Friday, August 27, 2010

Is praying actually a two-way dialogue?

I stole this from another blogger, but had to share.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why is gay marriage a threat?

I was pointed to a blog posting about the importance of protecting marriage during a discussion on gay marriage.

Let me be clear. I, in no way, disagree with the positive nature of the traditional nuclear family. Let's be honest though, the straight people have been screwing this up royally for at least 50-60 years all on their own (don't blame me, I've been happily married for 17 years). If it is so imperative to protect traditional marriage, why aren't people all riled up about divorce? I know that many people are against it, but politicians haven't exactly based their campaign strategy on it. I would have to say that a divorce rate of 50% against 90-97% of the population (depending on which numbers you use) is much more critical to the institution of marriage than the simple recognition of marriage on a percentage of people that only make up 3-10% of the population.

I think the real problem for opponents is that they've been taught that homosexuality is a horrible, evil, awful sin. The gay rights movement was already on their radar over the last decade or two as yet another encroachment into their country by deviant, sinful people. Now, they want to partake in their sacred institution of marriage? Are you kidding me?

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I'm doing that for effect. What goes on at an emotional level can often be suppressed or rationalized by our logic. I've read many arguments against gay marriage based on, at a minimum, an attempt to confront this topic in a logical way.

I just don't see how legalizing gay marriages has any effect on the importance of traditional marriages. Is the word so sacred that it must mean a man and a woman? For me, two gay men being married would have zero impact on my life or the lives of my children ... unless one of them happens to be gay. In which case, I hope they live a long, loving life with a partner that makes them happy and that this union is recognized by society as a legitimate one.

Why not just let them have civil unions?

Would you want your life committed relationship called a civil union or a partnership while other couples are called married? I wouldn't. I would feel it undermined my relationship or gave preference to others.

Gay couples generally want to be part of mainstream society. They don't want to tear it down. If they didn't want to be part of mainstream society, they would thumb their noses at traditional institutions like marriage.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

America's tech industry and 9/11?

Interesting article about the U.S. high-tech industry:
Intel CEO - U.S. faces looming tech decline

The comments from various high-tech CEOs do not surprise me at all. You could see this coming, but how did it happen? It's certainly a factor of the general globalization that has been going on over the last couple of decades, but I assert that the September 11th attacks spawned a chain reaction that has led us to this state.

Soon after the attacks, the U.S. put a stop order on technology immigration ... well not completely, but definitely a major turn of the faucet. Prior to this, if you were a motivated high-tech worker/student, you either wanted to come to the United States to find your way to success or you at least thought about it. As a result of the local supply, business got the government to allow a significant high-tech immigration to the United States, which mainly came from India and China.

When the faucet was moved to the 'drip' position after 9/11, high-tech companies were in a bind. There was a recession (again, possibly another indirect 9/11 contribution) and now a lower supply of engineers. This led some companies to start outsourcing high-tech jobs to other countries, namely the ones that had previously had high-tech emigration to the U.S. This actually turned out to be even cheaper for them and resulted in some short-term success. Other companies quickly followed suit.

Ah, but here we find yet another example of myopic business decisions based on quarterly and annual performance. The tactic that led to short-term profits has now created a longer-term problem. Other countries are now keeping their high-tech talent at home. As these economies are maturing at starting and running high-tech businesses, they aren't needing American businesses or even American capital anymore. We have gone from a time of American tech dominance to a nation in trouble of losing this battle. Next step - emigration from the United States to follow these quality jobs?

I'm not against global competition, but it's frustrating that we've basically done this to ourselves. We didn't have to take this path, but it does make me wonder how calculated the 9/11 attacks were in terms of these kind of long-term effects. If there is a correlation, as I assert, was this an intentional or accidental consequence?

Regardless, America continues to lag behind in getting its citizens to go into high-tech degree programs in college. Countries like India and China seem to be maturing at capitalism at a rapid pace and they are able to keep their people at home more than ever.

We're in trouble in high-tech.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gerrymandering of political views

As a libertarian, I'm often confused by the utter contradictions in being either a Democrat or a Republican.

Speaking in generalities of course, a Democrat is against the government in their bedroom, but for it in their wallet. A Republican is the opposite. It doesn't make sense.

Why is it ok to co-opt the government in one case but not the other?

It seems like we would have a two-party system where people are either for an authoritarian democracy, where an elite government decides which behaviors and wealth distribution are appropriate, or a libertarian one, where the government provides minimal services to ensure individual rights.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Politics, the Economy, and Distractions

We get all riled up in our politics about gay marriage, abortion, religion, etc. Why? These things rarely actually matter in the realm of government or our daily lives as a result of the actions of government.

There are a few things that pop to mind as to why these issues become front and center:
  • Politicians wield them as tools to control easily swayed voters, touching on a sensitivity in a 'for' or 'against' manner.

  • The people affected by the politicization of these types of issues are forced to counterattack.

  • They are much more interesting and/or easy to debate than something like macroeconomic, global trends.
What really, truly matters for government is to protect the rights of its citizens through laws and enforcement. It's a reasonable debate to discuss the degree to which the government gets involved in protecting rights and probably a proper one, but that's really where that discussion should stop.

The Clinton Administration had the mantra of "It's the economy, stupid!" and they were right in that sense. However, I disagree with the tact that is normally taken (by both parties). The U.S. President is not the head of the American economy. There really isn't (shouldn't be) one. In its role of protecting the rights of its citizens, the government should be a watchdog to the workings of our economy.

The problem is who watches the watchdog?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Taking our country back!

What does this phrase mean in our current political climate?

Here's a video that's pretty overdone (I could do without the patriotic music), but done fairly well. It's a nice touch to roll out JFK in an attempt to show balance.

I can't find anything in it I disagree with. I can only guess that this is done by a Tea Party enthusiast. I blogged about the Tea Party in May and have still struggled with my stance on them. After watching the video from my last blog entry where Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin talk about the U.S. being a Christian nation, it hit me what the thought process is and where my problem is:

This is their country. They created a great nation based on freedom and liberty. They have allowed others to partake in it and have done it with pride. They have been so proud of the success that they've attempted to export it as much as possible. In recent times, their position of power and way of doing things have come under question. "How dare they! This is our country. How can our way be disallowed by our own courts and government. This is a call to arms!"

This reminds me somewhat of the end of A Few Good Men.

"We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone to a
life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the
time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under
the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I
provide it. I'd prefer you just said thank you and went on your way." - Col. Jessep

Many liberals cry racism and theocracy. I don't think that's what it is for most people. I think they are pissed off that their way of life has not only been questioned, but is systematically being disassembled. It's being done by the government institutions that they have held so dearly. The government is by, of, and for the people. They are the people. How did this happen?

So, in the last couple of decades, fundamentalists have taken this call to arms to the government. They are attempting to fight off the apparent attack on their way of life. Generally speaking, this is not intended as a way to force people like me to be a Christian. It's to allow them to be Christians like they've always been.

Praying at a city council meeting a generation or more ago was not a fundamentalist tactic of control. It's the way many people opened any kind of meeting. Prayer in school wasn't an indoctrination tactic. It's what you did.

The question is whether or not we can come to terms with each other. For example, why would someone like me think that it's so bad to pray at a city council meeting? It's not "bad" in the "I stole something" kind of bad. It's bad because it is the government infringing on the inalienable rights of citizens that are not of your religion. The majority can't decide who gets which rights. They are for everyone and must be protected, especially against the majority.

The message of "taking our country back" gets muddled as a result of all of this. Part of it is politics and part of it is culture. There is, no doubt, a major fiscal component to the Tea Party movement. I am with them on that. In the culture war side of things, I just can't support them. In fact, I'd rather religion just go away. However, I fully support a person's freedom of religion. As a result, you get to do your thing and I get to do mine.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Religious neutrality is not hostility

I wrote a very short piece about the people's misuse of government power a few months ago, but did not specifically call out any groups. In this article, I'm looking at you, Mr. or Mrs. Religious Righty. The religious right seems unbearably intent on including the government as a part of their Biblical megaphone.

As with most things regarding their religion, they just don't see the problem with prayer in school ... or the Ten Commandments in courtrooms ... or a National Day of Prayer. They can't understand how anybody would complain about something so moral and fundamental to America.

I can't even begin to deal with the mess of this clip. Sarah Palin at least puts it on the table.

So if there's no conceivable objection to prayer, why not include the daily Islamic prayers? It's praying to the God of Abraham. What could be wrong with that?

What about a simple Hebrew prayer? That's Judeo-Christian, right?

We all know what they mean by prayer and other religious overtures. They mean Christianity. But whose Christianity is it? Catholics? Methodists? Baptists? Mormons? Which is it? Surely we can make it common enough to cover them all? What about Jews and Muslims? Why not have one of the above prayers? What about Buddhists and Hindus? They don't even claim a similar monotheistic God. What about atheists and agnostics?

To quote myself, "Government can be secular, impartial, and unemotional, allowing the individual to be the opposite of all of those in any way they desire. In fact, I think this inherently allows an individual to be however they want and co-exist with others that are different."

This necessity of religious neutrality in government is NOT the hostility that so many Christians feel.

"When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it
does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its
Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I
apprehend, of its being a bad one." - Benjamin Franklin

Christians, go to your churches. Pray in your homes. Pray in public. Pray at school (personally and quietly please). Do not use this government to further your agenda. If you are so righteous, your path will be self-evident. You do not need to compel others through force.

Atheists are not (should not be) opposed to your rights, but we would like ours. The only way to do that is to keep government and religion separate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The objectification of women

I recently read an interesting blog post about women and objectification. The article weighs the question of feminism, sexuality, and objectification by men.

I definitely consider myself a male feminist. I sought out a partner/equal for a spouse and nothing less. I found one and have been happily married for 17 years. I've had countless female coworkers and managers. I treat them all as I would any man - with the respect or disdain they individually deserve.

At the same time, I am bombarded 24/7 with my sexual thoughts as a male. It's really quite ridiculous. I doubt women truly have any idea the thoughts that seem to relentlessly flow through our minds.

I remember a conversation with my wife after watching the movie What Women Want. She said, "I wonder what the sequel 'What Men Want' would look like." I jokingly replied, "It's already been made a million times - it's called porn."

The bottom line is that men do see women as a sex object. At first, it's an overwhelmingly dominant portion of how we see you. As most men get to know you, it becomes a minor part nearly immediately. It's still there though.

What can we do? If we fully respect women otherwise, is that good enough?

Christopher Hitchens is dying - prayers?

I've only heard about this in the last couple of days, but the renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens is dying from esophageal cancer.  This is getting a lot of attention because of his prominence as an atheist and his nearly certain demise.

Some interviews:

Anderson Cooper:

Jeffrey Goldberg:

There is a mixed reaction of prayer among the believers.  Many are praying that he find Jesus.  Many are praying that he survives.  Very few are praying for his demise.

I've read a couple of things where atheists are finding this prayer to be condescending.  I disagree completely.  Who has been a bigger foe to Christians in the public discourse?  Hitchens seems to be the most terse and smug of the New Atheists that I've been following recently.

I celebrate Christians that pray for Hitchens because that's what they do when they care and certainly what their religion teaches them.

Turning the table on Mormons

While trolling another blog, I ran across this bit and had to share:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fight Club and modern man

I recently watched Fight Club for the first time.  I'd have to say that I liked it, but it's very strange.  The reason I'm blogging about it is because it hit a nerve - the place and plight of men in the 21st century.

The landscape for men has changed very drastically over the last century.  Rolling into the turn of the 20th century, a man was a man.  He was generally some sort of laborer, relying on his superior physical strength to define his station in life.  Over the past 100 years, the need for physical strength has continued to diminish to the point of near obsolescence.  Mental ability is supplanting physical strength in a way that has removed man's corner on the job market.

Women are continually changing what it is they expect from themselves, their relationships, and their work.  This is definitely a good thing for them.  They're a little confused about this new world and their gender role, but it's trending the right direction.  Men, however, are finding themselves behind the times.  They're more than a little confused about this world and their role.  They're playing in it, but aren't comfortable and don't quite know why.

Fight Club tackles this dilemma with its main character (Ed Norton) and his alter ego (Brad Pitt).  What does a man do with millions of years of evolution bottled up inside him?  Everything about his life is not the way it should be.  Sitting at a desk, doing some paper-pushing sort of job, and living in a condo with furniture from IKEA is an evolutionary contradiction.

I think most men can really identify with what is going on for this character, as crazy and exaggerated as it may be.  Who doesn't occasionally identify with the song Synchronicity II by The Police?

Recently, The Atlantic did an article entitled The End of Men.  My wife and I both read it and have discussed it regularly.  I think that it's a little much to say that men are going to become obsolete, but men do need to get with the times because the times they are a changin'.

The interesting thing to me is that this world that we struggle against is one that we created.  Most of the advances in technology, productivity, work conditions, etc. were brought about by men and for men.  The unintended side effects were that our prior advantages in the gender realm have been neutralized and it has taken us away from the activities that took evolution thousands to millions of years to perfect.

There's a little to a lot of Fight Club in all of us.  We just need to figure out how to sufficiently balance that in the modern world.

Motivations for conflict

So I've been on a kick recently - listening to some of the "New Atheists" on podcasts during my commutes.  One of the things that they all seem to "preach" is about the effect of religion with regard to violence and war.  While I believe that religion can undeniably have an impact, it seems to me that nationalism, racism, etc. play equal or often greater roles.

I assert that the tribal nature of humans breeds violent conflicts.  Religion is often used as a tool of manipulation, but I think it's more of a tribal attribute than a spiritual one.

Many of the theists that I've heard will raise this point and I think it's very fair to do so.  This is another example of humans abusing religion and not necessarily a problem with religion itself.  The fact that religion can be made so pliable seems to be the real source of the problem in this context.

The sting of death

I was listening to a Sam Harris lecture podcast this morning. He mentioned the notion of "the sting of death" as a contrasting point on how people spend their time here on Earth.  Religion puts an interesting twist with the introduction of the afterlife.  If you truly believe in the afterlife then where is the pain in dying? What importance does that put to your life here on Earth?

It brought to mind stories told by American soldiers in the WWII Pacific Theater.  Several American accounts discussed the attitude about life and death for the soldiers on both sides.  The claims were that the Americans were mainly pushing forward with dominating thoughts of survival.  They contrasted this with the often suicidal tendencies of the Japanese soldiers. For the Japanese, there was ultimate honor in death. There was ultimate dishonor in surrender. There were eternal rewards to them and their family for faithfully serving their emperor.  The American soldiers considered these different attitudes as a key element to victory. Personally, I would say that our geographic isolation and massive industrial might (not to mention the two atomic bombs) were probably the biggest keys to success. However, it's hard to discount the attitude of the soldiers fighting the war on the ground.

These American soldiers, as mostly Christians, no doubt believed in an afterlife as well.  Apparently, either the common dogma of Christianity or the American political importance of the individual didn't promote fanaticism to the point of intentionally suicidal acts.  However, even the Christian view of an afterlife must have some sort of diminishing importance to life on Earth.  Our time here seems relatively inconsequential to the the eternity of the afterlife.

For an atheist, there is no solace in an afterlife.  Life on earth is EVERYTHING. It is the beginning and ending of your personal existence. I'm reminded of a scene from Dead Poets' Society:

Christians often tell me that without God, there's no reason to adhere to morals (that, in fact, there are none without Him).  I'll make a similarly sweeping statement in return.  If Heaven is eternal and tantamount, what's the point of life here on Earth?  Are we here to simply feed God's ego by worshiping Him and giving thanks to Him for our entire existence here?  If there is the promise of a wondrous afterlife, how easily could you be manipulated into being a kamikaze pilot ... or a suicide bomber ... or any sort of martyr for your God?  I assert that the lack of an afterlife makes our time here infinitely more precious.

Joined The Atheist Blogroll!

Tangent Talk has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Evolution is not "just a theory"

Evolution is considered as much a fact as the theory of gravity. Do not confuse the common language definition of theory with the scientific one. In common language, the use of the word “theory” is synonymous with “hypothesis”.  When science declares something to be a theory, it is considered an independently confirmed fact.  Despite this, all science is open for critique with evidence.  If contrary evidence arises, then the theory must be revised or dropped.  The fact that life evolved on this planet is not in question in the scientific community.

"But this can't just be some cosmic accident - it's too complex and perfect"

I will concede that the complexity of the universe is a somewhat compelling reason to believe in some sort of intelligence. I believe that we are slowly discovering our universe. I don’t think that our current lack of understanding is any sort of proof of our ancient myticisms.  However, the question of things being too improbable to happen by chance is a fair point.

If you listen to/read some of Richard Dawkins with regard to evolution, you will find that evolution isn’t random chance. The only parts that are random are the genetic mutations themselves. These mutations are mostly failures, but occasionally they are for the better. These successful mutations survive to the next generation. This process has repeated for millions and millions of years, leading us to where we are now.

In his latest book (which I have not read, but have heard podcasts about it), Dawkins paints a compelling picture with a discussion of leopards and gazelles. If you look at leopards, they look like the perfect gazelle killing machine in every way. If you look at gazelles, they look like the perfect leopard avoidance machine in every way.  It appears that leopards and gazelles are magnificently designed.

This perfection is not by mistake or chance though. Thousands of years of natural selection has bred them to be exactly where they are now. If you can’t hunt properly, you die and provide no offspring. If you can’t avoid being hunted, you die and provide no offspring.  The fact that evolution within a species occurs this way is undeniable and not random.

"Ok, but how does a new species form?"

Once some sort of geographic separation occurs, species may evolve to the extent that they can no longer interbreed with their long lost relatives.  This is the scientific distinction of a species.  This evolution, over a large amount of time, can create massive differences in species with a common ancestor.

"But this still has no explanation of how it started and who started it"

Many atheists fall back to the Big Bang as the how and who.  I'm not so sure.  I accept the Big Bang, but I'm very much in the "I don't know" camp with regard to the beginning of life and whether some intelligence was involved.  My gut tells me no, but this is really just a guess.  What I'm more confident about is that it isn't supernatural in a deity sort of way, based on my life's observations and "faith" in what scientists know to this point.  I am not 100% sure, but that's because it's impossible to know at this point.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Political parties and Rep. Paul Ryan's Roadmap

I have not been as plugged into politics as I used to be.  I used to read a lot on the Internet, listen to talk radio, and listen to the talking heads on TV.  Over time, I've become sickened by the divisiveness to the point where it makes it hard to stomach.  As a result, I rarely listen to talk radio or watch TV talk shows anymore.  I do try to stay up-to-date on current events, so I'm hardly unplugged.  Most of this information is via Google News however.

I was reading today about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) and his Roadmap.  I am very much a capitalist and a fiscal conservative.  I'm not sure if his direction is one that I would support, but appreciate the effort and am intrigued.  His point is spot on - we cannot sustain our current government.  Something must be done.  A plan must be in place.  I have not heard a plan to deal directly with this problem other than people saying we need to have one.  So, from this standpoint, I applaud Rep. Ryan for having one.

The current direction is more government programs, more spending, and more taxation,  I've heard this quote attributed to old Maggie Thatcher, but I believe it's really a paraphrase:

"The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

I empathize with the left and their agenda.  I really do.  Government can, and often is, an institution that can do really good things.  An economics professor of mine once posed this question to a student however:

Professor: "Are you for cleaner air?"
Student: "Ummm ... yes, I suppose so." (knowing they were being set up somehow, but...)
Professor: "So you are are FOR less education for children?"
Student: "What? I ... err ... what do you mean?"
Professor: "Well, there is a limited amount of money.  So, if you're going to clean the air more, that means there will be less funds for other things - like educating children."

It's not that I'm against various social safety nets, etc.  The problem is reality.  We must work within the constraints of reality and resources.  When the government creates programs and spends money, they are doing this with the resources of the free market.  That doesn't make it inherently evil or inappropriate, but there are consequences.  The left doesn't seem to acknowledge this or even understand it.  As a result, I've often voted for Republicans in the past.  Starting in 2004, I've voted for Libertarian candidates when possible.  As a fallback, I vote for Republicans.  I rarely vote for a Democrat.  I voted for Bill Clinton for President twice.  That's the only time I can recall voting for a Democrat.

The main problem with Republican politics for me is religion.  If it weren't for its seemingly complete deference to the religious right, I would probably be one.  When I hear a Republican talk about fiscal and governmental issues, I often find myself nodding my head.  Then, they turn to the other side and start ranting about abortion, gay marriage, and other such issues.  I'm immediately turned off.

In contrast to the head nodding, another large problem I have with Republicans is rampant fiscal hypocrisy.  So many are massive tax and spend socialists in practice, but just over different programs (or in a different way).  They may talk the talk, but its about liberal programs and not their own.

Regardless of this ramble, good luck to you, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis).  If you can at least get the ball in the right court, you will have been successful.

We're all individuals!

Python just says it best.  No additional writing from me is required... :)

Why label myself an atheist?

I was reading a blog post about the term "atheist" and thought my comment to it warranted its own here.

One of the comments noted that calling oneself an atheist is "like if someone asked me my hobby, and I said 'Well, I don’t collect stamps'."  This is a good point.  I am an atheist within the realm of religion, but really the only reason I care to label myself is because of the theists. If it weren’t for religion, I probably wouldn’t care.

My political philopsophy is libertarian, but that doesn’t label my beliefs either. It just states that you can live your life as you wish provided it doesn’t stop someone else from living their life as they wish.

In my own personal life, I am much more of a traditionalist with regard to family and behavior. Most people assume that I am a Christian and a conservative, because that’s what they mostly are here in the Bible Belt. I look and act the part, so therefore I must be one.

Just because I live that way, does not mean I judge how you live though. I have friends that march to all sorts of different drums. My only judgement is that they are rational and generally intelligent.

I may have to ponder a bit on my own personal label.  For now, I'll stick with atheist libertarian.  This is because within the discussion of politics and religion, this sums it up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coming out?

I was listening to a Richard Dawkins interview podcast today.  He mentioned, as I've heard him say several times, that being at atheist is similar to being in the closet for homosexuals.  I don't claim to know what it's like for a homosexual to be in or out of the closet, but this analogy hits home.

I am not ashamed of being an atheist, but I am not willing to have that be "out there" for all of the world to see (although I have in isolated discussions).  I don't want to deal with the ramifications of it.  Christians, particularly the more Evangelical ones, are so closed-minded about it, don't understand it, and subsequently have a target for the witnessing they always hear about in church.

My wife "outted" me once at a neighbor's barbeque - it just happened to come up in a conversation about churches.  She didn't know that I was uncomfortable with it because I've been open about it with closer friends.  I wasn't upset with her for doing it, but I did have to deal with the super-churchy wife next door for about a year.  I finally had to bluntly tell her to stop trying to save me - I wasn't interested.

I'm not even out to my children.  My wife is a mostly non-practicing Catholic.  I'd probably define her actual views as agnostic or even a deist, but she is a cultural Catholic and will probably hold to that.  As a result of my general indifference and her background, we've raised our children as culturally Catholic.  We pray before every meal and the kids have gone through all of the rights of passage.  They know we're not really all that into religion as a family and have heard us be critical of the more fundamentalist denominations here and there.

My oldest is in 8th grade now and I wonder if and when this discussion will come with her.  I also wonder how I will handle it.  I don't think I can lie or would want to.  I'll need to discuss this with my wife at some point.