Monday, August 31, 2009

Comparative Religion Classes are not News

I got a Google Alert this morning about an article on John Freshwater in "Get". As one would expect from a site with that name, the writer, E. E. Evans, seemed dubious about the charges against Freshwater, but what was also clear was that Mr. Evans and most of the commenters haven't found as much information on the case as I have and they don't understand why Freshwater was fired.

The article points out that Freshwater was charged with "teaching religion" in school, however schools are allowed to "teach about religion" as long as they don't advocate for a specific religion. The writer then points outs out that the press is more likely to cover a creationism vs. science story that a story about "teaching about religion".

First of all, Freshwater wasn't fired for just teaching religion in school, He was fired for teaching religion rather than the science curriculum he was being paid to teach. Had he been teaching ballet instead of science, nobody would have questioned his firing and nobody would have written an article, but religion gets a special status.

Secondly, articles are being written covering teaching about religion. I've read articles about teaching the bible as history in Texas and comparative religious studies being added to high school curricula. Religious studies that don't advocate a specific religion shouldn't be news. These courses have been available in colleges (and some high schools) for ages and although I can imagine Freshwater's friends being outraged about their kids being exposed to "false" religions, there's no rational reason for it to be any more controversial than studying comparative cultures in geography class.

Just like all of the hullabaloo about Mount Vernon Junior High, some Xians think that anything that relates to their religion should be the center of everybody's attention. In a rational world, Mount Vernon residents would have all looked at the Freshwater case and said, "If the evidence indicates that he injured one or more students and that he wasn't teaching the prescribed curriculum, he should be fired."
Instead they say, "This is about MY RELIGION! Not just that, this is about diminishing the general public's exposure to MY RELIGION!" Maybe some comparative religion studies would get a few of these folks to understand that THEIR RELIGIONS are supposed to have equal rights, but I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch or Mansfield

I've mentioned before how some Xians always assume greater honesty in others who identify themselves as Xians in spite of evidence to the contrary. I thought about that while reading this article about a youth minister convicted of 42 sex crimes in Mansfield, OH. Then I was reading about the kidnapper of Jaycee Lee Dugard who turned up 18 years later in Antioch, CA after Phillip Garrido, her kidnapper-rapist, drew the attention of police at UC Berkley when he and his 2 daughters (that he fathered with the kidnap victim) were passing out religious tracts. Garrido claims to be a devout Xian but his neighbors just think he is psycho.

I'm not saying all Xians are bad (although the ones I blog about usually are), I'm just saying that anyone who assumes that someone identifying himself as a Xian is automatically more trustworthy, honest or moral than average, should probably paint a target on their forehead and put a "kick me" sign on their back. There is no evidence that those who identify themselves as Xian are more honest than average and if anyone bothered to check, I suspect they would find a correlation between how loudly a person espouses his religion and how dishonest he is.

A last minute addition: The Friendly Atheist just posted something about one of the kind of person I was talking about.

A Little More from Mount Vernon Schools

In further news from Mount Vernon School District, they have settled a federal law suit with a student whose family sued because the student was being taught religion in science class in violation of his constitutional rights. The school board's insurance co. agreed to pay $55oo to the the family and $1 each to 2 other individuals plus paying $115,500 of the plaintiffs' legal fees. A similar suit is still pending against John Freshwater.

An article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer mentions that the suit against the school was was brought by the family of the boy who said he was burned by Freshwater. At the end of the article, it is pointed out that 12 fellow teachers have testified on Freshwater's behalf. The article doesn't mention that most of those teachers are also members of the church Freshwater attends or that some of them had also been promoting their religion at school.

What angered me most in the Plain Dealer article was the mention that the plaintiff family has moved to another town and school district do to the backlash against them in Mount Vernon. Those doing the backlashing would, of course, be the loving, forgiving, good, evangelical Xians of the area who apparently feel that as long as their dogma is being taught, that trumps contractual agreements, state and federal laws, and any truth that might indicate Freshwater's guilt. Speaking of that kind of Xian, the photo in the Plain Dealer article shows Freshwater standing next to god's playground bully; Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Min.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Instruct those MV Instructors

Here's a bit of good news; according to the Mount Vernon (OH) News, all Mount Vernon School District staff will be instructed in what is legally acceptable concerning religion in school. If you've read my blog, or even better, The Panda's Thumb, then you know about the ongoing hearing related to the firing of fundamentalist Xian science teacher, John Freshwater who is accused (among other things)of teaching creationism to his 8th grade science students. Witness testimony in the hearing indicates that several teachers have engaged in evangelizing in the classroom and said they thought it was a good idea. This is probably partly a result of so many of the teachers in the school district having graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene Univ. which seems to advocate evangelizing in the public schools.

Unlike Freshwater who was reportedly ordered to stop teaching creationism but instead just got more sneaky about it, most other teachers have said they were never told that they couldn't preach fundy dogma in their classes. This new instruction should prevent the all-week-long-Sunday-school-teachers from using ignorance of the rules as a defense. I'm not naive enough to believe this will completely stop teachers from trying to save all those captive heathens, but after going through a hugely expensive, drawn out, circus of a hearing, I doubt the School Board will be very forgiving of transgressions.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Christian Nation is a Civil Right. Right?

The insistence that we are and were always intended to be a Xian nation is much like other aspects of evangelical Xian belief, where they cherry-pick a few factoids and ignore or deny everything else, it makes me want to taze the whole bunch in hopes the shock makes some of their synapses fire ( Zap! Hey, I just noticed that opinions aren't the same as facts!). Yes, it's true that the Pilgrims were Puritans and Virginians were Church of England and, in fact virtually all the 13 colonies were Xian. That, however, does not mean that in 1776 the founding fathers wanted religion incorporated into their government.

Currently, evangelicals are the most insistent that we were always intended to be a Xian nation. This does a great disservice to their forefathers. The evangelicals at the dawn of our nation were the most adamant supporters of separation of church and state. Heck, Roger Williams, Baptist minister and founder of Rhode Island is credited with first using the term "a wall of separation," when talking about keeping church and state separate. The prevailing attitude at that time was, that anyone who felt their religion needed help from the government, had very weak faith in their religion.

Unlike today, the first generation of US citizens had seen plenty of examples of Xian nations for comparison. They viewed the Church of England as synonymous with the British government from whom they were seeking independence, they'd observed how the Catholic Church controlled the governments of other countries and, many of the people had themselves been driven out of their homes for following the wrong religion.

The colonies themselves were also examples. The Puritans of Mass. didn't come to America for religious freedom so much as they came to isolate themselves from the less conservative religions. They drove out or, in a few cases, killed those who wouldn't convert to the Puritan religion. At the same time, in Virginia, one could not get a government job without joining the C of E. Bigotry against Catholics and Jews was prevalent and it's estimated that only about 15% of the American population were members of a church when the Constitution was written.

All of that history is largely irrelevant since every time the separation or church and state is argued in court, the separation is reiterated. Still we get people standing up at school board or local government meetings insisting we are a Xian nation, therefore we have a right to blah, blah, blah. I think the problem is that since they have the right to freely practice their religion, any opinion shared by a majority of their church congregation must also be their religious right to practice.

They think subjecting the general public to Xian ceremonies is a good idea, then it must be their 1st amendment right. The same is true about what constitutes a fact, what media should be censored, what politician should be elected, what minorities should not be tolerated, or whether miniature marshmallows should top the jello salad at the potluck. It's not opinion; it's their god-given constitutional right. Right?

Pass the Gate-Crasher Ministries

It sure can be interesting living in my county sometimes. A private fund-raiser for US Congressman Zack Space was held last night in Gambier, OH. The event was by invitation only. David Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries was not invited but felt he needed to talk to Rep. Space so he acquired a copy of the invitation email and reproduced part of it with the RSVP phone no. then emailed it to Pass the Salt members suggesting they call the number and identify themselves as invited guests to get into the party. When the hosts found out about Daubenmire's email, they were forced to start screening RSVP calls and hire security.

David Daubenmire first came into the public eye when he was a coach at London (OH) High School where he refused to quit leading Xian prayers at practice and games. After being fired, he started Pass the Salt Ministries and Minutemen United. The ministries preach ultraconservative fundamentalism and insistence that the US is an exclusively Xian nation. Minutemen United is a group that protests, disrupts and tries to intimidate political groups and churches that express tolerance for gays, reproductive choice or the presence of other religious beliefs.

Daubenmire was also a highly visible supporter of John Freshwater and may have originated the bogus claim that Freshwater was only being fired for having a bible on his desk. He tried to get the board of education members removed who favored Freshwater's dismissal.

Zack Space, no doubt, is aware of the ideology of the Salty-Minutemen and also aware that they are media whores who seek out opportunities to get TV face-time where they can spew their narrow-minded, intolerant hatred. According to an article in the Mount Vernon News, the Salt Passers started showing up about 1/2 hr. after the fund-raiser started but were kept from approaching the home. Jeff Cline, speaking on behalf of the group, said they had a message that they needed to give to Rep. Space and then began to outline that message to the reporter.
It included lots of gems of enlightened wisdom like; “God is in control of this nation, not man. But our politicians seem to think they can do whatever they please. We believe that we, as Christians in this country, have to stand for what’s moral and what’s right. It’s pretty basic and pretty simple. [The hate crime bill] is they are going to legislate thought and speech on what we can say and what we can’t say. Jesus Christ should be the standard in this country, not Allah, not Buddha, not man. We firmly believe that God is bringing down a curse on this nation. We have turned our back on God in this country."

After the meeting, Zack Space offered to meet with two of the Salties without the media present. Not surprisingly, that offer was declined since that wouldn't allow them to tell the general public that the salty-minutemen are the most Xian, most patriotic, most knowledgeable about the best direction for the nation, most perfect interpreters of the desires of Jesus, and anyone who disagrees is a god-hating, America-hating, fag-loving, baby-killing, nation-destroyer who has no right to live in this country. What a fun group.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wouldn't a Healthcare Riot Be Fun?

I think I just experienced my first push poll. This is probably because I'm still registered as a Republican even though I'm not homophobic, xenophobic, or Xian, and I don't tell or believe lies that are labeled as facts (these appear to be the current prerequisites for membership). My wife and I just decided long ago that one would register as a Dem. and the other as GOP to get all the voting info from both parties. I lost the coin toss.

Anyway, the phone rang this afternoon (I wish I'd paid more attention before I realized what was happening) and a woman's voice asked me to participate in a poll, she then ask me something like "Do you believe the government is being reckless in their handling of health-care?" I said "no", and she said "thanks", and hung up.

It's my understanding that a push poll usually has only one question, and the intention is not to get the called person's opinion, but to plant an idea in the person's head; in this case that the new health-care legislation is reckless and will jeopardize my health insurance. Probably the most famous push poll was right before the SC primary in 2000, when a "pollster" called people all over So. Carolina and asked if they knew that John McCain had fathered a black child. G. W. Bush's win in that primary is attributed to that push poll.

By comparison, this one question poll was pretty darn subtle and obviously some people are still trying to screw up health care legislation every way they can, but this conservative win-at-all-costs attitude is enabling the lunatic fringe. The resulting tumult is building some very scary momentum. Booths are set outside town hall meetings offering info that perpetuates the lies about death panels, euthanasia, ruination of medicare, etc. Signs depict Obama as Hitler, accuse him of taking not just their health care, but their religion, their guns, their money and their civil rights. People are screaming in the meetings and carrying guns outside.

We have healthcare execs financing disinformation to protect their multi-billion dollar profits, conservative politicians gleefully egging them on because they think of a failure of the plan as a personal victory, pundits spewing lies and hate to feed their own huge egos and show ratings and the victims of these puppet-master wannabees are frightened, frustrated, misinformed people who are on the verge of blind rage and could become homicidally violent at any moment.

There is a point where manipulating political facts for personal ends turns to inciting riots and conspiring to commit murder and I hope we're not as close to that point as it appears. Not that any of those doing the pot-stirring would admit any guilt, but I'd like to know how many murders and injuries do they think a political victory is worth? Also, if the victims arrive at the hospital without health insurance as a result of their machinations, is that a victory too?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not Perfect, Just Forgiven. So?

Once again, someone directly involved with a Christian church has been indicted for a really heinous crime, but I doubt it will have any effect on the bias in the Xian community toward other Xians. A Sunday school teacher in CA has been indicted for kidnapping, raping and murdering an 8 year old girl and drugging a 7 year old and a 37 year old man in a separate incident.

This sort of thing occurs with enough frequency that it should give people pause before being more trusting of a person just because of a religious label, yet it never seems to work out that way. Some people will read a headline about priests or ministers molesting children in their care, or about a serial killer being an officer in his church, or about a religious leader conning people out of their life savings, then set the paper down and go vote for someone because that candidate is a Xian and therefore can be trusted.

When I was growing up, I always heard that someone, who added religious symbols or statements to their secular business, was prostituting their religion for personal gain, and was therefore neither a good Xian or a trustworthy businessperson. Nowadays it seems like every other business has a cross or a bit of scripture prominently displayed, knowing that plenty of folks will prefer that business because, "Oh! They're good Christians! We can trust them to be honest." The same thing goes for politicians, museum owners, book publishers, and apparently molesters, murderers and thieves.

Forrest Gump's mom always said, "Stupid is as stupid does," but I still am amazed that so many people can absolve themselves of responsibility for their own cognition. Yup, yup. Cross on sign, good, no cross on sign bad. Time to go back to thinking about dinosaurs on the ark.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Xians Need Rules

Maybe I just need to stop listening to and reading anything Xians write about their beliefs. I feel compelled to write comments arguing against their assertions, but the Xians just ignore them and the free-thinkers have heard it all before. A case in point; In the middle of some forum, one of god's select had to throw in the ol' chestnut about atheists not having morality because they don't have a religion to tell them the rules. As always, a freshman college course, in this case Social Anthropology, is sufficient to rebut that assertion, but I also thought about the light this assertion sheds on the Xian.

The insistence that morality can't exist without religious guidance, in spite of the fact that they keep addressing this to atheists who clearly understand and practice morality as adeptly as their Xian counterparts, suggests that maybe the Xians have no capacity to act morally without threats of eternal damnation. If these Xians feel that they, themselves, would be unable to act morally without thinking a vengeful god is watching over them, maybe they cling to the structure of religion to help them control their sociopathy.

Let's see, what are the symptoms of a sociopath, or what they now prefer to call a person with antisocial personality disorder? They include persistent lying (where have I seen that lately? Oh yeah, Ken Ham's Museum-o-lies.), an extreme sense of entitlement (like when someone feels that his personal beliefs should be part of public school curricula and be codified into local, state and federal law), lack of remorse or empathy (like the way he doesn't understand or care when people become upset, or become the victims of prejudice, as a result of his personal beliefs becoming part of the curriculum or the law), a tendency to violate the rights and boundaries of others (like when he fights to keep other religions out of his neighborhood, also see above), aggressive behavior (like threatening to murder someone for breaking a cracker), and, of course, a general difficulty distinguishing between right and wrong.

Well, maybe there are some slight similarities between sociopaths and evangelical Xians, but they're mighty subtle. So if these Xian writers assert that morality requires adherence to religion, because they themselves are unable to be moral without adherence to religion, we may never know for sure. Oh wait! What's the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? I may have looked up the wrong one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Christian Peace and Harmony

An article today in Yahoo news about a rift in a big Presbyterian church in FL, got me thinking about how often one sees claims that peace and harmony are among the benefits of being an Xian compared to the actual observed evidence. The above church is only unique in that it was one of the first mega-churches and that it has connections to Billy Graham and religious right leader D. James Kennedy. There's nothing at all unusual about seeing a headline that there is a rift within or between Xian denominations, and I suppose we should be glad that, at least in most places, the denominations aren't torturing and killing each other any more, but you'd think that when they make bumper stickers and song titles they might want to stick to claims that are less demonstrably false.

Most of the time when I hear of religious discord, I think of the bloody wars and suppression between Protestants and Catholics in Europe and Britain, but the first thing that came to my mind today was Africa. Have you ever wondered why there are so many followers of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa, even though most of those nations were colonies of Xian countries? It seems that when the imperial Europeans decided to claim ownership of Africa, they included the traditional imposition of missionaries on the indigenous population, but the different Xian denominations spent so much time arguing with each other over who had more right to force their religion on the locals, that the Islamic missionaries were able to walk in with a monolithic message and convert everyone.

Maybe I'm the only one amused by this, but I'm always hearing about how the spread of Christianity, with all its manifest benefits, throughout the world is evidence of it being the true religion. Yet, it seems these guys are their own worst enemies and in spite of the constant discord, they'd like us to believe they are the primary force for achieving world peace and harmony.

Doing the Homework

I've been thinking back on a lot of the conversations, or maybe they're arguments, I've had with creationists and one thing stands out. I've read their bible and I've read some of the books written by Xian apologists, but it is clear that most, maybe all, of the creationists with whom I've conversed have never read anything that actually explains evolution, not even a Wikipedia article.

They all think they know what they're arguing against, but I seem to spend a lot of time explaining that the ideas they oppose are not really part of evolutionary theory and the ones who think they are most knowledgeable on the subject have only read the books that argue against evolution so they're just more adamant about their misconceptions. Basically, they are like someone who thinks he's an expert on a book because he's read a few reviews.

I was going to say something about how I wouldn't base my opinions on a critique of an idea without researching the actual idea, but that may be a big part of why I argue in support of evolution, and education in general, and they don't.

What I plan to do, and suggest others who support reality based concepts may also want to try, is start insisting that before a person can argue evolution, they must read at least one real book on the subject. If it's someone I trust I'll even loan them a book by Dawkins, Gould or the like. I also think I'll recommend, especially to those who have read some the apologist junk, that they read On the Origin of the Species just so they can see how often it is misrepresented. Everything by Darwin is available on line, so they have no excuse for not reading it unless they're Amish.

I don't know how well this strategy will work; maybe some people will end up reading some real science or maybe I'll just stifle communication, but it seems to me that we need to be more insistent that those who oppose evolution demonstrate that they've at least done a little homework on the subject they argue against. What do you think?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Insights on Insights on the Creation Museum Visit

One of the tweets about #CreoZerg contained a link to the site of Pastor Tom Estes, a man whose name I recognized from blog comments in defense of the Creation Museum. Estes’ blog contained a couple of articles relating his shared experience with the SSA group at the Museum which I thought were enlightening and a little baffling as to his point of view.
His first post described the visit itself beginning with him introducing himself to P. Z. Myers in the parking lot. He mentioned how relieved he was to not have to identify himself in front of hundreds of atheists, although he didn’t say why. Perhaps he thought they would pummel him with copies of Darwin’s writings. Anyway, Estes determined from his exchange of 5 or 10 words each that P. Z. was sarcastic.
Inside the Museum, Estes sat with Looy, the co-founder of AiG and one of the VP’s but later got up and listened to and watched the atheists go through the exhibits, but they were disrespectful, made fun of what the exhibits said and wore T-shirts that were against the rules (Actually, at least one student was taken to the restroom and ordered to turn his shirt inside out. Apparently he had ruined a family’s entire vacation by displaying a slogan with which they disagreed.) Furthermore, they said things like “That’s stupid,” without elaborating on why and he heard someone say he wished he had a 2 way radio to hear P. Z.’s comments. Oh yeah, the group looked like a bunch of misfits, and P. Z. was on an ego trip basking in the adoration instead of learning all the science there.
Incomprehensibly, what Pastor Estes seemed most concerned about was that someone might recognize him and take his picture! He even thought he caught some people surreptitiously trying to take a picture while he wasn’t looking. What is that about? Does he think the camera will steal his soul? Does he think his picture will be sent to freethinking hit men? Does he fear we will all draw a mustache and goatee on his picture and put it on a dart board? Sorry pastor, I don’t think anyone really wants your picture, except maybe to show a friend that this is that guy who was commenting on Pharyngula. As for hit men, I think you’ll find that when someone stalks and kills a person because they disagree with their beliefs, the atheist is usually the victim and the Xian the shooter.
As for P. Z. Myers, he is a hero to a lot of us and we’d never gotten to meet him before. Everyone would like to hear what he says, not because we’re little lost lambs in need of someone to define what we should think (that would be the Xians again), it’s because he is a Doctor of Biology and a college professor who is an expert on the science that is being desecrated in that museum. Plus we all admire his fashion sense.
Pastor Estes’ follow up article was a rebuttal to the post about the museum in Pharyngula. I think the Pastor’s view can be summed up by this quote from him: “In this statement he seems to show his complete lack of understanding in what the Creation Museum stands for. Obviously Ken Ham, Mark Looy, and the rest of us idiotic Bible believers believe in the flood, and if you believe the flood happened around 2348 BC, then naturally the fossils would be dated from that time.” He really thinks that starting with an untenable assumption and the cherry-picking and misrepresenting a few scientific facts so they appear to support his claim, is science. Quoting William Watkin from the ABC article about CreoZerg, "Everything they said about sediment deposition, about Mount St. Helens … anyone in first year geology would say 'wrong from top to bottom,”.
This is the whole point of what Estes saw and heard. This SSA group consisted of college students, college graduates, teachers and professors, who all know more about real science than he does. Of course they called things stupid without elaborating. They had all studied enough biology, geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry and physics, etc. to know why the entire museum and almost all its assertions are not scientifically honest or valid. One of the greatest exceptions being the display that talks about the irrelevance of race in our acceptance and love for the whole Human population. That was good.
If Pastor Estes would take a few undergrad science courses at a state university he might understand the difference between what Ken Hamm calls science and what people who actually do science call science. Then maybe he could put himself in the shoes, just for a minute, of someone like P. Z. Myers who has spent his entire adult life studying and teaching real science in real educational institutions and museums and see what a huge insult to and attack on every honest educator and student in the world this shrine to ignorance and propaganda, the Creation Museum, really is. And that's the Hard Truth.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My T Shirt

Some people at CreoZerg said they liked the design on the shirt I was wearing so I decided to post it for the whole world to enjoy.

I Went to CreoZerg

I went to the Creation Museum to meet all the godless heathens today. If you have to go there I highly recommend bringing a few hundred atheists just to help maintain your sense of humor. Also get the group rate, I didn't and the ticket cost $23.27 including sales tax. No wonder they can afford animatronic dinos.

I met P. Z. Myers and Hemant Mehta and lots of very friendly less famous (at least to me) folks. I think everyone showed good restraint in their actions but some of their overheard conversations may have freaked out the Mennonite tourists. Further proof that god doesn't exist can be inferred by the lack of lightning bolts and tornadoes while we were there.

While it was fun to laugh at the pseudo-science and anachronisms, when I thought about how many people tour this place and think all this crap is valid information, it starts to make me a little sick to my stomach. The museum inside and out screams of money. Huge amounts of currency must have been poured into the place and all for the expressed goal of teaching people that their public school education is wrong. It's like going to Disneyland and being earnestly told that Cinderella is historical fact. Investing so much in fairy tales while public schools are having to cut their curricula and activities for lack of funds is obscene. I think such a financial investment in propaganda is even more immoral than the multitude of lies that fill the building.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Solution to Global Warming

I just stumbled onto this article about people in a Swiss Village who since 1678 have been asking for intersession from the Pope to keep the nearby glacier from growing and destroying their village. It seems however that for the last decade the glacier receded about 12% due to the warmer winters and decreased snowfall, so they have asked the Pope to intercede again.

It is not clear whether the villagers think that the Pope is doing an exceptional job of fulfilling their original request or they think of it as a new problem that requires additional Papal blessings. If the villagers were unsure which it was, that might at least partly explain why it took them a whole decade to act.

Still this is really a slap-the-forehead moment. If someone requests blessings from the Pope for each of the receding glaciers, we'll nip this global warming thing in the bud in no time. I'd be happy to help out if it means I don't have to worry about leaving carbon footprints everywhere I go (Damn those bituminous Hush Puppies!) but we don't currently have a lot of glaciers in Ohio and the latest polls indicate that most Ohioans don't want any. If you know of a glacier that lacks representation, let me know and I'll dash off a note to Rome right away.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Eagles Populations Are Growing in Ohio

Articles in the Ohio papers are reporting that bald eagles are continuing their resurgence with 215 nests reported last year. That is the largest number of nests counted since the time that they were put on the endangered species list. There were times I thought this would never happen.

When I was in jr. high school in the late 1960's my family would travel to the Everglades Nat. Park during Xmas break. On one of those trips I saw a bald eagle perched on a dead tree and felt very lucky because it was one of only fifty in the state of Florida. That was the largest breeding population in the US outside of Alaska. At the same time, it was a sad event as the few remaining eagles were still falling prey to hunters and the effects of DDT. I thought I might be seeing the bald eagle for the last time in the wild.

By the early eighties I was hearing reports of a resurgence in the bald eagle population but I didn't really believe them until one day while I was hang gliding in the mountains of Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego and a bald eagle flew right under me. I'd never even seen a good photo of one in flight and hadn't realized that they had white tails. I tried to follow it for a way, but the eagle had a much better glide ratio than my hang glider.

Later I ran into a National Forest Ranger and asked how the bald eagles were doing. He initially said there were none in the area, but after mentioning my experience, he confided that they were being kept a secret for fear they might get shot. You see, the area east of the big SoCal cities is still cowboy country where ranchers ride horses around their spreads with a Winchester by their side and many believe that raptors (the birds not the dinosaurs) are a threat to the livestock and, therefore need to be shot.

So the bald eagles still weren't out of the woods yet. I mean they were actually in the forest and weren't planning to leave, but there were still plenty of opportunities for them to join the list with the auk and dodo.

Now the news is all good. Bald eagle populations are increasing not just on the coasts, but also around my current digs, smack dab in the middle of Ohio. Finally I can relax and stop worrying about the extinction of our magnificent national bird, at least until its food supply dies off.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Health Care Spit Ball Fight

I've been trying to understand the proposed National health care plan and I was inspired to dig a little more today after Hemant Mehta brought up the subject on Friendly Atheist. Two of the most important things I learned today are; there is no such thing as "Obama's health plan" in that the current plan as written came from congress, not the President, and those who oppose the health care plan tell blatant lies to frighten people into opposing the plan.

Some good information can be found in an article in Yahoo news and from that indicate that many of the opponents of health care are not interested in objective discussion of pros and cons, they just want to be destructive. Why else would they say so many things that are completely false.

Part of the problem is that too many politicians, pundits and voters view politics as an us-against-them rivalry. The only goal is for the home team to win and the opposing team to lose and if lying, cheating and stealing are necessary to win, that's what you do for the sake of the team. It doesn't matter that legislation may benefit all Americans,if the opposing team wants it, they must be prevented from getting it or the home team loses.

It is as if the US' political system has created a government and constituency with a mean emotional age of twelve. The kids on this side of the street hate the kids on the other side of the street. What ever they like we hate, what ever they want to do we want to prevent and if they try to make friends, run away because they have cooties. Decisions are so much easier if you just do what your party or favorite pundit says and as you lay dying from a preventable disease for lack of health care, you can reassure yourself that it would have been worse if the other team had won.

Religion of Hate

I just saw an AP article about the Idaho town near which the Aryan Nation had its headquarters. It sucks that the little upscale town of Hayden Lake is still stigmatized as the address of the neo-nazi group that was gone by '04 but for me it was more interesting to learn that the Aryan Nation compound included the leaders home and his church. Apparently the group is a religion and the leaders are referred to as pastors. A church with a pastor and crosses sure does sound like they at least thought of themselves as Xians.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised; they tried to emulate Hitler's regime where every Wehrmacht soldier wore a belt buckle embossed with a swastika and the words "Gott Mit Uns" (God is with us). This, however, is another example of how people can be motivated to hatred and bigotry by incorporating the message into the matrix of religious belief. If you change the message from Jews and blacks to gays and atheists, you pretty much have evangelical Xianity.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Told You "The Family" Is Scary

Pharyngula has a post about Jeff Sharlet's book: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. I had a post about that a little while ago when I got freaked out by an interview with Jeff Sharlet. When I got no reaction except one from Mike Litch at Notions Capital suggesting I had little to fear, I calmed down. But now P. Z. Meyers has restored my paranoia, and judging from the comments, he's instilled that fear in a lot of his regulars.