Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah's Choice

Sarah Palin, McCain's VP pick, is being lauded by many pro-birth conservatives for having decided not to have an abortion even though she knew early in her pregnancy that she was carrying a fetus with Down syndrome. And if she had her way, no woman would have the legal right to make the choice she had the right to make. All would be required to have the child.

I'm inclined to say that Palin shouldn't be admired and praised for her choice, but criticized if not condemned for it, and condemned all the more for wanting to take the choice away from everyone else. Life is difficult enough, especially in the social Darwinist world the Republicans glorify, for even those of average or superior intelligence. Why knowingly bring a mentally handicapped child into this, as conservative "stand-up comedian, political/sports commentator, and television/radio personality" Dennis Miller puts it, "Serengeti Plain" of a world if one can prevent it early on?

To "spare the life" of a precious child? "Spare" it from what? From a life of tremendous struggle against all-but-impossible odds in an ever-more complicated and rapidly changing world? From the "wide gate" to hell in which fundamentalist Christians like Palin and John McCain believe?

And you want to know something really ironic about all of this? Sarah Palin and her husband are not fabulously wealthy individuals. I suspect that they're a lot better off financially than most of us, but not rich enough to be able to pay out of their own pockets for all of the special services their Down syndrome child will require over the course of his life. So, who do you think will pick up the tab? The federal government, of course. That means all of us. The same federal government that politicians like McCain and Palin are so hellbent on shrinking, and the same American people that these politicians say they want to tax less.

Are the American people so stupid or blind that they can't understand or see this? Yes, I think they are. And so all-too-many of them will vote for John McCain partly because he chose Sarah Palin who made a legal choice to bring a mentally handicapped child into this cruel world to suffer the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and face the high probability of burning in screaming agony forever and ever in the world to come.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unfair Advantage?

Does the Democratic convention always come before the Republican convention? If it does, why is this? I believe that whichever party stages its convention last has a huge advantage. Its convention can steal the thunder of the other party's convention and replace it with its own.

And, in this year's case, John McCain was able to choose a female running mate after he saw Obama's choice on the other side. If the Republican convention had come first and McCain would have had to choose his running mate first, Obama could have made his VP choice accordingly.

I still believe that, as much as I've come to dislike Hillary, Obama should have chosen her. I now feel convinced that McCain will win and that we'll have at least "four more years" of disastrous Republican foreign and domestic policy.

I believe that the parties should alternate in who goes first with their convention. In 2012, the Republicans should go first.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two Strong Men

Many are criticizing Obama's VP choice. They say he should have chosen Hillary. They say that an Obama-Clinton ticket would have been unbeatable. I think they're right that Obama-Clinton would have had a better chance of winning than Obama-Biden. As it is now, I think McCain will win.

But it wasn't up to me or the so-called pundits to make the choice. It was Obama's choice, and he chose someone who was my choice for president. He chose a man with the common touch but with uncommon passion and an extraordinarily profound grasp of both domestic and foreign policy. Some say that Obama's choosing Biden is an admission of his weakness in the areas where Biden is strong.

It's interesting how the same thing can be viewed in very different ways. I happen to think that Obama's choice demonstrates great wisdom and strength. That is, he's wise enough to seek the invaluable counsel of a strong, more experienced, and very knowledgeable person, and he's strong enough not to feel intimidated by him.

And what kind of man is his VP choice? Here is what a Salon article says about him:

As the Balkan wars of the 1990s unfolded, few in Washington believed the United States should get involved in what appeared to be another round of a centuries-old, brutal conflict that seemed to promise only endless bloodshed for outsiders foolish enough to get trapped in someone else's ethnic struggles.

Biden has always been Eurocentric, defining America's interests as closely tied to the security of Europe, and convinced that the fate of southeastern Europe was inextricably linked to the well-being of the rest of the continent and, by extension, the United States. But the tipping point for Biden was the abuse-of-power issue he had absorbed from his father decades earlier, and he could not abide witnessing another genocide in Europe.

Many years earlier, when Biden's sons, Beau and Hunter, turned 13 little more than a year apart, he took them, separately, to the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich, Germany. It was critical for Joe Biden to teach his sons what his father had impressed upon him: the immorality and unacceptability of turning a blind eye to abuse of power, with Dachau representing the ultimate consequences of the unwillingness to confront evil.

Biden traveled to the Balkans virtually every year throughout the 1990s and finally succeeded in convincing an initially reluctant President Clinton -- and an even more recalcitrant Sen. John McCain -- that saving Muslim lives from a genocidal fate was a wise and just use of American military force. The iconic moment came in a face-to-face meeting between Biden and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic when the senator told the tyrant he was a "war criminal" who one day would be held accountable at the Hague, a prescient statement few others dared whisper.

Years later, accompanying Biden to Libya, I witnessed firsthand the senator's unique brand of personal diplomacy and his willingness to speak truth to power. Moammar Gadhafi had asked Biden to come to Libya to address a large convention at the time he was seeking a rapprochement with the United States. Biden agreed to go only after Gadhafi consented to a one-on-one meeting. We were ushered into Gadhafi's large tent in Sirte. There was minimal small talk before Biden asked why we were really there, why Gadhafi had embarked on his new approach. Gadhafi replied by asking, "Why not -- after all, the normal state of affairs between nations should be one of cooperation and friendship."

To which Biden responded without hesitation, "Well, you blew a passenger plane out of the sky, you've supported terrorists, and until recently you were developing nuclear weapons, that's why not." Gadhafi realized his jive had been rejected, and he resorted to honesty. "It's true we supported the PLO, the Sandinistas, the IRA and others, and they've all ended up on the White House lawn -- why not me?"

Biden succeeded in getting the despot to admit his real purpose was far from democracy building, as Gadhafi's single-minded interest was to secure Western know-how to develop Libya's natural resources quicker.

But the best moment came minutes later when Biden interrupted the maximum leader's soliloquy on the virtues of Libyan democracy by asking, "Please tell me, in your democracy can the people get rid of you?" After the translation was complete, it was hard to avoid glancing at the goons with automatic weapons lining the sides of the tent. "No, they can't," said Gadhafi, "because I am special. I started the revolution and they respect that."

"Oh, I understand," said Biden. "We had someone like that, too. George Washington. But after eight years, we got rid of him."

His commitment to passing his signature legislation, the Violence Against Women Act, similarly arose from lessons learned long ago about the moral centrality and need to uphold human rights and redress society's injustices.

Yes, Joe Biden can be glib. And he's the first to admit there are times he talks too much, even to his detriment, so that a phenomenal 15-minute speech turns into a good 25-minute speech and ends up as a maddening 40-minute speech.

But listen closely to what Biden actually says and means. Understand the values and principles that underpin his views. And try to appreciate his ability to connect the dots better than almost anyone else in public life when it comes to articulating a uniquely optimistic foreign policy and domestic agenda that are elevated by the simple but profound lessons learned in the humble home of Jean and Joe Biden Sr.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain's Warmongering and Fearmongering?

Andrew Sullivan believes that if John McCain is elected president, he will not make America more secure against terrorism and war. Contrary to what current polls indicate about American public opinion, Sullivan believes that McCain would endanger us with a foreign policy that exacerbates the serious problems we already face. Here is Sullivan's critique:

My main worry with John McCain is foreign policy. What do I worry about? That everything that has been awry with this administration would be made worse by his. Seeing the world as a series of enemies to be attacked rather than as a series of relationships to be managed and a series of foes to be undermined has proven of limited use. Even the successful removal of the Taliban has led, six years later, to a long and grueling counter-insurgency with no end in sight and a reconstituted al Qaeda in a nuclear-armed, unstable state. The invasion of Iraq - in the abstract, a noble cause against an evil enemy - has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, the price of $3 trillion ... all for a less despotic Shiite government in league with Iran, making contracts with China. And that's if it turns out as a success. Along the way, the US has lost a vast amount of its moral standing and its legitimacy as a global power-broker. Insofar as neoconservatives do not understand this, and cannot understand this, they are a clear and present danger to the security of the West. Their unwillingness to understand how the US might be perceived in the world, how a hegemon needs to exhibit more humility and dexterity to maintain its power, makes them - and McCain - extremely dangerous stewards of American foreign policy in an era of global terror. They are diplomatically and strategically autistic.

McCain's response to the calamities of the past eight years has been to compound them all.

It has been to propose a "surge" in Afghanistan, to aggressively embrace open-ended commitment to Iraq (if the Iraqis can be pressured hard enough), and to launch one new hot war against Iran and another cold one - and hot, by proxies - against Russia. And the way in which the question is debated - around asinine concepts of "toughness" or "sissiness" - leads to facile decisions. It also leads to ads like this one: fear-mongering as an argument. It should be noted that Obama's statement that Iran is "not a serious threat" is so out of context as to be a lie. He said it was "not a serious threat compared to the Soviet Union." That is a critical, historical point - a way of actually looking at foreign policy outside a box crafted by morons.

Aside from the reference to "morons," I believe that Sullivan makes some incisive points. I believe that he's also spot on in his criticism of a fearmongering John McCain ad that distorts Obama's position on communicating with hostile leaders. In contrast with McCain's misrepresentation, here is what Obama actually said on the matter:

Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it: Iran, Cuba, Venezuela -- these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union [italics are mine]. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us [italics mine]. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, 'We're going to wipe you off the planet.' And ultimately, that direct engagement led to a series of measures that helped prevent nuclear war and over time allowed the kind of opening that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Sullivan asks, "What does McCain disagree with in that?" I ask, What do YOU disagree with in that?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Liberal AND Conservative Obamas?

There's no question that if you judge the candidates on their actual lives, rather than mythologies, the Obamas are extremely mainstream and conservative. Married for life, great parents, very humble beginnings, driven meritocrats. No divorce or adultery - and regular religious attendance and faith. And yet they are tagged as elitists and radicals. Yes, they're liberals in policy, although not radically so. But they're conservatives in their lives.

The same paradox can be seen in Obama himself: a policy liberal but a temperamental conservative. To see the Obamas as they are requires us to see them in these paradoxes. And to recognize that they may not be paradoxes at all.
--Andrew Sullivan

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thumbs Down on Whole Lotta Love

I didn't get to see the opening ceremony of the Olympics, but I've just finished watching the closing ceremony, and I must say that I was awed by the sublime beauty and majesty of most of it. I say "most of it," because there was one segment that I found embarrassingly bad and shockingly out of place. No, it wasn't anything staged by the Chinese. It was a British production featuring Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and some British pop star singer I've never heard of doing Whole Lotta Love.

Now don't get me wrong. I love Jimmy Page and Whole Lotta Love. I think Page is one of the greatest rock guitarists and composers ever and Whole Lotta Love ranks as one of the great rock songs. But that song was utterly and totally out of place in the closing ceremony of the Olympics. The Chinese were doing a remarkable program depicting their nation's amazing cultural history and diversity and exhibiting their soaring aspirations for the future, and then along comes Page and that pop star crassly singing about some horny young guy "droolin'" to fu*k his girlfriend. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing, and I actually felt embarrassed not only for Great Britain but also for the whole Caucasian race!

When I heard that Jimmy Page would be in the closing ceremony, I thought he might do the immortal Stairway to Heaven complete with Chinese acrobats climbing the "Memory Tower" to a sky bursting with dazzling fireworks or something of the kind. Not that I've ever really understood what Stairway to Heaven is about, but I'm inclined to believe that the music and lyrics to that song would have been much more appropriate for the occasion than those of Whole Lotta Love.

I don't believe that the British four years from now can come close to the spectacularly lavish and imaginative ceremonies the Chinese staged in Beijing, but I sure hope that they can do a whole lot better than a Whole Lotta Love.

Second Thoughts

Last Friday I posted an entry I wish I hadn't. I implied that John McCain is a "gigolo" and that this is one reason why we shouldn't vote for him.

I wish I hadn't posted this because I believe that what we should be talking about is who would make the better president, and I don't believe that McCain's marriage or wealth is sufficiently relevant to this issue to be part of the discussion. God knows that Democrats and Republicans alike will make all kinds of questionable allegations and insinuations in the weeks to come about McCain's ill-gotten wealth, Obama's "effeminate" "elitism," and so on and so forth. But I don't want my blog to be part of this. If I say anything more about McCain or Obama, I want to say things that I think are truly germane to consideration of who would make the best president of the United States in these very challenging times.

I thought about deleting Friday's entry, but I decided to keep it as a vivid example of what I want to stay away from from now on.

Friday, August 22, 2008

John McCain: American Gigolo?

What's most notable about John McCain's confusion over the number of homes he owns isn't merely that it demonstrates that, after running his campaign based on depicting Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and himself as the all-American Everyman, McCain lives a life that is about as far removed from the Average American as one can get, and has done so for decades. What's notable is how McCain was able to live that way. McCain himself isn't actually rich. He just lives off the inherited wealth of his much younger former mistress and now-second-wife -- for whom he dumped his older and disfigured first wife -- and who then used her family's money to fund McCain's political career and keep him living in extreme luxury (after insisting that he sign a prenuptial agreement, which would make McCain the first U.S. President to have one).
--Glenn Greenwald

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Question for Senator McCain

John McCain says that if he's elected president, he "knows" how to get Osama bin Laden and that he'll follow him to the "gates of hell" to do it. That sounds like an ironclad promise to me. So, I wish someone would ask McCain in a very high-profile television moment whether he'll promise that if he's elected president and bin Laden isn't captured or killed by the end of McCain's first term, he will not seek reelection to a second term.

It's very easy to talk tough and sound resolved to do something. But is McCain willing to put his proverbial money where his mouth is and show us that he's not just another political gasbag who'll promise us the moon in order to get elected because he knows that he won't have to deliver the goods? If he really does know how to get bin Laden and he's absolutely determined to get him, it seems to me that it shouldn't take him longer than four years.

So, since I'm pretty darn sure that no one will ask him the question, I guess it falls on me to do it. So here goes.

Senator McCain, do you promise here and now that if you're elected president and Osama bin Laden isn't captured or killed by the end of your first term, you will not run for reelection to a second term?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Too Certain of Himself?

Some are criticizing Obama for his reflective responses to Rick Warren's questions Saturday and praising McCain for his dogmatic answers to the same questions. But here is Andrew Sullivan's take on the issue, and I agree with him:
The assumption of Obama's critics is that a president should always reduce complex issues to simple black and white truisms, unfounded in reality. That's why they supported Bush. And that's why they're supporting McCain.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

National Pride or World Pride?

As I watch the Olympics, I hear a lot of praise for the Chinese for being so proud of their country and of the successes of their athletes. And I admit to being proud of my country and its athletic successes at the Olympics, with the phenomenal Michael Phelps and our men's basketball team coming foremost to mind. But I aspire to the highest wisdom, and I wonder if it's wiser to love one's country and to be proud of its achievements, or to love the whole world and to be proud of the achievements of all humankind, no matter which flag they fly.

I guess it's possible to do both. I'm proud of my country and the performance of its athletes in the Olympics, but I'm also happy for and even proud of the human achievements of athletes from other countries, including China, and I'm trying to be even more so. When I try to do this and the more successful I am at it, the less I feel like waving the American flag when an American wins a gold medal. and the less impressed I am with the Chinese waving their flags in the streets and stadia of Beijing.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Obama's Wise Distinction

Many people in and out of the media are wondering why Barack Obama is not doing better in the polls than he is. With the Republican Bush administration in such disfavor during an unusually challenging and dangerous time for this nation and the world as a whole, you'd think that Democrat Obama would be riding his undeniable charisma to overwhelming advantage over a bland old John McCain who seems bent on continuing most of the Bush approach to our sputtering economy, to a world of increasing international tensions, and to a war that the majority of Americans believe should never have been waged.

But not only is Obama not running away from McCain in the polls, but McCain has pulled into a virtual tie with him. This could change after the two candidates start debating each other face-to-face and after each side unleashes their big gun commercials. But I increasingly and sadly believe that, in the end, McCain will probably win the presidency. And one of the reasons I think this is that too many voters have been irrevocably turned off to Obama because of his longstanding association with Jeremiah Wright's church and with the controversial pastor himself. Too many people, who might otherwise have voted for Obama, won't now because they're afraid of what Obama's relationship with that church and with Wright may reveal about how he really feels about this country and white people, and you can be darn sure that Republicans will continue to fan and exploit this fear to the fullest possible extent from now till election day.

I wish everyone would read the Newsweek interview I just read, for it just might change some minds and votes back to Obama. The interview is with conservative Christian Stephen Mansfield, who recently wrote a book examining Obama's faith. In the interview, Mansfield offers an explanation of Obama's involvement with Wright and his church that makes a whole lot of sense to me. It's what I've always believed to be the truth but couldn't articulate as clearly as Mansfield does. Here is the gist of Mansfield's explanation in his own compelling words:

Most people who have gone to a church have had to grit their teeth through some sermon and perhaps walk away not agreeing with everything. I think if you've been to a church, especially with this black "prophetic preaching," which is a theological perspective that says pastors ought to comment on everything from the government to the economy, then we're not just going to talk about the joy, joy, joy way down deep in our hearts the way most white churches do. This preaching comes out of the postslavery years, where a pastor is the commentator on all things in society. So I think when you have that perspective and you're used to hearing someone comment on a variety of things, you don't necessarily have to share his perspective to be involved with the church. In fact, black pastors often—and I say this as a man who's worked with and preached in black churches—say extreme things to shift the lines a little and stir people up. So I am sure Barack Obama, sitting there, said, "This is a great church, love the people, but I don't agree with everything that's said." Again, he distinguished between the revelation of God and the personality of a man.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reply to Gary

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry titled A Loving God? in which I argued that, contrary to what many believe, the Christian God is not loving and the Christian community is not "love-centered," because: (1) A loving omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God wouldn't create a world of suffering or allow a hell to exist in which human souls could suffer eternally, (2) A loving God wouldn't require us to love him in order to avoid eternal torture in hell, and (3) Christians are generally no more loving than agnostic, atheistic, and other religious people. I concluded by saying: "It continues to amaze me how human beings can use their intelligence to rationalize belief in a "loving God" that is neither loving nor the least bit plausible."

A few days ago, Gary replied with a thoughtful comment that I think deserves more exposure than it's likely to get buried in the comments section of my post. So, I'm reposting it here along with my reply to each point.

Like Dr. Carl Sagan I am both a scientist and an agnostic.

Unlike you and the late, great Carl Sagan, I am not a scientist, but like you and Sagan, I am agnostic or, as I sometimes call myself, agnostic panentheistic, even if I'm not exactly sure what "panentheism" means.

There is no proof either way to support the existence or non-existence of a God.

Just as there's no absolute proof that there's no, to use the example offered by a later commenter, a "Flying Spaghetti Monster," but this doesn't mean that we don't have ample reason to justifiably and very strongly doubt the existence of both.

I am always amazed at the vitriol that is expended by atheists at those of faith. Why bother? It will not effect a true believer and when taken to the extreme I am reminded of the religious fanatics we all despise.

I'm not surprised by the "vitriol," unless I'm surprised that it isn't far worse.

Suppose you relocated to another country where the dominant religion worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster god, and this belief permeated the culture to such an extent that no one could be elected president or to any other high office without espousing belief in this god; people seeking political power ostentatiously wrapped themselves in symbols of this religion to psychologically manipulate the populace into supporting them or their dubious if not destructive proposals; proponents of this religion tried to block or vitiate the teaching of certain kinds of science in the public schools and to have their religious beliefs taught alongside this science and to have public school children pray to their god and pledge their allegiance to a nation existing "under" that God; and these same proponents of a religion that teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves and feed the hungry, house the homeless, and take care of the sick were often among the most unloving and uncharitable people around.

Don't you think you might feel more than a little frustrated and consequently angry surrounded by all of this entrenched foolishness, coercion, and hypocrisy? Don't you think you might speak out against it and try, by whatever means you could. to weaken the hold of this religion over the minds and hearts and politics of the people around you?

However, I can't say that I see all the "vitriol" that you suggest is out there. People often accuse the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett of vitriolic diatribes against Christianity, but it seems to me that their books and talks are not so much vitriolic as strong assertions of facts and reason against what is largely religious nonsense.

It has absolutely no effect other than to entrench the fanatics on both sides which invariably leads to violence. This is utter stupidity.

Where is "violence" coming or on the verge of coming from the agnostic and atheist "fanatics"? Indeed, where are these fanatics? Who are they?

Why are atheists so frightened or disgusted by those who choose to follow a religion?

I suspect that most atheists are more disgusted than frightened by monotheists, unless those monotheists happen to be AK-47 wielding, suicide-bombing Islamists, and wouldn't you be too if you were surrounded by believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a setting similar to the one I described earlier?

The vast majority are productive members of society who cause no harm to others(my wife is Wiccan hence the use of the term) and carry on with their lives. Many of them perform charitable (in other words they donate their own money...not relying on the taxpayers to do it for them... or their time) deeds on a weekly basis(something the atheist community does not I might add) and the rest at least on a yearly basis. Why in the world would any group choose to vent their spleen on someone like that?

I think a case could be made that they do cause harm to themselves and others. First of all, their embrace of nonsensical exoteric monotheism may blind them and others to the potential of secular reason or esoteric spiritual practice to evoke actual wisdom, personal growth, and positive transformation of society and culture. Second, monotheistic teachings on hell are monstrous and, when imposed on children, arguably abusive. Third, when theists try to foist some of their religious beliefs (e.g., opposition to evolutionary theory, opposition to birth control, intolerance toward gays) and practices (e.g., school prayer, teaching of some version of intelligent design) and to codify their beliefs into law (e.g., criminalizing homosexual relations and abortion), this could well be harmful. As for religious people being more charitable than atheists, I'm not sure this is true. Can you document the truth of this?

Go after the murderers, or the animal abusers, or the child abusers, or anyone who is doing harm.....but no they instead choose to waste their time and many tax dollars in court going after someone who chooses to believe in a God. What the heck for?

Are you saying that atheists don't "go after" animal and child abusers or others who do harm? Don't atheists, as much as anyone else, revile them, ostracize them, throw them in jail, and sometimes even execute them. What do atheists do to religious believers who act within the law? How do they unfairly "go after" theists in court?

As an aside I allways like comparing the currently held scientific theory(or belief if you prefer) on the creation of the universe by the leading cosmologist in the world.

Briefly cosmologists theorise that the universe started from a singularity about the size of a Neutron(one half of the size of a Hydrogen Atom nucleus) and in a massive explosion between 12 an 20 billion years ago all the matter in the universe expanded from that singularity and spread out in a flat universe billions of light years across. The Christian theory(or belief if you prefer) starts...

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
One version is that which I am most familiar with, the other was written thousands of years ago by a primitive non-scientific people and yet...they sound pretty similar to my ear.

For one thing, scientific cosmology eliminates the extra and possibly needless step of invoking a cosmic personage who intentionally designed, created, and presides over the universe and who rewards those who love and obey him and tortures those who disbelieve in him and disobey him. And science isn't faced with, in my opinion, the impossible of task of reconciling an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent creator God with the ubiquitous presence of evil and suffering. In other words, scientific cosmology seems more pleasingly parsimonious and plausible than the monotheistically religious one.