Overheard Conversations On Airplanes

I have been travelling back and forth from Austin to Boise, Idaho for work over the past month. So I have spent quite a bit of time on airplanes and at airports. I have overheard a few interesting conversations.

On one flight, there was a guy who worked  for a “non-denominational” christian organization. It was either a school or a non-profit, I cannot remember. I think it’s kind of funny when christians label themselves “non-denominational”. They seem to think this implies an objectivity or neutrality that does not really exist.

At one point he said that as a society “we put too much faith in science.” I thought: You are in a metal tube filled with flammable liquid suspended thousands of feet in the air. You’d better have some faith in science. The taxicab fallacy at its finest.

If skeptics and atheists have “faith in science“, it is not faith in the sense of worshipping an invisible deity whose behavior is consistent with non-existence, or belief in things without proof. It is the assumption that since the scientific method has increased our understanding of the world in the past that it will continue to do so. I think that as long as religion claims to be a method for understanding the world, it will always be incompatible with science. Besides, if religion had anything to do with technology, why didn’t god tell people how to make airplanes 5,000 years ago?

Another conversation was with a guy who was a medical assistant at a clinic that did vision correction surgery. He said that Medicare reimburses them right away. But private insurance companies drag their feet. He said they have to submit claims to private insurance companies several times, but they only have to submit to Medicaid once. He said that about 50% of the people working at his clinic do nothing but deal with insurance companies. Do we really have the best health care system in the world?

Lastly, one time when I got back to Austin it was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. I heard someone say that the day before it was in the 80s. Climate scientists have been predicting temperature volatility for years. Yet many people still think it’s a big hoax.

Image from Uncyclopedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. I do not have the time to determine if it is allowed under Unfair Use

Separation Of Church And State

One of the myths of the Religious Right-Wing is that there is no such thing in the US as the separation of church and state.

Their main argument seems to be that the actual phrase (as well as the phrase “wall of separation”) does not appear in the Constitution. The phrase “wall of separation” comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote while President. Generally conservatives love to go on about what the Founders intended, and Jefferson always seemed to be one of their favorite founding fathers.

This topic comes up a lot on Freethought Radio since church/state issues are the point of the organization. They point out that while the phrase is not in the First Amendment, “separation of church and state” is a pretty good summary of the  Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

I had a Christian friend who used this argument since the actual phrase is not in the Constitution. Then he would turn around and tell me about his debates with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not believe in the Trinity, since the word “trinity” is not in the Bible. He would cite Bible verses showing that the concept is. He was pretty proud of himself. And he never saw the contradiction.

The hosts of Freethought Radio point out that the concept of Balance of Powers is in the Constitution, even if the phrase is not. Slavery is also in the Constitution, although the actual S-word is not.  The phrases used are “other persons” and “Person held to Service or Labour”.

There is another concept that is in the Constitution even though the phrase itself is not. And it is a concept that a lot of conservatives love love love: States’ rights.

Either you need the phrase in the Constitution, or you do not.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Yet More Austerity

Here are a few more links to articles about austerity.

This is an academic page on VoxEU.

Here is one from the New York Times by some professor at Cornell. At one point, he asks the question: If we are not going to spend money to repair infrastructure now, then when will we?

Here is one from Politicus that links to a Krugman article in which he points out that the pro-austerity crowd is not being honest. They really do not care whether it will help the economy. They just want to dismantle the welfare state and rip the safety net. If that is what they want, why not just argue for those things on their own merits?

He also makes an interesting point about motives: The pro-austerity crowd never seems to consider that the pro-stimulus crowd is pushing stimulus because the pro-stimulus crowd states and thinks that stimulus might be good for the economy. No, the austerity people insist the stimulus people have an agenda. After all, the austerity crowd has an ulterior motive. So they think that everybody else does as well.

We also see this in the climate change “debate”. I used quotes because from a scientific perspective there is no debate about climate change.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

More ‘Both Sides Do It’ Nonsense

One of the results of the government shutdown is some people on the web are pointing out that it is not the case that “both sides are to blame”, that it is in fact the case that one side is more to blame than the other.

I retweeted a few articles that I think at least mentioned the “both sides” fallacy:

Here is an article from the Washington Post pointing out that while there are fringe theories on the left, they were never spouted by any Senators or House committee chairs or any high-ranking Democrats, and there were not unending investigations into non-existent “scandals”.

Politicus has an article pointing out that the media is not as liberal as people think. It only got critical of GW Bush towards the end of his presidency. I guess spending billions on a war based on lies is okay with some people at least some of the time.

Dante Atkins at Daily Kos looked at the “both sides” BS when Olympia Snowe decided not to run for re-election in the Senate.

Business Insider had an article in April pointing out that some Repubs not only think the GOP is not waging a war on women, but think that Obama is waging a war on religion. Granted, a lot of conservatives seem to think they are being oppressed when they are not kicking someone around.

Maybe I should get a sticker that says I am a Proud Oppressor Of Conservatives.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Thoughts On Syria, Protest and Unintended Consequences

I saw a few posts on Business Insider about military members saying the USA should not intervene in Syria. (See the posts herehere, and here.)

I have also seen a few articles online from conservatives saying we should be careful because intervening could have “unintended consequences.” Some of the same commentators saying we are moving too fast on Syria are the same people saying that Obama did not act quickly enough in Libya.

Should active duty military be speaking out on policy? Can I yell at them that they are not “real Americans”, just as some people yelled at me at anti-war protests during the Bush administration? Yes, there could be unintended consequences. News flash: Every policy could have unintended consequences, whether it is pushed by someone you voted for or not.

A lot of people did not want to hear about any potential negative results from attacking Iraq. I guess a lot of people thought the Iraqis would buy mega-mansions, fill them with big screen TVs, and drive SUVs to mega-churches. Sectarian conflict, providing practice for al-Queda and a stronger Iran were considered impossible. And woe to anyone who was not on board.

It seems like a LOT of people only see potential downsides to military intervention when we have a Democrat in the White House. It seems okay to openly defy a Democratic president, as Colin Powell did over gays in the military.

I am sure there is always debate in the military over every policy all the time. Why is it that it only seems to become public when we have a Democratic president? Why do so many people turn their brains off and just obey when we have a Republican president?

In one of the posts, there is a photo of a soldier saying they do not want to fight for “Obama’s al-Queda rebels”. You guys had no problem fighting for Bush’s Shiite thugs (many of whom got support from Iran), so why is this an issue now? Another says he did not sign up to die for corporations. I am guessing he was not in the military when Bush and Cheney were running things.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Thoughts On Crazy Conservatives

I have stated on this site that I think a lot of conservatives are pathological. Nothing is ever conservative enough, and each thinks that THEY are the only TRUE conservative.

Now we are seeing that the Tea Bagger voters are upset that the guys they sent to Congress are “waffling”, or “not conservative enough”, or, as some might put it: realizing that not everybody in the country agrees with you. One article about this was published in The Guardian.

Another was published in The American Prospect. I think the last paragraph is a nice summary:

As many a Republican politician will tell you (ask Marco Rubio, for one), convincing the Tea Party that you’re sufficiently conservative and that you hate Barack Obama enough isn’t just a full-time job, it’s a game that almost everyone will eventually lose. At some point you’ll take some position or express some opinion that is interpreted as less than maximal anti-Obamaism, and all it takes is one slip to be declared a traitor forevermore.

But I have an issue with the last sentence: So as crazy as Republican politicians sometimes seem, don’t forget that they’re under constant pressure from a base that is even crazier.

I wonder what was going through the author’s head when he wrote that. Are we supposed to have sympathy for these Tea Bagger congressmen? They chose to suck up to the crazies. Some of them bad-mouthed people who did not vote for them, or Democrats/liberals in general. And now they are choosing to not stand up to the Tea Baggers.


A while back I mentioned the Texas Tribune Tribcast. I got through the first half of 2013 about a week ago. They also make the Tea Baggers sound pretty crazy. The TB’s don’t want to spend any money or raise any taxes. Two of the big issues in the past regular session and the special sessions were transportation and water. As I have stated on this site, lower taxes are nice, but they are not the answer to all the world’s problems. Neither is cutting spending. Cutting taxes won’t repair roads, and cutting spending won’t make it rain more.

Usually when you want to deride someone for magical thinking, you say, “XYZ does not just fall from the sky.” In the case of rain, it does fall from the sky. However, you have no way of making it fall when and where you need it to.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Because Tea Parties are for little children with imaginary friends.

Ideology does not trump reality.

I Hope Voting Makes a Comeback

I have voted in every election since I turned 18. I recently moved to Texas, and I got my registration card the day before the election. So my voting streak is unbroken.

I know a lot of people who do not vote. They think there is no point and that nothing ever changes.

There is a great line I have seen on the web: If voting is not important, why are Republicans always trying to stop you? I have noticed the Same Old Party goes on and on about invalid registrations. So their solution to this non-existent problem is to purge the voter rolls. They never seem to have any interest in registering people properly.

You have probably heard about or heard the recording of Mitt Romney’s statement about the 47%.  That was at a fundraiser with an admission price of $50,000. That is about the median income in the US. I bet the people at that fundraiser all voted.

If you don’t vote, you give people who can spend your annual salary in one night even more power. You are giving them more say in our government. You are causing the very thing you say you want to prevent. Granted, it takes a lot of median income people voting to equal the voice of a wealthy person. But if you don’t participate, then who will?

I think it’s funny when people say that there is no point in voting because it never changes anything. By itself it might not do much. But if you are not willing to stand in line to press a button every couple of years, then what are you willing to do to change society? If you won’t press a button, then how exactly is society supposed to change?

I think that slowly things are changing. People are starting to realize that a lot of things happen at the state level. The Trayvon Martin incident. The Wendy Davis filibuster. The Moral Monday protests in North Carolina. I think people are staring to organize. Secular Texas is part of this.

This really hit me after a few exchanges on Twitter (archived here). Do not ignore what happens at the state level.

Image from Bobbi’s Blog, originally from Political Loudmouth, although I could not find it there

Freethought Radio and The Texas Tribune Tribcast

I generally do not listen to podcasts as they are released. I let them pile up for a few months. Sometimes when I find a new one that I like I will go back and download all or some of the older episodes.

Over the past few weeks, I listened to episodes of Freethought Radio from 2012. Freethought Radio is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. One of the things that they do is file lawsuits against various state and local governments (and sometimes the federal government) over church/state separation.

They have members all over the country, and their members are informing them of First Amendment issues all the time. Many times the communities the FFRF is contacting complain about “outside groups telling us what to do.”

First off, it’s an outside group with local members. Secondly, it is amazing that so many people claim to be all for the Constitution yet do not understand it. Many people complain about the FFRF trying to “take away our religion”, or something like that. The case law is pretty clear that government cannot endorse religion. The FFRF is not trying to shut down churches. Opening a city council meeting with a prayer does violate the First Amendment. There is nothing stopping people from praying on their own time.

Recently they had a case down here in Texas in a town called Kountze near Houston. They talked about it quite a bit on Freethought Radio.

It was also mentioned on another podcast that I listen to: The Tribcast produced by The Texas Tribune , “a nonprofit, nonpartisan public media organization covering Texas politics and policy with verve.” I started going through the 2012 episodes right after I got done with the 2012 episodes of Freethought Radio.

The governor and the attorney general played the whole “outside groups coming in and trying to tell us what to do” angle. It’s still a load of BS. (Are they that stupid, or do they think the voters are that stupid?) What really shocked me was that when the Tribcast talked about it, nobody on the show seemed to know how a group in Wisconsin found out about this. (They usually have four people on each episode; they rotate amongst their writers and editors.) That really surprised me. I generally like The Tribcast, but I think they fell down on this one.

I found a couple of links on the Texas Tribune site about this case: here  and here. There may be a few more that I did not look at, and maybe I skimmed these two a bit too quickly, but neither of them mentioned that the FFRF acts on complaints from local members throughout the country. There are some quotes from some locals, the AG and the governor, and there is a lawyer for the students who is mentioned by name. There is a link to a PDF of the original letter from the FFRF to the school, but no link to the FFRF home page, no quotes from the FFRF, why they would have standing to file a lawsuit if they were to do so, or mentions of any attempt to contact them.

If I am wrong, send me a link or point out a paragraph that I missed.

As I see it, it just seems like really bad journalism. Maybe the hosts of Freethought Radio were too busy to talk on the phone, or the FFRF lawyers were swamped, but I honestly think that if the Texas Tribune called the FFRF that they would have gotten some answers.

There are pictures of the staff members on the website. Reeve Hamilton sounded like a young guy, but he looks like he is still in high school. I guess the rarified air of Vanderbilt will do that to you. And that is a really WASP-y name. Jay Root and Ross Ramsey kind of look like what I thought they would. Sometimes when I see a picture of someone whose voice I have listened to, I realize I had formed a picture of them in my mind that I was not always aware that I was forming. But Evan Smith definitely looks like what I thought he would look like.

Image from Freedom From Religion Foundation website, assumed allowed under Fair Use. It is from a page called “Logos and Photos”. 1. I think it is kind of funny they of all organizations have a page called “Logos and Photos” considering that Logos has a theological meaning. 2. If they have a page with a few different pictures of their logo, I guess that means it is okay to use elsewhere.

Thoughts On Race And Class

A few random thoughts on race and class in America. There is no overarching thesis. It just seems kind of fitting to write about this now after the Trayvon Martin verdict.

I think that some of the tension between races may be due to some people’s discomfort with interracial dating/intermarriage. I have found that some people in interracial relationships can be just as narrow-minded as the people that don’t like them. Plus, sometimes I think some people are in IR relationships for the wrong reasons: either “ha ha, I have one of yours”, or “ha ha, I have one of theirs”.

(There is one simple rule when it comes to interracial relationships: I can have one of yours, you can’t have one of mine.)

But just because I do not like a particular group of people, does that mean that they do not have the same rights as I do? Why should they be prevented from voting, or getting an education? My family came from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. They got kicked around in their own country. I don’t like the idea of pulling the ladder up after me.

I read an article about the largest landowners in the USA. One of them was John Malone. He said part of his lust for land was due to his Irish ancestry. That kind of bugged me. I can see wanting something of your own, but this land was also stolen. There are more Irish outside Ireland than in it; there is no way we could all fit. But don’t use the fact that your ancestors lost their country as an excuse to take somebody else’s.

There are a lot of conservatives in this country who do not want to spend money educating poor brown kids. On the surface, that makes sense. But where this goes off the rails is that they have no problem spending money to but poor brown adults in jail. A lot of people will pay through the nose to live in a gated community, and to send their kids to private school, and to separate themselves from poor people. And they will pride themselves on paying less in taxes. But if you are spending all that money to keep away from “those people”, then what difference does it make?

A lot of people need to get it into their heads that you are going to spend money due to poor people one way or the other. You might as well spend it on something that will help “those people” make something out of their lives.

And if you think you really are that much better and that environment does not matter and you really built all that yourself, feel free to move to a slum to raise your kids.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Thoughts On Abortion and Religion

As you may have gathered, abortion has been in the news a lot here in Texas lately. Juanita Jean has been keeping me informed on what is going on. Many people at Secular Texas were at the rallies and the hearings. I was not able to go since I work full-time. A big chunk of the people in Secular Texas are either retirees, freelancers, or work much closer to the capitol than I do.

As with many abortion debates, many people on the pro-birth side are men, who try to use religion to justify their positions. I wrote “pro-birth” on purpose. We need to stop letting them get away with saying they are pro-life. If you fight tooth and nail for an unborn child, but then refuse to lift a finger once the child is born, you are not pro-life.

Over the past few weeks, the Talibaptists in three states used underhanded tactics for pro-birth bills: Texas, Ohio and North Carolina. Either they stacked the deck for scheduling testimony, or they introduced bills or amendments at the last minute.

If you have to lie or obfuscate to do the right thing, are you really doing the right thing?

On the pro-choice side are a lot of women. There are a lot of old women. Grandmothers who are too old to get pregnant. Yet they fight pro-birth bills tooth and nail.

Religious people like to think they are better than us atheists since they believe in something greater than themselves.

Which leads to a couple of questions. If they can see the big picture, why can’t they see this issue from the perspective of the women on the other side? Shouldn’t the fact that women who are too old to get pregnant are so vehemently against abortion restrictions make the big thinkers stop and think why these women fight tooth and nail for something they themselves will never need?

Alternatively, shouldn’t these people who believe in something greater than themselves be able to persuade people who disagree with them?

I am starting to realize that religion and libertarianism are just a way to put fancy words and catchphrases around selfishness and control.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.