Monday, December 10, 2012

Thanks for Contributing to Your Ideologies Demise (I hope)!

   A coworker of mine (who, thankfully, I don't actually have to interact with) seems to be quite conservative in his political views. His cubicle is next to mine, so I am able to eavesdrop when he has political conversations. Yesterday (which, by the time I actually got around to publishing this post, was three weeks ago) was one of those days. My attention was grabbed when he said something about how "people are going to have to accept reality." That was ironic, since he has said things in the past to suggest he is an Anthropogenic Global Warming denier.

   The irony didn't stop there, to no surprise. At this point, I must pause to say that I am getting posts out of order. I've been meaning to respond to Mitt Romney's 47% comments (and now his "gifts" comment), but have not done so. Some of the things I am about to say should have links to reference my sources. I'm linking things in that other post, so watch for that later. (Update: I'm getting quite lazy about this whole blogging thing. That post is bound to never show up.) As you can figure out, my cubicle neighbor was spouting off similar comments.

   At the time, I found it frustrating. Honestly, I felt that way for a few hours. Then I considered how immoral it all was. Those thoughts helped turn that frown upside down! I think there are a lot of people, such as myself, who see the hideousness of the conservative propaganda when we realize that the means conservatives propose don't match the claimed goal. Eventually, we can conclude that the conservatives may not be sincere with what they claim those goals to be.

   Now what the hell am I talking about? It is this idea that a large portion of the population are lazy and are just mooching* off the government and want to continue government programs so that they can continue to mooch. This is much what my cubicle neighbor was claiming. The phrasing he used a couple of times was that the "social safety nets have become a hammock**."

   There are many problems with this. One being that a lot of that safety net money goes to states that tend to vote Republican. It should be the other way around. (Sure, Republicans could claim that it must be all the people who vote Democratic in their state that receive that money, but I don't buy it. This is in part because Social Security and Medicare make up a lot of that "moocher" money, which goes to senior citizens who tend to vote Republican. And it fails to explain why the states with larger numbers of liberal voters aren't bigger on the "moocher" money.) The biggest problem is that this is simply a lie. Now, I grant that there are indeed people who do live off the "government dole," as he put it. I have met such people***. But they seem to be a small minority. There are a number of people who do work, but don't earn enough to make a living.

   Take some time to grab a calculator if you need, and let's do some math! Currently, federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Let's say you work 40 hours per week at that wage. In a year's time, you will make $7.25/hour * 40 hours/week * 52 weeks/year which amounts to a whopping $15,080/year. Apparently, this is near the 2012 poverty guideline for a household of two, but... Damn. That's not a lot of money****. And what if you were a single parent making that wage? You'd be living in poverty and you would qualify for that dole money. Similarly, if we talk about people who are getting by on unemployment, I have heard the average unemployment benefits are just under $300 per week. At a full year, that again is only about $15,000. Who's going to be chilling on a hammock making that?

   So the conservative propaganda begins by painting a picture that does not match reality. This in itself could be forgiven if the conservative were willing to be educated on what life really is like for those supposedly mooching on the dole. But it gets worse. I sometimes hear conservatives demand that people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (as Steven Colbert often says to satirize conservative ideology), but they then take away a person's bootstraps! I wrote above about the minimum wage. You could be trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but if the best job you can get (if you can get one at all) only pays that minimum wage, that is going to be extra difficult. Wouldn't it help if the minimum wage were higher? Yet, conservatives tend to be against increasing the minimum wage or sometimes even having a minimum wage. (Admittedly, I do not know the views of my coworker on this issue.) I could perhaps forgive this, too, if the argument were that people need to demand better wages for themselves instead of having the government set wages for them. Well, one of the best ways to do this is to form unions. But guess what? Conservatives tend to be against unions, too!

   This is the hideousness of conservatism. If a poor person receives any government assistance, they are considered a moocher and are told to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But then conservatives turn around and make that task more difficult! It's as though they don't really want these people to pick themselves up at all. That, my reader, is the immorality of conservatism. I think there are a lot of people out there that have picked up on this. Unfortunately, it may be because so many have been impacted directly by this immorality.

* This should have been the first clue that their ideology is immoral. Calling poor people lazy is their way of justifying their ideology. They realize that it is immoral not to help people, so they have to paint the picture that these poor people don't actually want help to explain why they won't help.

** When originally telling my wife this story, I claimed he said it was a cot. My memory is thus not completely reliable. But I find it safe to conclude that he must have either said or intended to say hammock.

*** And I wouldn't necessarily call what they do "living." For those who truly are living on the dole, it's not the cozy lifestyle of relaxing in a hammock that he implies.

**** It is important to consider, too, that this guy is a senior engineer...been with the company for years. I don't know exactly which level he is at, but it looks like he could be making anywhere from $63,800 to $142,100. I expect his earnings would be more in the middle of that. So here is this guy perhaps making $100,000 a year (plus he has health care!) calling the people who make $15,000 a year (who may not have health care) moochers. Fuck that shit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dumb Christian Arguments that Cause My Head to Explode: "Old Testament Laws No Longer Apply"

   This — and variations thereof — is one that I hear a lot. Often I hear it from more liberal Christians, but even the more conservative Christians use this when they are out to defend their religion from parts so despicable that even they have to admit as much. (Personally, the last time I encountered this was with a woman**** working for the Obama campaign and she was using this as a reason conservatives are wrong to fight against equality for homosexuals.) The main problems, as I see them, are twofold:
  1. This is not clearly* supported in scripture as far as I am aware. In fact, I know scripture says just the opposite in Matthew 5:18 — "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Oh, and if you teach people that even the least (however that is determined) of the laws are not important, you risk your spot in heaven.

    Side note: This reminds me that the visitation pastor speaking at my niece's baptism told the parishioners that those laws weren't important to know. Boy did I want to just about scream at that moment! (Which was further instigated by her and the associate(?) pastor discussing whether the number of laws was closer to 600 or 620, to which I really wanted to shout, "There are 613!!!") It's bad enough when churches teach things as fact that contradict scientific knowledge (that particular day it was that "the wind blows wherever it pleases" — in reality, wind blows from cold air masses toward warm air masses); it's a whole nother story when they can't even get their own scripture right!

  2. Now, you may be able to find contradictions in the Bible (there's a big surprise!), in which case the bigger issue is that the core of the Christian theology of the major denominations in the USA does not support this idea. From the first point, the prior verse (Matthew 5:17) has Jesus claiming he came to fulfill the law. As per Christian theology (including that of the church mentioned in the side note above), Jesus was supposedly a person free of sin who died to serve as punishment for all of us sinning humans. Well, what is "sin"? Basically, a person sins when they violate one of those laws. (If you look at Wikipedia, "sin is the act of violating God's will." But note that the link for "God's will" goes to the article for "Divine law.") So if you claim that the law no longer applies, then a person can no longer sin. Yet, Christian theology teaches that we do still sin. Therefore, the laws must still be in effect.

UPDATE: I was reminded of where the contradictions in the Bible are. I've addressed this in a short post here.

   If this argument is so bad, why do Christians use it? I think the answer is twofold. One, people generally don't examine arguments for logical flaws, which allows bad arguments to work. This leads to two, which is that the goal is to find an argument that successfully defends the faith, not one that is logically sound. And the faith requires a defense because many of those laws are absurd (can't eat shellfish is the common example), no longer followed, or it is now recommended that one does the opposite of the law. (Here's one I violated just last week by having my dog neutered: "Not to castrate the male of any species; neither a man, nor a domestic or wild beast, nor a fowl.") Christians know having such laws in the books (see what I did there?) makes their religion look bad. My suspicion would be that Christians have used other excuses to defend the OT laws in the past, but they were less successful than this commonly used excuse that the laws no longer apply and therefore are no longer used.

   And what happens when the religious have their logical flaws pointed out to them? Well, they also have handy defense mechanisms against atheists like myself. Typically, ad hominems are unleashed. We are just these bitter atheists who hate their god and are just out to destroy religion (maybe we are even doing the work of Satan), so any argument we make can be ignored,*** logical though it may be. And then they return to their echo chamber of fellow Christians who reinforce their belief that they are not irrational.

* There are likely verses in the New Testament where Jesus is claimed to have said something that contradicts one of those OT laws. I can't think of any specific examples. "Turn the other check" instead of "an eye for an eye" apparently isn't one of them (because "an eye for an eye" is not law). But if there are such verses, I would count them as the contradictions they are and not as evidence that Jesus was doing away with the laws.

** This reminds me that I need to add to my first asterisked note above. I think there are verses in the NT that have Jesus violating OT law. Again, I can't think of any specific examples. But, yet again, these should be counted as the contradictions they are and not as evidence that Jesus was doing away with the laws.

*** The one thing I am actually bitter about, if you could not tell, is being ignored simply for being an atheist.

**** I kind of wish I would have engaged with her on that. But, at the time, I was not intending to have such a conversation (she is the one who brought it up). In hindsight, she is exactly the type of person I need to have such conversations with, because she might not have been able to easily dismiss my argument considering that we had shared political goals (common ground takes the edge off of ad hominems).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Can the Vikings please do something about the QB?

   I'm going to do something a little bit different on this blog and talk NFL football. I am a Vikings fan, but do they have a QB problem right now! This last game against Green Bay was awful. I, like other Vikings fans, want things to change in this week's Monday Morning Mailbag. (I'm highlighting disappointing parts of the response.)
How long will the Vikings give Christian Ponder to show improvement? The end of this season, or next season?  If anything, he has regressed as this season has gone on, and I don't see how long they can hang on to that position being a weak link. A better receiver would help, but Ponder has to shoulder some of the blame here.
-- Brian
Sturgis, SD

There’s no way around the fact that the Vikings need better play from the quarterback position. No one, from Head Coach Leslie Frazier to Ponder himself, will hide from that fact. Criticism of and impatience for Ponder is increasing among the fan base, but the team’s long-term outlook on Ponder remains the same. I’ve written many times in the Monday Morning Mailbag this year that we have to live with the mistakes Ponder is making because he’s the hand-selected franchise quarterback. Granted, seeing the same mistakes time and again causes the frustration to intensify and the impatience to grow. But I’m willing to be patient with Ponder and give him more time to get it right. I also still contend that the Vikings can play better around Ponder, specifically at the receiver position.

Uggg...can we fire the people who "hand-selected" Ponder? I agree that Minnesota does not have the best of receivers, especially right now with Harvin injured, but Ponder missed some of his throws when the receivers were there (granted, a couple of the main examples were throws toward running backs that were on wheel routes down the sideline — not technically wide receivers, but a bad miss is a bad miss regardless of the position of the target).
I'm not saying Joe Webb is the answer, but Ponder just isn't giving the Vikings a chance to win. So why not try something new? The Jets finally broke down and benched their starter. Why not the Vikings, too?
-- Mike H.
Austin, MN

Obviously, the aftermath of the Vikings loss to Green Bay is going to feature almost exclusively criticism of Ponder. It’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate because Adrian Peterson dazzled us all once again by rushing for 201 yards. Regardless, the main talker coming out of this week for Vikings fans will be Ponder. And I think there are two parts to the discussion.

The first is the global, long-term outlook on Ponder, which was just discussed in the previous question. The team is developing Ponder and I think they should stick to the plan and keep building this offense around him. The second is the short-term look at the situation. I’m not on the side that says Ponder will never be a good quarterback for the Vikings. But I can hear the argument that perhaps Webb could’ve entered the game on Sunday and given the Vikings a chance to win the game.

Unfortunate? Yeah, Peterson dazzled, but the Vikings lost. What is unfortunate is that Peterson did so well just so the QB could come in and screw everything up. Otherwise, on this whole issue around Ponder, I have been finding myself deeply confused these past few years since they drafted Ponder. I have not seen reason to believe that Joe Webb is an awful QB, though maybe the coaches see things in practice that I don't. That's not to say I think he'd ever be a good QB, but perhaps he could be mediocre. So what do the Vikings do? They go draft a new QB that looks to just be mediocre. (Again, maybe they were seeing something in Ponder at the time that I wasn't...obviously it is there job to analyze tapes and it is not mine.) Now after almost two seasons, Ponder is looking to be that mediocre QB. And now we are supposed to "stick to the plan." This does not please me. That's not to say that this is the wrong course of action. I think the wrong course of action was taken nearly three years ago when Ponder was drafted. Now the course is to make the best of that mistake, which may unfortunately be "stick to the plan." The plan could just as well have been build a team around Webb, and — most importantly — they then could have used that draft pick where they got Ponder to do just that. I guess I'll just never understand football culture and why such emphasis and importance is put on having a sole starting QB.