Friday, September 16, 2011

Yo, bartender! Jobu needs a refill!

Movies like Major League - not winning any awards, but good entertainment!

Carl Sagan - so eloquent and succinct

From a posting on The Atlantic

Why do I prefer talking to liberals?

I'm a libertarian. I'm a fiscal conservative. In spite of this, why do I seem to gravitate towards more liberal-minded folks?  Is it an attraction to the typical liberal or more of an aversion to the typical conservative?


Without a doubt, the religiosity of so many conservatives is a huge turn-off.  Most liberals are Christians too, but almost always the more moderate type.  This type of Christian would rarely make me even think about religion as a political issue.

So what's my problem with conservatives and their religion? It's not inherent.  It's that they want to leverage the government to promote and enforce it.  They drape the American flag over themselves while holding the Bible and the Constitution, believing that they're pious, just, and patriotic. It's one of the most un-American things I see in this country.

What else? Well, they deny evolution and try to replace it with creationism or "intelligent design."  They vehemently oppose things like stem-cell research. Global warming? It's just a environmental lobby hoax!

This could go on and on!  Suffice to say, the right pushes me away on this issue where I probably wouldn't otherwise care.

Fiscal issues

As I said, I'm a fiscal conservative.  This usually makes my liberal friends cringe.  I believe in capitalism as an economic system.  The incentives in a market-based system tend to get the most out of people and provide feedback on what they truly deem important.

It creates perceived inequities, but that can be a matter of perspective.  The economic growth of the last 250 years is astounding.  The quality of life has increased exponentially.  This growth and prosperity is on the back of capitalism.  Yes, there are haves and have-nots at any given point in time under capitalism.  That's because the system rewards those who navigate it best.  Yes, there are people that have inherited their wealth.  Yes, there are people who got lucky.  However, most people have earned their wealth. The assumption on the left is that things would be better if we redistributed the wealth to be more fair.  The problem is that it would suppress the incentives for the successful ones and ultimately lower the quality of life across the board.  We don't all get yachts in a "fair" distribution.  Nobody gets a yacht and the yacht industry goes under.

Still, when I talk to most reasonable liberals, they don't expect even close to this sort of redistribution.  They expect minimal services for all citizens that are paid for by the citizens that can most afford to do so.  My problem is what are these minimal services and when does the "minimum" bar stop rising? Is it even moral to take from one person and give it to another without consent?  Regardless, I at least have respect for their altruistic intentions.  I may debate them on the merits, but I don't fault their motivation.

That being said, I am averse to the raw class warfare/jealousy that emanates from many on the left.  I believe that if somebody becomes wealthy honestly, they don't inherently owe anybody anything.  They can choose to be altruistic, but it is not a legal requirement.  People can pressure/guilt them into altruism, but they still shouldn't be compelled by law.  If somebody becomes wealthy fraudulently, then that is a criminal exercise not an economic one.

Without needing to go further, the verdict on this is that I respectfully disagree with liberals on many fiscal issues.  At the same time I have a loose coupling with conservatives, but am often leery of allying with them because of their views on religion and...

Personal liberties

Oh, how the right seems to fail on this one while simultaneously wearing a laminate of freedom and liberty.  It really goes back to religion, so it's almost not right to make this a separate issue.  It is one that I feel myself tightly aligned with many liberals.

How can one claim to love the freedom of America, while wishing to deny rights to so many?  It's what happens when you put God above country.  In a secular government (which we're supposed to have!), country trumps God.  Our Puritanical ways interfere with personal liberties in so many ways that it would be hard to enumerate them.  We, as a country, have to rise above these inclinations to allow citizens real freedom and liberty.

The left seems to be much more secular in its treatment of civil rights, regardless of individual religious view, and is therefore much easier to maintain a conversation.  Not so fast though ... I consider property, labor, and earnings in this realm as well.  This comes in conflict with fiscal issues often, making the conversation more contested.

What's the verdict?

It's a mixed bag, isn't it? I agree with liberals on most issues of personal liberties and overall secularism.  In this area, I can have easy, robust conversations with them.  On economic issues, I respectfully disagree.  I see many of their points (and as long as it doesn't devolve into rhetoric), I can have a reasonable discussion.

With conservatives, religion is a huge problem.  It's not that they're religious.  It's that I'm not and there's so little room for accepting that.  Religion corrupts so much of their view of government that it corrupts my view of them.

So, the final verdict is that I either like or tolerate most liberals and am averse to too many conservatives. Since there are a limited number of libertarians, that's how I keep finding myself surrounded by liberals ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Balancing the US budget

Those of you that have listened to me ramble here, on Twitter, or know me personally know that I am a fiscal conservative. I'm a small government guy and a capitalist. I think those two have been the path to growth, prosperity, freedom, and liberty. I think they will continue to be the path.

While this is true, I also fashion myself as a realist and pragmatic. It's the biggest check and balance there is to my more theoretical political views. It also muddles my stances on various issues. I'm a libertarian that believes in non-coercion, but I support public schools, infrastructure, and many social safety nets that many others do not. Those require taxes. I prefer something like the Fair Tax, but I accept our current progressive tax system as something that is unlikely to change.

With that background as a filter, I listened to this speech today by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont):

I hear what he's saying. I completely agree that it's insane to take taxes and defense off the table when you're trying to balance the budget. I also agree that you can't gut programs cold turkey for the lower classes that they currently depend on. I'd even venture to say it would be immoral to do so.

What's the reality though? The Republicans will not allow the budget to be balanced by raising taxes on the upper classes and/or cutting spending on defense. It's dogmatic for them. The Democrats want to not only protect current social programs, but to increase them. This is not a good formula. Without a drastic change, the country will just need to keep borrowing until others won't loan money to it (us) any more.

My recommendation is:

1) The Democrats need to call the Republican bluff on the debt ceiling. Everybody knows that it has to be raised. The fight by the Republicans isn't whether to do it, but to see how much can be won before agreeing to it in the final hour. Tell them that unless taxes and defense are in a deficit reduction/balanced budget plan that you're not going to play.
2) Put everything on the table. All of our woes can't be solved by simply taxing the rich and cutting defense, while government programs continue to spend, spend, spend. It might seem that way, but there are real consequences to tapping the rich until the budget is balanced. Like it or not, the upper classes provide the jobs and the capital that drive the economy. The more you tap them, the more they'll just pass it on down the chain.
3) If we're going to drastically reform social programs, it needs to be in a graduated way over a good number of years so as to ween people off them.
4) Get out of our current wars and stop waging new ones unless there's a compelling national interest. We can't afford it!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Virgin Mary - a simple question from a young heathen

I have never been a religious person. My family, while from a Christian background, never practiced. We never prayed, went to church, read the Bible, etc. Even though I'm now fairly educated about Christianity, when I was a kid I was exposed to the stories of Christianity to a limited degree.

Rewind to Christmas, 1984. I attended a normal, public high school here in the United States. My 9th grade (14 years old) English class was having a Christmas party. We were sitting around, casually talking about Christmas. My teacher, we find out, is also a Sunday School teacher. The class begins an informal discussion about Christmas from a Christian, religious standpoint. The Virgin Mary comes up.

Now, before I tell the next part, it needs to be known that I was an excellent student. This was a gifted class. I was not a troublemaker in any way. I asked what seemed an extremely logical question:

"If Mary was a virgin, how did she have a baby?"

I might as well have said, "Jesus is a whore." The reaction by my teacher was shocking. He said something like, "How dare you ask such a foul question?" The class piled on with comments like, "That's not funny!" I felt completely dumb and didn't know why... and I still didn't know how a virgin could have a baby.

Later that day, I told my best friend what had happened. He replied, "You're lucky you didn't get sent to the principal's office." He saw the look on my face and said, "You really don't know do you?" He explained a little, not really understanding my level of ignorance.

I said, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. It sounds like she got knocked up and made the greatest cover-up story ever told. What kind of God goes around knocking up women? Zeus used to do it all the time and nobody believes those stories."

He replied, "God didn't sleep with her. That's why she was still a virgin and it's called the Immaculate Conception."

I couldn't believe it. "People actually believe this?"

The story ends there, but it sticks with me today. I still can't believe that so many people believe it. How do these stories not seem like complete and utter hogwash? In what sort of bubble do people live to not realize that others might not believe it? How can an adult, with otherwise excellent logic, still believe these things?

I will probably never know. Nobody has ever been able to explain the suspension of logic and evidence to allow a leap of faith - a leap to something that makes little to no sense.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Evolution is not a threat to religion

Most Christians around the world can relax their worries about a conflict between evolution and their faith. There simply isn't one for most part. The only place where evolution conflicts with Christianity is in a literal interpretation of Genesis. Even then, if you stretch a few things (like the definition of days and nights), you can probably even wedge it in there.

I am certainly no expert on religion, but I do know that most of my Christian friends have interwoven the accepted science of the world into their faith. They've done it with intelligence and honesty. As an atheist, I don't accept what they do about religion. Yet somehow, within the confines of their belief system, their eyes are open enough to accept facts. Once you do that, a simple reconciliation of where those things meet allows your faith and intelligence to co-exist.

I've blogged about evolution before, but I'll make it even simpler. Evolution doesn't need much in terms of proof. It doesn't need Darwin's theories to explain HOW it happened. Evolution is evident in the fossil layer and in DNA as a fact that it DID happen. Life on Earth started simply, has evolved into complexity, and is interconnected. This has been tested ad nauseum in the scientific community and has NEVER been disproven. If it is disproven somehow, science will do a 180 and start over. That's the way science works.

I implore those that believe that evolution is "just a theory" to explore it for yourself. The following is an FAQ written that may provide some answers: God and Evolution

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What are we doing to the teachers?

Contrary to right-wing radio opinion, most teachers are good at what they do. While there are bad ones that need to get weeded out (and not an insignificant number of them), that's not the real problem. The real problem is external to the classroom.

Bill Maher has a great "New Rule" about this from March of 2010 that really sums it up:

Is Hollywood going to make any new motivational movies about how awesome your child's teacher is? Probably not, but teachers are just normal people doing a job at a minimal salary. For the most part, they're doing their job as well as any other person doing a job.

Teachers should be treated as partners and professionals - not enemies. Give them the benefit of the doubt when conflicts arise. Have some sympathy for them while they deal with large classes, apathetic students, entitled parents, and spineless administrators.

... and, no, I'm not a teacher.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

America promoting democracy in the Middle East

When are we going to stop lying to ourselves about how noble we are as a country? Sure, we've done some great things over the years. We've self-sacrificed many times for many different countries. Often we've asked for little or nothing in return. Often we've gotten exactly that in return (sometimes worse).

Our more recent foreign policy, particularly in the last 30-40 years, has been more about our own self-interests and not some alruistic things like democracy and freedom. The reality is that if it's good for us, the action/result is of less consequence.

This brings the focus of this rant to the Middle East. Yes, the Middle East has been in general turmoil for ... well, forever. However, the West's meddling in the 20th century and the United States' constant propping up of non-democratic dictators, in the late 20th century to the present, has sewn more anti-Americanism than anything. We talk about freedom and democracy from one side while we prop up the Shah, Saddam Hussein, Mubarak, Saudi princes, etc., etc. on the other.

We need to support that in which we believe and deal with the consequences of it. We'll be much better off in the long run and a lot more respected as a result.