20
Mar
10

About the Human Origins Initiative at the Smithsonian

The past decade has seen astonishing discoveries about human origins that captivate the imagination. We walk on two legs, make tools, and have large brains. We solve complex problems and communicate through language and art. We express our feelings and our spirituality. How did we acquire these extraordinary qualities? Are we still evolving or are we ‘it’, the endpoint of the evolutionary story?

These questions excite the deepest levels of human curiosity about our own identity and origins, and help shape one of the most awe-inspiring areas of scientific inquiry. ‘What does it mean to be human?’ – the theme of the Human Origins Initiative of the Smithsonian Institution – reflects one of humanity’s most profound quests. The initiative’s goal is to explore the universal human story at its broadest time scale. It seeks to stimulate new research findings that deepen an understanding of what makes our species unique and how we came to be.

See the rest of the site here:

10
Mar
10

Memorial And Remonstrance

James Madison Explains the Establishment Clause

This is not in the Constitution, mind, but it is illustrative as the “Letter to the Danbury Baptists” on the clear meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. People need to read this occasionally as a reminder of why the Framers made clear that while the people of the U.S. are majority Christian this is not a Christian Nation, nor a Christian Government. Aside from the fact that the majority can not be trusted to protect the rights of the minority, a government itself can’t get the entirety of one religion right. How can it get the myriads of Christian religions right in order to make sure that the laws it passes and enforces conforms to them?

I also find that the whole idea that there is for each Christian Church the claim that is has “The True Teaching” of Christianity a great illustration that there is no way that a democratically elected government, even if it were allowed to be officially Christian, could avoid oppression and heresy of non-majority sects of Christianity. The additional protections afforded atheists, Jews, Muslims, and all manner of religious beliefs is a guarded position that we get as a byproduct of the differences that the Founders saw in the often violent and warring disagreements between two such similar religions as the Anglican and Roman ones.

Without ado, Madison Explains it All:

To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia
A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

We the subscribers , citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,

1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considerd as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

1.

2.
Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.

3.
Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

4.
Because the Bill violates the equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,” all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience.” Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their Religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these demoninations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.

5.
Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.

6.
Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

7.
Because experience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?

8.
Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.

9.
Because the proposed establishment is a departure from the generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an Asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The maganimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent, may offer a more certain respose from his Troubles.

10.
Because it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms

11.
Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assauge the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed “that Christian forbearance, love and chairty,” which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jeolousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?

12.
Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.

13.
Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to go great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?

14.
Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed, without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens, and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the Bill to the next Session of Assembly.” But the representatives or of the Counties will be that of the people. Our hope is that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the Bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence, that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.

15.
Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Vriginia, as the basis and foundation of Government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either the, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may controul the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into the law the Bill under consideration.

We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his [blessing, may re]dound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.

Comment:

“Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance was written in opposition to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia, to levy a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. The assessment bill was tabled, and in its place the legislature enacted Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Liberty.” ( Source: Hensel, Jaye B., Ed., Church, State, and Politics Washington D.C. Final Report of the 1981 Chief Justice Earl Warren Conference on Adovcacy in the United States)

Thomas Jefferson had drafted The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779 three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The act was not passed by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia until 1786. Jefferson was by then in Paris as the U.S. Ambassador to France. The Act was resisted by a group headed by Patrick Henry who sought to pass a bill that would have assessed all the citizens of Virginia to support a plural establishment. James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments was, and remains, a powerful argument against state supported religion. It was written in 1785, just a few months before the General Assembly passed Jefferson’s religious freedom bill.

13
Feb
10

Indifferent to the Bible and Christian Theology

A Primer on Atheism

I am an atheist, and that means simply that I do not accept the existence of a supernatural controlling entity in this universe. I can allow for a small, unlikely probability that such exists but beyond that I find no reason to behave nor live as if there is a master entity that needs me to conform to its described moral authority. I use the word described here in the etymological sense. From Wiktionary:

From Middle English descriven < Old French descrivre < Latin dēscrībō (“‘I copy off, transcribe, sketch off, describe in painting or writing’”) < de (“‘off’”) + scribere (“‘to write’”);

The source of the moral authority is inscripturation, which is written and copied doctrinal text made by people to source their claims of the knowledge of the Word of the Master Entity (by whatever name.) Both Hector Avalos and Bart Ehrman have dealt convincingly with the weakness of the claim of supernatural authorship of the Bible as used by Christians.

And I appreciate their work, I really and sincerely and truly do. But, the fact is that I am rather indifferent to The Bible. I have read it and I tried to live by it as a youngster and teen because I believed that studying the Bible is important to living a Christian Life. Now that I no longer am a Christian, and practice no religion, I don’t need to know more about the Bible except as a source of cultural literation as referenced in common phraseology and poetry. I only need it as much as I need a background in Shakespeare or Roman, Greek and Celtic Mythology. I only need it enough to know what is referenced when a writer or a speaker I encounter uses something from the Bible. That’s it.

I am aware that my own background in religion and my own personality colors my sense of indifference to the Bible. I grew up Catholic, and for my early years our exposure to the Bible was largely limited to those passages read by the priest or lecterns at Mass. Catholics don’t have a tradition of regular Bible reading, and that is one of the reasons that Fundamentalists think that Catholicism is Satanic. Catholics, instead, derive doctrine from Earthly authority as expressed by the leaders of the Church and inspired by two of the three members of the Trinity. (No one can understand a word from the glossolalial Holy Spirit!)

It was as a born-again Christian, a brief embarrassing period of my life as a teenager, that I bought a Bible complete with a leather book jacket and decided to read the whole thing through. It’s a confusing book. It is all over the map with weird contradictory stories and moral codes. Other people have gone into detail on this, so I don’t really feel the need to waste more time on writing more about what you likely already know about The Bible. Keep in mind that it is not a book, it is a set of books that are joined together by Canonical Authority as determined by councils of theological scholars who decide what to keep and what to toss. This is all supposed to be under the divine inspiration of the Laird Above All. The one who speaks to some but not others and seemed to describe a society in which those in power were to maintain power in order to keep us safe from God’s Wrath.

I didn’t care for The Bible all that much. Except for the titillation in Song of Solomon, the rest was a book of genocide as Joshuah and David and those warrior kings cleared the way for the Jews to colonize Palestine, a book of nonsensical rules to keep women and slaves and children in their place and to justify killing gays, a book that taught that we are worthless to God because of our sinful nature and needed to accept Jesus’ death and resurrection for us to even entertain the idea that we will get the opportunity to worship him directly in his presence for eternity when we die. Ugggh! It is a book intended to create a fear as dreadful as the madness demanded by Cthulhu, the fear of Apocalypse, war, pestilence, hunger, famine and extreme natural disaster followed by an eternity of either bliss or agony. To me, eternal bliss is as horrifying as eternal agony: mind-numbing boredom followed by more mind-numbing boredom ad-infinitum.

So, the prospect of eternity with a choice of six on one hand and a half-dozen on the other doesn’t lead me to a Pascal’s Wager reliance on the Christian Faith to protect me from Hell. If I am wrong, I am wrong but I doubt it.

I am indifferent to the Bible and don’t need to spend a great deal of time debunking it to justify my atheism. When I was newly atheist back in the nineties, I belong to an atheist society and one of my fellow members spent a great deal of time posting “Shocking Biblical Contradictions” in public forums. I read a few of his posts, which were series of verses from the Bible that directly contradicted each other. Nice. But I soon grew bored with the idea. Since my atheism had little to do with The Bible, I wanted to look at atheism outside of the context of a debunked Christianity.

And I still do. The local group of which I am a member often has speakers and guests on our media outlets who have written books disputing the historicity of the events as described in the Bible, or more contradictions in the Bible, or the failures of textual criticism to establish the Scriptural Authority of the Bible. I confess that I quickly tune out. I tune out of discussions of interpretation of the Koran, the Talmud and the Veddas. And while I found the Poetic Eddas fun to read, I spend more time on interpretation of the theological guidelines therein than I do with other scriptures.

I am also indifferent to Christian theology. It doesn’t help me guide my life other than to amuse me that there are doctorates built on arguing over nothing more substantial than the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

This is why I find amusing the criticisms of writers such as Dawkins and others. His books on religion betray a lack of depth of knowledge of Christian Theology, apparently. But why should we give the matter so much importance? I guess so that smart people can justify their faith, and their faith can’t be attacked by atheists if we don’t use the most sophisticated arguments of the atheists of centuries past. Without advanced theology, we have no business discussing the lack of evidence for the existence of God, right?

PZ Pharyngula wrote the famous “Courtier’s Reply” to explain the weirdness of the claim that atheists need to have advanced degrees in theology in order to justify being atheists. It’s a transparent allegory, easily recognized as a claim that the onus is on the the theists to prove their case. Atheists are free to just get on with your lives to live them.

I am indifferent to the Bible and Theology, intellectually. My concerns come in when they are used to create a false moral authority that interferes with personal liberties, as in what is happening in Australia now. (That’s just one example.)

12
Feb
10

Into the Lllanos, February 12 1835

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

We continued to ride through the uncleared forest; & only occassionally met an Indian on horseback, or a troop of fine mules bringing Alerce planks or corn from the Southern plains. In the afternoon one of the horses tired; we were then on the brow of a hill which commanded a fine view of the Llanos. The view of these open plains was very refreshing, after being hemmed in & buried amongst the wilderness of trees. The uniformity of a forest soon becomes very wearisome; this West coast makes me remember with pleasure the free, unbounded plains of Patagonia; yet with the true spirit of contradiction, I cannot forget how sublime is the silence of the forest. The Llanos are the most fertile & thickly peopled parts of the country: they possess the immense advantage of being nearly free from trees; before leaving the forest we crossed some flat little lawns, around which single trees were encroaching in the manner of an English park. — It is curious how generally a plain seems hostile to the growth of trees: Humboldt found much difficulty in endeavouring to account for their presence or absence in certain parts of S. America; it appears to me that the levelness of the surface very frequently determines this point; but the cause why it should do so I cannot guess. — In the case of Tierra del Fuego the deficiency is probably owing to the accumulation of too much moisture; but in Banda Oriental, to the North of Maldonado, where we have a fine undulating country, with streams of water (which are themselves fringed with wood) is to me, as I have before stated, the most inexplicable case.

Charles Darwin painting by Fada Moranga

This is the diary entry of Charles Darwin from February 12, 1835. For those of you interested in the life of the naturalist who most thoroughly described the process of natural selection as a causative mechanism for evolution when he published the work On the Origins of the Species, one of the most interesting blogs on the internet is the daily publishing of Darwin’s diary entries from the period he was a member of the team on The Beagle. Roger is kind enough post the entries on matching days, and I have been following Darwin’s journey from the time he left England in this way.

What surprised me is that in this entry he makes no note of his birthday, but I also found this paragraph interesting when discussing his conversation with a local priest in a small village in South America:

I spent the evening very pleasantly, talking with the Padre. — He was exceedingly kind & hospitable; & coming from St Jago had contrived to surround himself with some few comforts. Being a man of some little education, he bitterly complained of the total want of society; — with no particular zeal for religion, no business or pursuit, how completely must this mans life be wasted.

Since this is a raw entry from a private diary it is not carefully edited for clarity and I read it a few times to try to understand what it is that Darwin is saying of the padre. Is the padre complaining of the lack of zeal for religion and then commenting that the Padre’s life being wasted for complaining of that? Or, more likely is he judging that the Padre’s life is being wasted by having no passionate pursuit for religion nor business?

I would say that if the Padre had passion and zeal for religion, his life would be wasted, but since Darwin had not yet discarded his religious beliefs in favor of a strong agnostic position I guess that Darwin is unhappy for the man that he is a Padre yet lacks the conviction of his profession and is satisfied with merely complaining. Darwin was passionate in his curiosity and I am thankful to him for that, for his devotion to methodology and the work it takes even when menial and repetitive to carry his need to know and find excitement and satisfaction while finding useful answers to big questions.

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

09
Feb
10

Crib Notes on Our Palms

I Need Crib Notes Myself Sometimes

Palin's platform

What is it that I believe wholeheartedly? Oh, yes!

I am not considering a run for the Presidency in 2012, and so it doesn’t really matter if I can think on my feet as well as more practiced orators should be able to. I am not so much in demand as a speaker, nor a leader of a revolutionary movement that anyone would pay me $100k to show up for a few hours and talk about how much I think that um, um, tax cuts would make the American people feel better about each other.  I do need notes, largely because when I am in public and speaking I only have a vague idea of the details of the topic.

Still and all, I don’t think it hypocritical to say that Sarah Palin is so clearly out of her league when it comes to being a politician on the national scene.  I have been watching her missteps since August of 2008, when the McCain team sensed that her know-nothing populism would sweep through the conservative moment and make her a politico-celebrity even though she so obviously has no substance nor serious grasp of the issues.

Does anybody else remember that McCain’s handlers did not want her to sit down and talk to reporters directly?  Does anybody else remember that we were to be satisfied with the press releases from the McCain campaign?  Does anybody else remember that she couldn’t name a newspaper that she reads on a daily basis?  I must confess that I don’t get my news from a newspaper, but from a variety of sources that I can name.  Why didn’t she just say she gets her news from various sites on the web instead of bluffing her way through the whole stupid affair with Katie Couric. Why didn’t she prep for an interview with Charlie Gibson so that she would at least have an understanding of the Bush Doctrine of Preemptive War, and then why did her defenders claim that Gibson and Couric had ambushed her?

If she wants to be president, fine, it’s a Republic not a monarchy and anyone who wants to throw his or her hat in the ring is welcome to do so.  They just need to raise money, get the supporters, convince the base of her party that if they nominate her then she will be able to push Obama out of the White House on a wave of popular support.  But then, once she is in office she will actually need to do something constructive for the country.  She will need to negotiate, and she will need to know what she is doing and what she is saying and she won’t be able to prepare for the negotiation session by putting a few phrases on her palm to remember  that “Cutting taxes good.”

The President will not be able to sit at a table in Geneva, or a summit in Rejkjavik with the leader of a Muslim nation with crib notes that say “Islam is Terrorism.”  The President will  not be able to sit with the Secretary of Education and say “We need to teach more Bible in Science Class because” (reading palm) “Genesis is the literal word of God.”

What would happen with a president like Palin?  The corrupt would eagerly swoop in like Cheney into Guantanamo, but instead of torture they would rob us blind while telling us how much they love Jesus and Sarah.  She would be powerless to be president and instead rely on sweet-talking foxes to tell her that the chicken house is in safe hands.

Conservatives complain that liberals don’t take their intellectuals seriously, but when they grasp at leaders who revel in their ignorance of policy and structure while complaining that the current President uses a teleprompter, they are making the case for us that they are either wilfully ignorant or naturally stupid.

People use crib notes.  I just don’t want a president to rely on them.

26
Jan
10

On Civility and Rules

No Comment Moderation Policy Here, Yet

As this is more of a blog to keep me in practice blogging until I decide it is okay to resurrect my real blog, I don’t promote it much nor do I get much traffic.  That’s okay with me, trust me.  Not only am I used to being rather ignored, the purpose here is not to sell Amazon Gifts or clickthroughs to Google.  I just need to have a place to write.

Since I have only garnered 8 comments on this blog, I haven’t seen fit to design and develop a comment policy.  Until I do, I retain the right to be capricious with any of the comments that may find there way here.  I will follow the general guidelines set by one John S. Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts. To wit:

  • Comment policy

    This is my living room, so don’t piss on the floor. I reserve the right to block users and delete any comments that are uncivil, spam or offensive to all. I have a broad tolerance, but don’t test it, please. Try to remain coherent, polite and put forward positive arguments if engaged in debate. There are plenty of places you can accuse people of being pedophilic communist sexist pigs; don’t do it here.

This, apparently is too restrictive for some people who think that their own rules should apply everywhere. Such a restrictive policy is akin to telling people that they belong in the back of the bus and that requesting a certain level of decency is akin to arresting Rosa Parks, or insecure about their sexuality:

Oh, and BTW, all this “pissing on the carpet” shit is just cover for some serious unresolved masculinity issues. These “don’t piss on my carpet” douchebags are the same ones who get in fights in bars because some other d00d looked at them funny or accidentally bumped into them on the way to the fucking men’s room. They’re just insecure little boys playing at being big, tough, men-in-charge.

I am going to make a blanket statement of character regarding Comrade Physio Prof:

He is a suckup, always trying to prove to the oppressed that he is not one of “those guys” but couching his suckupedness in foul language so no one thinks he is a ‘modern caring sensitive male.’ He is a rule enforcer.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know CPP other than through his anonymous comments at other people’s blogs. He backs the clicque’s rule enforcement, and here is the main issue that I have with the clicque (pronounced “cleek” as I have been re-corrected by a Canadian friend and that is the way that I used to pronounce it until I was corrected long ago to sound more American by pronouncing it “click.” It’s a French word, after all and we must be careful to defend freedom wherever we can.)

Way back when I was in my twenties and sitting with a group of women who were complaining about how much they hated the men in their lives, my girlfriend at the time made the statement that she hated men. Then she realized that I was in the group and said, “I don’t mean you. It’s not like your a man, anyway.” Then she backpedaled to try to dig herself out of a hole and said “Well I mean you’re not an asshole like all the other men.” I told her to forget it, I knew what she meant.

Comrade PhysioProf wants to be one of the guys that my girlfriend was talking about. Not an asshole to women and minorities, and traditionally underrepresented groups. He wants to be the guy they know that will stick up for them when they are in a battle over issues related to suppression and rights of the traditionally underrepresented groups. But, here is my problem with him:

In doing so, he is engaging in stereotyping of his own. He is further engaging the problem by accusing people like Wilkins of having masculinity issues and assigning that reasoning to the reason that Wilkins expects civility.

The problem with society and the way that minorities are treated is that their contributions are diminished and not valued. It is a cultural impression imprinted on children at a very early age, sometimes intentionally and sometimes imprinted even by parents who have the best intentions to try to avoid that. It is a set of issues that we are struggling through to enlighten ourselves and make the playing fields level for women and minorities.

I agree that the sexism, racism and classism that we have inherited through ages past must be fought; and sometimes discivilly, but being uncivil is not the only way that it can be done. And if a person has a commenting rule that requests that people be civil remember one thing:

It is their blog.

This is my blog. If I request that people don’t piss on the rug, please be clear that I don’t start bar fights to prove my masculinity.

Wilkis Clarifies:

Now, when you are first meeting someone in debate, you have to assume certain things about them. Is it fair to assume that because I am male, white, middle class and western that I share the hidden brain of that group? It’s a reasonable bet. But such class-based categorisation depends on a lack of information about the individual with whom you are actually dealing. Suppose, as you get to know me, that I turn out to be actively trying to overcome those attitudes in favour of a more equalitarian view. Suppose you find that I try very hard to treat all comers civilly and equally. Suppose I do not oppress minorities. Are you excused from treating me civilly because of my membership of a class that you despise?

Think very hard about that. It’s in effect to justify discrimination on the basis of what groups someone falls into. Sure, you are doing it for the Very Best of Intentions, but we know where roads thusly paved lead. If you cannot reason with me because I am white, male and all the rest, why try? Why not just ignore me, or seek to suppress what I can say by employing any guerilla tactic you can? End justify means, after all (the idea that they do not is, of course, another tool of the patriarchy/capitalist oppressors/other hated group).

It seems to me that there has arisen a split over the last century or more between those who try to employ reasoning (not Reason – that’s an equid of an alternate aposematism) to argue to true conclusions, and those who think reasoning is a matter of social jockeying for power. As a philosopher, I value the former, but I know that we have to recognise that power relations enter into every interaction. Nevertheless, it doesn’t follow that because some conventions disadvantage minorities, that the mere fact of having conventions does; nor is it true that because some people use rules of reason to establish and strengthen their unjust social control, that all uses of reason are of that kind. There are some pretty basic fallacies involved, of the kind that first year students doing reasoning skills are expected to learn.

And that’s it- you can’t effectively fight the problem of sweeping generalizations by returning sweeping generalizations.

17
Jan
10

Illegal Immigrants Are People

Detention Should Not Be A Death Sentence

I don’t hate America, I don’t blame America first. I do think that if the government gets to cover up its own crimes, the crimes of its employees and negligence of companies contracted to perform services historically run directly by the government, then it has too much power over the people for whom it is charged with serving and protecting. It is supposed to be our government and not the government of the governors and their executors. I am also firmly of the opinion, that if the “world is my country, and to do good is my religion,” then the protected and served are also people who are not citizens nor legal residents. Anyone here, in the “Greatest Country in the World™” should be treated as a human being, a person with the rights granted by their Creator.  I don’t think that anywhere in the founding documents that I have read is there a case for American exceptionalism in the discussion of rights.

If a person is detained for suspicion of a crime, they are still entitled to the right to proper medical care.  Detention should not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered the granting of the right to government to consider a person discarded.  Under detention, a person may or may not have even been granted the right of trial to determine guilt or innocence. There is supposed to be a presumption of innocence in all cases:

  1. With respect to the critical facts of the case – whether the crime charged was committed and whether the defendant was the person who committed the crime – the state has the entire burden of proof.
  2. With respect to the critical facts of the case, the defendant does not have any burden of proof whatsoever. The defendant does not have to testify, call witnesses or present any other evidence, and if the defendant elects not to testify or present evidence, this decision cannot be used against them.
  3. The jury or judge is not to draw any negative inferences from the fact the defendant has been charged with a crime and is present in court and represented by an attorney. They must decide the case solely on evidence presented during the trial.

I’ve got news. A guard at an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement,) facility is not a judge nor a jury and although he or she needs to have a certain level of authority to maintain order for the protection of both the detainees and officials inside, that authority does not include denial of medical care.

The New York Times has run a few stories on detention facilities run by the Department of Fatherland Homeland Security, and while the jury is still out on whether I am Canadian or USIcan, I am concerned that the government officials are not being independently investigated and punished where appropriate. I need some “Change I can believe in” here, and one of the things that is scary and needs to be changed is the concept that all people are our enemies until proven to be our friends, especially those who have broken some sort of immigration laws.

Hurdles Shown in Detention Reform:

Another death there soon spurred another inquiry, and another scathing report was issued about the care provided by the private company, the Corrections Corporation of America.

But the government scrutiny did not add up to much for Felix Franklin Rodriguez-Torres, 36, an Ecuadorean construction worker who wound up in Eloy that fall as an unauthorized immigrant after being jailed for petty larceny in New York City. By mid-December, a fellow detainee told the man’s relatives, Mr. Rodriguez lay pleading for medical help on the floor of his cell, unable to move.

He died weeks later of testicular cancer, a typically fast-growing but treatable disease, which had gone undiagnosed and untreated during his two months at Eloy, which holds more than 1,500 detainees. And despite a high-level discussion of his case among federal immigration officials while he was dying — captured in e-mail messages between Washington and Arizona — his death on Jan. 18, 2007, was not listed on the roster of detention fatalities that the agency produced under pressure last year and updated in April.

His death, and the damning reports that preceded it, are coming to light now only through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. On Monday, after inquiries about Mr. Rodriguez’s death by The New York Times, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency added his name and nine others to the public roster — including another unrecorded detainee death at Eloy, in 2005.

Yes, I know that private enterprise is supposed to be more efficient that government.  What happens if the needs of the payer and the needs of the customers are at odds?  The needs of the payer are given first priority, and if the government says do it cheap then costs will be cut at the expense of lives.

Officials Obscured Truth of Immigrant Deaths in Jail

The Obama administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, a haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells where the government holds noncitizens while it tries to deport them.

But as the administration moves to increase oversight within the agency, the documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.

As one man lay dying of head injuries suffered in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2007, for example, a spokesman for the federal agency told The Times that he could learn nothing about the case from government authorities. In fact, the records show, the spokesman had alerted those officials to the reporter’s inquiry, and they conferred at length about sending the man back to Africa to avoid embarrassing publicity.

Because not embarrassing the agency is more important than preventing such deaths from recurring.

There’s more.  I would like those concerned with the “sanctity of human life” to concentrate on these cases with the sort of fervor they use to punish women for getting pregnant.  Of course, a fetus is a naturalized citizen by conception and more important than someone who is here illegally.




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