Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hinduism is Nuts, Too!

The Friendly Atheist has the story:

Bollywood star (and former Miss World) Aishwarya Rai is engaged to Abhishek Bachchan. (That’s like the Indian celebrity equivalent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.)

Aishwarya is said to be a manglik. This means she was born at a time when “Mars [was] in the 2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th, or 12th house of the Vedic astrology lunar chart.”

If two mangliks get married, it’s ok.

But if a manglik marries a non-manglik, all hell breaks loose.

Guess what Abhishek is…?

According to some *brilliant* astrologers, the marriage of a manglik girl and non-manglik boy could result in the death of the male. Because, you know, Mars is evil like that.

(Oh, it gets better.)

How do you fix this problem?

Aishwarya will have to marry a tree.

A peepal tree or a banana tree. Well, either that, or she’ll have to marry Lord Vishnu’s idol. But only if the idol is made of gold or silver. (Incidentally, Vishnu is said to have been born under a peepal tree. So this makes complete sense…)

Apparently Miss Rai is going to have the ceremony.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Glenn Greenwald on the "Conservative" Movement

Glenn Greenwald destroys the growing claim that "the conservative movement" is not responsible for the damage wrought by Bush and the Congressional Republicans:

There is a serious fraud emerging in the political landscape that, though easily predictable and predicted, is now being perpetrated with full force -- namely, that the so-called "conservative movement" is not responsible for the destruction wrought on the country by the Bush presidency and the loyal Republican Congress which followed him.


Lowry and his "conservative" comrades were anything but passive observers over the last six years. They did far more than "watch" as the President and the Congress "disgraced" themselves and damaged this country. It was self-identified "conservatives" who were the principal cheerleaders, the most ardent and loyal propagandists, propping up George Bush and his blindly loyal Republican Congress.

It was they who continuously told America that George Bush was the unified reincarnation of the Great American Conservative Hero Ronald Reagan and the Great Warrior Defender of Freedom, Winston Churchill, all wrapped up in one glorious, powerful package. It was this same conservative movement -- now pretending to lament the abandonment of conservatism by Bush and the Congress -- which was the single greatest source of Bush's political support, which twice elected him and propped up his presidency and the movement which followed it.

So why, after six years of glorifying George Bush and devoting their full-fledged loyalty to him and the GOP-controlled Congress are conservatives like Lowry and Gingrich suddenly insisting that Bush is an anti-conservative and the GOP-led Congress the opposite of conservative virtue? The answer is as obvious as it is revealing. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of "conservatism," by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected.

George Bush has not changed in the slightest. He is exactly the same as he was when he was converted into the hero and icon of the "conservative movement." The only thing that has changed is that Bush is no longer the wildly popular President which conservatives sought to embrace, but instead is a deeply disliked figured, increasingly detested by Americans, from whom conservatives now wish to shield themselves. And in this regard, these self-proclaimed great devotees of Conservative Political Principles have revealed themselves to have none.


[T]he Bush presidency never had anything to do with the Goldwater/Reagan "conservative principles" which one finds in textbooks and think tanks (but never in reality). Instead, the Bush movement is a rank fundamentalist and authoritarian movement which sought to vest virtually unlimited power in George Bush as Leader (and will do the same with its next Leader), and to expand, rather than contract, federal power in order to forcibly implement its view of the Good and to perpetuate its own power. That is what "political conservatism" in this country has become.


The fabled Goldwater/Reagan small-government "conservatism of doubt" which Sullivan hails -- like the purified, magnanimous form of Communism -- exists, for better or worse, only in myth.

While it is true that Bush has presided over extraordinary growth in federal spending, so did Reagan. Though Bush's deficit spending exceeds that of Reagan's, it does so only by degree, not level. The pornography-obsessed Ed Meese and the utter lawlessness of the Iran-contra scandal were merely the Reagan precursors to the Bush excesses which Sullivan finds so "anti-conservative." The Bush presidency is an extension, an outgrowth, of the roots of political conservatism in this country, not a betrayal of them.

All of the attributes which have made the Bush presidency so disastrous are not in conflict with political conservatism as it exists in reality. Those attributes -- vast expansions of federal power to implement moralistic agendas and to perpetuate political power, along with authoritarian faith in the Leader -- are not violations of "conservative principles." Those have become the defining attributes of the Conservative Movement in this country.

When are people going to wake up? The "conservative" movement, in practice, is fundamentalist, authoritarian, and fiscally reckless. Those who defend it are equivalent to those who argue that the communist movement just hasn't gotten a fair shot.

Steven Pinker on Consciousness

Via Arnold Kling at Overcoming Bias, which I recommend by the way, Steven Pinker's article The Mystery of Consciousness. Nothing terribly new, but it's a good summary of the parts of neuroscience relevant to discussions on this blog. Emphasis added.

On the brain as machine:

[T]he feature [neuroscientists] find least controversial is the one that many people outside the field find the most shocking. Francis Crick called it "the astonishing hypothesis"--the idea that our thoughts, sensations, joys and aches consist entirely of physiological activity in the tissues of the brain. Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain.

SCIENTISTS HAVE EXORCISED THE GHOST FROM THE MACHINE NOT because they are mechanistic killjoys but because they have amassed evidence that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain. Using functional MRI, cognitive neuroscientists can almost read people's thoughts from the blood flow in their brains. They can tell, for instance, whether a person is thinking about a face or a place or whether a picture the person is looking at is of a bottle or a shoe.

And consciousness can be pushed around by physical manipulations. Electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery can cause a person to have hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, such as a song playing in the room or a childhood birthday party. Chemicals that affect the brain, from caffeine and alcohol to Prozac and LSD, can profoundly alter how people think, feel and see. Surgery that severs the corpus callosum, separating the two hemispheres (a treatment for epilepsy), spawns two consciousnesses within the same skull, as if the soul could be cleaved in two with a knife. [Really? I'm a little skeptical of that! --JA]

And when the physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone can tell the person's consciousness goes out of existence. Attempts to contact the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century ago) turned up only cheap magic tricks, and near death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain. In September, a team of Swiss neuroscientists reported that they could turn out-of-body experiences on and off by stimulating the part of the brain in which vision and bodily sensations converge.

On the illusion of the self:

ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along...

Our authorship of voluntary actions can also be an illusion, the result of noticing a correlation between what we decide and how our bodies move. The psychologist Dan Wegner studied the party game in which a subject is seated in front of a mirror while someone behind him extends his arms under the subject's armpits and moves his arms around, making it look as if the subject is moving his own arms. If the subject hears a tape telling the person behind him how to move (wave, touch the subject's nose and so on), he feels as if he is actually in command of the arms.

The brain's spin doctoring is displayed even more dramatically in neurological conditions in which the healthy parts of the brain explain away the foibles of the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because they are part of the self). A patient who fails to experience a visceral click of recognition when he sees his wife but who acknowledges that she looks and acts just like her deduces that she is an amazingly well-trained impostor. A patient who believes he is at home and is shown the hospital elevator says without missing a beat, "You wouldn't believe what it cost us to have that installed."

If a man prefers to believe that his wife is an amazingly well-trained impostor rather than admitting they could be wrong, what hope do we have of convincing people to change their minds about politics or religion?

Toward a new morality:
MY OWN VIEW IS THAT [science will kill morality] IS backward: the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings--the core of morality.

As every student in Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice, as we see in the long history of human cruelty. Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people's sentience becomes ludicrous. "Hath not a Jew eyes?" asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew--or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog--a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer.

And when you think about it, the doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all because it necessarily devalues life on earth. Just remember the most famous people in recent memory who acted in expectation of a reward in the hereafter: the conspirators who hijacked the airliners on 9/11.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

How Sure Are You?

Scott Adams asks,
If you reckon that the existence of God has less than a 1 in a trillion chance of being true, based on all the available evidence, but not proof, can you call yourself an atheist? And if so, would you still be irrational?

I think one can be much less certain that God does not exist and still be an atheist. Atheism is a belief, like a belief that elves and werewolves don't exist. If you're only about 50% sure, then "agnostic" is probably the best label for you, but once you start getting in the 80-90% confidence range, "atheism" is simply the best description.

Obviously, these probabilities are only estimates as there is no easy way to quantify the evidence.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun if everybody (theists included) chipped in on what they thought the odds of God's existence are. To clear things up, we'll specify that "God" refers to a being which continues to interact with the world, as opposed to a Creator who's been hands-off ever since. In fact, why not list the odds of various beliefs? Please list the following:

(1) The odds of a personal God (i.e. one who interacts with the world) existing.
(2) some major form of Catholicism being true.
(3) some major form of Protestantism being true.
(4) some major form of Judaism being true.
(5) some other major or minor religion being true.
(6) something like deism or pantheism being true.

Please list your denomination, if any.

Here are my answers:
(1) 3%
(2) <1%
(3) <1%
(4) <1%
(5) <1%
(6) 10%

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Opposite Day: Why Radical Islam is the One True Religion

I'm declaring Opposite Day early this year because it's my blog and I can do it if I want to. :-) Last year, I argued Why Christianity is True. This year, I'm going to try to get even more opposite of "Jewish Atheist" and go Fundamentalist Muslim. Feel free to write your own entries and link to them in the comments.

Just looking around at the world, it's obvious that there is but a single God. Atheists deny the obvious truth that the Big Bang points to -- that Allah created the Universe -- and the remaining polytheists in the world believe stuff so patently ridiculous it's not worth discussing. The history of life on Earth attests to Allah's presence and the history of humanity proves that Islam is the one true religion.

Any idiot can see that the Jews corrupted the Torah. I agree with Christians and Jews that Allah gave the Torah to Moses, but it's obvious that it's been corrupted across the generations. Contradictions abound and even the Torah itself hints at the Jews' twisting of it to their own ends. The story of Isaac stealing Ishmael's birthright is symbolic of the Jews using deceit to change the Torah, and the Jews will do almost anything to hide Allah's wishes which still shine through their textual manipulations. Of all the world's religions Islam is the only one who sees God anything like the way he appears in the Torah. Christians used Jesus to justify throwing out all the parts they didn't like and Jews have used their guile through the years to contort and distort every word of it even after they stopped changing the original.

Even according to the Torah, the Jews constantly disobeyed Allah's wishes and had to be warned and punished over and over again. Eventually, Allah sent Jesus to give them one last chance, but they denied his legitimacy as a prophet. The Romans at least abandoned paganism because of him, but they carried over too much of its legacy and created a new misguided religion around Jesus, borrowing from all over the place to claim Jesus himself was God, which is completely ridiculous.

I hardly need to go into the long, long history of Christian corruption. Most of the Popes cared about nothing more than power, money, and sex and Protestantism has been no better. In modern times, Christianity has been used to justify the most gross forms of materialism, colonialism, slavery, and warfare. Judaism, meanwhile, has turned mostly into a cultural force that pushes modernity and sexual immorality (through Hollywood) down the world's throat. Israel is supposedly a Jewish country, yet they have the highest proportion of atheists in the world. We see from their treatment of the Palestinians how religious they really are.

Both Christianity and Judaism have splintered into all kinds of sub-groups, another piece of evidence that they can't be the true religions. Islam has a few groups interpreting Allah's word, but they agree on the main points, unlike, say Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism or Catholicism and Pentecostalism.

Christians and secularists have by greed and violence enriched themselves over the centuries, but Allah has rewarded the Islamic world with the majority of the oil. Can this be a coincidence? Allah has forced the western world to respect us and demonstrated that greed and thievery will not be successful in the long run.

Islam is in ascension. Judaism is in its final throes and Christianity is so diluted and blinded by money and power as to be practically insignificant. Muslims are the only people who take Allah's word seriously. We are the only countries without rampant sexual immorality -- the way women parade around mostly naked and homosexuals are proud of being gay throughout the Christian and Jewish world is obviously against Allah's will, as even a cursory glance at any of the Abrahamic religion's holy books will tell you, but the so-called Christian and Jewish countries are rife with such behavior.

The end is coming and I urge all of you to submit yourself to Allah before it's too late. It should be clear to everyone that the western world is decaying under its own vile immorality and greed and that Allah is on the side of Muslims.

How is Bush Getting Away With It?

A super-majority of Americans opposes the surge. A majority of the Senate opposes the surge. A majority of the House opposes the surge. Combat veterans, retired Generals, and other military experts oppose the surge. Most who supported a surge, supported a much larger surge.

George W. Bush is sending 20,000 more Americans to war in a misguided attempt at rescuing his legacy. As Republican Senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel said, "There is no strategy. This is a ping pong game with American lives."

Why can't we stop him?

Here's a comment about the neocon reaction to Hagel's criticism of the surge:

Senator Hagel's impassioned plea was refreshing and I don't know if I've ever seen a politician speak with such candor and passion. His Vietnam experience, as well and true conservative principles, were shining through.

In the past week Hagel has (1) claimed that the GOP is not the same party as the one he voted for on a tank in the Mekong Delta in 1967, and (2) made an almost tearful plea to his colleagues that to fail to honestly debate the "surge" when so many lives are at stake is to "fail" the country. While this is refreshing and entirely in line with the foundations of this country, what's troubling is this veteran's comments, rather than sparking a true debate, seem to have started a movement to purge him from the party and cut off his funding.

Like true Machiavellians, they are cutting off the head of the flower that dares to stick its head up, to set an example and quell any other "rebels."

So it looks like the "surge" plan is rapidly growing into a "purge" plan: you either agree with it or we remove your command and even accuse you of treason. You ask for a debate, claiming that you don't doubt the President's motives, and we develop a Loyalty Oath against you.

What's this Loyalty Oath he's talking about? This one:

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

Greenwald has the perfect response, from Theodore Roosevelt:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Do Scientists Give God a Free Pass?

Marina Grace emailed me this article by Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist Natalie Angier.

Angier explains why most scientists are quiet on the subject of God:

No, most scientists are not interested in taking on any of the mighty cornerstones of Christianity. They complain about irrational thinking, they despise creationist "science," they roll their eyes over America's infatuation with astrology, telekinesis, spoon bending, reincarnation, and UFOs, but toward the bulk of the magic acts that have won the imprimatur of inclusion in the Bible, they are tolerant, respectful, big of tent. Indeed, many are quick to point out that the Catholic Church has endorsed the theory of evolution and that it sees no conflict between a belief in God and the divinity of Jesus and the notion of evolution by natural selection. If the pope is buying it, the reason for most Americans' resistance to evolution must have less to do with religion than with a lousy advertising campaign.

So, on the issue of mainstream monotheistic religions and the irrationality behind many of religion's core tenets, scientists often set aside their skewers, their snark, and their impatient demand for proof, and instead don the calming cardigan of a a kiddie-show host on public television. They reassure the public that religion and science are not at odds with one another, but rather that they represent separate "magisteria," in the words of the formerly alive and even more formerly scrappy Stephen Jay Gould.


So why is it that most scientists avoid criticizing religion even as they decry the supernatural mind-set? For starters, some researchers are themselves traditionally devout, keeping a kosher kitchen or taking Communion each Sunday...

Scientists, however, are a far less religious lot than the American population, and, the higher you go on the cerebro-magisterium, the greater the proportion of atheists, agnostics, and assorted other paganites. According to a 1998 survey published in Nature, only 7 percent of members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences professed a belief in a "personal God." (Interestingly, a slightly higher number, 7.9 percent, claimed to believe in "personal immortality," which may say as much about the robustness of the scientific ego as about anything else.) In other words, more than 90 percent of our elite scientists are unlikely to pray for divine favoritism, no matter how badly they want to beat a competitor to publication. Yet only a flaskful of the faithless have put their nonbelief on record or publicly criticized religion, the notable and voluble exceptions being Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and Daniel Dennett of Tufts University...

So, what keeps most scientists quiet about religion? It's probably something close to that trusty old limbic reflex called "an instinct for self-preservation." For centuries, science has survived quite nicely by cultivating an image of reserve and objectivity, of being above religion, politics, business, table manners. Scientists want to be left alone to do their work, dazzle their peers, and hire grad students to wash the glassware. When it comes to extramural combat, scientists choose their crusades cautiously...

Scientists have ample cause to feel they must avoid being viewed as irreligious, a prionic life-form bent on destroying the most sacred heifer in America. After all, academic researchers graze on taxpayer pastures. If they pay the slightest attention to the news, they've surely noticed the escalating readiness of conservative politicians and an array of highly motivated religious organizations to interfere with the nation's scientific enterprise—altering the consumer information Web site at the National Cancer Institute to make abortion look like a cause of breast cancer, which it is not, or stuffing scientific advisory panels with anti-abortion "faith healers."

Recently, an obscure little club called the Traditional Values Coalition began combing through descriptions of projects supported by the National Institutes of Health and complaining to sympathetic congressmen about those they deemed morally "rotten," most of them studies of sexual behavior and AIDS prevention. The congressmen in turn launched a series of hearings, calling in institute officials to inquire who in the Cotton-pickin' name of Mather cares about the perversions of Native American homosexuals, to which the researchers replied, um, the studies were approved by a panel of scientific experts, and, gee, the Native American community has been underserved and is having a real problem with AIDS these days. Thus far, the projects have escaped being nullified, but the raw display of pious dentition must surely give fright to even the most rakishly freethinking and comfortably tenured professor. It's one thing to monkey with descriptions of Darwinism in a high-school textbook. But to threaten to take away a peer-reviewed grant!


I don't believe in life after death, but I'd like to believe in life before death. I'd like to think that one of these days we'll leave superstition and delusional thinking and Jerry Falwell behind. Scientists would like that, too. But for now, they like their grants even more.

Apple's Next Product?

The iGod:

Via 37Signals, a photoshop contest.

My favorites: the iPottie, the iDo, and the iDied.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Burma 'orders Christians to be wiped out'

The secular left is frequently accused, often correctly, of giving Buddhism a pass when it comes to criticizing religion. (It's also accused, usually incorrectly, of giving Islam a pass.)

Although I find some Westernized Buddhist philosophy interesting, I have not made that mistake about Buddhism. I previously criticized the Dalai Lama for being a homophobic theocrat-in-exile, for example.

Burma is a Buddhist nation behaving badly:

The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. Entitled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma", the incendiary memo contains point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.

The text, which opens with the line "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practised", calls for anyone caught evangelising to be imprisoned. It advises: "The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilise its weakness."

Its discovery follows widespread reports of religious persecution, with churches burnt to the ground, Christians forced to convert to the state religion, Buddhism, and their children barred from school.

Human rights groups claim that the treatment meted out to Christians, who make up six per cent of the population, is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism.

In the past year, an estimated 27,000 members of the predominantly Christian Karen tribe were driven from their homes in eastern Burma.

Just as True Islam is a religion of peace, True Christianity had nothing to do with the Crusades, and Torah-True Jews would never beat a woman for refusing to sit in the back of the bus (really), I'm sure what the Burmese government is doing is not in accordance with True Buddhism.

Oh, and Christians? What Burma's doing to Christians is persecution. Being forbidden from erecting huge monuments to your religion on public grounds is not.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Escort at Abortion Clinic Tells His Story

Daily Kos:

I am an escort. I choose to use my body, my voice and my fierce determination so that others may exercise their legal right to obtain abortions.


I’ve tried to describe the scene before but with little success. It’s like some sort of bizarre circus or a hallucinogenic freak show. There are usually 50 or so anti-choice protesters lining the sidewalk holding rosaries or crucifixes and reciting prayers. Interspersed among them, leaning against trees or propped in the back of pick up trucks, are large vivid signs of innocent looking babies, depictions of Jesus accompanied by scripture, or bloody pieces of human remains. But the sign which will forever win the award for flexibility was the one which read GOD HATES and below the word HATES was a strip of velcro, to accommodate the various options. One morning it read GOD HATES FAGS and then on another GOD HATES CATHOLICS (which was rather comical since there was a nun dressed in full habit sitting a mere 10 feet away).

To be fair most of the anti-choice protesters are content to stand outside the clinic and pray the Hail Mary incessantly. Their presence is undoubtedly intimidating but I don’t consider them threatening. Unfortunately, there are on any given Saturday up to half a dozen people who choose to actively badger, menace and scare the women seeking medical treatment. They scream hateful words, accuse them of murder, impede their path and never ever back off. As escorts we attempt to surround the patients with support, provide words of encouragement and stand beside them as they walk the gauntlet.

Fortunately the experience is not as physically aggressive as I initially feared. Occasionally there is bumping, blocking and the stepping on of toes but most of the aggression is verbal. "You’re a fag" "You’re killing your baby" "Murderer" "You’re going to be harmed forever". My past employment includes stints at a psychiatric hospital and correctional facilities so the verbal barrage bounces off of me. It’s obvious though that it impacts many of the women. I watched a woman run a city block, the distance from her car to clinic door, in an attempt to avoid her tormentors. Others will place their fingers in their ears, try to explain their circumstances or on some occasions tear up. From time to time, they choose to walk in the three lane street, preferring to dodge approaching cars than endure the incessant harassment and palpable hatred. Several weeks ago one of the clients turned around on an anti-choice screamer and yelled back, "You’re the meanest Christian I’ve ever seen!" Personally I’ve found that one of the most effective means of distracting the rabid anti-abortionists is by allowing them to proselytize. I’ll simply ask them to tell me about their religious beliefs and while they are explaining my certain damnation, women are walking into the clinic with minimal interference. When all else fails smiling or laughing at them is also effective.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

News Roundup: Good Things Happen to Bad Pundits; DEA Overrules California; Bush Retreats on Wiretaps

  • LeisureGuy quotes the LA Times story about what the DEA is doing under the supposed party of federalism:
    Federal agents Wednesday raided 11 medical marijuana outlets in Los Angeles County, seizing several thousand pounds of processed drug, hundreds of marijuana plants, an array of guns and bagfuls of cash...

    The action by federal agents angered some local officials and was taken despite a state law permitting possession and cultivation of marijuana for qualified medical patients.

  • Bloggers everywhere are wondering why pundits are rewarded for being wrong over and over again.

  • Bush retreats on warrantless wiretaps.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Plaintiff Intimidation in Church/State Cases

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has a disturbing post about plaintiff intimidation in church-state cases.
Anyone who pays any attention to lawsuits involving the establishment clause can tell you one thing for certain: the plaintiffs will be the targets of intimidation and even death threats for complaining about government endorsement of religion. It's not just common, it's virtually automatic. The young man in Kearney, New Jersey who recorded his history teacher proselytizing instead of teaching has gotten them. The Jewish family in Delaware who were hounded out of their homes has gotten them. And yes, the plaintiffs in Dover got them too.

He posts the text of a death threat received by Tammy Kitzmiller of the Dover case, but that seems like the work of just one crazy person.

Mr. Brayton then links to something much more disturbing. Apparently, the misguided folks at the Stop the ACLU Coalition have an official policy of broadcasting the personal contact information of plaintiffs in Establishment cases:
This case is a good time to introduce our "Expose the ACLU Plaintiff" project and here'is (sic) how it goes. When an individual, group or even church (yes, there are churches that support the ACLU) is using the ACLU (or similar groups like Americans United, People for the (Anti) American Way, Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists) to facilitate removal of a cross, the 10 Commandments or other religious symbols or the ceasing of prayer from a school or government entity, we want the community to know about it. We will start with the Dobrich family which is largely responsible for this case being taken. We are offended that the Dobrich's (sic) want to impose their atheism (sic) at the expense of the vast majority of community members who aren't offended. We will let all of Delaware know who used the ACLU to sue this school district.

He then gives out the Dobriches' home address and phone number.

The Dobriches, you may remember, are the Jewish family in Delaware who were ostracized and threatened after "Mrs. Dobrich asked the Indian River district school board to consider prayers that were more generic and, she said, less exclusionary." Her request followed "a minister’s prayer proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the truth" at the high-school graduation. After moving her son to Wilmington, the Dobriches eventually sued the district.
The parents, who also are seeking damages, claim in the lawsuit that their rights to free speech and to be free from state-sponsored religion have been violated.

"We didn't want a lawsuit, but at this point we feel like we don't have any other choice," said Mona Dobrich, one of the parents, in a statement provided by attorney Thomas J. Allingham. "We are not trying to remove God from the schools or the public square. We simply don't think it is right for the district to impose a particular religious view on impressionable students..."

The lawsuit alleges the district has created "an environment of religious exclusion" and that school-sponsored prayer, often explicitly Christian, is pervasive.

The lawsuit alleges prayers are used at official school board meetings, athletic events, banquets and graduation services; that a Bible club is offered at Selbyville Middle School, and students who participate receive preferential treatment; and that religion has worked its way into some classrooms.

The lawsuit claims a social studies teacher at Selbyville Middle told his class there is "only one true religion" and a science teacher told her class she did not believe in the "big-bang theory" of the creation of the universe. She then encouraged students to attend the Bible club to learn more.

The Dobrich family is Jewish and felt excluded, according to the lawsuit. After they raised the issue publicly, they felt so threatened that they moved out of Sussex County to Wilmington.

The lawsuit claims that at an August school board meeting about the issue, a former school board member suggested Mona Dobrich "might just 'disappear' like Madalyn Murray O'Hair..."

They were warned that the Ku Klux Klan was nearby, the lawsuit says, and the Dobrichs' son, Alex, was taunted by classmates who called him "Jew boy" and accused him of killing Jesus.

Alex later became so fearful he would take off his yarmulke in public because he feared "someone would grab it and rip out some of his hair,"
according to the lawsuit. (Delaware Wave.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

JA's Blog Roundup!

(Apologies to Ezzie, who is King of Blog Roundups.)

  • CL Hanson posts about the epiphany that ended her belief in Mormonism:
    The thing that struck me was that these random absurdities about the trinity and whatnot -- it was clear that she believed them as fervently as any Mormon believes in Mormon doctrine. She wasn't seeking and wasn't unsure as those who don't have the truth ought to be. She believed the stories her parents taught her with all her heart.

    You can also buy her novel, Exmormon, or read it online.

  • Da'as Hedyot writes about exit interviews for those who leave Orthodox Judaism.

  • Steve Sailer, whose name I've been misspelling on my blogroll for quite some time, discusses an article by Charles Murray about the truth ignored by No Child Left Behind: half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them.

  • Finally, XGH throws up his hands. Again.

Friday, January 12, 2007

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo

A voice from Gitmo's darkness

A current detainee speaks of the torture and humiliation he has experienced at Guantanamo since 2002.

By Jumah al-Dossari, JUMAH AL-DOSSARI is a 33-year-old citizen of Bahrain. This article was excerpted from letters he wrote to his attorneys. Its contents have been deemed unclassified by the Department of Defense.
January 11, 2007

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba — I AM WRITING from the darkness of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo in the hope that I can make our voices heard by the world. My hand quivers as I hold the pen.

In January 2002, I was picked up in Pakistan, blindfolded, shackled, drugged and loaded onto a plane flown to Cuba. When we got off the plane in Guantanamo, we did not know where we were. They took us to Camp X-Ray and locked us in cages with two buckets — one empty and one filled with water. We were to urinate in one and wash in the other.

At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.

What I write here is not what my imagination fancies or my insanity dictates. These are verifiable facts witnessed by other detainees, representatives of the Red Cross, interrogators and translators.

During the first few years at Guantanamo, I was interrogated many times. My interrogators told me that they wanted me to admit that I am from Al Qaeda and that I was involved in the terrorist attacks on the United States. I told them that I have no connection to what they described. I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I did not encourage anyone to go fight for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have done nothing but kill and denigrate a religion. I never fought, and I never carried a weapon. I like the United States, and I am not an enemy. I have lived in the United States, and I wanted to become a citizen.

I know that the soldiers who did bad things to me represent themselves, not the United States. And I have to say that not all American soldiers stationed in Cuba tortured us or mistreated us. There were soldiers who treated us very humanely. Some even cried when they witnessed our dire conditions. Once, in Camp Delta, a soldier apologized to me and offered me hot chocolate and cookies. When I thanked him, he said, "I do not need you to thank me." I include this because I do not want readers to think that I fault all Americans.

But, why, after five years, is there no conclusion to the situation at Guantanamo? For how long will fathers, mothers, wives, siblings and children cry for their imprisoned loved ones? For how long will my daughter have to ask about my return? The answers can only be found with the fair-minded people of America.

I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention center.

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States.

Show the world the letters I gave you. Let the world read them. Let the world know the agony of the detainees in Cuba.

LA Times, via MeFi

His full testimony.

This is being done in our names.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Bush is Up To

Bush last night announced that he is sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq. 61% of Americans oppose this plan. Even Republican Senators are skeptical.

This surge idea comes after the people voted overwhelmingly against the Republicans, largely based on the President's handling of Iraq. A majority of Americans thinks we shouldn't even be there. The Baker-Hamilton report advised leaving by 2008, with no mention of a surge. Most military leaders oppose the surge.

The few people who do support a surge support a much larger one. It's not clear that anybody besides George W. Bush thinks a surge of 20,000 people is a good idea.

So what the hell is he thinking?

The easy answer is, he's not. That's what I figured at first -- that he's simply too stubborn to admit defeat.

Then I read Glenn Greenwald's latest post:

The President's intentions towards Iran need much more attention

As Think Progress notes, the White House took multiple steps yesterday to elevate dramatically the threat rhetoric against Iran. Bush included what The New York Times described as “some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran” yet. But those words could really be described more accurately not as “threats” but as a declaration of war.

He accused the Iranian government of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” and vowed to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.” But those networks are located in Iran, which means that search and destroy missions on such networks would necessarily include some incursion into Iranian territory, whether by air or ground.


I think there is a tendency to dismiss the possibility of some type of war with Iran because it is so transparently destructive and detached from reality that it seems unfathomable. But if there is one lesson that everyone should have learned over the last six years, it is that there is no action too extreme or detached from reality to be placed off limits to this administration. The President is a True Believer and the moral imperative of his crusade trumps the constraints of reality.

Let's think about this "surge" again. Before Bush brought up the idea, we were debating when we should withdraw from Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton group, as I mentioned above, recommended we withdraw by 2008, and they were the ones appointed by Bush. Many Democrats wanted to withdraw sooner.

By shifting the debate to the "surge," Bush put off the debate on withdrawal.

Leaving him with 160,000 troops next-door to Iran. And warships and strike aircraft in the Persian Gulf region in a display of military resolve toward Iran.

Bush knows he'll never get permission to start a new war with Iran. He's just going to turn the current debacle into a new one. U.S. troops stormed an Iranian consulate in Iraq this morning and siezed six people.

The war with Iran is on, folks. Bush is turning a large failure into an overwhelming catastrophe.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Good News about "Generation Next"

Andrew Sullivan links to the new Pew Research Survey, A Portrait of "Generation Next:" How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics. Most of it's good news for secular liberals like myself. Some highlights:

  1. One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

  2. About half of Gen Nexters say the growing number of immigrants to the U.S. strengthens the country ­ more than any generation. And they also lead the way in their support for gay marriage and acceptance of interracial dating.

  3. In Pew surveys in 2006, nearly half of young people (48%) identified more with the Democratic Party, while just 35% affiliated more with the GOP. This makes Generation Next the least Republican generation.

  4. Voter turnout among young people increased significantly between 2000 and 2004, interrupting a decades-long decline in turnout among the young. Nonetheless, most members of Generation Next feel removed from the political process. Only about four-in-ten agree with the statement: "It's my duty as a citizen to always vote."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why We Need a New Moses

Or, What Jews, Christians, and Muslims Can Learn from the Mormons.

Orthodox Jews and many Christians have a problem today in which they hold a stance which has become morally obscene, namely that homosexuality is immoral. Western civilization is headed inexorably towards legalizing gay marriage and finally rectifying the long practice of discrimination against homosexuals. When that happens, in a generation or less, Orthodox Jews and many Christians will be in quite an embarrassing situation.

Already, some within the ranks are working on ways to bring their religions in line with Western morality. The leaders of Conservative Judaism recently approved of allowing the ordination of gay Rabbis as well as the blessing of gay unions. Many Christian denominations have taken similar steps. Still, even Conservative Judaism retained the ban on anal sex and it's hard to imagine Orthodox Judaism going so far as to allow the blessing of gay unions.

Orthodox Judaism, of course, has a history of twisting reinterpreting the Torah, as is clearly seen with regard to contemporary interpretations of keeping kosher and (presumably) disallowing slavery. However, most if not all of these reinterpretations have added restrictions rather than removing them. It's not clear how the Rabbis could reinterpret Leviticus to allow male homosexuality.

What can be done?

Well, it turns out the Mormons had a similarly embarrassing problem. Until 1978, blacks of African descent were banned from the priesthood. According to Brigham Young, this was because they were descended from Cain. Others gave different reasons, but all agreed that the ban came from God.

Needless to say, as the United States became less and less racist, the Mormon stance seemed more and more immoral. Yet what could they do?

Luckily, in 1978, God bailed them out:

In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.

(Hat tip: Brad DeLong.)

Here's to hoping.

(Yes, I know Orthodox Judaism no longer recognizes prophecy and indeed that there is a story in Talmud which explicitly rejects revelation as a source of Jewish Law. This post is mostly tongue-in-cheek.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

British Believe Religion Does More Harm Than Good

More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension - greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good.

The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree. The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities.

Most people have no personal faith, the poll shows, with only 33% of those questioned describing themselves as "a religious person". A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious - including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian.

Older people and women are the most likely to believe in a god, with 37% of women saying they are religious, compared with 29% of men.

Religion does more harm than good - poll
. Hat tip: The O Project.

Wow. Go England.