Friday, September 29, 2006

"Values Voters and their Leaders are Nasty Bullies"

No, that's not me talking, it's... uber-Republican Dick Armey??

Former Texas Congressman Dick Armey, once a stalwart ally in the culture wars, appears to be turning his back on Christian conservatives and their leaders.

The former majority leader of the House of Representatives reportedly told Ryan Sager, author of a new book on the Republican Party, that values voters and their leaders — especially Focus on the Family Action Chairman Dr. James Dobson — are "nasty bullies."

In the interview, Armey responded pointedly when Sager asked why he thought Christian conservatives seemed more powerful now than in the 1990s.

"To a large extent, because Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies," Armey said. "I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There's a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn't work unless it's dumb . . . These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic."

Why did he do it? Here are some ideas from the Christian Right:

"Perhaps Mr. Armey should spend less time with the ACLU, for whom he is now a paid consultant," Daly said, "and more time apologizing to American families."


One theory Souder advanced is that his former leader hadn't really been committed to the social-conservative agenda.


The more plausible theory, he offered, is that Armey left the House a bitter man because social conservatives backed then-Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., for the leadership post.

Armey Lashes Out Against Dobson, Values Voters, via Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bye Bye Habeas Corpus

The torture bill which will soon pass will allow any President to declare anyone an enemy combatant, have him tortured (as long as he calls it something else), and imprison him forever.

Today's Republicans (except two), who refused to even allow an Amendment to allow suspected terrorists the right to challenge their imprisonment, are a disgrace to our country.

The Senate today rejected an amendment to a bill creating a new system for interrogating and trying terror suspects that would have guaranteed such suspects access to the courts to challenge their imprisonment.

The vote was 51 to 48 against the amendment, which was offered by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. The action set the stage for final passage of the bill, which was approved on Wednesday by the House of Representatives.

The bill’s ultimate passage was assured on Wednesday when Democrats agreed to forgo a filibuster in return for consideration of the amendment. Any changes in the Senate bill, however, would have made it impossible for Republican leaders to meet their goal of sending the bill to the White House before adjourning on Friday to hit the campaign trail.

Underscoring the political stakes involved, White House spokesman Tony Snow said today that President Bush will emphasize Democratic opposition to the bill in campaign appearances.

“He’ll be citing some of the comments that members of the Democratic leadership have made in recent days about what they think is necessary for winning the war on terror,” Mr. Snow told reporters en route to a fundraiser in Alabama, according to a transcript provided by the White House.

This afternoon, the Senate was due to vote on two remaining amendments, but the one defeated this morning was the only one that had any Republican support.

The amendment introduced by Mr. Specter would have guaranteed to non-American citizens who are held as unlawful enemy combatants the right to appeal their detention in federal court. The bill now contains no such guarantee.

“What this bill would do is take our civilization back 900 years,” to before the adoption of the writ of habeas corpus in medieval England, Senator Specter said.

Mr. Leahy said the bill as written would allow the executive branch to hold any lawful immigrant in the United States indefinitely without charge. “We are about to put the darkest blot on the conscience of the nation,” he said, charging that the push for quick passage was purely for political gain.

“There is no new national security crisis,” he said. “There’s only a Republican political crisis.”

NY Times

Monday, September 25, 2006

Democrats, Stop Nominating Pussies!

I apologize for the sexist language, but it's necessary.

Watch Bill Clinton destroy FOX's Chris Wallace when Wallace tries to blame him for 9/11.

The right-wingers are going on about how he lost his temper and was un-presidential. That doesn't matter. They're not going to vote for a Democrat anyway.

Look at his body language. Look at how he vigorously defends himself and dominates Wallace physically and verbally. See his passion.

That's a man people will vote for.

No more snivelling, whiny pussies like Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore (at least in 2000), and Kerry!

Nobody's inspired by those guys. Nobody instinctively trusts them to defend our country. They're not alpha males, they're omega males.

I'm not talking about who would make a good president; I'm talking about who can win an election.

Let's look at the Democrats who have won in the last hundred years, besides Carter. Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, LBJ, Clinton. Those are real goddamn men. Mondale, Dukakis, 2000-Gore, and Kerry? Real goddamn pussies.

(Yes, Kerry was a war hero and could probably still kick my ass. Somehow he still comes off as a goddamn pussy on television, though. Also, I'm using "man" figuratively here. In theory, a dominant woman like Thatcher could win as well. Hillary's probably more dominant than Kerry or 2000-Gore, but I hope for our country's sake we can do better than her.)

For a while, I was leaning towards Obama or Edwards, because they have charisma. But I'm realizing it wasn't just his charisma that got Clinton elected. It's dominance. I don't think Edwards has it, and I haven't seen enough of Obama, but I'm afraid he doesn't have it either. And Wes Clark has got to be the least dominant-looking general to have ever lived.

Gore's shown signs. He's a big man and he can fight. His speeches in recent years have been electrifying. I'm not sure if he let his handlers turn him into a pussy in 2000 or if that's who he really is during a campaign. But I don't see anyone else who can do it. I guess it's either him or Hillary.

Now I don't know who convinced a majority of Democratic primary voters that Kerry was the most electable Democrat in 2004, or how they did it, but let's stop making the same goddamn mistake every four years.

Sadly, both Giuliani and McCain have more dominance than Gore or Hillary. A Dem might win in 2008 because of the Republicans' unprecedented corruption and incompetence, but nobody's going to be excited about him or her unless we find someone who's not a goddamned pussy.

(end rant)

Friday, September 22, 2006

On Torture

One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."


This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

By Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities. Please read the whole thing.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

For those of you who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, please think about the torture being done in our names as you say vidui.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in "God's army." The film follows these children at camp as they hone their "prophetic gifts" and are schooled in how to "take back America for Christ." The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.

It looks like the movie may unfairly tarnish all of Evangelical Christianity with this one crazy camp, but the crazy camp itself is scary enough. Much of the rhetoric exhibited makes the phrase "American Taliban" seem reasonable.

Amazingly, the people behind the camp are excited about the film.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

(Previous post about scary Christian kids.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Majority of U.S. Catholics are "Pro-Choice"

I was surprised to learn that most Catholics in the U.S. support legal abortion.

Other interesting facts:
Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as women in the population as a whole. In a study of more than 10,000 women over the age of 17 obtaining abortions, 27% were Catholic. Catholics make up almost 25% of the population.
–Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2002
96% of sexually active Catholic women above the age of 18 have used a modern method of contraception.
–2002 National Survey of Family Growth, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Less than 2% of sexually active Catholic women use church-approved family planning methods.
–2002 National Survey of Family Growth, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
58% of Catholics believe that birth control should be available to 14-16 year-olds, even if their parents
do not approve.

–General Social Survey, Cumulative Data File, 1972-2004
93% of Catholics support the use of condoms to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
–2002 National Survey of Family Growth

Out of touch much, Catholic Church?

The Facts Tell the Story: Catholics and Choice (pdf) from Catholics for a Free Choice.

See also their campaign to Ask Pope Benedict XVI to Lift the Ban on Condoms:

"A change in Vatican policy is critical. You can’t keep talking about a culture of life and turn a blind eye to the suffering and dying. You can’t tell people to love and care for one another and deny them the means by which to protect each other," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice and founder of Condoms4Life. "More than two dozen bishops and bishops' conferences have asked for a change. Catholic people get it. People spending their lives fighting this pandemic get it. Lifting this cruel and stigmatizing ban on condoms would be a positive and life-affirming move for this new pope."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Princeton University Exposes Diebold Flaws

My new post at JAJC:

Princeton University Exposes Diebold Flaws

What Kind of God do you Believe in?

There's a recent study from Baylor University (which is Baptist, btw) that's been making the rounds on the internet. The news that most people seem to care about is that there may be fewer secular people than previously thought. Apparently, many people who have put "none" for religion on previous surveys are believers who simply don't identify with any particular denomination.

I think the "four Gods" part is equally interesting, though:

"If you think about people perceiving God as high in anger, low in anger, high in engagement, low in engagement, it results in four different types of gods," said Froese.

What researchers found was that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

Researchers found that none of the "four gods" dominated among believers. The data showed:

* 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God, who is very judgmental and engaged
* 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God, who is not judgmental but engaged
* 23 percent believe in a Distant God, who is completely removed
* 16 percent believe in a Critical God, who is judgmental but not engaged

(These categories were distilled from answers to "29 questions about God'’s character and behavior.")

(Image from Christian Science Monitor.)

Instead of all the fun we're having over in the abortion thread debating moral issues, maybe we should just be arguing about how angry and/or engaged God is.

Some other tidbits I found interesting albeit unsurprising:

  • Individuals with lower educations and lower incomes tend towards more engaged images of God (Types A and B). Those with college degrees and who earn more than $100,000 disproportionately believe in a Distant God or are atheists.

  • Jews tend towards belief in a Distant God and over 8% of Jews in our sample report being atheists.

  • There is a strong gender effect in belief in God. Women tend towards very engaged images of God (Types A an B) while men tend towards less engaged images (Type D) and are more likely to be atheists.

  • Region of the country is significantly related to the four types of God. Easterners disproportionately tend towards belief in a Critical God. Southerners tend towards an Authoritarian God. Midwesterners tend towards a Benevolent God and West Coasters tend towards belief in a Distant God.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why We Attacked Iraq

A recent story demonstrates that aspect of human nature that caused the American people to support the invasion of Iraq:

Friends of Steve Irwin say the Crocodile Hunter would be horrified by the recent slaughter of stingrays in south-east Queensland.

The Department of Fisheries is investigating the slaughter of at least 10 stingrays at Hervey Bay and Deception Bay, north of Brisbane.

Irwin was killed last week when a stingray barb pierced his heart.

Irwin's close friend and business manager John Stainton has condemned the attacks.

"I'm absolutely horrified to hear about the slaughter of these stingrays and I know that Steve would be absolutely disgusted," he said.

"This is something that he would never want to hear about.

"Any revenge on any animal, no matter whether it's croc that's taken somebody or a shark that might have taken somebody used to absolutely turn his stomach."

Mr Stainton says Irwin would not have wanted people to harm stingrays to avenge his death.

That's right, a stingray killed Steve Irwin, so people decide to go to war with completely different stingrays. They do have chemical weapons, after all.

63% of Fox News viewers believe that the slaughtered stingrays supported Irwin's killer.

Via Axinar

Monday, September 11, 2006


I've been having a long debate about legalized abortion with Mark over at Pseudo-Polymath, spread out over a few posts: one, two, three.

I'd like to sum up my arguments here.


Abortion is a complicated subject. In this post, I'm only going to address whether abortion "should," in general, be legal, at least early in the pregnancy. This post is not a discussion of whether abortion is a good thing, Roe v. Wade or any other court decision, states' rights, late-term abortion, so-called "partial birth" abortion, a potential father's rights, age of consent, parental notification, federal or state funding, waiting periods, or anything else not specifically addressed in this post. Please keep comments constrained to the general topic so as not to get bogged down in a million tiny arguments.

Burden of Justification

Mark appears to begin with the assumption that the onus of justification for their position lies on the supporters of legal abortion (SLAs.) He has this backwards. Because opponents of legal abortion (OLAs) wish to criminalize an action, the burden of justification is on them. If I wanted to start a movement criminalizing the practice of eating popcorn in movie theaters, the onus would be on me to justify my position, and not on the popcorn-eaters to justify theirs.

"Abortion is Murder"

There are two problems with the argument that abortion should be criminalized because it is murder:

1) It's circular. "Murder" is by definition an unlawful killing, so this argument is akin to claiming that abortion should be criminalized because it's criminal. "Abortion is murder" is no more meaningful then "killing in self-defense is murder," "the death penalty is murder," or "war is murder."

2) "Murder" refers to the killing of a person. However what constitutes a "person" with respect to murder is exactly what this debate is about. The OLA side of the debate argues that a fetus or embryo is, from the moment of conception, a legal and moral person, while most on the SLA side argue that it's not until later on. The following analogy makes clear that even the majority of the people on the OLA side make a moral distinction between fetuses and post-birth persons:
Suppose there is a fire in a fertility clinic. You are the only adult present, but there is one child and a container with 5,000 embryos in the clinic. You can only save one of them -- which do you choose?

Only the most passionate extremist would save the embryos instead of the child, so clearly, most OLAs make a moral distinction between embryos and post-birth people. Killing embryos is therefore not in the same moral category as killing children, even for them.

"My Religion Opposes Abortion"

This is not sufficient reason for abortion to be criminalized. Your religion no doubt opposes idolatry as well, but nobody remotely reasonable is arguing that idolatry should be illegal.

"Embryos Have Souls"

This is an attempt to rescue the "abortion is murder" argument. If an embryo or fetus has a soul, a majority of people will agree that killing it should be prevented. I won't object to this argument on (non-)religious grounds since even an atheist can see "soul" as a useful metaphor, but there is one insurmountable problem with this argument: there is no consensus opinion for when an embryo or fetus gets a soul. Since a "soul" is undetectable by instruments, there is no empirical way to determine when it enters the body.

Furthermore, religions disagree with each other and, even within religions, opinions vary widely:

1) Orthodox Catholicism believes the soul is imparted by God at fertilization [Edit: skcorefil corrected me] assumes the soul is imparted at fertilization. However, it also forbids (barrier, chemical, or surgical) contraception, so it's obviously out of the American mainstream. Even in Catholicism, the offense is much lesser if abortion is performed before "quickening," which is when movement can be felt for the first time. [Edit: skcorefil points out this is no longer true.]

2) Protestant groups, not having a central authority figure, are hard to speak for. However, many protestants and protestant groups are in favor of at least some form of legal abortion, so it's obvious that either they don't believe the soul is imparted at fertilization, or that the presence of a soul is insufficient to criminalize abortion. A notable except are the Baptists, of which a large majority are against legal abortion.

3) Judaism clearly holds that an early fetus does not have the same status as a person. For example, in the Torah it states that a person who kills a woman's fetus must pay monetary damages (rather than being treated as a murderer.) Furthermore, Jewish law mandates abortion if the mother's life is in danger. Conservative Judaism allows abortion "if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the woman severe physical or psychological harm, or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective." Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Judaism in America, holds that "[i]n all circumstances, it should be [the mother's] decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, backed up by those whom she trusts (physician, therapist, partner, etc.)"

4) As an atheist who can see "soul" only as a metaphor, I would be hard-pressed to believe that an embryo has a soul before it even has a brain, for example. Therefore I cannot oppose early-stage abortion on that basis.

"Actions Must Have Consequences"

This argument is so weak I wouldn't include it, but Mark devoted a whole post to it. An excerpt:
...God's green earth is not a playground merely for children and consequences are incurred with every action and every choice we make. Sex is a choice. Pregnancy is a possible consequence every time we participate. The argument that do-overs should and can be applied to pregnancy is basically an admission that this (sex) is an activity which is to be encouraged between (post-adolescent presumably) children (of all ages). When we raise our children, if we free them from the consequences of their actions remain childish and never grow up.

This argument fails as justification for criminalizing abortion because we as a society do not criminalize certain activities merely to punish people for engaging in other ones. For example, suppose a 19-year-old girl binge drinks at a college party and suffers from alcohol poisoning. Would anybody argue that it should be illegal for a doctor to pump her stomach because it would be "basically an admission that [binge drinking] is an activity which is to be encouraged [in] (post-adolescent presumably) children (of all ages)?" Of course not. While society has a vested interest in preventing binge drinking among teenaged girls, it cannot criminalize a medical procedure simply because the procedure alleviates one of binge drinking's natural consequences. (Of course, abortion is not comparable to pumping one's stomach in general, but the distinction between them is not relevant to this particular argument.)

"We Must Err on the Side of Caution"

This seems to be Mark's main argument -- that since we can't as a society agree when abortion should be legal, we should accept the most stringent view -- that it should never be legal -- in order to "err on the side of caution." This is obviously not the way we make laws in this country, though. Otherwise, we would never have capital punishment, never go to war, not allow driving until 25 years of age ever, not allow birth control, not allow the prescription of potentially addictive medications, etc. Adopting the most stringent view in all cases is insane.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Religion and Sexuality

Did you ever notice how most religions are just insane with regard to sex? Take masturbation, a behavior engaged in with some frequency by almost all post-pubescent males and a great number of females. It's enjoyable and hurts nobody. Does religion say, "Hey, God gave you this great toy, have fun?" No. It says, "If you masturbate you're going to Hell." That's right, if you masturbate, God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the Universe, will send you to Hell. Or at the least, be very disappointed in you.

Or the gay thing. Some significant percentage of the population, 2-10% depending who you believe, seem to be attracted chiefly to members of the same sex. Again, most traditional religions teach that acting on those urges is of great offense to the One True God.

What neuroses does religion give our children? We know that closeted gay teens kill themselves much more often than do straight teens, but how can we know the cost of teaching all those kids that masturbation is sinful?

I recently came across this disturbing site which has pages and pages of "confessions" by obviously distressed Christians. Christians made miserable by their "addictions" to pornography or the fact that they sometimes have dirty thoughts about their girlfriends.

Here are some excerpts:

I know this is wrong and I don't know what to do... I love the female body and I am a female.... It started with liking to draw them... Then it led to looking at them in porn... I have not evver liked a girl I know but I do like to look at them...I hate it... I am not GAY... I can't be... I am lost though. I am not gay.. I am married and love my husband... I am attracted to him and when I wasn't with him I was into other guys I was like any other girl (boy crazy)... I just watch all these shows and tv and they seem to make it ok... and its not but I still think about girls in an unpure way.It gets me turned on and I can't stop it... ALL I want is for it to stop...I am sick about this...I HATE THIS...


One page turn into a magazine was all it took in middle school for me to become addicted to pornography. Since then I've not been able to stop lusting after these images. Now I'm in graduate school and having the same troubles with internet pornography and masturbation. Some weeks I will be strong and not fall victim to it but then I seem to dive right back into the bad habits. As a Christian, I know through Jesus I can over come any obstacle but this one thing continually keeps me from the fullness of life in Christ. After watching the message series God.Love.Sex I have a renewed drive to stop these horrible addictions...I pray every day for God to give me the strength to deny my fleshly desires.


I struggle with pornography and masturbation. I can go a long time without it bothering me, then all of the sudden, it creeps up and takes me out again. It always interrupts my relationship with Jesus, and I feel like He can't forgive me. Or if He forgave the last time, He can't forgive one more time.


I have a problem with sexual addictions...fantasies and thoughts. It began when I started to read romance stories and it went from there. I have ended these addictions but still have thoughts about it and it is hard to get rid of them. I never told anyone because I felt like none of my friends were spiritually mature to handle the matter and take it the right way. So this is my step in confusing my problems and asking the members of Christ's church to pray for me and mental healing.


I have a hard time not looking at my girlfriend's anatomy. Not that we sleep together or that she intentionally exposes it before me, but I stare and imagine her naked all the time. I want to overcome this before our relationship goes any further.

There are literally hundreds of these "confessions." So much terrible, senseless, unnecessary unhappiness perpetrated by religion and religious teachers.

This kind of religion is a form of child abuse.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Jewish Atheist"

It's interesting to see how different people react to my Blogger name. I'm not talking about the "How can you be an atheist and a Jew?" people or even the "Are you an atheist or agnostic?" people. (To the latter group, of which there are incomprehensibly many: Could I be any more clear?)

I'm talking about the various abbreviations and take-offs on my name people choose to use when they address me:

Jewish Atheist

Can't go wrong with spelling out somebody's full name. Perhaps a little formal, it's at least polite and respectful. Makes searching very easy, so perhaps they're being thoughtful. Nothing at all wrong with it.


The way I sign my emails, this is what most people who seem to like me (or at least know me pretty well) use as a nickname for me. Feels familiar and affectionate.

Mr. Atheist

I get this one a lot, somehow. I sense a little bit of mocking with it, although not necessarily with ill-intent. After all, it is a little silly to have Adjective Noun as a nom de plume. Some people also seem to use this form to emphasize the "Atheist," which they treat as if it's an insult. (Kind of like that Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode where an older White man introduces himself to the (Black) Bankses as Whitey, "on account of my white hair," and later when Mrs. Banks gets mad at him, she begins, "Listen, whitey." Except that I'm using Atheist because I am one and they're using it the same way, only as an insult. So not really like that episode, after all.)


I think two groups of people use this abbreviation. One is simply calling even more attention to the "Atheist" part, using it often as an insult. The other simply doesn't want to acknowledge my Judaism. Ironically, the latter group is usually made up of Orthodox Jews who necessarily believe that Judaism comes from having a Jewish mother (which I do) or converting.

Athiest or Jewish Athiest

These people simply don't use spell check. It's an easy mistake to make ("-iest" being a common word ending in English) and exceedingly common. I don't hold it against them unless they do it repeatedly. In which case I assume they just don't care a lot about spelling, which isn't the worst thing in the world.

Jewish Guy, Jewish Man, The First/Second/Third Commenter, The Guy Who..., etc.

I suspect these people are afraid to use the word "Atheist." Maybe they think that's how you catch it. Or maybe that God will get confused and think they're atheists.