Monday, December 31, 2012

Have A Happy 2013!

Another year is upon us.

Meanwhile, 2012 was my most productive blogging year since 2009, when I had 79 posts.  In both years before that, I had over 200 posts each year.  2009 saw a steep drop, but 2010 was even worse, when I managed only 33 posts.  Last year saw an increase to 59, while this past year I was able to achieve a little more than that.  Still, it's a far cry from my golden age, which I don't expect to ever achieve again.

Like a lot of bloggers, a number of factors conspired to hamper my productivity.  For starters, I just don't seem to have the time that I used to have.  I also find myself sometimes falling short in the inspiration department.  There are moments during the day where I think of topics to write about, but then when I'm home later on, I forget what it was that had interested me earlier and I just spend my time surfing the Internet.

I can't promise that 2013 will see a concerted effort to revive this blog to a semblance of what it once was.  At times I veer from wanting to throw myself into making this a venue for impassioned and informed commentary to the other extreme of just throwing in the towel and shutting the whole thing down.  By the end of 2013, I like to think that I will have definitely chosen one or the other.

Anyway, I wish any and all reading this a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

Richard Dawkins on Al Jazeera

In case you haven't seen it yet, you might want to check out the interview/debate between Richard Dawkins and a Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera above.
I felt that Dawkins should have done a better job when the interviewer brought up Stalin and Mao Zedong.  As I argued here, Stalin's atrocities were made possible because he ruled a state that had inherited a centuries long tradition of absolutism from Russia's tsarist predecessors.  The same can be said for Mao Zedong, who became dictator of a country that had been ruled by emperors for millennia.
One could also bring up the millions who died during China's Taiping Rebellion, which was led by a failed aspirant to the civil service who styled himself to be the brother of Jesus Christ.
To me, the whole argument of whether or not religion is a force for good in the world and whether the world would be better without religion is a stupid argument.  The way I see it, the world would be a better place if more people would be good regardless of whether they were religious or not, just as the world would be worse off when more people are bad, again regardless of whether they are religious adherents or atheists.
The problem with the communist dictators is that they were radical utopians who had no check on their power.  But this is not merely an atheist problem.  One can see strains of this radical utopianism among various Muslim movements throughout the world today, such as the Salafists, whose vision of an ideal society is to live as the prophet Muhammed and his early followers did in 7th century Arabia or the Muslim purists who have recently seized control of large swathes of Mali in western Africa.  It all boils down to the belief that you possess the one true way of living and that everyone else is mistaken and you're going to force them to live the way you want them to regardless of how they feel about it.   One of the hallmarks of a free, pluralistic society is that you have to accept that some members of that society will have beliefs and behaviors that offend you or you find to be mistaken but who otherwise do not infringe on your personal life.  It's the idea that we can all find a way to coexist as long as we respect one another's boundaries.

A Glimpse At The Prison Industrial Complex

Today, in the course of reviewing documents for my job, I came across a copy of a letter completely unrelated to what I was looking for, and so does not fall under the scope of client confidentiality.

Most people have likely heard of the term "prison-industrial complex", which basically means that certain groups in our society derive a monetary or other benefit from incarcerating more people in prisons.

The letter I came across provides a glimpse of one facet of this complex, namely our politicians in New York State.  It is a letter dating from January of 2000 from a New York state senator named Hugh Farley, to the then Republican Senate Majority Leader, Joe Bruno.

It reads as follows:

"If this year's budget includes authorization for a new prison, the Hale Creek site in Fulton County has always been favored by the Corrections Department.

Although Fulton County has long been at the top of the list, in recent years Senator Stafford has received a prison, I stepped aside for Senator Present when he needed a prison, and Senator Nozzolio has received a prison.  Now it should be Fulton County's turn.

I do hope, Joe, that you will do everything you can to ensure that we have a prison in the budget and that it is located in Fulton County."

This letter is interesting to me for two reasons.  First, it is clearly implied that prisons were doled out to state senators in New York like some kind of reward for loyalty or service to the Senate Majority Leader.  Second, Senator Farley's plea to Bruno to ensure funding for a prison in the budget is not couched in terms of a societal need, such as "Hey, we have an exploding prison population and need more prisons to address overcrowding!"  Rather, he wants funding for a new prison, because, dammit, he just wants one in his district and it's his turn.

Presumably, politicians like having prisons put in their district because it provides jobs for construction companies and construction and corrections officers union members.  It probably goes without saying that the beneficiaries of these contracts make campaign contributions to these politicians, while the unions give the senators their endorsements come reelection time.

Of course, it's no secret that this sort of thing does go on.  It's just that the letter I quoted, which was clearly not intended to be read by the public, really illustrates the corruption involved from the political side of things, with prisons budgeted for and dispensed like candy to state legislators.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

God's Quarterback Part IV: Tim Tebwho?

Remember way back in the 2011 NFL season, when Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos won six games in a row?

As I wrote in my first post on Tebow, some Christians claimed that it was a sign from God:

Tim Tebow’s pastor, Wayne Hanson, says he knows why the Denver Broncos are 7-1 since installing Tebow as quarterback – it’s the player’s faith.

“It’s not luck,” Hanson said according to TMZ. “Luck isn’t winning six games in a row. It’s favor. God’s favor.”

Hanson, who runs the Summit Church in suburban Denver, said the Broncos wouldn’t be winning games if God hadn’t decided to reward Tebow’s religious beliefs.

Cut to the 2012 season.  Tim Tebow has been traded to the New York Jets to do, well, something.  Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos acquired veteran quarterback Peyton Manning. 

Surely, God would punish Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos for getting rid of Tebow, as televangelist Pat Robertson pondered.

Well, let's see how that turned out.

From the NY Daily News:

Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns Sunday to lift Denver to a 38-3 win over Kansas City that sealed the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs for the Broncos.

Denver (13-3) won its 11th straight and leaped past Houston for the top seed after the Texans lost to Indianapolis 28-16 earlier in the day.

I guess God likes Peyton Manning more than Tim Tebow.

As for Tebow, his lamentable season as the Jets most famous benchwarmer has come to an end.  He never got the chance to be the starting quarterback in a single game and the alleged reason for acquiring him, for running Wildcat plays, never really materialized.

Rumor is that Tebow will go to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is probably the best thing for him.  If it happens, I hope he will get the opportunity to be the starting quarterback for a full season, and then maybe Pastor Hanson will see that there is nothing really miraculous about God's quarterback after all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hey Fox News, This Is What A Real War on Christmas Looks Like: 2012 Edition

While Fox News hypes a bogus 'War on Christmas' that consists of people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or nativity scenes on public property having to share space with Festivus poles, events in other parts of the world show us what a real 'War on Christmas' looks like.

Just like last year, militant Islamists in Nigeria, likely members of a sect called Boko Haram, carried out an attack on Nigerian Christians on Christmas Eve.

From the BBC:

Gunmen in the northern Nigerian state of Yobe have shot dead at least six Christians, the army and local officials say.

They say a church in Peri village near Potiskum, the economic capital of Yobe, was set on fire in an attack late on Christmas Eve.

The head of the Network for Justice human rights group, Zakari Adamu, told the BBC that the gunmen also attacked the homes of Christians following the attack during the midnight mass service.

And then we have Indonesia.

This article reminds me of how right-wing Christians in this country react whenever President Obama makes any kind of nod towards Muslim-Americans.

Conservative Muslim leaders are not stopping with edicts forbidding Muslims from wishing Christians a Merry Christmas. Now they want the President not to attend any observation of the holiday in an official or personal capacity.

Separately, the infamous hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) said that Yudhoyono and Boediono would “undermine” Islam if they decided to attend the celebration.

Muchsin Ahmad Alatas, the head of the FPI’s campaign division, advised the President and Vice President not to attend the celebration. “They decided to attend the program because they don’t have sufficient understanding of Islam,” Muchsin said. “They should have consulted with people who understand Islam better before making their decision.”

It's one thing to tell a Muslim who is president of a Muslim majority country not to attend a Christmas celebration.  It's quite another when Christians themselves are prevented from celebrating their holiday.

The members of two besieged Christian congregations on Jakarta’s outskirts are worried that hard-line groups will not let them observe Christmas in their own churches.

Rev. Palti Panjaitan of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi, West Java, said that his congregation was again banned on Sunday from holding services in their half-built church.

The last time I checked, there were no atheists, or as Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly likes to call us, 'secular progressives.' preventing Christians from attending midnight mass, tearing down nativity displays from private property, or burning down churches.  If Fox News were a legitimate news organization, it could instead focus on showing its viewers what real religious intolerance looks like.