December 31, 2010

Majority rule

We’ve had several discussions in this space regarding the Christian majority in our country, and of the efforts expended by activists asserting that majority into the public realm. These efforts range from religious displays in public buildings; religious slogans on our currency and modifications to our Pledge of Allegiance; a fabricated “War on Christmas” leading to boycotts of businesses for the "sin" of inclusiveness; to the attempts at mind control by school textbook review committees.

It is the protections our Founders wrote into our Constitution that prevent the activists within the Christian majority, or any majority, from running roughshod over the rest of us.

There is a very strong reason that our Founders placed such importance on protecting the minority from the will of the majority. They had personal experience with religious persecution and were determined that it would never happen in the United States. Other countries are not so fortunate, and the minority is paying the price. We should learn a lesson from this.


December 29, 2010

The Ivoirian solution

A few years ago I spent some time in Cote D’Ivoire, known in the States as The Ivory Coast. I’ve been remembering that time lately as I’ve followed the current situation in that country.

When I was there in 2003 and 2004 the country was far from peaceful. Immigrants in the north, mostly Muslims from neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania and Nigeria were taking agriculture jobs from native Ivoirians, causing general unrest and placing the majority Christian government between a rock and a hard place.

Muslims generally do not respond well to being governed by non-Muslims and the situation in Cote D’Ivoire was no exception. President Bedie, a Christian and only the second President since independence from France, was hugely unpopular in the Muslim north. In 1999, to keep the Presidency in Christian hands, the General Assembly passed a resolution that effectively banned a popular Muslim Prime Minister from running against Bedie. Muslims in the Ivoirian Army promptly staged a coup and installed General Guei as President.

In the 2000 elections, Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian was installed as President in an unexpected popular uprising, which again stirred trouble in the north. Over time there was violence that spread into the south, even in the once pristine garden-like capitol city of Abidjan. In 2002 General Guei was killed on the eve of another attempted coup, and President Gbagbo retained his office. The violence, however, never ceased.

Now the tide has again turned and Gbagbo was on the losing end in the November 28 election. Challenger Alasanne Ouatarra won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but Gbagbo is refusing to step down and is using his control over Christian elements in the Ivoirian Army to foment violence, including direct assaults on the building in which Outarra has set up his government in waiting. Here we go again.

Until about 40 years ago there were few elections in Africa as most of the continent was still claimed as colonies by various European countries. As the colonial powers released their hold, elections became commonplace. As a general rule in African politics the incumbent party will win and nothing else happens, but when the incumbent loses violence regularly ensues. In fact, only once in all these years have we seen power peacefully transferred following an election loss.

Following the disputed 2007 Kenyan election, mobs took to the streets attacking each other. Violence raged for months until the African Union intervened. But the intervention was far from satisfactory. The AU engineered a power-sharing arrangement, effectively granting a share of the Presidency to the looser. Perhaps that was the expeditious thing to do at the time, but the arrangement is now on the brink of collapse. It also unfortunately reinforced a precedent; in Africa, if you lose an election, you start a war.

Which is why I find what is happening in Cote D’Ivoire only three years later to be somewhat remarkable. All of a sudden the people of that continent have become fed up with all the violence and are saying enough is enough. Several groups, including the AU, the 16-member Economic Community of Western African States (of which Cote D’Ivoire is a member), the United Nations, France and the United States are all calling on Gbagbo to peacefully step down. ECOWAS has gone so far as to issue an ultimatum to Gbagbo commanding him to relinquish power, or face military intervention.

All of this speaks well for the future of free, fair, democratic elections in Africa. It also speaks well of the African Union’s and ECOWAS desire to support democratic elections. Africans are accustomed to foreign interference. They have always resisted and they always will, but if African initiated diplomacy can convince Gbagbo to peacefully surrender power, or if Africans stand together to oust him, other tinpot despots might reconsider the thought of violence following an election loss.

But if they back down and attempt the Kenyan solution again, we may never see the end of bloodshed on the dark continent.

UPDATE: Too late. ECOWAS blinked.


December 26, 2010

Sunday Funnies



Irony at its finest...


December 25, 2010

Evolve your beliefs

The following posted in this space on a previous Christmas. Considering that Franklin Graham was on NewsMax yesterday trying to peddle the same, tired crap, it seems to me the message is worthy of repeating.

What’s an atheist to do on Christmas?

Along about this time of the year I find myself amused with the perennial accusations of secularists perpetrating “war on Christmas”. Bill O’Reilly's seasonal schmaltz, an annual event for Bill, appeared on the December 3rd Factor. Poor Bill is forever attempting to crucify some Heinous devil worshiper in his quest to out the godless liberals at the root of American decay. This year’s target is Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann took O’Reilly to task in a most humorous commentary:

Being one of O’Reilly’s devil worshipers, I feel at least somewhat vindicated, and more than a little amused. But still I remain confused. Why is it that we have these ongoing controversies?
My philosophies do not allow for belief in much of anything, certainly not a diety or creator, but I find little reason to fight the religionists. Other than the pre-holiday commercial onslaught and it being overall a pretty boring day, I find little in Christmas to dislike.

I’m by no means alone in this country when I identify myself as non-theist. Surveys have indicated that somewhere around 15% of Americans tic off the “non-religious” box where such is offered. Approximately the same percentage of date-seekers registered with choose either, atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, or other when asked the faith question.
Personally I’d like to see the results of a survey offering only two choices: Monotheistic or Not Monotheistic.

Christmas is here to stay and the militant in our rank should just lay back and enjoy the inevitable. The Jews have done a good job of adapting, as have immigrant populations of various other faiths.
Some recent surveys have indicated up to 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas in one form or another. Take that earlier 15% into consideration and you can figure about two thirds of the non-believers still celebrate the holiday. The remaining third are just noisy stinkers trying to rile O’Reilly.

There is even a company offering atheistic Christmas cards that can be ordered over the WWW []. Judging by the prices I would speculate the owner is Jewish, but that is one of the ways the Jews have adapted to the Christian holiday.

Plenty of well known secularists and big name atheists celebrate Christmas. Heck, it’s a Federal holiday, you get presents, get off work most years, are encouraged to drink alcohol...
So what’s not to celebrate?

December 23, 2010

Feeling generous?

If you are, and you're of the free thinking variety, here is a list of secular, atheist, humanistic, agnostic, etc. charities deserving of your donations. Go forth and be fruitful.


December 22, 2010

Verbatim - Holiday edition

National Review

One present we can give each other is to be slow to judge and quick to recognize that the truth is often complicated.

Thursday, December 16, 2010 | 5:35 p.m. by Matthew Dowd

As we gathered on a cold day at a small Catholic church near Flint, Mich., the words “drugs … overdose … death” kept swirling around in my head. The phrase “she was an addict” was knocking around in there, too, as though it was supposed to define my younger sister Kelly’s life. Kelly, the eighth of 11 siblings, died suddenly and tragically last month. She was buried the day before Thanksgiving in near-frozen Michigan dirt, leaving behind three young and beautiful children searching for answers and her family and friends groping for explanations.

When we were packing up her belongings from her rental house, my older brother Pat leaned into me and said, “Hey, Matt, you know they found a Christmas list, in the pocket of the pajamas she died in, of presents she wanted to buy her kids.”

In our political culture, it’s common—even encouraged—to default to the sound bite and quick headline to define each other and explain the world around us. It’s something that I, unfortunately, do very easily at times in political discussions. It’s something I used to be paid to do when I ran campaigns for Republicans as well as Democrats. The quick analysis, the succinct message point. Make it short, make it memorable, and make it stick. We now have politicians in both parties, not to mention pundits on cable news and advocacy platforms such as Fox News and MSNBC, who revel in the easy sound bite, no matter how trite, whether it’s about President Obama, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, or tea party activists.

Does this worship of the simple, the brief, and the direct get us any closer to the truth? Or does it take us further away from it?

The food in the refrigerator was still fresh, and notes were posted on the door to remind her of the things she needed to do, amid pictures her kids had drawn for her.

My sister’s rental place was littered with signs of a more complicated truth than the one obscured by the easy headline. She had 24-hour Alcoholics Anonymous coins lying all over her house, on tables and in dishes. These coins are given out at meetings to mark a day of sobriety, and she attended meetings all the time. She had weights in the living room for her workouts. She always wanted to stay in shape. Religious, spiritual, and poetry books were scattered about with freshly underlined passages on faith, hope, and love. The food in the refrigerator was still fresh, and notes were posted on the door to remind her of the things she needed to do, amid pictures her kids had drawn for her. The movie The Bucket List was near her DVD player. She had either just watched it or was about to. It’s a wonderful film about preparing for death and enjoying life in the meantime.

And, of course, the Christmas list in her pocket. A piece of paper that reflected her love of her kids and the hope and joy that comes with giving.

No, President Obama isn’t a socialist. He isn’t trying to ruin the country, and he doesn’t hate America. Sarah Palin isn’t a dimwit without anything valuable to say or contribute to the country. Republicans aren’t all greedy and corporate stooges. Democrats aren’t all Big Government liberals and against capitalism. The news media (generally) aren’t a tool of the Left or the Right. And my sister wasn’t an uncaring addict who overdosed on a cold day in Michigan.

As we walk through life and deal with one another, we need to keep in mind that truth is not in the headline or the pithy sound bite but deeper in the hearts and souls of each of us—and in the good intentions that most of us carry with us every day, whether we’re bagging groceries, cleaning offices, defending our country, or negotiating a tax compromise.

Diving down to those depths, rather than just snorkeling in the shallows, might give us the bends. But it also might tell us a little more about each other and ourselves.

And maybe it would be good to consider the possibility that each of us, even on our bad days, is walking around with a Christmas list in our pocket.


December 21, 2010

Others got better pics than I did

December 21, 2010 - 23:28

Axial tilt is the Reason for the Season

Earth's seasons are the result of the 23.5 degree tilt of the planet's axis. Half of each year the southern hemisphere has more exposure to the sun than the northern hemisphere, and the other half of the time the reverse is true. On one day of each year the sun reaches its maximum elevation and produces the largest number of daylight hours. This day is called the summer solstice, and in the northern hemisphere it usually falls on 21 June.

When the opposite set of circumstances occurs, with the Sun is at its lowest elevation and daylight hours at their shortest, this is the winter solstice... the first day of winter. That is today.

Today, several hours before the solstice, is marked by a very rare total lunar eclipse. The last time a total eclipse coincided with the solstice was in 1638. The next will be in 2094. Volcanic ash in the atmosphere, we are told, should cause the moon to take on a eerie orange glow, which to some degree it did.

We had a few thin clouds partially obscuring the show, but I still managed a few not so good photos. I need better equipment for shoots like these.

This year's event is also supposed to coincide with the Ursids meteor shower, so in a way we get a three-fer.

With or without the celestial light shows, this day and this time of year are traditional for celebration. I would like to wish and/or hope you had/have a festive, merry and productive nonspecific day of your choice for fall/winter celebration. You may choose from any of the following, listed in no specific order.

There. Does that cover everyone? If not, mea culpa. I'll strive to do better in 2094.


December 20, 2010


Res Ipsa Loquitur, I guess...

Steve Benen
The Washington Monthly
December 19, 2010


I've long been fascinated by studies documenting public awareness of current events based on preferred news outlets. More to the point, the fun comes by realizing that Fox News viewers know* less than everyone else.

This isn't exactly new. Seven years ago, just six months into the war in Iraq, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found that those who relied on the Republican network were "three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions -- about WMD in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11, and foreign support for the U.S. position on the war in Iraq."

Ben Armbruster added, "An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out last year found that Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed about health care reform proposals. A 2008 Pew study ranked Fox News last in the number of 'high knowledge' viewers and a 2007 Pew poll ranked Fox viewers as the least knowledgeable about national and international affairs."

The problem has arguably gotten worse. This week, PIPA published a report, this time on "Misinformation and the 2010 Election" (pdf). The point was to measure Americans' understanding of a variety of key developments that news consumers would likely be familiar with. As was the case seven years ago, Fox News viewers were "significantly more likely" to be confused about reality.

Researchers found that Americans who paid more attention to the news were more likely to know about current events. But Americans who relied on Fox News were "significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe":

* most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)
* most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)
* the economy is getting worse (26 points)
* most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)
* the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)
* their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)
* the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)
* when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)
* and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

This point, in particular, seems especially noteworthy -- in some cases, regular Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims about current events were accurate.

What's more, this isn't party affiliations -- Democrats who watch Fox News were worse off than Democrats who relied on legitimate news organizations (though Dems who watch Fox News were still less confused than Republicans who watch Fox News).

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won't happen, of course, in part because the network and its viewers aren't quite informed enough to realize they're uninformed.

December 19, 2010

Sunday Funnies