Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thoughts on Femtheism

Feminists try to make everything about feminism. It’s like how economists try to make everything about economics and environmentalists make everything about the environment… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to figure it out. In fact, I assume a rocket scientist would just attribute it to physics and a brain surgeon would blame neurology.

Not everything is best viewed through the hypercritical lens of feminism, and yet some people try. I say people, because it’s not women… it’s people. It’s both men and women who have been taught and repeatedly told to look for every possible hint of gender in every possible aspect of our lives, and I can’t think of anything less feminist than putting such a high value on gender.

If you read my blog regularly, you might notice I don’t talk about gender much. This is mostly because I find gender to be unimportant, because it is. It doesn’t make one bit of difference whether a person is man, woman, something in between, or something beyond. It only matters if you have set out to treat people differently based on these distinctions.

I have noticed over the last few years a strange trend among certain circles of atheism. I say “certain circles,” only because I lack a better term for it. There are many atheists for whom this does not apply, and I’m not interested in pointing fingers at specific people, sites, cliques or affiliations. Suffice to say, if you’ve blogged about atheism for any length of time, you probably can relate to the type of people I’m about to talk about. Maybe you even sympathize with them at times, as I do.

Just this morning, I became acutely aware of them again, after a very peaceful détente of sorts. I won’t use the term “feminists,” because I’m a feminist and I won’t demonize feminism. Feminism didn’t do this. Also, a lot of other feminists aren’t foolish about it either, so I’ll just coin a new word to describe who I’m talking about: femtheists.

A femtheist is someone who sees the atheist community as their personal army of woman worshippers, while at the same time believing that there is a nefarious “sexism problem” in the atheist community writ large that must be discussed constantly.

In some respects, I like these people. I like that there are men and women who see that there are sexist atheists (because there are), and they want to get rid of sexist atheists, or perhaps maybe “correct” them. I don’t think many of us want sexist atheists in the atheist community, so no problems there.

I actually wonder why there are sexist atheists at all … I would like to blame their former religion, but that seems too easy and lazy. I’m also fairly confident that sexism is not exclusive to religion, just encouraged by it. I don’t have the answer as to why some atheists are sexist; I attribute it to the fact that atheism has nothing to do with encouraging gender equality, one way or the other, so there are bound to be some atheists who are sexist, just as there are atheists who are Republican (hey, no one’s perfect).

About the only group I know of that has no misogyny is Feminism, because that is its core value (and even then, I’m sure there is in-fighting of a nature where some claim others are not “true” feminists, and are actually hurting women).

But the problem with femtheism is not their message, which is sound and true. I don’t even have a problem with their methods as a whole, because I think it’s good for people to speak out and not mince words. I think most of us can get behind the idea that treating someone differently based on their gender isn’t fair, and if you see it, you should say something. I’m also not sure I have ever read the opinion of an atheist who actually defends sexism itself. Rather, I see the primary point of contention being over the issue of, “What is sexist?”

I think it’s a little sexist to hit on a woman who comments in an atheist forum. It’s a cute, little, adorable form of sexism, the kind of sexism that makes me think, “Really? Are you 12? What do you think could ever possibly come of that? Are you still upset that there’s no internet emote for that whistle construction workers let out when a lady in a dress walks by?”

But it’s mostly harmless. I say mostly, because it’s not completely harmless, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not why women are being paid less, it’s not why women still have to inexplicably defend their right to contraception and abortion, it’s not why some men don’t take women seriously. Seeing women as sexual beings is not what’s holding women down, and I think it’s less sexist than it is tactless, because women just want to be treated like anyone else in an online discussion. Why even bring up gender?

The problem I have with femtheists is not that they oppose sexism. Rather, the problem is that femtheists attribute the actions of one (or the actions of a collection of individuals) to the whole. This seems both unfair and hypocritical to me.

I don’t know of any atheist manifesto suggesting women stay in the home, where they belong. I don’t know of any atheist public action groups fighting against women’s rights. As a matter of fact, the atheist community at large is responsible for combating the largest misogynistic organizations in the world. If you support atheism, you’re supporting a feminist cause. There’s no way around that.

So, imagine my surprise when these femtheists can’t seem to separate atheists who are sexist from the atheist community at large. I see this over-reaching view that the “atheist community has a sexism problem” being repeated ad nauseum. The inability to separate some atheists from the entirety of the atheist community is infuriating to the vast majority of us who don’t treat women differently.

The sexism I see most often is directed at men, with the sole intent being to take what a man says out of context in order paint them as some sort of woman-hater. Does this mean atheism has a misandry problem? Hell no, it means a few femtheists are assholes, and nothing more. I don’t blame atheism as a whole, I don’t blame feminists as a whole, I blame the people doing it.

It’s ludicrous. It’s maddening. It’s self-defeating, ignorant, pointless, and wrong. The atheist community is a feminist community in most respects, even though it is composed primarily of men (a fact I still find mind boggling, in light of how religion treats women).

And if you try to point out the fact that atheists as a group are fighting for feminist ideals, it’s perceived by the femtheist as a denial of “the problem.” Let that sink in a bit… it’s not enough that you support feminism, it’s not enough that you support the rights of women, it’s not even enough that you personally treat women the same as men. No, in order to be acceptable to femtheists, you have to demonize the atheist community as a whole for being sexist, or else you’re a denialist who is part of the problem…

Fuck that.

It’s ridiculous, and it’s almost enough to make me not want anything to do with feminists. I say almost, because even though I’m angry, even though I cannot stand such baseless, broad-sweeping criticism of a group like atheists, who are almost entirely on the side of these gender-obsessed prats who are attacking them… I’m not willing to be as bad as femtheists. It’s not feminism that is doing this, and I refuse to blame feminism for the ignorance of a few.

What I find most ironic about all of this is the issue of language. Femtheists are big-time language Nazis. If you don’t use the right words the right way, they jump all over you. Esoteric vocabulary has become the measure for how to separate the “sexists” from the “acceptable.” Intent means nothing to the femtheist; all that matters is word choice.

I find this to be a bogus, frivolous view of what feminism should be.

Yet, femtheists are absolute hypocrites when it comes to language. For all their demands on everyone else to be careful with their words, the femtheist thinks nothing of lumping all atheists together. It’s the fault of the entire atheist community if there are comments on a reddit atheist forum post. I don’t even use reddit, but somehow I’m culpable.

It’s good to speak out against sexism. I’ve done it, and I’ll continue to do it. Only now, I’m also making it my mission to point out inaccurate and misleading language when it is used by femtheists. I do this not as a disgruntled man, but as an embarrassed feminist, a feminist who is told, “You’re not a feminist,” by ignorant people who don’t know me.

I am now, and will always be, a feminist. No amount of bitter denial from nay-sayers can make me see women and men as anything but deserving of equal treatment. I’m not even surprised by this denial of my feminism, because being a feminist has made some question if I’m really a man, so why wouldn’t some question if I’m really a feminist based on that fact that I am a man?

If you actually read this, thank you.

Wednesday Word: Snackrifice

Snackrifice: the act of giving up chocolate or other junk food for lent

Snippet: “Sexism” in Atheism

If I see one more stupid post by an atheist [who I actually read... as opposed to nobodies posting links in my comments] about how sexism is rampant in the atheist community, I am out. I want nothing to do with this bullshit culture of victimhood being cultivated by certain oversensitive know-nothings who just want to complain about something, anything. I’ve also noticed it’s not even primarily women doing this; it’s men, which leads me to believe the guys are only doing this to impress women (I can only assume to sleep with them, a truly noble feminist cause…).

Clearly it’s atheists out in society trying to take away a woman’s right to contraception and abortion. It’s atheists who raise women to be ashamed of their sexuality. It’s atheists who view women as second class citizens. Yeah, atheism is the problem…

Shut the fuck up already. The enemy is out there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

America, Where the Buffalo Rome...

There’s only one reason why most Americans ever mention “the fall of the Roman Empire,” and that’s to attribute something they don’t like as being the cause of Rome crumbling. I see it not only with politicians, but also among hack historians and even everyday people.

Any good historian will say basically the same thing: you can’t pin down what caused Rome to fall. This isn’t to say, “We don’t know what caused it to fall,” but rather, so many different factors played a part, so many variables need to be considered, and so many details are even missing, that it’s impossible to draw a simple, “this is what caused Rome to fall” conclusion.

Christians claim it was sexual deviance, moral depravity, pagan excess, and basically everything non-Christian which caused Rome to fall… completely ignoring that Rome fell while under Christian rulership, and to Christian invaders, no less. Good luck with that bullshit…

I’ve also seen atheists try to just flat out blame Christianity, as if the Christian religion somehow caused Rome to fall. Don’t get me wrong, I hate what Christianity did to Europe in the 3rd-5th centuries and beyond, but it would be ridiculous to blame Christianity as even a prime factor, let alone the leading cause. The worst thing Christianity did during this time was close down non-Christian institutions like the Academy. That is sad and an embarrassing legacy for Christians, but it’s not the cause of the fall of Rome.

Economists claim it was currency devaluation or the rising costs of running a large empire, all valid points. Socialist and Communist thinkers blame opulence among the nobility, economic exploitation of the poor, and the rise of workers as the cause. Medically inclined individuals will point to disease and lead poisoning as taking a heavy toll on the population. Sociologists point to changing social norms, demographic shifts, and mass immigration. Those more environmentaly minded point to changes in climate, deforestation, and soil degradation.

Most of these are true, in that they happened, but they do not individually account for the “fall of Rome.”

Call me crazy, but if I was going to blame one thing, it would be a single policy decision made by Constantine: to move the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the decision to move the political, military, and cultural center of the empire from Europe to the Middle East probably had a little something to do with Europe’s eventual fall. Keep in mind that Rome fell, but the Byzantine empire remained in place as the true heir of Rome for centuries to come.

Looking at Rome specifically, it catastrophically “fell” for a very simple reason: water. The aqueduct system was the pinnacle of technological achievement at the time, bringing fresh water into the city for use by over a million people. Then, through lack of maintenance and attacks upon the infrastructure by Rome’s enemies, the aqueducts failed. Within a matter of years, the population shrank to tens of thousands, because cities don’t just work like magic: they require civic planning.

If you don’t have something as basic as water, the people will not – nay, cannot – stick around. But it’s more complex than all of this.

Why did Constantine move the capitol? Well, the empire was expanding east (they already went as west as you could go). Constantinople (modern day Instanbul, in Turkey) is also geographically superior in many respects, as it is near the crossroads of where two continents meet by land (with easy sea-access to a third, Africa). As a center of trade, Constantinople was a better choice.

It’s also closer to the religious heart of the empire’s new faith, and if you want to rebrand your empire, you are better off going someplace fresh and building from the ground up than you are trying to tear down all the memories of the old ways. In a very real sense, Rome was literally abandoned, left to rot.

Without the economic and engineering might of the Roman empire propping it up anymore, Rome was bound to fall. The aqueducts were the final catalyst, but the near constant danger of invaders didn’t make the city a very attractive home. It was a liability to be in a place known for its wealth, especially after it was no longer the military center of the empire.

And really, people didn’t leave Rome for thirst, they left it because it was unlivable. The first thing to go after the aqueducts began to fail was not drinking water, but wash water. Hygiene has already been an issue since the Christians ended the practice of public baths, but with the loss of fresh water from afar, people were now doing laundry and dumping their waste into the same water they had to drink from. It shouldn’t shock anyone that disease became a serious problem at this point.

There was also a shortage of water for irrigating crops. Arable land became harder to come by, as much of it also became over farmed and became nutrient-poor. With all the usable land already under ownership and people’s options slowly disappearing, you begin seeing a gradual shift from independently minded Roman citizens and farmers to serfs working the land of a wealthy noble.

One of the primary problems at this time in history was the lack of opportunity; if you were not already a wealthy land-owner with good, fertile farms or you didn’t serve in the military, your options at this time often dried up pretty quickly.

Increasingly, Rome could not depend on the Emperor for protection and began privately funding their defense. Germanic mercenary armies worked out for a while, until Rome could no longer pay them… then these same armies became Rome’s oppressors. Rome made the fatal mistake of entrusting their defense to a source that had no loyalty or accountability to the people. You cannot vote mercenaries out of power; you either pay them, or they take from you what they want.

Rome also had one of the strangest economies in history. From a production standpoint, they really produced only a few things in vast quantities: food, basic goods (like pottery), art, and weapons. The bulk of the economy of Rome was dependent upon a system that was doomed to fail, that of a plunder economy.

Rome had gotten rich, not from the sweat of the backs of Roman citizens, but from the sweat of those they defeated in battle. Even most of the real work done in Rome was not done by Romans, but by slaves taken in battle. Rome did not mine for metals on a scale you might expect from an empire that relied so heavily upon iron, copper, nickel, silver and gold. Rather, they demanded these as “tribute” from weaker, neighboring groups.

Once Rome ran out of people to exploit (and they almost did, once their boundaries stretched to the limits of populated Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa), their economy began to shrink. In a plunder economy, any empire not growing is dying. There is no balanced state of equilibrium in a plunder economy. You’re either expanding and enriching the empire, or you are slowly using up your reserves, waiting for those you exploit to revolt.

Throw in the addition of a few Asian invaders, like the Huns, and it’s no surprise that the borders of Rome began to crumble. No economy of this type can persist, because there is an inevitable breaking point where the military power is spread too thin to continue the necessary growth. Then, it’s only a matter of time before interior and/or outside forces upset the delicate system of extorting the disparate people on the fringe of the empire.

Too often, modern people want to associate their political views with Rome, because Rome is such a tragic story. No one wants to end up like Rome did, and yet everyone wants to be as great as Rome was. Every empire in Western Civilization since the fall of Rome has seen itself as Rome’s successor, and America is just the most recent incarnation of that.

It should be no surprise that ideologues want to superimpose their dire warnings of modern problems upon Rome. “If only I can prove Rome did this, and that this is why the empire fell, I might be able to save my people.” It’s almost valiant, in a way, if it weren’t for how egotistical and self-aggrandizing most of these people are, and how little they actually understand of Rome.

Top Ten: Things Americans Should Not Take Seriously

10. Fox News
9. Sports
8. The “plight” of the rich
7. Religion
6. Anything celebrities say or do
5. The end of the world
4. The Republican Party
3. Life
2. Jokes
1. Traffic delays

Monday, February 27, 2012

Discussion: Drugs & Religion

Should the freedom to legally use drugs be part of a person’s freedom to practice their religion? I only ask because I’ve seen religious people claim that atheism leads to drug use and that atheism is a religion… so doesn’t that mean a ban on drugs is discrimination based on atheist religious views?

Half-Baked Conspiracy #2

You know why the water doesn’t taste right anymore? In the mid-1950s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi did some research to determine how to increase their sales. They found that their primary competitor wasn’t orange juice or apple juice or any kind of juice at all. It wasn’t milk or Kool-Aid or even alcohol. It was water.

So, they started hiring planes to disperse a chemical in the air, one which would be barely perceptible, except to those who know to look for it. You know those lines you see sometimes that form behind planes? Yep, that’s the chemical, before it rains down on us.

You see, this chemical is a special growth protein that makes frogs develop extra limbs, because as we all know, the feet of tail-less amphibians secrete a special hormone that causes fish to undergo a sex change and become male. All these extra feet are enough to alter the gender balance of the estuary populations.

Once all these fish are male, they spawn all over the place, filling the water with fish sperm. But that’s not what makes the water tastes funny. No, the sperm in turn floats innocently to the bottom of a body of water, where it settles on rocks. This increase in readily available genetic material super-charges the evolutionary rate of fresh-water rocks, to the point that the rocks evolve into living sea life within a short period of time. Whole new species of rock-fish have developed which we don’t know how to handle.

So, the US government traps these rock-fish and sells to them to the Chinese, who serve them to Apple’s slave laborers as “Super Happy #1 Seafood Stones” (well, that’s a rough translation). This made millions of Chinese workers lose their teeth, which got the Communist Party interested in dental care. They perfected a means of tooth-transplant, but the tooth must come from a live donor and be healthy.

They already have horrible teeth and they needed another source, so they convinced the American government to put fluoride in our water to keep our teeth healthy, because one day, China is invading… for our teeth.

And that’s why our water tastes so bad.

Half-Baked Conspiracy #1

[Originally posted May 2011 at Skeptical Eye. Reposted here in honor of a phone call I just got from a comedy group looking to use some of these ideas in a sketch.]

Something has me very conspiratorial lately. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I haven’t been sleeping much lately or if those years of eating paint chips as a kid are catching up to me (they’re just so sweet… and I swear the green ones are also minty).

I not only wear a tin foil hat these days, I also wear a tin foil condom. My logic? Sure the brain in my skull is protected, but I know where most of my thoughts really come from.

But the true object of my obsession is not what the lame-stream media wants it to be. It would be too easy to point out how the royal wedding was used to distract bin Laden so that he could be kidnapped and held in Guantanamo so that he can be cloned to form an army of bin Ladens that will be assembled to invade Mars, all to distract us from Obama’s false birth certificate which was released to draw attention away from the fact that the real one contains information regarding Big Foot’s assassination of Kennedy.

That’s self evident. You people don’t need me to tell you that stuff. There’s still a thing called “common knowledge,” after all.

No, I’m here to point out a conspiracy that occurred right under our noses. In fact, you might say that I eat conspiracies like this for lunch, and it’s certainly not stale and moldy. I want to bite off more than I can chew with this post… boy are these puns crumby.

Sliced bread, people. Sliced… fucking… bread. Yes, the greatest invention in human history, the one by which all other inventions are measured. I have privileged information about how this milestone in human technology is actually… something quite different.

Now, people will tell you that aliens don’t exist, but these people usually have an implant that controls what they say. Anyone who is willing to focus only on the evidence in favor of the idea will see quite clearly that aliens have not only landed, but they walk among us even now. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a few in your attic or crawlspace.

Has anything weird or unexplained ever happened to you or someone you know? Yep, it was aliens. Bumps in the night, lost items, unexplained rectal bleeding… aliens, one and all.

These aliens not only live on our planet, they sometimes interact with us. Sometimes they crash and we find the debris of their ships, or they abduct a drunk, bored person from the middle of nowhere and perform weird experiments on them. But sometimes, aliens share their advanced technology with us.

Now, what I’m about to tell you may shake you to the core. I would ask now that all pregnant women and those with heart conditions leave the room. Also, put down any beverage you may be drinking, because a spit take is imminent.

Aliens gave us the technology for pre-sliced bread.

Let that bake in the old oven for a minute...

But why? Why would these nefarious extraterrestrials give us such advanced knowledge? The truth is, sliced bread is all part of their plan to take over the world.


Before sliced bread, women had to slice the bread. Several slices a day, several times a day. This added up to hours a year, days over a lifetime. It was when sliced bread was introduced in the early 20th century that women started leaving the home, freed of their duty of slicing bread.

Women then went to work, diluting the labor market, leaving children to be raised by the television (another aliens invention). One day, freed from the home, women will run the world, and in their peace-loving naiveté, the nations of Earth will disarm… leaving the door open for the alien invasion.

There you have it. I have just blown the lid off the greatest conspiracy I ever came up with at 3am and scribbled on a notepad. Now if you excuse me, I have to get ready for the Rebirther rally I’m attending today.

[For those interested, Rebirthers are a group who want proof that Barack Hussein Obama is not Adolf Hitler reincarnated.]

Monday Rule: Home State

If you have lived in the same state your whole life and never even stepped foot in another, you shouldn’t vote in elections for candidates who represent the country at a national level.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Snippet: Stop Blaming Religion

I’m done blaming religion. It’s not religion that fights to impose a strict, unrealistic, and hopelessly flawed ideology on others. Religion never killed anyone, hurt anyone, honor raped anyone, stoned anyone, lashed anyone, or even slapped the wrist of anyone. If you blame religion, you might as well blame violence on rap or Hollywood or video games. All religion can do is tell a story. It’s religious people who do horrible things.

Belief is not the problem, it’s believers you have to watch out for. Or, to put it in terms religious people might understand: I don’t give a shit about the sin anymore, I hate the sinners.

Two Dudes: Password

Discussion: The Quran

If Muslims are so opposed to destruction of the Quran, why don’t we line our embassies, military bases, personal transports, and body armor with Qurans?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Best President in a Generation?

Sorry it took so long. I only wish I had made the poll last longer, because I missed a lot of traffic almost immediately after the poll closed. Oh well, no big deal.

With 30% of the vote, Bill Clinton got the most votes in my “Who is the best president of the last 40 years?” poll. The full results are listed below (since they won’t be on my sidebar forever):

Nixon: 3 (3%)
Ford: 1 (1%)
Carter: 13 (16%)
Reagan: 16 (20%)
Bush I: 1 (1%)
Clinton: 24 (30%)
Bush II: 2 (2%)
Obama: 19 (24%)

Total Votes: 79

I got slightly less than half as many people to vote in this poll, largely because I had unusually high traffic during the last poll from my interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke of Camels With Hammers.

I have to say, the only shocking result for me was how many votes Obama got. I kind of expected Clinton to win, but I really figured Carter would get the second most votes for a Democrat. I couldn’t be less shocked about the results regarding the Republicans.

Republicans are pretty solidly behind Reagan. Even in a recent Gallop poll, Reagan was the most popular post-WWII Republican.

While my poll did not go back so far, I want to point out that Republicans are brain dead for thinking Reagan was a better president than Eisenhower. Ike may arguably be the best president of the 20th century, with only FDR and Teddy Roosevelt (the latter also a Republican) giving him any real competition.

Democrats and liberals frequently split their votes on who the best president from the post-WWII era is between FDR, Kennedy and now Clinton. Kennedy should not even be in the running; anyone who thinks he was the best president during any time period is arguably giving him the sympathy vote.

[Interesting note on Kennedy: Republicans used to be afraid that Kennedy would be a mouthpiece for the Pope and the Catholic Church. Now, millions of them vote for Rick Santorum.]

But enough focusing on presidents who weren’t even on my ballot… over the last 40 years, it’s hard to pick a “best president.” We’ve had a long run of corrupt criminals and ineffectual failures. In many ways, one has been presented with the sort of gambit voters for the last 40 years have been faced with every four years: picking the least horrible candidate.

Again, I didn’t vote in this one, and frankly, I won’t pick one. I will speak on each, however, and provide what little insight I have by narrowing down who I would consider the best (not that it’s all that important).

Nixon is a highly under-rated president. He did a lot of important things which are overshadowed by the bad.

He began the initial troop withdrawals from the Vietnam War, though he had expanded the conflict into Cambodia. He had arguably one of the best Secretaries of State in the modern era with Henry Kissinger, and their strides towards peaceful ties with China were impressive (even while it was still under Chairman Mao, as opposed to his more reasonable successors, like Deng Xiaoping). His South American policies, namely the suppression of Salvador Allende and the subsequent rise of the tyrannical Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile turned out to be a disaster, but Nixon was successful in making progress in peace deals with the Soviets.

Domestically, he did a fair job of handling an economy experiencing high inflation, high interest rates, and high deficits due to the Vietnam War. His decision of ending the gold standard has turned out to be sound (despite crackpot Ron Paul supporters’ claims to the contrary), but his institution of price controls resulted in meat shortages and years of failed government control over many industries.

Nixon formed the EPA from the ground up, and it was during his presidency that man first walked on the moon. He enacted the first major federal affirmative action program (Philadelphia Plan of 1970). He endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment before and after it passed both houses, though it failed to be ratified by the states.

Oh, and he spied on his opponents, intimidated and blackmailed people, created the “War on Drugs,” and was the only president in history to resign. It’s hard to overlook those aspects of his presidency.

Ford was not much of a president. He was the first president sworn in, who was not on any prior presidential ticket, having been appointed by Nixon after his initial VP, Spiro Agnew, resigned over tax issues. Ford pardoned Nixon, heralding a new era of government not being held accountable. Still, this forgiveness also went to good use, when Ford signed Presidential Proclamation 4313, which decreased and in some cases dropped criminal charges and punishments for draft dodgers.

He narrowly edged out Ronald Reagan for the 1976 Republican nomination, and lost to Jimmy Carter. The only other remarkable aspect of his presidency was two separate assassination attempts against him, both by women (and maybe the incident of him falling down while debarking from Air Force One, which helped launch Chevy Chase’s career).

Carter had an interesting presidency, and he is high in the running for best of the last 40 years. He did something for everyone, really. For conservatives, he was a big deregulator. He deregulated the American beer industry and removed the ban on the sale of malt, hops and yeast for the purposes of home brewing, measures which had been in place since prohibition. Carter essentially opened the doors for the American microbrew. He also helped deregulate the pricing of air travel. He signed measures that reduced and eventually eliminated all price controls on airfare.

Had Ted Kennedy not quashed it, Carter would have been responsible for providing comprehensive healthcare coverage to Americans. He encouraged Americans to conserve energy and famously installed solar panels on the White House. He called the need to cut back on energy “the moral equivalent of war,” as price hikes in retaliation for the Yom Kippur War in 1973 were imposed artificially by the newly formed OPEC. He also pulled the US out of the 1980 Olympics, an unprecedented move, in reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

All in all, Carter wasn’t that awful, but he wasn’t popular in his time, and it is only now (in retrospect, when compared to his successors) that some people are starting to rethink his presidency as perhaps being a minor success, though not stellar.

Reagan… what more can I say about Reagan that hasn’t already been said about pancreatic cancer… all I can say is, it’s a shame Hinckley was such a shitty shot.

Reagan’s VP, George H.W. Bush, is in the same boat as Carter. I think he should be a finalist in the running for the best president in my poll, and like Carter, he was an unpopular one-term president in his time. He’s famous for telling us to “read his lips,” and then raising taxes… but his tax policy was sound, as he was just doing his job as a fiscal conservative.

The Reagan years had accrued a heavy debt due to billion-dollar deficit spending, and Bush I’s failure to gain public support for raising taxes has more or less doomed the Republican Party and US credit. What’s more, Bush I suggested many cuts that would have balanced the budget and reduced the deficit by $500 billion over five years, but Republicans in Congress rejected the plan.

Still, that makes Bush I’s greatest failure the American people who elected (or rather, re-elect) him. Bush I also pushed for NAFTA (which was passed in Clinton’s first year). This policy has taken heat over the years, but there’s little evidence I have seen that it was particularly damaging (though if you’re a low-income worker, you will probably always hate NAFTA for opening the door to international free trade that caused most factory jobs to cross our borders and eventually go overseas).

The Brady Bill was also passed under Bush, pushed through with support from both Reagan and Reagan’s Press Secretary, James Brady, who was shot during the near-successful assassination attempt on Reagan. Welfare benefits increased under his watch, largely to handle the increase in poverty and homelessness resulting from the atrocious Reagan administration. He signed into law acts which helped both the physically disabled and increased the amount of legal immigrants who could enter the US.

He had a rather successful (though occasionally a bit misguided) set of foreign policies, including a very brief, effective skirmish with Iraq that didn’t bog us down for years, like his son’s boondoggle. Military action in Panama also successfully forced Manuel Noriega, a former US ally who was notorious for facilitating drug smugglers, to surrender to US forces, thanks in no small part to The Clash’s “I Fought The Law” played at high volumes on infinite loop outside the Vatican Embassy, where Noriega was holed up.

Bush I also famously puked in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister (which arguably made him amusingly more popular at a time when many feared the economic rise of Japan).

Still, an above-average presidency could not endear Bush I to the American people like Clinton’s charisma and saxophone. Bush I’s tax policies made many Republicans feel betrayed, and Clinton easily won the presidency in 1992.

Clinton’s administration was marked by a strange combination of largely conservative policies and harsh attacks from the Right. Republicans were aggressive early on, constantly investigating his every move. From the Whitewater real estate scandal to his extra-marital affair with Lewinsky (his denial of which prompted an impeachment), Clinton’s presidency was constantly under legal attack from Republicans.

Still, his policies were largely moderate or conservative. He continued Bush’s work on the Brady Bill and NAFTA, signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (the largest Federal obstacle to gay marriage being recognized nationwide), and enacted the now infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military.

Clinton gets, and deserves, quite a bit of credit for the economic boom that occurred during his presidency. His mantra had been “It’s the economy, stupid,” and the policies of his administration largely opened the door for the internet’s exploding popularity and influence. Clinton was the first in years and the last to date to not only balance the budget, but even run a surplus. Coupled with the success of the previous fiscal responsibility of George H.W. Bush, the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth occurred under Bush I and Clinton.

Clinton might be the easy choice for best president of the last 40 years, and he’s almost undeniably the best two-term president since Eisenhower.

Then we have George W. Bush… oh boy. In most ways, Reagan was much worse than Bush, but in other ways… the things I would like to say about W would land me on a list of some sort.

Bush made torture part of US policy. He suppressed and intimidated many who opposed his policies. He ran up record deficits, bogged America down in two wars, signed the unconstitutional PATRIOT ACT into law, and, oh yeah, just sat there with a dumb look on his face as the US was under attack. He banned Federal funding of stem-cell research, holding medicine back by years. He basically handed the EPA over to the oil companies. He ignored the victims of hurricane Katrina. He essentially ruined twelve years of progress at the federal level and embodied the very idea that government can’t do anything right, both in word and action.

Bush did have some successes. He took an active interest in Africa, and experts on the matter say he did more for the continent than any president before him. He was also notable for his support of the space program. Still, his presidency does not exactly put him in the running for any awards except “Worst Human Being Alive.” His legacy may be doomed, because unlike Reagan (who was deified until the very end by Republicans), Bush II was not popular, even on the right, by the end of his presidency. Most clear-thinking individuals see him as one of America’s great mistakes.

Then you have Obama, whose presidency has so far been comparable to Clinton. Whether this is an indication of his ability to get re-elected or be remembered as an effective leader is still up in the air, but my instincts say he will probably be remembered in certain circles as better than Clinton, and amongst the general population as being Bill’s less-horny clone.

Obama suffers from the same problem Clinton did: he is a moderate centrist who frequently backs conservative policies, yet conservatives are so bitter (perhaps at his ability to be a more effective Republican than their failed candidate) that they are blinded by hate to his handful of successes. And Obama has had successes, even though he has let many liberals down (like myself, not that I voted for him).

His economic policies have been very sound, despite the chorus of conservative screeching to the contrary. Unless things nosedive between now and the election, he will have successfully navigated a recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression… in three and a half years. If so, this would be unprecedented.

He also oversaw the largest healthcare overhaul in US history, while keeping all the power in the hands of private insurers (in the model of Republican governors like Mitt Romney’s model in Massachusetts). He also oversaw the killing of some guy named “Osama bin Laden.” Many of the things Republicans attribute to Obama (like TARP and massive deficits) were policies signed into law by Bush II and out of Obama’s hands.

His primary liberal accomplishment has been the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. He also helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with the help of stalwart financial sector reformers like Elizabeth Warren.

However, he has kept Guantanamo Bay open, he kept alive the Bush II tradition of infringing upon civil liberties for the sake of “national security,” he continues to prosecute California medical marijuana dispensaries, and he has not kept a handful of other campaign promises (notably regarding the environment and corporate regulation).

Still, Obama has already had a more successful presidency than any Republican in the last 40 years except George H.W. Bush. Like Carter, Obama is notable for not having done much that is too objectionable (though there are those who say his indefinite-detention and unmanned drone policies are problematic, to say the least).

I think, if you look over the last 40 years, it’s down to Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and maybe (if one is being generous) Barack Obama. Between those first three, it’s almost impossible to tell which was the best president. It really comes down to what you value, and which of them did more that you personally support.

Or, as is likely the case with those who votes for the likes of Reagan, Clinton, Obama or maybe even Carter, it might be a matter of who you like as a person more (Bush I was not a likeable guy… but you have to be foolish to question his actual credentials and results). For most of those who pick someone like Reagan or Obama (or perhaps even Clinton, in some cases), what you’re seeing is largely emotional devotion, not to the actual man or his policies, but the idea of him, to the ideals people wish these presidents embodied, rather than the actual policies.

Personally, I still cannot pick a “favorite.” I think it comes down to Carter, Bush I and Clinton, with Obama possibly making the list after his presidency is over and his legacy is better understood, but of the first three… I couldn’t even try to say which was better. I would have loved to see a second term out of Carter, and it’s hard to tell what the American landscape would look like if Reagan had died in 1981 and Bush I had taken over at that point (he could then only run once more in 1984, since he would have been president for over 2 years in the first term).

Who did/would you pick, and why?

Saturday Reflection #70

A society is doomed when it gets more joy out of knocking someone down than in helping a person up.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Brief History of Liberals

My esteemed colleague in blogging over at Heathen Republican recommended an article which I found as fascinating as it was voluminous. It might seem daunting to a casual reader, but if you have any interest in the history of liberalism from the 17th century to the present, “The Once and Future Liberalism” does a good job, with particular emphasis being placed on the present crisis of liberal identity.

In case you don’t read it (or would like a primer), the ideas presented are thankfully rather simple. Liberalism as a whole is never truly defined in the article, partly because it is a difficult task defining something that changes so often. In fact… I think that ought to be what liberalism is defined as: change. While Obama is no liberal, he (or his campaign) did a flawless job of distilling the very essence of what liberalism is into one simple word we all understand.

The origins of liberalism date back to ancient times and there is a near continuous tradition that weaves its way into the Golden Era of the Muslim world from as early as the 8th century, but liberalism as we know it in the English-speaking world does not come about until the 1600s during the Enlightenment. Liberalism then went through, according to Walter Russell Mead, 4-5 changes, or “versions.”

Liberalism 1.0: Brought on by a whole political and religious sea change which included the Copernican Revolution and the Protestant Reformation, liberalism was essentially the search for a better way. It’s major political accomplishment was ending the autonomous rule of monarchs and the implementation of parliamentary systems of legislation.

Liberalism 2.0: The liberalism of the American founding fathers and France in the late 1700s outright opposed the idea of a king, and their legacy is arguably that of democracy.

Liberalism 3.0: This changed into a more recognizably modern liberalism in the 1800s, with a rise in individualism and the slow process of extending rights to all people, regardless of skin color or gender. In this era, you see the ending of slavery, the push for universal suffrage, and a general view that the “government is best which governs least.” (Thoreau, 1849) This is where modern Republicanism gets its roots, and though the party changes quite a bit, this is still a mindset common among Republicans.

Liberalism 4.0: By the turn of the century, you see that people stop fearing the government so much as they fear big business. The rise of the robber barons results in a truly difficult economic time, and liberalism changes radically under the hand of both Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Democrats like FDR (whose New Deal essentially ushered in Liberalism 4.1). By the end of WWII, liberalism was almost indistinguishable from socialism, and each was an attempt to hold off the spread of full-blown communism.

In this article, Mead does a good job of outlining these forms of liberalism, but I think he misses a step when analyzing the current situation. Still, he’s not making outrageous claims I disagree with… I think he is looking at it differently than I am, and as a result, he doesn’t see what I see.

Liberalism is not aimless, it is only half aimless. Socially, we know what needs to change. Gay people should be allowed to marry. Healthcare is a basic human right all are entitled to. The environment will not defend itself, so we need to do it. We need to close the pay gap between men and women. There’s really a whole host of social justice issues liberals are already rallying behind which are not obsolete with the times. If anything, we have fallen behind the rest of the developed world in this regard.

At this point, I want to point out that Democrats, while occasionally talking a big game on social issues, are largely conservatives who are willing to begrudgingly back gradualism. When I talk about liberalism, I’m going to avoid party distinction.

While I wouldn’t call it a weakness, economic policy is the area in which modern liberalism is at its weakest, and also least focused or principled. While the social sphere is a place where liberals tend to feel comfortable and hold a fair amount of superior ground, most liberals wouldn’t know a free market from a command economy, and the average liberal doesn’t know the first thing about the complications of a modern economy. I know the first thing… not much else.

And yet, the economics of the various versions of Liberalism are really where the interesting changes occur. The social aspects just move in a predictable fashion, but the economics is much more complicated.

The economics of liberalism are impossible to pin down, largely because the economic situation has changed so much and so many times since the 1600s. We have gone from monarchist mercantilism to slave-dependent agrarianism to free agrarianism to laissez-faire industrialism to regulated-industrialism to international corporatism. We also see similar strains of policies played out in different systems.

Take, for example, the spoils system of 3.0 Liberalism, whereby politicians amassed support through organized groups, unions, causes, etc. A sub-leader organizes a large chunk of voters, linked by anything from race to profession, and has them vote as one in support of a politician who promises to not only benefit the group as a whole, but also grant privileges to the sub-leader (many of those at the heads of a large voting bloc could expect a cabinet position if they were important enough, or possibly appointment to a judicial position).

Compare this to cronyism in the 4.0-4.1 system, with government contracts going to donors and preferential legislation or tax loopholes for major corporate supporters. It’s essentially one in the same, only instead of obedience on the part of voters for a sub-leader, money is used to sell candidates through the effective medium of advertising.

What you see is a natural relationship growing between business interests and the government. It reminds me of a problem inherent in Liberalism 1.0 and 2.0: the need to separate church and state (and for that matter, the prohibition of state control of the press).

There needs to be a clear barrier between business and politicians, a separation of work and state. It’s not that I think putting up restrictions will end all corruption, just as religion still weasels its way into the public debate. Rather, putting up a ban is meant to deter and provide recourse in the event of an infraction. Making murder illegal doesn’t stop all murder, but people would be nuts to think we should just let it go unpunished.

There is also a problem in wealth distribution, and I am of the strong opinion we can look to our own past to see how to fight this.

Highly progressive income taxes are not about paying off deficits or expanding government. Rather, the effective reason for taxing income over a certain high plateau is to prevent the accumulation of mega-wealthy individuals who amass generational fortunes, often using that wealth to unfairly influence the political process (or exploit workers, or legally intimidate opposition or competitors, or… really, nothing good seems to come out of wealth concentrated in the hands of a few).

Progressive taxes don’t work by a mechanism of the government “redistributing wealth,” either. It’s not like the government takes the money and just gives it to poor people. Rather, under a highly progressive tax, the private individuals receive diminished returns on their income over a certain point, causing a natural private distribution of wealth. Progressive taxes historically raise the income of all earners except those making most of their yearly income above the threshold of the highest quintile.

These measures were under effect during our 50s, 60s and 70s, when the highest income tax rate was over 70% (sometimes over 90%). While liberalism is about progress and trying new things, that policy worked, and it was only repealed by Reagan, a 3.0 Liberal, who did so under the auspices of 3.0 Liberal ideology, namely, that less government is better. I wouldn’t rollback the separation of church and state, and I think it was a huge mistake the rollback progressive taxes of ~70% at the highest rate.

I would also eliminate corporate taxes and replace them with regulation on the use of corporate property. The reasoning here is that with a proper progressive income tax, it isn’t right or beneficial to double-tax corporate earnings. When a company makes a million dollars, that million dollars should go to pay employees, increase capital, fund research, and basically be productive for those who earned it. However, there needs to be restrictions on CEOs buying “corporate jets” that are used as their own personal toys.

I think the easiest way to handle this might be to enfranchise the workers in the process. If the workers at your company vote to buy you a corporate jet… who am I to judge? Maybe it’s necessary for the business. Who better than the company’s or corporation’s employees to decide whether a luxury yacht named after the owner’s wife is a justified purchase, perhaps even more important than employee bonuses or dental coverage?

This sort of brings up an important point I changed my mind on recently. I used to be very opposed to unions, but it’s become obvious we need them. However, the old idea of unions needs to change.

Just as government does not function well unless it is highly restricted, so it is with unions. Until recently, I found unions to be redundant in an effective democracy, so I’m not coming from a place of glorifying organized labor. There need to be strict limits (maybe even a ban) on union dues. Unions should not wield financial clout; the very concept of a union is that it ought to be about the little guy, but lately it has become hopelessly entangled in elitist glad-handing with the very interests that unions were created to keep in check.

But there’s a lot of stuff about our economic policy I wouldn’t know the first thing about. I couldn’t begin to tell you how we should regulate the financial sector. I know there needs to be more transparency and restrictions on predatory lending practices, but those are just the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t know what the answer is for low-income jobs leaving the US. I think the answer is education and the creation of specialized jobs in advanced field… but we’ll always have people who can’t cut it in a modern intellectually driven economy.

I don’t know what we’re going to do if we turn off the military industrial complex; we basically rely on war to employ millions of people.

These are just a couple of the problems we face, and as the article I read stated time and again, we can’t turn back the clock. We can try to use old policies, but if they fail to work in these circumstances, we should abandon them and try something new, because our situation isn’t going to revert back to the past. We need to adapt, to evolve, to reinvent liberal economics. We need Economic Liberalism 5.0 Beta.

And I’m not the one to do that. Liberalism can do better than me.

Liberalism, to Me

To me, liberalism is not being afraid to try something new, and not being too proud to abandon a failure.

To me, liberalism is regulation we need, and no more, coupled with the freedom we deserve, and no less.

To me, liberalism is the search for balance between what is best for all and what is desired by each.

To me, liberalism is understanding that no society is perfect, and though we love it, ours has room to improve.

To me, liberalism is about considering the needs of everyone, while ignoring the needs of no one.

To me, liberalism is about consulting experts who are known not only for their credentials, but also their results.

To me, liberalism is about ensuring opportunity for all, including those who have tried and failed before.

To me, liberalism is acknowledging we can develop not only through competition, but also with cooperation.

To me, liberalism lends itself to progress in this country by borrowing what has worked for others.

To me, liberalism is knowing we must be weary of government abuse of power, as well as corporate exploitation.

To me, liberalism is seeing that while no two people are alike, all should be treated equally under the law.

To me, liberalism is not a set of specific policies, it is the idea that progress is not only real, it’s possible.

In Defense of Chains

It’s not easy to be a liberal who likes buying things from chain stores. Well… no, that’s not true. It’s both easy and convenient to like chain stores, I just notice a lot of hostility towards them in the liberal community.

My wife craves McDonalds’ breakfast, having never been allowed to eat it in her childhood. She also really likes their iced coffee. When I eat there, I get a sausage biscuit with egg or a chicken biscuit, depending on how fat I feel (the second is the healthier choice, due to the lack of egg).

But most mornings I don’t eat McDonalds, I go to a chain called Bojangles. I initially loved their Cajun Chicken Biscuit, but then… I tried their biscuits and gravy. If you are what you eat, I am about 50% biscuits and gravy. I have eaten it about 15-20 mornings a month for over a year now. All the people at the drive-thru know me.

Biscuits and gravy is the perfect breakfast: it’s quick, it’s warm, it has meat, and it costs $1.70. It’s not even as unhealthy as one egg (and not even close to as much cholesterol). And the best part? It’s served all day. All. Fuckin’. Day. Even if my wife doesn’t have to teach a class and she sleeps in until noon, I can have breakfast. It’s glorious.

Chain stores have their own charms that people who fawn over local mom and pop stores overlook. For one thing, I can go to a Bojangles in any state (well… any South-Eastern state) and get the breakfast I love, just the way I like it. It’s intangible how much joy I have gotten being able to pull off the highway to get familiar food I love while in the middle of enduring a drive of over 12 hours (which I have done at least two times a year for about a decade now).

And then there’s the Warhol theory. Andy Warhol once remarked that there is a certain quaintly democratic equality to Coca-Cola. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plumber, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England: when you open a Coke and drink it, it’s the same Coke for everyone. And before it begins to sound a little like I’m advocating for Coca-Cola or Communism, it’s also the same Dr. Pepper, A&W Root Beer, Snickers, or bag of peanut M&Ms.

Liberals seem to think chains limit diversity, but chains aren’t against choice. Quite the contrary, there’s no monopoly among chains. The reason there are few good quality chains is because snooty people won’t patronize a chain store, so why would they cater to people who would never buy their product?

I’m not saying “Love all chains.” I won’t shop at Wal-Mart (they censor) or Chik-Fil-A (do I really need to say why on an atheist blog?). There are so many choices in what chain you can go to, it’s actually not that difficult to still purchase according to your values.

This isn’t to say I would recommend you stop frequenting local businesses, but don’t act shocked when the cute little place you love disappears and you’re left out in the cold. Chains are solid, reliable, and always there for you. You can count on a chain… to occasionally really screw up your order, so be sure you check it before you drive away.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snippet: Left of Liberal

Because of my political views, both Democrats and Republicans routinely say that I’m left of liberal, and I must say that I agree with them, in a sense. I would say that I see myself as defending true liberalism, or at least what’s left of it. I even like the term, “left of liberal,” or “LOL.” Just those three letters alone pretty much sum up my views on American politics.

If Democrats Were As “Just As Bad” As Republicans…

I’m not a Democrat, but anytime I criticize Republicans, I hear a chorus of, “Well, the Democrats are just as bad.” Is that a fact?

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would outlaw the teaching of wars in public school.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would filibuster any budget that didn’t raise taxes.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would prohibit assault weapon research.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would fight to prevent rich people from being allowed to get married.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would favor mandatory abortions and try to ban baby formula.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would introduce a bill making it illegal to shoot someone who has broken into your home until after an ultrasound, so you can hear their heart.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Democrats would be threatening war with Israel if they attack Iran.

If Democrats were just as bad as Republicans, Obama would not only be a Muslim, he’d be a member of the Taliban.

Republicans are in a league of their own when it comes to horrible ideas. It’s enough to make me consider voting for Democrats this year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Snippet: Baptizing the Dead

Mormons think they can baptize dead people to retroactively make them Mormon, but I have bad news for Mormons, and believers of all kinds: everyone who dies becomes an atheist. It’s hard to believe in anything when you cease to exist.

What Makes Ultra-Religious Jews So Racist?

One thing I always find remarkable when interacting with religious Jews is how racist they are. I don’t know which is more shocking: that a group so frequently singled out and persecuted has no problem dishing it out themselves, or that many of them don’t even see their bigoted views as racism.

While I could point out the tendency of Jews to call various outsiders by rather derogatory terms like shiksa, sheigetz, or shvartze (or other things that don’t begin with sh-), this isn’t universal… or even that big of a deal. They’re just words, and plenty of religious Jews aren’t like that, especially the younger generations.

However, a surprising amount of it apparently still runs rampant in closed Jewish communities. See, for example, this thread found by my wife on a forum of religious Jews discussing the origin of black people, and in particular the remarks made by Jude, the third comment on the page.

Individual racism of this sort aside, another thing that sets Jews apart as being so racist is their stance on “intermarriage.” If it was just Jews wanting to marry other Jews, it would be one thing (still racist, in my opinion, but not that big of a deal). However, it goes beyond one’s own personal choices in the Jewish community.

This “moral” opposition to other peoples’ intermarriage isn’t some hypothetical bigotry, it’s bigotry I have observed in every single religious Jew I ever discussed the matter with, and it is bigotry I have experienced firsthand. My wife’s parents wouldn’t meet me before our marriage, wouldn’t attend the wedding, and have only met me twice during our five year relationship… because I am not part of their race. Despite living further away, my wife has met my parents many times more than I have met hers.

It’s a common ignorance in Judaism: there is immense hostility towards Jews marrying non-Jews (coupled with a distrust of the non-religious and ethnically non-Jewish altogether). Generally, the more religious, the more hostility there seems to be. I haven’t noticed more than a “preference” for fellow Jews among the non-religious and less religious, while the more conservative/orthodox will commonly disown family not only for marrying outside of the Jewish people, but sometimes for marrying outside the very specific Jewish tradition of the family.

It’s ridiculous, really. I have seen minor pressure in other contexts. I had Mexican friends whose mothers wanted them to marry a nice Mexican girl, and the same goes for Italians and Greeks, not to mention religious Catholics and Episcopalians. I also know many people from India feel pressure from their parents to marry an Indian. Even my Catholic mom asked me once to marry a Catholic girl and get married in the Catholic Church; I never dated a Catholic again.

However, I never see the vicious consequences in these other demographics that I see among religious Jews. There might be snide remarks, but that is a far cry from being written out of the will. The only times I have seen such open hostility for intermarriage was in a few families of rural whites in Indiana, who I suspect of being KKK members. That basically puts religious Jews on par with white-supremacists in my mind. I see Jews as being akin to rednecks in kippas.

It’s blatantly inappropriate to harbor such racial intolerance in this day and age. One Jewish apologist for this practice recently commented on my blog:

“I would care if my child married a gentile because I personally believe that Judaism deserves to survive. We as a people have been through so much, and to die out due to intermarriage rather than mass-murder or Nazis would be very ironic.”

What’s ironic is that trying to encourage your children to breed only among members of a group that calls itself “God’s Chosen People” sounds eerily like a “Master Race.” This pressure to marry within one’s race is what is really ironic, given the history of Jewish oppression at the hands of Nazis, which included being legally barred from marrying non-Jews. This commenter thinks Hitler wins if Jews marry non-Jews, and yet… Hitler seems to have liked the idea of Jews sticking to their own kind… it’s a strange and backwards argument, to be sure.

When Jews marry non-Jews, Jews don’t die out, they remain genetically diverse. As it is, Jewish populations harbor a handful of unusual genetic diseases that are the result of inbreeding. It’s not like a little new blood will hurt you guys. What’s more, it’s seems very antagonistic to those of us who want to accept Jews into our culture when they are openly hostile to their children marrying us dirty, dirty gentiles.

It’s insulting, it’s rude, it’s discourteous to everyone (Jews and goy alike), and it’s downright barbaric to hold such primitive, tribal stances regarding marriage. The Jewish community ought to be ashamed on this matter. This is a shonda on you and your people. Why is this sort of behavior acceptable?

It’s the same reason for their other great race problem.

Jews had a tough run of it in WWII… and for centuries prior… and that’s putting it mildly. It’s fair to say Jews experienced some of the worst cruelty in human history during the Holocaust. No one’s questioning the reality of the suffering of millions at the hands of the Nazis.

Jews may have gotten a free pass on being a little racist given their past, and if it was just about marriage and some Yiddish slang, I might not care. But ultimately, the greatest geopolitical atrocity since WWII has been the formation and violent expansion of Israel, and Jewish racism is at the heart of this matter. With the continuous war crime that is the Nation of Israel, Jews are accruing a huge moral deficit that not even the Holocaust will be able to cover.

In very few nations is apartheid still the law of the land. No other nation has a secret nuclear weapons program that goes unchecked. But perhaps most annoying to me, all of the atrocities Israel is responsible for are funded in part by American taxpayers. I’m funding your racism, and I want it to stop.

I’m not saying this stuff to bother anyone, I’m just trying to help. If you aren’t racist, if you have no problem with Jews marrying non-Jews, and if you oppose the oppression of the Palestinian people, then please know I’m not talking about you. I don’t hold a grudge against the Jewish people. I mean, come on… you guys killed Jesus. That makes you pretty cool in my book.

And before you get all offended, I’m doing this as a favor to Jews. I spend most of my time talking about Christianity, and I figured you guys deserved some attention. I asked my wife what she thought, and she couldn’t agree more. I mean… her father bought a gun because he was worried the blacks would riot.

That said, feel free to leave any comments or e-mail me (, since if there’s one thing I know about religious Jews (besides how unabashedly racist so many of them are), it’s that they love to tell people when they’re offended.

Wednesday Word: Philosurfer

Philosurfer: a dude who is into some heavy shit

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Snippet: Job Requirements

Why does every job require so many prior years of experience? How does anyone get into any sort of career? I’ve been told that employers often ask for more than they really require, but that’s incredibly stupid. If you ask for someone with 5 years of experience and you hire someone who has no experience, you not only hired someone who has no experience, you hired someone who can’t even follow directions. I don’t want to work for a company that would do something so dumb.

Top Ten: Worst Product/Business Ideas of Mine

10. Spife (combination Spoon/Knife)
9. Beard-in-a-Can
8. Touring Lecture: “476 Ways to Turn a Profit off of Pretzels”
7. Solar-powered TV
6. Veggie-Panda (meat-free panda substitute)
5. UnderPressure (medical device, takes blood pressure rectally)
4. Arbor-alls (overalls for trees)
3. 1-800-SHHHHHH (hotline you can call to talk to a librarian)
2. Milk and Cockies (erotic baked goods store)
1. Drive-Thru Fondue

Santorum? I Hardly Know ’Em

I don’t usually comment on the Republican flavors of the month, because Romney has this one locked up. The fact that people really think Santorum has a chance at either the nomination or the presidency is almost as amusing as the things he says. However, as someone who loves making fun of Republicans, who am I to walk past such low hanging fruit?

I got to thinking… Republican candidates always move right of where they were the day before, so we can only expect Santorum to get more and more medieval as time passes. So, here is what I predict Santorum will be saying as the race goes on:

I almost feel bad for Republicans… I mean, I would feel bad, if it weren’t for the fact that you could just stop being a Republican whenever you want. However, in the interest of reaching out to the right-wing, I have some advice. There’s already a medical cure for Santorum’s ignorance, and it comes in handy pill form.

Just have Rick hold an Aspirin between his lips, and the problem should clear right up.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Snippet: Science is a Religion?

I was trying to determine why some theists think science is a religion, when it dawned on me… as they understand it, science is a religion: a vague, inaccurate account of reality. To a devoutly religious person who doesn’t know anything about science, it is indistinguishable from a religion, in the same way that to some Americans, Africa is a country.

Discussion: Women and Atheism

Most women are not atheists, which doesn’t surprise me, but most atheists are not women. Considering how religion treats women, how is this possible?

Two Dudes: Salad

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Saturn Complex and the Myth of the Downward Spiral

Saturn is probably one of my favorite gods to study. In Saturn, one can see what a firm grasp of human psychology the ancients had. The story of his life is the very story of human power.

Saturn was a child of the Sky and Earth. Occasionally, the Earth gave birth to a hideous child, like a monstrous creature with a hundred hands and fifty heads, or a Cyclops, and the Sky would bury it, imprisoned back within the Earth, where he would not have to look upon them. Those who were allowed to remain free to roam were called Titans, and they were the very embodiment of natural phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, the sun, the moon, etc.

The Earth was not happy with this arrangement, for not only was she being physically burdened by this arrangement (which was against her will), these were her children and she loved them despite how they looked. The Earth asked all of the Titans for help, but only one had the ambition to answer the call.

Saturn, armed with a flint knife, lay in ambush and castrated his father. Saturn then ruled over what would be called the Golden Age, a time of peace, prosperity, and equality among all. Every day was a celebration, and every living thing lived free of fear and despair.

But such things cannot last, for in his dying breath, the Sky cursed Saturn by saying that one day, he too would bear a child who would defeat him in a battle where victory would be snatched from him by his own treacherous Titan brethren.

While the rest of the world enjoyed a time of unparalleled joy, Saturn’s wife, Ops, lived a life of silent misery. Every time Ops bore him a child, Saturn would devour it.

Saturn Devouring His Son – Fransisco de Goya

Before long, Ops had given birth to five children, and Saturn had eaten them all. When Ops gave birth to her sixth, a boy named Jupiter, she hid him on the island of Crete and ordered the residents to bang their drums, rattle their spears and sing loudly in order to mask the infant’s cries. She wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and handed it over to Saturn, who swallowed it whole.

When he was old enough, Jupiter poisoned Saturn’s drink, causing him to vomit Jupiter’s five brothers and sisters. Together, they waged war on Saturn. As the war raged on, Jupiter convinced Saturn’s brother, Prometheus, to join his side. Prometheus had a weapon forged when Jupiter promised to rule justly (a promise he couldn’t keep). Armed with lightning, Jupiter conquered Saturn and his titan siblings.

If you take out the magic and the gods, what you have left is the perpetual battle between the successive generations of humanity. Each new crop of children are destined to replace their parents, and by extension, their gods/ideas. Yet, even though everything changes… it remains eerily the same. Change is inevitable, and yet the more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

There is another thread running through these sorts of mythologies, and it’s nearly universal across the religions of the world: the idea that humanity descends deeper and deeper into depravity as time goes on. The world’s religions operate on a societal fallacy based on a personal experience.

We are born innocent, with all we need provided for us, but we move into a period where things get progressively more difficult, until we must toil to earn our living, and soon enough we succumb to disease and hardship. Such it is with the Ages of Men: from the idyllic Golden Age we descend down into the arduous Iron Age.

Here we have a fallacy, for things do not get worse for society as time goes on, they only get worse for each individual. We did not become polluted or receive punishment for past offenses. If anything, the human condition has improved. Progress is remarkably resilient. Even when a culture undergoes a Dark Age, its neighboring people tend to keep their advancements alive. The world may lose a culture’s history and art, but their science and technology is shockingly persistent.

And yet, as we age, we are all cursed to one day realize the younger generation is doomed. Never mind that our parents and grandparents said the same of us… they were crazy old coots who knew nothing. No, we are clearly the zenith, the epitome of human development, and it’s obviously all downhill from here. We imagine ourselves bringing about the best that could ever be, and in our nostalgic old age, we look down on the young for shirking our ways.

These kids and their Lady Gaga/Britney Spears/Madonna/Cher… this planet is screwed. It’s almost like we’re reading from some primordial Mad Lib where we just update the pertinent details.

What’s the point of reading from such a formulaic script… or do we even have a choice? Perhaps the end result of a long life is always a cynicism regarding the young and their future.

I don’t understand why anyone would ultimately feel this way, however, because every younger generation is merely the product of the previous. If kids today are messed up, who’s to blame? The kids, who are born as blank slates, or the parents who raised them?

Personally, I draw my comfort from one simple fact: no generation has ever been truly as soft, uncreative, disrespectful or ignorant as the people who raised them fear they are.

Epilogue: Eventually, Prometheus steals fire for humanity and is punished by Zeus. Mankind is in turn punished with Pandora, her curiosity, and the box containing all of the evils of the world. This is followed by the Heroic Age, when men of great fame are aggrandized and exaggerated at length. This is followed by the Bronze and Iron Ages, when nothing can live up to what is heard in legend. Our impossible “past” becomes an idealized goal for our future.

Saturday Reflection #69

The old enjoy making the young look stupid, perhaps because it’s easy, and it’s one of the few things they can do without the aid of a pill.

Dealing With Religion Lite

I think every atheist has been in this situation: they’re discussing some problem with religion, when a religious person appears and says, “That’s not what I do.”

Sometimes, it’s a fair remark. I hate when atheists try to claim things like… that religion causes all wars, or that religion makes people rape children. I’ve seen it happen. It’s not the atheist norm, but when it’s said, it’s wrong and should be argued. I’m not talking about religious people objecting to this ridiculousness, that I understand.

No, I’m talking about those times when you are criticizing religion for something it actually preaches. Christianity teaches that atheists are going to hell, for example. It’s also pretty clearly against abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, not worshping God… there’s basically a whole laundry list of things Christianity is against. And even beyond that, there are things Christianity encourages which someone might take objection with, like how Christianity demands that followers recruit, or “share the good news.”

These are true of Christianity, but there are Christians who disagree. I’m not sure if these Christians don’t read the Bible, if they don’t care what it says, or what, but the fact remains that there are Christians who are barely even Christian. I’m sure even religious people notice this phenomenon, that there is a spectrum of religiosity, and there are those who barely fit the bill as being a believer.

I have mixed feelings about these people. On the one hand, they’re usually some of the more sensible, tolerant, forward-thinking, educated, and intelligent believers. On the other, they’re often either very slippery or very irritating to talk to. Still, they’re my favorite believers, just not my favorite to talk religion with.

I think every atheist is out to tackle the problems of religion (or at least those who are actively atheist are). People who subscribe to Religion Lite pride themselves on not supporting most (or any) of the intrusions of Original Recipe Religion. In many ways, our “job” as atheists is already done with these folks, but in some significant ways, people who are only slightly religious can be the hardest to deal with.

They are often confused as to why I don’t believe like they do. I mean… we often share nearly all the same values. They sense that we aren’t all that different. They seem almost shocked that I’m turned off by religion. I liken it to this one time, I hung out with the older brother of a bully in my school. He seemed shocked that his younger brother was a jerk to kids in my grade, because at home he was perfectly normal. While I never experienced it, I imagine it’s also similar to how when the parents of a killer are interviewed and they can’t believe what happened.

It’s not uncommon for you to give the benefit of the doubt to someone or something you’re close to, and it’s a big step to break ties with a group you have come to love, even when it does awful things.

While I would like more people to subscribe to Religion Lite from a social standpoint, I hate talking to these people about the merits of religion itself. It’s hard to explain to someone that even though they may be a great person, it has nothing to do with their religion, and that even though they’re a great person individually, they’re a part of something awful. It seems simple, but it’s not.

Everyone wants to be seen as an individual, not a nameless part of a group. The problem is, we are stuck being both, regardless of how hard we try. I’m part of the atheist community, whether I like it or not. I’m a Southerner, whether I like it or not. I’m an American, whether it’s been embarrassing to be so for the last 12 years or not.

Those are all communities I am a part of, not because of decisions that aren’t based on who I would like to be associated with, but because of other, unrelated issues. Just as I am tacitly guilty for the crimes of America by virtue of all the taxes I have paid and my decision to stay, all religious people are accountable for the organizations they support. But even here, you have a problem when dealing with Religion Lite.

If a person claims to be religious, they attend religious services, and they live their lives… they aren’t really doing anything wrong. When you start donating money to religious organizations or you let religious dogma dictate your political leanings, you become a small part of the larger problem, but plenty of religious people are passively practicing their faith in word alone.

This is what makes talking to these people about religion so frustrating. They make silly claims about me, like that I am erecting a “strawman argument,” or that I’m misinterpreting their religion.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I give religion a pretty fair shake. However, since I have to look at religion as a whole and I am focused on the problems, I will never see religion the same way a believer does, especially if that believer is on the religious liberal fringe.

Frankly, I try not to address Religion Lite, because I think those people get enough shit from the religious. Why should I attack them for being nearly agnostics when their fellow believers are probably doing the same thing, only from the other side? I see believers of this kind as not only being less of a threat to me and my freedom, but also on the verge of being driven out of their faith by fellow believers. Why bother the natural process?

Well, there’s one reason. Their ideas may seem appealing to some reasonable people who are on the fence. I sometimes wonder how many otherwise good people led impressionable individuals into the trap of religion. It sort of reminds me of an idea I read about in a Chuck Palahniuk book.

Cattle are basically dumb, but it’s not easy to get them to move sometimes. One thing they will do, supposedly, is follow. So, ranchers train one cow to walk up the incline from the holding pen outside so that other cows will file in behind it. Then, they take the trained cow out of line and the other cows continue onto a conveyor belt to be slaughtered.

This trained cow is supposedly called “the Judas cow.” I never thought this was fair, though. Judas’ betrayal only killed one person. The Biblical figure who leads the flock into peril isn’t Judas, it’s Jesus.

While I don’t see this as very flattering (though they might), these practitioners of Religion Lite are undoubtedly the Christians who are most like Jesus and who are the best advertising campaign for their faith. They make for great religious PR people. Unfortunately, like all advertising and PR… they’re ultimately full of shit.

I don’t think being religious takes away from the good things a person does, but just because someone does good things doesn’t mean they know the first thing about… well… anything.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Don’t Need to Defend Science

I have a background in science, though I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I started out in pharmacy and did that for 4 years (of a 6 year degree). When I gave it up, I switched over to studying religion, and I also did a fair amount of study on cosmology. Before that I had taken quite a bit of biology, biochemistry, genetics, and basically anything that focused on living things.

Still, I don’t like talking to believers about the Big Bang or evolution. It’s annoying, since I know they are not paying attention. They’re just waiting for their chance to try to insert their ignorance into it and pretend that their inability to understand simple concepts means that it cannot be true. It’s futile to try to explain to someone how something works if they refuse to believe it even exists. It feels like I’m talking to a crazy person, and I don’t like talking to crazy people, so I try to steer the conversation back around to religion, where I can feel like they’re just stupid, not crazy. I can cope with stupid people, because you can fix stupid; you can’t fix crazy.

I just don’t feel compelled to defend science, because science doesn’t need defending. Even religious people almost universally trust science more than religion in actual practice. No one walks around with a bracelet that has a list of their religious information and the number of their priest, who should be contacted in case of a medical emergency. When someone is hurt, no one calls out, “Is there a clergyman? We need a pastor, immediately!” You aren’t reading this through prayers that are beamed up to heaven and sent back down to you by Our Heavenly Father through magical, supernatural means.

With the exception of the extreme nutballs out, people do not substitute religion for science. Religion is a theatre putting on a play called “Knowledge,” while science is an actual library. Religion can’t even come close to science when it comes to real applications. Most religious believers know through casual observation that they’re better off with medicine than prayer. Why should I have to defend something that is so universally accepted as actually being true and useful?

Through their very actions, most believers acknowledge that medical science is true. They wouldn’t get MRSA and say, “Oh, I’m not really sick. Evolution isn’t real, so I don’t have a disease that has evolved to be immune to common antibiotics. I’m fine.” But, if you suggest they were descended from monkeys (as opposed to being formed by mud), then they get offended. This is because they are stupid, and it doesn’t matter to them (or the medicine they take) that their drugs were tested on animals (since we evolved from them and have similar anatomy).

When it comes to questioning the validity of science, the religious are saying one thing and doing another. The same is true of the physical sciences. The world seems unusually devoid of miracles (except all those miracles that magically happen in hospitals…).

Unless you’re Amish, you reap the benefits of the physical sciences all the time. You’re reading this on a screen that was scientifically developed, which is transmitted via scientifically developed telecommunications, using scientifically developed power. It makes me laugh when I have a conversation with someone on such a scientifically dependent medium as the internet, and the other person just isn’t impressed with science.

But that’s the magic of science. You don’t have to believe in it or understand it to get the benefits. You can’t say that of religion. Religion doesn’t let you gain its benefits without first believing. You can’t get into heaven as a non-believer. You can’t even get the relief of thinking you’re going to heaven while you’re alive unless you believe. Religion only benefits those who adhere to it.

It’s not that religion is selfish, but rather, religion only exists if you believe it does. If you cease to believe in religion, or just never heard of it, then it ceases to exist for you. It plays no role in your life, it affects nothing (though religious followers are another matter altogether). This is in sharp contrast to science, where turning on a light switch will still always work, even if you don’t believe in electricity.

And at this point, all I can think of is a quote by Philip K. Dick:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Snippet: Marrying Animals

Christians claim that if gay people can get married, then it will pave the way for people marrying animals. I say go for it. I have no problem with people marrying an animal. If you want to marry a goat, go ahead, but please wait until it is a fully mature, adult goat; it’s wrong to marry a kid. Frankly, I’m not even grossed out by the idea of someone marrying an animal. It’s not the wedding that makes me uneasy, it’s the honeymoon. And let’s be honest… it’s not like a ban on marrying an animal is keeping anyone from pre-marital sex with them. At least if a zoophile gets married, they’re only fucking one animal. Wouldn’t that cut down on bestiality? And can anyone explain to me how a non-human can sign a marriage license?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Hard Is It? [That’s What She Said]

I’ve seen many religious people make an odd and interesting claim. One recently said:

“My self [sic] am proud to be a Christian which is much tougher than claiming to be a homosexual.” [Source, where they try to equate homosexuality and bestiality while maiming the English language.]

And it got me thinking…

No, actually it is harder to be gay than to be Christian. I haven’t been gay, but I have been Christian, and being Christian is easy. Seriously, it’s really easy. Society caters to you and your views, they don’t tell you you’re evil or wrong, no one calls you unnatural or an abomination. No one would try to keep me from marrying another Christian, and I would never lose my job if people found out I was a Christian.

And this got me thinking…

Is it harder to be a Christian or an atheist? I’m much more qualified to answer this from personal experience.

This one is much closer. Sure, it’s easy to be a Christian, but being an atheist isn’t exactly a crucible, either.

The most difficult part of each pertains to morality and ethics. Christians have a tough set of standards to live up to, especially the ridiculous, irrelevant and archaic aspects. However, it is all spelled out for them. Atheists have to make all the decisions themselves, and believe me… there is pressure to be better than religious people. The only thing keeping me from going on a murderous killing spree while eating babies is that it would give atheism a bad name.

I kid… sort of…

I think the clincher is how society treats each group. I have to give the nod to atheists. Atheists are not the most maligned (I give that one to Muslims… who are even miserable in their own countries). Atheists don’t experience that much persecution in America, but they certainly experience more of what I might call “cultural cold-shoulders.”

Christians, on the other hand, enjoy several advantages. Every President has been a Christian. Christian Holidays are national holidays. Churches are everywhere and operate tax-free. Christianity even thumbs its nose at the First Amendment by legislating based on faith.

But to some degree, who cares? Is there virtue in shouldering the greatest burden? Shouldn’t our goal be to relieve others of their load (which we often yolk them with unnecessarily) and make everyone’s lives easier?

There are also so many things that more significantly affect a person’s station in life. Age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, health… all of these play some part in determining what your life will be like.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if the only reason I became an atheist was because everything is so easy for me. I never experienced much adversity. I never feel like a victim. I’m not sure if I’m incapable of it, or if I just lead a charmed life (I’m inclined to think it’s both).

Maybe if my life had been more difficult, I would have remained a Christian, where it’s easy. I might have relied on the support of a strong and giving community of fellow believers. I might not have had time to spend forming my own views on what is right and how to act. It might have just been easier to go with the flow and remain a Christian.

So, when someone tries telling me how hard it is to be a Christian and how easy it is to be a homosexual, I can only think of one reason someone would think that…

How People See Me

At the risk of beating a beat meme...

Valentine Propaganda: For Children

A Wisconsin second-grader was barred from handing out Valentines with a Bible verse on them.

This is one of those cases where I’m almost on the fence. I’m on the side of the school, because this is a blatant attempt to proselytize little kids during what should just be a fun little day of candy eating. It’s also irritating that this mother and her son hand-made these little bundles of brainwashing. I hate to see such wasted effort in the world.

But I can also see why people (be they atheist or religious) might be okay with this kid handing out pieces of paper with the words of John 3:16 on them. They’re incorrect, but this is only because people who don’t have a problem with this are not very creative. I, on the other hand, fancy myself to have a rather active imagination.

Consider whether the following Valentine poem would be appropriate for second-graders to hand out:

Roses are red
The ocean is teal
It’s Valentine’s Day
And God isn’t real!

Personally, I don’t think it is. It’s cute, and I don’t mind writing it here, but it does not belong in a second-grade classroom. It wouldn’t be fair to the children of Christians. It wouldn’t be fair to the children of any theists, really. It’s propaganda, it’s meant to persuade, and it’s not what a little kid’s Valentine is about.

I’m all about free speech. I would have no problem telling Mother Teresa to “fuck off” right to her old, rotting face (and I mean when she was still alive). I wouldn’t say it to a kid, though. There are just certain things kids should be free from, like sex, because they are impressionable and it’s easy to take advantage of them.

I don’t even like it when parents teach their own kids to be religious, so of course I’m not going to be okay with some jackass telling other kids to be religious. I wouldn’t press atheism on my or anyone else’s kids. Religion is an adult matter, like sexuality, and it has no place in a child’s classroom.

“But Bret, St. Valentine’s Day is a religious holiday!”

First of all, not really; it’s a fake Hallmark holiday. But secondly, how about this Valentine for a second grader:

Roses are red
Candy is dandy
Here’s a nice card
Now give me a handy

That’s how adults treat Valentine’s Day, so why is that not appropriate for school? Oh right… because they are children. This woman, who wants to make religious statements on her child’s Valentine’s, would probably be the first one in line to complain about atheist or sexual Valentines, so why does she feel her views are superior and need to be pushed on the children of others?

If you want Valentine’s Day to become a culture war between kids from different ideological backgrounds… well, then by all means, try to recruit other people’s kids. Open the flood gates, and don’t even think of complaining if someone tries to convince your kid to go against what you taught them. But honestly… can’t you just buy or make regular, cute Valentines that everyone can enjoy? Is your life so devoid of any real meaning that the only thing you ever think about is religion?
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