Short survey

I like running polls on my blog, but sometimes I want to ask several questions and see how the answers relate to each other. So, I'm trying out a service that allows me to do that. I started with a short survey about health care and education. It's only 3 questions. I hope you can take a moment to complete it: http://www.polldaddy.com/s/09617AAD67FCD274/

Uh, what?

Two of these videos are beauty pageant contestants trying their best to form coherent sentences. The other is a parody. I'm not sure which is which.

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The Message of Jesus

A friend asked me what I thought of the message of Jesus. Here's my response:

If Jesus had a single coherent message, it was "Repent, for the Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand." Jesus (assuming he really said it) probably meant it just like all the other apocalyptic preachers of the time. He meant that God was going to restore the glorious kingdom in Jerusalem and right all the wrongs Israel had endured. He was dead wrong, of course, and things got worse for the Jews rather than better. Later Christians read different ideas into his words and we can probably assume they selectively passed on his sayings to support their revisionist interpretations. Now the Kingdom means the church or the second coming or heaven or something else. There's not even a consensus of what it means.

He spoke in riddles and parables and again there's still disagreement about what some of them mean. Seems like he could have taught more clearly if he really had something important to convey. That was his one chance at direct contact with humans. Pretty unimpressive.

Once you look past the kingdom talk and the unclear stuff, there are some good ideas. Pride and hypocrisy are bad, especially in religion. Forgiveness and peace. Sharing of wealth. Love. Reciprocity. Nothing groundbreaking or original, but certainly some ideas that any humanist (secular or otherwise) can appreciate.

But the core of his message was just wrong. There is no Kingdom.

Who is the villain?

Who is the hero and who is the villain?

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It's a Bible-believing[tm] preacher ranting about how another preacher is too accepting and non-judgmental. This guy made Joel Osteen seem like a nice person who's not too caught up in the uglier parts of his religion. I guess when you're immune to hocus pocus stuff you just see that one is a nice guy and one is an angry pompous ass (that comes at 9:19 if you just want to skip to the shouting).

Palin's Pastor Problem

Would Sarah Palin bring back witch hunts?

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Top 10 Reasons I Don't Believe in God

Top 10 Reasons I Don't Believe in God @ Greta Christina -- This is an excellent list and lines up well with my reasons, too. Read it. If you like it, Digg it.

Nice line

Barack Obama: If you think those lobbyists are working day and night for John McCain just to put themselves out of business, well, then, I've got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.

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That's a hell of a good line. Some speechwriter deserves a pay raise for that.

Emma's new film: Space Adventures

Emma, age 6, is back behind the camera for a new claymation short.

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Download the high quality version (15.4 MB, requires Quicktime)

Are you rich?

Are you rich? Maybe it depends on how we define the word. Both presidential candidates were asked to define rich. Barack Obama said, "If you are making more than $250,000, then you're in the top three or 4% of this country. You are doing well." John McCain refused to give a direct answer to the question, but jokingly suggested the number $5 million. By either of these definitions, I'm not rich, and I'm guessing you aren't either. If you are, congratulations. You've worked hard and achieved the American dream (or you inherited money from your rich family.) I can understand that a rich person would want to vote according to their financial interests. If you are rich and you want to be richer, then John McCain may be the candidate for you. But for the rest of us, I believe the Barack Obama is the best candidate.

When I watched the speeches of both political conventions, it was clear to me that the Republicans were trying to appeal to the richest Americans, the top 2-3%, and the Democrats were trying to appeal to the other 97%. You can see the difference in the stories they tell about American people:

A story from Obama speech

We're a better country than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment that he's worked on for 20 years and watch as it's shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

A story from McCain's speech

I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market.

For some Americans bad times mean losing real estate investments. For other Americans bad times mean getting laid off and being unable to feed your family. Which of those stories do you relate to?

You can also see the difference in the candidates' tax policies:

If you're rich, John McCain will work to make you richer. If you are not rich, Obama is the candidate that will improve your financial situation.

You can see the same pattern in the health care proposals of the candidates. Obama's plan attempts to secure health care coverage for the 47 million Americans who currently have none. McCain's plan makes no attempt to cover everyone. Rich people can afford good health care. For the rest of us, it can be a struggle.

McCain's campaign is run by a cadre of rich Washington lobbyists. Obama's campaign has been funded by a record-breaking number of small donors. McCain cheated on and then left his first wife and married a young, rich beer empire heiress. He now owns more homes than he can keep track of. In spite of his father's high rank in the Navy, McCain graduated from a military academy near the bottom of his class. Obama came from a middle-class family and worked hard to earn scholarships to good schools. He could've taken a high-paying job as a Wall Street lawyer, but he went to Chicago to help those less fortunate and to teach constitutional law. If you are rich, you can probably relate to McCain's story. If you're not, then Obama's may seem more inspiring to you.

McCain wants to continue the war in Iraq, which has benefited the rich owners of private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater. Obama wants to bring our (mostly non-rich) combat forces home.

In the struggle between organized labor and company owners, McCain serves the interests of the rich yet again. Obama has received several endorsements from unions. If you are an executive or company owner, then McCain is looking out for you. If you or someone in your family has health care and good wages because of a union, then Obama is your candidate.

When it comes to energy, McCain wants to give more of our land over to oil companies even though it will have little to no effect on the price you pay at the pump. McCain didn't always support offshore drilling, but once he began supporting the oil companies with this position, they began supporting him with increased donations to his campaign. Obama is willing to upset the rich oil companies by reducing their tax loopholes and putting that money to work creating new jobs and moving toward the long-term goal of homegrown and sustainable energy sources.

So, if McCain's policies do the most good for the top 3% of the population, then why does the race seems so close? I think there are a few reasons. First, the rich can give more money to the campaign and to third-party attack groups. Second, many voters who are not rich are convinced that they will be rich soon. Call it optimism or naivete, but they are willing to vote against their own interests now in order to benefit themselves in some imagined future.

There's another important reason that McCain and other Republicans can get 50% of the vote while serving the needs of 3% of the population. It's called the Culture War. There are many questions for which there is no clear answer that we can all agree on. Various religious organizations come to different conclusions and for most of these questions, our holy books and our Constitution provide no specific answer. Here is a sample of some of these questions.

Do homosexuals deserve the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals?
Can we enforce some restrictions on gun ownership or does the Second Amendment guarantee unrestricted gun rights?
Is the death penalty an ethical punishment?
How do we balance the short-term needs of humans with the long-term safety of our environment?
Does a fertilized embryo deserve the full complement of human rights?
Should women have access to birth control?
Should underage women have access to birth control?
Should we teach sex education for the safety of our children or does it only encourage teens to become sexually active?
What is the line between free speech and pornography?
How do we balance our needs for privacy and security?
Where is the line between institutionalized Christianity and institutionalized atheism?
When is a war a just war?
Which drugs should be legal in which should be illegal? What criteria do we use to decide?
How do we balance the promise of "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" with the downsides of immigration?

These are difficult questions with no simple answers. The best approach to these questions is for us all to understand the complexity of the issues, to respect the convictions and opinions of other people and to work toward compromises that we can all be happy with. The cynical, opportunist approach to these questions is to use them to turn Americans against each other. Both parties may share the guilt for this, but I believe that the Republican Party has been the worst offender. For many of these difficult issues, they choose a side, claim that God agrees with them and they accuse those who disagree of hating freedom, scorning God and loving evil.

But you don't have to be taken in by this trick. You are smarter than that. Even if you have strong opinions about the questions above, you can balance that with an understanding of differing opinions. You can also realize that the culture war issues are not the only issues that should be considered when you vote. Your financial interests are another part. You should also consider how well a candidate's ideas have worked in the past. (To evaluate McCain's ideas, just look at the last eight years.) You should consider the education, experience, wisdom and temperament of the candidates. When I look at this whole picture, it's clear to me that Barack Obama will get my vote. I don't agree with him on everything, but I'm not a one-issue voter.

Rove vs Rove

In case you weren't already convinced that Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly were duplicitous partisan hacks:

Clips like this are why I watch the Daily Show.

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