Sunday, September 19, 2010

More About the Pope's Trip

At times, during the visit, you could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

The Pope Met the Queen

QEII officially welcomed the Pope in Edinburgh.  The Pope wore the official trappings of the Catholic Church.  The Queen wore a hat from the Hogwart School.

The Pope Went to Britain

The Pope arrived in the UK on Thursday with his armored car and plenty of security to protect him from police officers with arrest warrants.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

The other day, as I drove toward our county seat, about 15 mi. from my house, I was marvelling at the interesting signs that regularly are present along the way.  Of course election time is usually the most interesting but on an average weekend I can usually find at least a couple of things to ponder.

I first pass a church whose marquee, until a couple of days ago had, "God is the start of wisdom," written on it.  This is a modification of what it said a couple of weeks earlier, which was, "Fear of God is the start of wisdom".  The original message was apparently too irrational for even the deluded fundies. Or, maybe the sign was changed because, according to their book, God made a tree that would give wisdom to anyone who ate the fruit, but if Eve had really feared God, she wouldn't have eaten the fruit and wisdom would never have started.

My favorite message on that marquee was a while back.  It said, "There can be no America without God."  I'd really like to see someone try to prove that.  It seems to me that, even by the most conservative Xian estimate of the age of the earth, there were people living here who knew nothing about their god for 5000 years, and they were doing just fine until Europeans showed up.

Up the road from the church is a farm market.  Below the farm market sign is one that says "Jesus is Lord."   I'm guessing you won't find a lot of kosher food there.  Oh! It also has "Elect Ron Paul" written in huge letters on the building's side.  I'm guessing you won't find a lot of democrats there, either.

Further up the road is a modest private home that one day had a sign that said "Impeach the imposter!"  All I could think when I saw it was: that delusional person's vote counts the same as mine.  I went back later to take a picture, but the sign was gone.  Perhaps, it was only there while the residents hosted a tea party.

A few miles on, at the outskirts of Mount Vernon, there was a large portable sign that stood next to the road for about the whole first year of the Freshwater fiasco.  It read; "If the bible goes the student should follow."  Those were the good old days, when the bible was gone and the student's family had yet to been driven out of town.

The last special sign sits in front of what looks like a typical ranch house, on a lawn that seems never to get mowed.  The sign consists of a Xian cross tilted toward the road at about 30 degrees from verticle.  Nailed to cross is a white depiction of an amputated human hand with blood running from its palm where the nail pierces it.  I'll bet the neighbors love what it does to their property values.  Other signs near the cross identify the building as a house of worship whose name seems to change frequently.  Most recently, these signs said something about Mogen David Tabernacle. Maybe they worship sugary wine.

Going back the other way, heading home from a motorcycle ride today, I noticed the church marquee held the question, "Where is your journey taking you?"  I was going home, thanks for asking.  As I was about a half a block my house, I noticed a bumper sticker on the back of a neighbor's car.  It was one of those that says "Coexist" spelled out in symbols of various world religions.  It reminded me that things aren't so bad.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

That Doggone Christian Nation Stuff

This post was supposed to come out on the 4th of July, but it never quite got finished. I was probably too busy playing with sparklers and singing patriotic airs.

Every US Independence Day Hobby Lobby, a company that blatantly prostitutes its Xian religious views to sell craft supplies, puts out a full page ad in news papers to promote their errant belief that the US is a Xian nation. The 2010 version can be viewed here. I have some problems with this as you might guess.

First, there are the quotes:

George Washington- “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” This is probably the most legitimate quote presented as evidence. It was part of a speech announcing a national day of thanksgiving.

John Adams- “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” Let me first say while I was researching these quotes I discovered that the theocracy folks love this quote; a huge number of their websites came up when I googled it. All of those sites conveniently left out the sentence that goes between the first and second sentence, which is, “Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.” The omitted sentence hints at the real context; it was from a letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (11 October 1798) and was basically a lecture on behaving in a civil and moral manner, rather than an advocacy of any religion

Thomas Jefferson- “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” This quote also is not about advocating for religion as the Hobby Lobby would like us to believe. It was part of a speech to the government of Virginia arguing that slavery was immoral. It should also be noted that in Jefferson’s hand written version neither god nor the associated pronouns were capitalized.

Benjamin Franklin- “I've lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth — That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that except the Lord build the House they labor in vain who build it.” Today, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when Ben Franklin was not highly respected, but at the time of the Constitutional Convention (27 June 1787) when this speech was given he was neither respected nor trusted. Franklin had just returned to America, having been Ambassador to France from 1776 through 1785. Most of the members of the Constitutional Convention felt that he was completely out of touch with the American people and they suspected that his long association with the French aristocracy had turned him into an advocate for monarchy and Catholic theocracy. Comments like the above just reinforced their suspicions.

So, there you go. The quotes presented to support the argument that America was intended to be a Xian nation are not particularly good evidence. More importantly, however, is that not a single one of the quotes either mentions or alludes to Christianity. Believing in a god does not equal being a Xian. Of the four men quoted, only one of them, John Adams, declared himself to be a member of an organized religion, and that was Unitarianism, not Christianity. Furthermore, even if all four of these Founding Fathers had identified themselves as Xian, it still doesn’t mean that they wanted it connected to the government.

Bear in mind that, unlike today when the opposite seems to be true, one of the founding principles of the Baptist Church in America was the separation of church and state. “A wall of separation” was not first coined by Jefferson, as some believe, but by Baptist leader Roger Williams, and Baptists and other evangelical churches were strong campaigners for Jefferson for president after he assured them that he would keep church and state separate. So there!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spiritual But Not Religious? Danger, Will Robinson!

I just read an article on CNN’s website; “Are there dangers in being 'spiritual but not religious'?” Apparently, it is “trendy” to say that one is spiritual but not religious, which as I understand it, is an assertion that the SBNR person feels free to pick and chose from various religious traditions those things that best reflect their own beliefs, without being tied down to the dogma of a single religion. It seems to me that this is a step in the right direction, if it steers the individual away from blind religious fundamentalism and closer to rejecting religion all together, but it still sounds like most of them are inclined to imbue philosophical writing with mystical, magical powers that don’t really exist.

The article asks (but doesn’t really answer) the question “Are there dangers in this?” As a slightly outspoken atheist (and observer of more outspoken ones), I can answer; yes. That is, narrow-minded religion bullies may try to get you fired from your job, driven out of your community, or even get you killed. However, none of the above was mentioned in the article.

Not surprisingly, Jesuit Priest, James Martin, who arguably has zero experience outside of organized religion, doesn’t like it and thinks it’s driven by egotism. "Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness," says Martin. "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?" Gee, I don’t know, Father. Maybe you should get out of your church and ask some of the many, many non-religious people who are out helping the poor. Or, alternately, maybe you could talk to all the conservative Xian tea-baggers who prefer to spend their spare time advocating for the elimination of all government help for the poor. And do I have to point out all the complacency and self-centeredness that has had the Catholic church in the headlines recently?

The bottom line is that the dangers in being spiritual but not religious are that those people aren’t under the thumbs of purveyors of organized religion and could ultimately realize that the rigid, dogmatic demands of said religions are pure hogwash. Then they may point out to other people, maybe via, oh, I don’t know, a blog, that Catholic priests want to control everyone else’s bedroom although they can’t control their own, and fundy protestants want to quote-mine the Bible to legitimize the advocacy of bigotry and intolerance, and Islamic fundies just want to kill everyone who disagrees with them. Or maybe the danger is that the SBNR folks will miss out on all the fun of spending eternity with the aforementioned religious groups.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's Your Kids' Future, Stupid

I stumbled on an article the other day about the upcoming primary election here in Knox county and how some people are tying their voting decisions on the Mount Vernon City School Levy Renewal to their views on the Freshwater controversy. The article pointed to examples in, a local forum site, of people stating that they would vote against the Renewal because of all the money the school board wasted on the Freshwater Hearing.  Of course, in the real world, the MVSB was legally required to give Freshwater a hearing, and it was Freshwater and his legal team that turned it into a 2-plus year, half million dollar fiasco.

That news didn't surprise me, particularly, but some of the other reasons given for voting "no" did surprise and frustrate me.  For example, the teabagger mentality was expressed, where they viewed all taxes as a uniformly bad and wasteful use of citizens' money from which no one benefits but bureaucrats.  Other writers insisted that funding should be withheld until the school system demonstrates more fiscal responsibility (how this can be demonstrated without money isn't explained.)  Others think this is an additional tax rather than a continuation, or think this is a "bail-out", but many just think voting this down will not have any negative effect on them or their children.

I have a niece who is a primary school teacher in Reynoldsburg, OH.  She was recently talking about the effects of Reynoldsburg residents voting down school funding several times in a row.  As might be expected, there have been teacher layoffs, elimination of courses, parents having to pay for student participation in sports and other extracurricular activities, and a general deterioration of the quality of education.  But the problems haven't stopped at the school doors.

Anyone with the financial wherewithal to move to a better school district is doing so as fast as possible.  As a result, the per capita income is dropping, the city is losing money and cutting services, neighborhoods are deteriorating as lower income people, who can't afford home maintenance move in, and the crime rate has gone up.  In short, everything that the forum participants insist won't happen in Mount Vernon are already happening just down the road.

In the big picture, the American student is becoming more ignorant and less competitive compared to the students of other nations. Kids from crummy neighborhoods are less likely to do well in school, especially if its a crummy school.  If we can no longer produce college graduates with advanced degrees to keep us on top, other countries will be more than happy to fill that niche.  The best paying jobs will go to immigrants with better skills and more of the jobs will go overseas.  So let me paraphrase a line I read a few times in the forum;  If you couldn't afford to pay the taxes that keep the schools open and support the community, maybe you shouldn't have had any kids.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rebutting the Creationists at the Evolution Exhibit

Just for fun, I thought I would take the creationist criticisms from the "At evolution exhibit" article (see earlier post) and rebut them one at a time.

1. "these students ... believe God created the Earth in a week, some 6,000 years ago."

The geology of the earth clearly shows that it is billions, not thousands of years old.  Archaeological evidence shows that not only were there modern humans, but organized civilizations thriving before 4004 BCE.  The law of superposition states that older sedimentary layers underlie younger.  Fossils within the layers show that hundreds of feet of sedimentary layers containing evidence of life preceded the first evidence of humans.  If Genesis were true, all life-forms that occur in the fossil record, including humans, would be in the bottom layer.

2. "210 million years, that's arbitrary. They put that time to make up for what they don't know,"

The above quote refers to the age of the Morganucodon rat, considered our first mammalian ancestor.  This date is not in doubt.  In addition to relative dating methods like superposition (if A is deeper than B, A is older than B), and biochronology where associated fossils in a layer are compared to biological forms that are known to precede or follow them, absolute dating methods like thermoluminescence and radiometric dating may be used.  Thermoluminecence dating requires the sample to be heated until it releases electrons in the form of light that can be measured indicating the last time the sample was heated.  Radiometric dating involves the analysis of radioactive decay of elements in the sample.  Decay occurs at a steady rate converting a radioactive element always to its non-radioactive counterpart element making it easy to measure the ratio and determine age.  Some radioactive elements do not fully decay for billions of years.  By the way, the advent of mass spectrometry has made it possible in recent years to get even greater accuracy with smaller samples.

3. "There is no scientific, biological genetic way that this, this rat, could become you,"

There is no scientifically proven way other than evolution.  If this creationist student had actually read the exhibit, I suspect he would know the scientific, biological genetic way.

4. "In order to be the best creationist, you have to be the best evolutionist you can be," said Marcus Ross, who teaches paleontology and says of Adam and Eve: "I feel they were real people, they were the first people."

Evolutionist?  I do not think this word means what he thinks this word means.  As I said before, there is no geological or paleontological evidence for biblical creation.  If the evidence were there, scientists with other religious backgrounds would reach the same conclusion as creationists.  That just isn't happening.

Also, if Adam and Eve were the first people, they would be more than 10 times as old as the creationists' earth and they would have lived in Africa, not central Asia where Eden is usually placed.

5.  "Creationism and evolutionism have different ways of explaining the evidence. The creationist way recognizes the importance of Biblical records," said Ross.

OK.  The goal of the scientific method is to filter out preconceptions and biases and reach conclusions based purely on the objective evidence -- all the evidence.  The biblical records fall under the categories of preconceptions and biases.  Creationists glom onto the bits of evidence that appears to support their interpretation of  the book of Genesis and discard anything that doesn't fit.  For example, creationists frequently say there is evidence of Noah's flood because sedimentary rocks cover the earth.  However, they disregard the fact that the sedimentary layers, as they appear on Earth, could not have been deposited in a single flood event or even in only 6 to 10,000 years.  Nor can they explain why fossils separated into different, consistent layers or why a flood would kill more marine species than terrestrial species.

6. "He says carbon-dating techniques that have been used to suggest the Earth is in fact billions of years old are simply not reliable. "

First of all radiometric dating with isotopes other than carbon date the Earth to about 4.5 billion years old.  Carbon 14 dating has been the whipping boy of creationists for a long time, but is actually very reliable.  It is however good to only about 60,000 years due to its rate of radioactive decay.  Creationists have always been happy to accept C14 dates that appear to corroborate bible stories, but they insist that it doesn't work past 6000 years ago.  Coincidentally, 6000 years is about the half-life of C14, but the decay of one half-life doesn't end its usefulness.  Creationist have also claimed the C14 would be useless after 12,000 years because you'd have 6000 for a half-life  plus 6000 for the other half.  Nope.  Half of the C14 decays, then half of the remaing C14 decays, then half of that decays, etc., until the remaining sample is too small to measure; at about 60,000 years.

Creationist literature also likes to list reasons that C14 cannot be dated accurately.  A little research by the reader will make it clear that the listed problems are taken directly from scientific papers that explain the methods by which a scientist can eliminate or compensate for the problems.

By the way, the age of the earth is corroborated by astronomical observations.  Visible stars have been measured at more than 4.5 billion light-years distance.  A light-year being the distance light travels in a year, any light we see from that source has been traveling for at least 4.5 billion years.  If the stars had been created the same week as Adam and Eve, 6 to 10,000 years ago, there could be no visible stars of more than 10,000 light-years away.

7. "He doesn't reject one prominent theory that dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive asteroid that collided into Earth, but suggests the collision coincided with the Biblical flood."

Although the asteroid theory isn't universally accepted within the paleontology community, the presence of a world-wide layer rich in iridium that coincides with the end of the Cretaceous and beginning of the Tertiary Period (hence the name C-T boundry layer) is universally acknowledged.  The problem for the creationist teacher is that everyone agrees this occurred 65 million years ago and that much of the C-T layer material was deposited on dry land.  So, it's clear that the creationist doesn't really believe the asteroid theory at all; he just agrees that an asteroid hitting the earth is a good way to explain mass extinction, but, unfortunately it doesn't explain the survival of Noah.

Texas Board of Education is Preventing Education

The good news is you will probably be more learned than the next generation.  The bad news is you will probably be more learned than the next generation.  Thanks to the conservative majority on the Texas Board of Education who wish to rewrite history to reflect the way our nation should have been founded, the Texas school curriculum will no longer include some of those inconvenient facts, like those in the US Constitution, that might cause students to think that our founders hadn't intended the US to be an ultra-conservative theocracy.  They tried earlier to insert creationist dogma into the science curriculum without success, but they've achieved some of their goals by filtering out some of the extraneous and irrelevant characters like the author of the Constitution and third US president, Thomas Jefferson.  “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley.

This might not be such a big deal if this enforced ignorance were only limited to the state of Texas, but this has national implications.  Unlike most states, Texas buys the same books for the entire state public school system, making them one of the biggest school book purchasers in the US.  All the textbook publishers want to win that contract, so they write their text books to cater to the desires of the TX BOE.  For the rest of the country, the textbooks available for them to purchase will be slanted toward the bias of Texans.  Parents at the other end of the nation may not even realize that their kids' school books have had historical facts replaced with evangelical conservative dogma.

The problem is, as Steven Colbert pointed out, "facts have a liberal bias."  Ever since the conservative evangelicals have become a strong voting bloc, they have tried to insert their beliefs into the government and educational system in defiance of the Constitution and the laws.  The result is a conservative political policy that reflects the fundamentalist mindset of, "If I believe it, it's true, and no amount of evidence can change my mind."  The efforts to inject creationism and Xian ceremonies into the public schools has been part of this, as has been the need for politicians to flaunt their Xian credentials in order to get elected.

We are reaching a point in American culture where actual facts have no value.  The dogma handed down by religious leaders and the talking points presented by politicians carry more weight and verisimilitude than all the observable data and documentation that can be presented.  To a large percentage of the US population (for young earth creationism, some surveys suggest 40%), Pat Robertson, the TV evangelist, knows more about geology and biology than doctors who have spent their lives actually studying and testing the data, and Rush Limbaugh, the conservative pundit knows more about global warming than the scientists who've been measuring the increasing CO2 % in the air and the decreasing size and thickness of glaciers for decades.  A lot of people are only willing to listen to information that reinforces their preconceptions.  They rail against opposing views and may react violently to anyone demonstrating the invalidity of their beliefs.  And they refuse to learn.

That is the legacy too many people are trying to insure we pass on to our children.  Learning to think critcally and analytically is discouraged. Unquestioningly accepting the words of leaders is encouraged.  Chastising the intellectually superior while canonizing the dull witted athlete is the norm.  Then when the nation turns to crap and other nations become technologically and academically dominant everyone can blame it on the liberals with their elitist, commie, homo, atheist agenda, oh, and the need for more religious zeal.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An 18 Year Old High-Schooler is Destroying America, Apparently

 18 year old Constance McMillen was the subject of an AP article today because she requested that she and her gay girlfriend, another student in the same school, be allowed to attend the prom as a couple.  The school, in Jackson, MS has a rule that prom couples must be a boy and a girl.  When McMillen's request was denied, she sued, with the backing of the ACLU.  The school's response was to cancel the prom for everyone rather than allow two girls to dance together.  Of course everyone knows why the prom was canceled so this girl is likely to be the target of anger from her fellow students.

People in Mississippi have demonstrated their bigotry and willingness to deny people their civil rights many times before, so this event isn't surprising, but the bigots always end up losing in court.  So, when will experience teach them that people they dislike have just as many rights as those they like?

The prejudice against homosexuals is completely irrational, any way.  No one just decides one day that they would like to be shunned, avoided, and have the crap beaten out of them by fellow students, co-workers and neighbors just because it might be fun to share a bed with someone of the same sex.  The only reason the anti-gay people can present to rationalize their hatred is their religious beliefs supported by cherry-picked lines from their favorite book.

Religious beliefs, however, are not civil law.  If these people want to deny homosexuals access to their religious ceremonies, that's OK.  If persons choose not to act on their own homosexual urges, because their religion doesn't allow it, that's fine too.  But, when one leaves the religious environment and enters the secular, as, for instance, a public school, civil law applies and insisting that persons outside of the religious community must abide by rules that apply only within the religious community, is not only ridiculous, it's illegal.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Creationists Go to Smithsonian and Learn Nothing

I just read a truly awful article in the Yahoo News entitled; "At evolution exhibit, creationists are unswayed". The article wasn't awful because creationists were unswayed, that's to be expected. It was awful because the author, Virginie Montet, was incredibly ignorant about evolution and wrote as if evolution and creationism were equally scientifically valid.

The article is about a group of biology students and instructors from Liberty University in Tenn. who traveled to the (presumably Smithsonian) Natural History Museum in Wash DC to view an exhibit on evolution and came away from it thinking that the national museum of the United States (and all other legitimate natural history museums in the world) were wrong because they differed with the teachings of a podunk fundy xian school in Tennessee. The creationists quoted in the article regurgitated the usual ID claptrap, including the odious, misleading assertion that they use the same evidence to reach different conclusions, to support their views.

The folks from Liberty U can't help the way they are. The instructors are paid to deliver fundamentalist dogma and students, or their parents, choose the school specifically because they are guaranteed to be insulated from all those inconvenient facts that might tempt them to choose reality over religion. I don't, however, understand how they can ever learn any science. Science is about assessing ALL the available evidence to reach the best conclusion. These guys treat scientific evidence like the bible in that they think they can pull a statement or 2 out of context and use it to support their position and disregard everything else. If the students don't understand the most fundamental thing about scientific method, they can't possibly be any better at physics and chemistry than they are at biology and geology, yet at least one of these kids is planning to be a doctor (stay the hell away from my pancreas).

As I say, the students can't help it, as for the writer of the article, getting the facts straight is only her job! She refers to creationism as a theory, as if it had the same scientific weight as the theory of evolution. There should be a rule that no person can write about evolution until they can recite the definition of "scientific theory".

The writer goes on to say "But Darwin's explanation for why giraffes have long necks -- that they evolved over time so they could reach higher foliage -- ...failed to sway them." This is not Darwin's explanation for anything, nor does it represent any aspect of Darwinian evolution. This is the most commonly used example of Lamarck's "inheritance of aquired characteristics" where Lamarck got evolution wrong; animals don't evolve characteristics to fulfill a desire for something. Darwin's explanation would be more like -- a random genetic mutation caused part of a proto-giraffe population to have a longer neck. The longer necks allowed the animals to exploit a niche, higher foliage, where there was less competition and, as a result, reproduce so the long-neck-mutated-gene was carried into later generations -- or something like that.

I have mixed emotions about other parts of the article. Virginie Montet writes for AFP, a world news service based in France, so people all over the world will read about these creationist collegiates, that 44 to 46% of Americans believe the world is 6 to 10,000 years old, and that the Smithsonian Institute is apparently so lame that it can't present enough evidence to change the minds of the ignorant.

At the end of article Marcus Ross, who teaches at Liberty U, was quoted as saying, "The attitude is when you are a creationist you are ignorant of the facts." That's not quite true for me. I believe they are willfully ignorant; that is, they actively avoid and disregard any facts that don't fit their preconceptions, rather that analyzing all available data before reaching a conclusion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Health Care, Tea Bags and Non Sequiturs


I've been listening to some of the discussion about the health care summit that will happen in Washington tomorrow and frankly don't have high hopes. Legislators from both sides of the aisle insist that they represent the views of their constituents; the Dems insisting the health care is wanted, while the GOP insists that their constituents oppose the health care legislation. Both sides probably speak at least partial truth, but little has been said about how the voters have arrived at the views they currently hold.

It's little wonder that people are confused about health care legislation, with people on both sides trying to spin the information to make their assertions sound better. And with thousands of pages of legislation, and proposals it's inevitable that some things will be unintentionally misinterpreted. The most reprehensible activity has been from people who intentionally lied to misrepresent the facts, creating fear and mistrust where no real problems existed.

While supporters of the Democrats have done some of this, most of the blame lays at the door of the Republican supporters. Those of us whose memory extends back more than a year may remember that Republicans boasted that they would prevent any health care bills from passing just so they could call the Obama Administration ineffective and some of them stated before anything was even written that, no matter what the legislation said, they would characterize it as a government take-over of health care. They've been committing premeditated obfuscation.

Death committees, mandatory abortions, giant bureaucracies, elimination of Medicare and the like became part of the mythology spread by pundits and tea parties, until large numbers of people, including some who would benefit most from the legislation, became convinced that the opposite was true. Tea party organizers, some of them white supremacists or militant theocracy advocates, were far more interested in sewing distrust and discontent with the Obama Administration than in advocating for the benefit of anyone.

The fact is, there are tens of millions of Americans without health insurance or who have to buy it for themselves (according to an AP article, 50 million uninsured and 27 million self-insured) and they're not all deadbeats or illegal aliens. Many are self-employed or working in jobs like construction where benefits are rarely provided. Others are among the many previously financially secure people who have lost their jobs as a result of the recession. Some of them are convinced that as bad as their situation is, they would be even worse if health care legislation passed.

The time has come for those of us with health insurance to let our personal desires take a back seat and start making the health care stuff be about helping those who are in a bad situation right now. We shouldn't let people who would rather be working and children who have no control of their situation die, just because it might also benefit a welfare queen, or because it might increase the popularity of a politician you dislike.

A Thought on a Gambier Bomb Scare

There was a bomb threat hoax at the Wiggin Street Elementary School in Gambier, OH on Monday according to the Mount Vernon News. Gambier, home of Kenyon College, is just east of Mount Vernon and tends to represent a more rational, secular view of mid-Ohio. That being the case, I cannot help wondering how long it will be before the MV evangelicals blame the bomb threat on secular humanism, the teaching of evolution, bigotry against Xians and the impending downfall of American morality. It just seems unlikely that they would want to miss the opportunity. I almost forgot; they'll probably blame the Obama Administration, too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On Valentine's Day

OK, today is Valentine's Day but my wife is back in Iowa providing aid and comfort to her family as her dad's Alzheimer's and general health get worse. I've never been good about getting romantic, but short of being castrated by ugly lesbians, I can't think of a much less Valentine-ish Valentine's Day, except maybe the first one.

I went looking for information about ol' St. V. but nobody seems to know much about him except that he was a martyr and his day doesn't seem to originally have had much to do with romantic love. Being killed while no one associates you with romance is probably one of the all time most crappy Valentine's Days. Some say that romance was only connected to the day after Geoffry Chaucer wrote something about it, which he probably did to hit on some comely wench.

Be that as it may, I sent my wife a (free) e-card to mark the day. The e-card wasn't very memorable because the selection is always pretty lame (I think I chose it because it had a yak), but at least it didn't cost anything. I mean, I don't mind telling my wife I love her, but give me a break, I'm not going to waste my beer money.

Actually, I'm planning to make her a gift using my wood turning and leather crafting skills. Inspired by all the pajama-gram ads, I'm thinking of knotty pine and saddle leather lingerie with rivets and splinters in all the right places.

Anyway, happy Valentine's Day to those who wish to celebrate it, happy Anti- Valentine's day to those who prefer to celebrate that, and happy dividends to those who have stock in a greeting card company.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Case of the Black Bag; A Freshwater Boys Mystery

The Freshwater fiasco has gotten even weirder with the Freshwater team's acquisition of new evidence via a scenario that sounds like it's straight from a bad detective novel; a really, really bad detective novel. The Mount Vernon News had and article, as did Dick Hoppe in Panda's Thumb (here and here) detailing a story of an anonymous voice mail that tipped Freshwater to a black bag full of evidence clandestinely removed from the school to help Freshwater's case. Uh huh.

Nothing in the whole story makes any sense to me. The items in the bag don't sound like anything that would blow this case wide open, as they say, and if the stack of papers and whistles in the bag were that important, why would the anonymous benefactor wait until the eleventh hour before passing the stuff on. Then there's that whole bit about Freshwater's Pastor Matolyak taking an armed escort while retrieving the bag, in case it was some kind of a trap.

Perhaps it makes some sense viewed through the eyes Freshwater's supporters. As I have mentioned before, some of them seem to view anyone who disagrees with them as the enemy. It's not that great a leap for them to assume that Freshwater's opponents reciprocally view the supporters as enemies. There's no evidence to support this, but one shouldn't let that stand in the way of a strong opinion. If friends of Freshwater thought that they were evading malicious enemies, they might act in the manner described.

As for the stack of papers, whistles and stopwatch contained in the black bag, if they were found at the school, it was probably a case of misplaced boxes rather than anything sinister. Some friend of Freshwater may have stumbled on the items and returned them to Freshwater anonymously because the friend didn't get permission to remove items from the school. The Board has nothing to gain by withholding evidence; that could only lead to more delays and lawsuits.

Another possibility is that the contents of the bag had been in the possession of Freshwater all along, as has been asserted by the board's attorney. If Freshwater removed these items from school, he may have eventually realized their discovery could lead to him being charged with withholding evidence. The anonymous friend would be an invention to explain how the items ended up in Freshwater's hands at this late date.

We may never know the whole truth about the source of the mysterious evidence, but, since a large part of the defense strategy has been to suggest that items in evidence have been doctored or forged, the onus is on them to demonstrate the veracity of their story and to demonstrate that the contents of the bag wasn't tempered with during the time they admit holding and examining it prior to turning it over to the police.

Ultimately, I can't imagine anything the Freshwater team could have acquired that could exonerate John Freshwater. No matter what anyone has to say about a bible, an injured student or evolution vs. intelligent design, what this hearing is actually about is whether or not the school board has just cause to fire John Freshwater. The evidence and testimony, including some very damaging testimony from the defense's own witnesses, seem to indicate that there were valid reasons for the firing.

The new evidence, whether real or concocted, is likely to merely prolong and increase the cost of the hearing and cause greater fiscal damage to the school district. I hope those involved feel it was worth it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Scientology Is Going Up-Scale in Columbus

The Columbus Dispatch had an article last Friday about the church of Scientology purchasing the old Time-Warner building on Dublin Rd to use as their new "Ideal Church of Scientology." This places them conveniently near the up-scale neighborhoods of Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington whose residents can, presumably, afford the monetary demands of participation in Scientology. I don't have any problem with this as long as they don't teach it in public schools. They can follow the teachings of a sci-fi author and ignore the fact that "fi" is short for fiction if they want.

What cracked me up was the quote from Scientology spokesperson, Frank Dean. He stated that the new church would be "an island of sanity in Columbus." Sanity? I do not think that word means what he thinks that word means. As I understand it, scientologists oppose main stream psychology and psychiatric medications. Since their religion (pretty much by the definition of religion) isn't rational, and they steer their followers away from the only proven treatments for insanity, could he have meant to say "an island FROM sanity in Columbus"?

They spent $3.2 million purchasing the property and estimate the cost of renovation at $3.5 to 4 million, but they have only raised $500,000 so far. They obviously need to sell a lot more Dianetics books, which makes me wonder what would be the effect on their recruitment if they filed for bankruptcy.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pray or Shut Up

Here's a little followup to the last post about a xian prayer gathering to support the police and firefighters. I also expressed my opinion on the Columbus Dispatch website that the event should have been more inclusive. Although I didn't indicate my beliefs other than to say I was a non-xian, a response to my comment included this little gem: "Keep your godless garbage out of this forum, you have other vents for your thoughts, go find one."

It's funny how often I get responses like this when I suggest that people other than conservatives and/or xians have a right to exist . Maybe it's my writing style that some people find irritating. Actually, as I think about it, although I've frequently been disagreed with in forums (no, really), conservative xians are the only ones who have actually told me to shut up and get off the forum.

I just now recalled when someone sent me an email that advocated supporting George W. Bush and fundy religion. I think I responded, and I'm paraphrasing here, "I'd rather eat vulture crap with broken glass." He responded by saying "That's just your opinion and it's not welcome here." I guess he should have sent a selection of acceptable responses with the email.

I think I may have mentioned before that I've noticed some people seem to feel that only people that agree with their beliefs and opinions should have a right to exist. They're not all necessarily conservative xians but they're all fundamentalists in the sense that there are things they believe wholeheartedly in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary and their first response to any suggestion they might be wrong is rage. I kinda like getting them to tell me to shut up, but I almost never do.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Bless the Badge"; Stopping Crime for Xians Only

The Columbus Dispatch had an article today entitled, "Crime Stoppers organizes 'Bless the Badge' prayer service," where three local pastors led about 75 in prayers to bless local law enforcement officers and firefighters. The event was scheduled to fall on the anniversary of the death of Columbus Police Officer Bryan Hurst so that he might be memorialized at the same time.

I'm all in favor of doing everything possible to support law enforcement and firefighters, but I don't see the point of this prayer service at all. To me, the event seems like about 75 people gathered in a room to talk to themselves about police and firefighters. Except to make those gathered feel good and the subsequent article which lets law and fire persons know that some people are thinking nice things about them, I don't see that the service has any effect on anything at all. I mean, this gathering doesn't raise any money, or organize a neighborhood watch, or provide any protection from harm (since god always answers prayers, but sometimes he answers "no"), so the whole event, pretty much, is just a Christian publicity stunt.

My next question is; why is Crime Stoppers organizing a Christian event? I can find nothing on their website that indicates that the organization has a religious affiliation or sponsorship, so why are they organizing an event that stops no crimes and alienates everyone in the community that is a non-christian? Has no one ever called in a tip to inform them that other religions and beliefs exist in Ohio or are they like the conservative evangelicals who believe all non-christians are the evil enemy?

A lot of us infidels would like to be involved in a gathering that showed support for these brave public servants and we'd like to be able to honor our fallen heroes, but we don't think we should have to have a gathering separate from the Xians and we don't think our participation should be contingent on our willingness to engage in the religious ceremonies of a belief system other than our own. Crime Stoppers is supposed to be about the whole community and they might want to start be ending their own participation in the crime of religious bigotry.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is Freshwater Losing Supporters?

I've kinda been hanging back and watching the reactions in the news and blogs to the most recent days of the John Freshwater hearing. Of the news coverage, the articles in the Mount Vernon News by Pamela Schehl provide the most detailed information and are available here and here, although the Columbus Dispatch articles by Dean Narciso, here and here, are also quite informative. Most importantly, now that the MVSB's lawyer is questioning Freshwater directly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Freshwater's testimony has major inconsistencies and that he is being very evasive about answering the questions.

Comments to the articles reflect that an increasing number of people have determined that Freshwater's pants are on fire. Comments for previous articles consisted of little more than proponents and opponents hurling insults at each other, but, with these latest articles, which quote the actual testimony, a larger number of self-identified Christians are reaching the conclusion that A) Freshwater is guilty, and B) that he is not a good Christian either. It's refreshing to see comments from Xians who, at least in this case, say that lying for god is as immoral as other lies.

A lot of blogs with an anti-creationist leaning have recently discovered the hearing and are reporting on it, although in some cases, they seem to be relying on 1 1/2 year old information. What the heck. At least they got here in time catch the finale.

The blogs I was trying to watch most closely are the ones that support Freshwater. Some of these were actually set up specifically to follow the hearing and most indicate support of teaching creationism in school as well as most of the other conservative Xian crackpottery. I was anxious to see how the blogs would deal with Freshwater's testimony a few weeks ago when he denied ever teaching creationism in his science classes and insisted that he was opposed to the teaching of creationism. The bloggers dealt with it as they would most scientific evidence; they ignored it.

The pro-Freshwater bloggers (does that make me a pro-saltwater blogger?) prefer to quote Freshwater's testimony where he insists he never did anything wrong and to promote the idea that he was the innocent victim of an evil conspiracy. I thought the description on the header of pretty well summarized the viewpoint of a lot of these supporters; " America is in the midst of a raging cultural and spiritual war. Forces of Good, Light, Conservatism and a Judeo-Christian Worldview daily battle the forces of Evil, Darkness, Socialism and False Religions and Philosophies. A Good Choice is on the frontlines exposing evil across America’s political and social spectrum." Um, OK, that sure sounds like a fair and balanced perspective to me. Sign me up in the evil column, please.

In general, it would seem that more and more people are reaching the conclusion that the Mount Vernon School Board had valid reasons for firing John Freshwater and that it was always his plan to lie his ass off if it was necessary in order to win. I can't help wondering what will happen as more Mount Vernon residents realise that Freshwater knew he was guilty of at least some of the reasons for his firing and yet chose to insist on a hearing that has cost the taxpayers half-a-million dollars so far, just so he could gamble that he could outsmart the school board. At least his closed-minded agree-with-me-or-die friends will stand by him.