Friday, August 31, 2007

The Case for Impeachment
Original draft posted in response to discussion forum on Facebook

It's not uncommon for people with just about the lowest possible opinion of the Bush administration to support the idea of impeaching Bush, but advise against it for practical or tactical reasons. While I understand such concerns, I feel they are ultimately misguided. I'll address two brief statements that are representative of the supposedly pragmatic rationale for not attempting to impeach Bush that I saw used in a recent discussion.

First statement: "It would be an utter waste of time."

Even if Bush were not impeached, or even if he were impeached on his last day in office, it would not be a waste of time.

Exposing the depth of this administration's corruption, bringing it into the light, making it a 24/7 coverage news item, letting it highlight the systemic flaws in our government, and getting it out there just how fucked up things can get in the White House, would be one of the most important national services that anyone could perform for us.

Yes, people know things are bad ... but they still don't see the depth of the problem. They don't see the dirty details in a way that has real impact. The discontent is a low level discontent. It's a snarky remark about Bush over dinner, or a general complaint about the untrustworthiness of all politicians. It's an apathetic discontent. A useless discontent.

We need people to get fucking OUTRAGED.

Second statement: "Let's worry about who gets elected next."

I am worried about who gets elected next.

I'm worried that whoever ends up in office in 2008 will look at the Bush presidency and take it as an example of how much you can abuse your authority, shit on the Constitution, lie to the people, waste taxpayer money, order innocent people killed, enrich your friends/allies, and so on, knowing that so long as you've got a little partisan support and the rest other side is too cowed and timid to even vigorously investigate your abuses and demonstrate, through action, just what kind of heinous criminal they think you are ... the worst you have to worry about is a verbal beating from your opposition.

Considering the utter contempt Bush has shown for the idea of checks and balances; the flagrant and almost casual manner in which he's suspended basic civil liberties; his amoral, unilateral war of aggression against a sovereign state; his transparent imperialist agenda to privatize the resources of said state; his facilitation of the most extravagant, abominable forms of war profiteering; and the way he (and his allies) have used base, jingoistic nationalism, overblown assertions of presidential authority and fear-mongering as as a bulwark against criticism (and the way it's been largely effective) ... I'd say the United States already bears some of the hallmarks of a fascist/totalitarian state.

Future presidents need to know that there's a line that must not be crossed, and a good many people think it was crossed a long time ago. If future presidents don't get that message, we're just going to slide further into the abyss, even if we are fortunate enough to go a four or eight year stretch with someone with a little more restraint and a little more respect for the Constitution, and the people.

The fact that the front-running Democratic candidates for president see impeachment as an unacceptable proposition does not fill me with hope for the future. It fills me with foreboding. It tells me we have a ways to go before turning the corner.

Personally, I've run out of patience for this bullshit and I'm tired of the tergiversation of the corporate liberals in the Democratic party. It's time for them to put up, or shut up.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Kind of Atheist am I?

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Militant Atheist




Angry Atheist


Spiritual Atheist


Apathetic Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Pretty accurate, I'd say, thought I take issue with the way some of the questions are phrased.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Childish Whining Over Two Measly Words

On cupid, aformershadow posts the following tidbit in his journal, in response to the question, "Is separation of church and state important to you?"

"Not in the sense that we should be anal and whine like little children about "under god", but in the sense that the state has no business siding or being influenced by religion or religious leaders." --aformershadow

The discussion follows.

My comment #1, May 16th, 2007

Why characterize discontent over "under God" in the pledge, etc. as "childish whining?" It may not be as deep a concern as religion influencing government policy, but putting God where it doesn't belong, in national mottoes and pledges is something worth getting upset about, because it has an alienating affect on those who do not believe in God. It allows people like George Bush Sr. to make bigoted comments like "Atheists can't be true citizens or patriots." It's used as ammunition by the religious nut-jobs who ignorantly cite it as evidence that this is a Christian nation, or was founded on one (never mind the fact that "under God" was not originally in the pledge.)

aformershadow's comment, May 16th, 2007

Ok, I'll clarify. Having discontent over the phrase isn't childish whining. It's the fewer, very vocal people who feel the need to incessantly complain and obsess over it, despite all of the other issues that need to be addressed that are whining like children over spilled milk. Seriously, It's two words in a pledge that most people never say or even think of. To be honest, I really don't understand how it's so alienating. Hell, they could change the pledge to "under no god whatsoever" and I really wouldn't care. I'd be a little confused as to why, and I may not care for the change, but again, I really wouldn't care; there are too many important issues to worry about first. Two words in a school child's pledge have nothing to do with Bush Sr. publicly stating personal opinion. Ironically, the same amendment that guarantees your freedom to choose to believe or not to believe in any deity, is the same one that guarantees his freedom to be a giant prick about it. Believe me, I hate the nut-jobs who cite it to support their belief that is a Christian nation, but the fact remains that these crazies will find anything they can to twist for their cause. Hell, they do it to their own bibles. I've got nothing against atheists. I've got a problem with people who obsesively feel the need to let relatively insignificant things get under their skin.

My comment #2, May 17th, 2007
Two words in a school child's pledge have nothing to do with Bush Sr. publicly stating personal opinion.

Sorry, the full, precise quote might shed some light on why it's relevant in this context: "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

Pretty clearly he was citing the Pledge of Allegiance here to support his statement against atheists.

Granted, those two words are not a "big deal" in the grand scheme of things, but as you point out, religious meddling in politics is a problem. Rest assured, the individuals and organizations that rally against having God in national mottoes and pledges, or display of the Ten Commandments outside courthouses, etc. also generally apply equal if not greater pressure to the more serious problems presented by the encroachment of religion in the public sphere.

I think it's important to fight the small fights as well, to not give an inch. One way to challenge the assumptions and the sense of entitlement of theists and Christians who want more influence in government is to constantly remind them that the pledges and mottoes they love to cite so much are offensive and disturbing to some of us, and not representative of the principles that America was truly founded on, and if possible, to change them to better reflect the ideals we as Americans should all hold dear.

Of course, they will always find something, or failing that, make something up to use in the public debate (apocryphal quotes of the founding fathers abound), but I don't think that conciliation and complacency even where these relatively minor matters are concerned is the right way to go about effecting social change. Maybe if you're a politician and you simply have to make compromises to get things done, that approach makes sense, but if you're just an interest group, lobbyist or private citizen, the best way to push your agenda is to be relentless about it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Falwell Not a Hater?

On cupid, sometimes_witty posts a journal entry in response to the celebrating the death of the "hateful" Jerry Falwell, characterizing his backwards social values an artifact of his simply being a conservative Christian -- he supposedly wasn't hateful, he just had some unpopular opinions. My commentary follows.

Comment, May 16th, 2007

"However, a lot of people seem to be cheering his death because he preached "hatred". While I don't personally agree with all of his stances, I'd have a hard time classifying a lot of his most criticized stances as "hatred". Publically stating that homosexuality is sinful or abnormal behavior? Not hatred. Stating that abortion was wrong? Not hatred. Stating that a wife should be subservient to her husband? Not hatred. Those views may be pretty strict and conservative, but as far as I can tell, that's all they are." --sometimes_witty

It's one thing to believe these things (which is bad enough), but you're taking it to another level when you do something like blame people who believe differently from you for a heinous offense such as the 9/11 attacks. Just because he didn't Hulk out in a ballistic rage while spewing his abominable, ridiculous accusations ... and just because his beliefs have their foundation in misogynistic, homophobic, small-minded conservative Christian values, it doesn't mean the message itself wasn't meant to inflame the emotions and hatred of others and encourage out-group intolerance and hostility.

The guy was a hate-monger. I don't "celebrate" his death because his death doesn't really do much to set back the bigoted causes he championed, and there are thousands of people just like him ready to spring up and take his place. What would have been much better is a genuine change of heart (and ideals) and renunciation of the shameful words of his past (a little of which he had admittedly done -- such as when he apologized for his comments regarding 9/11). Besides that, life is precious. Celebrating death isn't something I want to get in the habit of doing, even the death of someone as contemptible as Falwell.

Or for another point of view, here's Christopher Hitchens on Jerry Falwell and his passing.
Everything Is A*-OK
* "A" for America!

On OkCupid, gearheadanonymous reposts a chain letter that advises people to use their copies of the New York Times and Newsweek as bird litter in response to a "recent poll" that reports that most people are unhappy with the President and the direction of the country. It cites numerous facts about which we should be grateful, such as the relatively low unemployment rate, the fact that you can drive from coast-to-coast without having to present papers and the fact that if your house catches on fire, a band of professionals will rush to your aid to extinguish the flames, free of charge!

What follows is my commentary on this person's journal, with some minor edits for grammar and clarity,

Comment #1, May 16th 2007

Give me a break.

The supposed poll asks about the job the President is doing specifically, and the future direction of the country, and most of what is listed there is completely irrelevant in that context, as many of these facts were true before Bush took office, and will continue to be true for a while to come -- at least until we start to pay the price for some of our more ill-advised, short-sighted policies.

"With hurricanes, tornados, fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms tearing up the country from one end to another, and with the threat of bird flu and terrorist attacks, "Are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?" --original post

Now would be a great time to take God out of the pledge. God evidently isn't stopping all of those natural disasters from occurring in what is one of the most Christian nations on the planet.

We don't have God to thank about all of the great things we love about the country, we have people to thank. People, many of whom were secularists or only mildly religious (Thomas Jefferson, John Hamilton, Thomas Paine) founded the United States of America, not to worship God, but to practice freedom, democracy and fair government. People have worked to build up and maintain the nation (as have been responsible for allowing it to regress at times), not God. Attributing the greatness of America to God sells short the accomplishments of those who actually worked and bled to create the reality we now all enjoy (or sometimes, lament).

If we are going to have a chance of treating, or perhaps preventing a bird flu outbreak, it is going to be science, not prayers, that give us the answers -- just as the science of meteorology has saved lives in allowing us some forewarning of hurricanes, just as science and technology has been employed to contain fires such as the ones that have been ravaging my state, etc.

Now is not the time for blind faith or blind loyalty. This President has engaged in a relentless assault on our freedoms (have you ever heard of habeas corpus?) since taking office and has squandered thousands of American lives and many billions of taxpayer dollars on a totally unethical unilateral war of aggression, has proven himself an enemy to science, has no sense of fiscal restraint except when it comes to little things like effective social programs, education funding, and the list could go on.

Yes, there is a lot to be dissatisfied with.

My next comment was made in response to a user by the name of atomicturtle, who expressed the following sentiment: "Good thing for America, we don't really care about 'most places' worthless and meaningless opinion of us. That's right rest of the world. On behalf of America: Blow it out your ass. Don't like us? Kindly fuck off."

Comment #2, May 16th, 2007

Well, it makes sense to care what the rest of the world thinks of us, not because we want to win some sort of popularity contest but because we have to coexist somehow with the rest of the world. What a nation as powerful as the U.S. does has a significant ripple effort on the rest of the world. They should care about what we do, and we should care about what they think of us not just because it is practical for us to do so (because it influences how the rest of the world interacts with us) also because it's simply a small-minded and dangerous mode of thought to pretend as if the rest of the world just doesn't matter, that America is America, that we come first and we can do whatever the fuck we want.

Also, how the rest of the world thinks of you may be a decent barometer for determining how we should think of ourselves -- by trying to obtain some measure of balancing or objective criticism of our actions and policies. Living in the U.S., most people get most of their information about the U.S. policy (and its ramifications) from corporately owned and controlled sources based in the U.S. This list (in the original post) here rants on about the evils of the pessimistic liberal media -- going so far as to recommend that you just throw out all of those newspapers and news magazines, and I suppose by extension, in your opinion, we shouldn't be reading what the BBC, Al Jazeera or otherwise seek to obtain an external, international perspective either, eh? Everything is alright, just sit back and enjoy what freedoms you possess, enjoy your nation's abundant wealth and affluence. It's just this sort of ignorance-encouraging, piggish attitude that I imagine foreigners find so disgusting about the U.S. -- I like to think that it's their perspective of us is just an unfair, exaggerated stereotype, but reading this kind of stuff makes it a little more difficult to believe that is the case.

In a way, it's the fact that we are so comfortable is what upsets me. We've been at war for over five years straight now, and there's been no draft, no tax hikes (instead, we've had tax cuts), no rationing ... unless you're in the military or have a close friend or family member in the military, you haven't really had to suffer any direct consequences of our war making, for example. We have been cowed by our materialistic, creature comforts into not really giving a shit about the ethics or long term consequences of our actions half a world away. We're mortgaging our future and behaving in a manner that is simply vile. You can bet that if we were being asked to make real sacrifices today for our policies and war-mongering today, a lot more people would be asking questions about just what the hell it is we're trying to accomplish, and whether what we're doing is the right thing.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Atheism Defined

This is being cross-posted from my OkCupid journal as an explanation regarding my "religious" persuasion as listed on my profile for that site, but this blog entry should stand pretty well on its own for non-cupid users.

I was recently editing my profile, trying to clarify what it means when I declare myself an "atheist (and very serious about it)" where OkCupid solicits our religious belief. I realized that this clarification was getting to be rather lengthy. My profile is already rather long, so I figured it would make more sense to give a brief clarification in my profile and link to a more lengthy journal entry (the one you're reading now) for those interested.

The first thing I want to explain about atheism is that it is not a religion. As I recently heard someone put it; "Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby." I can excuse OkCupid for listing atheism and agnosticism under the "religions" details category because there is really no other category that is appropriate, unless they were to perhaps rename it "Religion/Philosophy/Personal World View" or something similarly unwieldy, or give atheism and agnosticism their own categories. I could select "N/A" as my religion, as that would be most appropriate, but it doesn't convey as much information to the casual profile browser. I'll come back to why I describe myself as "very serious about it [atheism]" later.

So then, to get down to it, what is atheism? As I just suggested, it's a world view.. To find out what atheism actually means, indulge me as I break the word down into its constituent components. Here is the word: atheism. The a part is means without. So atheism means "without theism." Theism (from theos) means "a belief in God or gods." Thus, to be atheist is to be "without belief in God or gods."

Note that being without belief in something is different from not believing that thing is possible. I do not believe that space aliens have visited Earth in the past. I do believe it is possible that they have done so. By default, we all tend to "not believe" anything unless we are convinced otherwise (we are presented with compelling evidence or arguments), or unless it seems probable/intuitively true. Atheists believe there is no compelling evidence for God and do not think his existence is probable. Atheists can, however, believe that it is possible that God exists.

Atheists are more or less divided up into two camps. There are what some people call agnostic atheists or weak atheists, who do not believe that God (or gods) exist -- but think it is possible that they do exist, and do not claim absolute knowledge that they do not exist. Then there are what some call gnostic atheists, or strong atheists who do not believe that God exists and, moreover, believe they know that God doesn't exist, or that his existence is not improbable, but impossible. Most atheists (including myself) fall into the former camp, agnostic/weak atheism.

Some might ask, "Isn't weak atheism the same as agnosticism?" Not quite. Atheism and agnosticism are actually the answers (or approaches) to two subtly different questions. Atheism or theism concerns the question of belief in God. Agnosticism or gnosticism address the question of whether or not God is known or knowable.

If someone were to ask me the question, "Do you believe God exists?" I would say, "No, I am atheist."

If someone were to ask me the question, "Can we know that God exists?" I would say, "No, I am agnostic."

Now, why is this debate on semantics and philosophic particulars important? There is a common misunderstanding of what it means to be atheist that leads believers and even non-believers (who usually call themselves "agnostics") that atheists hold a position that is fundamentally untenable or hypocritical. What these critics say is, "Atheists claim theists are irrational for believing in something without proof, but atheists claim to know that God doesn't exist -- also without proof!" This might make an excellent argument against atheism, except as I've described above, it intreprets the meaning of the word atheism incorrectly.

Most of the people who label themselves "agnostics," are in fact, atheists as well. Agnosticism is a common attribute of atheists, just as gnosticism is a common attribute of theists. There are some who cross the two philosophic outlooks/beliefs and are "gnostic atheists" or "agnostic theists," but they are both pretty uncommon.

Unfortunately, because of what I've just described, it means that atheists who honestly and accurately identify themselves as such sometimes suffer a certain stigma from others' lack of understanding -- a lack of understanding often perpetuated even by fellow atheists! Atheists (and the atheist community, such as it exists) tries to deal with this in various ways.

Sometimes we just call ourselves "agnostics" (even if we have to use it in a context where it is a less precise and relevant term) to save ourselves the hassle of explaining it all, particularly in situations where we wish to avoid the unfair judgment that may go along with identifying oneself as an atheist. The word agnostic is perceived in a softer, more forgiving light, so some atheists use it out of conciliation. Personally, I am uncompromising in my belief that my atheism is nothing to be ashamed of, so I tend to self-identify most often as an atheist. Another accurate and somewhat less contraversial term than atheist that sees some use is "non-theist."

Some atheists have taken to calling themselves something altogether different: brights. The word bright is one that some atheists are attempting to commandeer in the same way the homosexual community has appropriated the word gay to refer to themselves. All atheists are brights (according to those who have coined the term) just as all homosexuals are gay. Some atheists don't like the term (just as some homosexuals don't like the word gay) and feel that this approach to atheist advocacy is misguided. To an extent this may be true (as I indicated earlier, I prefer to just call myself an atheist), but I will happily and readily identify myself as a bright and also as a Bright (note the capital "b") -- someone who has joined the Brights "Internet constituency" to encourage free thought and acceptance/promotion of a naturalistic world view ... and since I'm so busy applying labels to myself right now, I am also a secular humanist.

Why does my profile indicate I am "very serious" about atheism? I think that all religion is irrational. Religions, at least theistic ones, are based on faith*, which is belief without evidence. Religion often tends to be actively hostile towards logic, rationality and science -- this is because logic, rationality and science have a tendency to erode faith, particularly when applied directly to religious claims.

Religion cannot credibly promise solutions to the problems humanity faces, and is likely to face going into the future. Reason and science just might. The world must suffer the ignorance of its influential elite and its masses. An educated populace is our best hope for the future. You can't have that in a world where reason and critical thought are held in contempt by prevailing religious ideologies.

Because I think religion is unnecessary and sometimes hostile to progress that could be made in the humanitarian endeavor, I suppose you can say I am an evangelical atheist. I've never met an evangelical person who isn't serious about their belief, so that's why my profile says I'm very serious about my atheism.

* A word on faith. Some people might tell me that I have faith in science, or faith in my family, which is no different from having faith in God. This is an example of equivocation. It is a logical fallacy. Faith, when used in the context of religious belief means "belief in absence of evidence" -- this I will maintain until someone provides me with direct proof that their religion represents some objective truth. If I were to speak of my faith in science, or faith in my family, it would mean something very different and might instead be characterized as trust, or even better, confidence. I have confidence in science and my family based on good reasons, strong evidence and past experience. This definition does not and can not apply to a person's belief in religious theism.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In Memory of Carl Sagan

Ten years ago, we lost one of our greatest champions of science. Carl Sagan helped the rest of us understand our place in the world, helped show us the exquisite beauty of the universe in all of its grand splendor. He captivated our imagination and sparked our curiosity, while ever reminding us to exercise a healthy skepticism and respect for the truth.

Above is a picture of the place where Carl spent all 62 years of his life, a pale blue dot called Earth, as viewed from the Voyager 1 probe near the edge of our solar system, 6 billion miles away.

To read what others have to say about the man, check out (or, better, participate) the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book Passage Meme

I'm indulging toomanytribbles this fun little meme thing.

The idea is this. You pick up the nearest book, blog the title and author, turn to page 123, skip to the fifth sentence and transcribe the next three.

You're also supposed to tap 3 other people to do the same.

The book is What Ifs? Of American History, edited by Robert Cowley. I received it as a Christmas present last year and, I have to admit, I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Page 123 is an essay written by Thomas Fleming called The Northwest Conspiracy.

The sentences:

But Johnson declined to cooperate.

Next 3:
On May 9, the War Department ordered the executions without further delay. By this time, with Morton's help, an appeal had been submitted to the federal district court in Indianapolis.
Arrangements were made to forward it swiftly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

OK, that's pretty lousy as I can't offer any illumination on to what it means. So let me pick the next closest book.

It is The Third Culture, edited by John Brockman.

I think they're so wrapped up in their gene-centered world that they have an incomplete ontology of biological nature.

Next 3:
George Williams was the one who bean taking evolution out of the passive mode and making it active. The translation of this is that organisms are out there competing, and although it looks like they're competing for food, they're competing for the opportunity to leave genes behind. At the reproductive-biology level, it's a good description of nature.

This is Niles Eldredge making a rather benign statement about George Williams and one of his contributions to evolutionary biology. It is sandwiched in between other sentences which criticize Williams, Dawkins and the other "ultra-Darwinists" who predominate the field today, for their heavily emphasis on genes, and their insistence that everything in evolution can be explained and understood on the genetic level. Eldredge claims that their extreme "reductionist" point of view the excludes a lot of consideration of higher levels of biological nature (individual organisms, species, etc.) as well as lower levels (like protein chemistry), which may play an equally important role in evolution.

I really don't have anybody to tap to participate in the meme who I think would be very interested, unfortunately. Except maybe Zithy, maybe mystyang.