July 31, 2004

Sunday Sermon: What Freethought Is...

from - smijer

I was called upon recently to explain the signifcance of the "freethought" designation. I believe that I did a poor job of it. I hope to rectify the mistake now.

Freethought, as I define it, is freedom of thought from the bonds of irrational religion. As such, it does not exlude people who believe in a transcendent God. It is meant to exclude certain types of thinking... thinking that is not free from the smothering influence of religion. That does not mean only atheists walk under the umbrella of freethought. Agnostics may, too (if they aren't scared into agnosticism by lingering fears from religious indoctrination). Even devout believers in a transcendent God may belong in the freethought universe, if their belief comes from direct revelation or rational deduction, rather than religious indoctrination. True, no one seems to fit this final category. That may be explained by the absence of any deducible or self-revealing transcendent God, or it may be explained by the effecacy of religious programs to co-opt and subsume such revelations or deductions into its own fabric - a form of spiritual theft. It is certainly true that religions have very effective methods of reassigning credit for the work of doctors (or of our own bodies), rescue workers, social institutions, and even simple chance, to its own constructs (God, Allah, Karma, or the Dharma, for instance) in order to bolster its own authority. Such a mechanism might be responsible for undermining some revelation or deduction for its own purpose as well. Or, there may be no such revelation or deduction possible in the first place.

Religious people, especially the leaders who recieve the financial benefit of religion, have noticed the growing bad reputation that goes with the name "religion". They have created a new appeal, claiming that Christianity isn't a religion, but a "personal relationship with Christ". Asking the "who, what, how, when, and where" questions, nevertheless, always reveal that their "personal relationship" is nothing more than a euphemism for religion. The elements of the "personal relationship" always reduce to such religious rituals as prayer (sometimes done in a style to mimic familiarity), and other practices, such as ascribing all good fortune, some bad fortune, and certain aspects of personal intuition to personal "answers" to prayer. They never reduce to anything remotely resembling an actual personal relationship. So Christianity remains a religion.

Religious doctrines, that is to say doctrines that are incompatible with free thought, can and must only be believed in as a form of acquiescence. As an example, I present the Christian doctrine that the "blood" of Jesus atones for the wrong-doing of sinners. Blood, in this case, is a metaphor for killing. It is simply impossible to be convinced by reason or experience that the killing of any individual in the distant past can bring atonement for our wrongdoing today. Such a thought could only be accepted by submission to the authority of other people. Not free thought, but manipulated thought. Although this example is among the more egregious, it is by seeing the process at work in such a clear case of submission to religious indoctrination that we can often learn the attributes of this kind of belief, and learn to recognize it in cases where it isn't so clear. Islam, for instance, advertizes itself as a form of submission (the word can be translated as "surrender"). It's false claim is that the religion is a surrender to God. It is this deception that makes followers willing to submit. The religious leaders and their holy books require submission, and gain it by representing themselves as agents of God. The same is true for all of the major monotheistic religions, both extinct and extant.

Thus concludes the sermon for this Sunday.

Posted by smijer at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

Economist Fisks Journalist on Science

from - smijer

And How! Easterbrook's attempt to "demystify" science (by naively appealing to general scientific dissatisfaction with the iconclast status of a certain British occupant of the Lucasian Chair) fall flat. Meanwhile, an economist puts Hawking's status into perspective and calls Easterbrook's credibility into question as effectively as any grad assistant might. Well done, Brad D., especially your concise presentation of the the correlation between Newton's first law and relativistic travel along the geodesic.

Posted by smijer at 10:26 PM | Comments (0)

Memo to WUTC: Bad Choice

from - smijer

I had a sneaking suspicion, now confirmed, that WUTC 88.1 Chattanooga no longer carries the best show of their former lineup, A Prairie Home Companion. So, I guess we will be streaming it when that's available, until some other station steps up to the plate.

So long, Garrison Keillor, we hardly knew ye.

Posted by smijer at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2004

Gettin' Personal

from - smijer

I started this bloggy thingy to have some measure of influence on public opinion - it's a public project. Since Howard Dean left the presidential race, I've found that I am increasingly interested in posting about personal stuff. This is going to be one of those posts... just stuff about me, and so what if I'm the only one interested by it?

I would never argue that I am as enamored of biology as Paul Myers, or Reed Cartwright. Biology is, to me, a spectator sport. It may be a spectator sport that I follow with interest similar to the baseball fan who knows the ERA of every pitcher in the major league, but I have no regrets that it is not me on the mound.

I can't say the same about theoretical physics (by which I mean theoretical partical physics and cosmology). It's a recent thing. I was interested enough to pursue a major in it, nearly a third of a lifetime ago, but I wasn't interested enough to actually work on the pursuit. Back in the present, when I read Sean Carroll's blog, and when he posts about physics, I read with real envy that he is doing something that I locked myself out of doing by poor choices.

What follows is me rationalizing to myself, out loud, about two things. The first is why I love physics. The second is why my blue-collar job has nothing to do with it, and why the wonderful opportunities that were handed to me in 1990's went to waste. I think some of the reasoning is the same for both.

My first exposure to partical physics and cosmology came from a National Geographic article from the early 1980's. The article explained the then-current (and to the best of my knowledge, still-current) views on the formation of planets. It backed up to explain the synthesis of the heavy elements in supernovae, and even big bang nucleosynthesis. For a moment as a pre-teen, I felt something not too distant from the joy of discovery, because I felt close to understanding some things that were at least nearly fundamental. The feeling of understanding something fundamental, and the desire to understand more, goes a long way to explaining why physics means so much to me. The fact that I picked this up from a National Geographic magazine laying around the house goes toward explaining my failure to properly pursue my interest. In my home, science was "interesting". Academics were "useful". The teaser was there to draw interest, but there was no reverence for learning where I came from. It was never more than a means to an end... and teen-agers are just not cut out to care about means to ends.

My next exposure to physics - mostly classical, now, - came from Larry Anderson, who taught chemistry and physics at my Georgia public high school. Nearly simultaneously, friends introduced me to the popular writing of Richard Feynman (whose obituary I read, but did not grasp the importance of, in Scientific American, July 1988). In this same time frame, I read the Cosmic Code by Heinz Pagels, and for all its failings, it did present a solved mystery or two in terms that made the mouth water for more mysteries to solve. Mr. Anderson taught chemistry and physics so well that one left the class having no doubt about one's ability to work out a problem from classical physics or chemistry, and with little doubt about one's understanding of quantum numbers and their relationship to atomic orbitals, and their relevance to non-organic chemistry. Dr. Feynmanm, in his popular books, validated the sense of elation that came with a sense of understanding and promised that the right amount of curiosity was all that it would take to keep unlocking those secrets that Dalton, Newton, Lavoisier, Rutherford, Einstein, and Bohr had decoded before us. These were the reasons that I decided to register my major in physics (instead of engineering, or some other more "practical" field).

But I had never gained the work ethic that is necessary for the rigors of a real university setting. I had a lack of confidence, and no-one pushing hard from behind (they had learned their lesson dealing with me as an only-slightly-younger adolescent). The only culture I had of learning and achievement for their own sake came from my own idle meanderings, and experiences that were too vicarious to be instructive in popular reading.

I won't have it said that I care less about physics than any of those who work in the field. I can only admit, with shame, that I didn't care as much when it mattered the most.

Posted by smijer at 11:34 PM | Comments (3)

Kevin Drum, Stealing My Schtick

from - smijer

I don't know if I can still call fisking Neal Boortz "my" project... How long has it been? Anyway, when the pro's do it, they are always so much more artful:

Democrat hater and war supporter Neal Boortz talks to a taxi driver in Boston:
[Boortz tells of Iraqi expatriate taxi driver extolling Dear Leader's toy war]
I'm happy to see that immigrant taxi drivers are continuing their longtime habit of providing journalists with exactly the opinions that they themselves happen to have. Kinda brings a tear to my eye.

By the way, thanks Boortz tech crew... thanks for the permalink.gif permalinks.

Posted by smijer at 10:06 PM | Comments (1)

RIP, and thanks for all the DNA

from - smijer

Francis Crick is dead from colon cancer. For a while, he was the frontier, as he and James Watson puzzled out the mechanism behind heredity based on the structure of DNA. He took some less fortunate path later on. Such errors are easy to forgive in light of the magnitude of his accomplishments.

Posted by smijer at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

Random Thoughts from the Fatigued

from - smijer

Just some notes...

  • Boortzlistener points us to a case against military intervention in Sudan. I think it would be wrong to rule out military intervention if the situation calls for it, but I respect the anti-war position more than the war-at-any-cost position that led us to our last conflict.
  • Hamilton County Democrats, (if you're reading), I know I dropped off the radar after Dean went away. I plan to make the next meetup though. I guess I am just going to have to start making time for some things.
  • I noticed while reading about this mini-controversy over at the RA, this quote from a Baptist minister:
    The basis by which the Lord makes distinctions in the final judgment is not racial but moral. Evangelicals believe that all those who are joined to Christ by faith will be spared, and all those who are not joined to him will not be spared...

    I feel I should point out the non-sequiter here. Belief, if it deserves the name, is not a matter of choice. Faith is a matter of belief. Only issues where a choice is made can rightly be called "Moral". Therefore, faith cannot be a moral distinction. The minister should not have said that the Lord's basis for distinction is moral. Instead, he should have said the Lord's basis for distinction was susceptibility to certain beliefs. I know it's nit-picky, but it stood out to me, and I felt like the distinction needed to be made.

    Posted by smijer at 10:40 PM | Comments (3)
  • July 28, 2004


    from - smijer

    You might think that being on vacation from the 55 hr/week job would give me so much leisure time that I would be posting long, multiple posts each day. You would be wrong. You probably didn't think about the fact that I would be patching walls, hanging doors, painting rooms, working on computers, and working on literally dozens of other time consuming tasks, did you? Well, I am. Did anyone catch Barack Obama's speech? I didn't, but NPR quoted someone as naming him the most likely person to fill the job of first black American President. From what I know about him, I could go for that. What do you think?

    Posted by smijer at 10:51 PM | Comments (4)

    July 27, 2004

    Big Dog

    from - smijer

    Bill Clinton Sez, "they need a divided America. We don't."

    "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values..."

    Posted by smijer at 10:05 PM | Comments (3)

    July 26, 2004

    Not in Boston

    from - smijer

    It may come as a suprise to some, what with all the hype about bloggers covering the Democratic Convention (Atrios, Pandagon, Daily Kos, for instance), but I will not be blogging from Boston this week. At the latest meeting of the On-line Journal Worldwide Cabal, it was decided by the Grand Snark that someone should be left on the outside in case of a critical internet blackout in Massachusetts, so that we would have expert bloggerage observing by television.
    Mind you, I won't actually be watching the convention (unless the phone rings once and hangs up, rings again and a gruff voice from the other end of the line offers the emergency signal, "Broken Coiffe"... then I will jump into immediate television action). The point is, if you want to know what's going on in Boston, tune into the cool kids. If you want to know what's going on in the real world, come here first, shake your head with obvious dissatisfaction, then go on out into the real world and have a look around.

    Posted by smijer at 07:30 AM | Comments (1)

    July 23, 2004

    Liberal Myopia

    from - smijer

    Atrios may be right about Richard Cohen's part in the failure of leadership. I wonder how we can criticize Richard Cohen for pimping the Bush Doctrine, without saying a few things about the Kerry/Edwards vote for it. I'm still voting Kerry/Edwards in 2000, but I certainly hope they will step up to the plate and provide the cool-headed leadership we have been missing for the last three years.

    Posted by smijer at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

    Remembering What Peace There May Be In Silence

    from - smijer

    I've been under the weather for about a week now, to explain in part why I've been quiet. I'll just pipe in to make a couple of remarks on the last weeks' news, to the extent that I've digested it.

  • Berger: I see this as a non-story. The only truly incriminating line is that he was stuffing documents into his socks. That line, however, is flatly denied by Berger, and is not credibly sourced.
  • Wilson: Joe Wilson may have been caught in a couple of fibs. That doesn't mean that Iraq ever tried to get uranium from Africa, or that the administration ever had any credible evidence that it did.
  • 9/11 comission report: I spent the months anticipating its release hearing how awful and partisan this commission was - for the Democrats. Now all I hear is how there isn't a hint of partisanship or fingerpointing in the report. Instead there are recommendations and an explanation of the institutional failures that paved the way for 9/11. Let's hear it for Democratic partisanship.

    I'll leave the full text of the Desiderata in the extended entry, if my post title made anyone's mouth water for it.

    Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible, without surrender,
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even to the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
    they are vexatious to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain or bitter,
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs,
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals,
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love,
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be.
    And whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life,
    keep peace in your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

    - Max Ehrmann

    Posted by smijer at 08:00 AM | Comments (6)
  • July 20, 2004

    Paul And Silas Come To Tennessee

    from - smijer

    Via SKB, we find this story of a quartet of thirsty inmates who stepped out for a drink. Rumor has it the jailer asked them upon their return, "sirs, what must I do for that Bud Light?"

    Posted by smijer at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)

    July 19, 2004

    There's Nothing Complicated About Supporting Our Troops

    from - smijer

    Unless you're the President. Somberby has the scoop.

    Posted by smijer at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)


    from - smijer

    "After six days some of the girls were released. But the others, as young as eight years old, were kept there," she told Amnesty.

    "Five to six men would rape us in rounds, one after the other for hours during six days every night. My husband could not forgive me after this, he disowned me."

    - link (second page)

    Africa Action has a petition, as do the DCCC and CBC.

    Posted by smijer at 07:33 AM | Comments (1)

    July 18, 2004

    Sunday Sermon: Sleeping With The Enemy

    from - smijer

    Today, I feel led to speak on a personal note. Please bear with me.

    If I should suffer heart failure as I write this sermon, and if I should die, there are a number of people who believe that Someone will torture me by putting me in a fire where I will be burned forever. Some of the people who believe this are among my closest friends and loved ones.

    I find this belief odd, and it saddens me that these people believe these things. If I believed the same about them, I would be very sad. At the same time, I would be weighing my options. I would be finding out everything I could about this Someone, and about the events that happen after death.

    While I weighed my options, I would also be weighing my personal courage. Would I attempt to hide my loved one away? Would I band together with others and attempt to fight and defeat the Someone? What if, by intervening, I would bring risk of a similar fate upon myself? I hope that I would have the courage to fight for my loved ones.

    But, what if I didn't find that courage? What if, instead of fighting, I joined forces with that Someone? What if I openly praised that someone, and banded together with his followers each week to have communion with that Someone? Could I then face the people that I believed he was planning to burn forever? Could I call them "friend" or "loved one"? I cannot imagine ever allying myself with such a Someone, but if I did, I do not believe I could honestly face the people who he is set to torture and pretend to care for them.

    So it is that I, an atheist, find myself surrounded by friends and loved ones who treat me with as much devotion and care as I could hope for, except that many of them admit to conspiring with an entity they believe is going to do some very hideous things to me (and other people no more deserving of torture than I).

    In defense of some of these folks, I have a few things to say. Not all of them believe I will be tortured forever. Some believe I'll just be unhappy forever because I won't be near their Someone. Others among them don't accept that view because it isn't to be found in their "Holy Book", which is where they go to learn about things that cannot be known in the conventional way.

    Some of them believe, absurdly, that I will choose the torture. No. If there is to be torture, I will be dragged there, kicking and screaming. Or, perhaps I will be tricked into going unwittingly. After the first burn, I will be attempting escape, so even if I had made an unwitting choice for the first few seconds of torture, I would soon be making a much more forceful and well-informed choice against it.

    Some people believe that their Someone has especially designed the toture room so that it cannot be escaped - so that someone who arrives there by making uninformed choices will never be able to correct their mistakes. They believe this because of the "Holy Book". Such a "choice", is of course, no choice at all. The designer of this torture room is perhaps even more devious than the one who merely drags us, kicking and screaming, to the eternal fire.

    Some people cannot confront their own belief. They put off the moment of judgment indefinitely, claiming that something will change between now and the Afterlife, so that their beloved Someone will not torture their beloved me. If we must use the Rules of the Holy Book, though, that viewpoint is most improbable. Besides, according to the Rules of that Holy Book, the vast majority of people (and therefore people's loved ones) will be tortured forever.

    By now, you may wonder why I do not disown the loved ones who ally themselves with my torturer. While it is true that I do not believe in their Torturing friend, that isn't the only reason I forgive them their treachery. After all, it is very much their intention to ally with the person they believe to be my arch enemy, even if their beliefs are unfounded. No, it is because of the extent of their confusion that I am able to overlook their treacherous impulses and embrace them as friends and loved ones. It is because I know that they do not feel treacherous in their alliance, and they are completely and absurdly convinced that there is absolutely nothing wrong with siding with the Torturing One.

    So I forgive. In any case, it would be a lonely world for me, if I had to take my friends and loved ones only from amongst those who disebelieve in the Torturer, and his plans for me. And even while I have wonderful relationships with the Torturer's Friends, I cannot help but feel a pang of loneliness when I hear my family and friends singing praises to my Torturer.

    Posted by smijer at 10:23 AM | Comments (1)

    July 16, 2004

    Thought For The Day

    from - smijer

    People accept a very low standard of proof when seeing what they want to see. Where the skeptic asks, "might it be wrong?", the wishful thinker asks, "must it be wrong?", then doesn't wait for an answer.
    - smijer (in a comment thread elsewhere)
    Posted by smijer at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

    But we still call them black and we still call them holes

    from - smijer

    Thanks to the fact that I read Sean Carroll's blog, I knew about this a solid two weeks before all the news outlets got the press release. What this means, if my little pea-brain is properly wrapped around the subject, and if Hawking's result can be confirmed, is that black holes do not destroy a deterministic view of the universe by preventing information from the past from having its due influence on the future. That is to say, that the billiard balls you set in motion with your cue stick may fall into a black hole, and even though they are crunched to singularity (in theory), and emerge much later in the form of high energy elemental particles, they still move in their particular direction and speed in part because of your cue-stroke. If true, it is somewhat comforting. The alternative would be that sometimes cause loses its effect and effect loses its cause.

    Of course, there is still a trade-off. For the lifetime of the black hole, some cause and effect chains remain hidden from us completely. And, of course, we could only hope to recover the information about the original system after it re-emerges from the black hole in principle. In practice, it is unlikely we will ever be able to use the emerging information from a disintegrating black hole to discover much useful data about the state of the system before it encountered the black hole. We can rest assured, however, that no principle of causality is being truly violated, if Hawking is correct, and it all comes out in the end.

    Also this week, it seems Noah's Ark is on the verge of being excavated once and for all... and I have a bridge for sale in New York.

    Posted by smijer at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)

    July 15, 2004


    from - smijer

    This Kos entry describes a blogger who is planning to "out" homosexual staffers of congresscritters who support the hate amendment or its cousins. It also suggests that it would be "delicious" to "out" those congresspeople who support the Federal Marrriage Amendment, and who cheat on their spouse.

    I decidedly do not think it is appropriate to "out" homosexuals to advance a cause, no matter how hypocritical that person is being, and no matter how important that cause is. This would do little more than serve as an attack on individuals and their privacy, and lend credibility to smears against homosexuals as petty and back-biting. I hope that the gentleman in question will change his mind and decide to take the high road instead.

    On the other hand, Kos is quite right that "outing" adulterers who are hypocritically supporting the FMA for reasons of "protecting traditional marriage" is quite appropriate. Those are the true hypocrites, and those truly deserving of public shame and scorn.

    Posted by smijer at 03:30 PM | Comments (1)

    Nice piece from TownHall.com

    from - smijer

    Anyone who knows about TownHall.com has got to be suprised that I write approvingly of their column. This column, however, includes the entire damning Kerry Campaign response to the phony and vacuous Republican outrage over the Whoopi Goldberg fundraiser from earlier. Was it just a mistake on TH editors' part? Do we have a mole inside their organization?

    The piece does end with Bush's phony populist reply:

    "The other day my opponent said, when he was with some entertainers from Hollywood, that they were the heart and soul of America," Bush said. "I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places right here, in Marquette, Michigan."

    Which just opens up the question why he directed the bulk of his tax-cuts to the wealthy elite (including these Hollywood types) instead of to the people right there in Marquette, Michigan. Kerry might want to use that footage in his next campaign add, too.

    Posted by smijer at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

    July 14, 2004

    Compassionate Conservativism

    from - smijer

    This landed in my e-mail in-box today as a lawyer joke. I'll pass it along, slightly modified:

    One afternoon, Dick Cheney was riding in his limousine when he saw two men along the roadside eating grass. Disturbed, he ordered his driver to stop and he got out to investigate.

    He asked one man, "Why are you eating grass? "We don't have any money for food," the poor man replied. "We have to eat grass."

    "Well, then, you can come with me to my house and I'll feed you," Cheney said.

    "But sir. I have a wife and two children with me. They are over there, under that tree"

    "Bring them along," Cheney replied. Turning to the other poor man he stated, "You come, too."

    The second man, in a pitiful voice then said, "But sir, I also have a wife and SIX children with me!"

    "Bring them all," Cheney answered.

    They all entered the car, which was no easy task, even for a car as large as the limousine was.
    Once underway, one of the poor fellows turned to Cheney and said,

    "Sir, you are too kind. Thank you for taking us all with you."

    Cheney replied, "Glad to do it. You'll really love my place. The grass is almost a foot high.”

    Posted by smijer at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

    Maybe they asked Google

    from - smijer

    I just want to thank the Senate today for the fact that they didn't even let the Hate Amendment come up for a vote. I'm proud to see that our legislative branch is able to act like Americans.

    When asked, "IS DISCRIMINATION BAD", Google answers, "Yes!" (See previous post if you don't get this)...

    Posted by smijer at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

    Got ethics questions? Ask Google.

    from - smijer

    I came across this google search in the list of referrals.... I hope that Google's first answer doesn't send this earnest enquirer a mixed signal.

    Posted by smijer at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

    July 13, 2004

    Living Right, the Vile and Repulsive Way

    from - smijer

    Paul Myers captures my feelings about book-burning. However, he has the luxury of being from Minnesota where the chances are slim that his friends and family are among those likely to turn out for a "bonfire", as they are euphemistically called in these parts. I love my home in Tennessee for a lot of reasons, but the rampant anti-intellectualism that is sponsored by our local churches is not among them. I understand the anti-intellectualism of the church. If parishioners are taught or allowed to trust their own intellect and their own moral instinct, then organized religion is going to be the loser.

    It is impossible to keep thinking people in the fold of a group which is organized around the teachings of a book that portrays the Master of the Universe with all the pettiness, small-minded jealousy, and virtually every other dark facet of human psychology, magnified to the infinite proportions of Deity, and labeled "All-Good". Such a book could never be taken seriously by people who trusted their own intellect and moral instinct. Therefore it is necessary, if the billion dollar industry which is the church is to continue, to teach people that their intellect and moral wisdom are inferior and only God's (which just happens to be the same as the preacher's and the Holy Book's), is trustworthy.

    Posted by smijer at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

    Make me a swing voter

    from - smijer

    I would consider voting for Bush in the November election if he would do this...

    Hat tip to Jesse.

    Posted by smijer at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

    July 12, 2004

    Please read slowly and carefully,...

    from - smijer

    I would like to thank the Church for this wonderful piece. I shall add Margaret Sayre to my list of outspoken atheists. Where should I add this fella?

    Posted by smijer at 10:48 PM | Comments (4)

    Add this to your list

    from - smijer

    If you are among those who operate in some part on a mythology driven morality, then there is a pretty good chance that you can add at least one of these two ideas to your list of moral issues you are wrong about. Specifically, you are likely to believe that it is wrong for a woman to act as her husband's equal in household authority. You may not be one of those who excuses or engages in outright abuse because of your moral blindness, but your attitude is demeaning toward women nevertheless. If you are a woman who has that attitude, then doubly shame on you, for you are a traitor to your sex.

    Sean makes the observation that religious liberals would find a work-around for this particular value. Good for them. If you put your morality first and adapt your mythology to fit it (whether you do so consciously or otherwise), then you will likely never fall victim to Abraham's great sin: you will likely never find yourself choosing obedience over righteousness. As Sean points out, this does make the moral aspects of your mythology sort of redundant, but a good believer will find that putting morality first can be construed as interpreting scripture "in the Spirit" (or some such prattle), and still find a way to attribute their understanding of right and wrong to the invisible people.

    Posted by smijer at 06:39 PM | Comments (2)

    We Don't Need No Banana Republic

    from - smijer

    The consensus seems to be against delaying the Big Election in the event of a terrorist act. As long as people are physically able to get to the polls, that's it. Mind you, it doesn't help that the man in charge of making the big call is a Bush-anointed Baptist Minister. So, yeah - if the elections are unnecessarily called off and it favors Bush, there will be conspiracy theories. Apparently Bushco likes the idea of having conspiracy theories. Otherwise they would set up a bipartisan commission to make the rules and the final call.

    What I don't want is the inevitable spin from the right-wing bottom feeders (I'm thinking Limbaugh/Hannity & our boy Boortz, here). If the terrorists attack and we vote Bush out, the terrorists influenced the election! Democrats have handed Al Qaeda a victory! If the terrorists don't attack and we vote Bush out, they only didn't attack because the polls were in favor of a Democratic victory and they didn't want to risk changing that outcome and having the Cowboy on their (third cousin's) heels for another four years. If Bush wins, terrorist attack or not, America beat Al Qaeda. Go us.

    Posted by smijer at 07:55 AM | Comments (1)

    July 11, 2004

    If you read nothing else

    from - smijer


    Posted by smijer at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

    Sunday Sermon

    from - smijer

    What makes evil atheists evil? Someone close to me suggests that the common perception of atheists as dirty and threatening comes not from the pulpit, but from the unhappy coincidence that the most vocal atheists tend also to be the dirtiest and most threatening - giving atheists an undeserved bad name in much the same way that many hypocritical Christians give Christianity an undeserved bad name (or, one can almost hear our rebel-flagwaving neighbors saying, the way some lazy or criminal African Americans give all of them a bad name). At the time, I disagreed. My reasoning was that the average Joe or Sally Churchperson has probably never knowingly had any meaningful interaction with an atheist. They haven't had an opportunity to judge atheism by its outspoken proponents, because they've never really encountered them. But I think it goes much deeper than that. I began to think of outspoken atheists since Voltaire, and whether they have truly conformed to the theory. Could the real outspoken atheists give the rest of us a bad name, if we knew who they were? Here is the list I have compiled. It is quite incomplete, but I would argue that it is, at least in some ways, representative:

  • Voltaire: According to this brief biography, his "intelligence, wit and style made him one of France's greatest writers and philosophers." These words (or some variant of them) are attributed to Voltaire, "In 100 years [the Bible] will be forgotten and eliminated". Obviously, his prediction failed, yet we see from it his outspokenness against religion. Interestingly, it was a religious group that disinterred his body after burial.
    In 1814 a group of "ultras" (right-wing religious) stole Voltaire's remains and dumped them in a garbage heap. No one was the wiser for some 50 years. His enormous sarcophagus (opposite Rousseau's) was checked and the remains were gone. (see Orieux, Voltaire, vol. 2 pp. 382-4.) His heart, however, had been removed from his body, and now lies in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. His brain was also removed, but after a series of passings-on over 100 years, disappeared after an auction.

  • Thomas Paine: One of America's founding fathers, a great patriot and veteran of the Revolutionary war, he was among the first to publically criticize the practice of slavery. His outspokenness against religion led him to write The Age of Reason, a pamphlet of early Biblical criticism.
  • Bertrand Russell: He was a great mathematician and logician from the early 20th century. In addition, he spent six months in jail for his anti-war activities in the first world war. He did have moral failings in the realm of sexual morality (that favorite of the priestly class), but he was certainly no dirtier or more threatening than any Christian adulterer.
  • Richard Dawkins: Maybe this is one of those atheists that give us a bad name. He is much more likely to win the Nobel Prize for Biology than for Peace. He is just a biologist and science popularizer. He is sometimes crass and condescending in his denunciations of Young Earth Creationism and other such nonsense. But, still - no... we cannot convict him of being dirty and threatening on the basis of mere style. He is an outspoken proponent of philosophical natualism: the philosophy that all that exists conforms to natural regularity.

    I left off scores of well known (and often well-loved) atheists who were not outspoken about religion. A nice list of well known ones can be found here.

    When atheists are outspoken, they may speak out against one of three things. First, they may speak out against people. They may call call Christians moral or intellectual weaklings. That would rightly make them (individually) seem dirty and threatening. But the ones I've mentioned weren't in any such habit. Certainly, I am not. My position is, to paraphrase Michael Shermer , that religious people are (often) smart people who are good at rationalizing things they came to believe for not-smart reasons.

    Second, an outspoken atheist may criticize ideas. They may remark on the self-evidently ridiculous notions of people walking on water, people coming back to life after several days dead, or talking animals. Any of these things are ridiculous, and would never be taken seriously by Christians outside the context of their mythology. However, people do take it seriously when we laugh at their intellectual idols. I think the propensity to attack bad ideas garners a measure of vilification from the pulpit and the parishoners.

    Third, and last, an outspoken atheist may speak out against that fragile side of human psychology that makes us feel that we need to believe in these unbelievable things, and makes us terrified to give our beliefs an honest examination. It is this part of our psychology - the part that creates those most shallow but unshakeable convictions, that causes us to hate and lash out against that which threatens to show our convictions false. And, it is the fear residing in this part of our psychology that creates the most negative impressions about atheists, whether it is summoned by our own fear of death, by an e-mail chain letter (where the obnoxious atheistic college professor gets his comeuppance at the hands of a faithful student), or from the pulpit.

    Posted by smijer at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)
  • July 09, 2004

    New Neighbors

    from - smijer

    Welcome to my new neighbors in the Brigade!

    Bubba has the membership update. I have updated my blogroll, and now extend my formal welcomes.

    Countertop Chronicles, nice to meet you. If I understand correctly, you are an attorney of sorts, specializing in environmental law. It isn't clear from Bubba's description whether he is "for" or "against", but welcome either way.

    Closet Extremist, nice to meet you. I'm sort of the same. I visit the extreme limits of my closet in an attempt to make the rest of the house look nice before company... What? No rimshot?

    Shanktified, nice to meet you. I don't think you and I will agree on much.

    Deamville, nice to meet you. Music is fun. I play the jug, but only after emptying it personally.

    South End Grounds, nice to meet you. I don't think you and I will agree on much. I'm sure you'll come around eventually, though.

    Radio X-Factor, nice to meet you. Blogs are kind of like radio, only bloggers don't have vestigial eyes from sitting all day in studios lit only by the LED's on the equipment.

    Great Smoky, nice to meet you. Come home soon.

    Thoughts of an Average Woman, nice to meet you. I like women my wife.

    Pink Kitty, nice to meet you. Please don't scare me 'cause I'm a liberal.

    Paisley Dreams, nice to meet you, I was just thinking the other day about how paisely isn't in style anymore really, but when it was Don Johnson was popular and we used to wear the white jackets with our sleeves rolled up even when it wasn't hot outside, but sometimes it did get hot outside.... never mind. You are better than I at stream of consciuosness.

    Extreme John, nice to meet you. Thanks for sharing your photos of beautiful East Tennessee with us. Remember always to wear your helmet.

    Austin Country Limits, welcome back. Why did you take the Smoky Mountain Journal down? I'd love to see its archives somewhere...

    Rush Limbaughtomy, welcome back even though you were really before my time so I didn't really know you before, so nice to meet you. And hello to your other project, Volunteers. Nice to meet you.

    Posted by smijer at 03:55 PM | Comments (5)

    Another one

    from - smijer

    Add this to the list of reasons to avoid a mythology based morality. To all of you who think it doesn't apply to you because your particular mythology does not encourage such nonsense, I say that the principle is the same. And more than likely, your church organization has yet to purge all of the moral nonsense from your particular mythology. Whether it's birth control or condemnation of sexual orientation, you've probably got an inferior moral system because you rely on your mythology instead of reality. Shame on you.

    Posted by smijer at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

    RTB Update

    from - smijer

    Bubba posted a Rocky Top Brigade membership update yesterday. I will get on the stick this afternoon as time permits, update my blog roll, and welcome the newcomers. Right now, I'm already running late!

    Posted by smijer at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

    Retraction from Yesterday

    from - smijer

    A comment yesterday at Kos points out that the picture posted there yesterday is from an event in Michigan on July 7 where there were no questions asked of the President. There are no news reports corroborating the story that Bush walked out on a press conference after being asked about Ken Lay. I conclude that the Yahoo! caption on which the story I posted yesterday was based is in error, and therefore Kos was in error and my posts yesterday were in error. I will add a link to this retraction in both of yesterday's posts.

    Posted by smijer at 07:57 AM | Comments (1)

    July 08, 2004

    What's that they say about them what can't stand the heat?

    from - smijer

    Update:This post is based on an incorrect story. See retraction here.

    Sorry, I have to vamp that last post. The first thought that flashed through my mind was Howard Dean saying that we can't have a foreign policy based on petulance... "Petulant." They should change the name of the office until next January. George Bush: Petulant of the United States of America.

    Posted by smijer at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

    Crybaby in Chief

    from - smijer

    Update:This post is based on an incorrect story. See retraction here.

    What a gorgeous photo.


    US President George W. Bush walks away from a briefing with the media, refusing to answer questions after he was asked about Enron and the reported indictment of former CEO Kenneth Lay, who was a close adviser and fund-raiser for Bush and his father, earning him the presidential nickname of 'Kenny Boy.'

    And the link. Sorry to rip off an entire entry from kos. My excuse is that it's just too beautiful a thing. Don't stop -- just keep walking til you get back to Crawford.

    Posted by smijer at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

    July 07, 2004

    On Foundations of Sand

    from - smijer

    One reason that mythology-based morality is unuseful.

    Another one.

    I have a lot more to say on this issue. Right now, I'd just as soon keep it simple. I know people, many of them guilty of one or both of the above imbecilities, who insist there can be no harm from religious belief. Maybe that is true, so long as people remember that it isn't like other kinds of "belief" or knowledge: It simply isn't reliable enough to use as a moral foundation. If one lets mythology guide conscience, then one is limited to a morality no better than the moral thinking of the religious authorities who create and interpret the myth. There is no guarantee that their system will create as good a standard as our own native ability to work out right from wrong. Furthermore, we do not have the right to turn over our own decisions to some other moral agent. If we choose "obedience" over "righteousness", then we are liable for that choice - no matter to whom or to what we believed ourselves obedient.

    Posted by smijer at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

    Child 'Prisoner' Abuse

    from - smijer

    I had no idea. Sadly No! tells us what CNN won't. I wish our administration and our news agencies at least thought this was worth a denial, if not any other mention.

    Posted by smijer at 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

    Thought For The Day

    from - smijer

    The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
    - Mark Twain
    Posted by smijer at 12:01 PM | Comments (1)

    Vive La Difference!

    from - smijer

    I don't know about y'all, but I'll be voting for a President and Vice President who each boasts all of the following features:

  • Wealthy
  • White
  • Christian
  • Heterosexual
  • Male

    My hope is that this will be a landslide victory for the WWCHM Democrats, sparking a true moderate reform in the Republican party, freeing me to vote third party/independent four years down the road. All this white bread gets stale after a while.

    Posted by smijer at 09:04 AM | Comments (2)
  • July 06, 2004

    Money Changers

    from - smijer

    I'm not so sure they ever left. If there was any doubt, the money changers are back in the temple... Sorry I'm late to mention it.. I guess it's old news by now.

    Posted by smijer at 11:29 AM | Comments (10)

    July 04, 2004

    Independence Day Sunday Sermon

    from - smijer

    Happy Independence Day, and Happy Birthday to America. I hope (against hope) that our next one will be celebrated in peace-time.

    geo.JPGBefore our sermon today, I have a Praise Report. Shopping at McKay's Used Books and CD's today, I came across quite a treasure in the free bin (where books are often left that were not accepted as trade-ins). I came across A Geocentricity Primer, by Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D., and The Geocentric Bible, by Gordon Blane. These fantastic finds are by actual persons, who actually believe that the Earth is the center of the universe, that it does not rotate, and that the sun and other heavenly bodies rotate around it. In short they are Biblical Ptolemists. I quote first from the former:

    The Copernican Revoltuion, as this change of view is called, was not just a revolution in astronomy, but it also spread into politics and theology. In particular, it set the stage for the development of Biblical criticism. After all, if God cannot be taken literally when he writes of the "rising of the sun," then how can he be taken literally in writing of the "rising of the Son?" -p.1

    And from the second book:

    This book, the Geocentric Bible, updates and expands those aticles, but is still based on the two Geocentricity books. There is not scientific proof for or against either heliocentrism or geocentricity.

    I know that will be an inspiration to us all, and a reminder of why science doesn't adopt the revelation/inspirational model of religion. Hallelujah.

    Now, on to the sermon. Today we are going to talk about the evolution of modern monotheistic faith from primitive superstitious practices, and how we sometimes come upon a vestigial feature that betrays the origins of our modern piety.

    Religion finds its first roots in the ancient, agragrian, shamanistic societies, where people used rituals, such as dance and incantation, to entice the spirits, whom they believed were responsible for such things, to bring rain or good crops. It did not take long, however, for the priests or shamans to discover that they could personally profit from certain types of rituals, and animal sacrifice was born. Animal sacrifice was, in some cultures, perverted by religious excess and sometimes gave way to human sacrifice. Later, a theology was developed around the notion of God himself being laid on the altar, no matter how figurative this necessarily had to be.

    The Greeks came close to the empirical revolution of the Enlightenment. They only came so close, though, and the world had to wait until the eighteenth century to see the religion divorced (nearly entirely) from the bronze age notion of rituals and incantations that manipulate the spirit world. That empirical revolution, brought on by Gallileo, Descartes, Newton, and others, promised to rid the world of superstition. Voltaire, in a moment of unbridled optimisim, predicted the demise of religion altogether. Nevertheless, by moving its theology into the abstract, religion survived the enlightment. Now, instead of power over nature, Christianity boasted Personal Experience, and Changed Lives - in other words, Christianity allowed the perception of miraculous intervention in their own psychology. Religion's impact was kept sacred by keeping it abstract, and religion survived. Yet today, vestiges of the ritualism and incantational magic remain.

    Take for instance this news report from the UK. Apparently, local Christians are afraid that the Celtic traditions of "Beating the Bounds" (to drive away evil spirits), will somehow "unleash" demonic forces. These folks apparently believe that the feared demonic forces cannot operate unless someone, whether accidentally or purposefully, invokes them by incantation or ritual. A ritual intended to drive evil spririts away, if it does not properly invoke the magic name of Jesus, might be just the opening that demonic forces are looking for to be able to wreak their unholy influence on that town. It does not seem to occur to them that if these forces are powerful and malevolent enough to be feared that they may not wait to be invoked, and might "unleash" themselves without the help of our rituals.

    Similarly, Western charismatics "bind" the demonic forces they encounter and even cast out those demons by incantation: they invoke the NAME of Jesus... The English word for the Hebrew Joshua is now a magic spell unto itself. They don't simply pray to their God (be it Joshua/Jesus, Yahweh/Elohim/Father, the Breath/Spirit, or all three)... they cast out or bind by repeating the incanctation: "I [blank] you, Satan, in the name of Jesus." They don't actually bind or cast out (they have no idea how or where to direct their efforts) - they just say the words: "I bind", or "I cast out".. and add the magic phrase: "In the name of Jesus". A magic spell, an incantation, the formulaic words and names that the spirits have no choice but to obey mindlessly. There is, it seems, no more free will in the spirit world than there could be in a paradise of heaven... Only robots, even the nonmaterial ones.

    So we see that the primitive root of superstition remains. It doesn't remain only with these rural English folk - it remains in the United States where people fear the use of Ouija boards and Tarot Cards. All of the rituals that Enlightenment philosophy made absurd are now feared or respected by the descendents of post-Enlightenent theology.

    So, while modern Christians no longer sacrifice innocents to appease the gods, they continue to fear the pagan sacrifice, and they continue to present the god-sacrifice of New Testament mythology. In its modern fears, we see religions ancient roots, normally concealed by its abstractions. And so, it remains difficult to see post-Enlightenment abstract theology without smelling the ever-present pagan ritualism of which it stands in awe.

    Posted by smijer at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

    July 01, 2004


    from - smijer

    A buddy pointed out Drudge's Hillary rumor. Matt wishes. The more interesting speculation is over whether Dick Cheney will be on the R ticket. This comes from another rumor my buddy mentioned to me (one that has been floated a few times before).

    I'm going to stick my neck out and make a solid prediction on this one. I think Dick Cheney is going to retire for "health reasons". Rationale (I apologize for having to edit this in - I got trigger happy on the post button before):

  • He's already gotten the enron and oil friendly energy policy done.
  • He's already gotten the neo-cons their war in Iraq.
  • He provided direly needed gravitas to the 2000 ticket. Now his image as "strong and steady" is overshadowed by his other baggage.
  • He and Scooter Libby less likely to be marked for further investigation, negative news for the administration, and possible prosecution if they are no longer on the ticket or in the White House.
  • "Health reasons" will be believable in his case, at least to a segment of the population.

    I won't hazard a guess as to who will replace him on the ticket. Let us all hope it isn't enough to save W's reelection chances from the downward spiral they appear to be following now.

    Update for Boortz fans:
    Reflecting on the Hillary speculation mentioned at the top of this post got me to wondering what my old pal, Neal Boortz, was up to. I made a personal bet with myself (which I won), that Neal would have a mention of Drudge up on his "Nuze" page today. Here it is, straight from the horse's you-know-what:

    Drudge has a piece quoting a "top D.C. insider" as saying Clinton will definitely be chosen Tuesday. This just might happen, for a variety of reasons. For one, Hillary may be worried Kerry has a chance of winning, and she doesn't want that at all.

    Kerry has a strong chance of winning. We only have right-wing guesswork over whether Hillary Clinton has presidential ambitions, and only have that guesswork on which to base the conclusion, through faulty reasoning, that Hillary "doesn't want [Kerry to win] at all." But, if we state it as fact, instead of as opinion without substance, foundation, or merit, then people will believe it. It works for preachers -- it works for talk-show hosts.

    A recent story says that Kerry has raised $175 million so far, breaking Bush's old record from the 2000 campaign. The polls show a dead heat.

    Neal neglects to mention that the $175m figure was a Drudge number as well... However, it can't be argued that Kerry is doing a much better fund-raising job than we could have hoped for. He can thank Howard Dean later.

    The Hildabeast is a power-hungry woman that will not be denied, and if she sees someone else taking that power, it will be time for her to step in.

    See above. What makes a person "power-hungry"? Why does it not apply to the other politicians as well? Like Dubya?

    Despite what she has said in the media, a Kerry presidency would be a complete disaster for her presidential ambitions. As Dick Morris was the first to point out, if Kerry wins, The Soufflé will run for re-election, then The Poodle's VP choice will run for president, which would shut out the Hildabeast for quite a long time.

    That's some powerful analysis, right there. Boortz is going way out on a limb here to predict that Kerry won't pull a Lyndon Johnson ... that he will run for re-election if he wins the first time. What a bold prediction... Seriously, that is a foregone conclusion, but it is not a foregone conclusion that Kerry's VP will run in 2012 if Kerry is a two-termer. I wouldn't expect to see Dick Cheney (for instance) at the top of any ticket, ever. If Senator Clinton does have presidential ambition, and Kerry does win, 2012 is still very viable for her.

    If Hillary wants it, Kerry has no choice but to give it to her. The Clintons control the Democratic party, and we all know what happens to anyone who crosses them.

    Should I dignify this with a response? Part I: John Kerry controls the Democratic party, and will even more so between late July and November. Part II: No, I don't know what happens to anyone who crosses the Clintons, Neal. Why don't you tell me? Have you really stooped so low as to peddle the "Clinton murders" lie? You know, even Jerry Falwell apologized for his part in that fraud... are you sleasier even than him?

    Now, we all know what is going to happen if Hillary is chosen as the VP....the media will fall all over themselves for weeks singing the praises of Senators Kerry and Clinton. It will be a complete non-stop love-fest that will be totally nauseating.

    I'm sure it will... especially on WorldNetDaily, Fox News, and Neal's "Nuze"...

    Imagine if Kerry does pick her, and The Soufflé does win, Hillary Clinton will be a heartbeat away from the presidency. That's pure evil knocking at the door ..... a frightening prospect, but we'll just have to wait and see.

    Pure evil. You heard it hear first, folks. I'll go dollars to donught holes that Neal Boortz cannot name a single thing Hillary has ever done that was more "evil" than pushing a bad health plan back in 1993, but there's where his money is at... Name-calling. If you can call a prominent member of one political party "evil" and make it stick with a noticeable segment of the voting population, then you have a job. That's great Neal... just remember - you don't get your soul back.

    Posted by smijer at 10:51 AM | Comments (3)
  • Hong Kong style

    from - smijer


    Nearly a half-million people. I don't think you can see them all in this snapshot, though. Story. I hope that Brian will take a break from his break to share his thoughts...

    Posted by smijer at 08:49 AM | Comments (1)