Category: "culture/news"

Before you forward that email

SnopesIf you get an email forward that seems too amazing, frightening, sad or heartwarming to be true, it probably is. Before you hit that button to forward the message to your friends, take 60 seconds and type the subject line into Google. You can also throw in a word like "snopes," "hoax" or "chain letter." There's a good chance that the story in the email was made up and you don't want to forward a story that claims to be true but isn't, do you?

There are several sites dedicated to debunking fictional chain letters and other internet rumors. If you run a Google search about the email, one of these sites is often the number one result.

snopes.com

chainletters.net

breakthechain.org

Don't believe everything you read.

Immigration and Thanksgiving

(via TruthDig)

Atheists Are People Too

Discrimination against atheists is one of the last types of socially acceptable discrimination. It comes in many forms, the most shocking of which is legal: Some state constitutions attempt to strip atheists of their legal rights. Before I go any further, I would like to make a disclaimer. Though I think discrimination against atheists is real and runs counter to the spirit of our nation, it is nothing compared to what is been faced by black Americans, gay Americans or female Americans at various times in our country's history. It's also different because we choose it (unlike race, gender and sexual orientation) and we choose how public to make it. If I wanted to, I could present myself as a nominal Christian or I could choose to not discuss religion at all. But if a person decides that they don't believe in any invisible, undetectable deities and they make this unbelief known, they will find that they are often the odd man out.

Although the U.S. Constitution forbids religious tests for any federal office in Article VI, section 3, several state constitutions create just such a test. The following states require belief in God to serve in public office: Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Two states (Arkansas and Maryland) require belief in God in order to testify as a witness in court. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 (Torcasa v. Watkins) that all of those tests are unconstitutional, but the laws mentioned above are still on the books.

In the minds of many voters, there remains a de facto religious test for public office. Several studies have found that, all other things being equal, voters are less likely to vote for an atheist candidate than (in order) a homosexual, 72-year-old, thrice married, Mormon, Hispanic, female, Jewish, black or Catholic (Gallup). In that study, atheists were the only group that more than 50% of the respondents wouldn't vote for. This study was one of the reasons that I ended up not running for state representative when I was asked this spring.

Where are people getting the idea that a person is unfit for public office just because they don't believe in an ancient tribal god? How about their pastors, a President and the Bible. Pastor Rick Warren, days after hosting both presidential candidates at his church, said he would never vote for an atheist. George H.W. Bush (41) said that he didn't think atheists should be considered citizens. The Bible says that people who deny that Jesus is Christ are antichrists. I doubt that many Christians who believe in the Bible would vote for a person who they consider to be an antichrist.

It's not just in the political arena where atheists are at a disadvantage. When I started a new job this spring with a web development company my boss found my website and asked me to never link to the company site or any client sites because they might find out that an atheist is working for him. While I think it's sad that I can't link to projects that I'm proud of, I don't hold it against my boss. It's not his fault that he could lose business because of my beliefs. I might do the same thing if I was in his position. I only wish that non-belief didn't turn a person into a pariah.

I've also found that some from my old church are no longer interested in being my friend and they don't return my emails. I'm sure I share part of the blame for that because I've been so vocal about my loss of faith and the problems I see in religion. Perhaps if I kept quiet about it they wouldn't shun me. But I've heard many of these people say that atheists are going to be tortured for eternity in Hell, so I'm not the only one criticizing. I do regret some of the things I've said about religious people and I intend to be more considerate in the future. I will continue to discuss religion, but I'll try focus my attacks on ideas, not people.

Pete StarkThere are signs that things are getting better. While the world celebrated the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American President, another milestone was quietly reached out west. Pete Stark of California became the first openly atheist person to be elected to the U.S. Congress. There have already been female, black, gay, Jewish and Muslim people elected to Congress. Another bright spot was in North Carolina where incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole attacked challenger Kay Hagan for associating with atheists. Dole's attack fell flat and she lost, in part because Hagan returned fire, calling Dole a liar and affirming the fact that she is a Christian. I'd like to think that Hagan also won because voters rejected the idea that atheism is evil, but I'm not too sure.

If you are a non-religious person, what has your experience been? Do you keep it quiet? Has it affected your relationships or career? Do you think things are getting better? What can we do to improve our status in this country?

Pro-life and Pro-Obama

This week my six year old daughter came home from school and said that a boy in her class told her that Barack Obama wants to kill babies. We explained to Emma that this was not true. No one wants to see more abortions being performed.

For too long, the Republican Party has used this issue to divide America and convince millions of people that they can never vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on this one issue. Many people have already made the case that it is possible to be pro-life and pro-Obama. Here are a few:

Frank Schaeffer - His father, Francis Schaeffer, played a big role in turning this into one of the central political and religious issues of the last three decades. Frank is still pro-life, but he supports Obama.

Douglas W. Kmiec - Kmiec worked in the Ronald Reagan White House, is a prominent Catholic and supports Barack Obama. His site lists some very important facts about abortion and the best ways to prevent it.

Nicholas P. Cafardi - A pro-life Catholic scholar who supports Obama.

Kyle Sterup - Kyle is a friend of mine from college and he is one of the most insightful Christians I know. He is pro-life and supports Obama.

So, if you like Obama but are not sure if you can vote for a candidate who wants to preserve the legality of abortion, the people I listed above (and many more) think you can. Read their words and see if you agree with them.

Here are a few observations that are shaping the way I think about this issue:

Abortion is just one issue. Even if it is a very important issue, should it override your agreement with Obama on several other issues?

I voted for George Bush in 2000 based mostly on my desire to see abortion outlawed. After eight years, two wars, a crippled economy, the erosion of our civil liberties and a drastic reduction in the public's trust of their government, abortion is still legal. How long will the Republican Party be given carte blanche by single issue voters?

The goal of the pro-life movement is to have Roe v. Wade overturned. Would that the end abortions in the United States? It would not. The issue would be left up to the states. By one estimate, only 16 states would outlaw abortion. Legal abortions would still be available to people who live in the other 34 states or who are able to travel. Let me say that again: Overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America.

Even when abortion was illegal, women still had them. These illegal back alley abortions were often unsafe and led to fatal infections.

If you really want to prevent abortions, outlawing them is not the best method. The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancies. Accurate sex education and available contraceptives do more to prevent abortions than the Supreme Court ever could.

Another way to prevent abortions is to reduce poverty. Study after study has shown that economic support significantly reduces the abortion rate. Obama's plan to help our nation's uninsured get health care will do more to prevent abortions than any of George Bush's policies have.

Much is made of the late-term procedure known as the partial birth abortion. This is a very rare procedure which accounts for 0.17% of the abortions performed in the United States. As he said in the last debate, Obama is in favor of banning the procedure as long as the law includes an exception for the life and health of the mother. A ban that did not include that exception would in some cases amount to a death sentence for both mother and child.

I understand that many people on both sides of the abortion issue feel very strongly about their opinion. Both sides should bear in mind that this is a very difficult issue. There is no clear answer to the question of when life begins. Science has not provided the answer. The Bible gives no clear teaching on the question. Religious leaders are divided. Ethicists are divided. The public is divided. We should all be careful of becoming so convinced that our position is right that we are willing to demonize those who disagree with us and ignore all other issues.

I do not agree with Barack Obama on every issue, but I do believe that he is the best person to lead our nation in these difficult times. Even if you disagree with his stance on the legality of abortion, I hope you will think about the best way to reduce abortions and about all the other issues that are facing our nation.

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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Palin's Pastor Problem

Would Sarah Palin bring back witch hunts?

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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.

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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