Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Limits of School Reform - NYTimes.com

Oops, I hit the "blog this" button then the "publish post" button thinking of only the possibility of what I might write about this article.  Lets just leave it at this, the problem of low performing schools is a much broader societal problem.  One of these is of poverty and inequality which is dealt with in this article The Limits of School Reform - NYTimes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Family Values American Style

Hat tip to Move On and my friend Lucia.

Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheists, A Response Part II, Science and Atheism

Science and Atheism

Many atheists do appeal to scientific knowledge to support their general skepticism towards religious claims, but let’s be clear on exactly what they can legitimately claim.  Scientific methods do not have direct bearing on the existence of God.  However, it’s also true that much scientific knowledge is in conflict with the Bible's account of the creation and age of the earth, evolution etc.. Many events depicted in the Bible are magical and would seem implausible in light of a naturalistic understanding of how the world works.   

Many recent “new atheist" writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger appeal to science as support for the belief in the non-existence of God.  Other atheists have criticized these scientistic arguments for atheism.  Massimo Pigluicci of the blog Rationally Speaking, who is an atheist, a philosopher, and a former working biological researcher objects to this scientistic atheism.  His position, of which I am in basic agreement, is that the question of the existence of God is fundamentally a philosophical one.  The domain of the supernatural, and the alleged existence of God is outside of the realm of testable hypothesis, and therefore not a scientific question.  You basically state the same position from the believing end of the equation:

The fact is that, scientifically, any decision about God's existence has to be based on faith and is beyond the reach of true science.  It can be shown both scientifically and logically that anyone in a closed system cannot say anything with certainty about what is beyond its boundaries.

But on the other hand, you appear to want to have it both ways in appealing to Reasons to Believe Christian apologist Hugh Ross, who believes there is scientific basis for God belief, when you say:

It has been my experience that the more one learns about the subject of science as it relates to the earth and humans, the more one appreciates how advanced the Bible is regarding the earth's history.  Paraphrasing Hugh Ross, it can be said that:  If a person doesn't believe in God, wait a week because new evidence may make that person change his or her mind.  In recent years, this circumstance has resulted in many of the atheistic arguments against God and the Bible becoming out of date, scientifically speaking.

Well in response to that, I would ask for specifics.  What new evidence, scientifically speaking, should change a non-believers mind?  This quote would seem to suggest that there is scientific evidence accumulating that supports a belief in God.  No, sorry, without more specific evidence and argumentation, you can't have it both ways. 

You attempt to force a false choice in claiming that a decision about God's existence can only be based on faith.  This is false; one can begin to make a decision on this question based on rational philosophical argumentation.  Philosophical arguments against God's existence call into question the coherency of a belief in God.  For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus questioned the existence of a God based on the contradictory conception of a God that is both benevolent and omnipotent, yet permits evil and suffering to continue in this world.  There are many other philosophical arguments against the existence of God that atheists base their decision on which cannot be simply dismissed as “faith.”

Most working scientists, and philosophically informed atheists, would never make the claim that science disproves religion or God's existence.  They already realize that whether the supernatural exists or not, it is beyond the methods of science.  In fact, there certainly are scientists who are religious.  And they know that their religious beliefs have no place in science.   

The current facts show that no matter how compelling the evidence becomes, the scientific assumption that there is no supernatural prevents them from interpreting it without bias.....
This can be readily seen in their uninformed and often organized criticism of the Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design concept.

Again, you want to have it both ways.  Either the supernatural is outside the domain of scientific inquiry, or it is not.  What compelling evidence of the supernatural that is open to scientific inquiry is out there that atheistic scientists are interpreting with bias? What uninformed criticism of the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design are scientists making?

The proponent of Intelligent Design (or theistic directed evolution) looks at the complex morphology of an organism and says, "look at this, this is irreducibly complex and appears to have been designed” and assumes in the back of his mind that this unnamed designer is probably what in religious terms is known as "God".  It is incumbent on the scientist who wishes to appeal to “Intelligent Design” to specify exactly how that mechanism of intelligent intervention is and how it occurs, instead of appealing to a vague “God of the gaps”.     

The naturalistic scientists on the other hand makes observations of this complex morphology of an organism and proceeds to investigate its function and history, formulates and tests hypothesis, and attempts to come to an explanation of how this organism developed through natural processes. An appeal to this unknown agent of intelligent design would simply be a way of stopping the search for naturalistic causes.  Note, I purposely use the term “naturalistic scientist” as opposed to “atheistic scientist.”  I do this because both the atheist and scientist who happens to be a believer, are capable of engaging it a science that appeals to naturalistic causes. 

Let’s also remember, it has been religion that has had a history of encumbering free scientific inquiry, not the other way around.  Religions in general and the Bible specifically make claims that run contrary to the scientific understanding of nature.  And I challenge you to be more specific about this claim:

It has been my experience that the more one learns about the subject of science as it relates to the earth and humans, the more one appreciates how advanced the Bible is regarding the earth's history.

How exactly is this so?  This appears to be exactly backwards.  Christianity based on the Bilbe in general, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, or Jehovah's Witnesses, have originally believed in an old-earth creationism.  I understand that organizations like Hugh Ross's Reasons to Believe and the Catholic Church have begun claiming that modern science is not contrary to the Bible.  But it seems that these claims about the scientific knowledge found in Bible are post-hoc interpretations advanced so that Biblical religious beliefs are not seen to be in conflict with the finding of modern science. 

Brother Nils, I understand you have traveled a long way in your path out of the JW’s organization into a freer way of thinking. Congratulations on that. I can understand that you may still want to believe in a God, and believe there are good reasons to do so.  As a fellow ex-JW and atheist, I have no problem with that.  I think you are wrong in your belief in a God, and conversely you think I am wrong in denying his existence.  There is no reason to be ashamed of the fact we each think the other’s position is wrong.  But let’s not fool ourselves and be afraid of the fact that one of us is wrong on this question.  It’s OK, many people are wrong about a lot of things.     

Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheists, A Response Part I

Yours truly was raised in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs).  I began to actively doubt the JWs doctrine in my early teens, and left home at 17 to escape this dogmatic and absurd religion.  Recently I found a web site for “apostate” ex-JWs, Free Minds.  The following blog post is in response to a blog post I found on that site by, Nils Jansma, who apparently still wishes to rescue his belief in a Christian God:  The “you’ who appears in this essay is Nils.

Being an ex-JW and an atheist, I strongly disagree with what you write in your post "What May Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheist Have in Common".  Let’s start with this simple statement. 

Both Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheists are judgmental of others and believe that they have an exclusive franchise on truth.  Of course, it is to be noted that many religious and political groups may also fall into this comparative pool.  Nevertheless, the tactics used by both Jehovah's Witnesses and atheists are often very similar.  Both sides assume the other side is fundamentally wrong.

First, I take exception to your attempt to pigeonhole atheists into the straw-man you wish to knock down.  Let's clarify something basic.  Atheism, as defined by most atheists, is NOT defined as a claim of certain knowledge that God does not exist.  The word "atheism" literally means "without theology."  Many propose a sliding scale from "weak atheism" to a "strong atheism".  The former can include a simple lack of God belief and the position of so-called "agnosticism."  Strong atheism on the other hand is based on more affirmative arguments that God's existence is highly improbable.   However, I know of no actually existing atheism that claims any absolute knowledge that there is no God, except the version created by theists. The atheist who claims certainty of knowledge that there is no God, or that science decisively proves the non-existence of God is philosophically naive. 

There indeed are SOME atheists who are judgmental of others.  So what?  As you acknowledge, any number of group identity designations can be regarded as “judgmental”.   There are Muslims, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals,  Environmentalists, Vegetarians, meat lovers, Fascists, Communists, Capitalists, University Fraternity and Sorority members, that can be "judgmental". To say that both Jehovah's Witnesses and atheists are judgmental of others is meaningless when we could put virtually any other group identity terms in that sentence.  Perhaps you are cherry picking the atheists who you regard as judgmental, and hastily generalizing that judgment to all who doubt God’s existence?

There are atheists who can be rather arrogant and dogmatic.  But this really is a question of style.  Yes, some atheists may openly mock religious believers and claim that they are stupid.  I myself am critical of this style of atheism, but it is hardly characteristic of all atheists. The comparison of atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses is quite spurious.  Let’s be clear, JWs are a tightly united formal organization that enforces doctrinal conformity to their particular interpretation of the Bible, AND they also enforce behavioral conformity of general lifestyle.  Atheists on the other hand are loosely affiliated and variable group of people united only by their shared doubt of God's existence.

The claim or suggestion that atheists and JWs are even close to equally judgmental is absurd.  Atheists are generally accepting of women's equality, and are tolerant of the variation in human sexuality, gender identity (i.e. transgendered).  JWs and many other religions are not.  Atheists are generally accepting of peoples choices of educational and career paths, lifestyle, and entertainment choices.  JWs and many other religions are not.  Most atheists believe in a live and let live ethic, that people are free to make choices and pursue a variety of interests.  JWs and many people of other religions are not.  Most Christian religions believe that if one does not accept Christ, then that person is condemned to hell.  JWs believe that those who follow their religion will be rewarded with everlasting life on a paradise earth, while those who don't will die.  Atheists almost agree. Except we think that death is all people’s destiny, no matter what they believe.  To argue that atheists are equally as judgmental as JWs or any other religion simply isn't true.

Atheists generally do consider other peoples’ religious beliefs as absurd.  This is indeed judgmental in that atheists do think religious believers are probably wrong.  But lets face it, the believer in God also thinks the atheist is wrong.  So lets not be disingenuous in thinking that the judgmental arrogance only comes from the atheist.  And the fact is, we really don’t have much of a choice here.  Somebody is wrong.  Either there exists an omnipotent, benevolent spirit being that created the universe, or there isn’t.  Although one might propose the existence of other types of god(s), let’s put that aside here.  This is the question that theists have put before us, and the burden of proof is on them to support the claim of God’s existence.  As an atheist, I don’t think this spirit being exists, but I do acknowledge that my knowledge and understanding is limited.  So I concede the possibility that I could be wrong.  In conversations with my JW mother, and many other people of different religious faiths, to entertain the possibility that they could be wrong on this question is inconceivable.  

Part II will address Nil's comments on atheism and science. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the The Need to Slap our Aging Parents and Grandparents

The younger generation of progressive minded Americans need to start slapping our aging parents, grandparents, and senior citizen neighbors upside the head until they wake the fuck up!  Why?  Consider this well known fact of which The Nation editorial brought to the front of my conciousness:

Consider Ryan’s approach to Medicare. One of the most fundamental tensions in our politics is that senior citizens are, simultaneously, the demographic group that most benefits from the welfare state and the one most sympathetic to the right-wing push to abolish it. The only age group in which McCain beat Obama was voters 60 and older. Part of the reason Democrats fared poorly in 2010 is that voters 60 and older made up 34 percent of the electorate, up from 23 percent in 2008. Senior citizens were also the group most opposed to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, with 58 percent now in favor of repeal.

This produces all kinds of bizarre, contradictory results, like the iconic Tea Party protester who warned the government to keep its hands off his Medicare. Welfare state for me, not for thee.

Where is My Beautiful House?

Radical economist David Ruccio had this to say about the growing inequality:
"Right now, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, even “good jobs” pay low wages and come with declining health insurance and pension benefits."

This seems to me, based on lived experience, to be spot on. I might be considered to have a “good job” working for the National Park Service, as a lower end professional. My job is one that requires at minimum a BA degree, and a diversity of skills. My government job comes with health insurance, but of which a significant chunk of the premiums comes out of my gross wages, and I am making just under 40 grand a year. My wife is unemployed, and we are just barely getting by.  I have an aging truck, that will need to be replaced soon, damaged credit, and little disposable income to put towards a new one.  The issue of student loan payment are a constant source of worry.  We rent a house, and are not yet in a position to buy even a small modest home of our own. 

I have been a lefty from my late teen years through to all of my adult life.  I have always felt solidarity and sympathy for low waged and unskilled workers, knowing that they were far under paid.  I worked along side them, as them, in a variety of jobs, as a restaurant line cook, landscaper, warehouse worker, and asbestos abatement worker. 

However, ten years or so ago I was of the mind that with the education and skills I was acquiring, I would be doing alright financially by now. Now I wake up in the future and realize that despite my education and skills, I am not a member of the middle class, but still part of that struggling, barely getting by working class. 

Yet, on the other hand, I have been steadily employed during these hard times, and I am one of the more fortunate members of the working class.  I can also count my lucky stars that I don't have to slog through some of the alienating labor that others have to.  After all, I can step out of my office, of which I am not tied to all day, and take in this view: 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Simple Solution to the Righties Tax Distribution Problem-Updated

Update April 22:  Also worth noting what Krugman has to say on the matter:

"Yes, high-income people pay the bulk of the federal income tax. But that’s not the only tax! And while the income tax is quite progressive, the payroll tax — the other major federal tax — isn’t; and state and local taxes are strongly regressive."
And he links to a .pdf of analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, that is well worth reading.  They say:

It’s true that the very rich pay a large share of federal income taxes, and that many taxpayers are too poor to owe any federal income taxes. But federal income taxes are only part of the picture. Other types of taxes, like federal payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, and state and local
taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of income from a poor or middle-class family than they take from a rich family.
This fact seems to ring very true to me on the ground.  While living in Arizona the last few years I was stricken by the high taxes I was paying, all the while state public services were being severely cut. 
Original Post:

Yesterday of course was that day that comes every year when tax returns are due.  If you happened to tune into a right-wing radio show or Fox News, inevitably you heard some of the rightieys complaining that the problem is not that the rich don't pay their fair share, but that 45% of Americans allegedly pay little or no income taxes at all. I myself heard this on Limbaugh, Hannity and a local righty radio show.        

And they weren't talking about the corporations like GE or wealthy individuals with paid accountants who figure out a way to not pay any taxes.  Noooo, they were referring to the lucky many who are in the lower income distribution and make so little money that they slipped under the tax paying bar. Mitt Romney, being interviewed by Hannity, lamented that many of those Americans surely would like to pay some taxes to support our military. This seemed like a coy way of suggesting that we raise taxes on low income people so they indeed could help support our military, as if the blood and psychological health of their sons and daughters was not enough.    

admit it, this just is not fair for the rich! So I propose a simple solution.  The owners of profitable businesses, CEOs, and the management of corporations, the people who comprise "the rich" should start paying better wages and benefits to those at the bottom of the income distribution.  This way, those lucky non-tax payers would then have the income to start paying taxes, while at the same time the rich would pay less of the tax burden as they would be appropriating less of the social surplus in profits.  There, problem solved!

Righties also have other complaints about the taxes and the tax system.   See Michael Perelman's blog on Arthur Laffer's complaint.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Really? Archaeologists Find 'Gay Caveman' Near Prague

Jeez Luise! Sometimes I think there are so-called science reporters out there who just like to write stupid shit to piss off archaeologists.  Hat tip to my blogging friend Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt for linking to this article at Time who employ these dumb-shit know-nothings about archaeology/anthropology reporters.

Archaeologists Find 'Gay Caveman' Near Prague: Remains Outed by Typical 'Female' Burial - TIME NewsFeed

So what is my problem?  "Caveman" that is my frickin problem!    Yes, in popular ignorant discourse "caveman" came into common usage many years ago because SOME Paleolithic aged remains were found in caves. Yet not all, nor even most Paleolithic aged archeological sites have been found in caves. So why "caveman"?  

That aside, the Upper Paleolithic ended about 12 thousand years ago. So this find is placed chronologically firmly in the European Neolithic, when people had long domesticated crops and animals, and lived a settled life in villages.  So, these people were not even close to what was ignorantly stereotyped as "cavemen".  Is it really so hard for a Time magazine writer to get some of this basic stuff right?  After all, its all on Wikipedia as I have linked to here, and a quick glance at those pages reveals that those articles are fairly accurate.

And then there is the assumption that this alleged "caveman" was "gay".  I would bet a thousand dollars that the researchers responsible for this find didn't use that term.   But the dumb-ass Time reporter thought he would go ahead and run with his assumptions.  A more accurate interpretation is that the individual in question would better described as "transgender" rather than gay or homosexual. 

Europe's allegedly "Largest Gay New Service" at least gets it right in describing the deceased individual as transgendered, which is probably how the researchers described the significance of the find.

Its probably good to keep in mind that it is our modern day conception that homosexual behavior leads to the pigeonholing people into a "gay" identity. Yet we know that historically (Greek) and ethnologically (New Guinea tribe, read about them as an undergrad and forgot their name) that homosexual behavior doesn't necessarily translate into an exclusive "gay" identity. 

I Love this Blog Pandagon

I really do need to add Pandagon to my blog roll. The content of the blog is great. The blogs keeper, Amanda Marcotte, was made famous by the fact that Bill O'Reilly hates her for calling out Catholic anti-woman bullshit. And I do like the writing style, which is that a little profanity here and there adds to the expressiveness of it all, which jives with my styles as well.

pandagon.net - it's the eye of the panda, it's the thrill of the bite

I’m pretty sure Larry doesn’t know what happens when a regular company runs out of money, because he works for a motherfucking defense contractor. Keep the government off of his Medicare and off of his paycheck, folks. But also, end corporate welfare and such, and let viable private market enterprises like defense contractors stand unfettered from government intervention or regulation. BECAUSE OF FREEDOM.