Bill Maher: The Enemy of My Enemy?[ CONTENT OVERRIDE: KILROY2.0 IS HERE!!! ]

I believe we’ve all heard some version of the aphorism, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Maybe from the bible? As in Exodus 23:22, “I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.”

This sentiment is commonly used in international politics. Creating alliances of convenience to achieve gains against another is a common tale. The second world war is replete with uncomfortable alliances, as was the cold war. The Afghan Mujahideen had very little common ground with the United States, except an ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union.

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I would contend that this is not nearly as good a way to select friends as they would have you believe. Just looking at the history of U.S. foreign relations would suggest the long term effectiveness of this policy is quite poor. Shortly after World War II we’re embattled with Russia in a lengthy Cold War. After allying ourselves with Saddam Hussein in an effort to oppose fundamentalism in Iran, we end up in an intractable mess in Iraq after deposing him.

So, I guess it’s time to bring this around to comedian Bill Maher.  Maher, host of the show Real Time on HBO, endeared himself to the Non-theist community with last year’s movie Religulous. I enjoyed Religulous and I think it was, for the most part, handled quite deftly. Before the release of the movie, and since, Maher has been an outspoken critic of religious institutions.

I would tend to agree with many of his complaints against organized religions.  Yet, is that common cause enough to consider  Mr. Maher a friend?  I’d have to say for myself, NO.  Many others skeptics who happen to share Mr. Maher’s non-theism say NO, as well.

Before I move on, let me be clear.  There are many who maintain a theistic position while still holding rationalism in high regard.  Many scientists who choose to have a form of faith, still dedicate their lives to advancing our understanding of the world.

Some arrive at an agnostic or atheist world view as a logical conclusion from choosing science and reason as their basis for understanding the world, others through dissatisfaction with their religious experience for one reason or another or just a recognition that our lives should not be under the dictate of clergy. Blah blah blah….

Why are you still reading this?  I’m just rambling on to embed the viral advertising for J.C. Hutchins’ new release of 7th Son: Descent.  Get going and buy yourself a copy.  A 4-year old murders the president in public with a knife! What more could you want??

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As bad as we thought the Bush presidency was….

we may find out it was worse.

It is definitely worth reading this memo from the Bush justice department.  Recently released by the Obama administration, after being held secret by the Bush administration.  The memo leans heavily on resolutions from the Nixon administration and from three days after the attacks in 2001 to justify the president having extremely broad powers to take any action almost any where on the planet.

“Further, the President has the constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations. Finally, the President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.”

Reading the memo, it seems like the author continually goes to lengths to remove any restraint on the office of the president.  The focus does not seem to clarify the power of the presidency, it really seems it is to justify any action of the president as long as it can be remotely connected to countering a terrorist threat.

“Third, it should be noted here that the Joint Resolution is somewhat narrower than the President’s constitutional authority. The Joint Resolution’s authorization to use force is limited only to those individuals, groups, or states that planned, authorized, committed, or aided the attacks, and those nations that harbored them. It does not, therefore, reach other terrorist individuals, groups, or states, which cannot be determined to have links to the September 11 attacks. Nonetheless, the President’s broad constitutional power to use military force to defend the Nation, recognized by the Joint Resolution itself, would allow the President to take whatever actions he deems appropriate to pre-empt or respond to terrorist threats from new quarters.

Read the entire memo, here. Definitely interesting. You’ll probably still read it before Bush does.

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If I lived among the Cherokee…

Angie Gambill, editor of The Tomahawk paper in Mountain City, Tennessee, is offended by people taking offense at the prominent display of religious doctrine in her local courthouse.*

“A complaint has been lodged by Washington-based Americans for Separation for Church and State on behalf of a county resident in opposition to the 10 Commandments display at the courthouse,” said [County Mayor] Grayson at last week’s Johnson County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The foundation of the complaint is Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of a wall of separation between church and state.  An ideal that has been upheld repeatedly by the United States Supreme Court.

This carries little weight in Ms. Gambill’s world.  A world where it makes more sense to separate people:

“If I decided to live among the Cherokee, I would expect to see symbols of their culture, religion and history everywhere.”

“I would never question the right of an African American community to display reminders of their heritage and uniqueness as a people.”

Well, Ms. Gambill, you do not have the luxury of excluding African American’s or Cherokee from your society. Because, it is not yours.  It is theirs.  It is theirs and ours, and there is even room in it for you.  All that is required is you follow the laws that have evolved over many societies, many years and many battles.  These laws exist expressly to allow us to live together in one community.

That is what you don’t understand.  While you are doggedly fighting for the primacy of your faith against all others in what you suppose is your little corner of the globe, you ignorantly dismiss the history of this country.  That is why you are being opposed by an organization called Americans UNITED for the Separation of Church and State.

In her crowning rhetorical achievement, Ms. Gambill looks to the children to lead:

In last week’s Tomahawk, little Sam Allen spoke volumes in his honest and obviously heartfelt letter. “We all need to read and know Jesus’ ten commandments because Jesus didn’t make them for nothing.” I can’t pretend to improve on those words of simple childlike faith and wisdom.

Really Angie?  You can’t improve on ignorance?  I feel sorry for little Sam Allen.  To have grow up in a community which cares so little for you that they cannot even correct your mistakes.  Worse, they celebrate them as wise.

“Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt”, Clarence Darrow.

* Link found through Pharyngula, PZ Myers exceptional blog.

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Roger Ebert Nails It

In his recent blog post, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Credulity”, Roger Ebert correctly characterizes our times as an age when we “accept rather than select”.  The constant stream of sound bites, mash-ups and carefully sculpted lies push and prod us to conclusions.  Rarely do we take the time to collate, digest and reflect.

The drive for this particular article was the firestorm of comments generated by another blog post by Ebert where, without revealing preamble, he laid out as a Q&A his understanding of Creationism.  Most of the answers he gave were subtly snarky, well subtle if you are a Creationist;

Q. What about bones representing such species as Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man?
A. Created at the same time as man. They did not survive. In fact, all surviving species and many others were created fully formed at the same time. At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.

Apparently, they were subtle enough to get some anti-Creationists upset and there the problem lay. Posting a Q&A about Creationism without clear derision was enough to get people up in arms.

Mr. Ebert challenges us to be “perceptive readers” and schools us with a story of his early education and the lesson learned by reading “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift.  He then uses a recent review of the Heroes season premiere where a quote from Hamlet is characterized as “crazy nonsense” to show how our rapid processing can let us miss the obvious.

In the final weeks of a multi-year Presidential Campaign where so much is at stake, Mr. Ebert reminds us to be critical thinkers.  Look at the context, judge the merit and above all, use your head!  It is exactly what these careful crafters of lies hope you will not do.

These days, there is no room for ambiguity, and few rewards for critical thinking. Now every word of a politician is pumped dry by his opponent, looking for sinister meanings. Many political ads are an insult to the intelligence. Here I am not discussing politics. I am discussing credulity. If you were to see a TV ad charging that a politician supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergarten children, would you (1) believe it, or (2) very much doubt it? The authors of the ad spent big money in a bet on the credulity and unquestioning thinking of the viewership. Ask yourself what such an ad believes about us. No politics, please.

Don’t you think that Roger Ebert should be acknowledged as one of the standard bearers of the Skeptical movement?

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Questions worthy of a Presidential Candidate (update 9/15)

The candidates have yet to be brought together for a debate over issues of Science and Technology, although ScienceDebate2008.com has been working towards that goal for almost a year.

They have succeeded in getting at least one Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, to answer their 14 policy questions on Science and Technology.  It is a very good read and the questions alone point out how important these issues are to our future.  Hopefully, the McCain campaign will follow suit and provide their answers very soon.  (update 9/15, the McCain campaign has posted their answers and you may see them side-by-side with Obama’s here.)

I have to say I was very impressed and pleased with the answers given.  It was obvious the answers came from some very intelligent individuals (Mr. Obama can’t possibly have the breadth and depth of knowledge for all those answers).  We can only hope Mr. Obama continues to elicit such knowledgable advise and adhere to it, if elected president.

How important is Science and Technology to you?

If your answer was ‘Pretty Damn Important!”, you’re correct.  If you gave any other answer, you’re just wrong.  You are.

How do I know this?  Because you are reading this.  It’s that simple.  You’ve probably never considered the basic science and engineering that brought this page to you.   Physics, fundamentally, but also electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics and even biology.  That’s just some of what it takes to bring a web page to you.

Ask yourself some pretty basic questions:  How did I get to work?  How is my house cooled or heated?  Where does my entertainment come from (even modern publishing and distribution is a feat of technology!)?  Why is it that we live longer than our ancesters and in better general health?

You shouldn’t get through a day without considering the importance of scientific and technological advancements that make our lives rich and functional.

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science. ~Edwin Powell Hubble, The Nature of Science, 1954

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Katie Couric Diggs the Conventions

Katie Couric is accepting suggestions through Digg for topics to ask the candidates at the Conventions. Now, this could just be another chance for the network to cull stupid questions from the unwashed masses. Or, this could be an opportunity for those of us who would like to have the candidates answer substantive questions about how they plan to deal with Science and Science-related issues from the White House.
Support ScienceDebate2008 by digging this link.

“Hey Digg, I’d like to take some questions from the Digg community with me to the Democratic and Republican conventions. Submit a question in the comment section below. I’ll ask the newsmakers and politicians some of your questions in my online coverage from both cities, and during a live Webcast from CBS News and CNET. Thanks! Katie.”

read more | digg story

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Taxpayers fund faith over knowledge at Colorado school

Colorado Christian University, a college that puts their faith ahead of knowledge (seriously, it’s right on the front page of their website), has just had a courtroom victory to receive state scholarship money.

As an American I can only say I’m appalled. There are many universities in the United States that were founded by religious institutions who receive state and federal money. Serious institutions of higher learning and knowledge. Conversely, CCU is a Christian indoctrination center where students must sign a promise to emulate the life of Jesus and biblical teachings and faculty must sign a statement that the bible is the “infallible word of god”.

They must have amazing programs in biology, geology and astrophysics. I can imagine the excitement looking through the course catalog and finding out that I could get a degree in one of those subjects with a single 30 minute course.

I don’t understand how the state of Colorado can use taxpayer dollars to support students attending a blatantly discriminatory institution.  Faculty must sign a “Statement of Faith” that includes:

“We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.”

In the school’s “Strategic Objectives” the following two objectives are listed first,  “Honor Christ and share the love of Christ on campus and around the world” and “Teach students to trust the Bible, live holy lives and be evangelists”.  The most telling bit, however, is the objective listed last, “Become a great university”.
So, there is the obvious discouragement of a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or non-theist working or attending this institution.  It still begs the question, “Who would want to attend this dogma over knowledge day camp?”

I don’t argue their right to exist, only that their evangelical mission should be assisted through taxpayer dollars.   Let them pay for their proselytizing themselves.

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May 1st: National Day of Reason

The Naional Day of Reason is held on the first Thursday in May to coincide with the National Day of Prayer.

Sure, it was established to counter the National Day of Pretending to do something useful but it is the way it is observed that makes it cool.  Instead of a day of protesting the waste of public funds for politicians et. al. (OK, that happens too) , the preferred way to spend the day is in service.  Yes, actually doing something good not WAITING for some invisible friend to get it done for you.

So get out and give blood (that is what I am going to do), volunteer, plant a tree, donate time or money.  Be a good HUMAN!

Admiring his crops, a farmer asks his friend how his corn grew so high.

In reply his friend told him, “I have to give God all the credit. I pray every day before and after I go to work the fields”.

“That’s amazing!”, the farmer said, “What happens when you don’t go to work?”

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Teapot Worship? Doesn't sound so bad.

I came across an article about a Malaysian woman jailed for worshiping a giant teapot which I thought might be, at the very least, amusing. Unfortunately, the lady and the late lamented Teapot cult were really just subtext to a much more disturbing situation.

While Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of worship, it is currently interpreted as meaning you are free to worship as your parents did. Kamariah Ali, our teapot worshiper, is being jailed under Sharia law since she was born a Muslim. Never mind, that she no long self-identifies as one, the Malaysian constitution defines all ethnic Malays as Muslim and Muslims in Malaysia are subject to the Sharia courts.

This is particularly poignant in light of the recent Pew Forum survey on the U.S. Religious Landscape which shows that about a quarter of Americans exercise their freedom of religion by choosing not to practice the faith of their parents. This is the expression of freedom of religion only possible where there is a complete secular constitution and separation of church and state.

“If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.” — Richard Dawkins

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You HAVE to separate Church and State

If you are going to have a pluralistic society, where you espouse the freedom of the individual to believe as they wish, you HAVE to take religion out of politics. Anyone who denies this is really just looking for a foothold for their particular belief system to gain ascendancy.

While this is an issue I’ve felt strongly about for some time, this particular post is in response to Willard “Mitt” Romney’s recent speech.

In his speech, ostensibly meant to resolve Evangelical Christian misgivings about voting for a Mormon, Mr. Romney cast the feet of this nation in the weighty blocks of Christian cement. The main stream media has primarily focused on his one overt theological reference, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”, they seem to give a free ride to the rest of his statements about religion:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom…”

Yet, Willard “Mitt” Romney says that liberty is part of the “great moral inheritance” we hold in common. With the diversity of religious practices, history and theology, it might just be that liberty is an inheritance of our HUMANITY not our religions.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”

Doesn’t this belie the following statement?

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

How can he be both true to his beliefs and at the same time prevent his beliefs from exerting influence on his decisions? Either you take the precepts of your faith as a foundation of your world view, or you don’t. If Willard had been president when John F. Kennedy was, would he have seen Black Americans as less than men as his church did? I think this is the crux of the issue. Either you cherry-pick your beliefs, as most of us do, and admit that you are intellectually and morally independent from your religion or you don’t. If you don’t, aren’t you just a pawn of whatever the leader(s) of your faith determine. You can’t have it both ways.

It is an intellectual and moral cop-out to say your political decisions are independent of your beliefs, clearly that is a load of crap. On the other hand, it is also a big steaming pile to claim that your hands are bound by your faith when every day you choose to follow aspects of your faith and not others. If nothing else, shouldn’t we expect intellectual honesty from our leaders?

What has managed to get the attention of the media is the obvious comparison to John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. While I think the comparison is necessary, most commentators miss the point. Which, I think, is “Why are we still talking about this?” It really points out how far we have NOT come.

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

FACTOTEM:One nation under god” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance a little more than 50 years ago. The founders didn’t do that. Neither did they add “In God We Trust” to our currency. That happened around the Civil War and first appeared in 1864.

There was an easy quote for this post. Since Willard decided to lean so heavily on the founding fathers, so did I.

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own” – Thomas Jefferson ( Letter to H. Spafford, 1814 )

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