Archive for January, 2011
Big government ≡ bad unless the topic is gays, guns, abortion, the Ten Commandments in public places or the military. Does that about cover it? The open hypocrisy of some folks in Congress seems to know no bounds.
House Republicans are preparing to push through restrictions on federal financing of abortions far more extreme than previously proposed at the federal level. Lawmakers who otherwise rail against big government have made it one of their highest priorities to take the decision about a legal medical procedure out of the hands of individuals and turn it over to the government.
Their primary bill —the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” — is so broad that it could block insurance coverage for abortions for countless American women.
The anti-abortion forces almost derailed health care reform last year over whether people could buy policies that cover abortion on new insurance exchanges. The compromise embedded in the reform law sets up a hugely complicated plan to segregate an individual’s premium payments from the government subsidies. It is so burdensome that it seems likely to discourage insurers from offering any abortion coverage at all on the exchanges.
But anti-abortion lawmakers are not satisfied. The new bill, introduced by Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, would bar outright the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new exchanges.
The tax credits that are encouraging small businesses to provide insurance for their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortions. People with their own policies who have enough expenses to claim an income tax deduction could not deduct either the premiums for policies that cover abortion or the cost of an abortion. People who use tax-preferred savings accounts to pay medical costs could not use the money to pay for an abortion without paying taxes on it.
The only tax subsidy left untouched is the exclusion that allows workers whose premiums are subsidized by their employers to avoid paying taxes on the value of the subsidy. Many, if not most, employer-sponsored insurance plans cover abortions. There would have been a huge political battle if workers were suddenly told they had to pay taxes on the benefit or change their policies.
The Smith bill also would take certain restrictions on federal financing for abortions that now must be renewed every year and make them permanent. It would allow federal financing of abortions in cases of “forcible” rape but not statutory or coerced rape, and in cases where a woman is in danger of death from her pregnancy but not of other serious health damage. It would free states from having to provide abortions in such emergency cases.
A separate Republican bill would deny federal funds for family planning services to any organization that provides abortions. It is aimed primarily at Planned Parenthood’s hundreds of health centers, which also provide many other valuable services. No federal money is used for the abortions. This is a reckless effort to cripple an irreplaceable organization out of pure politics.((1))
This article presents an interesting look at what went wrong in the years leading up to the economic recession and unearths the dangers of financial deregulation advocated under former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and George W. Bush. A study referenced in the article finds fault, not just with Greenspan, but with Greenspan’s successor, Ben Bernanke, who apparently didn’t recognize a crisis was brewing.
WASHINGTON — The 2008 financial crisis was an “avoidable” disaster caused by widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking by Wall Street, according to the conclusions of a federal inquiry.
The commission that investigated the crisis casts a wide net of blame, faulting two administrations, the Federal Reserve and other regulators for permitting a calamitous concoction: shoddy mortgage lending, the excessive packaging and sale of loans to investors and risky bets on securities backed by the loans.
Of the 10 commission members, the six appointed by Democrats endorsed the final report. Three Republican members have prepared a dissent focusing on a narrower set of causes; a fourth Republican, Peter J. Wallison, has his own dissent, calling policies to promote homeownership the major culprit. The panel was hobbled repeatedly by internal divisions and staff turnover.
The majority report finds fault with two Fed chairmen: Alan Greenspan, who led the central bank as the housing bubble expanded, and his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, who did not foresee the crisis but played a crucial role in the response. It criticizes Mr. Greenspan for advocating deregulation and cites a “pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages” under his leadership as a “prime example” of negligence.
It also criticizes the Bush administration’s “inconsistent response” to the crisis — allowing Lehman Brothers to collapse in September 2008 after earlier bailing out another bank, Bear Stearns, with Fed help — as having “added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets.”
Democrats also come under fire. The decision in 2000 to shield the exotic financial instruments known as over-the-counter derivatives from regulation, made during the last year of President Bill Clinton’s term, is called “a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis.”
Timothy F. Geithner, who was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the crisis and is now the Treasury secretary, was not unscathed; the report finds that the New York Fed missed signs of trouble at Citigroup and Lehman, though it did not have the main responsibility for overseeing them.
Former and current officials named in the report, as well as financial institutions, declined Tuesday to comment before the report was released.
Symbolic bipartisanship ≠ partisanship or progress.
As a recent New York Times editorial noted:
Mr. Obama’s speech (the State of the Union) offered a welcome contrast to all of the posturing that passes for business in the new Republican-controlled House.
To that posturing, we can add the House’s largely symbolic vote to repeal the historic health care reform bill passed last year and the House’s reckless resolution to roll back domestic spending to 2008 levels.
And also to it, the graphic here, in which members of Congress sit, as if friends everyone, intermingled between Reps and Dems. This, of course, stands in staunch opposition to most if not all previous State of the Union speeches in recent memory. In years past, Congress members would sit on separate ends of the chamber, literally a house divided. Of course, it’s still a house divided, although people like John Boehner would have folks believe the GOP is extending a hand across the aisle:
We had hoped to hear a new commitment to keep his promises to govern from the center, change the tone in Washington, and work with both parties in a bipartisan way to help small businesses create jobs and get our economy moving again. Unfortunately, the President and the Democrats in charge of Congress still aren’t listening to the American people.
Now, if you aren’t a tad offended that politicians, including Obama, make it a regular practice to put words into your mouth, pretending to be omniscient on how you want the government to act, you aren’t paying close enough attention. More importantly, however, members of the GOP have not listened to economic experts, who have said time and again, that we didn’t spend enough in trying to jump start the economy.
But I digress. Here’s the melting pot Congress at its symbolic best:
Along with the Salem Witch Trials, slavery, the Crusades, hysterical quarrels in the Middle East, 9/11 and many others, we can add yet another episode to the violent and unethical path that religion has dug since its invention.
We know you’re gay. And God hates gays. You won’t be raping anybody in the county and God’s going to make sure that you burn in hell.
This gay advocate site found it poignant to note that the message made a reference to rape, as if to paint gay people as vile fornicators who will hit anything that moves. This is a disgusting notion, of course. As the site says:
Note the reference to raping. Registered christian hate groups use the discredited lie that Gay men rape children to incite violence against our community. These same hate groups claimed that black men were raping white women to stir violence against the African American community half a century ago.
Of course, black people could be accused of almost anything because they had few, if any, rights prior to the 1960s. Here’s one case from Wikipedia:
In Duluth, Minnesota, on June 15, 1920, three young African American travelers were lynched after having been jailed and accused of having raped a white woman. The alleged “motive” and action by a mob were consistent with the “community policing” model. A book titled The Lynchings in Duluth documented the events.((1))
In the 1930s, communist organizations, including a legal defense organization called the International Labor Defense (ILD), organized support to stop lynching. (see The Communist Party USA and African-Americans). The ILD defended the Scottsboro Boys, as well as three black men accused of rape in Tuscaloosa in 1933. In the Tuscaloosa case, two defendants were lynched under circumstances that suggested police complicity. The ILD lawyers themselves narrowly escaped lynching. The ILD lawyers aroused passionate hatred among many Southerners because they were considered to be interfering with local affairs. In a remark to an investigator, a white Tuscaloosan was quoted, “For New York Jews to butt in and spread communistic ideas is too much.”((2))
Here’s more on the anti-gay record of the religious in America. The fact that there are, or ever have been, hate groups specific to any religion says something about religion itself: that when a person thinks that they have God or Allah or the Bible or the Koran on their side, what we might normally call immoral actions now become sacrosanct with a full accedence from heaven. This, of course, stands in direct opposition to Dostoevksy’s much-trumpeted point about atheism, that without God, everything is permitted.
I don’t know of any modern thinker who has yet to articulate it thusly, but we can say it without compunction: with God, anything, absolutely anything, is permitted.
Came across this intriguing article today penned by author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. It’s intriguing because Dawkins again affirms why life is beautiful without any need to summon a deity to make it so.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Moralists and theologians place great weight upon the moment of conception, seeing it as the instant at which the soul comes into existence. If, like me, you are unmoved by such talk, you still must regard a particular instant, nine months before your birth, as the most decisive event in your personal fortunes. It is the moment at which your consciousness suddenly became trillions of times more foreseeable than it was a split second before. To be sure, the embryonic you that came into existence still had plenty of hurdles to leap. Most conceptuses end in early abortion before their mother even knew they were there, and we are all lucky not to have done so. Also, there is more to personal identity than genes, as identical twins (who separate after the moment of fertilization) show us. Nevertheless, the instant at which a particular spermatozoon penetrated a particular egg was, in your private hindsight, a moment of dizzying singularity. It was then that the odds against your becoming a person dropped from astronomical to single figures.
Here I pause to add a couple notes. First, it’s striking to me to think of how self-centered the religious view of life is: Humans are God’s perfect creatures (the other creatures he spoke into being are of no apparent regard), humans are made in the image of an all-powerful, all-knowing being and only certain humans, those who were born, say, in the United States or England, are fortunate enough to have received the correct word of God. All other, self-stated “words from God” are heretical. But, of course, humans born into other religions aren’t quite perfect enough to have heard the true word of God known as the canonical Bible.
Second, opponents of abortion and stem-cell research (the prospects of the latter can’t be overstated) dismiss these outright facts on untenable moral grounds: first, that quite a few conceptions become early miscarriages before the mother is even aware she is pregnant, rendering God, as Sam Harris has stated, the most prolific abortion doctor ever; and further, that stem cell research involves killing undifferentiated cells, which scientists and doctors could use to treat a large number of now-incurable diseases, thus, rendering advocates of salvaged clusters of cells to the disparagement of living, breathing and suffering human beings in the here and now.
This reasoning is unconscionable.
Here is the final few paragraphs of Dawkins piece:
This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, ‘the present century’. Interestingly, some physicists don’t like the idea of a ‘moving present’, regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.
In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book. I am equally lucky to be in a position to write one, although I may not be when you read these words. Indeed, I rather hope that I shall be dead when you do. Don’t misunderstand me. I love life and hope to go on for a long time yet, but any author wants his works to reach the largest possible readership. Since the total future population is likely to outnumber my contemporaries by a large margin, I cannot but aspire to be dead when you see these words. Facetiously seen, it turns out to be no more than a hope that my book will not soon go out of print. But what I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.
We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.
Imagine a spaceship full of sleeping explorers, deep-frozen would-be colonists of some distant world. Perhaps the ship is on a forlorn mission to save the species before an unstoppable comet, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, hits the home planet. The voyagers go into the deep-freeze soberly reckoning the odds against their spaceship’s ever chancing upon a planet friendly to life. If one in a million planets is suitable at best, and it takes centuries to travel from each star to the next, the spaceship is pathetically unlikely to find a tolerable, let alone safe, haven for its sleeping cargo.
But imagine that the ship’s robot pilot turns out to be unthinkably lucky. After millions of years the ship does find a planet capable of sustaining life: a planet of equable temperature, bathed in warm starshine, refreshed by oxygen and water. The passengers, Rip van Winkles, wake stumbling into the light. After a million years of sleep, here is a whole new fertile globe, a lush planet of warm pastures, sparkling streams and waterfalls, a world bountiful with creatures, darting through alien green felicity. Our travellers walk entranced, stupefied, unable to believe their unaccustomed senses or their luck.
As I said, the story asks for too much luck; it would never happen. And yet, isn’t that what has happened to each one of us? We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn’t arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn’t burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder.
Of course I am playing tricks with the idea of luck, putting the cart before the horse. It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.
Here, it seems to me, lies the best answer to those petty-minded scrooges who are always asking what is the use of science. In one of those mythic remarks of uncertain authorship, Michael Faraday is alleged to have been asked what was the use of science. ‘Sir,’ Faraday replied. ‘Of what use is a new-born child?’ The obvious thing for Faraday (or Benjamin Franklin, or whoever it was) to have meant was that a baby might be no use for anything at present, but it has great potential for the future. I now like to think that he meant something else, too: What is the use of bringing a baby into the world if the only thing it does with its life is just work to go on living? If everything is judged by how ‘useful’ it is — useful for staying alive, that is — we are left facing a futile circularity. There must be some added value. At least a part of life should be devoted to living that life, not just working to stop it ending. This is how we rightly justify spending taxpayers’ money e species and beautiful buildings. It is how we answer those barbarians who think that wild elephants and historic houses should be preserved only if they ‘pay their way’. And science is the same. Of course science pays its way; of course it is useful. But that is not all it is.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?
I happened upon an editorial piece this week by ESPN.com writer Rick Reilly, formerly a columnist with Sports Illustrated, in which Reilly criticizes Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for his mostly aloof and flippant demeanor in press conferences and in other public appearances off the football field.
In the column, Reilly had this to say about the former Denver Broncos QB (Being a Broncos and, to a lesser degree, a Bears fan, piqued my interest in the piece):
Cutler could own Chicago if he wanted. In a city that has had as many good quarterbacks as Omaha has had good surfers, Cutler could have his name on half the billboards and all the jerseys. My God, the kid grew up a Bears fan! But he doesn’t even try. He has zero endorsements and doesn’t want any. If there is such a thing as a Jay Cutler Fan Club, Cutler is having a membership drive — to drive them out.
Example from Wednesday’s 15-minute news conference, the only time he speaks publicly the entire workweek:
Reporter #1: So, did you enjoy the week off?
Cutler: Yeah, it’s nice to kick back and watch the games.
Reporter #2: Wait. Last week, you said you never watch the games.
Cutler (disgusted): I said you could watch the games. I didn’t say I watched the games. You’ve got to listen.
Cutler also doesn’t make public announcements of his trips to hospitals visiting fellow Type I diabetes patients, nor does he publicize Christmas present donations he makes to sick kids.
According to ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly, quarterback Jay Cutler is some kind of creep because he didn’t idolize any NFL quarterbacks as a kid.
Maybe he had other, more worthy role models like his parents or a teacher.
Reilly rips Cutler because he doesn’t have any endorsements and doesn’t want any. Brilliant. Better he should be a money-grubbing shill, willing to endorse anything for a buck. What kind of a jerk focuses on doing his job at the expense of making easy money? How dare he?
Actually, I kind of admire a guy like Cutler. Rather than clamber for attention like some other NFL stars (Chad Ochocinco comes to mind) or put up a veneer of pretended cheerfulness, Cutler seems like more a real guy to me, and he seems to treat press conference like most people treat their jobs: they would rather be somewhere else, but they come to work anyway and aren’t always outwardly happy about it. Nor do I think it’s fair to judge Cutler on his performance before the press. As the field leader of an NFL football team, he’s obligated, contractually I’m sure, to face the media and answer questions, but that’s not his main job description. His main job description is to throw touchdowns and win football games. That he’s not forthcoming at press conferences or seems to openly hold reporters in contempt shouldn’t lead to character assassination.
Cutler strikes me as the type of fellow who gets the big picture. While most coaches and players have a treasure chest of media-isms to crack open the minute they are pulled aside by reporters, Cutler doesn’t. He plays the game on the field, but doesn’t play the hype game. And while that might drive certain media folks nuts (As it probably would me if I were a reporter for a Chicago newspaper), it’s laudable on some levels.
Reilly once more:
Cutler’s teammates will defend him, when asked. “It’s funny to me how people form an opinion of a guy who’ve never even met him,” says Bears tight end Greg Olsen, a close friend.
So what’s the truth?
“He is what he is,” Olsen says.
LeGere also got it right when speaking about Cutler’s refusing to make a big deal out of his various charitable endeavors.
As a side note, I once announced in a newspaper column that I wanted anyone who was planning to buy Christmas presents for me that year, to please just donate whatever money they might have spent to the Make-A-Wish foundation. I made that statement near the end of a column about American consumerism and poverty, indicating that we should strive to get less and give more. To drive my point home, then, I felt duty bound to put action behind my words. I wrote it purely out of obligation and with no thought of myself. I truly hope it came across that way, and I only regret having written it when I think that some might have taken it a different way, that I was publicly patting myself on the back for requesting a donation be made.
Still, I think the best kind of giver is an anonymous one. The worst kind of giver is the one who donates time or money or resources and then wants to be acknowledged for it (Thus, I chafe to think that the aforementioned column might have been misunderstood). Regardless, why should Cutler announce when he’s planning to make an appearance at a hospital or donate presents to kids. Why should he seek out endorsements? He doesn’t care what people think about him, and I don’t know why that fact bothers Reilly and this guy so much. At least Cutler’s a real guy and not some self-promoting, cliché-machine Manning clone.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Mark Twain Controversy|
My reading bug continues.
While almost done with Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, I am now 30 pages into “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights” by David S. Reynolds, which tracks the life of the deeply Puritan John Brown.
Brown, it goes without saying, was, not just years, but centuries ahead of his time. He was unequivocally for the meritorious cause of equal rights for all people in America, white and black, way back in the mid-19th century. The book recounts the moments before and after Brown and his cohorts’ ill-fated 21-man raid on Harpers Ferry. Reynolds, makes the case that Brown had misread a couple elements in his efforts to smash the engine of slavery. In particular, Brown
misread the slaves and sympathetic white among the locals, whom he expected to rally in masses to his side as soon as his raid on Harpers Ferry began. The blacks he liberated misread him, since, by most reports, few of them voluntarily joined him in the battle against the Virginia troops—a fact that may have contributed to the fatal delay on the part of Brown, who had expected ‘the bees to hive’ as soon as his liberation plan became known among the slaves.
This, of course, was unfortunate since Brown was just about the best and most anti-racist advocate black folks had at the time. Enslaved blacks probably had no way of knowing this, however, since darn near every white person they had encountered up to that point was either an outright racist or unwilling to advocate or unable to envision any kind of emancipation.
While some earlier biographers have painted Brown as a nut or fanatic, Reynolds seems to present a more even-handed view and culturally biographical look at the man who, singlehandedly was responsible for setting this trifecta in motion: killing slavery, igniting the American Civil War and planting the early seeds of civil rights.
After finishing “Positivist Republic: Auguste Comte and the Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1920″ tonight, I began re-reading some passages from neuroscientist Sam Harris’ short but cutting critique of religion, “Letter to a Christian Nation,” in which Harris targets, in succinct language, some of the more pervasive arguments for Christianity. Apparently not over my reading bug, I made it to page 19 before I felt compelled to highlight a particularly stunning passage. Here, Harris discusses the apparent timelessness of the Ten Commandments:
They are, after all, the only passages in the Bible so profound that the creator of the universe felt the need to physically write them himself — and in stone. As such, one would expect these to be the greatest lines ever written, on any subject, in any language.
I thought that was a key point. Lines directly penned by the all-knowing, omniscient god that set this universe in motion. We might expect the most profound and stunning words ever heard in human history. Harris:
Here they are. Get ready …
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself a graven image.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
And Harris’ further commentary:
The first four of these injunctions have nothing whatsoever to do with morality. As stated, they forbid the practice of any non-Judeo-Christian faith (like Hinduism), most religious art, utterances like “God damn it!,” and all ordinary work on the Sabbath — all under the penalty of death. …
Commandments 5 though 9 do address morality. … Admonishments of these kind are found in virtually every culture throughout recorded history. There is nothing especially compelling about their presentation in the Bible. There are obvious biological reasons why people tend to treat their parents well, and to think badly of murderers, adulterers, thieves, and liars. It is a scientific fact that moral emotions … precede any exposure to scripture. Indeed, studies of primate behavior reveal that these emotions (in some form) precede humanity itself. … All of our primate cousins are partial to their own kind and generally intolerant of murder and theft. They tend not to like deception or sexual betrayal much, either. Chimpanzees, especially, display many of the complex social concerns that you would expect to see in our closest relatives in the natural world. It seems rather unlikely, therefore, that the average American will receive necessary moral instruction by seeing these precepts chiseled in marble whenever he enter a courthouse. And what are we to make of the fact that, in bringing his treatise to a close, the creator of the universe could think of no human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock?
If you think that it would be impossible to improve on the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: ‘Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature of the living being.’ Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. It is impossible to behave this way by adhering to the principles of Jainism. How, then, can you argue that the Bible provides the clearest statement of morality the world has ever seen?
I’ll add that there is no mention of the prohibition of rape, and we only need point to the glowingly immoral case of Moses himself in Numbers 31:
But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.
That folks can be compelled to worship a god who condones and even commands such ruthlessness and sexual depravity escapes my understanding.
But ahh, some might retort: where did you get your basis for judging whether an act is moral or not if it didn’t come from outside source? Arguments about a moral framework embedded in humans seems almost beside the point here. As Harris stated, many animals other than humans display what we might call ethical and altruistic behavior. Humans’ overarching sense of right and wrong is nothing terribly special. We tend to, in general, seek to lessen the harm done to our fellow man and promote the good, except, of course, when a man feels he has religion on his side. Then, and history supports this time and again, a man will by any means harm or oppress others for no other reason than to advance the influence of his faith.
The need to dismiss religion in polite society still and unrelentingly presses upon us as a species, and this will continue as long as man fails to, in turn, dismiss his fear of death and the dark. For, only one of many examples of religion’s power to completely expunge whole societies, look no further than Alexandria, Egypt, which, as I noted in this movie review of “Agora,” has been upended again and again for centuries by religious bickering and religiously fueled violence and bloodshed. Here’s a report of the most recent incantation of the predictable and century-long squabbles in that once illustrious city of learning and philosophy. Of course, Christians and most believers, in their frenzy to affirm faith, have disgraced and disparaged their own species for millennia, although they doubtfully possess the clear-mindedness to notice the carnage left in their wake.
Below is the video of HBO talk show host Bill Maher appearing on last night’s episode of Anderson Cooper 360, in which Maher and Cooper explore the connections between conservative rhetoric and cases like the recent Tucson shooting. Maher pointed to the June 12, 2010 newspaper ad purchased by the Jesse Kelly, who was at the time running against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords, of course, was shot in the head recently by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. The ad reads:
Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly
Maher in response:
This kind of stuff is not what goes on on the left. You can not point to any sort of equivalency here. And as always, the media gets that wrong. They try to make it like they’re being fair because they’re making everything 50-50. Well, if you’re not being truthful, and that’s not truthful, then you’re not being fair.
Maher also speaks on how conservatives often “float” words such as tyranny and secession, words that denote war and revolution, while discussing political topics:
You know, when you float terms like “tyranny” as they do or “treason” — remember in the health care debate, Republican congressmen were hoisting that banner that said “Don’t Tread On Me,” which really had only applied to enemies of America, not political opponents.
You create an atmosphere. Yes, you do. Governor Perry in — in Texas threatening secession over — over the tax hike that Obama wanted, over a 3 percent tax hike on the richest 1 percent? That’s reason to throw down the S-card? These people are hysterical. Hysterical is really the only word I can think of for it.
You know, these conservatives, they want to be known as tough guys. They’re girls — school girls who get hysterical about things. Health care made them hysterical. Government takeover. It wasn’t a government takeover. I know what a government takeover would have looked like. That’s called a single-payer system. We didn’t get that. We didn’t even try for that. We didn’t even get a public option.
So when you create an atmosphere of hysteria, yes, of course the nuts are going to hear it and some of them are going to do things like this guy did.
Here’s the video and the transcript: