Wednesday, February 29, 2012

America Swings Like a Pendulum Do

America is the “land of the free,” or so the song says. But let us not kid ourselves; freedom is being eroded in this country by self-righteous moralists who would like nothing better than to make everything illegal unless it is sanctioned by them.

In 2010, the ideological pendulum took a hard swing to the right after flirting with a small swing to the left in 2008. The right-wing zealots are the ones that freedom-loving Americans and freethinkers should fear. For it is they who will rob everyone else of the freedom to practice their own beliefs in an unfettered manner. It is they who will restrict others from taking part in practices that many do not consider to be immoral, but which the right-wing zealots condemn.

The ultra-conservatives tell us that this country is going to Hell because of the erosion of our national moral fiber. They predict doom and gloom for this country as America heads farther and farther away from God and Christianity. They relish the chance to inform us at every turn that, “This country was founded upon Christianity.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. It was founded on religious tolerance and freedom. The Almighty is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. It is the only early American document that omits any reference to a deity. Many of the framers of the Constitution were not Christians at all, contrary to what the right-wing zealots would like us to believe.

But despite their dire warnings of moral decline, it is the religious moralists who have gained ground in the government. It is they who, just recently, passed a bill in Virginia that would force women considering an abortion to undergo an invasive procedure known as a transvaginal ultrasound without the permission of the woman or the approval of her doctor. It's a form of government-sanctioned rape. Ultimately, the people's protests caused the governor not to sign the measure, although he originally supported it.

So-called personhood bills are wending their way through state legislatures around the country, including in Virginia where this year's attempt finally died. The voters of Mississippi rejected a personhood amendment last year, but that hasn't stopped legislators there from trying again. Conservatives are running rampant across the country, trying to usher in the 15th century all over again. Contraception was a settled issue, but apparently not for some on the far right. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum wants states to be allowed to outlaw their use, saying the use of contraceptives might lead to having sex, or other unseemly behaviors.

Morality is not black and white. Reasonable and intelligent people can and often do disagree on what is moral and what is not. That’s why we have different brands of religion.

To many Catholics, killing unwanted sperm cells with a contraceptive is immoral. To most Baptists, contraception is not immoral. To most far-right Republicans, mandating insurance coverage of contraception is immoral. To most Democrats, preventing the poor from having access to contraception is immoral. Unfortunately, the right-wingers are the ones who are in power in many states, so they get to choose what is moral and good for their constituents.

Along another front, right-wing zealots have infiltrated local and state school boards across the country. They have found ways to slip their pseudoscience of Creationism into the public school classroom to make it look more legitimate. Most recently, Indiana tried to pass a law that would allow the teaching of Creation in science class. Fortunately, the Republican speaker of the House decided it probably wasn't worth the legal battle sure to follow.

And don't forget the conservatives' war on education. Santorum called Obama's desire to promote higher education for all "snobbish."

From school boards to medical research labs, and from the halls of Congress to the courts, right-wing moralists are having their way in this country. The measures they take are sometimes nothing short of draconian in their misguided attempts to make us all live up to their perceptions of what is moral.

The pendulum may eventually swing the other way, but as pendulums sometimes do, it may swing too far to the left. I can imagine rampant affirmative action and even ethnic quotas making a comeback. It’s too bad we can’t stop the pendulum altogether and let it come to rest on middle ground, where nothing is too extreme and everyone is free to participate in his own perception of morality, as long as one person’s rights do not encroach upon anyone else’s rights. Only then will we have a less contentious and ultimately more rational America.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ken Hamm Nails It: Christianity is a Lie

Ken Hamm, the founder of the Creation Museum, that travesty of science education in Kentucky and head of the Answers in Genesis Web site has put the whole battle between science and religion into a crucible and muddled it down to the single most important point of contention: Was Adam and Eve real? Hamm told The Christian Post, "Once we reject Adam and Eve, the rest of the scriptures fall like dominoes." And that's the crux of the whole Christian dilemma. If Adam and Eve didn't exist as the first couple on earth, created with the rest of the universe 6,000 years ago, then Christianity is a lie. Hamm admits it.

So if Genesis is not really history then Christianity is nothing but stories and fables. It means there was no original sin. It means that we didn't need Jesus to die for those sins, because they did not exist. And that's why Hamm is leading the cause to make sure everybody, starting with little kids, follows his delusion. He can't admit that it has been scientifically proven beyond any doubt that the world is billions of years old and that all living things have evolved. That is as much a fact as gravity and it has just as much proof, not merely anecdotal evidence, but clear, unadulterated scientific proof. And, like all Young Earth Creationists, Hamm "sees no evil."

But his admission speaks volumes. Adam and Eve were not real. There was no worldwide flood. The universe was not created in six days. There was no original sin. Jesus did not die for our sins (or maybe he did but it was in vein). And Christianity is just one big fat deception. These are not my beliefs; these are facts. Facts are, by definition, bits of truth that are supported by lots and lots of empirical evidence. Once everybody realizes that simple fact, we can all stop wasting time believing in legends and start doing the real work of self improvement and helping the whole of mankind.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Why Republicans Now Suck

I don't belong to any political party. I have voted for Republican presidential candidates as well as for Democrat candidates. But ever since George W. Bush was elected president, the Republican Party has gone brain dead. And here are some reasons I may never vote Republican again.

Republicans want to privatize everything. That's a bad idea for several reasons. First and foremost, there are some projects that are too big for private enterprise to do properly, or even to do at all. Projects such as highway construction, dam building, and mass transit services are best left to the government. But beyond that, consider services such as health care or the Post Office. Stick a 44-cent stamp on an envelope; drop it in a mailbox, and it can be delivered anywhere in the country within two or three days. Ask a private company like FedEx or UPS to do that and you'll be laughed at. The main reason is profit. I have nothing at all against a private citizen turning a profit, or even getting rich. But profit is what causes a product or service to cost more than it would if there were no profit. If the Post Office had to turn a profit it would mean mailing a letter might cost several times more than it costs now.

Consider privatized education as an example. In Indiana, a parent can take a voucher payment from the state and use it to send their children to a private school. Or parents can choose to enroll their children in privately-run charter schools. Many of these schools are run by for-profit companies. So, on the one hand, you can spend X dollars for public school education, or you can spend the same X dollars for a for-profit private or charter school. The difference is that with the second option a good chunk of X is used to line the pockets of the CEO who runs the company, plus any shareholders. But with public education, there is no profit taken, so all the money goes for education. Use the same analogy for health care. If health care were provided free to the public by the government, there would be no one skimming a profit off the top. As it is, insurance companies take their share first and whatever is left can go to make you well.

Mass transit, health care, education (including higher education), road construction, and mail service are all essential services that most, if not all, people use. As such, no one should be taking a profit from them. They should be operated by the government. That's not to say that private enterprise can't also offer the same service at a profit. FedEx, for example, can deliver a letter the same as the Post Office. And if someone would rather a private company provide them with a service that the government supplies for free, that should be their choice. But they will pay a premium for the private service. The bottom line, though, is that essential services should be handled by the government so that they can be provided to everyone at minimal cost.

Republicans these days also seem to be obsessed with controlling the collective morality of the populace. Republicans want to do things like outlaw all abortions, outlaw homosexual marriage, teach Creation in public school science classrooms, allow teachers to lead Christian prayers in public schools, even ban birth control. Not everybody in America is a Christian or even religious. They may be the minority, but the rights of the minority are upheld by our constitution. Of course, not every Republican wants these things, but the more conservative among them do, and they are by far the most vocal. Many conservatives want to ram their morality down the throats of everyone by means of legislation.

These reasons are why electing a conservative Republican to any office is dangerous. Electing a Republican from among the current slate of presidential candidates would be disastrous. Romney is probably the most reasonable of the bunch, but he's only reasonable through comparison. The country might survive a Romney presidency, just as it survived George W. Bush, but it would be an oppressive four years. If any one of the other candidates eventually win the office, it is doubtful America could even survive as a world power. We lost our prestige under Bush; it would be far worse under Gingrich or Santorum.

Obama has some weaknesses, as all presidents have had, but he has accomplished a lot over the last three years. His economic policies have turned the economy around. He could have done a lot better, though, had the House been controlled by Democrats.

Republicans are not good for this country. And, as the last few years have shown, Republicans have been disastrous for several states where they took control of the governor's office and the legislative bodies. Let's not let a similar scenario play out for America as a whole.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

You Can't Use Science if You Deny its Methods

Since right-wing, fundamentalist Christian reactionaries believe that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago and that life on Earth was all created within seven days, despite all the piles of real, empirical scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old and that life evolved, the fundies are the penultimate science deniers of the 21st century. Therefore, here are some things that, from now on, Christian fundamentalists are not allowed to do, say, or participate in.

Fundamentalists are not allowed to seek medical help when they become ill or have an accident. Medical science is part of biology and the cornerstone on which biology is built is evolutionary theory. This is especially true with regards to medicine. Some fundamentalists already refuse medical help, even refusing to take their sick children to the doctor. But now this rule applies to all fundies. No more visits to the physician for any of them. They can't have it both ways; either believe in the science of biology or don't. All science follows the same rules, so if you believe in medical science you have to believe in evolutionary science, too.

Fundamentalists are no longer allowed to use scientific concepts such as the second law of thermodynamics or the law of conservation of angular momentum as fuel in their debates with the non-science-deniers. A common argument put forth by those who do not believe in science is that the second law of thermodynamics says that evolution can't happen because it causes entropy to decrease instead of increase. Of course, the laws of thermodynamics apply only to closed systems. The earth is an open system. They also apply to the average condition of a closed system; local and momentary increases in entropy are allowed. And in cosmology, momentary can mean billions of years. Some also claim that if stars and planets were caused by an explosion, such as the Big Bang, then the law of conservation of angular momentum would mean that every planet in the universe would have to spin in the same direction. This shows a striking lack of understanding of science as well as math. Angular momentum is a vector quantity, so as long as the total angular momentum of a system is conserved it doesn't matter which direction the individual components are spinning.

Christians have a list of things that the bible says about science, things that were written, they claim, long before science discovered them. They can no longer do that, because it's all bogus. It's a con game. There is nothing in the bible, not a single phrase, that the ancients could not have known about at the time. Blood is the giver of life, which was obvious to anyone who had ever watched someone else bleed to death. The bible does not say that the earth is a sphere; it says it's a circle, like a coin. You know - flat. The bible also speaks of cleanliness of food, but there is not a word about why food should remain clean, not a word about germs. There was not a culture on Earth, contemporaneous with the ancient Middle East, that did not also know about these so-called scientific facts that the bible supposedly speaks about. And even if it were the case, fundamentalists are science deniers, so why do they care about scientific facts of the bible? They can no longer use that argument, because they don't believe in science.

Fundamentalists can no longer claim that "creation science" or intelligent design are at all scientific. Creation science is an oxymoron. The biblical account of creation is the opposite of science. And intelligent design is just "creation science" repackaged so that it can be better sold to schools. If fundamentalists deny the basic premise of the scientific method, they can't make up their own non-scientific method and then call it science. Again, they can't have it both ways, either they believe in the scientific method, in which case they would accept evolution and the Big Bang, or they don't believe in it, in which case they need to stop calling their supernatural contentions scientific.

Fundamentalist Christians believe in science when it is convenient for them. They don't accept any part of science that might go against their precious, 2000-year-old book of superstitious nonsense. But since they cannot accept scientific facts and evidence that runs contrary to their beliefs, then they, in all fairness, should stop using science in any way at all. But, they treat science the same as they treat the bible: They pick and choose what they want to believe. They're fundamentalists; it's in their nature. And most of them are not intelligent enough to realize the fallacy of their ways.