Saturday, July 30, 2011

Disconfirmation Only Strengthens Their Belief

When the Founding Fathers (most of whom were Deists, and not specifically Christians) gave us the First Amendment, they intended to keep government out of the “religion” business, but they had to know at the time that there was little they could do to keep religion out of the government business. The “separation of church and state” as it’s commonly called really isn’t a true separation because it only legislates against cross contamination in a single direction, and in a curious way the debt and budget debacle in Washington this week is a byproduct of that situation. In a nutshell, the kind of fervent belief that causes a person to reject evolution and global warming can now also cause a person to reject rational principles of economics. “We don’t need to raise the debt ceiling because I don’t “believe” that we need to raise the debt ceiling.” It took 225 years, but eventually enough of these believers got elected to congress to actually have the power to take down the system. And it looks like that’s exactly what they intend to do. I wonder if the Founding Fathers saw this coming such a long time ago?

Three years ago I attended a neuroscience seminar titled “Hardwired to Believe.” (see my blog “Conference on World Affairs” 5/1/2008) The essence of the seminar was that people are hardwired differently, and some people just have neurological connections within their brains that make it easier for them to accept the idea of creation than to dig into the mountain of scientific evidence supporting evolution. And here’s the kicker. The more these people get their noses rubbed in evolution, the stronger becomes their belief in creation. The disconfirmation only strengthens their belief. Moreover, they’re not just being stubborn. They are following a neurologically based bias, and it’s this bias that we’ve all come to know as faith or religious belief. When this faith is applied to the question, “Where did man come from?” the answer isn’t immediately critical. If faith says that man was created by a creator, then, “So what?” It’s as harmless as believing in Santa Claus. But when these people band together to gain political power— and that’s exactly what happened with the Tea Party phenomenon— then their faith and belief systems are no longer inconsequential. Believing that the U.S. will still be okay if it defaults on its credit obligations is NOT as harmless as believing in Santa Claus.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not All Breiviks Live In Norway

It was a lone self-described Christian conservative (his description, not mine) who perpetrated last week’s lethal rampage in Norway to highlight the erosion of culture by the infiltration of those who are “different.” In this case, the “different” meant the Muslim immigrants moving into Europe in increasing numbers. Clearly, as a dramatic statement about maintaining a certain cultural purity, this deranged killing spree was different from anything that had come before, but the dirty little secret is that Oslo was different only in degree, not in essence.

To justify his insane murders, the homegrown Norwegian killer, Anders Breivik stated that he was offended by the prospect of Muslims “mixing in.” Thus, Breivik joins the long list of other Christian conservatives who have been offended by “different” people “mixing in.” Christian conservatives fought against equal rights for Negros right up until the 1972 passage of the Equal Rights Amendment because they didn’t want people with dark skin and kinky hair to be “mixing in.” When the KKK would set their chosen symbol on fire to intimidate and threaten Negros, it wasn’t the symbol of the swastika, or the symbol of the star and crescent. It was the symbol of the Christian cross. And today, the Christian conservatives have targeted homosexuals as the latest group to be prevented from “mixing in.”

Readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of Christianity, and my reason for this is that I see Christianity— at least in its conservative fundamentalist version— as exclusionary and elitist. It’s all about deciding who is offensive to God, and deciding who should be prevented from “mixing in.” But mostly, it’s all about making the fundamentalist Christian conservatives feel like they’re “special.” Swelling their ranks are evangelists like James Dobson and Ted Haggard, and politicians like Michele Bachmann, and self-appointed “therapists” like Michele’s husband, Doctor Bachmann Ph.D.— all claiming to speak the mind of the Lord when they oppose gay marriage, and as they work to marginalize homosexuals I see a little bit of Anders Breivik in all of them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Michele Bachmann is Fortunate to Live at This Time

If you’ve ever watched someone suffer a severe migraine headache, it can be outwardly obvious that there’s something going on inside their skull that you don’t want going on inside your skull. It’s hard to hide intense pain. That’s probably why migraine headache symptoms were routinely interpreted as a sign of demonic possession 300 or so years ago in America. I happen to know a little bit about this. A distant relative of mine, Elizabeth Clawson, was one of the last women to be accused of witchcraft, and she stood trial in Stamford Connecticut in 1692. She was actually acquitted, which is why she survived to raise a family that cascaded down through the generations until I could finally join the tribe 250 years later. I mention this now because I’ve done a fair amount of research on the witch trials in New England (there were other locations besides Salem), and I can report with absolute certainty that more than one woman was burned at the stake simply because she was seen by other people while displaying outward symptoms of what was certainly a severe migraine headache.

Migraines are in the news this week because Michele Bachmann is reported to suffer occasionally from this affliction, but this blog isn’t a rant about the prospect of a female U.S. President having a migraine while her finger is on the nuclear trigger. That wouldn’t be my problem— not unless Boulder Colorado was on her target list, which— come to think of it— might be the case. No, that’s not why I’m raising the subject. I mention Michele Bachmann and migraine headaches because she needs to be ever thankful that she lives in the 21st century instead of the 17th century. Back then, suffering with migraines, she might very well have been suspected of communing with Satan as a witch. And living as she does with a hardcore bible thumper it would’ve been hard to hide the signs, which he would have immediately recognized as something offensive to God. Deciding what’s offensive to God and then inflicting that decision on other people is what bible thumpers do, and Michele Bachmann’s husband is notorious for this. He’s even built a cottage industry abound it. Doctor Bachmann Ph.D. spends his time these days “curing” homosexuality which he’s decided is a curse from God, but three hundred years ago he would most certainly have been building fires under the feet of some women with severe migraine headaches. Michele is fortunate to have been living at this time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Learning from the Pros

As preparation for an upcoming game, NFL players routinely study films of plays that have worked for other teams. To continue with a sports metaphor, Rupert Murdoch has apparently taken a page from the NFL playbook. I have it on good authority that Murdoch stayed up late Monday night watching film and video clips of Catholic bishops appearing before critics to answer for the sexual transgressions of people under their supervision. These guys are the ones to watch if you’re in Rupert Murdoch’s position. The Catholic Church has, literally, written the book on accountability avoidance. Their formula is in three parts. One part, “My integrity is not to be questioned,” and one part, “I’m deeply sorry, and I apologize to anyone who was offended,” and one part, “I’m utterly shocked that something like this could have taken place on my watch.” Actually, the bishops do the last part a little differently. Instead of “on my watch,” the official Catholic phraseology uses, “I’m utterly shocked that something like this could have taken place within my flock.”

When a priest is being promoted to bishop, he is flown to Rome for a crash course on how to answer for sexual transgression “within the flock.” The three part formula is teachable, and its success is repeatable. It works every time. And if the formula can work against allegations of sexual molestations occurring by the tens of thousands, then it’s a piece of cake to apply that same formula to something as simple as hacking the e-mails of somebody who’s already dead. No big deal. Right?

Murdoch is as safe in his job as a Catholic bishop, and that’s pretty darn safe. But if I’m wrong about this, he has other options. Murdoch can take it on the lam, going incognito by plastering on thick facial makeup and long false eyelashes, and then passing himself off as Tammy Faye Baker.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stop Blaming the Government and the Politicians

If China was going down the tubes (the reality for China is quite the opposite), then it would be appropriate to blame the government. In China, the government runs the country. In America, “we the people” run the country. That’s the problem. We now have a democracy— the very kind of democracy that frightened the hell out of the Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution. That’s why they gave us a republic instead. The way it was supposed to work— in the original plan— a person might get elected to office by voters who were so petulant and spiteful that they were demanding a complete government shutdown, but then once that person joined other elected leaders in the seat of government, he or she would work in cooperation for the good of the country. And most essential of all, the voters were expected to be sophisticated enough to know they couldn’t always get their own way on everything. That’s how a republic works. That’s how America is supposed to work. That’s all in the past.

Last election, about 50 Republicans (most affiliated with the Tea Party) were sent to Washington with marching orders to shut down the government, and damned if they didn’t do exactly that. That’s true democracy in action. Why should we be surprised at what they’re doing when they said they were going to do it?

So how did America get to this point? I blame four things: Ubiquitous and incessant polling. Massive political advertising on television. The emergence of our current system of primary elections to choose candidates. And 40 years of “dumb down” public schooling. We now have elected leaders who first become candidates by winning a primary, as opposed to being selected by party officials. All too often, this “winning” is achieved by the hiring the best PR agency to design the most effective attack ads while, at the same time, raising the most money to pay for the whole negative advertising process. And the attack ads work because the electorate just isn’t very bright. But here’s the killer. Once in office, elected officials make their decisions and policies based on the poll numbers. And then they crow that they’re following the will of the people, which they are. By definition, that’s democracy, but that’s not how it was supposed to be.

Democracies, if we look back at the historical record of true democracies, never last more than a century or two, and this includes the Athenian democracy in ancient Greece which went belly up after 172 years. The Founding Fathers knew this. In a true democracy, the voters don’t just get what they want. They get what they deserve.

Also see: Dying From "Death By Polling" 6/27/11

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Would Jesus Solve the U.S. Budget Problem?

In all four gospels there’s a written account of an episode where Jesus chased money changers and livestock merchants from the Temple of Herod by the use of his own physical force. So from the gospels we know this about the Lord and Savior of All Mankind— he was not above pitching a good old fashioned fit in the pursuit of political activism when confronted by an intolerable economic situation. Good for him. This documentation stands in stark contrast to what the gospels say about the actions of Jesus when confronted by homosexuality and abortion (both of which were as common in biblical times as they are now). Quite simply, the gospels say NOTHING about this. Zippo. Zilch. Notta. Jesus, as far as we know, never uttered one single solitary word about homosexuality or gay lifestyle or abortion. These issues may or may not have been off his radar, but they were certainly absent from his talking points.

I bring this up now because I believe the Republicans are missing a great opportunity. For the last 40 or more years, the Republican Party has regularly found someone on their team with a special relationship to Jesus— somebody who could tap into the infinite mind of the Son of God, and report to us what the Big Guy really and truly feels about things like gay marriage or abortion. How else can you explain all the right wing rhetoric about God’s opposition to such practices? The GOP position is clearly not taken from the gospels which are silent on the dreaded sex-related topics.

The newest GOP favorite with a channel (albeit an indirect channel) to Jesus is Michele Bachmann. Her husband, Doctor Bachmann Ph.D. runs the family business— a Christian Counseling service that offers to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight by filling them in on God’s negative opinion of their behavior. I think Doctor Bachmann Ph.D. is squandering a huge opportunity here. If he can climb inside God’s head to get the lowdown on homosexuality, why wouldn’t he also try to get some divine inspiration about topics like budget deficits or how to avoid national bankruptcy? Biblical history tells us that Jesus actually cared about financial malfeasance and economic impropriety enough to get physically involved trying to make things better. I’ll bet Jesus would be more than willing to talk about raising the debt ceiling if only some special person like Doctor Bachmann Ph.D. would ask the right questions during their next discussion. And then Doctor Bachmann Ph.D. could tell his wife, Michele, and she could go to Waterloo and tell the rest of us.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Don’t Blame Rupert Murdoch

After 168 years of publication, most of which was spent wallowing in tabloid journalism, “News of the World” went out of business because of outright criminality and excessive sleaze. The surprise for me, personally, was the apparent recognition that there can actually be too much sleaze, even in the modern 21st century world. I had thought otherwise.

For the record, I personally loathe FOX News. I listen to NPR and I watch PBS, and I never thought that FOX and PBS were simply right wing and left wing versions of intellectual equivalency, although I’ll grant that FOX and MSNBC are intellectual equals. I also regularly tune to NHK (the Japanese version of BBC) to get news from Asia. FOX news comes up for discussion now because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch who also, until last Saturday, owned the now-defunct “News of the World.” There’s a huge temptation for liberals like me to jump on Murdoch now that his power seems to have lost a bit of its tarnish, but I think this is being overly simplistic and naive. Murdoch is, and always has been, merely a zookeeper who made sure the lions got their daily dose of red meat, and zookeepers rarely question where the red meat comes from. In the case of “New of the World,” supplying the red meat meant hacking the phones and e-mails of people who had lost loved ones and who were at the depths of their own personal sorrow. The fact that this is despicable journalism may or may not say something about Rupert Murdoch, but it speaks volumes about the people who actually read that tawdry newspaper. And with its history going back 168 years, clearly readers were reveling in trash and sleaze and other people’s grief long before Rupert Murdoch was even born.

What a huge coincidence that this comes in the exact same week when we were treated to televised images of people gathered outside the court house where the Casey Anthony saga was being concluded. I could not, in my wildest imagination, ever see myself joining such a group of rabid blood-nuts to express pleasure or displeasure at a judicial sentence being handed down to somebody I didn’t personally know. Who in their right mind does that? And I confess that when I see a group like that I secretly assume that all of them are FOX News buffs. It’s interesting, though, that Rupert Murdoch probably looks at such a group and sees the same rabid herd mentality that I see. This would explain a lot about FOX News.

Back about the time that “News of the World” began publication, Henry Thoreau said that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And human nature being what it is, I suppose some people find solace or pleasure when they can read about other people who are even more desperate than themselves. Rupert Murdoch didn’t create that condition. He merely strives to make a dollar by helping it along.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Bright New Career for Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony gets out of the slammer next week and will, presumably, be looking for a job in a bleak employment market. Meanwhile, Nadya Suleman (a.k.a. the Octomom) appeared last Friday on The Today Show with her brood, and demonstrated for all the television viewers to see that her two-year-old octuplets are completely out of control, and are well on their way to predictable adult lives as deadbeat malefactors. Since 2009, most of the cost of raising the octuplets plus Suleman’s six other fatherless kids has fallen to the taxpayers in the debt-ridden state of California. By her own admission, Suleman has too many kids. Meanwhile California, facing bankruptcy, can no longer afford to support the prolific cash-crop resulting from Suleman’s peculiar life style as an in-vitro breeding machine. And Casey Anthony will need a job. Her primary expertise and work qualification seems to be the willingness to whack a two-year-old kid, and the ability to do it with legal impunity.

I love it when multiple problems can be solved by lumping them together to provide a common solution. So here’s the deal. Casey Anthony needs to move to California and go to work for the state, where she can accomplish a rather drastic budgetary cost-cutting measure. Utilizing her unique and rare skill set, her job would be to move in with Nadya Suleman and cull the herd, so to speak.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Would Jesus Be Tweeting Today?

Now that the Pope has tweeted, and Obama has tweeted, the question comes to mind— would Jesus tweet? Probably not. Jesus never wrote down anything in his own hand, so it’s a reasonable assumption that he was illiterate. This would help explain why effective widespread communication was never a priority for The Savior of All Mankind. According to the apostle, John, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This wording is concise enough to fit on a 140 character tweet, and the clear message is that anyone who doesn’t except Jesus as their savior will rot in hell for all eternity, making this perhaps the most important piece of information in the life of any human being. This should have been a big deal then, and it would be a big deal now.

Even before Twitter, the Son of God with, supposedly, infinite wisdom and power had the capability to make sure that every person knew the rules of the game when it came to the salvation of their each individual immortal soul. Don’t ask me how he could have done this. I don’t have infinite wisdom and power, and never pretended that I did. But Jesus was supposed to be better than me. So how good was Jesus at communicating? Now keep in mind that accepting Jesus is the ONLY way (according to John) to have everlasting life in heaven with God. This information should have been considered vitally important, but Jesus simply relied on a twelve man team of followers to spread the message around the world. Supposedly Jesus could see into the future, so he should have known that the population of the planet would more than triple in the second half of the twentieth century. Evidently, he thought that twelve guys were sufficient to get the message out to the additional five billion people when the time came for all of them to be “saved.”

I don’t know if Jesus was divine (whatever the hell that means). I only know that he was a lousy and ineffective communicator, based on his utter failure to reach his target demographic in the modern world. They say that Twitter reaches more than 200 million tweeters today. This would be a help to Jesus in spreading his “believe in me” message, but it still wouldn’t get the job done. Of course, there’s always the probability that John just made the whole thing up.