Saturday, March 24, 2007

Former Senator Santorum Hates Freedom

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a rather troubling interview with former Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. It seems the man is going through a severe case of denial. I guess that's understandable when you lose the popularity contest that is an election. Here's the first bit of craziness:

"I still believe that this country is a center-right country and not like Europe which is left or center-left," he said during a telephone conversation on Monday. "And the Republican Party still by and large is the majority party."
Riiiiight. Notice how he used the word "believe". So instead of actually looking at the data of the last election--which is available, I promise--he chooses to believe that everyone still unconditionally loves the Republican Party. What a nice, comforting fantasy. So why does he think the Democrats won in 2006?
"It's the war, it's the war, it's the war," he said. "We have an obligation to be more honest with the American public about the nature of the enemy we fight and the gravity of the fight that we have." He says "terrorist" is a euphemism.

"Why don't we say who they really are?" he asks. "They are Islamic fascists. This is a war against a strain of Islam which is not a fringe radical strain but a substantial strain of Islam."

Okay, that's perhaps a little more grounded in reality. The hatred against America is very real in the Middle East, but it seems likely the war in Iraq has only made it worse. However, when Mr. Santorum calls Islamic fundamentalists "fascists", I don't think he realizes his extreme hypocrisy when he says the next statement:
"I have real concerns about the libertarianish-right," Santorum says. "They depart from me on issues that I think are foundational, which is traditional moral values." Those values hold together the American family, he says.
I see. So instead of submitting to Islamic fascists, Americans need to submit to Christian fascists who want to have complete control over what consenting adults do in their private life. Family values/traditional values/'s really all the same thing. It's a way of making people adhere to a strict doctrine regardless of what the Constitution says.

I'm really glad voters decided to take this asshat's job away. He needed a bit of a reality check (unfortunately, it didn't seem to work). If this country has any "traditional values" then they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not the government intruding on its citizens' private lives and forcing them to a religion's particular view on human relationships. Keep it in the church where it belongs.

Mr. Santorum, why do you hate freedom?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy

I just wanted to spread the word about an upcoming blog swarm whose subject is near and dear to my heart (from Neural Gourmet):

I'd like invite you all to Blog Against Theocracy. This is a little blog swarm being put together by everybody's favorite panties blogger Blue Gal for Easter weekend, April 6th through the 8th. The idea is simple. Just post something related to, and in support of, the separation of church and state each of those three days. Something big, something small, artistic, musical, textual or otherwise. The topic is your choosing. Whether your thing is stem cell research, intelligent design/Creationism, abortion rights, etc., it's all good. Separation of church and state impacts so many issues and is essential.

Blue Gal is still putting the finishing touches on everything and tying up loose ends so check in regularly with her for updates. In the meantime, if you need a little information to tickle your muse then you'll want to check over at First Freedom First for a ton of excellent resources. FFF is a partnership of two very cool groups; Americans United For Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation. Also, I can personally recommend this interview on CFI's Point of Inquiry podcast with Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. The Center For Inquiry is just one of many supporters of the FFF project.

So get involved in a little blogactivism and help raise awareness on the need to preserve separation of church and state and protecting the First Amendment. Your help in recruiting bloggers for Blog Against Theocracy is needed and appreciated too.

Since being against theocracy is one of the main points of my blog (after all, it is in the title), I will certainly be taking part in this blog swarm and will save up all my good anti-theocracy rants until then. I hope you join us and do what you can to increase awareness on the thin ice our government has been toeing for the past few years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Attorney Purge Controversy Gets Interesting

After watching President Bush's press conference earlier today, I couldn't help but feel like we're seeing the beginning of a constitutional showdown here between Congress and the Bush Administration.

Now, the firings of the US attorneys are somewhat shady by themselves. All of them had satisfactory job reviews and no reason for being fired, unlike all but two of the ten attorneys asked to retire in the previous 25 years. Clearly, there's an overt political reason here since they didn't pursue Republican goals enough. But that's not surprising or the real problem since US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, and he can fire them at any time.

The real problem is that Bush is refusing to allow members of his staff to testify before Congress under oath. The "reasonable offer" Bush kept referring to in the recent press conference is anything but. He will allow a bipartisan panel from Congress to interview Rove and Miers as long as it is not under oath, behind closed doors, and there will be no transcript of the meeting. Clearly, he has something to hide because this offer basically says, "My staff should be allowed to lie to protect the administration." What's the matter Bush? Afriad Rove will have to disclose too much about the corrupt workings of your administration?

The Administration has tried to defend itself by saying that there is no precedent for White House staffers testifying before Congress. There's only one problem: that's not true at all. 31 of Clinton's advisors testified before Congress on 47 different occasions. Hmm. Slight bit of misinformation (read: lie) there.

Bush also said that he, as the head of a separate branch of government, does not have to send his staffers before Congress because they have to be able to say what they want without fear of being held accountable for what they say. That way, Bush says, he can get honest advice to be more effective. I say bullshit. Why should Bush's staffers not be accountable for what they say unless you want to cover something up? Claiming this kind of executive privilege stinks of Nixon to me, and we know how that turned out.

Next, Bush accused Democrats of fishing for political points. While I don't doubt that whatsoever, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Of all those times Clinton's advisors testified before the Republican-controlled Congress, does Bush seriously think it was never for the Republicans to score political points? Saying politicians are doing something for political reasons..well, no shit Sherlock.

The next step Congress can take is to issue subpoenas. If Rove and Miers refuse to appear, as Bush promised they will, then Congress can vote to find them in contempt of Congress, which means it will go to the courts. In short, this could get interesting very fast.

It's obvious that Bush is trying to hide something. If his administration is innocent of wrongdoing, then he should have no reason to fear his advisors testifying under oath. I really hope this is where Bush finally learns that the game is up. He needs to realize that he is not actually the Emperor of America, but just one part of a three branch government that serves the will of the people. Now, I just hope the Democrats see this through to the end and don't chicken out.

Ann Coulter Has a New Book (Maybe She'll Tell Us How She Really Feels)

Uh-oh. Someone let Ann Coulter near a computer long enough for her to reguritate a new book. From the title alone, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans you can pretty much guess what it will be about. Yep, more of the same: Democrats hate America, true Republicans are the warm, fuzzy example of how to lead prefectly virtuous lives while calling the opposition every bigoted name their god-fearing minds can conjure up. Classy stuff.

Seriously, why would people keep buying her books? She repeats the same unfounded nonsense over and over. Of course, I guess she did branch out into evolution in her last book, but the ignorance she displayed there might actually be the answer to the repetitivness of her books. She doesn't know how to do anything except come up with creative ways to call people she doesn't agree with derogatory names. It's actually kind of sad. Ann Coulter's only real skill in life is to be a name-caller. What a trite and meaningless existence.

Unfortunately, her crass description of John Edwards hasn't affected her publisher's decision to produce the book. From The Book Standard:

Ann Coulter may be dealing with newspapers upset over her use of an anti-gay slur to describe former North Carolina senator John Edwards, but she is having no problems with her latest book, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans, which is set to be published in October by Crown Publishing Group.

"We have a book with her on our fall list and have no plans on altering our current publication plans," said Steve Ross, Crown publisher and senior vice president, according to the Associated Press. "Every book we have published with Ann has been a major bestseller and we expect the same with the upcoming title."
As if popularity validates someone's ideas. Hitler's ideas were popular for a while too. However, Ann Coulter is certainly no Hitler. She's just an angry woman who gets joy out of calling other people names to make herself feel better. Kind of like the popular girl at school. Sure, people want to be like her now, but in a few years she'll have no friends and will wonder where all her good looks have gone.

My First Book to Review

I'm a bit excited today because I just recieved my first book to review. If you're a regular reader, then you know that I post books of the month; however, this is the first time a publisher has written to me asking me to write a review. The best part is, that the publisher sent me the book for free as long as I post a review on my blog, which is a small price to pay.

Anyway, the book is The "God" Part of the Brain by Matthew Alper and deals with why humans would have evolved to feel a need for religion. I'm looking forward to the read, and, as promised, I will post a review as soon as I am finished.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Catching Up...

My my, things have been busy during my time away. Let's see:

John Edwards backed out from a debate in Nevada sponsored by Fox News for that very reason, rightly accusing it of being biased. I'm glad to see Edwards taking this sort of stand.

The best part is the resulting fit Fox has thrown when it continues to assert that it is "fair and balanced." I don't see how they can say that slogan with a straight face. That's my real problem with Fox News. It's not that they're biased--it's inevitable that an organization will have some sort of bias--it's that they lie through their teeth to claim that they are not political whatsoever while at the same time praising conservatives for everything they do while deriding liberals at every turn. I would have no beef with Fox News if they were just honest about their slant. Sure, I'd disagree with them, but I would respect them for being honest. In fact, I think it would be best if all media organizations were up front with their biases. American media should follow the European model and be up front with their biases.

Read more at Daily Kos

Next, we have the Alberto Gonzales scandal. This is probably just the first bit of fruit we're seeing from the Democrat-controlled Congress. The details of the scandal don't surprise me at all but, in case you haven't heard about it, in early 2006 Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fired several US Attorneys even though they had positive job evaluations in order to replace them with more Republican-friendly attorneys. Since this is extremely unethical, Gonzales will probably step down in a matter of days, but what's more interesting is how far this seems to go. The latest inquiries have turned to Karl Rove and his certain involvement in the scandal. We'll see how far this goes, but I really hope the law can finally nail Rove for his shady (and probably illegal) activites.

Read more at Daily Kos, Time, and The New York Times

Finally, the Secular Coalition of America announced that Representative Pete Stark of California acknowledged that he is the highest-ranking atheist in the US government. First off, I want to applaud him for his courage. In today's political climate, this was a bold move. Secondly, I'm surprised it was someone so high in the government. I was expecting a rather minor political appointee. Needless to say, I'm pleased. I just hope it doesn't cost him his position in the next election. I fear that it will.

You can see the press release at the Secular Coalition of America's website.

Well, that's the major events of the previous week and my thoughts on them. More to follow as I get caught up.

The Caribbean Is Not Overrated

Whatever you might of heard about how great the Caribbean's all true. I just got back from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and I had an amazing time. The scuba diving was especially grand. If you're ever there and want to find a quality dive shop that deals with you on a personal level, then I recommend going to N2 the Blue on the north shore of the island. It's an awesome little shop that will help you do pretty much any type of dive you'd like to do.

Anyway, now that I'm back, the blogging will resume once again.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Going Out of Town

I'm going on vaction for the next week, so you won't find anything here until the 19th. Until then, keep up the good fight. Science be praised.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

At Least We Can Stay "In" the Country

Here's a little something that will make your hang your head in disgust. From a reader in Soldotna, Alaska, this letter was published in the Peninsula Clarion (click on the picture to see it clearer):

I shouldn't even waste my time to address any of this, but I can't help myself. First, if you must do something, then that is not freedom. In fact it's compulsion, which is the opposite of freedom.

Second, "In God We Trust" was not added to our money until the Civil War. Even then, it appeared sporatically until the national motto was changed from "E Pluribus Unim" to "In God We Trust" in the 1950's to show those dirty communists that America has morals (sigh).

Third, how does having prayer in school actually solve any problems? Please, I would like to hear a good, rational explanation for that one.

Fourth, I don't know what evil it is we practice since we don't actually practice anything. That's part of being an atheist. However, if thinking rationally about the world is evil, then I'd have to admit that you've got me there. I guess I'm evil.

Fifth, if atheists are the reason crime is rampant...Jesus, this is just stupid. Why do I bother?

Finally, clever use of the phrase "get off my country." Never heard that one before. I guess Ms. Shannon wants us to fall off into the ocean.

Christian, atheist, doesn't matter. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks like this, no matter what he or she believes. I can't even get angry at this one. It's nothing but sheer ignorance.

The Proper Way to Counter the "Hitler and Stalin Were Atheists" Argument

Alonzo Fyfe of Athiest Ethicist recently addressed the proper way to counter the tired "Hitler and Stalin were atheists" arguments. Fyfe correctly argues that finding evidence that Hitler and Stalin were actually theists is irrelevent. In reality, it's just the same flawed argument in reverse or like saying all theists are bad because of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Instead, Fyfe takes the following tack:

My sound-byte answer: "I'm sorry, but blaming me for the crimes of Hitler and Stalin is like blaming the Amish – or blaming you, by honorable adversary – for 9-11.”

If my opponent will grant me a few more seconds, I would add, “You would certainly object if I were to accuse you of being responsible for these crimes. You would scream that any who would make such an assertion is bigoted and unjust. You would be right. Such a person is, in fact, bigoted and unjust. So is the person who blames all atheists for the crimes of Stalin.”

It's an excellent read, and I encourage you to read it. It's probably the best counter I've ever found to the Hitler and Stalin argument.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Thoughts on the Jesus Tomb

Last night I watched the Discovery Channel documentary on the supposed tomb of Jesus. Initially, the evidence seemed fairly convincing...until I really thought about it (damn filmmakers making me feel the way they want me to). Plus, the critical debate afterwards was far more enlightening since the viewer got to see a couple of actual archaeologists speak on the subject. They brought up several concerns I hadn't considered. Another reason why one should always listen to the professionals. Of course, after the archaeologists came the theologians. Basically, their argument was, "This doesn't agree with my interpretation of the Bible, so you're wrong." I got bored with this part rather quickly and found something more productive to do. Okay, fine, I watched Scrubs.

Anyway, these are my major concerns with the film:

1. The conclusion that Mariamne Mara is Mary Magdalene is based on a copy of the Acts of Phillip (one of the books excluded from the New Testament) that was found in the 1970's. How certain are they that this copy of the Acts of Pillip is the original translation? Since many of the books were written several decades after the fact, is Mariamne really what Mary Magdalene would have been called in life? The filmmaker's conclusion seems to be a leap of faith. Worse, this is the key piece of evidence. Without it, the whole hypothesis falls apart.

2. The statistical analysis is based on the names from ossuaries (boxes used in the first century to store bones) of the time. While it might provide a reasonable sample of contemporary names, it's far from exhastive, and the margin of error must be fairly large. There's probably still a lot of ossuaries out there which could drastically change the frequency of specific names, thereby altering the odds. Of course, I'm no expert on the subject, but it's a concern of mine. I'd like to know more before making any conclusions either way.

3. In the "Critical Look" section after the documentary, Koppel brought the fact that the film portrayed many of the forensic experts speaking out of context. The film was actually edited to make them say what Simcha Jacobovici, the filmmaker, wanted while discarding the parts that shed doubt on the conclusiveness of his findings. Then Jacobovici was extremely evasive when confronted with these facts. It seems real shady to me. For example, the film was edited to make it look like the forensic experts said the differences in the mitochrondrial DNA between Jesus and Mariamne meant that they were husband and wife. In reality, it simply means that they did not share the same mother. It could mean they were husband and wife. It could also mean that Mariamne was the wife of any other man in there, she was a cousin, etc. It's a piece of evidence, but not a damning piece.

4. The entire conclusion rests on an evidence chain, meaning one piece of evidence leads to the next. If any single piece of evidence no longer supports the conclusion, then the whole thing falls apart. For an acceptable conclusion, there will have to be several pieces of evidence that can stand on their own.

5. The suggestion that Jesus had a son. Sure, that's entirely possible, but its an example of the filmmaker using the Bible when it helps him and ignoring it when it doesn't. In some ways, this reminds me of Young-Earth Creationists. They love to use any scrap of evidence they can find that loosely supports their conclusions, yet they ignore everything else. It's the same thing with the Mariamne name. They found it in a single copy of a book excluded from the New Testament. However, every other reference to Mary Magdalene uses a different name. It seems extremely selective.

In short, the documentary was interesting, but not convincing by any means. Certainly, I think there should be more research on the ossuaries and the tomb, because it could be the real deal. However, it's far too early to make any conclusions. More evidence is necessary. And no, this is not because I have hidden affinity for Christianity. I think it would be cool to actually find Jesus' remains and force Christians to think about their faith just a bit. However, it has to be done with a scientifically sound conclusion. Otherwise, it's just wishful thinking and not any better than the claims of Creationists.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ann Coulter Is Real Classy

Ann Coulter always amazes me with how easily she turns crass, obnoxious slurs into eloquent terms for a political debate. Except it still sounds crass and obnoxious.

As you might have heard, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter showed her insidiousness once again at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. At the end of her speech she made the following comment:

“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”

After a short pause, the audience then erupted in applause. Here's a video of the incident:

Now, I'm all for Coulter being able to say whatever she wants. It's her right. However, this sort of name-calling is exactly what's wrong with Coulter and politics today. First off, Edwards is not gay, so it has no basis in reality. Second and more importantly, the term is incredibly offensive to homosexuals and serves nothing more than to alienate them, especially when it's said publically at a Republican function. It's the sort of thing that doesn't belong in political discourse because makes a bloc of citizens within a democratic republic feel unwelcome. This should not happen. All citizens should feel welcome within politics.

Maybe Coulter doesn't know it's so offensive because she said the following in the Q and A session after the speech:

I do want to point out one thing that has been driving me crazy with the media -- how they keep describing Mitt Romney's position as being pro-gays, and that's going to upset the right wingers. Well, you know, screw you! I'm not anti-gay. We're against gay marriage. I don't want gays to be discriminated against.

I don't know why all gays aren't Republican. I think we have the pro-gay positions, which is anti-crime and for tax cuts. Gays make a lot of money and they're victims of crime. No, they are! They should be with us.

Coulter must simply be clueless. She uses a slur against gays, the audience cheers, and then a little while later Coulter can't understand why gays do not support Republicans.

At any rate, it's refreshing to see the leading Republican candidates for president denouce Coulter's statement. McCain's spokesman said, “The comments were wildly inappropriate.” Giuliani said, “The comments were completely inappropriate and there should be no place for such name-calling in political debate.” Romney's spokesman said, "It was an offensive remark. Governor Romney believes all people should be treated with dignity and respect."

Call me an optimist, but it's my hope that Ann Coulter has gone too far on this one, and her fifteen minutes of fame will come to an end. However, her brand of hate has become popular these days, and I'm fairly certain her fans will just eat it up like they always have when Coulter says something outrageous.

Read more from CNN.

Elizabeth Edwards, John Edward's wife, also has a great post on her blog about Coulter's statement.

Friday, March 02, 2007

James Cameron Found Jesus!

No, he hasn't been born again, but he does have a new documentary coming out this Sunday on the Discovery Channel where he claims to have conclusively identified Jesus' final resting place. However, I'm skeptical about the whole thing.

Sure, I don't think Jesus' body disappeared and ascended into heaven, and I'm sure his remains are out there in Israel somewhere. I just don't think enough evidence would exist to prove it one way or another. It not like he was royalty or anything, so his final resting place would be a little difficult to distinguish from the countless others out there. Plus, Cameron's documentary claims ot have used DNA evidence to validate the claim. Right. To use DNA for establishing a person's identity, one needs to have a known sample to compare it to. Where did they get Jesus' DNA to make the comparison? Did the researchers get a priest, some wine, some crackers, and have a communion? Or maybe the Da Vinci Code was right and they found the long lost descendent of Mary Magdalene living in France?

I'll watch the documentary to see what it says, but at this point, I'm not impressed. I need to see the evidence first.

Read more from the BBC here.

As an aside, a was a little peeved by a quote in the BBC article from Stephen Pfann, a scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem where he said:

"But sceptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

I would hope this is not the case with a true skeptic. It sounds more like what a conspiracy theorist would do. An actual Skeptic doesn't just go around trying to destroy people's beliefs. Instead, they don't personally believe something until they see the evidence to support it. Big difference there. That is why, despite my lack of belief in the tenants of Christianity, I will not immediately jump on this boat. Like I said, I need the evidence first.