Archive for the ‘Idiocracy’ Category

Just the Facts About Vaccination

February 17, 2015

I read this open letter on the rejection of the proven, life saving technologies vaccination and genetically modified organisms.

Dear Every American Who Doesn’t Believe in Science:

I know you are smart.  I know you care about your kids, your family, your pets.  I know you are a basically decent human being who wants to do right and contribute to society.  And because I know these things, I’m going to try very hard to understand why you refuse to believe in scientific fact, rather than berate you and call you names.

The funny thing is, I actually think I’m reasonably good at seeing the other side of any issue.   There are a few issues where I struggle, but even then, if I’m honest with myself, I can intellectually understand the other side of the issue and why my friend or colleague has positioned himself on that side.

Regarding immunizations and genetically modified organisms, I can’t.

Yes, I view these two issues – though they are definitely in different industries – as intertwined.  Why?  Because the people who are anti either of them have a blatant disregard for science and I just don’t understand that.

Scientific consensus on both of these issues is that both are safe.  Immunizations are safe for the vast majority of people.  GMOs are safe for everyone.

Do you understand what scientific consensus is, my friend?  That means that most of the scientists (maybe even those who don’t usually agree) believe the safety of GMOs and immunizations to be fact.  It’s beyond dispute.  The data has proven safety beyond a shadow of a doubt so that scientists no longer squabble over this issue.

I appreciate what this writer is trying to do and agree with her positions, yet I cannot help but consider that her arguments are somewhat flawed, or perhaps insufficient is a better way to put it. Basically, her argument is that Science has decreed that vaccines and GMO’s are safe because there is a consensus and all the scientists say they are safe. In my view, this is a misunderstanding of what science really is and how it should work.

Science is not a body of lore handed down on stone tablets at Mount Sinai by God or some famous scientist. Science is a method of inquiry used to learn facts about the natural world. It does matter what Einstein or Newton or some other famous scientist says, no matter how great their contributions to science. They can be wrong. It does not matter what the consensus is. The consensus could be mistaken. Not so very long ago, the scientific consensus was that disease was caused by imbalances of bodily humors and bleeding was the most effective treatment. The only thing that matters, or should matter in science is the observations that are made and the logical inductions that are made from those observations Ideally, scientist should be interested in “just the facts”. I think the best arguments on any subject are those based on just the facts.

So, what are the facts about vaccination. Before the widespread introduction of vaccination, people fell sick and even died from a variety of infectious, contagious diseases’ smallpox, measles, whooping cough diphtheria, to name just the ones that spring immediately to mind. These diseases have been virtually wiped out since vaccines for them have been developed. Smallpox, the deadly disease that people feared, is now extinct. Only in backward regions, filled with ignorant and superstitious people, such as the darkest regions of California do these diseases continue to plague humanity.

There have been no credible studies linking vaccination with autism or any other chronic illness. The one study that did propose such a link has been discredited and retracted. This does not mean that there isn’t such a link.There could well be one that has not yet been discovered. But, consider the fact that millions of children have been vaccinated with no ill effects. There may be some danger in being vaccinated, nothing in this world is completely safe, but the dangers associated with not being vaccinated are far greater and more certain. Any rational consideration of the risks and benefits of vaccination must come to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you do not get your children immunized, you are putting them at risk of catching  preventable diseases that could cause permanent damage to their health, or even death. Those are just the facts.

 

 

The Earl of Clarendon

February 15, 2015

I have noticed that US history textbooks tend not to spend a lot of time on the Colonial Period. Generally, there is a chapter on Columbus and the Spanish Conquistadores, followed by a chapter on Jamestown and the Pilgrims. By the third or fourth chapter, they are at the Boston Tea Party and the Revolution, effectively skipping over the hundred and seventy or so years of the English colonies in North America. At least that was the situation when I was in school. Today, I suppose the textbooks teach about the evil whites who oppressed and exterminated the innocent Native Americans who lived in harmony with the Earth and each other.

This habit of skipping over so much of the Colonial Period is unfortunate, I think, since quite a lot happened during that time. The almost two centuries before Independence was the time in which the English colonists became Americans and learned the arts of self-government that served them so well during and after the Revolution. The colonists were forced to learn to govern themselves because England mostly neglected its North America colonies until the French and Indian War. Unlike the Spanish and the French, the English government did not exert much control over the internal affairs of its colonies and didn’t limit colonisation to approved populations. The English thought of their colonies as a source of resources, a place for adventurers to get rich and a dumping ground for undesirables. The royal governors who were appointed tended not to be the best and brightest of the English aristocracy.

The colony of New York seemed to have the worst luck with its governors. Probably the worst of the lot was Edward Hyde, the Third Earl of Clarendon. Hyde was reputed to be corrupt, incompetent, dissolute and a cross dresser. Hyde was appointed to be the Royal Governor of the colonies of New York and New Jersey by Queen Anne from 1701 to 1708. He was not a popular governor. According to some accounts, Hyde took bribes and stole from the public treasury, and he dressed in women’s clothes.

There are several stories about Hyde’s cross dressing. According to one, a constable noticed a woman loitering in one of the seediest parts of New York and arrested her on suspicion of being a prostitute only to discover he had arrested the governor. Another story, has Hyde addressing the New York Assembly in 1702 in a gown reminiscent of the style Queen Anne preferred. When questioned about his choice of attire, he replied that in his capacity as Royal Governor he represented the Queen, a woman, and so he ought to represent her as faithfully as possible. When his wife died in 1707, Hyde is said to have attended her funeral dressed as a woman. There is even a portrait purported to be of the the governor in drag.

Lord_Cornbury

There is, of course, some question over whether this is really a portrait of Hyde. One might think that since any politician wouldn’t allow himself in our more liberated times to be photographed in drag, surely no one in the more restrictive eighteenth century would sit in front of a painter to have his portrait done while wearing a dress.

Then again-

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

Actually, the idea that our times are more sexually liberated while all past eras were prudish and puritanical is not really true. The truth is that  periods of relatively liberal sexual mores alternate with more restrained times. The eighteenth century happened to be one of the more libertine centuries, at least among the aristocracy. The more prudish Victorian nineteenth century was a reaction against the looser morals of the previous century, just as much of the twentieth century has been a reaction against the Victorians. In fact, there was even a lively gay subculture in London and perhaps other large cities of Britain, complete with gay bars, which they called “molly houses” In eighteenth century slang, a “molly” was an effeminate, perhaps homosexual, man and a molly house was where they could congregate for companionship and sex with their more masculine lovers. They would dress as women and take on feminine identities. They even held mock marriages just as homosexuals today have mock marriages. These marriages were, of course, not recognized by the state as such mock marriage often are today. In that respect, the people of the eighteenth century were saner and had a better grip on reality. You must not think that homosexuality, or cross-dressing, was in any sense tolerated, though. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death. Most of what historians know about the molly houses is from court documents of trials persons captured in raids and the testimony of undercover police.

So, was Edward Hyde a molly? Did he frequent the colonial equivalent of a molly house, if any existed? Probably not. There is no reason to believe that he was a homosexual, and really no reason to believe the stories of his cross dressing. Upon closer investigation, the stories seem to have originated from his political enemies, of which he had made many, and to have dated some time after his tenure as governor. They always seem to have been something someone else had seen or heard about the governor. Even the supposed portrait of the governor is more likely to have one a painting of a woman with masculine features. The label on the frame of the portrait may only date to 1867. Even if Hyde did wear women’s clothing, he was probably heterosexual. Contrary to what is still often believed, most cross dressers are straight, and Hyde seems to have been genuinely fond of his wife. The stories of his corruption may also have been exaggerated by his enemies.

Edward Hyde was recalled to England in 1708 and promptly put into debtor’s prison, until his father died the following year and he inherited the title and properties of the Earl of Clarendon. He died in obscurity in 1723 and since his son had already died, the title passed to a cousin, Henry Hyde, Fourth Earl of Clarendon. The title died with his son, Henry Hyde, who died childless in 1753, but it was revived in 1776 with a son of a daughter of the Fourth Earl. Edward Hyde’s descendants include the present Earl of Clarendon, Sarah, Duchess of York, and the actor Cary Elwes. Edward Hyde himself is only remembered for his alleged cross dressing, perhaps not the legacy he might have wanted, but how many colonial Royal Governors are remembered at all?

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

February 3, 2015

Growing up, you might have heard your mother or father saying something like that when you wanted some expensive toy. Maybe you listened to them and learned something about where money does come from. The progressives who are pushing for minimum wage increases do not seem to have listened to their parents. At least it doesn’t seem to occur to them that if the government creates an increase in the cost of business, such as raising taxes or requiring higher wages, the money to pay for the increased costs has to come from somewhere. Either a business must pass on the increased cost to its customers by increasing prices, adjust its practices to reduce impact of the higher costs, perhaps by employing fewer workers, or accept a reduction in profits. For many of the unthinking, the last option is the most desirable, since it is all too commonly believed that profits are somehow selfish and evil. They do not realize that a business’s profit is what the owners of that business get to meet their own expenses and is the repayment for the expenses and risks of starting and running the business. This is especially true for the small business person who is the sole owner of his business, but it is also true for the stock holders of a major corporation. It a business cannot make a profit it must eventually cease to operate and close its doors. It really doesn’t require a PhD in economics or business administration to understand all of this, only the ability to think things through, an ability sadly lacking in all too many. Consider this example, brought by ABC News, of a bookstore in San Francisco, closing due to an increase in the city’s minimum wage.

Independent bookstores have faced tough times for quite a while. In San Francisco, neighborhood businesses have been passionately protected, so it’s hard to believe that an initiative passed by voters to raise the minimum wage is driving a Mission District bookstore out of business.

San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $11.05 an hour. By July of 2018, the minimum wage in San Francisco will be $15 an hour. That increase is forcing Borderlands Bookstore to write its last chapter now.

When actor Scott Cox took a job at Borderlands Books he didn’t do it for the money.

“I’ve been a longtime customer of the store,” he said. “I love the people, I love the books.”

The work let him squeak by while nourishing his passion for sci-fi and fantasy.

“Everyone who works here does this because they love books, they love stories, and they love being booksellers,” said book store owner Alan Beatts.

That’s why store owner Beatts found it so tough to post a sign in the front window that the store is closing. “We’re going to be closing by the end of March,” he said.

Borderlands was turning a small profit, about $3,000 last year. Then voters approved a hike in the minimum wage, a gradual rise from $10.75 up to $15 an hour.

“And by 2018 we’ll be losing about $25,000 a year,” he said.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. Alan Beatts cannot simply go to his money tree and shake off a few extra bills. He must come up with the money to pay the higher wages somehow. He cannot increase his prices. Small, independent book stores have long been squeezed by large chains such as Barnes & Nobles who are now being squeezed by Amazon, so any increase in prices will simply drive customers away. I doubt it his bookstore is so overstaffed that he can afford to let many employees go. He cannot continue to run his bookstore if it loses money, so the bookstore must close.

This doesn't really exist.

This doesn’t really exist.

The next part of this article is priceless.

It’s an unexpected plot twist for loyal customers.

“You know, I voted for the measure as well, the minimum wage measure,” customer Edward Vallecillo said. “It’s not something that I thought would affect certain specific small businesses. I feel sad.”

I would say that Mr. Vallecillo wasn’t thinking at all, but then neither were the people in San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors when they decided to let people vote on increasing the minimum wage.

Though it’s caught a lot of people off guard, one group that wasn’t completely surprised was the Board of Supervisors. In fact, they say they debated this very topic before sending the minimum wage to the voters.

“I know that bookstores are in a tough position, and this did come up in the discussions on minimum wage,” San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener said.

Wiener knows a lot of merchants will pass the wage increases on to their customers, but not bookstores.

“I can’t increase the prices of my products because books, unlike many other things, have a price printed on them,”

Wiener says it’s the will of the voters. Seventy-seven percent of them voted for this latest wage hike.

“Borderlands Books is an phenomenal bookstore, I was just in it yesterday,” Wiener said. “I hope they don’t close. It’s an amazing resource.”

But Alan Beatts said he can’t see a way to avoid it.

Mr. Wiener should have thought of that before, unless they repeal the increase in the minimum wage, Borderlands Books will have to close. The voters voted for the increase. Now, they will have to deal with the consequences.

Business owners don't really have money bins.

Business owners don’t really have money bins.

 

Blue on Blue

February 1, 2015

MoveOn.org is not too fond of Rahm Emmanuel.

Dear MoveOn member,

This month in Chicago, there’s a battle going on over the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel perfectly embodies the pro-Wall Street corporatist wing of the Democratic Party. In the 1990s, he fought against labor and environmental groups while pushing NAFTA through Congress.1 In the 2000s at the DCCC, he was known for recruiting conservative Democrats and building the conservative “Blue Dog” caucus.2

And in 2009, when MoveOn members held those same conservative Democrats accountable for blocking a public option in health care reform, Emanuel called us “f***ing retarded.”3

When he was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011, his first actions were to cut vital public services across the city, closing dozens of mental health clinics and provoking the first teachers’ strike in decades. He then proceeded to close 50 public schools in low-income communities, while championing private schools in wealthy neighborhoods and diverting tax dollars and public resources to favored corporations.4

In just four weeks, Mayor Emanuel will need to answer to Chicago voters for his right-wing policies. Polling has consistently shown him to be in serious trouble, and MoveOn members in Chicago have just voted overwhelmingly to endorse his progressive opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García.

Defeating Mayor Emanuel will not only improve the lives of millions of people in our nation’s third largest city, it will also send shockwaves through the national political establishment.

Can you chip in $3 today to MoveOn’s first endorsement of 2015—Jesús “Chuy” García?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

The key to defeating Mayor Emanuel will be to unite and mobilize all of Chicago’s diverse communities in a massive get-out-the-vote effort. That’s why MoveOn has hired a full-time local organizer to mobilize the 75,000 MoveOn members in Chicago and help send Mayor Emanuel packing.

It’s also why we’re asking MoveOn members across the country to chip in today. Every dollar we raise will help the García campaign pay for signs, literature, hand warmers, and everything else the thousands of grassroots volunteers will need to get out the vote in their neighborhoods.

With just a few weeks to go until the February 24 election, we have a huge opportunity to hand “Mayor 1%” an embarrassing defeat. 

Because so few other major progressive races are happening right now, progressives can focus our resources and make a massive impact on the critical first major election of 2015.

Will you chip in $3 to Jesús “Chuy” García’s grassroots campaign today?

Yes, I’ll chip in to defeat Mayor Rahm Emanuel and elect a progressive champion.

Thanks for all you do.

–Matt, Milan, Joan, Ilya, and the rest of the team

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about the fight between Tea Party extremists and the Republican establishment, but I wonder if the divide between the more pragmatic Democrats and people like MoveOn.org isn’t much greater. I do not know much about Chicago politics and the Wikipedia article on Rahm Emanuel is not particularly enlightening about his performance as Mayor of Chicago. He was President Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2009 to 2010, so he could hardly be described as a conservative. He does seem to have a knack for making enemies, especially with people who hold that defending progressive principles is more important than real accomplishments in enacting policies. There is this gem in the article.

He has a reputation for his no-holds-barred negotiation style that involves “his share of shouting and cursing”. Ezekiel Emanuel has written, “The impatient, pushy Emanuel style is so well known that during a recent job interview I was asked, point-blank, whether I had the level-headed temperament the position required….. [A]s obvious to our flaws are to others, it’s difficult to recognize them in ourselves.”[5] At a closed-door meeting in the White House with liberal activists, Emanuel called them “fucking retarded” for planning to run TV ads attacking conservative Democrats who didn’t support Obama’s health-care overhaul. In February 2010, Emanuel apologized to organizations for the mentally handicapped for using the word “retarded.” He expressed his regret toTim Shriver, the chief executive of the Special Olympics after the remark was reported in an article by The Wall Street Journal about growing liberal angst at Emanuel. The apology came as former Alaska Governor and conservative activist Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page, called on President Obama to fire Emanuel.

In other words, he is kind of a jerk. Still, his description of the activists were were planning to oppose Obama’s healthcare policies on the grounds that weren’t liberal enough is essentially correct. I wouldn’t use quite the same terminology as Emanuel did, but those people, and moveon.org do not seem to be able to deal with political realities. Emanuel seems to have governed Chicago pragmatically with some idea of controlling municipal spending. Moveon.org would prefer a solid progressive who won’t win and would run the city into the ground. And they think that Tea Partiers are unrealistic extremists.

Crossing the Line

January 23, 2015

DeWayne Wickham believes that the French magazine Charlie Hebdo has gone too far. They have crossed the line between free speech and toxic talk and thus is responsible for much of the violence committed by Muslims in France and around the world. He writes in USA Today;

Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.

In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.

Charlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of the prophet Mohammed — a repeat of the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office — predictably has given rise to widespread violence in nations with large Muslim populations. Its irreverence of Mohammed once moved the French tabloid to portray him naked in a pornographic pose. In another caricature, it showed Mohammed being beheaded by a member of the Islamic State.

While free speech is one of democracy’s most important pillars, it has its limits. H.L. Mencken, the fabled columnist who described himself as “an extreme libertarian,” said that he believed in free speech“up to the last limits of the endurable.”

French President Francois Hollande, apparently, disagrees. He defendsCharlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of Mohammed by saying that protesters in other countries don’t understand France’s embrace of free speech.

But even as Hollande defends Charlie Hebdo‘s right to publish images of Mohammed that many Muslims consider sacrilegious and hateful, his government has imprisoned dozens of people who have condemned the magazine with talk the French won’t tolerate. Those arrested are accused of speaking in support of the attack on the magazine, and a separate assault on a kosher store in Paris by a lone Muslim gunman with links to the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo.

While the Obama administration condemned these deadly attacks, it probably wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, then-press secretary Jay Carney questioned the judgment ofCharlie Hebdo‘s editors when they published an offensive depiction of Mohammed. That came a year after the newspaper’s office was firebombed when it tauntingly named Mohammed its guest editor. That portrayal came with a caption that read: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”

 

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

If Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.

The principle that Mr. Wickham seems to be enunciating seems to be that freedom of speech is all very well unless someone is upset by what is being spoken or written, in which case, that speech should be suppressed. I wonder if he has really thought through the implications of this principle. If the idea that only speech that offends no one should be permitted is applied even-handedly, than only the blandest sort of platitudes can be allowed, given that there are so many people offended by seemingly innocent expressions. Of course, this principle of forbidding “toxic talk” cannot be even-handedly applied even with the best efforts. In practice, it will be those quick to use force, either violent or otherwise whose feelings will be spared. A pornographic portrayal of Jesus or Buddha is permitted. Christians and Buddhists do not usually respond to insults with bombs or guns. A pornographic portrayal of Mohammed is forbidden. Muslims often respond to insults with murderous rage.

Mr. Wickham justifies this sort of distinction by invoking the example of a man crying fire in a crowded theater. The editors of Charlie Hebdo knew that their cartoons would provoke violence that would create a clear and present danger to the peace. Therefore, their fighting words should be prohibited. He further accuses the French authorities of hypocrisy in defended Charlie Hebdo’s free speech rights while denying the rights of those who have called for violence against the magazine. I do not think that DeWayne Wickham really understands the meaning of the phrase inciting to violence nor does he appear to make a distinction between speech that someone may find offensive and speech that calls for violence against a person perceived to be causing offense. The former must be permitted or there is no freedom of speech. The latter must be forbidden or the violent will deny freedom of speech.

I will try to explain what I mean. If I am addressing a rally of the Ku Klux Klan and I state that everyone in the audience should go out and kill an African-American ( I know what word they would really use, but nevermind.) that would clearly be an incitement to violence. If someone actually did kill someone afterwards, I might be considered legally responsible. I would certainly be morally responsible. Clearly, such speech ought not to be allowed. If, on the other hand, I made the statement that African-Americans were all stupid, that would not be an incitement to violence, even if such a statement would certainly be offensive to an African-American reporter covering the rally. If that reporter jumped up onto the podium and punched me in the face, he would be arrested and charged with assault. The fact that he found my speech offensive would not be considered justification for his action, although a jury might not convict him. The Black reporter would be responsible for his action, not me. The statement that African-Americans are all stupid is protected speech, even if the statement is offensive and even hateful.

In like fashion, Charlie Hebdo is not responsible for the actions of Muslims who find its cartoons offensive. They do not have to read the magazine. They can publish their own magazine mocking the sort of people the cartoonists and editors are likely to be. To blame Charlie Hebdo for their actions is really rather insulting since it implies that those people are savages who cannot really be responsible for their actions. To argue that this magazine should be in any way suppressed because of the threat of violence is giving the violent a veto over our speech and thus ending the concept of free speech. One might think that the dean of a school of journalism would understand that.

 

In the Family

January 19, 2015

I am not sure if this story is true or not. It does not seem to be an obvious falsehood or satire, but I have my doubts as its veracity. The story is from Opposing views, but I caught it on Joe the Plumber’s blog.

An 18-year-old woman told New York Magazine that she has been in a two-year sexual relationship with her father after being estranged from him for 12 years.

The father and his ex-girlfriend conceived their daughter when they were both 18, and he left her before the birth. When their daughter was 5 years old, the man was back in the picture for a short time before leaving again.

Twelve years later, the father and his then 17-year-old daughter reconnected online, realizing they had a lot in common. “We shared the same favorite TV shows — “The Simpson” and “The Big Bang Theory” — and we both love to draw,” the daughter told New York’s “Science of Us” blog.

The pair arranged to meet in person and upon seeing her father for the first time in years, the teen said she was immediately attracted to him.

“It was so weird and confusing. I was seeing my dad for the first time in forever but it was also like, He’s so good-looking! And then I was like, What the hell are you thinking? What is wrong with you?” she said. “I saw him as my dad but then also part of me was like, I’m meeting this guy who I have been talking to over the internet and really connecting with and I find him attractive.”

The young woman said that the attraction began to intensify when she stayed with him for five days. One day, they went on a shopping trip and the father complimented her daughter’s figure. When they returned home, they began “play-wrestling.”

“That night we were play-wrestling in the room I was going to sleep in and I bit him. He was wearing a pair of basketball shorts and a tank top and after I bit him I could see goose bumps pop up from his toes to his shoulders. Then he pinched my inner thigh and I got goose bumps,” the teen said. “We stopped and said that we didn’t know what was going on but admitted that we had strong feelings for each other. We discussed whether it was wrong and then we kissed. And then we made out, and then we made love for the first time. That was when I lost my virginity.”

The daughter said she and her father “fell deeply in love” and are now engaged and planning a wedding.

Assuming that this story is true, is there a single logical reason why these two lovers should not be married? Traditionally, the institution of marriage was maintained for the creation and preservation of families. Since human beings reproduce sexually and two distinct genders each playing a role in the process, it has been understood that a marriage must consist of at least one of each sex. Close family members have generally not been allowed to marry each other because of the danger that their offspring will have an increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Such was the understanding in the dark days or institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and heteronormativity.

In our more enlightened times, we understand that marriage has nothing at all to do with families or children. One need not be married to have children and one need not have children with the person one is married to. Marriage is now properly understood as a generic relationship that any two (or more) people can enter into regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or even species.

So, if two men or two women can get married, why cannot two brothers or two sisters? There is no question of children in such a relationship so any consideration of birth defects or diseases caused by incest is moot. Why shouldn’t a mother and daughter or father and son be permitted to marry one another?

Now, in the case of two family members of the opposite sex marrying, there is the question of the health of any offspring of the relationship, but that is easily resolved. One or both of the partners can simply arranged to have themselves sterilized. There is then no possibility of deformed children and no bar to a happy matrimony.

If marriage can be radically redefined to include same sex couples, there is no logical reason why it cannot be further redefined to include incestuous couples, polygamy, or bestiality. You cannot appeal to tradition or religion. If same sex marriage is a sacred civil right that overrides long tradition or religious sentiment, than so are incestuous marriages. You cannot appeal to personal distaste. Personal distaste is no reason to oppose any such change in policy. I do not oppose same sex marriage because of any personal distaste for homosexuals but because I do not believe that such a radical redefinition of a fundamental institution of society is likely to be beneficial to society.

To put the matter succinctly, if you support the idea of same sex marriage, than logic and consistency dictates that you also support the idea of incestuous marriages. There is no logical reason to support the one and oppose the other. I hope you will be happy in the brave new world you are helping to create.

Snowmen are Anti-Islamic

January 12, 2015

That is what a recent fatwa from a cleric from Saudi Arabia states. I read about it in this story from Yahoo News.

A prominent Saudi Arabian cleric has whipped up controversy by issuing a religious ruling forbidding the building of snowmen, described them as anti-Islamic.

Asked on a religious website if it was permissible for fathers to build snowmen for their children after a snowstorm in the country’s north, Sheikh Mohammed Saleh al-Munajjid replied: “It is not permitted to make a statue out of snow, even by way of play and fun.”

Quoting from Muslim scholars, Sheikh Munajjid argued that to build a snowman was to create an image of a human being, an action considered sinful under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Sunni Islam.

“God has given people space to make whatever they want which does not have a soul, including trees, ships, fruits, buildings and so on,” he wrote in his ruling.

That provoked swift responses from Twitter users writing in Arabic and identifying themselves with Arab names.

“They are afraid for their faith of everything … sick minds,” one Twitter user wrote.

Another posted a photo of a man in formal Arab garb holding the arm of a “snow bride” wearing a bra and lipstick. “The reason for the ban is fear of sedition,” he wrote.

A third said the country was plagued by two types of people:

“A people looking for a fatwa (religious ruling) for everything in their lives, and a cleric who wants to interfere in everything in the lives of others through a fatwa,” the user wrote.

Sheikh Munajjid had some supporters, however. “It (building snowmen) is imitating the infidels, it promotes lustiness and eroticism,” one wrote.

“May God preserve the scholars, for they enjoy sharp vision and recognize matters that even Satan does not think about.”

Snow has covered upland areas of Tabuk province near Saudi Arabia’s border with Jordan for the third consecutive year as cold weather swept across the Middle East.

I wouldn’t have thought this would be a problem in Saudi Arabia, but evidently it does snow there. In any case, this ruling is not as crazy as it might appear. Islam is a religion which strongly forbids even the suggestion of idol worship and for this reason  Islamic law and culture has discouraged the visual representation of any human or animal which might be taken as an object of worship. This is why the arts in Islamic cultures have never produced any equivalent to the works of renaissance artists like MichelAngelo with their precise, almost photographic portraits and detailed studies of human anatomy and perspective. Persons with an artistic bent in Islamic countries have generally concentrated on beautiful calligraphy, generally of Koranic verses and abstract geometric designs. According to the strictest interpretations of Islamic law, as is found in Saudi Arabia, any representation of the human form for any reason is forbidden. Forbidding the creation of snowmen is simply taking the iconoclasm of Islam to a logical extreme.

This does say something about the nature of Islam. Islam does not seem to be a very joyful religion and its adherents certainly do not seem to have much of a sense of humor. The Ayatollah Khomeini is reported to have said,

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. …”

Mohammed didn’t care for music, believing it to inspire sin, so Islamic cultures have tended to discourage music. There is no Bach or Mozart in Islam. There seems to be no joy in Islam.

It also says something, that every detail of life, no matter how trivial, seems to be subject to endless rules concerning what is allowed and what is forbidden. Can you imagine a person of any other religion even wondering if building a snowman is acceptable? There doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on thinking or reasoning for yourself in Islam. Every decision seems to be based on what Mohammed would do or what the religious authorities centuries ago wrote.

In contrast, Christians are told to:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

We are set free from rules and are made sons of God.

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 3:23-4:7)

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.(Romans 7:4-6)

This does not mean that we are free to commit sins, of course, but if we do commit sins we follow a God more interested in forgiving and saving us than one eager to condemn us. It may be said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and to a certain extent it is true, but we have very different ideas about who God is and what He wants from us. Our God wants us to be His sons and sent His own son to die for us. Their God wants us to be slaves of a harsh master. I think I prefer Jesus over Allah. At least Jesus doesn’t have any issues with snowmen.

Imagine

January 5, 2015

I have always rather liked the melody of John Lennon’s Imagine. I cannot say, however, that I especially like the lyrics, expressing as they do every idiot left wing idea imaginable. It turns out that I am far from the only one who finds the lyrics objectionable. Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England expressed his objections to the song in his Christmas sermon.

John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine,” which pines for a Marxist utopia devoid of property and religion, lyrically promotes the “ill-founded belief” that “religion is the cause of wars,” when the devastatingly brutal wars of the 20th century were “largely inspired by secularist” and “openly anti-Christian ideologies,” says Catholic Bishop Mark Davies in his scheduled Christmas Day sermon.

Bishop Davies oversees the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England.  This 2014 Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of a Christmas “truce” during World War I when British and German soldiers, after an appeal by then-Pope Benedict XV, ceased fighting for a day and actually exchanged greetings and gifts and played soccer on the battlefield.

“Why did this happen?” says Bishop Davies in his homily, as reported in the Catholic Herald. “What could have drawn enemies from their entrenched positions to greet each other as friends?”

“[I]t was surely a light which first shone with the birth of a child born in Bethlehem, a Savior given to all humanity who turns our minds to thoughts of peace,” says the bishop.

“The events of Christmas 1914 give the lie to the lazily repeated assertion that ‘religion is the cause of wars,” says Bishop Davies.  “John Lennon would give voice to this ill-founded belief in the lyrics of his song ‘Imagine.’”

“This becomes a heart-chilling vision in which Lennon imagines a world with no hope of heaven and no fear of hell,” says the bishop, “And he adds, ‘no religion too.’ Only then, he suggests will ‘all the people’ be ‘living life in peace.’”

The bishop continued, “Yet the fact is, the wars of the century past, bringing with them atrocities and destruction on a scale never seen before, were largely inspired by secularist and, indeed, openly anti-Christian ideologies. In reality, it is human sin which lies at the root cause of war.”

The idea that religion is the cause of war has been heavily promoted by the so-called New Atheists to justify their anti-theist positions. It is a simplistic idea and easy to believe. It is not true, however. Religion is often the pretext for war. It is not so often the sole cause of war. A quick survey of the many wars throughout history shows relatively few wars are really over religious differences. The Peloponnesian War, the Hundred Years War, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II and many, many others had little to do with religion, even if the combatants believed that God was on their side. Even wars that are fought over religion, such as the Wars of Religion during the Protestant Reformation, on closer examination reveal other motivations, political or opportunistic, are at work. The German Princes who supported Luther were genuinely opposed to the abuses of the Catholic Church, but they were also inspired by German nationalism and a desire to maintain their own power against the imperial pretensions of the Hapsburgs. The Islamic hordes who burst out of the Arabian Peninsula may have been religious fanatics, but they were also attracted by the prospect of booty.

But, I think there is more to object to John Lennon’s song than just the anti-religion themes. Consider the lyrics.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion,

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon may have been a dreamer, but he doesn’t seem to have been much of a thinker. He wanted everybody to live in harmony together, yet he sings against the institutions that help people to live together in peace.

What if there were no countries? Would all the people live together in harmony? In Stone Age cultures people do not live in countries, or nation states or formal government. They effectively live in a state of anarchy recognizing no loyalty higher than that of the clan or tribe. People living in such primitive culture tend not to live peaceful lives.Their lives are far more violent than that of people living in more advanced societies. How could it be otherwise? When there is no higher authority to settle disputes between tribes, they often must fight feuds. When there are no police, courts or jails, the only way to assure justice is the threat of revenge by kinsmen. When people began to organize into cities and kingdoms, their rulers found it expedient to discourage private violence by adopting law codes and having the state administer punishment for crimes. When the nations of Europe began to coalesce into centralized nation states in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, one major concern of kings was to eliminate the private wars that was the nobility’s prerogative in the Medieval Period. The kings fought wars against each other but their subjects had to be at peace. The result was larger, but fewer wars. In the last few decades, we have begun to develop ways of mediating between nations and a somewhat crude form of international governance which has made war between the major powers almost unthinkable. Perhaps this idea should be taken to its logical outcome and a world government instituted to keep the peace, but I think that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of such a system. The point is, that the development of nations and countries has actually made life more peaceful for most people throughout history. A world of people living in anarchy would not be harmonious.

What about possessions? If we had no possessions would there be no hunger or greed? I don’t see how it would be possible to avoid starvation. Food is, after all, a possession and if there were no possessions there would be no food. And why would anyone take the trouble to grow more food than he needed to feed himself and his family if there were no way to pay him? Why would anyone want to do anything? Maybe John Lennon meant that everything would be held in common. Would this lead to harmony?

Aristotle understood more than 2300 years ago that private property is essential for maintaining peace and prosperity. As he put it, people are naturally self-interested and so more interested in caring for and improving what they perceive as belonging to them, while neglecting the affairs they see as others’ responsibility. Private property creates a more harmonious society since things held in common tend will be fought over. Everyone would naturally take as much as they need from the commune while contributing as little as they could get away with. No matter what system would be set up to distribute the common goods, someone would be sure to feel they are not getting their fair share. There is peace when property ownership is clearly defined with clear laws protecting property rights and commerce. Most of the rich countries of the world have such laws and are relatively peaceful and stable. Most of the poor countries lack such laws and are unstable and turbulent.

I am afraid that John Lennon’s dream would not lead to a world of everyone living together in harmony. It would lead to a Hobbesian nightmare of all warring against all and lives nasty, brutish and short. Maybe we should imagine less and think more.

 

Game Over for the Planet

November 19, 2014

Here is another message I just received from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

In just hours, the Senate will vote on whether to push forward the Keystone XL pipeline—a disastrous and dangerous proposal that would, in the words of leading climate scientists and environmentalists, be “game over for the planet.”1

Either the Senate will send President Obama a Keystone pipeline bill TODAY—and we will need him to promise to veto it; or the Democrats will defeat the measure by one vote, which means that in just seven weeks, a new Republican majority will send him the pipeline—and we’ll need him to veto it in January.

Either way, President Obama is our last line of defense. So we’re joining with allies to mobilize grassroots support demanding that the president commit to vetoing the pipeline bill—today or early next year.

Will you chip in $3 to help stop the Keystone XL pipeline—and to push Democrats and President Obama to be bold in the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

We’ve already begun fighting back. We’re helping organize rallies outside wavering senators’ offices. We’re mobilizing calls to senators. And we’re providing organizers on the ground with access to MoveOn tools and connections to MoveOn members.  

We’re mobilizing because this is a hugely important fight on its own—and it’ll set the stage for the next two years.

When the Republicans take control of the Senate in January, we can expect a rush of right-wing, anti-climate, anti-science bills: a rollback of President Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, bills to undermine his climate change agreement with China, and bills that give rein to the extractive practices of frackers, Big Coal, and Big Oil.

Following the midterms, some Democrats are feeling nervous—and they are hearing from the usual chorus of consultants and pundits who advise them that the way to win is to be more like Republicans. This is the kind of horrible advice that lost many Democrats their election—yet conservative Democrats continue to listen! And they won’t stop unless they feel sustained, passionate pressure from their grassroots base—the folks who they need to inspire in order to win future elections.

Will you chip in $3 to help us make sure Democrats stop the Keystone XL pipeline, stop listening to big oil and bad consultants, and fight for progressive values?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help stop Keystone XL and fight for progressive values.

This fight isn’t just a preamble to other environmental attacks—it foreshadows the large range of issues that the right-wing Republican leadership intends to tackle. We’ll face similar assaults on health care, women’s rights, equality, decent wages, Social Security, and civil rights.

In fight after fight, Republicans will push forward a radical agenda and then attempt to pick off a few Democrats to give them the supermajority they need, as well as the veneer of “bipartisanship.”

The only way to preserve affordable health care, see humane reforms in our immigration policy, ensure women make their own decisions about their health, and fully invest in Social Security is to make sure Democrats stand strong. And when the Democrats in the Senate falter, it will come to President Obama to be bold in the use of his veto pen.

Following the midterms, many Democrats are nervous. It’s our job to make them realize that the path to a stronger America, and to future electoral victories, isn’t through caving in—it’s through standing up for our shared values.

Whatever happens in the Senate today, we know one thing for sure: We’re going to need to be stubborn, strong, and stiff-spined for the next two years.

Can you chip in $3 to help us defeat the Keystone pipeline—and prepare for the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

Thanks for all you do.

Anna, Jo, Brian, Corinne, and the rest of the team

Are they serious? According to the geologists, this planet has been in existence for 4.57 billion years. In that time it has survived collision with an object the size of Mars, creating the Moon many other asteroid strikes including the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, whatever caused the extinction of ninety-five percent of all life at the end of the Permian Era, ice ages, climate changes, and who knows what else; only to be finally destroyed by a single pipeline.

The trouble I have with the Greens, besides their bullying and obvious lust for power, is that they seem to have some idea that the Earth has existed in a delicate, stable equilibrium from the beginning and that now Man has arrived to upset the balance. I think they get their ideas about nature from Bambi. The truth is that the Earth has changed drastically over the eons, in terms of climate, atmospheric content and even geography. For instance, during the Mesozoic Era (the Age of Dinosaurs), the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have been as much as five times present levels, even without the nefarious activities of carbon polluters, causing a warmer Earth. Somehow life on the planet survived and even flourished. We have had ice ages over the last several millennia in which the glaciers extended not far north from where I am sitting, but the worst ice age, the glaciers extended almost to the equator. The only thing constant in the history of the Earth is that it is a dynamic, ever changing system. Even if everything the worst alarmists say about climate change were true, it would not mean the end for the planet. We might make ourselves very uncomfortable, perhaps even extinct, but the Earth will survive anything we could possibly do to it.

I should add that Canada is going to develop the tar sands regardless  of what we decide. If we don’t want the Keystone pipeline extended, they can just as easily sell the crude oil to China. I wonder which is a safer method of transporting oil, a pipeline or tankers. I should also add that if there is one thing needed to accomplish the goals Moveon.org says it wants, it would be a robust American economy powered by the recent surge in the energy industry. Rich countries with growing economies can afford to worry about decent wages and equal rights. Poorer countries mired in economic stagnation have to worry about surviving.

Obama Being Bold

November 18, 2014

I got an e-mail from Moveon.org praising Obama for going ahead with his progressive policies, even though the majority of the voters indicated that they do not like such policies. Remember, the voters did not give the Republicans a historic victory because they have developed a great love for Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. They hated what Obama and the Democrats have been doing. Anyway, here is the message.

Dear MoveOn member,

After the midterm election, many of us wondered: How would President Obama respond?

So far, we’ve been happily surprised. As The New York Times reports, “Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.”1

These are welcome moves. It appears the President is setting his own course instead of listening to corporate lobbyists and consultants. As I told the Times, “The president has seen what happens when he doesn’t step forward and Democrats don’t inspire the public or their base—we win on the issues, but lose at the polls—so we can’t do worse. Let’s try being bold.2

Click here to sign a thank-you card to the president for his actions and rhetoric since the midterms—and urge him to keep being bold.

There have been other promising signs from national Democrats this past week. Most excitingly: Senator Elizabeth Warren gained a leadership position in the Senate Democratic Caucus. From championing student loan reform to reining in Wall Street, Warren is one of the most passionate and effective voices for the little guy (and gal). Having her in leadership is a huge deal.

But there’s no getting around it: The president will be the last line of defense in the next two years, as the Republican-controlled Senate and House muscle through bad bills on a range of fronts. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to make bad deals with obstructionists and extremists like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz.

For the next two years, President Obama will have the power to deliver real change—if he has the confidence to follow through with executive actions on issues like immigration reform and climate change, and to stand up to the radical right.

So we need to show support when the president does the right thing—and then push hard to make sure he follows through.

Click here to add your name to the card we’ll send the president. The card reads:

Dear Mr. President,Thank you.

Since the midterm election, you’ve indicated that you’re willing to show real leadership on tackling climate change, protecting a free and open Internet, and reforming immigration—pushing for bold steps in areas where Congress has failed to act.

You’re not alone: Americans from all walks of life want and need you to follow through, and do even more. We need you to use the power of the presidency to make meaningful change on these and other critical issues—like expanding access to health care, pushing for a diplomatic solution to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, raising wages, and building an economy that works for all of us, to name a few.

We urge you to act boldly, and promise to stand with you when you fight for all of us in the months ahead. (And yes, we’ll let you know when we disagree, too!) 

We’ll send President Obama this card, with the names of all the MoveOn members who have signed it—and a personal comment if you want to add one—so he knows that when he stands up for progressive values, we’ve got his back.

Add your name to the card—thank President Obama, urge him to be bold, and be a part of the movement to propel our shared agenda.

The president is showing the grit that inspired us to elect him. We need to get his back when he stands strong—and keep the heat on through the fights ahead.

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Alejandro, Nick, Justin K., and the rest of the team

They want him to go full Bourbon and double down on the very policies that lost him control of Congress. If I were more cynical, I would sign that card and do everything I could to encourage President Obama to pursue unpopular policies sure to be a millstone around the necks of every Democrat in 2016, Maybe we can have another tsunami. But, I am not that cynical. The country would be far better off if President Obama worked within the confines of the constitution and tried to meet the opposition halfway than if he tried to rule by decree. Trying to shove unwanted policies down the throats of the voters,, breaking the system in the meantime will only make things difficult for all of us.

king-Obama-2

He might lose his head.

 

 


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