Thursday, March 19, 2009

Really Obeying the Bible? Or Not?

I suppose I shouldn't mix religion and politics -- but this is hard to resist.

Some supposedly Christian site posted a picture of a superhero beach ball where the air valve happens to have landed in the crotch of the Wolverine comic character -- clearly a plot by the gay lobby to promote homosexual behavior in young boys. (Apparently young girls don't blow up beach balls.) This funny link has been going around, but better are the comments -- here's my favorite:

GayChristian says:
March 4, 2009 at 9:51 am
THANK you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him or her that Leviticus 18:22 clearly state it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to follow them. My important Biblically based questions are listed below. I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to the Irish, but not English people. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own some Englishmen?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is: my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I do not agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev.21:20 state that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wriggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

In a later comment, he continues that when he was 'talking to God' recently,

"[God] also seemed really pissed that he’s credited with the writing of the bible at all. I guess he wrote a version but the editors... ruined it completely. He promised that for the second coming he’ll make sure to retain creative rights over the entire project."

This guy is fun!

A bigger point (you should excuse the expression), beyond the amusement for the average real Christian in this country (USA), is a less comfortable one, as pointed out by the philosopher Sam Harris in his book, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason," is that modernity (and the ability to function well in a modern society) requires the religious to pick and choose their religious instructions and requirements: A strict reading of the Bible, for example, would make it almost impossible for the average citizen to function today. We find ourselves having to 'interpret' the wilder commands in order to soften or even to set them aside, because as time goes by, as a society we better grasp which primitive strictures and commandments make better sense, and which simply don't work for anybody who's no longer an illiterate, Stone-Age sheepherder living in a desert. The above list is just a short set of highlights of such irrelevant and even dangerously obsolete religious instructions we have all learned to live without.

When radical coreligionists come along demanding that we give equal serious attention to every command and constraint, we find ourselves unable to respond in a way that convinces them to lighten up. It's the modern tragedy of religion, unfortunately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

This Guy Has the Guaranteed Solution to Our Economic Crisis

I regret to say that I don't know where this came from.

"Leave it to a brainy Indian to come up with the cheapest and surest way to stimulate our economy: Immigration.

"All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese, and Koreans," said Shekhar Gupta, editor of 'The Indian Express' newspaper. "We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately imrpove your savings rate -- no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying yourmortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to crate our own jobs an jobs for more Americans."

Problem solved! The real joke is: He's almost certainly right! And of course, it will never happen, which underlines the constraints prejudice, nutty economic theories, and shortsightedness place on our future.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Crisis of Credit Visualized--this is good!

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
Click to view a surprisingly solid explanation of what the heck went wrong to create the credit crunch we're all experiencing now -- it will help clarify a lot for you!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mis-Using the Political System

This from the Leah Garchick gossip column in the Thurs, Feb 26, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle:

"To the grass-covered tiki barricades! As Matier and Ross reported Wednesday, friends of the Tonga Room [tiki bar at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco] are worried that changes to the Fairmont will result in the closing of that hallowed place. Bartender Martin Cate is rallying troops to email the city's planning department to turn down the project unless the historic Tonga Room, 'the only Polynesian restaurant in the world that has a large pool of water that is made to look like a tropical lagoon," is specifically included in plans for the renovated building.' "

This is pathetic, but exactly what our government has turned into: a special-interest bully for aesthetes. I suppose if enough of the bartender-rallied troops would go drink at the bar, it might be too profitable to be displaced in the renovation, but somehow when you are interested in how another person uses his property, you acquire an ownership interest in that property. Not in its profits and losses; especially not in the losses (unless they are a large bank or car company).  "I like your bar; I like the *idea* of your bar; don't ever close it. No, I mean--Don't ever close it. By law."

This couldn't be a more perfect example of the intended misuse of the city planning department. That aesthetic appreciation would be grounds for forcing it to be included in a design is ludicrous. 

I know you disagree with me: You think this is *exactly* what political power is about: Making sure our (our?) precious icons are preserved; making sure other people's buildings aren't painted the "wrong" color; making sure my view isn't spoiled by another property owner, even though I didn't buy the view when I bought my house.

This seems fine to you, but think: This is just a cheap (free) way for you to assert property-rights interest in other peoples' property -- without having to go to the trouble of buying property rights yourself, or paying for the changes required or forbidden, or -- God forbid! -- doing without the item, because you really, really like it.

Somehow the strength of your feelings about another person's property gives you an ownership interest in their property. How is that, exactly?

Be afraid. Every time you empower some agency of the city government to twist its powers into a novel interpretation so you can get what you want at someone else's expense, you are empowering the government, period -- you are empowering those same bureaucrats to respond in the same way to the *next* public-interest bully who comes along. Maybe it will be your property, or a property in which you actually do have a legal interest, that will be subject to this kind of bullying. Or that of your friends, or relatives, or kids when they grow up. If you don't think about the longterm consequences of accepting this kind of government, your descendants will have to live with those consequences.

You think it's fine; future governments will Do the Right Thing, no problem. The government is run by people who think the way you do. Is it? When Reagan was elected, and took hold of all the powers the government had grabbed in the name of building a better world -- and he used those powers in pursuit of *his* ideas of what a better world would be -- were you glad about that? Or, if you were a conservative, make it the Clinton administration.

You want the government to have every power to arrange the world according to *your* wishes and whims; and you never want people who don't think like you and who disagree with you to have any of those same powers. Except it doesn't work like that, does it? You can't pass the laws with the caveat, "This governmental power shall be exercised only when a liberal Democrat holds office, and shall be null and void if anybody who disagrees with me is in power." Doesn't work like that.

At the start of the Vietnam War, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a muddy bit of business in which a North Vietnamese ship apparently fired on an American ship "in international waters" in the Gulf of Tonkin (considerable subsequent suspicion of presidential meddling to turn this minor incident into the causus belli Johnson sought to the contrary notwithstanding), President Johnson rammed through the Senate a bill that gave him breathtakingly sweeping power to go to war without specific Congressional approval (as the Constitution would ordinarily require). Only one Senator voted against the bill, but many years later, when all this had blown up into the Vietnam War under Johnson the Democrat's successor, Nixon the Republican, and later all the subsequent undeclared wars of this country, Senator Fulbright, an antiwar Senator who voted in favor of the resolution, said he regretted his mistake. He said he had voted in expectation of what *this* President would do with the power; he should have voted with regard to what *any* President might do with the power. 

We are unwilling to think in the long term. We vote for and against politicians based on whether they act without regard to longterm consequences. We are also unwilling to just put up with  something we don't like. If we don't like it, we expect our political, governmental, bureaucratic, and judicial systems to do everything possible to fix it for us -- regardless of the consequences, the warnings of our Founders, or the intentions of the Constitution. We want what we want. Give it to us. Now.

We want the Tonga Room; the Fairmont Hotel must preserve it for us. Because we said so.

We're all idiots. We truly have the government we deserve.... It won't get better soon.