Category Archives: Politics

Christian Politics

Hmm… I seem to have written this back in September, but never posted it. What the heck. I still think this way.

I started writing up a comment on the post I shared on Facebook about God in the GOP platform. I kinda kept typing and typing. So here it is separately.

I often share stories about religion and politics. It gets old to me, even. But this stuff does matter. You have a responsibility to think about how you vote. If you’re religious, your religion should inform how you vote.

First, I’m atheist, but I was brought up in church. My church studied the teachings of Jesus, but I suppose it emphasized the “good” over the “god”.

I’ve always been fascinated by religions. As I get older, one thing that fascinates me more is how often people talk about how religious they are, but completely ignore the tenets of their religion. Being a good Christian is not about how often you use the word “God”, it’s about helping your fellow man. I don’t claim to be good at that, but I also don’t claim to be Christian. If you claim to be Christian, you’re setting the bar pretty high. I’m proud that I have some good friends who pass the test. It’s no surprise to me that they also vote Democrat.

I understand that if you’re against abortion why you’d feel pulled towards the Republican party. But the hard-lined tactics against abortion are doomed to failure. There are much more reasonable ways to decrease the abortion rate (there are no ways to eliminate abortions altogether). They all start with education. You don’t see Republicans promoting education. And sorry, Republicans are using you on this issue. They’re sucking you in, knowing that if you care deeply about abortion, you’ll overlook all the other anti-Christian parts of their platform.

Opposition to universal healthcare is perhaps the most anti-Christian stand that I can imagine. Two thousand years ago, helping your fellow man often meant comforting them as they died from some sickness or accident. In the modern world, we can do so much better than this. But access to healthcare is limited and expensive. Obamacare (I hate that term even if Obama has come to accept it) is a very small step that improves things and even decreases the deficit. It’s current form has most of its roots in past Republican policy and gives far too many concessions to the huge insurance providers and pharmaceuticals.

I know most of the objections to universal healthcare are basically anti-big government arguments. People claim that governments are inherently inefficient. But sorry, the best run, most efficient insurance out there is Medicare. That’s your government. Sure it needs improvement. But it still works better than most insurance companies.

And I simply find for-profit insurance companies to be an immoral business. When Jesus spoke of caring for the sick, he didn’t say “only if he pays you well”. At least Obamacare limits insurance companies’ profits, and it stops them from dropping coverage if a patient gets too sick and costs them too much. This is a huge step forward. If you’re against this, then you’re anti-Christian. It’s that simple.

Why did I call Ron Paul an “immoral prick”?

On twitter, earlier today I retweeted an article from NPR, and yes, I called Ron Paul an “immoral prick”. Sure that’s a bit harsh. After all, he’s not the one who yelled “yes!” when asked if we, as a nation, should let people without health insurance die when they’re sick. He did say that local charities and and hospitals should take care of these people.

I’m sorry, but I still see that as immoral.

It’s a cop out.

It ignores the ramifications that come with such an attitude.

Yes, I agree that in the absence of a better system, hospitals have a moral obligation to help the sick whether or not they have health insurance. It’s hard to argue against that. And I hope most people would feel that way.

Ron Paul also said that people have a responsibility to buy health insurance. I agree with that too, as far as it goes. But he said that a person who decides not to buy health insurance gets what they deserve. That’s the immoral bit.

People don’t always get what they deserve. Some people are poor and simply can’t afford health insurance. They’re poor not because they’re lazy, but because of other circumstances beyond their control. The assumption that everyone’s situation is due to their own choice is simply wrong. If you think this way, you lack empathy. You’re the one who’s flawed, not the poor person.

But what happens when a hospital is located in a poor area, where there’s a high percentage of people without health insurance? Well, the answer can be all too simple. The hospital could go out of business. And in the less simple case, it could send the sick, uninsured patients away. Either way, that’s bad.

We can do better.

We should do better.

We, as a nation, as a people, have a responsibility to take care of those around us. We’re a rich nation. This is well within our means. If we take care of this as a nation, rather than pushing the responsibility down to the states or cities, we can do this more cheaply, and more efficiently.

Ron Paul sees everything that government does as something that individuals, churches or localities could do better. I understand the frustration that he, and many others, have with government bureaucracies and their inefficiencies. But simply shirking the responsibility is not the answer. It really is a cop out.

Government is what we make it. Let’s make it better, not destroy it. Let’s do things as a nation, as a people with many shared goals and ideals. Let’s not assume the answers are all isolated and fractional. Let’s solve some problems together.

Books

The last few years had been pretty light on reading for me. I’ve been trying to change that. I can’t say I’m catching up on my to-read list very well since I keep adding books, but I have read a bunch of books – mostly listened to them – over the last year or so. Here are the ones I remember.

The Origin of Species – Charles Darwin (audio). Turns out to be a pretty darned good book. It’s written for the layperson, so like most science books I read, it left me wanting more detail. And like those other science books, it’s not that the detail doesn’t exist. Thinking that is a huge mistake. This stuff is totally cool, and reinforces my amazement with the workings of the world and the universe. (Not to go into it here, but discovering how things actually work is so much more rewarding than having unfounded faith in made-up stories from thousands of years before humans had tools to make these discoveries. It boggles my mind, and saddens me, that so many others don’t experience this wonderment.) If people are interested, and want to read a real book, I suggest you get a copy with lots of pictures and annotations. I can’t recommend one, but having pictures of all the things Darwin describes would probably add much to the book.

So why did I list this book first? Not because of a (not so) hidden agenda of promoting science. I simply finished listening to the book yesterday.

Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov (audio). I re-read this after probably 20 years. Definitely felt dated, but after the first book I really started to get into it again.

The Art of War – Sun Tzu. What complete crap. I simply don’t understand why people think this is so good. If you use it as a model of modern capitalism, it simply encourages you to cheat and lie. Jeepers.

The Ascent of Money – Neil Ferguson (audio). A rather dry, but easy to listen to description of how modern markets evolved. I’m not sure I could have finished this if I was reading instead of listening. I was hoping it would talk more about the structure of modern markets, but it mostly just dealt with history.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – John Perkins (audio). One of the more interesting books I’ve read. I rather chilling detail of what really goes on. And yeah, I believe it. Of course, saying I believe it doesn’t mean that I think it’s a complete picture of the world. Far from it. But I do believe there’s a huge amount of disgusting and immoral enslavement (for lack of a better term) that the US and its largest corporations are inflicting on the world.

Don’t Be Such a Scientist – Randy Olsen. Good stuff. Talks about using emotion and not worrying about being so damned precise when communicating to the general public. Inspired by his work with filmmaking after being a tenured professor.

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins. Not sure this book needs much description. Dawkins is right-on, though I wish he had discussed how and why humans are so good at self-deception.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (audio). I certainly knew the story, but couldn’t remember if I ever read it or not. Very good stuff. Book burning is bad. Period. 🙂

iWoz – Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith (audio). Apparently, this Woz guy was kinda smart. Though he comes off as well-aware of this, he also comes off as a really good person. It was fun reading every now and then about some of my friends.

A Man Without a Country – Kurt Vonnegut (audio). Hmm, this guy sounds kinda liberal, with some very similar views to my own.

The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (audio). An excellent Sci-Fi read. (“God’s Eye” is a nebula (I think), and “The Mote” is a star in it.) The book deals with the first contact with an alien race and with over-population.

How To Brew – John Palmer. My first book on homebrewing. Very detailed, but not as good an introduction as the next book. Just gives too much information for a first-time brewer.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing – Charlie Papazian. Probably the best introductory text on brewing beer. Easy to read, and very informative. I read the Kindle version, which has all the tables formatted horribly. Buy the paper version.

Physics for Future Presidents – Richard Muller. It would be nice if some presidential candidates actually read this book. It’s at a very simple level, but I expect still beyond many of them. We should never elect (or even seriously consider) a candidate who couldn’t understand this stuff.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk – David Sedaris (audio). Not his best book, though a couple of the stories had me laughing out loud.

The 4 Percent Universe – Richard Panek (audio). A simple history of the discovery of dark matter and dark energy. Very interesting coverage of the two rival supernova discovery teams. I remember the competition going on, but this goes into lots more detail. Made for an interesting tale.

It’s a lot easier to get reading done when driving in the car (by listening). Reading at 2x speed has worked out really well for me. I now often skip the podcasts I’ve been listening to for the last five years in favor of books.

It takes more than math

There’s something in common between the nuclear disaster currently occurring in Japan and the financial meltdown a few years back. Heh. There’s a correlation. And it’s the lack of understanding correlation.

The financial meltdown largely occurred because risky loans were packaged together under the assumption that defaults on individual loans would be uncorrelated. The stupidity of that is mind boggling. Sure, this is hindsight. But someone should have realized is ahead of time. And not just someone – many people should have. There’s really not much excuse here. (There’s such a lack of excuse that it feeds conspiracy theories. Still, I expect it really was just stupidity.)

The same issue occurred with the nuclear “site blackout” problems in Japan. It’s perhaps less obvious that people should have understood this one in advance. And actually, many people were worried about it. It was a known weakness in the plant designs. But they didn’t come up with the scenario that finally occurred. If they had, perhaps the plants would never have been built. Perhaps….

In any case, now I’m worried about how many other things in our society are so poorly understood. We can wrap math around problems, but if the people doing the math don’t understand the reality of those problems, they’re bound to make similar mistakes.

A bit freaked out

I was up late Thursday night watching the news coverage of the 8.9 earthquake in Japan. A friend of mine tweeted about how it was silly that #prayforjapan was trending on twitter. After all, their vengeful god had just caused the quake. Right? Why would he listen to prayers about it?

The videos of Tokyo showed how well the city had withstood the fifth strongest quake in the last hundred years. So I tweeted:

The headline you won’t be reading: “Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes”. Buts it’s the truth.

(Yeah, the typo in my tweet just pisses me off.)

I noticed a couple of re-tweets before heading to bed, but didn’t think much about it.

The next morning I noticed my iPhone was awake. It was showing notifications of re-tweets – at what looked like about once a second. Yikes! When I checked my email, I had more than 300 new followers on twitter. Eeak!

A few hours later, a friend at work pointed out (and then more friends later), that my tweet was the top news item on Reddit. That freaked me out enough that I went and closed out new followers on twitter.

By the evening I decided to let people follow me again. I actually had a ton of follow requests sitting there on twitter, and didn’t really want to go through them. Surprisingly, most of the requests I did look at looked like real people. I kinda get why people would re-tweet my post. But it’s weird that they’d also follow me. The people I follow are either real friends, friends of friends, famous, or represent a company or topic I’m interested in. I’m just some nerd in Colorado.

Anyhow, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my tweet. As hundreds have now told me, the New York Times did a very good article on the matter quite early on. Kudos to them! And the coverage elsewhere has also been pretty good too.

I almost said “government regulation” instead of “government building codes”. That’s how I really felt about it. I don’t know why I made it more specific. (Damn it, I want my government to regulate stuff!) I expect I wouldn’t have had such a freaky day if I’d said that instead. And for crying out loud, even in the wake of the disaster in Japan, the GOP wants to remove lots of funding for just this sort of stuff.