New leading economic indicator

How much for a Philosophy Major?

Here’s an interesting economic number to look at: forecast the average salary for the first ten years of employment for a major. Then forecast the average amount of debt the person graduating with that major will be burdened with upon graduation. Then figure out, using standard loan repayment rates, how long it will take the average person to pay off the average debt with an average salary in that field. Salary average should consider unemployment rates for those first ten years.

That number should be on a label affixed to every college brochure ever sent out, with a separate label for every major that college offers. And the unit of measure shouldn’t be time, it should be the number of ramen-only dinners you’ll have to eat before your school loans are paid off.


The NDAA: bad news for civil liberties, and a negative mark for the Obama administration

It’s interesting that the Obama-supported bill that could most be interpreted as anti-Constitutional (and therefore anti-American, you secret commie Kenyan Muslim, you) is the one that has the majority of support of Republicans and most Tea Partiers (other than Paul Rand), and only 50/50 support in his own party.  In MN, Republicans Chip Cravaack, John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Democrats Collin Peterson and Tim Walz voted for, Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum.  Michele Bachmann was nowhere to be seen, mentally or physically.
I wish Obama had the support and the spine in this matter to go through with his veto threat, but it’s not going to happen.  In any case, his threat appears to have been based not on the principles of  protecting constitutional rights, but on not wanting additional restrictions on Executive powers to perform the activities the bill references.  And now, with the war in Iraq supposedly winding down, the global War on Terror and the extended powers the government is granting itself to fight this interminable, poorly-defined conflict, continue to grow.
Not a good day for civil liberties, or for Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution, which dictates that nobody can be punished for treason without significant due process requirements being met.

Not a proud day.  I’m with the ACLU and Human Rights Watch on this one.  I had actually let me ACLU membership lapse, but it’s going back up today.

Perry wants constitutional amendment for prayer in schools

Let’s take this for what it is: Perry’s doubling down because he knows his Prez campaign is kaput and he wants to make sure he’s still in the good graces of his core base back home.

But even within that context, this is ridiculous.  Children can pray in school whenever they want, as long as they are not disruptive.  If Perry thinks that kids can’t pray, I suggest he lead a campaign of civil disobedience, getting kids to pray in their public schools.  The public would become quickly sympathetic to his point of view thanks to the resulting riots, police beatings and pepper-spraying of praying students, pictures on the front page of the newspapers…

Oh wait, that wouldn’t happen.  BECAUSE KIDS CAN PRAY IN SCHOOL, and they already do, presumably before and during tests.  What Perry seems to be frothing about is Supreme Court cases like Engel v. Vitale (1962), in which it was deemed unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and require its recitation in public schools.  And many, many other cases in which it has been found unconstitutional for public officials to force prayer on students, regardless of whether they are religious or not.

Do you see the difference between the two?   Because Perry apparently can’t.

You can’t force people to pray in school.  State officials can’t force your kids to pray in specific ways, to specific god(s), and saying specific words at state-required times.  And you also cannot prevent kids from praying, as long as they’re not disruptive.  That’s the situation we find ourselves in today, and Rick Perry finds it unacceptable.  But other than frothing evangelicals that seem bent on forcing their religious beliefs on everyone else in the country, almost everyone else seems to be fine with it… unless they are presented with lies like “it’s illegal for children to pray in school, therefore we need a constitutional amendment to let them.”

Secretary Clinton – “Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights”

In a very moving and historic speech at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to celebrate Human Rights Day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the protection of rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and discussed President Obama putting into place a  U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad.  Here’s a link to the transcript if you prefer to read it.

This was a great speech, in that it didn’t shy away from recognizing that the U.S. also still has a ways to go in its path towards providing full, equal human rights to those who still suffer from abuse and discrimination thanks to bigotry and small-minded homophobia. Read the whole thing, it’s worth it for the sense of historical context it provides for the long struggle for equal human rights for all.

“The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.”

That sounds like a great idea, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, so let’s make sure it’s not just words: let’s see a repeal of DOMA, and a formal recognition of equal rights for gay marriage at a Federal level.  Let’s have the U.S. set lead by setting a shining example, and show the world we can overcome centuries of abuse, hatred and bigotry by recognizing and celebrating our common humanity.

Texas Governor, failed Presidential candidate and Separation of Church and State denier Rick Perry immediately pandered to his religious fundamentalist conservative base by responding “This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop.”

That’s right, Perry: if you’re talking about “traditional” pre-21st century “values” like homophobia, discrimination, bigotry and hatred, then there’s an open war going on right now against them.

And you’re on the wrong side.

P.S. to Minnesota readers: Vote “No” on the Marriage Amendment next November, and you too can brag to your grandchildren that you were on the right side of history when human rights were on the line.

Citizens United, Freedom of Speech and Money in politics

Hmmm… I’m cautious about this one. While I vehemently agree that it’s undemocratic to have the loudest voice be the one that has the most money, there are a LOT of bad ways to implement this, and I don’t automatically trust the Senate to do it in a good way that respects overall freedom of speech.

The right to participate in elections and support a candidate is a critical part of democracy, and there is a fine line between allowing unlimited spending and allowing only certain voices to be heard. Freedom of speech is a critical issue, and in my opinion the SCOTUS had no choice but to to rule the way they did on Citizens United, given the unconstitutional restrictions on free speech that any other ruling might have entailed. As unpopular as the decision was (I don’t particularly like it), it was the Constitutionally-aligned one to make.

To clarify: I hate the amount of money in politics, I really dislike the fact that corporations can spend all they want to buy elections, I hate that they can do so anonymously.  But I also believe we can’t implement restrictions on this type of activity without a lot of careful consideration and forethought: I don’t get the impression we’ll get that.

I agree with the motivation, I can see where they are going with this and agree with the general direction, I just hope they don’t over-reach in way that ends up having unintended negative consequences for our freedom of speech.

I don’t like inspirational quotes

‎”It’s impossible,” said Pride.
“It’s risky,” said Experience.
“It’s pointless,” said Reason.
“Give it a try,” whispered the Heart.
“Your legs don’t bend that way,” screamed your Hips.
“What the hell where you thinking?,” yelled the Officer.
“You’re going to need extensive therapy,” counseled the Surgeon.
“What am I, the Brain? Why did you even listen to me, dumbass? I’m just a big stupid muscle!” gasped the Heart as you held its Head underwater.

“Other views” indeed.

Gay Marriage in San Francisco

Image by Dave Schumaker via Flickr

If I were to believe Katherine Kersten’s latest screed, I would expect to page through the rest of the newspaper and find report after report detailing how gay marriage opponents are being attacked, beaten, or bullied into suicide merely for expressing their views.  Instead, what I find are story after story about gay people being attacked, beaten and bullied into suicide for being who they are, and editorials like Kersten’s calling for even more discrimination.  Her victim card gambit is practically Orwellian in the way it claims the mantle of suffering on behalf of the very people who have been responsible for discrimination and abuse.

But then she ratchets up the ironic rhetoric another notch, and doubles down on the claim: she is, if we are to believe her, just like someone speaking out against Jim Crow laws in the South.

She misses completely the point that Jim Crow laws were meant to maintain status quo oppression against a group that wasn’t allowed to freely marry the people they loved, using the exact same reasoning she uses to in her rally calls in opposition to gay marriage.   The fact is, there ARE a lot of similarities between the situation then and now: the mistake Kirsten makes is understanding what side of the fence (and history) she stands on.


De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day

Fear your selves

Image by alexrheadrick via Flickr

With yet another failed Rapture prediction under our belts, I hereby unilaterally declare October 22nd to be “De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day”.  What would YOU continue to believe in, even after being proved wrong, by just coming up with a more complex rationalization for doing so?

Remember how many groups there are out there that will continue to create excuses and workarounds for their beliefs in spite of failing prediction after prediction. Harold Camping’s failed May prediction was rationalized as a “Spiritual Rapture”, which means it really, really, truly did happen, just without anyone noticing.  Other failed prediction groups have come up with similar rationalizations: in the case of the Seekers, God was “so impressed” with their faith that he decided to spare the world his wrath.  Many others rationalize the violence and immorality prescribed in the Old Testament as something that “no longer applies” to us today, which somehow implies that stoning adulterers, gay people and disbelievers, or forcing rape victims to marry their rapists was morally OK at ANY point in time. Mormons continue to believe Joseph Smith’s “revelations”, in spite of the fact they have been proved wrong over and over (e.g. the Native Americans were one of the lost tribes of Israel). Scientologists, believe… well, Scientologists believe the wackiest things out of all the religions, and yet even they have thousands of adherents.  After decades of decrying other nations’ use of torture, many people rationalizes the U.S. use of waterboarding as either “not torture” or “justifiable under the circumstances”, eerily echoing those they had previously condemned.  Cognitive dissonance is a pretty strong engine for us to come up with justifications for the things we believe even in the face of overwhelming evidence, and religion seems to be one of its greatest energy sources.

What I have found most amusing is the number of comments in posts and articles that attack Camping with some variation of “Of course he’s wrong, he’s a false prophet, if you knew your Bible you’d realize that, it’s all in there if you know how to interpret it correctly”, without a trace of irony. Camping’s predictions have been biblically-sourced and interpreted from the beginning, and his claims of having discovered the truth are only different from everyone else’s in that he made a specific, testable prediction and failed.  There’s no reason to feel superior just because you’ve had the good sense to NOT make any predictions that could test your beliefs: your approach demonstrates lack of faith far more than more any better approximation to the truth.

What beliefs do you hold that, in the absence of proof behind them, sound as crazy to outsiders as Camping’s “Biblically-proven” Rapture predictions? And is there anything that could happen or you could learn that would disprove those beliefs, or would you probably just find a slightly more complex rationalization for them?  If you would continue to believe something in spite of volumes of evidence against it, exactly how does that make you more rational or your belief more sensible than Camping’s and his followers?

And remember the Mother of All Rationalizations: “his ways are unknown and mysterious, so we cannot understand them”, which is used to rationalize the Problem of Evil, why good things happen to bad people and bad things to good, or anything else that becomes theologically difficult to explain.  It’s the carte blanche rationalization, the universal throwing up of hands to say “I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense, there’s no proof for it at all… and yet I still believe.”

So let’s take “De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day” and re-ground ourselves a little.  Science progresses by constantly re-researching basic principles, re-analyzing core concepts, and sometimes discarding them when the rationalizations required to keep them going become more complex than the principles themselves (see epicycles, for example).  It’s not a bad approach, and will eventually cure more people of malaria than the laying-on of hands.  So let’s try an approach that seems to work, systematically roots out inconsistent and incorrect beliefs, and gets us as close as we can possibly get to the truth: let’s go back to basics and start removing the rationalizations, and discarding the beliefs that are left ungrounded.

Oh if we could all just get along…

Freedom From Religion Foundation


Oh why can’t we just let people of all religions believe what they want?  Why do you atheists insist on picking fights and disturbing the peace when everyone just wants to believe what they wish and live their lives in peace, free from criticism?  Why are you atheists so confrontational and just plain angry?

If only it were that simple, or if that statement were at all true.

If everyone held their own beliefs, and could have rational, non-screaming discussions about them, could listen to other sets of beliefs and points of view without condemning every disbeliever (in their faith) to eternal damnation… and most importantly, refrain from continued attempts to impose their beliefs on everyone else in the world, we would all get along just swimmingly.  But no: every other day you hear about people using their faith to justify imposing laws and rules on everyone, regardless of whether the law has a beneficial secular purpose that is independent of the religious belief behind it.

You see, they don’t want to leave you alone in the first place: not while you believe things that are different, and while they can stir things up by trying to create laws that impose their beliefs on everyone, not just the members of their faith.  And as long as they insist on trying to force their religious beliefs on everyone, they’re the ones picking the fight.

Case in point: Minnesota’s Catholic Bishops Want to Run Your Sex Life

Stop meddling in the affairs, the relationships, the happiness, the love lives, the freedom of people who don’t believe in the same myths you do, and odds are they will return the courtesy.  But the problem arises when your beliefs aren’t designed to exist in the category marked “we’ll leave you alone if you let us have ours”: they’re designed to be imposed on everyone around you, by definition.  You can’t reconcile that with “let’s just all get along and let everyone believe what they want”, it doesn’t work that way.  You’re really saying “let’s just all compromise on living by my rules, then we can all be happy, right?”


There are too many belief systems out there that depend on evangelizing, converting, meddling, interfering, imposing, disturbing, FORCING themselves onto everyone else: as long as these exist, then those suffering the proposed imposition have the right to complain, to be vociferous and angry, and to fight against it.  If that’s what being confrontational and angry means, then at least just have the honesty to admit it’s the same thing you would do if someone else’s beliefs were being imposed on you.