Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Missing the point again (and again and again and again and again)

I've been reading Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. A worthwhile read and quite the eye-opener, which got me to thinking about Isaiah 7:14 (Behold, a virgin (or young woman depending on your scholarhsip) shall conceive etc.) It is transparently obvious from a logical point of view that this verse has nothing to do with Jesus, and that the Christian apologist arguments to the contrary are vacuous.

Consider the following prophecy:

"Behold, a race horse shall win the Triple Crown and his name shall be called Sussmahir."

Now, suppose I claimed that Seattle Slew fulfilled that prophecy. You might counter that while they may share a few letters in common, "Seattle Slew" and "Sussmahir" are quite transparently not the same name. At which point I, playing the role of the religious apologist (and those of you who speak Hebrew are no doubt way ahead of me here) would point out that "Sussmahir" means "fast horse" and there can be no denying that Seattle Slew has been called a fast horse. Q.E.D.

The problem, of course, is that on the apologists' view both prophecies are vacuous. Of course any triple crown winner will be called a fast horse, and of course the (any?) Messiah will be called (some variant of) God With Us by someone (though, I note in passing, Jesus is actually never referred to that way in the New Testament).

Of course, none of this will convince a believer, and so I get quite depressed when people put forth extraordinary efforts to produce even more extensive debunkings. And, of course, all of it completely misses the point, which is that people do not believe in God because it makes sense. People believe in God because it helps them deal with their pain.

You'd think that after reams and reams of futile debunking all these atheists and agnostics (who are by and large fairly bright people, even though many of them are complete morons when it comes to marketing) would take a step back and try to figure out why it isn't working. But they don't. They just keep spouting logic, completely oblivious to the fact that in many cases that is actually making matters worse. There's a reason most people don't gravitate towards math and science.

It is at once amazing and tragic how so many smart people can miss such a simple and obvious truth.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Toe the line or lose your job

At least if you're a government employee. The Supreme Court ruled today that the First Amendment does not protect "every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job."

Hm, I must have missed that part of the First Amendment where it spells out all the exceptions to freedom of speech. Let's see.

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nope, still don't see it.

[At this point an NSA agent breaks into my house and hits me upside the head with a baseball bat.]

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, except in such cases where it would embarrass or inconvenience powerful government officials.

Oh. Right. There it is. Can't imagine how I managed to miss that.

What's that sound I hear? It must be the founding fathers rolling over in their graves as they behold government of the people, by the people, and for the people slowly perish from the earth.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Don't they have anything better to do?

The Michigan department of education is trying to ban the words "America" and "American" from their public schools. It's good to know that all the more pressing concerns of the Michigan schools have been solved so that they can finally focus on this issue.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Scared of lung cancer? Toke, don't smoke.

Scientists have found that there appears to be no link between smoking marijuana and increased risk of lung cancer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nibbling away at the Constitution

Today's chomp is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales floating a trial balloon for the idea that journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information on the grounds that:

"'... it can't be the case that that right [the First Amendment Right to freedom of the press] trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity,' he said. 'And so those two principles have to be accommodated.'"

Well, no. Actually, the Constitution specifically says what rights we have in that regard. The Fourth Amendment reads:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." (emphasis added) And, of course, this means unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, not by burglars.

This "right" that the "people" have to "see ... the government go after criminal activity" was invented by Gonzales out of whole cloth, and it completely eviscerates the First Amendment. If this theory holds, all the government has to do to censor information is to classify it.

Once again the Bush Administration is trying to take a bite out of the Constitution. Not that this should come as a suprise to anyone at this point.

Someone really needs to get a life

Don't ask me how I stumbled on to it, but this is the weirdest e-commerce site I have ever seen. It even has an extensive Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Iranians not Nazis (yet)

Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, writes that yesterday's story about Iran considering a law requiring Jews and Christians to wear distinguishing insignia is (and I quote) "a steaming crock."

The Iranian legislature did pass "a law regulating women's fashion." Well. I suppose that's harder to get worked up considering the long and venerable history of this kind of discrimination.

It can't happen here redux

Michelle Goldberg has an excellent analysis of how the American Taliban (a.k.a. the Christian Nationalist movement) will take over the country.

People go in, but they never come out

The Army Reserve has started denying officers' resignations even after their term of service is over.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Think it can't happen here?

Wow, today is just turning out to be chock full of nasty surprises.

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore City police arrested a Virginia couple over the weekend after they asked an officer for directions.

WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins said Joshua Kelly and Llara Brook, of Chantilly, Va., got lost leaving an Orioles game on Saturday. Collins reported a city officer arrested them for trespassing on a public street while they were asking for directions.

How is it even possible to trespass on a public street?

I hope those officers are drawn and quartered.

Never again? Think again.

Iran is contemplating a new law that would require Jews (and Christians this time around) to wear special insignia.

I'm not sure what is more shocking, that they would do this, or that there are still Jews in Iran.

[Update: there are indications that the cited story is not true. Nonetheless, the fact that it is plausible enough to cause such a kerfuffle is disturbing in and of itself.]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Protest the government - go to prison

One of the problems with the President having unilateral power to throw people in prison without trial is there is no way to stop him from doing just that to political opponents. Think it can't happen? Think again.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Required reading

Four years old but still timely, Andrew Sullivan analyzes Islamic fundamentalism and the war on terror. Should be required reading for everyone IMO.