Friday, February 23, 2007

McCain Devolves

Funny. No mention of today's speech at the creationist Discovery Institute on John McCain's official campaign calendar. Selective amnesia, of course, an occasionally helpful survival trait.

UPDATE: My mistake, the luncheon IS listed. He just doesn't list the fact that Discovery Institute is co-presenter. Kind of appropriate, considering that Discovery Institute denies being creationist.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jim Wallis Takes the Low Road

Jim Wallis has been taken to task for claiming that Democrats are anti-religion. Who, exactly, has made these anti-religion statements, he has been asked. Well, now he is refusing to say. Why? He's taking the high road. No, he's taking the low road, the one blazed by Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Unless the people he claims to be quoting had a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, Wallis should name names. The reason he's not, of course, has nothing to do with taking "the high road." It's self-serving, in the following ways:

  • It allows Wallis to quote people without anyone being able to determine whether the quotes are accurate.
  • It allows Wallis to characterize these quotes as representative of Democratic thinking, without anyone being able to determine whether he's referring to Howard Dean or Lyndon LaRouche.
  • It allows Wallis to advance his political position in the guise of responding to these unattributed quotes, which may or may not be mere straw men.
  • It allows Wallis, as McCarthy did, to advance the generalization that his cause is under siege from evil enemies within.
It's self-serving cowardice and intellectual dishonesty...from a man of faith. No wonder so many Democrats are anti-religion!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Atheists for McCain!

After six years of George W. Bush, everything beforehand feels like long ago, but politically speaking it wasn't so long ago when John McCain was considered a viable candidate not only by many Democrats, but by many on the left, as well. Why? Because back in 2000, his straight-talk express really did consist of a lot of straight talk. He had disdain for the same bullshit the liberal-media types who covered him had. He had no use for dumb faith-based politics.

How things have changed. Perhaps still smarting from losing the nomination to Bush, McCain doesn't seem to have missed anyone on the Christian right in his Panderpalooza. He's even speaking at the dark heart of anti-science, the Discovery Institute, this month.

All of which is why atheists should support him in his bid for the Republican nomination. Hell, maybe even for the general election. The reason is simple.

Either at the age of 72, he's changed his mind about how the universe works and suddenly believes in an anthropomorphic, intercessory god who wants Texas girls to get cervical cancer...or he's changed his mind about how to get elected.

Bush won by fooling the Christian right into accepting him as "authentic." Little did anyone on the right know that Bush answers to no religious orthodoxy except that of his own subconscious. Little did most on the left guess just how seriously Bush took the overall concept of a personal Jesus, whispering in his ear that he could do whatever he wanted.

So if a guy that we know has no use for the Christian right wants to trick them--yet again--into supporting a candidate who doesn't give a shit about their agenda, shouldn't atheists support that, instead of howling about McCain's hypocrisy?

After all, the more atheists and the left criticize McCain for cozying up to the religious right, the more the religious right is

Er...never mind. DAMN YOU, McCAIN!!!


Monday, February 19, 2007

The Left: Tomorrow's Creationists

As the Book of Revelation warned us, the First Trumpet shall be sounded by Deepak Chopra.

Now, that day has come to pass. And the ultimate battle between science and religion has begun. But unlike the battle over creationism, this time, much of the left will line up to oppose science. Chopra has volunteered to lead them.

I discussed a while ago how the sequel to the creationism battle will be the battle over the (alleged) human soul. Our increasing understanding of the brain (and ergo the mind) is rendering the concept of a soul obsolete, absurd and quaint.

Unfortunately, a lot of people on the left don't take kindly to the scientific concepts underlying this assault on the soul, and all the warmfuzzy infantilized nonsense that accompanies souls. Enter Deepak Chopra. In a two-part posting at Huffington Post, Chopra takes on the single discipline currently posing the greatest threat to the soul: Evolutionary biology.

For someone with his reputation and presumably enormous brain, Chopra makes a lot of kindergarten-level mistakes not just about the specifics of evolutionary biology, but also in his reasoning.

What's most interesting is that he seems blind to just how well his reasoning parallels the reasoning of creationists. Consider this statement: "...let me take one issue, the claim of evolutionary biology to explain something as complex as generosity, altruism, or music. Such claims are thoroughly bogus. They do not invalidate the whole field of evolutionary biology. they simply step over the boundary of believable explanations."

Even today, creationists still argue that the claim of evolution to explain something as complex as the eye is thoroughly bogus; it simply steps over the boundary of believable explanations. As Marc Maron has summarized this reasoning: "I don't understand it; it must be magic."

And, of course, evolutionary biology makes no claim to causal exclusivity. In other words, it certainly does not reject, as Chopra implies, the impact of "culture, human values, religion, and philosophy."

After all, it's those cultural forces that help shape whether a trait--such as generosity--is beneficial or detrimental to survival. (And, as I'm sure he'd hate to hear, those cultures, values, religions and philosophies were all shaped in part by evolutionary biology...just ask the multitudinous anti-contraception Catholics, or try to find one of the remaining pro-celibacy Shakers and ask them.)

So what's Chopra's real beef? He wants to maintain an irreducible aspect to humanity's mental aspect. Another word for that is the soul.

And a lot of people on the left will sympathize with him. They'll buy into the childish notion that there's something romantic--as opposed to awful and creepy and prima facie paradoxical--about the soul. They'll claim that advocates of evolutionary biology are pushing eugenics or some other immoral viewpoint. They'll say that those who would explain bad behaviors (such as rape, violence, hatred) are in fact excusing them. They'll say lots of these things.

And in doing so, they'll be the next generation of creationists. And they'll help impede the advance of science. And they'll hurt our country as a result (see here and here).

Unless we make it clear it's time to declare a winner in the battle between religion and science.


Screw the Outrage; Ask Romney WHY?

It's great that there's quick, viral outrage to Mitt Romney's not-particularly-noteworthy remark that "we need to have a person of faith lead the country." (You can see it here, h/t to C&L and Street Prophets...not to mention the MSM). The rationalist left has to learn how to start responding to stuff like this. There are lots of (practiced) ways not to do so. And one enlightening way to do so.

We don't need more howling, however justified, about the Constitution's prohibition against religious tests for office-holders. We don't need to holler about discrimination against atheists (most people like discrimination against atheists. We don't even need to dissect all the intra-religious dynamics of a Mormon seeking the Christian right's support. There's only one thing we need to do when Romney or anyone else proclaims that faith is a requirement, or even an asset, for public office-holders.

We need to ask why.

What is it that belief in magic, and magic beings, gives politicians that rationalists can not offer? Which wars will theists get us into that rationalists will fail to? Which economic policies will atheists fail to embrace, due to the ostensible myopia brought on by not believing in magical people?

The year-long town-hall-palooza of 2007, and the subsequent 2008 primaries, offer us rationalists a unique opportunity. The next time Romney or anyone else in the race extols faith as better than not-faith when it comes to serving the American public, forget the outrage, drop the analysis, and do what journalists should be doing: Ask why. Keep in mind, the answer to this will be additional pablum. Which is why you'll need to be ready with challenging follow-up questions, to get at the alleged reasoning behind the claim, to ensure that his/her fundamental explanation is sufficiently exposed. (See here and here). Is it that accepting Jesus makes you a better person? How? Show us the statistical evidence. Is it that belief in God improves your moral reasoning? How? Show us the statistical evidence.

After 9/11 and George Bush, this should have been the year of the non-religious candidate. Clearly, that ship has sailed. But we can still push back on this discriminatory pandering toward the religious right, by subjecting "faith" to the same level of rigorous scrutiny any other politically self-serving claim would/should get.

In fact, let's all ask him right now and keep asking until the absurdity of his position forces him to recant it.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Instant, Sure-Fire, Politically Viable, Guaranteed Way to Get Out of Iraq Now

The Democrats and Republicans who oppose Bush's war in Iraq face a political quandary--pulling the plug on the war seems (or can be portrayed as) pulling the plug on the American troops before they've finished their mission there. But the mission there has become so complex, and so interwoven with other issues, that it's become a Gordian Knot--so intricately interwoven it can not be untangled. Well, the myth tells us that the real Gordian Knot was undone with a simple slice of a sword. Similarly, opponents of the war can slice through it with an equally elegant solution, which can be summarized in two words:

Declare victory.

I know, I know...the war keeps getting deadlier all the time. Bear with me a minute, it gets even more counter-intuitive than that.

First, opponents of the war have to do something painful: Admit that Bush was right on May 1, 2003, when he said major combat operations were over in Iraq, and that the United States had prevailed. When you look at the original, congressional authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, it becomes blindingly obvious: Bush was right. We had prevailed!

At the time, the anti-war left objected to Bush's formulation for an obvious reason--Iraq was a mess and the fighting was still going on. But those conditions didn't stop Bush from declaring victory in Afghanistan and pulling out of there after just a few months. So why didn't he do the same in Iraq?

Why, in fact, did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld eliminate victory references from Bush's speeches at the time? Keep in mind, before the anti-war left ridiculed "Mission Accomplished," Rumsfeld was against that phrasing, too. Why? He told Bob Woodward it was "too conclusive." I know the anti-war left will have trouble doing this, but it's vitally important that they believe him.

A victory declaration was not too conclusive because it neglected to account for remaining resistance. It was too conclusive, literally, because it meant the conclusion of the war. And that would mean bringing the troops home. And until the rest of the Middle East falls like dominoes into the pro-American free market, the neocons who crafted this war will never let the troops come home.

It's not just that Bush wants war with Iran. Early on in his speeches--when Iraq seemed to be going well--he spoke openly about wholesale, regional transformation. The stated goal, of course, was the lie that free democracies won't produce terrorists (like Tim McVeigh). But the real goal is economic, allowing major, western companies to get into the Middle East bigger than they are now (remember, Halliburton was doing business with Iran even after 9/11 and after the Iraq war), and with fewer nationalist/socialist impediments.

As long as Iraq is going poorly, the president can justify keeping troops there. Opposition sounds anti-soldier, like another Vietnam, like calling our troops losers. And too many politicians are afraid of the name-calling.

So do the opposite.

Call the troops winners--as Rumsfeld didn't want to do. Hail their completion of the missions laid out for them in the original authorization for the use of military force. Instead of non-binding resolutions opposing the surge, introduce binding resolutions declaring the victorious end to hostilities with Iraq, which has now been liberated and stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States as an ally against terror.

Point out, as Sen. Ted Kennedy has, time and again, that the troops have now accomplished, or rendered moot, every single goal we set for them. Rep. Murtha already says the mission has been accomplished. Iraq says their mission is done. Our own generals have said there's nothing more to be done militarily. So stop letting the White House call the troops losers, by continuing to move the bar. First it was get rid of WMD. Then it was liberate Iraq. Then it was establish democracy. Now it's to establish a democracy that meets Mr. Bush's standards. It's a shell game, and the Democrats have to stop playing it.

WMDs? Gone. Anti-American government? Gone. Pro-terrorist government? Gone. UN-defiant government? Gone. Terrorist-harboring government? Gone.

It's time for Democrats to introduce a resolution saying so, and congratulating the troops on what they accomplished. Nothing in it--yet, anyway--about bringing the troops home. Simply a declaration of victory--spelling out precisely all the goals that have been accomplished.

Let the White House and pro-war Republicans object to calling our troops winners. Let them deny our troops the victory they achieved.

In doing so, we can draw the bright, clear line that's so desperately needed in this debate between the Iraq War, authorized and won, and the Middle East War that Bush has begun, and is trying to escalate beyond Iraq's borders. Americans were willing, albeit wrongly, to take on Iraq. But the best way to assure that the nation holds a debate on the next war is to make clear to the world that the first war is over. So far, Democrats have done that by arguing that we're losing. It's time to wake up and smell the victory.


Monday, February 12, 2007

2008: The Question for Candidates

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and anyone else who's running for president will be making their way back and forth across Iowa and New Hampshire repeatedly over the next year. This year, more than ever, it's vitally important that each of them answer a single question.

To that end, I encourage everyone who lives in one of those states, or who expects to attend a town hall or other event anywhere in the country where you might have access to any of the candidates, to print out and take with you whichever version of "The Question" with which you're most comfortable (feel free to mix and match, if you wish!). Of course, anyone getting an answer is strongly urged to post it back here! (One suggestion--try to get a few friends or fellow travelers in on this, if the candidate hears people clapping when you ask your question, they'll be less likely to dismiss or dodge it.) Here they are:

The Nice Version

It seems these days that just about every campaign has advisors, paid or otherwise, to help ensure that candidates are sensitive to and reach out to just about every religious community: Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Most surveys in recent years have found that non-religious, atheist and agnostic Americans outnumber the American Jewish and Muslim populations. Can you tell us whether you have any advisors or have made any effort to be sensitive to or reach out to the non-religious, atheist and agnostic communities in this country?

The Provocative Version

Surveys consistently tell us there are more Americans who reject or question the existence of God than there are American Jews and Muslims combined. Our country is embroiled in religious violence overseas. We were attacked by religious extremists on September 11th and the president who misled us into an unjust war has said he is guided by his god, too. According to media accounts, most Democratic campaigns, and certainly some Republican ones, make specific, concerted, strategic efforts to include religious viewpoints and religious advisors. What will you do to ensure that non-religious viewpoints and advisors who espouse them will be a part of your campaign and, if you win, your administration?

The Righteous-Anger Version

I don't believe in any gods. I share Thomas Jefferson's view of Jesus: That he was not divine. And yet, polls show that me and people like me are considered less moral--because we don't believe in magic beings--than people who share the beliefs of George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Numerous state laws discriminate against me and people like me. The first President Bush did not consider us full citizens. No one representing our views has ever been elected to Congress, even though we outnumber Jews and Muslims combined. Even you, I'm sure, reach out to many communities based on nothing else than their belief in gods or prayer or other forms of magic. To my knowledge, you have never spoken out against this socially-accepted hate against me and my kind. Why is that, and are you willing to oppose this discrimination by including open atheists in prominent positions in your campaign or cabinet?


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fox Admits Its Bias

Bill O'Reilly seems to think he's scored a journalistic coup on this upcoming Monday's program by somehow piecing together the clues of an NBC conspiracy to pursue an allegedly liberal agenda. But meanwhile, you don't need to do a minute of sleuthing to learn whether O'Reilly has a bias. His own boss just admitted it.

That's right, O'Reilly's oberstboss, Rupert Murdoch, was asked on Friday, Jan. 26, whether his company, News Corp., which owns Fox News and the New York Post, managed to shape the agenda on the war in Iraq. His answer? (h/t Juan Cole and ePluribus Media): "No, I don't think so. We tried."

There you have it. In case anyone still had any doubts. News Corp.--with the knowledge and approval of its leader, Rupert Murdoch, and the assistance of people like O'Reilly who tell Americans they're independent thinkers just doing their best to convey the truth--undertook a concerted, organized, willful effort to lead Americans to think a certain way on Iraq. They report AND decide.

In case his answer wasn't clear enough, by the way, Murdoch went on to say, "We basically supported the Bush policy in the Middle East." And this is in the Hollywood Reporter? As opposed to, say, the news sections of every newspaper in the country?

At the very least, News Corp.'s print rivals, such as the NY Daily News, ought to splash this on their front pages. And News Corp.'s TV rivals ought to be cranking out the promos Monday morning.

They might not make every Fox viewer understand how badly they were deceived. They might not succeed in outraging everyone who mourns the 3,000+ American war dead and WhoTheHellKnows+ Iraqi war dead. But at least they can say, "We tried."

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