Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religious Knowledge VS Religiosity

Pew did a research study on Americans' knowledge of religion. It probably should not surprise us that the more religious you are the less you seem to know about religion. This is, of course, does not apply to our own Law Talking Guy. He is certainly an outlier. But the trend is pretty clear. If you click on the link provided in the first sentence you can take a short version of the quiz yourself and compare to different demographic groups. This story from the Daily Telegraph in the UK reports the full survey results.

I'm an atheist. I do not believe in the supernatural. I scored a 93% on the quiz and only missed scoring 100% because I misread a question and it won't let you edit your answers. Atheists and Jews performed the best overall. Hispanic Catholics the worst. According to the Daily Telegraph story, the region of the US that performed the worst was the South, the most religious demographic group in the country by far.

I think this shows evidence of a trend we already knew about. Namely that education and religiosity are generally negatively correlated. The better educated you are, the less likely you are to be strongly religious.

I also think this shows evidence of something most atheists know but most religious people refuse to acknowledge. Most atheists have given a good deal more thought to religion than most religious people have.

From a political perspective this really shows where politicized religious conservatism is coming from. In contrast to how they see themselves, the religious right is not a movement of orthodox religious people trying to apply to policy the Bible's teachings honestly and faithfully. It is far more accurate to say that they claiming the Bible supports the social views that they hold independently of any serious religious consideration or examination. In short, they are little different how they come to their views than the semi-literate graduates of the madrasahs in the Middle East and South Asia. We who oppose the religious right have thought this for years. But now we have a little chance to say "we told you so."


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Your Modern GOP

Michelle Malkin: it's okay for a Republican Senate candidate to say she dabbled in witchcraft because she was using that anecdote to explain why Halloween is bad.

No further commentary needed.


Are Democrats Institutionally Constrained to be Wussies?

I was thinking about this the other day and wanted to bounce it off the inter-tubes.

If Republicans are the party of the status quo (or reactionaries) and the Democrats are the party of progressivism and the US constitution's system of checks and balances (and supermajority requirements in the Senate) lead to a strong bias in favor of the status quo, are the Democrats doomed by the institutional context of the US government to be a bunch of wussies? That is, are they doomed to forever come up short of their supporters' expectations?

Republican have less of this problem. If they do nothing other than block changes to the status quo, they can make a real claim of success to their base. It is only when the Republican base starts demanding a return to the policies of the 19th century that Republicans run into the same problem that the Democrats always have.

And of course this means that the Republican base will ALWAYS be more supportive of their party when it is in the minority. Democrats look at their party in minority and complain (unreasonably) about how the Democrats don't do anything to advance the cause of progress. Republicans though see intrinsic value in obstructionism. Since our system is designed to favor exactly that strategy, Republicans have an advantage.

What do you think?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Noting the Absurd

There are moments when I suddenly get a real sarcastic mood going and everything I hear in the news seems absurd. So here are some random thoughts on some of the absurdities that have caught my eye. They probably aren’t worth much for commentary, but maybe John Stewart will pick up a few ideas. And there is something in here for everyone.

The UN is meeting this week to “re-energize” the fight against poverty. HRC is promoting the use of “low-emission” cook stoves in “pre-industrialized” nations to improve the quality of life. Well, just great. Let them live longer so they can enjoy that poverty longer.

This comes the same week that the census bureau released U.S. poverty figures (useless as they are since they probably "mis-underestimates") showing a 3% rise on 2009. Well everyone, better pick up your low-emission cooking stove now. You can get the cheap model in straight black or a higher end model in your choice of colors.

The Fed says it’s ready to do more to aid the economic recovery. But we all know that the the “recession” is officially over. So what is there to recover? This is new norm.

The Vatican is involved in a money laundering probe. Well, surprise, surprise. How else was it going to shield its cash from the lawyers of molestation victims? Indulgence anyone? Sale next week at St. Peter’s- the sight of money in the temple is bound to bring Jesus back.

I just got back from Switzerland. Great trip, fine country. Loved it. The travel itself sucks. Jammed into to 2 inches of space, nearly threw my back out trying to climb over the armrest so I could get out to use the toilet, the indignity and stupidity of airport screening, having United Airlines remind you of your plight by telling you every 10 minutes that there are seats available in economy plus (an extra $100 per seat) where you get an extra 5 inches (I won’t go there on that Freudian publicity), being death marched past the 1st class cabin with its 6 seats that take up the space of 10 in economy (oh, but they get to board crossing over a red floor mat, you don’t.) etc. All that said, the airline profits are up. They are expecting $9 bil in profits this year. Gee, glad to see that the $1400 /ticket I paid went to a good cause.

Brazil is holding elections now. Dilma Rousseff is running strong. Check her out on the web. Where do you think the inspiration for her campaign logo came from? Posers.
Among the many candidates for several governmental positions, I hear there are entertainers, such as a clown called “Tiririca” running for the chamber of Deputies. There are also former residents of mental wards. Glad to see we aren’t the only ones who bring our nuts out at election time.

And a sure sign that pop cultural has passed me by: I listened to a local radio station and heard the ever romantic lycis from Jordan Sparks, "You're on my heart just like a tattoo. Just like a tattoo. I'll always have you ..."


Saturday, September 18, 2010

The New American Conservatism

Christine O'Donnell is the GOP candidate for US Senate in Delaware.

Some interesting facts about her:

She makes a lot of noise about "fiscal responsibility" but: She had her house foreclosed on by the bank for failure to make mortgage payments on a $90,000 loan (that's a fairly small mortgage and must have been a really small monthly mortgage payment!). It was about to be sold by the bank when she sold it first to her own Senate campaign's lawyer (do you smell a scandal brewing? that's fishier than anything involving the Whitewater investigation that plagued the Clinton administration for most of its two terms).

She owes $11,000 in backed taxes.

She was sued (successfully) by her alma mater because she hadn't paid her tuition.

She also still owes $23,000 to the staff of her failed 2008 Senate campaign.

But she's got all the far right wing pseudo-Christian fundamentalist street cred. For example, there is this little blast from her youth where she got herself on MTV arguing that masturbation was tantamount to adultery (but what if you masturbate while thinking about your spouse I'd ask). She also believes that "American scientific companies" are crossbreeding humans and animals. So she's a "Tea Party" favorite.

So what does this all mean? First, like Sarah Palin, O'Donnell is a publicity starved moron with little actual substance and a personal past full of hypocrisy. Her one and only skill is self-promotion.

To the extent she is a typical Tea Party activist/candidate, this shows us the true face of the Tea Party. The Tea Party is not the non-partisan, fiscal conservative movement it (and FOX News) wants to sell itself as. Rather they are just a rebranding of the Bush-Republicans that spend like drunken sailors and rant about their fringe religious views.

Candidates like this is why people like my father, a high income accountant in his 70s from a small midwestern town, have left the Republican party.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on the Midterm Elections

We are past Labor Day, past the primaries, and finally coming into the general election campaign for real. It has been a lousy summer for Democrats largely because the BP oil spill and an economic "stall" of sorts dampened the public enthusiasm and economic recovery that had been building in the Springtime. Voters are unhappy by and large, somewhate fearful, and uncertain about their future. The voter who is not a committed partisan is largely unenthusiastic about Democrats but uncertain and unsure about Republicans. The far-right (Tea Party) is making waves and headlines, but they have not convinced the independent voters, by and large, that the GOP offers a better alternative to solving the country's economic problems.

The GOP has not offered the kind of unified slate and platform that they did in 1994 with the Contract on America. This will hurt their chances for winning the Congress. In fact, the 'enthusiasm gap' between Democrats and Republicans gets all the press, but the more enthusiasm important gap right now is between mainstream Republicans and the Tea Partiers. As one might have expected after 2006 and 2008 shrank the size of the GOP electorate, the far right has nominated some very far right candidates. But this is not a normal strategy to win the Congress back. For that, one would have expected a move to the center. Democrats are moving there as quickly as they can, into the void Republicans are leaving with their primary ballots for Tea Party candidates.

A midterm is expected to be a referendum on the sitting president. Here, it may also be a referendum on the Tea Party. To the extent it is, it will help the Democrats. Today, Alaska's center-right Murkowski announced a right-in campaign against the Tea Partier Miller who narrowly beat her in the primary. This gives the Democrat a possible opening. In Delaware, the lurch rightward may cost the GOP an easy pickup. Florida is seeing the same dynamic. The big story of 2010 is the intra-party GOP fight right now. Betting on enthusiasm for an the party's base rather than a centrist candidate is a tough bet. Democrats are becoming more optimistic as they see this happen.

This is not to say that the Democrats haven't had their own primary battles. They have. But these have not produced a strong leftward shift. The only real losers (see Specter) were Democrats who were substantially to the right of their party or who (see Specter) weren't real Democrats. These battles have probably strengthened the Democrats.

So what do I expect? (1) there will be some better economic news in September and October. While it's too late for a game-changer in terms of economics (this I had expected in the summer), it is fair to say that the public will be more optimistic and more disposed to the current admnistration than it is now. In other words, we won't see the building momentum we saw in 1994. (2) Tea party candidates will cost the GOP some seats they might otherwise have gained. This gives the Democrats a very good chance of retaining the Senate and an even chance of retaining the House. (3) The polls have largely focused on "likely voters" with strong assumptions about heavy GOP enthusiasm and participation. I expect the polls to tighten in favor of the Democrats as these assumptions become more realistic. (4) It's going to be ugly. Democrats have to win by portraying their adversaries as too extreme to be elected, and the Tea Party only knows how to be abrasive and ugly to begin with.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

More on Glenn Beck's Idolatry

Glenn Beck is an idolator. That's right. He would put the US flag and constitution in a place that only God can occupy. I wanted to post these comments from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2009 because I was struck by the condemnation of the notion of collective salvation. Yes, I know that individual salvation is a Protestant cornerstone, but it is wrong of him to claim that other doctrines have no place in Christian life. On NPR, an official of the Southern Baptist church called collective salvation an "oxymoron" - indicating that either (1) he doesn't know what an oxymoron is or (2) he is so closed minded he thinks of the idea as not just erroneous, but literally logically impossible and unthinkable. Not so fast. Of course, the concept of collective salvation is an old one in Eastern churches and has deep roots in Jewish theology.

Here are these remarks from last summer:

"The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy - that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. **** The I only emerges as we connect - and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no "I" without "you," and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us."

It's important to realize, then, that Beck and his ilk are not just mixing religion and politics in a very unholy and un-American way (and I mean unholy, because it is a desecration to try to pin the transcendental to such mundane elements as the Tea Party), but they are peddling a specific version of Protestantism that is sectarian in nature.