Monday, November 30, 2009
This is a feel-good story for me, and I suspect many others. It seems that Susan Boyle's miraculous journey is not yet over. Her first album has just been released, and it has become the best-selling debut album in UK chart history. So far, 410,000 copies of the album have been sold.
Simon Cowell, one of the judges on the TV show Britain's Got Talent (where she was discovered), said he was proud of her and the success couldn't have happened to a nicer person. He said, "She did it her way and made a dream come true. In Britain's Got Talent she opened her mouth and the world fell in love with her, which is why her album has been the fastest selling of any woman making her debut."
And it looks like the album is poised to do the same in the United States. The album may well break the record for first week sales in the U.S. (set in 2009 by Eminem).
This is a marvelous story. Too often, record companies pass up real talent for sexy, pretty or handsome singers who need studio help to make the grade. Ms. Boyle has smashed all those preconceptions.
It would behoove record producers to pay more attention to true musical talent and creativity, and less to a performer's looks. After all, if we want something sexy, we can always rent a porno.
And for those of you wondering what to get an old blogger for christmas -- a Susan Boyle CD would do nicely.
We normally think of Switzerland as a peaceful country -- one that seldom takes sides in other peoples and countries controversies or wars. But it looks like the ugly face of bigotry can live even in a country like Switzerland. The approval of a new referendum there proves this to be a fact.
This Swiss people have approved by a whopping 57% of the vote, a referendum that bans the building of minarets anywhere in the country. The country only has four minarets, even though the second largest religion in the country is Islam. And unless this new law is overturned by the Swiss Supreme Court, as Amnesty International believes it will be, there will never be another one built there.
The Swiss Justice Minister tried to calm the fears of Swiss muslims by saying the vote was "not a rejection of the muslim community, religion or culture." Those are hollow words. The vote was indeed a rejection of all three. In fact, the secretary general of Switzerland's largest political party said, "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power."
Do the Swiss people know they have voted in favor of religious bigotry? Of course, they do. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. They weren't voting against an architectural style -- but against a religion. Last week, a Geneva mosque was vandalized for the third time in the weeks leading up to the vote.
I don't know that I can ever again have the same positive feelings about the Swiss that I've had in the past. Bigotry is an ugly and offensive thing wherever it happens.
Hopefully, our Constitution and religious freedom laws would prevent such a law being approved in this country, but I have little doubt that given the opportunity voters in America might well do the same thing.
During the last session of the Texas legislature, the legislators set aside $155 million to give retired teachers and state employees a one-time $500 bonus. The bonus would have come this month to members of the Employees Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System.
For those who don't know, teachers and state employees in Texas work very hard for less pay than their counterparts in most other states get. And the money they get after retiring is even less. A payment of $500 may not seem like much to many people, but to most Texas retirees it was a much-appreciated gift -- especially right before the holidays.
But that money won't be distributed to Texas retirees now. That's because, according to the boneheaded Attorney General of Texas (Greg Abbott), it would somehow be illegal to pay the one-time bonuses. Once again, Texas Republicans show they don't care about the elderly -- even those who have dedicated their lives to serving the state of Texas and its children.
Now some may think that the AG (pictured) has saved the state from spending this $155 million, but that is not true. Instead of going to the retirees, the money will be paid into the trust funds of the two retirement systems. Instead of the retirees benefitting, now some banks and financial analysts will benefit instead. True to form, our Republican leadership has acted to benefit corporate and financial interests over the interests of ordinary Texans.
Even worse, this $155 million that will now sit in a bank or be invested in some corporate stock, could have been circulating in the Texas economy to the benefit of all Texans. The retirees, who I remind you are paid very little, would have spent this money on rent, car payments and expenses, food, gifts for relatives and many other things.
It would have been a boost for the Texas economy, which is feeling the recession regardless of what our idiot governor and other state Republican leaders think. Now it will only benefit a few of the rich and powerful.
I hope the retirees and the citizens of Texas remember this in the 2010 elections. The Republicans have failed in their state leadership and its time for them to go.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
One of the most damaging things to the United States' reputation worldwide, was when the Bush administration resorted to using torture against captured and arrested suspects. It was the policy of that administration that torture was permitted as long as it was not called torture.
When Obama was elected, many of us had hoped that the days of torturing suspects were behind us, and that we could return to living by rule of law and a belief in the supremacy of human rights. Obama assured us that was the case and we wanted to believe it was true. But that may have just been wishful thinking.
Two Afghani teenagers who have just been released from U.S. custody after no ties could be found with the Taliban, are saying they were tortured at a United States military "black" prison in Bagram. They are 17 year-old Issa Mohammad and Abdul Rashid, who is yet to turn 16.
The two say they were stripped naked and photographed, beaten, kept in solitary confinement, denied sleep, kept in a concrete cell, interrogated daily, and shown pornography while being forced to look at a picture of their mother. While this treatment can't be confirmed, it is consistent with stories told by other releasees.
The facility they were held at appears to be one run by American Special Forces that is separate from the regular Bagram prison facility. Their treatment contravenes both the Army Field Manuel, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Geneva Conventions.
This is very troubling. This kind of prisoner treatment was dastardly and totally unacceptable when George Bush was president, and it still is. A Democrat being in the White House doesn't make this type of behavior any better or more acceptable. Torture is still torture no matter who is president or what you call it.
President Obama had promised us this type of thing would cease to happen. If he's serious about that, he needs to take immediate and forceful action. Otherwise, he will be no better than Bush.
NOTE -- Picture above is of torture in Iraq - not Afghanistan.
TCU has done it! After dismantling the University of New Mexico by a 51-10 score, they have finished the season with a 12-0 record. It is the first time they've gone undefeated in 71 years -- since 1938, when TCU won a national championship led by Heisman Trophy quarterback Davey O'Brien.
TCU is currently ranked #4 in the BCS standing, and could possibly move up to #3 after the Florida-Alabama game. The only way they could possibly have a shot at the national championship at this point, would be if Texas loses to Nebraska in the Big-12 championship (and that is extremely unlikely).
I think TCU has left little doubt that they are one of the best college football teams in the country. They beat Virginia and Clemson on the road (and Clemson is in the ACC championship game). They also demolished both BYU and Utah while both those teams were ranked in the top twenty in the nation.
If there is any justice in the world, TCU should get a top BCS bowl game (and representatives from the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls were at yesterday's game). If I was the team picked to play TCU in the upcoming bowl game, I would be very afraid. This team still has a point to make, and they seem very capable of doing it.
I congratulate TCU on a great season, and I look forward to the bowl game where they'll get their 13th win.
NOTE -- The picture above shows Coach Patterson holding up the Mountain West trophy after their win against New Mexico yesterday.
When I first saw this picture, I was convinced it was a photo of some right-wing fundamentalist teabaggers. They had obviously been locked up to prevent them from infecting others with their incredible stupidity. But alas, it seems that I was wrong.
This is actually a new exhibit at the public zoo in Warsaw, Poland. The week-long exhibit is a publicity stunt to call attention to a new play called "Caveman" that is opening in the Polish capital. It is also intended to convey the message that modern humans are not so different from their prehistoric ancestors.
I do think it's a shame that they didn't go for historical accuracy though. The caged caveman seems to be clean-shaven. Did cavemen really shave their faces? Did they even have the tools to shave (without ripping their faces to shreds)? And if cavemen did somehow have a shaving kit, wouldn't cavewomen at least have a rudimentary type of comb (so she could have done something with that awful hair).
This is really a pretty pathetic attempt, even for a publicity stunt.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The Scottish brewery, BrewDog, had already produced a beer with an 18.2% alcohol content (called Tokyo), that had earned it the ire of anti-alcohol forces worldwide. That's more than twice the alcohol content of most beers, ales and malt liquors.
So you can imagine what the teetotalers think about BrewDog's newest product. Their new beer, called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, has an alcohol content of 32%. I wouldn't suggest trying to down a six-pack of this new beer (and a twelve-pack would be totally out of the question).
The 32% alcohol beer is in the class of hard liquor. Many whiskies and other hard liquors only have about a 40% alcohol content. The beer's label warning says, "This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost."
BrewDog's managing director, James Watt (pictured above), says, "This beer is about pushing the boundaries, it is about taking innovation in beer to a whole new level." The brewery is planning on selling a limited supply of the beer for about 30Pounds each. That's about $40 to $50 dollars depending on the exchange rate. I think the price alone would limit it's intake.
Personally, if I want something that strong I'll stick to tequila, but it is interesting that a beer could be brewed with that kind of alcohol content.
A few days ago, I wrote a post on children's rights. It told about how the United States is the only country in the entire world that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This treaty is an effort to guarantee basic rights to all of the world's children.
Yesterday, I got an excellent comment on the post from someone named Patsky in the United Kingdom. This comment explained the need for all nations, including the United States, to ratify this treaty (and he/she explained it far better than I did). I thought the comment was so good that I have reprinted it as a post for you to read. Here it is:
I am thoroughly ashamed that the United States has not ratified this treaty, especially in light of how much we preach human rights to the rest of the world, and I believe other decent Americans are equally ashamed. I will continue to post periodically on this subject until the United States comes to its senses, and I urge you to write President Obama and those in Congress to stop delaying and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Children.
It is the right thing to do.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The Secret Service has to be embarrassed by this. President Obama held a state dinner Tuesday night at the White House to honor the visiting Prime Minister from India, Manmohan Singh. About 300 Cabinet Ministers, diplomats and Hollywood celebrities were invited, but a couple of people showed up who were not on the guest list.
Tareq and Michaele Salahi (pictured) somehow made it through several security checks and into the dinner. They even got their picture taken with Vice-President Biden and Rahm Emanuel, which Michaele posted on her Facebook page. This is not the first time this couple has tried this sort of thing. They also talked their way into the President's parade box on Inauguration Day (after the President had left).
The couple seem proud of their accomplishment, but that may change. If they lied to the Secret Service to get in (and that almost has to be), then they have committed a felony criminal offense.
Personally, I'm wondering what is wrong with the Secret Service. With all the death threats President Obama has received, I would have thought they would be on their highest alert -- especially at a state dinner where a foreign leader was present. But they obviously did not bring their A-game last Tuesday.
Edwin M. Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, said a checkpoint "did not follow proper procedures" to make sure the couple was on the guest list before allowing them to enter. That is unacceptable. Did they think assassins or terrorists could not rent a tuxedo and ball gown and make themselves look like a well-to-do couple?
They were lucky this time that it was just a couple of jerks trying to make themselves look important. But that doesn't mean that next time it couldn't be someone dangerous. The Secret Service had better figure out what went wrong, and make sure it never happens again.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Well, those loony teabaggers are at it again. Now they have decided to hold a national convention for themselves. It will be held in Nashville, Tennessee on February 4th through 6th. They say this has nothing to do with the Republican Party, and after seeing the two main speakers scheduled, I believe that.
The two featured speakers for the convention are both definitely in the ultra-right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (and have shown their willingness to go against the party to support a right-winger). They are Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, and aides for both have confirmed they will be speaking at the teabagger convention.
I think we'd see some more mainstream Republicans if they were financing this misadventure. Some are saying this shows Palin is definitely going to run for president in 2012. I don't know about that, but I hope it's true. That would truly be a gift for Democrats (wouldn't a Palin-Bachmann ticket be wonderful).
Actually, I think it may look more like the first step toward a third party composed of teabaggers and their ilk. They have been trying to purge the Republican Party of all its moderates with only middling success. Maybe they are ready to try the third party route (after all, these are not the brightest bulbs on the Republican tree).
Either way, I think it's good news for Democrats. If they are able to purge their party of moderates, it will mean even less Republicans will be elected (especially in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Coast areas). If they go for a third party, it will have the same result (and may even be more widespread).
I hope the teabaggers have a wild and wacky convention -- one that convinces them to do even further damage to the Republican Party.
This is pretty shocking news. Child rapist Roman Polanski has been granted bail by a Swiss court. They granted that bail even though they knew he has a history of jumping bail, and has been on-the-run from law enforcement officials for many years.
Granted, the bail is pretty stiff -- about $4.5 million. The court says he also must stay at his Swiss chalet in the ski-resort city of Gstaad. He must also be electronically-monitored to make sure he does not leave the chalet.
Many legal experts believe this will seriously delay the extradition hearing to determine if he will be returned to California to serve his sentence (for raping a 13 year-old girl). Now that's he's ensconced in his multi-million dollar chalet instead of waiting in jail, he and his attorneys have little reason not to drag out the legal process as long as they can.
Personally, I think he is still a flight risk. Will he think it's worth $4.5 million to stay out of a California prison? I think there's a good chance he would consider that money well-spent. Since he wouldn't be returning to Switzerland if he runs again, he could always use the Swiss chalet in Gstaad to pay the bail off, and he's found several European countries that won't arrest or extradite him.
I expect he'll stick around Gstaad for a while, but if it starts looking like he'll actually be extradited, he'll take off again. I hope the officials in California aren't holding their breath, because it's starting to look like Polanski will never make it back there. And that's a real shame, because he's definitely earned some prison time.
I'm very disappointed in the Swiss court. It's just another example of the difference in justice between the rich and poor.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The previous administration seemed to think that wars do not cost anything. They instituted tax cuts at the same time they started two wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republicans (and far too many Democrats) are in favor of waging these two wars, but they are opposed to raising any taxes to pay for those wars.
Well, wars cannot be fought for free. In fact, few things are as expensive as waging a war, and I'm just talking about the dollars that have to be spent. It gets far worse when you factor in the cost in human lives.
President Obama is now considering sending 34,000 new troops to the quagmire that is Afghanistan. That would boost the cost of that war to at least $100 billion a year, or $1 trillion over the next ten years (and there is no reason to think it won't drag on for that long).
And that doesn't even figure in any of the costs of the Iraq War, which now looks like it could drag on past 2011 since the Iraqis are not going to have their scheduled election in January (and no one can say when that election might be held).
The cost of either one of these wars is greater than the expected cost of the health care reform being considered. And the cost of both put together would more than cover the costs of health care reform and the economic stimulus. I am amazed that the same people who support both of these ridiculous wars, tell us we cannot afford to stimulate the economy or pass health care reform.
The past administration (and the present one to a certain extent) wanted to wage a war without cauing any pain for the American people -- and that just can't be done. All they have done is to throw our country deeply in debt. It is time to change that. If you support these two wars, then it is time to bite the bullet and pay for them (and if you don't support them, it's time to tell your government to stop them).
I am in favor of a special surcharge on income taxes (graduated for income levels) to pay for the wars. Actually, I would prefer that we bring all our troops back home. But since that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon, we should pass a war tax to pay for them. Then maybe we'd have the money to do some things really needed here at home.
Fortunately, Speaker Pelosi now says she would consider a war tax. In addition, several important House committee chairmen have agreed to consider imposing the war tax, including Barney Frank (Financial Services), Charlie Rangel (Ways and Means), John Murtha (Defense Appropriations) and David Obey (House Appropriations).
Nothing the government does is free -- especially waging a foreign war. And all wars should involve some sacrifice from citizens. We either need to pay for these wars or stop them. Doing neither just pushes the war debt on to our grandchildren.
For me, this is terrible news. I have eaten Ranch Style Beans since I was a child -- both as a vegetable side with a meal or by themselves as a meal. In fact, I have been known to eat them cold out of the can. Suffice it to say, I absolutely love Ranch Style Beans!
I also took pride in knowing they were made and canned in that bastion of western culture -- Fort Worth. They have been made since 1932 in the same plant (pictured above) just off Hwy 287 on the east side of Fort Worth -- not too far from downtown. Ranch Style Beans are a part of Fort Worth's history.
And I'm not alone in my love for the chili-flavored beans. Humphrey Bogart used to buy them 10 cases at a time. And Grace Kelly and Lyndon Baines Johnson have both made special orders for the beans -- not to mention thousands of ordinary Americans like me who wouldn't be caught without a couple of cans in the kitchen cabinet.
But it now looks like Fort Worth will be losing this bit of its culinary history. The corporate giant, ConAgra, has owned the brand since 2000, and they have now decided to move the canning of Ranch Style Beans to factories in Ohio and Tennessee.
They say the Fort Worth plant is outdated, and it is cheaper to move the production than to refurbish the old plant or build a new one. They are probably right, but that doesn't make me or the 121 workers losing their jobs feel any better.
I agree with Jim Lane, attorney and former Fort Worth City Council member. He says, "This is shocking, because I've been eating Ranch Style Beans since I can remember. A lot of our heritage and history is there. We should do everything we can to keep companies like that in Fort Worth. As for me, I can't get myself to eat beans from Ohio. I guess a lot of us in Fort Worth will be cooking our own beans."
ConAgra also owns another brand that used to be made and canned in Texas -- Wolf Brand Chili, and sadly, it just doesn't taste as good as it used to taste. I guess I'm left with the probably futile hope that they don't screw up the taste of Ranch Style Beans.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I must admit that I really don't know why South Carolina Mark Sanford doesn't just save the people of South Carolina a lot of money and heartache, and resign from his position as governor. He's beset with trouble from all sides, and yesterday those troubles were compounded.
An impeachment resolution had already been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature, for flying off to have an adulterous with his Argentine girlfriend without telling his staff or leaving a clear chain-of-command in case of emergency. Now the state's Ethics Commission has charged him with 37 violations of state ethics law.
Most of the violations are for buying business (or first-class) tickets on airlines, when the state law says the lowest fare must be used, and for using the state's airplane for personal use, and for using his campaign funds for personal use.
The Ethics Commission will now have a hearing to determine whether Sanford should be fined for the violations.
Frankly, I think these should be charged as criminal instead of civil violations. But the South Carolina Attorney General is dragging his feet. It's like he hopes someone else will take care of the problem so he doesn't have to do it. He's thinking of running for governor himself. Could it be that he thinks his own political future is more important than South Carolina law?
It's time to resign, Mr. Sanford. You could save everyone a lot of trouble.
This sort of surprises me. I didn't think Tom Schieffer could win the Democratic Party's nomination for governor, but I didn't expect him to quit. But quit he did, in a 3:00pm news conference yesterday.
Schieffer was the first serious candidate to declare his candidacy, and I think he expected to be the frontrunner in the race. By comparison, Hank Gilbert has just recently gotten serious about his campaign, and Kinky Friedman has yet to start campaigning full-time. But the early entry didn't help Schieffer.
I think Schieffer just learned that Texas Democrats have long memories, especially for those who desert the party to support Republican candidates. Schieffer supported his Republican business partner, George Bush, in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. After that, it's no wonder that Democrats were having trouble accepting him as their candidate for the state's highest office.
You could see that he was in trouble when the latest poll came out that showed him at least 9 points behind Kinky Friedman. Even though he had been campaigning hard, Schieffer still only had the support of 10% of Democrats and it was hard to see how he was going to climb any higher. In addition, he had only been able to raise about $500,000 in contributions, most of which came from his friends and business partners.
Surprisingly, even though he couldn't hang in the governor's race, he still thinks he can be a kingmaker in Democratic politics. He asked all the other candidates to also withdraw and throw their support behind Houston mayor Bill White, and asked White to quit the senate race and run for governor. White has said he will consider it and give his answer by December 4th.
As a North Texan, I have to admit that I don't know much about Bill White, and I doubt that most other North and West Texans do either. But I don't think the ultra-conservative Republican-supporter Tom Schieffer did him any good by throwing his support to him. If Schieffer likes him, then that serves as a warning to me.
Personally, I hope White stays out of the race. There are already two good candidates in the race (I don't think Farouk Shami or Felix Alvarado have even a small chance). White is not going to hurt Friedman's chances of winning, but he might be able to cut into Hank Gilbert's votes, and that's a shame.
Although Kinky Friedman has my support, I think Gilbert is a good candidate and I could easily support him if he were to win the primary. I'm not at all sure about Bill White, especially since Schieffer is so high on him.
Stay in the senate race, Mr. White. The governor's race already has two good candidates.
Monday, November 23, 2009
"Every Friday afternoon, the backpacks are placed carefully on the floors of the hallways in the elementary schools of Moberly, Missouri. There are 106 of them: 106 backpacks, each of them with no child's name and with no individual owner."
Those are the opening words in a heart-rending story by CNN contributor Bob Greene that I recommend you read. It is a story about the harshness and unfairness of life, but it is also a story that will restore your faith in humanity.
What's so special about those backpacks? Not much. It is what's in them and the fact that they are placed there every Friday that makes them special.
Here's how Francine Nichols, the staff member in charge of the backpack program, tell it, "We serve breakfast at school, and we serve lunch. But we began to realize that some of these children go home to houses where they literally may not eat over the weekend. And we couldn't just sit back and not do anything to help them."
So the teacher's and administrators of the Moberly elementary schools started the backpack program. When a staff member learns of a student in need, they contact the parent(s), and if they will allow it, the child is added to the backpack program and is told privately that a backpack will be waiting for him/her in the hallway on Friday. Most of the food is supplied by a food bank 30 miles from Moberly.
The idea is that the child can grab a backpack, sling it over his/her shoulder and walk out with the other kids. No one says or does anything that would single out the child -- there is no profit to humiliating a child in need. They just pick up the backpack and go.
Ms. Nichols says, "We'll fill each backpack with soup, with ravioli in a can, with canned fruit, with cereal bars, with juice. We make sure that the food is the kind that a young child can prepare himself or herself, if need be. Because some of these children live in single-parent homes, and when that parent works, not only does it mean that there might not be enough food in the house, but there may not be anyone to fix the meal for the boy or girl."
And for those of you who may be thinking the recession is getting better, the backpacks tell a different story. Last year there were 34 backpacks set out in the hall. This year there are 106 of them.
Moberly is not the only school district to try and help kids on weekends away from school. But I especially like the way Moberly does their backpack program. They go out of their way to try not to humiliate the child in need -- these children face enough hardship without having to endure that.
Too often today, we forget just who the poor are. The fact is that most are just decent people who are going through a tough time and trying their best to struggle through and put their lives back together. For most, the struggle is temporary and help is needed for only a finite period of time.
In our distant past, neighbors could help out by discreetly providing what was needed, and a friendly storekeeper would give and carry credit for a longer period than normal without demanding immediate payment, or a community church would help with food or rent without bragging or demanding religious devotion. But those times are gone forever.
Today, most people don't even know their neighbors (let alone want to help them), and credit is something given only to those who really don't need it by banks and businesses that charge exorbitant interest rates. Even churches that offer help want many times to do it publicly so as to get maximum publicity for their "good deeds", or they demand a certain fealty to their religious beliefs.
Although many right-wingers don't want to admit it, it has become necessary today for the government to assume responsibility for helping the poor. This is right and proper, because here in America we are the government. And it is the responsibility of every citizen to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
There are still those who believe the help must come from private sources and not the government, but in our modern world that is simply not possible. Government has had to assume the responsibility because the private entities are either no longer there or have utterly failed to get the job done.
Sadly, even "we the people", acting through our government, have not done a very good job. Although some programs like Food Stamps and Aid To Families With Dependent Children have been passed, the grinches in government have made sure those in need must humiliate themselves and dance publicly through hoop after hoop to meet the most onerous of conditions -- just to receive too little help and insuring that many remain in a circle of poverty.
We could and should do much better, but we seem to prefer spending our money on wars and war materials, corporate welfare and bailouts, foreign aid which allows dictators to amass fortunes and other such nonsense.
That is why I was so impressed by the unobtrusive little backpacks of Moberly. By people wanting to help without fanfare and without humiliating those in need. Well done. We could all learn from your example.
Back in the "dark ages" when I first went to college (1965), there was no such thing as an atheist club on campus -- any campus. While there were plenty of christian clubs, I doubt any college administration would have even allowed an atheist club to be created. Back then, free speech was something that was talked about on campus but rarely ever practiced.
Fortunately, we live in a different world today and many of the silly old restrictions are gone. An Associated Press article by Eric Gorski shows just how much things have changed. According to Gorski, atheist clubs are rapidly multiplying on college campuses today. The Secular Student Alliance had 80 affiliates on college campuses in 2007. In 2008, the number of affiliates had grown to 100. In the fall of 2009, the number had jumped up to 174.
It won't be too much longer until an atheist club will exist on every American college campus (with the possible exception of a few right-wing fundamentalist schools). Things are so different now that at least three universities, including Harvard, now have humanist "chaplains" to meet the needs of nonreligious students.
In general, this is a good article about campus atheism, but I do have a couple of bones to pick with the author. Gorski says that the number of atheists doesn't seem to be growing in colleges, but that the ones on campus today are more likely to come out-of-the-closet and join a club. I find this hard to believe.
The number of people who are nonreligious in America has steadily grown over the last twenty years, and now makes up over 20% of the total population. Does it make sense that the number of nonreligious people has grown significantly in the total population, and yet remained constant on college campuses? That's not very likely.
He goes on to say that this is one of the results of a "broader self-examination in the atheist movement triggered by the rise of the 'new atheists'...who denigrate religion and blame it for the world's ills." He seems to think there is some kind of a difference between the benign atheists of the past and today's militant "new atheists". I don't buy that argument.
The definition of an atheist is simple. It is someone who believes that god does not exist. That definition has not changed over the years. The fact is that today's atheists are no different from those of the past. The only difference is in the country itself. America is slightly more tolerant today, and that allows more atheists to make themselves known with a little less harassment and retribution.
But atheists today are no different than atheists of the past. There have always been different kinds of atheists, ranging from those who have a benign view of religion to those who are anti-religious. As most of this blog's readers probably know, I tend to lean toward the anti-religious view. But there is certainly nothing "new atheist" about that -- it's the same view I've had for the last forty years.
I'm gratified to see that atheist clubs are spreading to college campuses all across America. I just don't believe these "new atheists" are any different than us "old atheists".
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Twenty years ago, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This human rights treaty declares that those under the age of 18 must be protected from violence, exploitation, discrimination and neglect.
To me, that sounds like something every nation should support. And in fact, it is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. Who could possibly oppose guaranteeing basic human rights for children?
The answer to that question is that there are two nations that have refused to ratify the treaty protecting the world's children -- Somalia and the United States! The United States is quick to condemn other countries about their failures in the area of human rights, and yet we are one of only two countries in the entire world that refuses to ratify a treaty guaranteeing basic human rights to children. Is that not the very definition of hypocrisy?
But it gets worse. Somalia has now announced that they will ratify the treaty. UNICEF said it has been told by the Somali government that the "Somali cabinet of ministers has agreed in principle to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child."
That leaves the United States standing alone in refusing to ratify basic human rights for children. Every single nation in the whole world, both those civilized nations and those we don't consider to be very civilized, have approved a treaty guaranteeing basic human rights for children -- except the United States, the nation who preaches the most about human rights.
A spokesman for the United States mission to the United Nations says that President Obama is "committed to undertaking a thorough and thoughtful review of the Convention on the Rights of the Child." How long is that going to take? It's already been twenty years. How many more decades will pass before the United States government decides that children deserve basic human rights?
I am ashamed that the United States has failed to ratify this treaty, and I believe all decent Americans should be ashamed.
I thought the comments made about the president during Bill Clinton's term were pretty bad, and at times some of the comments made about George Bush were probably over-the-top too. But they both pale in comparison to the racist lies and accusations being hurled at President Obama.
It's as if having an African-American president has changed the rules of decency, and allows right-wing fundamentalists to spew forth their inner hatred without any consideration of right and wrong. There isn't even any consideration of whether a statement is true or not anymore. Even a lie or racist statement is OK as long as it is anti-Obama.
Consider the above billboard put up by a businessman in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. I don't think I've ever seen caricatures of an African-American that were more racist than the ones on that billboard. What makes these people think it's appropriate to flaunt their racism?
As for the jihadist thing, I guess they think the bigger the lie the better. Everyone with even a passing attachment to the real world, knows that Obama was born in the United States and raised as a christian. To deny either fact is to show a complete disregard for the truth.
But perhaps the worst thing on the billboard is the charge that President Obama is somehow responsible for the shootings at Fort Hood. I think that would be too sick a statement for even most Republicans to stomach (at least I hope so).
The person responsible for this billboard tried to justify it by saying the words "We are a christian nation" appear in the Constitution. Even if these words were in that revered document (and they are certainly not), how would that justify this racist lie-filled billboard?
Is this what christianity has devolved into? If Jesus really did live, would he have approved of the lying and the racism? This doesn't sound much like the christian religion I was raised in, but it is the religion that the right-wing theists would like to force on all Americans.
Frankly, I am appalled!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Are our youth fit for military service? According to Mission: Readiness, an advocacy group composed mainly of retired senior officers from the American military, the answer is largely No, and if we don't take action soon the problem will just get worse.
This group has issued a report that says nationwide about 75% of our youth are not fit for military service -- either because they are overweight, did not graduate from high school or have a serious criminal record. Personally, I find this to be a shocking figure, and one that needs to be addressed immediately.
While this is a national problem, there are four states that are doing especially bad -- Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Delaware (plus the District of Columbia). Here in Texas, about a third of 17 to 24 year-olds don't qualify because they are overweight or have medical problems. Another 30% did not graduate from high school -- a figure all Texans should be ashamed of, but our state leaders seem to regard as normal.
That puts Texas up to 63%, and we haven't even considered the young people with felony convictions, serious misdemeanor convictions, or drug and alcohol problems. And in Texas, our right-wing state leadership considers jail to be the answer to nearly any problem. That's why we lock up more people in Texas that most of the world's countries do.
What can we do to solve this problem? The group suggests a couple of things. First is to re-emphasize physical education. I'm an older guy, but when I was in school physical education was a requirement for every year of middle and high school. Now it's merely an elective in most schools.
That must be changed. I'm not normally one to talk about the "good old days", because for the most part they weren't that good, but in this case the emphasis on physical education shown in the past was the correct thing to do.
Many health advocates today want to emphasize what our children eat, but ignore the fact that a good physical education program would do more to help out-of-shape kids than shaking up the cafeteria menu.
And if a child can do any kind of physical education without causing actual medical harm, then parents do that child no favor by helping them to get out of psysical exercise. I was not a fan of physical education while in school, but looking back I realize that those classes I was forced to attend served me well later on in life.
But the main thing Mission: Readiness wants to see is a much greater effort given to early childhood education. They want the federal government to pump an extra billion dollars a year into early childhood education. When a kid gets to high school, their habits and beliefs are pretty much set. The earlier you can get to a child, the better chance you have to guide them in positive ways.
This is something liberals have been trying to preach for many years now. But right-wingers have fought these programs every step of the way, and for the programs already established (like Head Start) they have tried to gut those programs by continuously trying to cut their funding. Maybe they will change their tune now that the military is on board (since most of them don't think the military can do anything wrong).
I have to agree with the retired generals and admirals, but not just because better educated young people will be better for the military. Putting a much stronger emphasis on early childhood education will help all phases of our society and be good for the country in general.
The military is currently meeting its recruiting goals, but the advocacy group is honest enough to know that is mainly because our economy is so bad. For many young people, it's the only job available. But what happens when the economy improves and there are other opportunities available? With the current condition of our youth, the military may not be able to meet its goals.
Retired Army Major General James Kelley says, "Commanders in the field have to trust that our soldiers will respect authority, work within the rules and know the difference between right and wrong. Early learning opportunities help instill the qualities that make better citizens, better workers and better candidates for uniformed service."
I don't see how any American can argue with that.