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Archive for October, 2008

 

Moody music, out-of-context quotes, Bill O’Reilley.  I’m sure this is an even-handed take on the rise of atheism in this country and not a propaganda piece with little respect for its intended audience and attempting to scare them with a boogeyman.  See, I know the people that are supposed to see this.  I know how they think, and I know what they’re like:

 

They are good, gentle, fine people.

 

The unfortunate thing I see on their (the believer) side of things, is how little respect they get from the more outspoken members of their group.  You see people like the RNC – who put this video together – and you can’t help but feel offended.  I can’t understand this seeming hatred they have for their own base of constituents.  Propagandizing the opposing viewpoint is one thing, but to do the same to your supporters?  It just seems so unbelievably debasing to me.

 

And it’s so easy for them to do it, too.  You have an audience which agrees that certain good and kind personality traits can be thrown under this ‘umbrella’ term: religious.  They know that they get their morals from this point, and are given a very easy to understand and efficient litmus test for determining the value of a person.  It’s continually self-reenforcing, and pushed even further by those who exist in positions of public authority.  And it’s perfectly fine, except for one, glaring flaw;

 

It’s so easy to then be manipulated.

 

You see it on all sides, Republican/Democrat, Atheist/Theist, you have a certain trait you identify with, and then when you see someone with the same trait, you naturally transfer all the good things you personally feel go along with that trait to that person.  For example, I’m a Libertarian Atheist (to make things simple, we’ll distill it down to two terms and remove all nuance).  Let’s say I’m walking through the mall, and a person says to me, “Hi, I’m a Libertarian Atheist, and I’m running for Mayor.  I’d appreciate your support.”

 

Now, the easy and kneejerk thing for me to do is to, if not immediately, strongly consider giving this person my support.  I know I like the concept of limited government and more freedom to people, and I like the idea of a person not having to be indoctrinated with any religious belief if they don’t want – so if this guy agrees with me, then he’ll easily get my vote!  But he didn’t agree with me.  He didn’t say anything like that.  He just used two terms I can easily identify that generally mean those things that I listed.  It doesn’t mean he agrees with those; it could just mean that he knows those buzzwords would get my vote (ironically, I’m sure I’d be the only one; Emily’s a hardcore Democrat, and she’s the only other atheist I know in this town).  For all I know he may agree with some of my Libertarian tenants, and disagree with others.  He may say he’s an atheist, but he really buys into Buddhist meditation, and want that mandated in public schools.  It could mean a variety of things that are not covered by the fact that he just said two words to me.

 

So let’s swing back to the religious.  I don’t want to say ‘theist’ here, because that word is too broad; it just implies a belief in a creator, not so much that you’re acting on that belief; so I’ll stick with ‘religious’.  I have absolutely no problem with a person looking at a candidate for public office (or a business), seeing that it’s likewise religious, and then endorsing it.  No problem at all.  My only issue is if that’s the only criteria.

 

The problem is a lack of independent and skeptical thinking.  Most atheists; in fact, nearly all, ascribe to a very logical and skeptical slant to their viewpoint.  They almost never take anything at face-value, and would rather ensure that what they are being shown/told is genuine by their own independent analysis (I could go into great detail why, but it’s not pertinent to this).  To merely throw your weight behind something simply because of the source is something I find dubious (and a logical fallacy, by the by).

 

See, when I see a video like this, or a talking head on television saying that ‘because you’re an atheist, you must (insert evil thing here)’, I feel it’s symptomatic of a bigger, and much sadder, problem.  Most religious people would like to take the easy route and say “I’m a Christian, I believe that X is right.  That person is a Christian, they must also believe that X is right.  Since my faith is strong in believing that, so must their faith.  Therefore, they make a good candidate for office.”  That is technically a logical statement – on the surface.  The problem is that the only way you know they are a Christian is that they told you.  You haven’t been by their side the entire time to know that for a fact.  And even if that was the case, you really can’t take your belief and try to make it their belief, just because two words match.

 

Take any major religious mistake recently, molestation/theft/etc – they all had the same thing in common; they all said that they were Christian/Catholic/Jewish/Muslim…religious.  They used that term as a way to broadly define a set of moral behavior that they obviously didn’t adhere to, or possibly even believe.  And because of a lack of skeptical thinking on the part of their constituents, they were put into positions of power, or got away with it (up to the point they got caught, obviously).

 

But this isn’t ‘blame the victim’ time, even though so many atheists like to do that, it’s time to explain that it ultimately doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we at least acknowledge that we have to do our own independent examination.  We have to – each of us – look at whatever is we are being told and question it; especially subjective things like a religious belief.  I honestly think that if more of us did that, we wouldn’t have more atheists or less atheists, more theists or less theists, we would just have smarter people.

 

So when I see a video like that, I think it’s awfully sad that they honestly think they can get away with talking down to their audience like that.  It’s on the same level as a parent telling their child there’s no monsters in the closet because they put a magic spell on the door.  It’s great for a child, but for an adult, it just seems so insulting.

 

Aside from the tone and manner of where they’re coming from, every single thing they stated in the video was true.  I have no problem with that.  It was all factually done – aside from an undated interview with some guy who was taken out of context, but it is only supposed to be a 30 second ad.  They had two ways of presenting it:

  • Show their audience a list of facts concerning the idea, and allow the audience to decide whether they agree with it or not
  • Show their audience a list of facts concerning the idea, and do it in such a way as to get them to decide their agreement in your favor
I’m sorry, but the second one is just so insulting to me.  I can’t help but feel sorry for the religious audience that this is for; I’m so sorry that the people you support don’t respect you enough to let you form your own opinion.  And I’m also sorry that they manipulate something that is so very important to you to keep you obviously thinking the way they want you to.
Please remember that it’s ultimately up to you, and no one else.  Just question when someone presents you with an idea in a such a way that it seems to want to make you formulate a predetermined opinion, rather than simply inform you.

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Suck it, Liberals, I was there first.

 

Recently (as in every election cycle) there has been another McCarthian bout of ‘our America’ vs. ‘their America’.  From McCain campaign surrogates to a Minnesota congresswoman to a talk-show host, this presidential race has denigrated into not a clash of ideologies, but into a drooling, shit-flinging, flag humping quest to prove that not only is the other guy wrong, but he is wrong in a way that pisses on the rich history of this great nation.

 

Keith Olberman and Jon Stewart both seized on this latest attempt to drive the wedge issue of Patriotism in a very profound and honest way.  There are times when I don’t agree with either Olberman or Stewart (although, as I feel with Limbaugh, I have a profound respect for them as gentlemen and people of the media), but I would never attempt to impugn their reputation or persona by attempting to paint them as ‘un-American’.

 

The problem with bringing in the big-gun of ‘Patriotism’ is that it basically boils down to two things.  For one, patriotism is different to each person.  Some would define it as a love of this country and it’s people, others pass it to the government, some to the goals and ideals that it represents, many to the flag that stands for the bedrock of this country, even others to the Constitution.  The problem is, patriotism is such a nebulous concept that to pin it down to something concrete takes something away from it, it removes a part of it that makes it great; the personal nature of it.  Each one of us in this country, if asked separately, would most likely come up with 300 million different definitions of what ‘patriotism’ really means.  And the great thing about it, metaphorically and literally, is that it’s an aspect that unites us together.  We all have different definitions and meanings of it, but because it’s all rooted in the same sense of….pride, I suppose, it brings us together and makes it a profoundly beautiful thing.

 

The other problem of using Patriotism to divide people is quite simply, not patriotic.  When you seek to debase a wondrous and amazing thing as this to manipulate people, you’re leaving what Jefferson termed, ‘the Marketplace of Ideas’ and starting to enter ‘propaganda’.  The ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ is what Jefferson and many of the founding fathers of this country had in mind when they developed the Constitution.  Based on the writings of Thomas Locke (‘Life, Liberty, and Pursuit’ – sound familiar?), it’s a very profound and important idea to uphold.  Essentially you let any crazed whack-job say whatever they want, and let the audience decide if they should give any credence to what he says.

 

For example, two guys stand on a stage.  One says, “I think that the power should rest with the states, since they are the closest government to the people”.  Another says, “I think that the power should rest with the federal government, since it most closely represents the sum total of this nation”.  Each individual person would then have a the power to decide which one they agree with.  This sounds incredibly easy and simple, and it really is.  The problem is sticking to it, when the easy route is to enter in with the idea of convincing people no matter what.  That the ends justify the means.  That you can say or do anything to achieve what you think is the best possible solution to a problem, and that the route you take to get there is secondary to the destination.

 

Unfortunately, this is propaganda.  This is the idea of not letting people make up their minds, but by concealing truth to achieve an end.  The three people who inflamed this fiasco have a very simple thought-process; we want our guy elected, so we’ll say that everyone who disagrees with us isn’t as ‘true American’ as we are.  That they are second-class.  They don’t belong here.  That they shouldn’t be citizens, or even patriots.  That their love of country is wrong compared to ours.

 

“No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.” – George H.W. Bush (never retracted or apologized)

 

I may not agree with what Olberman and Stewart say 100% of the time, but trust me when I say this, I know exactly how they feel.

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I had an interesting conversation with my friend earlier today.  We both were discussing the bailout, when he brought up that it’ll save jobs.  I couldn’t help but think about that for a while.  So long, actually, that he managed to change the conversation, thinking I had become bored with discussing what nearly a trillion dollars of our kids’ money will mean.

 

I see this bailout, and I really can’t understand how it would save a single meaningful job.  Sure, it may keep some lenders and banking institutions upright, but that’s saving jobs that grew out of an artificial bubble in a market where standard supply and demand forces were negated by the conversations between Wall Street and the building inside Capitol Circle.

 

He cites the fact that I have a job – a good one, in fact – and he has a Masters Degree and is struggling to find a wage-earning job that doesn’t have ‘tending’ or ‘flipping’ in the title.  I understand the difficulty behind that, however I can’t help but feel that it’s remarkably short-sighted.  Trust me, I think he should have a job; but I think his job should be found due to the market forces of supply and demand; I think there should be a need first.

 

Plus, there’s this matter that the 700 billion (there’ll be more, don’t worry about that) will somehow bring about a lower unemployment rate.  It won’t, really.  Because it’s not made to do that.  It’s essentially a check for Paulson to invest in the ‘best banks’ and give them the capital needed to then loan out to other banks to unfreeze the credit problems we’re experiencing.

 

Only we’re not done yet.  Everyone sees the Dow falling because it’s good drama, and easy to understand.  When that little number is red, we know to be upset.  When it’s green, we’re supposed to feel better.  The only problem is that the Dow is just a reflection of the value of the top companies in an organization known as the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  It’s more of a snapshot of what the biggest companies are being valued at.

 

  • 3M
  • Alcoa
  • American Express
  • AT&T
  • Bank of America
  • Boeing
  • Caterpillar
  • Chevron
  • Citigroup
  • Coca-Cola
  • DuPont
  • ExxonMobil
  • General Electric
  • General Motors
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Home Dept
  • Intel
  • IMB
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Kraft Foods
  • McDonald’s
  • Merck
  • Microsoft
  • Pfizer
  • Procter & Gamble
  • United Technologies Corporation
  • Verizon
  • Walmart
  • Walt Disney

 

Out of all of the companies included in Dow, the most common ones are either Pharmaceuticals or Finance.  It’s also good to note that JPMorgan and Chase were two entirely different companies up until a week or so ago.  So as the banking institutions start to settle down to what the real-world value of the assets they are holding actually are, we get to watch the little number go green and red for a while.

 

Even if this bailout actually fixes anything (which I really doubt it will), what is the real fallout of it?  Do we really want to let lenders know that the repercussions of their actions come with a safety net?  That there is no real risk in capitalism any longer?

 

I mean, lets take a look at John McCain’s plan for fixing these mortgages, in a very simplified way:

 

Lender: $200,000 mortgage issued

Borrower: $200,000 mortgage bought

 

So far, so good.  Only let’s say that the Borrower could only afford $150,000, and the Lender overlooked that, or didn’t do his research.  Either way both are to blame in this equation.

 

Now, in a real free market, both of these people are screwed, and it’s ultimately their own fault.  The Borrower for being a moron and getting in over his head, and the Lender for being an idiot and not doing the research.  What’s not needed is a third party – you – to come in and fix it.

 

Well, McCain’s plan is pretty straightforward.  You buy that loan from the Lender and issue a government-backed FHA loan to the Borrower at the fair-market value of the home.  So now we have this:

 

Lender: Gets their $200,000 check regardless of any risk involved.

Borrower: Gets the loan at $150,000

Taxpayer: Now fronts $50,000 to make up the difference.  And is now responsible for the Borrower’s loan should they not pay (government-insured).

 

So not only did everyone involved in the faulty transaction benefit (some more than others), the taxpayer has to clean up afterwards.  Now, some people are going to say, “well, looking at the microcosm, it’s easy to break it down and look at the bad, but we have a real-world problem here”.  Now you’re just arguing numbers.  I used to think that.  When the bailout was first proposed, I thought of the pension for firemen and the retirement savings of so many people in this country.

 

The only problem is, that money isn’t going to help them.  It’s not really going to help anyone.  It’s merely going to inflate the national debt at the cost of appearing to do something.  Because when the shit hits the fan like this, for some reason everyone looks to D.C. to do something.  I mean, they can’t just do nothing can they?

 

I think they can, really.  They can do nothing.  They can stop interjecting needless regulation and money into the system and just let us dictate what things are worth.  But we can’t have that.  We have to subsidize projects to inflate their value to ‘spur development’.  We have to over-regulate the healthcare industry to drive up costs.  We can’t just leave shit alone.

 

The government should treat the market like a son you’re trying to prepare for the future.  Set up a few simple rules, enforce them vigorously, and let us make our own mistakes.  Let us decide how much an ear of corn, the gasoline I use to drive to get that ear of corn, and the house I live in to store that ear of corn is all worth.  Let us deal with this, and if we have a problem; someone stealing, or defrauding investors, then we’ll call you.

 

Yes, there are going to be corrections and hiccups.  People are going to exploit the system to create a feedback loop to gain a massive amount of money in the short term, while screwing us in the long term.  Then again, I’m reasonably sure if the guys from Enron started their own company again, no one would buy from them; problem solved.

 

And if you really want to help, really want to do something to ‘assist the unfortunate’ do what Obama is planning; reinvest capital in the market in such a way to let it do it’s own thing.  Basically, let dad hold the bike until we’re able to steady ourselves and let go.  It may not be a perfect idea, but it’s the best you’re going to see out of a Democrat in a long time.  Use the 700 Billion to invest in renewable energy infrastructure and research, and in community colleges; that way when the workers in the FIRE industry have to retrain themselves for a changing market, they can get a 2 year degree and work in a new industry that will benefit everyone.  Don’t use it to subsidize mistakes.  If you’re going to take my money and dick around, at least help my friend get a job if he needs it.

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One chapter down, almost

Signing the papers in the bank, we couldn’t help but giggle to ourselves.  Emily and I were letting the bank know we understand the responsibility involved in owning a home, and that we were going to spend a sizable chunk of time during our day doing favors for others to pass the rewards to them.  Interest, equity, insurance, escrow, terms that were new to me before, but are now as intimately familiar as any other.  We left that day with a loan.  A loan for a house.  A house of our own.  As staggering a concept as that seemed, we were beginning to realize we were about to become homeowners.

 

We spent the next few weeks complaining that the closing date was too far away, and planning on projects for the new house.  First up was gutters.  Then we had to strip and repaint the outside walls and shutters.  Painting the interior was a must, including putting the doors in the hallway on the inside of the rooms.

 

Only not.

 

The stock market was spiraling out of control.  Large corporations were going under.  The government was doing the unthinkable and stepping in to actually purchase private companies.  As the stone hit the pond, the waves went outward, touching everything.  And in Avon Lake, in rented house where a young couple and their dog eagerly await the day they can call a place in America their own, the ripple hit there too.

 

The underwriters pulled out.  At every bank and lender we tried they wouldn’t give us money.  Uncertain times made for untrustworthy neighbors.  We were plagued, untouchable to those that we needed to make a home for ourselves.  ‘The American Dream’ would live only in our sleep.

 

We took a step back, discussed our options and are now moving forward in a different direction.  It was a house that we thought would be perfect.  We loved its virtues and adored the flaws.  We dreamed of projects and improvements.  We wanted to make our home ours.  Even though that path is lost, we are still moving forward.

 

In a different direction, but still forward.

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Finally

 

 

She finally – finally – figures out what her webbed feet, otter-like tail, short hair, and third eyelid are for.

 

And the wet-dog smell isn’t so bad.  Always a plus.

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