Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's the scariest job in American politics?

I don't know about you, but I'd have to say it's Cory Booker's body man.
Look at the last few months.
In April, Booker ran into a burning house and rescued a woman trapped inside. 
 Last week Booker rescued a freezing dog and yelled at the owner for leaving the dog out in the cold.
If I were working for the mayor I would be hoping he doesn't spot a beached whale: how far out to the ocean do you think he'd swim towing a whale? 


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tom Harkin Leaving the Senate

You may think of him as a reliably liberal and pro-union voice in the Senate, and you'd be right. What you might be less aware of is that he's also one of the best friends of quacks, health scammers, and the antiscientific mindset in Congress.
He was one of the main sponsors of the law that in 1994 removed all regulation for dietary supplements sold across the country.  Among other things, what this law does is allow manufacturers to avoid almost all regulation and testing for their products while using code words to pretend that they will cure health conditions (e.g. "promotes normal cholesterol levels", "slow down the doubling time of your PSA (male prostate) levels when cancer is present"). 
Does this make a difference to people? Well, when a dietary supplement called ephedra was killing people that would seem to be kind of important, wouldn't it?
 But that's not all. Harkin was also behind a measure to force the federal government to spend money on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  In 1992 Harkin slipped a line in the report accompanying the NIH appropriations bill that created the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine with $1 million in seed money. (Bonus question: What do they call alternative medicine that works? A: Medicine.)
And in 2009 Harkin was able to slip a provision into the Affordable Care Act allowing for "alternative practitioners to be  treated as health care workers. This despite the fact that the claims of "therapeutic touch" have been soundly disproven and exposed as fraudulent.
 I kind of like Tom Harkin, but I won't miss Senator Woo.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This is what . . .

The wrong side of history looks like.
It's been a couple of days, and I continue to think that President Obama's second inauguration speech was as inspirational as the first, although in different ways.
The first was inspirational in large part because it actually happened, and we still had that element this year. You couldn't watch the television coverage without seeing interviews of black people who just had to be there because they never imagined that in their lifetime they would be watching the inauguration of a president who looked like them. It's impossible to overstate the power.
Still, to me, the most inspiring part of the speech, the part that really demonstrated how far we and the president have come, was when he spoke of the heroes of Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall in the same sentence, and with the same honor.
Again, even after all the changes we've seen in recent decades, for the president to publicly recognize that the struggle for women's rights, for civil rights for racial minorities, and for equal rights for gays and lesbians are the same struggle, and it is a struggle that we all share and must honor is a huge step. In years to come, this will be what people remember of the speech.
And here's where the wrong side of history comes in. A sidelight of this story is that President Obama had originally invited a minister named Louie Giglio to give the benediction only to have it come out that Giglio had written about the evils of homosexuality and gay marriage, saying that legalizing gay marriage would risk "absolutely undermining the whole order of our society", and asked his listeners to "lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda" of gay activists.
After some negative reactions to his selection, recalling the choice of Rick Warren to speak at the 2009 inauguration, Giglio withdrew from the ceremony.
Oh, you should have heard the right-wing Christians scream! Or should I say whine?

A post in the online publication "Christian Post" refers to the withdrawal as the result of the power of "Tolerance Tyrants," and an evangelical blogger who apparently took an OD of his umbrage-enhancing substances (doesn't anyone screen these guys?) said, apparently without a hint of irony,
"January 21, 2013 may go down in history, as the day Americans lost their most important freedom—their freedom of conscience."
As I say, this is the sound of people witnessing their power over mainstreamm society slipping away.
Monday's events showed where American society is going. The struggle isn't over, not by any means, but we can look forward to the time when the anti-gay forces will be sitting around with the "South's gonna rise again" crowd.
And they won't be missed.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Will I ever become a Christian?

I was at a discussion board I frequent and in the Atheists forum one poster posed the following question:

Will any of you atheists/agnostics ever consider converting to Christianity in the future? I knew two friends who were atheists but converted to Christianity but did not join any organized religion or church.
I assume the intent of the question was to somehow trap atheists into admitting that we are dogmatic, unthinking nonbelievers, and that our views are as impervious to evidence as any theist's.

Rather than attack this poster as a troll, though, I thought I'd take a shot at answering the question. Feel free to let me know how you think I did.

Absolutely not.

Your question has two aspects. The first is whether we would ever come to believe in the existence of the Christian god. It is pretty much impossible to think that there will ever be evidence sufficient to persuade a rational person that such an entity exists. The evidence in favor of your god's existence is precisely the same as the evidence in favor of the existence of Zeus, Thor, Santa Claus, or any other imaginary entity.

The second aspect may be an even greater hurdle: if we were convinced that the Christian god existed, would we follow him? If we were to posit that most Christians are correct, that the Christian god exists, and that the Bible accurately depicts the nature of this god, we can only conclude that this god is the most evil creature imaginable, worse than Hitler, Stalin, or, yes, your imagined Satan. As you Christians contend, this god created circumstances in which every animal and human was destined for a painful existence and death; furthermore, the Bible recounts that this god has intentionally murdered countless humans by fire, drowning, or by rape and murder at the hands of his "chosen people". And if that were not enough, this god has determined that all humans are deserving of eternal and unimaginable torment, not only during our physical lives, but throughout the existence of the universe.

Why would anyone love and follow such a being?

Oh yes, and one other thing. In a lot of these debates the theists claim that we atheists "hate" god, and my comments just prove it. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can't hate something that doesn't exists; we no more "hate" god than we love Santa Claus. Speaking for myself, though, if an entity with all the stated characteristics of the Christian god existed, then I would think it would be the duty of all moral people to hate it.

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