Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Patriotism Education

"It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen." -- Aristotle

Arizona, ever the center of enlightened conservative thought, has done it again:

Arizona public schools would be barred from any teachings considered counter to democracy or Western civilization under a proposal endorsed Wednesday by a legislative panel.

Additionally, the measure would prohibit students of the state's universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race of their members, such as the Black Business Students Association at Arizona State University or Native Americans United at Northern Arizona University. Those groups would be forbidden from operating on campus.

The brainchild of Rep. Russell Pearce ...

Pearce, a Mesa Republican, said his target isn't diversity instruction, but schools that use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate students in what he characterized as anti-American or seditious thinking ...

SB 1108 states, "A primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship. Public tax dollars used in public schools should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization."

For schools that violate the anti-Western-teachings provision, the bill provides the state superintendent of public instruction with the authority to withhold a portion of state funding.

Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state's schools to a "melting pot" model.

"This bill basically says, 'You're here. Adopt American values,' " said Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican. "If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture ..."

It's almost too easy to make fun of Pearce and Kavanagh. The closing quote by Kavanagh is jaw-droppingly offensive and stupid. "American values" -- exactly what does that mean? White, religious, conservative ... I'm sure that's their idea of what it means.

The drive to define and force patriotism is similar to a drive by the Chinese to keep Tibet in line:

China scholars vow patriotism drive for Tibet

Is it more noble to be patriotic than good? Are loyalty oaths going to be a requirement of citizenship? The day that happens is the day that you can kindly have my U.S. citizenship back. Fascism, here we come.

"If I knew something that would serve my country but would harm mankind, I would never reveal it; for I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident" -- Charles de Montesquieu (French Politician and Philosopher, 1689-1755)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Letter to a Christian Nation

This was my first Sam Harris book. I'd read essays by him in Free Inquiry magazine, but this was my first extended exposure to his writings. And I'm impressed. If you don't know where to start in the genre of atheist books by the vaunted triumvirate of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation is a great start. It's a quick read, conversational in tone and armed with great arguments to start discussions with your Christian friends. It's not riddled with the overly scientific tone of Richard Dawkins' work, The God Delusion, nor with the sometimes elitist tone of most of Christopher Hitchens' works.

As the title would indicate, the book is written in the form of an imaginary letter to a Christian. Sam Harris is specifically addressing the subset of Christians who "believes ... that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death ...". Most polls indicate that's over half of America. So, it's not a trivial group.

This is one of my favorite passages from the book:

I am confident that I can give you a very clear sense of what it feels like to be an atheist. Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you now have for being a Christian. And yet, you know exactly what it is like not to find these reasons compelling. On virtually every page, the Qur'an declares that it is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible's account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the Muslim point of view, proves his unique status as the Prophet of God. While Muhammad did not claim to be divine, he claimed to offer the most perfect revelation of God's will. He also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Qur'an 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believed otherwise would spend eternity in hell. Muslims are convinced that Muhammad's pronouncements on these subjects, as on all others, are infallible.

Why don't you find these claims convincing? Why don't you lose any sleep over whether or not you should convert to Islam? Please take a moment to reflect on this. You know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to Islam. Isn't it obvious that Muslims are not being honest in their evaluation of the evidence? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Qur'an is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe has not read the book very critically? Isn't it obvious that Muslims have developed a mode of discourse that seeks to preserve dogma, generation after generation, rather than question it? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way every Muslim views Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.

It reminds me of the famous quote:

"I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -- Stephen F. Roberts

Obviously, I have some problems with Christianity (or any religion) and the point of Harris' passage and Roberts' quote is one of the main reasons why. It's the belief by religious people that their God is the "one true God". It's belief borne not of reason, philosophical insight, or even extensive study of world religions. It's belief borne largely of locale and of family. People are Catholics because their parents were. Same with Jews or Muslims. You will be saved only because you were born in Iowa instead of Syria. I have a problem with that. But I don't have a problem with Sam Harris's book. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Aryan Outfitters

I saw this photo essay on Mother Jones' Magazine's website (click image or link to view):

Aryan Outfitters

I know it's not right to draw a larger meaning out of something that is anecdotal and not necessarily representative of our whole society. But at the very least, the photos and the people represented in them are illustrative of a few things:

- There is no apparent understanding of irony by these people. How do you perform the selfless act of caring for a disabled grown child while also actively supporting an organization that preaches hate and has in it's past preached violence and even killing?

- Religion gives a cloak of righteousnous to those who preach hate. They feel the bible both instructs them and supports them in doing this. The pictures of "Mrs. Ruth" blessing each robe is beyond the pale.

- Raising your children to hate is borderline child abuse.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


We did it. We bought a scooter - a brand new Honda Elite 80.

It's pretty sweet. I rode it home from the dealership (about 10 miles) and the wife took it up to the grocery store to pick up a few things. Great gas mileage (about 100 mpg). Easy and fun to drive. She's going to use it to drive to her work each day (about 5 miles). We'd had concerns about safety, but we tested out a route today that is almost all residential and 35 mph zones.

We're pretty excited and proud that we didn't take on a second car payment and the environmental hit that would result from the 2nd car. We don't really need 2 cars. The last 4 months with just 1 car has proven that. Adding the scooter to the mix will give me some scheduling flexibility with my clients as I don't have to take the wife to work or her to the bank for her daily deposits. On days where my clients are close by, I'll probably take the scooter. I feel so European.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Demon Haunted World

I'm finally wrapping up the reading of about a half dozen books that I've been in the middle of for months now. Over the next week or so, I'm going to provide my thoughts on each as I finish them. I have a really bad habit of getting myself in the middle of a bunch of books and then I get interested in something else. This has to end and I can't start anything new till I finish all of them. They include Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, I am America by Stephen Colbert, The Assault on Reason by Al Gore, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and From Lucy to Language by Donald Johanson. The first that I'm going to quote a few highlight passages from is Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. This is a very good book and analyzes the psychological and societal elements that force or allow people to believe in superstition, whether it be UFO's, new age religion, hallucinations, dreams or Christianity. Having been written a few years ago and not in the current relatively welcoming era of atheist tomes by Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins, Carl Sagan doesn't take on Christianity directly but it's obvious that he would have liked to. If there is a weakness to the book, it is that it spends entirely too much time on the psychology of UFO enthusiasts and not enough on that of Christians.

The following is from an essay on the "fine art of baloney detection". He listed some things to look for in politicians, religious people, media, or anybody that is trying to sell you something. Plus the list is useful for analyzing our own arguments:

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Among these fallacies are:

ad hominem -- Latin for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument ...

argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia -- but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out);

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn't, society would be much more lawless and dangerous -- perhaps even ungovernable.* Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives) ...

appeal to ignorance -- the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa ... This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don't understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will.... God moves in mysterious ways.

begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors -- but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of "adjustment" and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?);

observational selection, ... as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses ...

statistics of small numbers -- a close relative of observational selection (e.g., "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese ...

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);

inconsistency (e.g.,Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism ...

non sequitur -- Latin for "It doesn't follow" (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was "Gott mit uns"). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;

post hoc, ergo propter hoc -- Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by"

meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa);

excluded middle, or false dichotomy -- considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., "Either you love your country or you hate it." Or: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem");

short-term vs. long-term -- a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I've pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can't afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay ...

straw man -- caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance -- a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn't. Or -- this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy -- environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people);

suppressed evidence, or half-truths

weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else -- "police actions," "armed incursions," "protective reaction strikes," "pacification," "safeguarding American interests," and a wide variety of "operations," such as "Operation Just Cause." Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public").

Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world -- not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.

It's kinda scary that you can witness pretty much all of these on a daily basis by watching a news conference by Dana Perino or the President.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Theater of the Mind

"Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless" -- Steve Allen

Today was a good day to be a progressive.

My drive-by radio debut went off without a hitch. Attesting to the fact that I was basically terrified about being on the radio and that it was just an hour show, I didn't interject too often. But I did get in a blurb about my business and a jab at Sheriff Joe.

The show hit several topics including Katrina, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon and alternative energy, had a great guest, Eric Magnusson of Environment Arizona and knowledgeable callers. The podcast of the show will be up tomorrow morning at:

Unreported News in KPHX 1480. Look for the 4/13/08 show under free audio downloads.

For a little more about the host, Herb "Sarge" Phelps, see an interview with him on Channel 12:

Sarge on Channel 12 or check out his show blog or personal blog at Sarge of Unreported News Network

While I was on-the-air, the missus and kid were doing their part at The Glendale Family Bike Ride. It was a ride that focused on recycling and alternative energy and had booths set up from many local groups and organizations. I would have loved to join them, but it was impossible to be at two places at once.

Birthday Books

I had a great birthday, spending it with friends and family and adding some titles to my book collection that I had been meaning to get for awhile:

The wife got me The Green Book, a good guide with practical ways of not putting a huge wide-ass footprint on the planet.

With some birthday money, I bought books by two prominent atheists that I did not have books by previously:

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

The Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens

E & J got me I Am America (and so can you!) by Stephen Colbert. It's hilarious. I love the section on atheists:

These No-goodnik no Godniks are growing in numbers and power in America. It makes me wonder how a God could exsist Who'd allow people to piss me off so much.

Luckily, a recent survey published in American Sociological Review revealed that atheists are the least trusted group in America - less trusted, even, than homosexuals. It makes sense - at least we trust the homosexuals with our hair.

But here's the biggest head-scratcher of all: Not only are atheists destroying our country, they're completely deluding themselves. There's simply no way to prove that there is no God. If I didn't hate them so much, I'd feel bad for these folks. Imagine going through life completely duped into thinking that there's no invisible, omniscient higher power guiding every action on Earth. It's just so arbitrary! Can't they see?

What's worse is that atheists blindly follow whatever scientists tell them to, no matter how unbelievably fantastical it sounds to rational ears. Yeah, earthquakes are caused by the shifting of giant unseen plates buried deep beneath the ground. There's no way it could be God jiggling the globe because people in California commit sodomy. No, that would be too simple!

Atheists enrage me precisely because they impute everything that happens to the semi-random workings of the natural world. They refuse to take responisbility for their actions! If their dog dies, it's because the decay of its cells caused by the aging process was "meant to be." They'll never stand up and say, "I deserved this as punishment for mixing my meats and cheeses." Makes me angry just thinking about it!


Atheists without balls.

Atheists and the Big Secular Agenda
People of faith like you and me are under attack. Especially people like me.

Atheists are the driving force behind what I call Big Secularism.

Card-carrying members of BS have snaked their way into every branch of our federal government, except for the judicial and executive. Did you know that in the House of Representatives and the Senate, there are as many as one self-described atheist currently serving? Democrat Representative Pete Stark of California's 13th district, to name just one. Just think of it - how are any pro-faith initiatives going to make it into law when Congress is held hostage by the anti-God caucus of Stark, his self, and him?

BS is gathering storm - a growing movement of lefty Lord-loathers intent on driving religion out of the public square, no matter how much time I spend hanging tinsel.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Damn, I need to blog more often. Got my taxes done, so I should have a bit more time to do so.

We went to the Diamondbacks home opener Monday (we won) and had a good time. For some pics, click the image.

This Sunday, I'll be making my on-air debut with the local progressive talk radio station, KPHX 1480. As seems to be the case with me, I was just a bit lucky and just happened to get the opportunity to do some work for the right set of people. A year or two ago, I'd made an local acquaintance on and had done some computer work for this person. She was happy with my work and mentioned me to some of her friends. Well, some of her friends just happened to be a couple of the Sunday morning hosts on KPHX. This week, I did some gratis work for them, they mentioned me on their show and invited me to come on air this Sunday. Hopefully I won't sound like a complete moron. They post the podcasts of the show by the next day here. I'll give you a heads-up this weekend to let you know if it will be worth a listen.

Also this Sunday, my son has his first classes at church for communion. As I don't exactly know what that entails and with you all knowing my opinion on religion, this subject should make for some blogger fodder for me over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movie Reviews

I've got a couple decent movies to review this week. Nothing earth-shattering and life-changing, but entertaining and not completely without a message.

The first of these is 21. Let's begin by not overanalyzing this film or making it into some high-brow idealistic one - which it is not trying to be. Once you do that, you can take it for what it is - a well-made and entertaining caper movie with attractive and likable young actors and a couple of great elder statesmen actors, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne.

21 is the story of Ben Campbell, played well by British actor Jim Sturgess (of Across the Universe and The Other Boleyn Girl). Campbell, along with several other MIT students, comprises a group of card-counting 21 players who travel to Las Vegas and win millions of dollars. The group is ran by one of their professors, who is played by Spacey, in typical Kevin Spacey-mode - cocky, sarcastic and over-the-top. Their nemesis is Vegas security officer Cole Williams, played capably by Fishburne. Campbell reluctantly joins the group, so as to make enough money to put him through graduate school.

The movie is fairly predictable but the MTV-style cinematography serves the subject matter well. The game of blackjack is not as visually compelling or dramatic as poker, so the music and flashy camera work helps to add tension.

The other student film roles are filled by stereotypical ethnic roles and the love interest is played by Kate Bosworth. I've yet to see her do any compelling acting in any of her roles, but her lack of ability doesn't detract enough to hurt the film.

The plot is not completely vacuous and everyone ultimately gets what they deserve, so don't fear that it's just an empty gambling movie where there are no consequences for questionable and immoral decisions.

I'm a sucker for Vegas and gambling films both light (Ocean's 11) and heavy (Leaving Las Vegas), so this one was right up my alley. Grade: B-

The second film, Horton Hears a Who, probably wouldn't have been my first choice for a film to see, but we had just went out to eat for my birthday today and we were looking for a family friendly film to see. Our son obviously voted for this one. And we were pleasantly surprised.

Horton Hears a Who, for those who don't already know, is from a Dr. Seuss story. This is easily the best screen adaptation of his books (Cat in the Hat and How The Grinch Stole Christmas were the others). There is a lot of great voice talent - Jim Carrey as Horton and Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, Seth Rogan, Isla Fischer, etc. in various other roles.

The main thing that raises this film above the other adaptations is it's visual look (animated as opposed to live action) and the quality of that animation. Also, it does a lot less wink-wink, nudge-nudge type self-referential humor that movies like Shrek are guilty of.

I won't get too into the story, as I imagine a lot of people have already read most Dr. Seuss stories. Basically, Horton the elephant hears a cry from a small person on a speck of dust. The story follows him trying to save the creatures that live on this speck of dust and to make others believe him. The moral of the story is summed up by Horton's motto, "After all, a person is a person, no matter how small." I've heard reviews that have tried to link the morality of the story to the immigration issue and I can definitely see that. But I also took out of the story parallels to fear mongering by politicians. But the movie doesn't beat you over the head with any of those themes. But they are there if you look for them. Grade: C+