Category Archives: Ethics

Religion playing the victim in Prop 8 hearing

In what is likely the most ironic assertion made since Ann Coulter called liberal women ugly, The Catholic News Agency claimed Catholicism to be a target of religious bigotry on the part of California gay marriage advocates. Says the article:

“Today, religion has taken the stage, front and center, in the battle over the constitutionality of Prop. 8 and is being portrayed as an illegitimate basis for supporting traditional marriage. Religious bigotry surely found expression in today’s presentation by the plaintiffs,” he charged.

“To suggest that the people of California cannot consider their own political, moral and religious views when casting their vote on Prop. 8 is preposterous,” Pugno continued, adding that many issues are presented to voters that involve moral questions.

This is a straw man that my 12 year old could knock down in his sleep and sidesteps the very real and important issue that despite over 200 years of separation of church and state, the church continues to attempt to guide public policy through its adherents.

The facts are these: the right to marry was given to gay and lesbian couples. That right was taken away by the tyranny of the majority in large part due to out of state religious groups with deep pockets. The Mormon church was a key proponent of Prop 8 while operating out of Utah. If the residents of Utah are that concerned with the state of California’s public policy, perhaps they should start donating some cash to assist with  the beleaguered state’s budgetary woes. If one is going to say that the states should make up their own minds, then LET THEM. Do not sanctimoniously claim that none but the people of each state should choose which policy to embrace and then embroil yourself in that choice.

Further, the Constitution exists to protect the rights of the individual from the tyranny of the majority. To have a court interpret the constitution in such a way that rights are afforded equally among its citizens and then remove that right by appealing to the basest fears and prejudices of its citizens flies directly in the face of what it means to claim ‘freedom and justice for all.’

Most importantly: appealing to any citizen’s religious beliefs in order to perpetrate discrimination against any group is not only ethically reprehensible, it is unconstitutional. As soon as ANY leader claims anyone should vote a certain way because ‘it’s what God says,’ the United States Constitution has ceased to be followed. No law shall be made based on religious belief. If the people of the great state of California want to play at being legislators, then they need to follow the law. Not god’s law, the law of the United States of America and the state of California, which dictates a separation of church and state.  I don’t care what your personal beliefs are. The second they start infringing on the rights of others, you lose your credibility and your claim that you love this country.

Why advocacy ‘journalism’ has done nothing but hurt

Like most expressways to the netherworld, the road to populist political hell began with the best of intentions. Everyone is expected to take part in the electoral process, so everyone feels they have a right to know what’s going on. They do. Unfortunately, politics is by nature a complicated beast. There’s a lot of legal Latin involved and the nuances frequently go over the heads of even the politicians and analysts who studied politics for years, so it was no surprise that Joe Schmo in Regular Americaville missed about half of it. The demand for politics explained simply for ‘the common man’ (hate that phrase) was high.

Enter the radio talk show. At first, the political analysts used proper legal terminology and the listener was expected to keep up. If they couldn’t…too bad, go get a copy of de Tocquville you illiterate idiot. See? Perceived bias. Inferred even if not implied, it seemed political commentary favored the ‘intellectual elite.’ Clearly, a response was needed. A commentator able to interpret the goings-on in our system so that everyone felt involved in the political process. And so advocacy journalism was born, although it was not given that moniker initially. Radio hosts with politics explained simply so that everyone could understand.

Unfortunately, because breaking politics down into simple language requires interpretation, perceptions and opinions were conveyed with those interpretations. The bias became more pronounced, and it had a very one side of the aisle feel. Clearly, a response was needed.

And so with each iteration, we have gotten further and further away from reasoned political commentary. The loudest voices get the biggest share, and the way to keep it is by lionizing ‘the other side.’ All the while not even noticing that ‘the other side’ is just more of us, people we see on the street every day, in the office, at home. Us & them, ad infinitum. No longer people, just two dimensional representations of ‘everything that’s wrong with this country.’

Thus, we arrive at a place in which a coworker can passionately and unequivocally state his intense hatred of a man he has never met and has held office for (at the time of the pronouncement) less than a year.

How do we pull back? I don’t know, but pull back we must while there is still a feeling by most that we are all us, while the fringe that perceives a ‘them’ is still a minority. But it is a growing minority, and we need to take heed and correct the situation soon.

Irish Atheists Challenge Blasphemy Law

Here in the United States, it’s taken for granted that we are allowed to say/write more or less anything we damn well want, even if it annoys or offends someone else. ESPECIALLY if it annoys or offends someone else. Our inherent right to speak our minds is something we see as sacrosanct.* It is therefore almost unthinkable that in this current age, when speaking out against one’s government is considered almost a given, that something like Ireland’s new blasphemy laws exist, much less are to be enforced.

The laws have been in place but largely unenforced due to  nebulous wording for decades. Now, the laws have been updated and carry a hefty fine of up to €25,000, which comes to more than $35K for those of you following along in dollars.

Enter the group Atheist Ireland. They’re having none of it. On Friday Jan. 1, the day the law went into effect, the group published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes in direct response to the law that they find “silly” and “literally medieval.” I couldn’t agree more. This is something I would expect from Iran or some other overly religious state. But Ireland?  The new law states that someone can be found guilty of blasphemy if:

“he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”

The best if Irish luck to Atheist Ireland, who are running a campaign to amend the constitution and repeal this archaic, ill thought out law.

*Please note: that right is not as all encompassing as we US citizens think it is. ‘Free speech’ addresses a very particular type of speech. It refers to the ability to petition/criticize one’s government publicly without fear of redress. The first amendment specifically addresses political speech, not your right to bitch out some asshole who takes your parking spot at the local mall. It also doesn’t apply on private property. No, it doesn’t. No really. Private property, including the internet, is not covered under free speech. Check your ToS: you spew hate speech, get yourself tossed and see how much ice ‘Freedom of expression’ cuts with the powers that be.

The Sad, Strange Case of Akmal Shaikh

In about 6 hours, a man is going to be put to death in China. His name is Akmal Shaikh. He’s not a hero. He wasn’t jailed for civil unrest or condemned for speaking out against China’s humanitarian transgressions. He is, quite simply, a British national whose mind has betrayed him and led him through a fantasy life as people are sometimes led through a fun house hall of mirrors.

Shaikh left his wife and children for a life on the streets in Poland trying to become alternately an airline magnate and a pop star. He criss crossed the country, sometimes staying in homeless shelters writing hundreds of emails to Tony Blair, Paul McCartney and George W Bush. In his madness, he met a man named ‘Carlos’ who promised to help him become famous. At some point in 2007, while convinced he was on his way to meet music executives, he boarded a plane with a suitcase carrying £250,000.00 worth of heroin from Tajikistan into China. This was seized by customs officials. Shaikh insisted he knew nothing of the drugs, that his friend, due on the next plane, would help explain everything. The friend never showed.

Though mental illness is usually taken into account for severe crimes, the Chinese government takes a very dim view toward drug trafficking. Shaikh was sentenced to death. The British Foreign Office was not even informed of his sentencing until late in 2008, and Shaikh himself was not told of his sentence until 24 hours prior to the scheduled execution.

And so the tale of this very ill man will come to an abrupt end far from his children and family in a little less than six hours. His family, ill from anxiety from the coming execution, can do nothing. Appeals have been put through at the highest level. All that can be done is to wait.

My own governor as recently as 5 years ago denied clemency to a mentally ill inmate for a crime far more heinous (IMO) than drug trafficking. Where do we draw the line? Shaikh, for his deluded fantasies, seems a harmless character. My support for the death penalty waivers when faced with such cases.

Stop it with the Nazi thing already.

No, really. Everything is NOT comparable to the attempted annihilation of an entire race and the ensuing World War that followed. Enough already. The offenderati are out in droves, and they can’t stop dragging out the cross (or swastika, as the case may be) and climbing up onto it. Everyone is being attacked by Nazis. The attackers are all on a par with Hitler.

Let me clue you in, kids. Unless you and your families are being forced to wear gold stars to identify you as an inferior being, then forced at gun point onto trains to internment camps where you will be starved and (eventually) killed in the most grisly manner possible?….you are not being attacked by Nazis. No. No, you’re not. And it is just incredibly arrogant and ignorant all at the same time of you to pretend that’s what’s happening here.

Penn and Teller jabbing the Catholic Church for half an hour does not make them Nazis, no matter what Bill Donohue may want to think.

Barack Obama? NOT Adolph Hitler incarnate just because he wants everyone in the entire country to be healthy.

Getting your little kid in on the act is not heart tugging, by the way. It’s sick and stupid. The kid doesn’t even know what a Nazi is, and you’re loading him up with a swastika protest sign. Way to go. Enjoy the therapy bills.

Enough, people! Stop with the Nazi/Hitler crap already. We get it. You don’t like that you lost the election. It sucks. You hate it. Trust me, I’ve been there all too many times. And yes, it was just as wrong when people inaccurately compared Bush to Hitler. That doesn’t mean you should do it. I feel like I’m addressing a bunch of 6th graders. “If Rush jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge would you?”

We get that you’re angry. But you’re hurting your country in the process of throwing these little temper tantrums. Because really, that’s what they are. Tantrums. Enough. Time to be reasonable. Time to recognize that you are not the sole moral voice or even necessarily the correct moral voice of the country. The voice of the right has for so long been that of incoherence and anger, it now knows no other way to express itself. And that’s too bad, because incoherence and anger are not the guiding forces that should be running the country. Ignorance and self serving machismo brought us to the point of collapse.

Time to grow up, people. Not getting your way does not make those you oppose Nazis. It doesn’t even make them wrong.

Scientists Visit Creationist Museum

The University of Cincinnati hosted the North American Paleontological Convention last week. In what appears to be a planned field trip, approximately 70 paleontologists, paleozoologists and geologists toured the Creationist Museum in Petersburg Kentucky. Apparently they were unimpressed, and who can blame them?

Many of the paleontologists thought the museum misrepresented and ridiculed them and their work and unfairly blamed them for the ills of society.

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

Sorry abuot that Dr. Park. I can only imagine what it’s like to have one’s life’s work completely taken out of context and abused and mangled in the way hers has been. But even sadder, I think, are those who visit the museum with the expectation and belief that what is being represented is not a point of view, but verifiable scientific fact. That it’s passed on to children as fact is even worse.

Terry Mortenson, a lecturer and researcher for Answers in Genesis, the ministry that built and runs the Creation Museum, said he did not expect the visit to change many minds. “I’m sure for the most part they’ll be of a different view from what’s presented here,” Dr. Mortenson said. “We’ll just give the freedom to see what they want to see.”

Dr. Mortenson and others at the museum say they look at the same rocks and fossils as the visiting scientists, but because of different starting assumptions they arrive at different answers. For example, they say the biblical flood set off huge turmoil inside the Earth that broke apart the continents and pushed them to their current locations, not that the continents have moved over a few billion years.

“Everyone has presuppositions what they will consider, what questions they will ask,” said Dr. Mortenson, who holds a doctorate in the history of geology from Coventry University in England. “The very first two rooms of our museum talk about this issue of starting points and assumptions. We will very strongly contest an evolutionist position that they are letting facts speak for themselves.”

I love it when religious people disagree with the fundamental conclusions of a scientific discipline but then try to use select parts of those conclusions to support their positions. It’s one thing* to reject science in favor of religion. It’s quite another to completely misrepresent science in order to force it to conform with your world view. The above statement is more than merely uninformed opinion, it’s intentional deceit. This man and the people working at the museum are intentionally deceiving the public in order to make their beliefs seem as though they actually have some bearing in scientific fact.

I’m more than a little amused that people who become so bellicose about science ‘making a mockery of religion’ are completely sanguine with the science fiction that is Creationism. It’s as if they thought to themselves that because science (in their opinions) belittles their beliefs, they now have the right to criticize science. Which seems somewhat arrogant and ignorant all at the same time.

What they don’t seem to realize is that science isn’t around specifically to disprove god or religion or anything of the sort. All science does…is explain our physical universe. Believe it or not my ignorant little theists, it is not necessary to even look at god in order to  do that. I do not need to invoke some unseen unknown inscrutable thing in order to know what conditions need to exist in order for lightning to occur. That isn’t a slight, no matter how badly you want to take it as one. It’s just that science sees that the simplest explanation is usually the best and most accurate. You need to get over yourselves. In short: science just ain’t that into you.

*Okay, yes, one very stupid thing.

Why Ignoring Iran Was A GOOD Thing.

I’ve been gone for a month or so, and while there’s all kinds of fun and interesting happenings behind that, I’ll leave it for another post. Let’s jump in.

As you are all aware, Republican congresscritters and pundits have been having a virtual orgiastic hate fest over President Obama’s refusal to take a hardline stance on Iran, thus embroiling us in yet another middle east mess. Lindsay Graham just about out-sanctimonied himself on national television insisting that the president “lead the free world, not follow it.” He was echoed by … well, by most of the echo chamber. Sen. McCain, Sen. Grassley and of course…the ‘leader’ of the Republican party: Rush Limbaugh. This whole Iran election issue has been one long orgasmic episode for Rush, who just can’t wait to get us into another war we can’t afford with exhausted troops who should have been discharged two tours ago. Even David Gregory took time out from his full time occupation of driving Meet the Press into the ground to ask his round table snooze fest why it is imperative that we make the Iranian elections all about us.

Let me very quickly remind people of a few things. November, 2004. Remember that? Big election, lots of accusations of voter fraud, administration’s refusal to recount, foreign heads of state tut-tutting and criticizing. Some guy with the last name Bush ended up keeping the presidency. Do we all remember that? Yes? Do we all remember how we reacted to the criticism that our elections may have been tampered with? Let me remind you of that as well. It essentially came down to “This is America, we do things our way, you don’t have any say in how we run our country so you can all just STFU.” Interestingly… that sentiment came from those who are now crying the loudest for us to do something about Iran. Funny old world, huh?

I’m pleased to say that despite heavy pressure to once again support a regime change to a leader that most Americans know nothing whatever about other than his name, the President resisted and kept his comments directed toward support of the rights of the Iranian voters. Why was that a good thing? I’m so glad you asked. Because despite the ridiculous hand waving and rhetorical wank fest, there was a very real reason to not get involved.

And it has just reared its ugly head. That’s right.Iran is now implying the U.S. (CIA specifically) may have had something to do with the death of Neda Agha Soltan. That because she was in a quiet area without protesters and with all kinds of cameras on her, it was a publicity stunt by the Americans to foment revolution and make it look like the Iranian government would mercilessly gun down its own citizens in the streets.

Think on this a minute, kids. What would have happened had we actually gone on record and made a formal accusation against the Iranian administration? What do you think? The citizens would have every cause to believe that we may have done that horrible thing. I tell you now: we are well out of it. If Iran is going to revolt or fail or reinvest in itself…it will do so on its own. We do not need to help.

Do I think the Ayatollah needs overthrowing and Iran needs to get itself out from under its fundamentalist religious regime? Certainly. But they do not need the United States telling them how to do it. Or they aren’t doing it, we are. Support? Certainly. Cheer them on? You bet. But if we blunder into that region once again insisting that everyone do it our way, we lose the opportunity to truly allow democracy to happen. Hard as it is to sit and watch, it’s time we learn that this is not about us. Not in any way, shape or form. Yes, I know. We like to think everything is about us. It isn’t. The Iranian citizenry is doing just fine without us. Let us not give them a reason to think that what they’re doing is wrong. Let us not give Ahmadinejad the excuse to try to unify his country behind the slogan “Death to the Americans” again. Let us allow the Iranian people the same right to fight for their own freedom that we take for granted.