This Weeks Reader May 4, 2008  

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Going to Church
For many years, I've had a certain creeping envy of people who belonged to religious groups. The whole idea of having a place to go once a week to seek ecstasy and transcendence and meaning and share it with others, as a link in a chain going back hundreds or even thousands of years... it was something I felt a curious longing for. During my woo years, I even sought out, in a half-assed way, a religious group that I might be able to join up with. It was kind of like that Onion article: Black Gospel Choir Makes Man Wish He Believed In All That God Bullshit. (Especially the line where the pastor says, "Perhaps our abiding faith in Jesus and love for our fellow man will, at the very least, inspire him to quit living in his head all the time.")

But at no point during this church service did I think, "This is something I would like to have, and don't."

Faith Walk: Saving lives is better than saying prayers
For the last two years I’ve participated in the National Gift of Life Day (see, which is an organized effort to get atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers to donate blood. A single donation of whole blood is one of the most effective proven ways to save lives. It’s also a demonstration of selfless sacrifice and altruistic caring about the rest of humanity.

Miley Cyrus and America’s Love Affair with Sexual Nonsense
I now ask that we turn to the third and last Very Serious Moral Issue™. I personally consider this to be the big one. It seems to me this incident, and so many incidents before it, indicate that many of us are given to sexual hysteria. “Sexual hysteria” might be a strong term, but what else can it be called when a mildly suggestive photo of a 15 year old seemingly causes millions of people to panic that an entire generation of youth will become “a nation of whores”? So, the last Very Serious Moral Issue™ here is this: Is it moral to respond to the mildly suggestive photo of a 15 year old celebrity by harshly and abusively condemning her, her family, her photographer, and the people who published the photo? Is that moral?

The Good News
A video excerpt from House, the television series.

EA Reveals Online RTS/TCG BattleForge
Publisher Electronic Arts today announced BattleForge, an online PC real-time strategy game that has players assembling their forces through virtual trading cards.

Developed by SpellForce and Siedler creator EA Phemonic, the fantasy-based game is slated to arrive this fall. As with other online trading card titles, players will be able to win and trade cards, as well as buy new cards through micro-transactions.

Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz
The bandages wrapped around Abdul's stumps were never changed. When he took them off himself, they were full of blood and pus. He showed the bandage to the guards and pointed to his open wounds. The guards ignored him. Later I saw how he tried to wash the bandages in his bucket of drinking water. But he could hardly move his hands, so he wasn't able to. And even if he had, where would he have hung them up to dry? He wasn't allowed to touch the fence. He wrapped his stumps back up in the dirty bandages.

Two completely different climate change articles. Or are they?
There is still a fairly large contingent of people who honestly believe that while there seems to be global climate change occurring, there is no proof that it is human induced and, further, that it is beyond our control. This is despite the bulk of scientific evidence running contrary to such a viewpoint. And, even if you accept the position, would it not be better for us on a number of levels to curtail the waste products we dump in our air and oceans? What’s the downside of taking the warnings seriously?

Heart Pump Creates Life-Death Ethical Dilemmas
"Once a patient leaves the hospital, the LVAD ceases to be a medical treatment and becomes effectively part of the patient himself, much like a transplanted organ or even a native one," Simon wrote in the January-February issue of the Hastings Center Report, which is published by the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. "We would not remove a patient's biological heart, transplanted or native, simply because the patient was suffering greatly from heart failure and did not want to go on; nor should we disable his LVAD."

'Human Smoke' by Nicholson Baker
Anti-Semitism was rife among the Allies. Of Franklin Roosevelt, Baker notes that in 1922, when he was a New York attorney, he "noticed that Jews made up one-third of the freshman class at Harvard" and used his influence to establish a Jewish quota there. For years he obstructed help for European Jewry, and as late as 1939 he discouraged passage of the Wagner-Rogers bill, an attempt by Congress to save Jewish children. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1939 of German treatment of Jews that "no doubt Jews aren't a lovable people. I don't care about them myself." Once the war began, Winston Churchill wanted to imprison German Jewish refugees because they were Germans. What a comfort such leadership must have been to the Nazis, who, according to the New York Times of Dec. 3, 1931, were trying to figure out a way to rid Germany of Jews without "arousing foreign opinion."

Founding Creeds: An Interview with Jonathan Row
The most important component of the American Founding, in my opinion, was Enlightenment. Enlightenment defines as human progress through the untrammeled use of man’s reason. They believed man’s reason was so keen that it could look to all sources and pick out what was rational or useful and discard what was irrational or superstitious. Enlightenment was what made the synthesis possible. And man’s reason was the ultimate lens through which all sources were to be viewed. Noah Webster, when defending the US Constitution in 1787, citing mainly pagan sources, stated that they consulted the wisdom of all ages and in the Constitution contained an “empire of reason.” A better statement of Enlightenment could not be found.

Will we ever get used to seeing flesh?
Many (including women) feel that this sort of behavior by rowdies is “natural” as the girls are “asking for it.” I am sure their solution to keep the men in check is to cover up the girls and tone down their moves, completely glossing over the fact that on Indian streets girls wearing “modest” clothes and walking demurely are routinely teased and molested. Why can’t our politicians and our police understand that there needs to be a zero tolerance policy towards eve-teasing as that’s the only way people will learn how to behave? But we are a long way from that. Forcing the cheer girls to hide their bodies simply reinforces the belief amongst the public that it’s the girls who are at fault.

Almost, but not quite, right about gay marriage
Maybe the government finds it unpalatable to be the one that makes marriage available to gays and lesbians. In that case, I have already proposed what I think is a good solution: make "marriage" something that governments have no part in, and replace it with a civil union contract. Governments have no place in making people behave according to any moral code; in a democracy it should follow rather than lead the community, since the democratic source of legitimacy is the community, not the government. As marriage is seen as a moral issue, get right out of it and let the community do its thing. The religious can restrict it (in their churches) to hetero couples. Muslims can insist that Muslims only marry Muslims, etc. And gay and lesbian organisations can marry who they like.

Girl, 17, killed in Iraq for loving a British soldier
"Not much can be done when we have an honour killing case," said Sergeant Ali Jabbar of Basra police. "You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws. The father has very good contacts inside the Basra government and it wasn't hard for him to be released and what he did to be forgotten."

Nonbelieving Literati
Virginia and me
As I was reading along, I kept hoping the author would explain her position and present her arguments. Instead I found page after page of rambling and irrelevant poetic descriptive passages. I know her fans are probably saying "The poetry isn't irrelevant -- it's an essay about being a writer!" Right, but I was hoping that she'd show her mastery of the writer's craft by demonstrating that she knows how and when to make a point clearly and concisely.

Nonbelieving Literati: A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
I think humans have come a long way in being tolerant, but I think we will continue to struggle with bias. It's innate in us and not easily resolved. And I know this because no matter how I struggle with it I still find that I am in ways sexist (against men), racist, and biased against transgenders - those being my three examples in any case, but it should apply to anyone different than me. It's about understanding and I don't always understand.

A Blog of One's Own
Many of us in the Atheosphere — myself included — if we’re honest with ourselves, admit that we feel superior, at least intellectually, to theists. Even writing that sentence, I can’t keep myself from chuckling over how ironic it is that I seem to be critical of that feeling. Because aren’t we, in fact, superior? Or am I just being sarcastic?

The crux of Woolf’s paragraph, of course, is that every individual and every group likes to think that he or she or it is better than others. We atheists, for all our own feelings of superiority, encounter the tremendous “superiority” of religionists every single day. We’re outnumbered and, usually, outmaneuvered. They’re going to heaven; we’re not. They’ve got god on their side; we don’t. They control the political dialogue in this country; we can’t get a word in edgewise. The only thing we can do, as Woolf points out, is to bolster up our own self-confidence, to refuse to accept being treated by the vast quasi-theocratic establishment as if we’re godless babes in the spiritual cradle

Yet when I see the shallow layers worn away on the steps, worn down by the shoes of students -- those shoes are mine. Though they were all men, or most of them, their shoes are mine and my feet step in their footprints and they belong to me and I to them. Once this place was barred to us but we have found our way inside and the men who once lived here belong to us now, too. Their legacy is ours.

Chloe Liked Olivia
According to Woolf, not only were women proscribed from writing throughout much of human history - the literary roles they were alloted (by male authors) were rigidly constrained. Off the top of my head, I can think of two current fiction series that feature groups of women or female buddies: Lisa Scottoline highlights a female law firm in several books and James Patterson has a series that features a Women’s Murder Club. If you’re familiar with other female buddy fiction series (and you probably are), mention them in the comments.

A Doghouse Of One’s Own
Why do I have to live on the end of this tether? I can’t go anywhere, I have to stay here in the yard, and sleep under the porch when it rains. He gets to sit up there in the room, and all he does is read and write, all day long. Or he leaves me here with his sister while he does whatever he does down at that theater. He spends no time with me. Does he let me off this rope and take me to the park, throw a stick or a ball so I can chase it and get some exercise? No. I need my exercise. My muscles are beginning to atrophy, and all I can do to keep some semblance of health is to walk in a circle around this firkin’ tree. I wish Will would build me a doghouse.

A man and his room
Thus, this book is a terrific reminder of how difficult life is for any group that has faced discrimination, even a number of generations later. Woolf is brilliant in showing us why this is a truism and does so without whining. She simply sets up the facts and makes analogies and she is spot on with every one of them.

a room of one's own (how to be chinese for a day)
Walking through Flushing that day totally smacked me in the face. Just being there, surrounded by folks who looked nothing like me, speaking a language I could not understand, made me overwhelmingly conscious of how different I was from everybody else. I felt as though I was walking through a foreign land, without any of the comforts or emotional anchors I’ve grown to rely on to maintain a feeling of safety and competence in my environment. And that night, as I went to bed, I thought about high school and how it must have felt for a small number of kids with skin much darker than mine to walk down a hallway surrounded by privileged white kids.

NL: A Room of One's Own
I find myself wondering why Woolf - who certainly controls her language - is using the conditional here - "she would come if we worked", not "she will come if we work". Does she mean to say that we will not work? Or does she mean that we will not "have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own" or "the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think"?

A holiday from gas prices?
James Hamilton, professor of Economics at the University of California-San Diego, said that most of the benefits from a temporary tax moratorium would likely go to producers rather than consumers. He said that states that suspend gas taxes are able to respond to rising demand more efficiently than the country as a whole, because gasoline supplies can be easily moved from one state to another.

"Prices would certainly rise to the market-clearing level," said Hamilton. "I would expect the price [of gas] to go back to very close to where it was before [the tax cut], in which case consumers would not see any benefit."

Laura Bush, docile doormat
I was equal parts appalled and amused. And not only because my brash, blunt friend and Heinz obviously had far more in common, personality- and attitude- wise, than she cared to acknowledge. No, I was stunned because my friend far preferred, as the perfect counter to Heinz, as a role model and a woman and the ideal presidential wife, one tepid, timid, thoroughly useless Laura Bush.

Wait, what? You mean docile, prudish, former librarian Laura Bush, she of the nonexistent inspiration and dull-as-dishwater personality? Yes indeed, that Laura Bush. Here was my friend, brash and funny and who spoke her mind without the slightest reservation, and who could drink and think and opine with the strongest of men, and yet she admired this ... limp wallflower? I didn't get it. I still don't completely get it, to this very day.

The Great Leveller
The history of Christianity is a history of complete and utter failure. Hundreds of Mega-churches, thousands of missionaries, millions of dollars and billions of Sunday services have achieved absolutely nothing. It is all a delusion; a pretence; a sham which could not convince one man in a million that are capable of rational thought.

Should we embrace moderate Christianity?
Sam Harris and many others often claim that moderate religious groups give cover to fundamentalists by honoring the holy books that they use to build their walls of doctrine. I used to agree, but now I’m not so sure that’s true. No, we shouldn’t have to respect beliefs that are based on a foundation of straw, but we can respect people who share many of the same goals that we do, even if we do not share the same beliefs regarding religion. Just because I think all religion is a waste of time, doesn’t mean I have to think that all believers should be shunned or ridiculed.

Huffington Post is a denialist website
This is an example of something we here at denialism blog have been talking about lately. Liberalism is no protection from anti-scientific thinking. In fact, if there is a unifying theme of denialism, it is that any extreme of ideological thinking leads to the necessary denial of fact. When one considers the causes of denialist worldviews, one sees again and again some form of fundamentalist belief. Fundamentalist religion leads to the rejection of evolution. Free-market fundamentalists are the leading source of anti-global warming denialism. On the liberal side, a mixture of technophobia and neo-luddism leads to paranoid suspicions about everything from GM crops causing non-existent illnesses to fear of harmless radio technology such as wifi to the fear of vaccines and medicine innovations exemplified by the HuffPo cranks and the evidence-based medicine/HIV/AIDS denialists like Mike Adams and Gary Null.

The F word, Racism, and Skepticism
This schism is occurring because a group of people can’t change the way they think about the world. One factor is more important than any other. They also have trouble admitting when they are wrong.

As a white broad, I try. Hard. But I still screw up.
I’m a product of my culture, which is racist, and homophobic, and xenophobic. And when I’m wrong, I admit it, and learn from it, and CHANGE. I don’t accuse everyone else of being wrong and out to get me, I acknowledge the fault in myself.

I've Converted To EVERY Religion (Just In Case)

What elevators can teach us about superstition
“In the old system—board elevator, press button—you have an illusion of control; elevator manufacturers have sought to trick the passengers into thinking they’re driving the conveyance. In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer. Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command.”

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