Sunday, December 24, 2006

Atheists Hated More Than Gays...Ouch!

In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6, only 2 percent answered "don't know", and only 37 percent said they'd be willing to vote for an atheist for president. (That's down from 49 percent in a 1999 Gallup poll, which also found that more Americans would vote for a homosexual than an atheist.)

The above depressing quote is taken from Newsweek's article of 11 Sept 2006 titled The New Naysayers by Jerry Adler that highlights the recent writings of three (in)famous modern atheists: Sam Harris ("The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason", "Letter to a Christian Nation"), Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion"), and Daniel C. Dennett ("Breaking the Spell").

Sam Harris' op-ed piece in today's LA Times (24 Dec 2006) titled 10 myths — and 10 truths — about atheism is a futher attempt to enlighten the superstitious.

There is a sad aura of futility that pervades all this. I think it works much better in humorous form. Take this excerpt from The Dilbert Blog:

If a guy shows up for a job interview and tells you his religion requires him to wear a stuffed rhino penis as a hat, you can show him the door. But if he says his prophet walked on water, or rode to heaven on a flying horse, you slap a name tag on his cubicle and hope for the best.

At least I can be content that as a GAL (Gay Atheist Liberal) who thinks that taxes are too low and wholeheartedly endorses Joycelyn Elders' suggestion that schools should consider teaching masturbation to students as a means to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, I must rank among the most despised of Americans.

Next to George W. Bush, of course!

California Supreme Court Reviews Same-Sex Marriage

Demagogue has a post by Arnold P. California titled In California, Only Virgins Can Marry that skillfully analyzes the legal aspects the the California Supreme Court review of the ban on same-sex marriage and gets at the fundamental legal question still to be decided by the Court.

The argument, in short, is that since the Supreme Court is not free to second-guess the wisdom of the Legislature (or the initiative of voters), only to assess the legitimacy of the government's interest in marriage and the scope of its restrictions on it, the standard of review that the Court itself chooses to apply is crucial to the eventual decision. The Court may choose from:

  • Strict scrutiny: applies to fundamental constitutional rights or suspect classifications (such as race) and requires a compelling state interest furthered by narrowly tailored means.

  • Intermediate scrutiny: applies to such matters as sex-based classifications, restrictions based on status as a non-marital child, and affirmative action programs, and requires an important state interest furthered by substantially related means (a stricter version of this is called "heightened scrutiny").

  • Rational basis review: applies to everything else and requires only a legitimate state interest furthered by rational means.

Massachusetts has decided to use strict scrutiny, all others (including the Californa Court of Appeals) have settled on rational basis review.

I believe that, although there is room for the California Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court ruling under the rational basis test, they would be wrong to do so. Like blacks, gays have suffered violent and invidious discrimination. Unlike blacks, gays continue to suffer de jure discrimination. It is irrational to conclude that discrimination against blacks is suspect and deserves strict scrutiny yet discrimination of gays does not. It is time to recognize that sexual orientation (and gender identity, when a relevant case comes up) are “suspect classifications” in California and deserve strict scrutiny.

It is worth remembering that religious belief is intrinsically irrational (i.e. beyond the reach of the scientific method in assessing its validity), and though the public has a protected right to believe in it, the Court has a duty not to. Religion cannot justify bigotry, no matter how widely held.

And yet, and yet. The Justices, having no army of their own, must trust that the pen is mightier than the sword. It is naive to believe that they do not worry from time to time about running out of ink...

Friday, December 22, 2006

German is so much easier than French!

My friend Brendan sent me a link about how hard the French elite work at translating new English computer jargon into French.

Why can't they be more like Germans? Believe it or not, the following is written in German!

Weil diese Shareware meinen Personal-Computer mit einem Virus infizieren kann (obwohl sie Virusfrei garantiert ist), muss ich zuerst ein Backup auf Diskette machen und Antivirus-Software installieren. Das Diagnoseprogramm wird verifizieren, dass bei der Hardware (Keyboard, Monitor, Maus, Graphikkarte, Scanner, CD-ROM) alles OK ist, dann neu booten und ein neues Systempasswort eingeben. Bei Internetproblemen ist auch ein neues Netzwerkkabel nötig. Ich bin kein Hacker, aber Multimedia, Multitasking, und C++-Programmieren habe ich schon gelernt. Englisch leider noch nicht...

Remember when French was the international language?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Public Radio Gone Astray

Vacuity of the Call-In Format

I don't know much, but I know this...

A recent new addition to programming on public radio is the inclusion of listeners into the conversion (AirTalk with Larry Mantle and Talk of the Nation).

Advertising executives understand that we all want to feel important and often show "someone like us" in their ads. Even pornographic videos often have an average-looking guy with good-looking women (plural) to give us the impresssion that we not only could be that guy, but that we deserve to be (if only in our fantasies).

This instinct was epitomized in the repeated (usually ignorant, sometimes bigoted) comments that a sometime secretary of mine was wont to utter when irritated. They invariably started with "I don't know much, but I know this..." and were heavily laced with the sentiment that she was just as good as the elitist she was bashing. Hers was the hallmark of one eager to talk the talk without walking the walk, the inability to come to terms with her own intellectual laziness. It is not the paradigm that should encouraged in the listening audience of public radio.

There is an objective reality

Many conservative intellectuals feel comfortable dismissing the opinions of the uninformed outright (sometimes, regrettably, the valid opinions of the informed as well). Some centrist and most liberal intellectuals, quite the contrary, are unable (paralyzed perhaps by latent feelings of cultural superiority?) or refuse to defend the validity of the founding principle of the Enlightenment from which they sprang: that well-informed and dispassionate reasoning is much more effective at discovering the truth than uninformed or passionate appeals. It is the duty of the teacher to teach, the student to learn. Too many Liberals have sadly (and unwisely) conceded the word "duty" to Conservatives. Duty is the yin to Liberty's yang. To sit at the adult's table, you must act like an adult.

I believe it is the duty of public radio to select topics that will educate and ennoble society, to invite guests who will most competently frame the debate and support their position with logical reasoning, to air all sides of a question without imputing moral equivalence to them. Air time is a precious resource. Listeners spend an eternity on the phone to be heard. Such persistence takes passion. But as Aristotle once observed, "the law is reason, free from passion". Passionate people are less likely to make well-reasoned dispassionate arguments. It is difficult for an unprepared guest to make a valid point. It is nearly impossible for an unprepared listener with no particular expertise to do so.

Meritocracy, not democracy

Symphony conductors do not invite amateur musicians to sit in during a performance. Send the call-in format back to the AM dial, where its use is so effectively exploited.

This is one student who wants to be taught by a qualified teacher.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dennis Prager's Broken Moral Compass

Do I Care That It's Broken?

There's a nebulous line you cross without knowing it, such as when your marriage got stale or when you got old. One such line for me is whether the previous Dennis Prager (an articulate if misguided purist of "moral clarity" who challenged me to clarify my own views, like Larry Elder and Ward Connerly) has morphed into a new Dennis Prager (apologist for a morally indefensible stance out of political or ideological zeal, whom I usually ignore, like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Lou Dobbs).

My friend Brendan Keefe has a stimulating blog on this subject that I recommend that you read. It stimulated me to continue this discussion on my own blog. Without his blog entry, I would have written Dennis Prager off.

Instead, I will give Mr. Prager one last chance to clarify his thinking by clarifying my own.

Dennis Prager's Love Affair With the Christian Right

Before you read on, please read Dennis Prager's own words at America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on. It will ensure that you will not let me get away with a strawman or ad hominem attack. This topic is too important for that.

In summary, Keith Ellison (D-Minn) is the first person of Muslim faith to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He has announced his intention to place his hand on a copy of the Koran while taking his oath of office. Dennis Prager says he should not be allowed to do so:

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.

Given that Dennis Prager is famous for his skewering of Democrats in power under Clinton for allegedly "losing their moral compass", it is strangely ironic that Prager has now lost his. The First Amendment clearly states that the "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Constitutional literalist, would have to admit that the use of a Bible cannot be prescribed by Congress, for it is already proscribed by the Constitution.

The more interesting question is:

Why does Dennis Prager advocate this?

I induce a chain of logic that seems to guide Dennis Prager's thinking:

  1. Israel (and Jews) are under threat worldwide.
  2. America is the strongest world power.
  3. Protestant Christians are America's (potentially) strongest demographic.
  4. Christianity is closer to Judaism than Islam.
  5. Americans have always had (and continue to have) a strong dislike of Islam and distrust of Muslims.
  6. American Christians have historically disdained Jews but have seen the error of their ways. Rapturists are now stronger supporters of Israel than many Jews.
  7. Jews have historically mistrusted Christians, and continue to do so. They have had good reason to do so, given historic anti-Semitism which didn't start to turn around until the U.S. under Harry Truman (against the advice of his Cabinet) recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and continued to be fashionable until the 1980's.
  8. ???
  9. Israel is secure under the protection of America. American Jews are more secure under the umbrella of American Protestant Christians.

What is the missing ??? in Dennis Prager's thinking (as best I can induce it)?

Hypothesis 1

  1. Jews must embrace American Christians (especially Protestants) because of Christians' natural affinity with Jews in supporting Israel and religious practice (e.g. support for Israel, belief in the Old Testament).

What evidence is there for this?

  1. Politically conservative Jewish organizations (such as Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation) have been increasingly joining the fight in favor of displaying Christian religious symbols (manger scene, crosses, bibles in swearing-in ceremonies)
  2. Judeo-Christian has replaced Christian as the favored phrase for our underlying value system among conservatives
  3. Dennis Prager has himself said so.

Hypothesis 2

Maybe he (secretly) thinks the opposite?

  1. Jews must embrace American Christians (especially Protestants) — despite their religiously motivated patronizing and persistent attempts to convert them — because the greater threat is that the natural affinity with Jews of underdogs like secularists, gays, and minorities is destroying Judaism gradually through assimilation and moral relativism.

This line of reasoning assumes (hopes?) that an ongoing distrust among rank-and-file Jews and Christians will continue and act as a countervailing force against assimilation and plays into the fears of the majority of mainstream American Jews and rabbis, as articulated by Bradley Hirschfield, an Orthodox rabbi and vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, that Christianity, though neutral toward Judaism, is not good for Jews.

Does It Matter?

It is no accident that Jews were the first to head to the Deep South to defend the civil rights of African Americans, promote the voting rights of women and minorities, defend the institution of public education through public service in L.A. schools (despite the small Jewish population in schools), and embrace gay civil rights when Christians launched a culture war against them under the current President.

It is an ongoing and noble legacy that Dennis Prager seems eager to betray in his embrace of the moral majority. This is a fool's bargain. It is illogical to assume that hatred of Muslims in the heartland will translate into love of Jews.

Now that Dennis Prager has so ardently embraced Judeo-Christian ecumenism, perhaps he will take to heart the quote from Mark 8:26 "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (KJV)

This is a question that American Jews should ask themselves before embracing the brave new world of Dennis Prager.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fair and Balanced Reporting?

Amoral, Misleading, and Uninformative

The Problem

I've long thought the self-important Fourth Estate has a serious misunderstanding of its mission. Neutered by false charges of Liberal Bias, the Truth Tellers have become the Debate Moderators. The goal of fair and balanced reporting is so amoral, misleading, and uninformative that it is no surprise to me that Fox News tried to trademark it.

If policy makers tell us we can't afford (for economic reasons) to clean up the mercury spewing out of coal-burning power plants or to slow down the rate of global warming, that's a newsworthy quote to stimulate public debate.

But when the news media dutifully repeat Bush Administration's prevarications about the role lobbyists played in rewriting scientific EPA findings to justify eviscerating the Clean Air Mercury Rule, or when they give airtime to a few industry-funded scientists to "balance" the less sexy but very real consensus of real scientists in 928 peer-reviewed journals that say we're destroying the planet, it's time for a news revolution.

The Solution

Such a revolution is already underway. Blogs and Wikipedia have been dismissed by presumably well-intentioned journalists who fear that misinformation that may go unvetted (and possibly their own status as gatekeeper as well?). This view implies that news providers see their calling primarily as that of spoon-feeding a witless and undercurious population of sheep with no sense of taste. The second part of this view is sadly all too often true. The first part, the role of the news media, is dangerously false.

In fact, this blog (and all blogs) have a higher calling than that. The purpose of blogging is not vanity or exhibitionism, nor to provide easy answers, but rather to democratize the pursuit of the scientific method (from

  1. Define the question
  2. Gather information and resources
  3. Form hypothesis
  4. Perform experiment and collect data
  5. Analyze data
  6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses
  7. Publish results

All news items should contain an objective review of the facts, a clearly disclosed point of view, and a suggestion for the reader on what to do with the data. Facts devoid of context are easily manipulated, misunderstood, or ignored.

There should also be references to help the lazy reader make up his or her own mind, not just accept hearsay. A blog without references is worthless and should be rejected as slander if false, plagiarism if true. I have tried to follow my own advice and believe that this same standard should be applied to all forms of journalism.

You Decide

To practice what I preach, I now direct you to two excellent sources below. If you have not visited them both, do not bother to post a reply.

Does Iraq need more debate?

The most articulate exposition of the above point I have ever read, an Op-Ed piece by Martin Kaplan published in today's (19 Dec 2006) Los Angeles Times, it is a call to arms and this blog is my small part in taking up the fight.


Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School, where he directs the Norman Lear Center (, December 19, 2006.


"We've had plenty of shouting matches on the war; what we need are better leaders and more capable media."


"Maybe what we really need are leaders with more character, followers with more discrimination, deciders who hear as well as listen and media that know the difference between the public interest and what the public is interested in."

Balance vs. Bias in Journalism


National Public Radio, Talk of the Nation, April 17, 2006


  • Does the ideal of balance distort the news?
  • What if there are more than two sides to the story — or the sides aren't equal?
  • And how is a reader supposed to wade through all the 'he said, she said?'

Answers by:

Friday, December 15, 2006

You Will Know They Are Christians By Their Love Of...


The early Christians practiced communism!

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. Acts 4:32

There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. Acts 4:34-35

A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He retained for himself, with his wife's knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? Acts 5:1-3

Mixing Church and State?

Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." John 18:36

[Jesus said] "Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." 13 At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." Matt 22:19-21, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25

Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Rom 13:7

Pledging Allegiance to the Flag?

"Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.' But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one." Matt 5:33-37

Revenge for 9/11 and the "War on Terror"?

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Matt 26:52

"To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back." Luke 6:29-30

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Matt 5:43-45

Telling Others How to Live?

"Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven." Luke 6:36-37

"Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye." Luke 6:41-43

Public Displays of Righteousness?

"(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Matt 6:1-4

Prayer in Public, at Graduations, or in School?

"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Matt 6:5-6

"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." Matt 6:16-18

Speaking in Incomprehensible Tongues?

"In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Matt 6:7-8

"And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, "Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God." Acts 2:4-11

But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. Cor 14:28

Not Drinking Alcohol?

[Jesus] said to them, "Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:18-20

"Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." Tim 5:23

The Literalness and Infallibility of the Bible?

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, "Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?" Matt 24:3

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Matt 24:29-36

Samuel Johnson was right! belief in the Second Coming, like a second marriage, "is the triumph of hope over experience!"

All quotes are from the New American Bible.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The best champagne comes from California

You heard me! I didn't forget to capitalize champagne or put a TM over it, and yes, it is made in California. And although I heartily agree that parmesan cheese does NOT come out of a green cardboard tube, it's not just because it's not made in Parma, but because it tastes like sawdust.

I do not agree with food libel or copyright laws. Food is not free speech, it is food. As Jesus himself is claimed to have said, "Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine?" (NAB Matt 15:17) If it's good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for a Catholic country like France. But no...

In France in 2003, Lyon Mag, a French magazine was successfully sued and ordered to pay 300,000 euro for saying that Beaujolais was "un vin de merde"!

Luckily, sanity and free speech prevailed on appeal!

Oh, the next time some self-important sommelier pronounces "Meritage" like "mirage" with the "it" left out, let the fool know it actually rhymes with "heritage", and is a purely North American invention because the French wouldn't let us call it Bordeaux! Pomposity from French is tedious, but from Americans it's pathetic. I'll think I'll just stick with the Merlot.