islam is crazy. It's a more loving, intolerant position that he is seeking, like that of many of the popes before him. Not John Paul II, though. That guy was a pussy. And probably a commie.


Not surprisingly, many Catholics (the ones I was explaining this to the other night, for instance), are uncomfortable with Benedict trying to drag Catholicism kicking and screaming into the Dark Ages again, and rather liked the conciliatory approach of the feel-good pope we had before. Doesn't matter. The cardinals picked god's rottweiler, and we're stuck with him until he dies. He's god's mouthpiece, you know.


There's also the fact that the more devout you are in any Abrahamic faith, the less likely you are to use contraception, and therefore the more likely you are to make little Muslims, or Methodists. The pope is ignoring that (or possibly simply trying to be all sneaky about how he plans on getting more Catholics).


But because my life is tied to the pope and anything he mumbles on about, I pay attention to what he says. More so than the Catholics in my life, it seems. Like when he abolished limbo, for instance. Or when he said that environmentalists must be careful that their judgement is not "clouded by dogma" (damn near popped my irony metre on that one). Or when he "insisted on the importance of a reasoned explanation of Christian faith".

Christian philosophy must answer "crisis of modernity," Pope
says


Vatican, Jun. 9, 2008 (CWNews.com) - The study of philosophy is especially important today in light of "the crisis of modernity," Pope Benedict XVI told a group of university professors at a June 7 audience.

The Holy Father reminded participants in the 6th European Symposium of University Professors that Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, issued 10 years ago, had called for a renewal of Catholic philosophical study. Pope Benedict confirmed that imperative, urging the exploration of "new lines of research in order to understand the true nature" of the crisis in modern thought.


I'm not even sure what the "crisis of modernity" might be, unless its that we're not thinking like our ancestors did. I'll let that slide, because it's just too fucking obvious.


But again, we have a theist saying that reason must inform faith, with no regard to the inherent contradiction. It's as if they understand that they're losing, simply because they're playing on the wrong field, or playing the wrong game.


But you can't prop up your faith with reason. If you need to, then reexamine your faith. If you try to, you simply emphasize its weakness.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I just don't get it.

I don't know where I got this, though I understand it's available through richarddawkins.net:

Logical Proof of the Existence of a Divine Creator, Why Atheism is Not Logically Sound

By Yomin Postelnik Monday, June 9, 2008

One of the beautiful aspects of self evident truths is that they can be proven on both the simplest and the most complex of levels. By contrast, to make an argument for what is in fact an illogical fallacy, one must use plenty of skill, sophistry and remain beholden to a dogmatic protection of what is really an illogical position.

Yet even after a detailed case is made for the illogical side of the argument, it can instantly be deflated like a balloon with the simplest poke of clear logic. It can also be attacked piece by piece with even greater skill and logic, stemming from a steadfast pursuit of the truth.

Nowhere does the above hold more true than with regard to the existence of a Divine Creator. Proof of a conscious Creator is readily available. The simplest proof (yet one that no atheist has ever been able to counter effectively) is that a universe of this size and magnitude does not somehow build itself, just as a set of encyclopedias doesn’t write itself or form randomly from the spill of a massive inkblot.

The atheist, on the other hand, needs to build a plausible case for this irrational scenario. But first, let’s examine how irrational it is:

No one in their right mind would claim that 10,000 hundred story buildings built themselves from randomness, even over time. Yet those who doubt the existence of a Creator believe that an entire universe, containing all of the billions of elements necessary for life to form, may have come about without a builder. As such, they give credence to billions of times more coincidences to having come about.
The rest is very, very long, very, very silly, and very, very wrong.

I was going to heap a little scorn upon it, but my philosophy and theology aren't quite up to snuff, and besides, Martin Wagner took it apart quite neatly over at The Atheist Experience. It's worth a read, if only so you can see what debate about the existence of god is supposed to look like. Further, the original author, Yomin Postelnik, swoops through with a cut and paste from some discussion thread somewhere that I have no desire to read. Knock yourselves out, though. There's another post on Postelnik's drive-by (on which he drives by yet again), and he's taken down a peg again. And then there's some libel. Enjoy.

I want to talk about the basic premise of Postelnik's article, and I'm only going to use it as an example. I've copied his text, but given him credit, and provided a link to the original, so I think I'm safe from plagiarism charges.

But the idea of "irrefutable proof" is what has me gobsmacked.

Why do apologists feel the need to provide proof? Why do they resort to the tools of the "enemy"? What's the matter with them?

The whole point of god is faith. Faith. That means to believe something without evidence. Without proof. And, for modern theists, to believe something despite mounting evidence that you're wrong.

The basic strength, if you wish to call it that, is faith. Proof never once enters into the picture, and god says once or twice in the NT that he will not provide evidence. If you need proof, you're screwed. God's not in the miracle game anymore. (Relevant passages can be found here, at Debunking Christianity.)

So why do they keep smacking their head against the proverbial wall, trying to find evidence for the proverbs so near and dear to their deluded little hearts? As Wagner clearly showed at The Atheist Experience, there's no there there, no whiz in the cheeze, and no sound reason for believing in god. The strength of a secular worldview is the reliance on evidence, on reason, and on verifiable experience. Apologists are whining, because the evidence is on our side, but arguing over evidence denies one of the fundamental characteristics of religious faith.

Why can't they see that? Somebody tell me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Because I don't want you to think I'm only picking on the States

This is... interesting:
I'm no Nazi, says mom of 7-year-old with swastika
Manitoba mother now fighting to get kids back after seizure by province


The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG–She freely admits that her 7-year-old daughter was sent to school sporting a swastika – the Nazi emblem adopted as a symbol of racially motivated hate groups.

She says she's not a neo-Nazi, just proud of her northern European heritage.

Now she's fighting to get her children back from Manitoba Child and Family Services, and finding herself at the centre of a case that has raised questions about whether children are affected by parental views that may be extreme.

In an interview yesterday, the woman, who under provincial law cannot be identified, said her politics are misunderstood.

"This isn't, you know, a bunch of ... skinheads running around the streets in neo-Nazi gear," she said. "It's not about that. It's about being proud of who you are and what you are, and I don't have a problem with anybody feeling pride in who they are."

This appears later:
"I would never consider myself a neo-Nazi," she said. "I consider myself a proud Scottish chick."
What the hell does a swastika have to do with Scotland, except possibly Scottish neo-nazis? I hate Scotland Nazis.

I'm proud of my Scottish heritage, too: I have St. Andrew's Cross tattooed on my ankle. Another appropriate symbol would be The Lion Rampant. No swastikas.

Teaching your daughter that a symbol appropriated by the Nazis is a way to show your ethnic pride is child abuse. That kid is going to grow up a bigot.
She also defends the use of the swastika, pointing out that it is based on an ancient symbol for prosperity.
Yes. A Hindu symbol. Again, nothing to do with Scotland.

Take heart, Americans. We have our share of wingnuts.

Yay Scotland!

The Great Iraqi Train Robbery

Because you thought it couldn't get any worse...
During the five years the United States has occupied Iraq, the Bush administration has created a new state with a number of notable features: A venal, dysfunctional government. A terrorist haven and training ground. A nation so violent and dangerous that 10 percent of the population has fled.

Add to that a new hallmark: Nearly the most corrupt nation on Earth.
I am not a rabid patriot by any stretch, but I am increasingly glad we officially stayed out of that clusterfuck.

Kucinich

Had I been forced to name my favourite Democratic candidate for the nomination for president, it would have been unquestionable Dennis Kucinich. Say what you want about his appearance (and many have), but that simply makes you shallow and foolish.

His early career was sketchy, but it looks to have been vindicated, and since being elected to Congress, he has repeatedly stood up and told the current administration where to stick it. Last November (I think), he brought articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney, which were essentially dismissed.

Aside from his stance on abortion (which is hardly militant) and on sex education, I support the man, and I wish the Dems had had the courage to nominate a man who is sincere, patriotic, and brave.

Yesterday, he introduced articles of impeachment of Dubya, knowing full well that the shmucks in Congress are going to let it die. It's shameful. This administration is infinitely more impeachable than Clinton, and ought to face consequences for their actions. Not only have they abused their offices, they've violated international law, waged an illegal war (incidentally, without the consent of Congress), and ignored several treaties, including the Geneva Convention. They've pissed all over the Middle East, the Constitution, and the American people, and the Democrats took Congress promising to clean things up. I hope you throw all the cowards in Congress out at the first available opportunity.

Here's something else that should upset you. Here is the NYT article on the impeachment, in its entirety:
Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, defied his party leadership on Monday by calling for the impeachment of President Bush for starting the war in Iraq — but his move was not expected to go anywhere. Mr. Kucinich, a former presidential candidate, outlined his intention to propose more than two dozen charges against Mr. Bush on the floor of the House. He accused Mr. Bush of executing a "calculated and wide-ranging strategy" to deceive citizens and Congress into believing that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she opposes trying to remove Mr. Bush, calling such an effort divisive and most likely unsuccessful.
The Washington Post is much better (printing a story on A2), but the L.A. Times isn't covering it at all. CNN has this on their website (on a clickthrough, not on the main page), and not surprisingly, FoxNews isn't carrying it at all. No sign of the story on MSNBC.com.

The most coverage of the story I've seen is here, in the Belfast Telegraph:

Former Democratic presidential contender, Dennis Kucinich, has called for the impeachment of George W Bush claiming that the president set out to deceive the nation, and violated his oath of office with the Iraq war.

The Ohio representative yesterday introduced 35 articles of impeachment against Bush on the floor of the US House of Representatives.

Kucinich unveiled a list of alleged illegal and improper acts by Bush, including war crimes.

He accused Bush of executing a "calculated and wide-ranging strategy" to deceive citizens and Congress into believing that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States.

He went on to say that Bush and Cheney lied to Congress and the American public about the reasons for invading Iraq in 2003 and abused their offices in order to conduct the "War on Terror" following the 9/11 attacks.

"Bush misled the American people and members of Congress to believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction so as to manufacture a false case for war. President George W. Bush, by such conduct, is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office," Kucinich said.

The Telegraph also includes the 35 articles of impeachment, a damning indictment of Dubya's last six years in office.

A man is standing up to the war criminal that is running your country, is taking steps to remove him from office, and trying to salvage the reputation of America abroad. Your media is largely ignoring the story. Nobody seems to give a shit.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested yesterday that engaging in a lengthy debate over impeaching Bush in the waning days of his administration is not a productive use of the House's time. (washingtonpost.com)
It's been said that people get the government they deserve. I'd like to think you deserve better.

Prove it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sieg heil!


I caught this on a perusal of Dispatches from the Culture Wars:
Regional revival tackles community standards Pornography, Harry Potter books burned at monthly meeting

About 30 people gathered for a regional revival Friday night that included a book burning as a statement to reach out to local residents.

"It is allowed for Harry Potter to be taught in our schools, but not the Bible," International House of Prayer pastor James Crawford said during the Shreveport Regional Unity of Faith Revival.

There's probably a good reason for that, Mr. IHOP. Kids will actually read Harry Potter.

That is one reason pastors from several denominations and races ripped pages from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Those and pages from a pornographic magazine were put into a burn pit and set afire as praises bellowed from the congregation.

"As I tore the pages, I felt a generational curse of immorality and perversion breaking off my family," Adriane Banks said. "I felt it."

The book burning was a statement to reach out to people in Shreveport-Bossier City against sin, Crawford said.

"This is powerful. God looks down and sees humble hearts. That is the reality of what we're doing."

Crawford said recent natural disasters are a wake-up call.

It blows my mind that they actually think that natural disasters are Harry Potter's fault. He never actually graduated from Hogwart's for chrissake! He dropped out in the last year to look for Voldemort. If he could influence weather, I'm sure it'd be a senior level course. Or require some post-grad work.


that's enough of the cheap shots. There are many. IHOP, for instance. Harry Potter. Biblical inerrancy. Whatever.

I want to talk about book burning. It doesn't fucking work.

Some of my favourite books have been burned. A few I own simply because they were banned. For instance, I've never been actually able to finish Mien Kampf (not only is it crazy, it's pretty badly written), but I own it. Just because some people say I shouldn't be able to. I finished The Communist Manifesto, and while I agree with some of it, its main appeal is the fact that it's been burned. Same with Das Kapital. Book of Mormon. I already had the His Dark Materials books, but I reread them when I found out that they pissed people off.

I vehemently disagree with people who tell me what I can and can't read, can or can't listen to, and can or can't watch. I'll go out and arm myself with these texts, simply out of spite. And there are a lot of people like me, people who value their right to self-censor, or to not, but who abhor the idea of censoring someone else. And as a father, that's a bold fucking statement.

I expect to have some heated discussions with my wife, and some difficult discussions with my daughter (and any other kids that might come along), about what they see, read or listen to. Granted, there'll be few horror movies (and I don't think she'll be watching porn for a while, either) for Mickie until she's older, and no snuff films, and absolutely no Billy Idol, but other than that, I can't imagine why I'd want to shield her from stuff that's difficult, but often beautiful.

Here's a short list of some of my favourite books, bands and movies that have been challenged:
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Johnny Got His Gun
  • Roots
  • The Gulag Archipelago
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • The Adventures of Huck Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Howl
  • On The Road Again
  • Vernon God Little
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Giver
  • The Bluest Eye
  • The Color Purple
  • The Wars
  • Dance Me Outside
  • His Dark Materials
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Beatles
  • N.W.A
  • Public Enemy
  • Beastie Boys
  • KISS
  • Guns N' Roses
  • Sublime
  • Elvis Presley
  • Prince
  • Marilyn Manson
  • American Psycho
  • Friday the 13th
  • House of 1000 Corpses
  • The Notorious Bettie Page
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Bowling for Columbine
There are longer lists on the tubes. My list is hardly comprehensive, and I own more that have been challenged. Some of the reasons are dumb, others are interesting. They're all well-intentioned, and they're all wrong.

The cool thing about transmittable culture in text, image or sound, is that people will exchange ideas, and many of the ideas will challenge preconceived notions.

That's good.

There is no growth as a society or as a person unless our ideas, assumptions, faith, or basis of comparison is challenged. Why change, if there's no outside pressure?

And that's the problem here. These idiots don't fear Harry Potter. They are afraid that their kids might read the stupid books and figure out that, first of all, witches aren't real, and second, that they're not always evil. And if they figure out that their parents lied to them about that, then what's next?

God?