February 16, 2013

#CatholicMoment: Ross Douthat hits Ratzi the Nazi lying levels

Douthat's latest column bemoans the loss of Catholic social influence in the US from the death of John Paul II to the resignation of Benedict XVI, aka Ratzi the Nazi.

The lying starts here:
Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good. 
The reality, of course, is that President Obama has pretty much bent over backward on Obamacare vis-a-vis Catholic hospital issues, etc. Catholic hospitals themselves, at least the one in Colorado trying to claim a fetus is not a person in order to dodge a lawsuit, have been running against their own ideas.

And, beyond recent lying over sexual abuse, you have a church that is institutionally anti-female on contraception, institutionally anti-sexuality on clergy celibacy, and, at the level of the Vatican treasury, speaking of lies, institutionally anti-social justice by "laying up treasures here on earth."

Add in Benedict's decision to stay in the Vatican post-resignation to avoid extradition (and we should de-recognize it) and it's clear nothing will change.

Thanks, Ross. I'll pass on any future "Catholic moments."

February 15, 2013

More on Lyin Braun the so-called #HebrewHammer

Looks like the paper trail of possible roiding by Lyin Braun, also known as Ryan Braun, also called the Hebrew Hammer, except here, where he's also called Juiced Maccabee, is getting thicker.


That said, the paper trail doesn't seem enough thicker for MLB to be able to do too much yet. And ESPN reports that the DEA and FBI aren't yet (publicly) looking at Biogenesis.

That said, if you believe this, I've got some Juiced Maccabee swampland in the Negev to sell you:
Martin Singer, a well-known Los Angeles attorney for celebrities, responded to questions posed to Braun's publicist by saying, "My client confirmed last week that there was an alleged claim for money owed to Mr. Bosch because he had been used as a consultant by my client's attorneys in his successful appeal with MLB last year. Several witnesses can corroborate how Mr. Bosch requested over thousands of dollars for his consulting with my client's attorneys last year. My client has no relationship with Tony Bosch, and the only relationship Mr. Bosch had was with my client's attorneys as a consultant."

Singer said that if Braun's name appears in the documents, it is only because Bosch was trying to get whatever money he could from Braun from the consulting arrangement. "It is clear that this is all false," Singer said. He threatened legal action against ESPN if it aired or published this report. The two attorneys who represented Braun's appeal last year, David Cornwell and Chris Lyons, declined comment.
So, why would Braun be in arrears on a consulting arrangement? And why would have used Bosch as a consultant in the first place, as I wondered when I first blogged about Lyin Braun?

And, Brewers fans, I'm going to keep saying that about Juiced Maccabee. Live by the cheap nickname, die by the cheap nickname.

I'm not the only one who thinks he's lying:
A source familiar with the documents obtained by "Outside the Lines" said the list with Braun's name, which also includes New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli and Toronto's Melky Cabrera, was a list of players who received PEDs, and that there is "no other reason to be on that paper."
Cabrera's already done a non-denial no comment, fessing up indirectly to something related to his 50-game suspension last year while indicating he legally couldn't comment on his name being on that paper.

February 13, 2013

#GnuAtheists and theistic evolution — again

Apparently, this the latest broadside in an old issue, namely in the Gnu Atheist versus "accommodationist" world — how closely to work with people of faith who believe in theistic evolution.

Or, as Vic Stenger calls it now, "intelligent design creationism."

He's clearly meaning to be pejorative, with this:
Virtually all Christians who accept that species evolve, contrary to the Bible that they believe is the word of God, think evolution is God-guided. This is not Darwinian evolution. God-guided evolution is intelligent design creationism. How many American Christians believe in evolution, as it is understood by science? The data indicate none.
The emphasis is Stenger's, not mine.

And, I've had issues with his thought processes in the past, including claims that he has disproven the existence of god. (Per standard traditional logic, claiming to prove the non-existence of anything is like dividing by zero.)

Back to the point at hand.

First, on public policy and related issues.

As folks like Eugenie Scott and the other folks at the National Center for Science Education know, we need these folks, imperfect as their understanding, or acceptance, of neo-Darwinian theory may be, to work hand in hand with secularists in battling folks like the State Board of Education here in Texas.

Let's not also forget, to be scientifically correct, that evolution is, properly speaking, evolution from one life form to another. It is not the same as abiogenesis, though Darwin's "warm little pond" comment touched on the latter.

And, per one commenter on the Facebook post where I saw the Stenger link, Darwin postulated the fact of evolution, but his theory of natural selection as a theory of the mechanism. It's been refined plenty since then. Lynn Margulis' symbiosis, and now, ideas from epigenetics, are further refining it, or more than just refining, reworking it.

These are all naturalistic, scientific issues, not metaphysical ones, tis true.

However, a divinity who is "less than all" and naturalistically present could yet be powerful enough to intervene in the process of evolution.

So, unless Gnu Atheists want to eventually produce a book essay collection called "How to Lose Friends and Influence People the Wrong Way," they should rethink their public relations strategy.

That said, with a movement that consistently finds a mix of brand-new ways and revamped old ways to shoot itself in the foot, I'm holding my breath over this change about as much as I am Obama stopping being a neoliberal and actually delivering on any true liberal promises in his State of the Union address. 

The Fertile Crescent, global warming, the #Rapture or #Armageddon



How are these three seemingly disparate topics related?

Oh, this is going to be an easy one, actually, per one of my semi-patented three-thread blog posts.

First, the Ferile Crescent largely ain’t, no more. (Video above from this link.)

Here’s the severity of the problem:
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs….
“Grace data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India,” said Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of the study and a hydrologist and professor at UC Irvine. “The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.”
Now, while groundwater pumping is causing most the problem, let’s remember this, per the late great Sam Kinison:

“Hey, Tigris, hey Euphrates! You flow through a fucking desert!”

And, of course, that leads to our second issue — global warming.

That sprawl of sand that covers the lower portions of the two rivers of biblical fame is only going to get hotter, and drier, in years and decades ahead. Note that Mr. Famiglietti mentions drought. There will be more of those.

Indeed, he talks about that further, here:
"They just do not have that much water to begin with, and they're in a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change," Famiglietti said. "Those dry areas are getting dryer. They and everyone else in the world's arid regions need to manage their available water resources as best they can."
Steve Snyder Photoshopping.
Please credit if you borrow
He also mentions lack of coordinated water management. And trust me, a Turkey without oil but a growing economy ain’t passing more of that water further south. And arguably, in the face of global warming, they may have a better argument for retaining more of it rather than passing it down.

Next, note that I, in turn, mentioned “of Biblical fame” in referring to these two rivers. That's because this is homeland of both Old Testament myth and legend, on the one hand, and for many millennialists, the heart of New Testament apocalypticism, on the other.

Ur of the Chaldees, home of Abraham of myth, at today’s Shatt al-Arab where the two rivers become one. Babel, of towering linguistic inferno fame, located in “the plain of Shinar,” but clearly believed by biblical mythologists to be at the site of the later Babylon. That’s as in “whore of,” in Revelation, the favorite book of Rapturites like Pat Robertson.

Add in the invasion of Iraq, and the Pat Buchanan named Christian Amen corner to the Israel lobby and the Jewish portion of neoconservatives, and can’t you see Pat Jerk and others touting this as indicating the End Times are near?

So, if you hear about red heifers, without spot or blemish, you know who warned you first.

On the more serious side, Nova has a two-hour special about this, and other things the latest earth satellites are teaching us, tonight.

February 12, 2013

#Obamacare problem — glitch, or bait and switch?

Here's the problem. Some families may not be able to afford employer-based health care, at least not a full package, but may not be eligible for subsidies for open-market insurance, either.
The problem seems to be the way the law defined affordable. 

Congress said affordable coverage can't cost more than 9.5 percent of family income. People with coverage the law considers affordable cannot get subsidies to go into the new insurance markets. The purpose of that restriction was to prevent a stampede away from employer coverage. 

Congress went on to say that what counts as affordable is keyed to the cost of self-only coverage offered to an individual worker, not his or her family. A typical workplace plan costs about $5,600 for an individual worker. But the cost of family coverage is nearly three times higher, about $15,700, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 
And, that may not be the only "issue." Yahoo notes others are coming into sharper focus.

Folks, never forget that Obamacare was a bill written by health insurers for health insurers.

As long as you remember that bottom line, you won't get your hopes up too much.

That's why I'm surprised that insurance companies aren't pressing red states, who might be even more susceptible to conservative big-biz lobbying, to set up state level, state organized insurance exchanges rather than defaulting to the feds.

I guess America's Health Insurance Plans hasn't been visiting places like Austin, Atlanta, etc. often enough.

And, I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked! AHIP is falling down on the job.

February 11, 2013

Review: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?


The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I'm currently reading Jared Diamond's "The World Until Yesterday." Having read other Diamond, and critiques of him, I know that he is somewhat a "determinist," that is, one who gives more weight to outside "nature" events rather than inside "nurture" ones. However, I think this is overblown, and that he's attacked in part because his academic background isn't cultural anthropology, and also because he's not afraid of saying things like pointing out that cultural anthropologists often get attached to "their" tribe, etc., especially re issues such as minimizing tribal level/pre-state violence.

Beyond that, Diamond carefully nuances many of his findings. For instance, on treatment of the elderly, he notes that some pre-state societies do better to much better than modern America, some about the same, and some a lot “worse.”

I've also had one good takeaway from the book, among several decent ones, and that is just how utilitarian tribal religions are, vs. the more universal ones that didn't arise until after the formation of city-state and nation-state societies. Sometimes, we in the modern West, especially if influenced by one of those nation-state religions, may call certain such utilitarian beliefs, let alone actions, "bad," ... like euthanasia of the elderly ... but Diamond does a good job of pointing out "it is what it is." Also, contra his cultural anthropology critics, he does this in a context of individual clans, tribes, chiefdoms, etc.

That relates to what I said above about treatment of the elderly. He shows that ethics, as well as religion, of pre-state societies is often highly utilitarian. We might call it “wrong” to abandon the elderly, but, for such societies, the only real choice to abandoning or even euthanizing them is the potential death of multiple other, younger, more productive people.

Diamond has a good chapter near the end on trying to define religion in general. He leans on Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer, among others, and while I don’t find his definition perfect, I think it contributes something to the dialogue.

Finally, though not his goal in this book, one can read this and see that Diamond shows science still needs philosophy to “inform” it at times.

Ideally, I'd 4.5 star this book. But, because of some of the bad press Diamond has gotten, I give it the bump.

I also do that because it's a small bit quasi-biographical.



View all my reviews

Of Poes, skeptics, Gnu Atheists and pots and kettles

The following is a hilarious video of a pastor trying to "get jiggy" with some sort of Christian rap, right?



But, the degree to which it's over the top should be a clue. Any pastor calling Jesus his "nigger," especially a white one, should be clue No. 1. It's almost certainly a "Poe," as explained here.
The video has flown to the front page of reddit, where the skeptics have been hard at work figuring out what’s going on here. On January 15th, 2013, two things happened. First, the YouTube account that uploaded this video was created. Second, this page was registered. It’s supposedly the official website of West Dubuque Church of Christ, led by “Pastor Jim.” In the “news” section, we learn that the church was apparently shuttered in June of 2004.
The link goes on to note this is a "well-made comedy video."

No argument there.

But, shouldn't people who share it, who are skeptics, who bemoan lack of good skepticism among others, note that it's a Poe when first shared? Especially if, as said skeptic notes, there's real Christian videos that are about as stupid, though not looking like Poes.

Now, said person might argue that any reasonably intelligent secularist type will recognize it's a Poe.

To which I say, not so fast. I've seen one Don Prothero, who's on both her and my Facebook friend lists, gullibly post clear Poes because they fit his agenda or belief system, whether the Poes are about conservative Christian stereotypes or conservative political ones.

I'm not a killjoy. I laughed, too.

But, as I told this person, I don't want to come off like a Gnu Atheist. And, sharing Poes of Christian activity as the real thing, especially if I know better, comes close to some of their behaviors.

To any non-Gnus or whatever worried about "tone": I wasn't making that big of a deal out of this, and I said myself it was at least halfway funny. But, the only way I would share something like this, if I had a good idea it was a Poe, was to say so at the start. 


Popes, priests, ministers, sexual abuse and incest

Benedict XVI, aka Ratzi the Nazi, has announced he is resigning the papacy effective the end of this month.

Although he said it was due to age, which is a legitimate statement as he approaches 85, nonetheless, as I blogged and the vast majority of media notes, the Catholic priestly sex abuse scandal, and his failure to deal with it well, in either a legal or moral way, is surely part of the reason for his resignation.

That said, while in no way downplaying the severity of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, or the severity of the cover-up by archbishops, cardinals and two (at least?) popes, is it fair to stigmatize Catholic priests too much over this?

I say no.

In general, priests and ministers, taking all Christian denominations together, do NOT have a higher rate of being sexually abusive than the general adult population. However, they are in positions of trust, as are another stigmatized group, Scoutmasters, and a non-stigmatized group, school teachers.

That's not even counting incestuous sexual abuse, which makes up a clear plurality, at least, of sexual abuse in the US but is still largely taboo to discuss.

And, all of the above show that "stranger danger" is a myth that, if anything, is damaging itself when it comes from helicopter moms, especially, making them paranoid.

Of course, numbers are very hard to come by. Sexual abuse in general is underreported, and incest even more so.

That said, per Wikipedia, with multiple links off its page, even if we go with the lower end of estimates, at 30 percent, incest may make up a plurality of sexual abuse. I think the high end estimate of 70 percent may be too high, but, if it's over 40 percent, I'm sure it's a plurality.

And, between parents, other family, and a variety of known adult friends of the family, the "known" percentage of sexual abusers is estimated at 80-90 percent.

Other "known" non-family sexual abusers, besides clergy or Scoutmasters, will include teachers, neighbors, baby-sitters, friends from church and more.

Near the bottom of this webpage is more information on refuting the stranger danger myths.

So, again, while not exonerating Catholic priests, or Protestant ministers, or Scoutmasters, I urge humanists in general, whether secular ones or not, and atheists in particular, especially Gnus, to see Benedict's retirement as a teaching moment about the truths of sexual abuse.

Gnu Atheists probably don't want to admit this. Hell, probably most of them won't admit this, period, about the facts of clergy child sexual abusers.

Even a lot of non-Gnu Atheists may be reluctant to let go of an easy story line.

Sorry, but facts are facts.

For the non-religious, if you have religious neighbors, their kids are in more danger from a family member than from their church's religious leader.

Ratzi the Nazi resigns — thoughts and questions

That's my pet phrase for, in case you haven't guessed it, Pope Benedict XVI, who probably did shock Catholics with his surprise resignation. The Guardian has a roundup of live reactions.

When's the last time a pope resigned, and at least semi-voluntarily at that?

Well, none since the Great Schism, which was non-voluntary, and possibly no voluntary ones ever, per Wikipedia.

Benedict cited his age, but that is surely only a partial factor. The ongoing sexual abuse crises, and the revelations that Benedict himself, when in charge of trying to clean up the mess under John Paul II, had done a half-assed, cover your priests' asses job, was surely a factor.

Per the first link:
The abuse scandals dominated his nearly eight years as leader of the world's Catholics. Before his accession, there had been scandals in the US and Ireland. But in 2010, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.

The pope was personally affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly reassigned, allowing him in time to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people.

The flood of allegations represented a vast setback for the project at the heart of Benedict's papacy. The goal he had set for himself, and for which he was elected, was to launch the re-evangelisation of Europe, Catholicism's heartland: it was why he adopted as his papal name that of the continent's patron saint, Benedict of Nursia. But if the numbers of the faithful in Europe as the pope leaves office are fewer than when he was elected, then – surveys repeatedly indicated – it is in large part because of anger and despair in the Catholic laity over the sex abuse scandals. ...

Before he was elected to be pope, Ratzinger undoubtedly tightened the procedures for dealing with paedophile, hebephile and ephebophile clerics. But critics have argued that a letter he issued in 2001 to dioceses around the world did not make sufficiently clear the responsibility of bishops to inform the civil authorities. Their frequent reluctance to do so was a key reason why evidence of sexual abuse did not surface earlier.

Insufficient vigour in the pursuit of his aims was a charge also levelled at Benedict after he became pope. He showed no interest, for example, in introducing specific reforms to filter out potential abusers before they were appointed to pastoral care. As he made clear in his 2010 letter to Irish Catholics, he believed that the sins of the clergy were an expression of insufficient sanctity rather than a product of defective procedures.

It was not until the same year that he created a Vatican department charged with the mission that was originally central to his pontificate. Even then, the so-called Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation was viewed by Vatican insiders as lacking clout.
The gist is, to me, that Benedict knew full well, long before coming pope, that the Roman Catholic Church in many countries around the world, and not just the US, had a ticking time bomb, or actually several.

He may have been sincere in trying to address the bomb of actual sexual abuse, but he tried to lock, shut and bolt the door on the bomb of legal liability. And, as we've seen in places like Los Angeles, this fish clearly rotted from the head down.

So, not for nothing does he get the name Ratzi the Nazi from me.

With all of John Paul II's conservative cardinal appointments in place, and Benedict/Ratzinger heading the modern successor to the Inquisition, his succession of John Paul II was almost guaranteed. He should have been prepared to do more about the sex abuse issues than he did.

Next question is ... is that College of Cardinals, and the Roman curia, prepared to take the next steps, and to get a new pope who will?

And, semi-faithful Catholics in the developed world must surely also be wondering if they're prepared to elect a more socially liberal pope in general. And, if they'll look for one, liberal or conservative, with the undeniable charisma of JPII.

For those of us who are atheists but not Gnu Atheists, to the degree the RC can be a force for good in the world, Ratzi's successor has a lot of work cut out for him. On those issues above, as the RC in the developing world remains strongly socially conservative, one wonders if a non-Westerner will get the puff of white smoke.

I think it's probably still a bit early for that, but, since a 2/3 vote is needed, their could be a lot of horse-trading inside the conclave of red hats.

Bill Keller tells more liberal Catholics, "don't get your hopes up" for somebody like a John Paul I (not II, but I, of alleged poisoning conspiracy). He notes that more than half the cardinals that will elect Benedict's successor were appointed by ... Benedict!
Benedict ascended because the Church – rather like the Republican Party – has gradually marginalized its moderates. And while we are now hearing Republican voices call for softening the rhetoric (if not moderating the agenda), the Catholic Church has heard no such wake-up call. The Vatican has an even lower tolerance for dissent than the Republican Party – and is more willing to accept a smaller, coherently conservative base. Benedict himself said before his elevation to the papacy that a smaller Church might be a better Church.
That said, speaking as a non-Gnu Atheist, you can always leave. Start a breakaway "American Catholic Church." Or vote with your feet enough to go to Mass less. And with your wallets enough to contribute less.

For example, Gary Wills is one of those Catholics who's beyond even the "cafeteria Catholic" stage, and I don't get why, if he wants to be religious and semi-high church and Western, he doesn't become Episcopalian or Lutheran. Or, if he wants to be even higher church than he is now, join Orthodoxy. I guess he prefers to keep kvetching rather than migrate. Talk about tribalism!

Meanwhile, speaking of Gnu Atheists, Slate has just reposted a 2010 column by Christopher Hitchens on the sex abuse scandal and coverup.

But, back to the non-Gnu that I am, and true skeptic.

In general, priests and ministers, taking all Christian denominations together, do NOT have a higher rate of being sexually abusive than the general adult population. However, they are in positions of trust, as are another stigmatized group, Scoutmasters, and a non-stigmatized group, school teachers.

That's not even counting incestuous sexual abuse, which makes up a clear plurality, at least, of sexual abuse in the US but is still largely taboo to discuss.

And, all of the above show that "stranger danger" is a myth that, if anything, is damaging itself when it comes from helicopter moms, especially, making them paranoid.

I'll talk more about this in a separate post.

February 10, 2013

Snooty hypocrisy from Hobby Lobby; are AIDS and gays next?

The claim of its CEO, David Green, that "we run our business on Christian principles," in fighting Obamacare is hypocrisy of a high order.

Green is insinuating that opposition to contraception is a Christian principle. Even more so when combined with opposition to abortion AND opposition to welfare, which I presume he also opposes.

Apparently, he expects women to keep their legs crossed, judging by his company officially being tasked to put stickers over the boobs of Botticelli Venus pix in catalogues. (Somebody should sue him over that.)

No, this isn't about "Christian principles," it's about the principles of one subset of Christians. Imagine if  Southern Christians had trotted that out after Jan. 31, 1865.

"Nope, the Bible doesn't talk about getting rid of slavery, and we support it, so it's a Christian principle."

And therefore, contra Bill Keller, I feel no sympathy for Green's "moral dilemma."

Rather, I feel outrage at his attempt to impose moral diktats.

Besides, Obama doesn't let me opt out of paying taxes because I think his drone wars are morally wrong as well as unconstitutional.

Further proof that Green's Christian principles are selective is right here:
“If an employer can craft a benefits system around his religious beliefs, that’s a slippery slope,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a critic of religious exemptions. “Can you deny treatment of AIDS victims because your religion disapproves of homosexuals? What if your for-profit employer is a Jehovah’s Witness, who doesn’t believe in blood transfusions?”
Not to note that giving in to him would be to open a whole bag of worms.

And, with that AIDS and gays angle ... yeah, surprised that one's not already been raised.

Given that there is no official "Christian principle" on contraception, for Obama to give in further would violate the First Amendment, rather than him holding his ground.

And, keep up the $1 million a day fines; if Green wants to bankrupt Hobby Lobby over his attempt to impose his minority Christian views on the country's health care needs, bankrupt him.

Of course, given that this is the stance of the man Dear Leader asked to deliver the invocation at his first inauguration:
But Laycock’s is a lonely voice among advocates of religious exemptions. More typical is Rick Warren, the evangelical megachurch pastor, who says the battle to preserve religious liberty “in all areas of life” may be “the civil rights movement of this decade.” Warren goes on to say — I am not making this up — that “Hobby Lobby’s courageous stand, in the face of enormous pressure and fines,” is the equivalent of the Birmingham bus boycott.
Obama may cave like a cheap pack of cards.