Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ideology vs science

Michael Shermer is a well-known skeptic, but he's also a libertarian. That seems like an odd combination to me (though it's really not that unusual), and his column in Scientific American demonstrates why:
My libertarian beliefs have not always served me well. Like most people who hold strong ideological convictions, I find that, too often, my beliefs trump the scientific facts. ...

Take gun control. I always accepted the libertarian position of minimum regulation in the sale and use of firearms because I placed guns under the beneficial rubric of minimal restrictions on individuals. Then I read the science on guns and homicides, suicides and accidental shootings (summarized in my May column) and realized that the freedom for me to swing my arms ends at your nose. The libertarian belief in the rule of law and a potent police and military to protect our rights won't work if the citizens of a nation are better armed but have no training and few restraints. Although the data to convince me that we need some gun-control measures were there all along, I had ignored them because they didn't fit my creed. In several recent debates with economist John R. Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime, I saw a reflection of my former self in the cherry picking and data mining of studies to suit ideological convictions. We all do it, and when the science is complicated, the confirmation bias (a type of motivated reasoning) that directs the mind to seek and find confirming facts and ignore disconfirming evidence kicks in.

My libertarianism also once clouded my analysis of climate change. I was a longtime skeptic, mainly because it seemed to me that liberals were exaggerating the case for global warming as a kind of secular millenarianism—an environmental apocalypse requiring drastic government action to save us from doomsday through countless regulations that would handcuff the economy and restrain capitalism, which I hold to be the greatest enemy of poverty. Then I went to the primary scientific literature on climate and discovered that there is convergent evidence from multiple lines of inquiry that global warming is real and human-caused: temperatures increasing, glaciers melting, Arctic ice vanishing, Antarctic ice cap shrinking, sea-level rise corresponding with the amount of melting ice and thermal expansion, carbon dioxide touching the level of 400 parts per million (the highest in at least 800,000 years and the fastest increase ever), and the confirmed prediction that if anthropogenic global warming is real the stratosphere and upper troposphere should cool while the lower troposphere should warm, which is the case.

The clash between scientific facts and ideologies was on display at the 2013 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas—the largest gathering of libertarians in the world—where I participated in two debates, one on gun control and the other on climate change. I love FreedomFest because it supercharges my belief engine. But this year I was so discouraged by the rampant denial of science that I wanted to turn in my libertarian membership card.

I wish he would. You see, this is the problem with ideologies in general. It's admirable that Michael Shermer was able to overcome his belief system, but why have an ideology in the first place? As is often the case, he adopted libertarianism in college (when we tend to be particularly susceptible to such things), and hanging around with other true believers "supercharges (his) belief engine."

But how does that fit with skepticism, where the idea is to apportion your belief to the evidence? I don't mean to pick on libertarianism, necessarily, although I've never actually met a moderate libertarian. (They all seem to follow their beloved philosophy to its most absurd conclusion.)

But whether you're a libertarian or a capitalist or a socialist or a communist,... any ideology immediately predisposes you to believe whatever fits that belief system. When you look at a policy issue, for example, you shouldn't care whether it's 'capitalist' or 'socialist,' because that doesn't matter. You want to look at the policy itself.

Shermer was against gun control because of his libertarianism, but isn't that backwards? Shouldn't you decide on individual aspects of gun control first, and then,... well, it doesn't even matter if that's 'libertarian' or not, does it?

Obviously, there are no rights which are absolute. We all support freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but they're not absolute. You can't falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. And you can't cut the hearts out of human sacrifices - even volunteers - whether it's your religion or not.

Shermer describes libertarianism as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative." That sounds nice, but what does it even mean? What about protecting our environment? There is nothing more conservative than conservation (as Aldo Leopold famously said, "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering"), but that's not considered 'conservative' in America, certainly not these days.

And regarding global warming, how is it considered 'conservative' to change the very atmosphere of our planet without knowing for sure that it won't cause problems?

"Fiscally conservative"? Why was it 'conservative' to start two wars without - for the first time in our history - raising taxes to actually pay for them? Why is it 'conservative' to cut taxes on the rich, especially given that our budget deficits skyrocketed. (But no, according to conservatives, this was supposed to "pay for itself.")

OK, you may claim that those things aren't really conservative. I've heard some libertarians argue that. But that's a useless debate. It's the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. Besides, we don't need those ideological labels at all. Ideologies are faith-based, pretty much by definition, don't you think? (And libertarianism in particular, I'd say. But I don't want to get into that now.)

I don't mean political parties. Political parties are more-or-less practical groupings of individuals working together in a democracy. Well, we're social animals. Groups are how we do things. But political parties change. The Democratic Party isn't the same as it was when the South was solidly Democratic (and neither is the Republican Party, unfortunately).

If you're strongly partisan, you may indeed look at policies through the prism of benefit for 'your side,' and I won't claim that that's right. But it's still not an ideology, even when both parties might currently be associated with particular ideologies.

(If you're wondering, I don't consider atheism to be an ideology, either. It's just a label for a very simple concept. If you don't positively believe in a god, you're an atheist. But that doesn't imply anything at all about what you do believe.)

Skepticism is apportioning your belief to the evidence. Ideology doesn't help with that, and usually hinders it.

Shermer says that he went to the "primary scientific literature on climate," and OK, that's fine. But what if he'd decided that 98% of climatologists were wrong? After all, Michael Shermer isn't a climatologist himself. And none of us can be an expert in everything. But if you understand the scientific method, then you should know enough to accept the scientific consensus, if there is one.

I meet creationists all the time who think they know enough about evolution to conclude that pretty much 100% of biologists are wrong. Usually, they don't seem to have even a grade school level of knowledge about evolution. Heck, I'm not a biologist myself, and even I can often see that. But they think they know enough to reject the scientific consensus.

So the fact that Shermer changed his mind after looking at the "primary scientific literature on climate" is admirable,... but it misses the point. It simply isn't possible, even if you're a scientist yourself, to learn enough about every scientific field to judge the consensuses of scientists in their own field of expertise.

I'm not talking about individual scientists, who can be just as wrong as anyone else (though far less likely in their own field on average). And I'm not talking about any question in science where there isn't yet a consensus. But it shouldn't be necessary to overcome your ideological biases to accept an overwhelming scientific consensus. (And yes, this is fully consistent with skepticism.)

Michael Shermer is right that we should choose science over ideology. But note that he still chooses ideology by default. It's admirable that he's changed his mind when it comes to these two particular issues. But it's not so admirable that he still calls himself a libertarian, still clings to a belief system he adopted in college, still sees most of the world through the lens of his ideology.

Yes, we should choose science over ideology, but I'm not sure that we should ever choose ideology.

Note: My thanks to Jim Harris for the link, though it took me awhile to get to it. :)

My Halloween costume

(all images from It's Alive)

Yeah, I thought I'd dress up as a Borg from Star Trek this year. What do you think?

I thought about going as Spock, but everyone does that, right?

It's the same problem with Batman:

And the Wolfman costume just looked too itchy:

My horoscope this week

From The Onion:

  • Pisces When times are tough and the world around you seems grim, don't be afraid to turn to religion for a good, hearty laugh.

Hey, I've got to obey. That's just science, right?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Am I crazy, or what?

Shadowrun Returns

I bought a new game, Shadowrun Returns, this week. OK, that doesn't in itself make me crazy, because it's on sale at Steam this week, at 33% off, so it cost me just $13.39. How could I resist? :)

And it's been lots of fun. The game is set in a near-future fantasy world, where magic has returned to the Earth - along with elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls - but where high technology still exists, too (cybernetics, in particular). It's a dark, gritty society ruled by giant corporations with their own private police forces, a place where "shadowrunners" eek out a living off the grid.

According to Wikipedia, it's based on a table-top RPG, Shadowrun, which has been around since 1989. Your character is investigating the murder of a friend (and/or because you're being paid for doing so). But that's just the module which ships with the game. Apparently, Shadowrun Returns has been designed to make it easy for players to create their own content, too, which I should be able to download from the Internet. (I haven't bothered to check that out yet.)

Combat is turn-based, and highly tactical. But the game itself is quite linear, and the inventory system simple. This isn't a game about loot or about exploration, but more about telling a story. Yet it still seems to have replay value, because there are enough choices in character development that I have to wonder about all the other ways I could have played it.

So what's crazy? Well, I'm already spending far too much time playing Arma 3. And I've started new games in Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim, both of which are absolutely enormous games which would take forever to actually finish (even if I didn't stop to blog about the experience).

I've barely scratched the surface of Xenonauts, Distant Worlds, or Expeditions: Conquistador, all three games I really want to get back to. And I haven't even started Timber and Stone or Sir, You Are Being Hunted, both of which I supported on Kickstarter. (Admittedly, both games are still in alpha - playable, but still a ways from being finished.)

Also, in June, I bought both Anachronox and Imperialism from Now sure, they were both on sale - 50% off - so together they only cost me $6. But I haven't even downloaded them yet, let alone played them. Just no time.

And these are just my games of the past few months. Installed on my hard drive, I've got tons of other games, all unfinished - some barely touched - just in the year since I bought this new computer. And I'm not counting games I keep returning to, over and over again, like Dwarf Fortress, UnReal World, or Cataclysm.

That's what's crazy. I needed another game like I need another hole in my head. But it's been fun. Even in two days, I've probably got my money's worth from this, and I'm not finished yet. (I played until 1 AM last night.)

Unlike most of these, Shadowrun Returns is a casual kind of game. Combat is very tactical (it's nearly identical to the new XCOM game), and saving is automatic, once per setting (so have to play out the whole level or you'll lose all of that progress when you quit).

But the controls are simple, there's hardly any inventory management, and it's very linear, so you can pick it up any time, without worrying about a learning curve or remember what you were doing when you last played it.

In that sense, this isn't the kind of game I normally prefer, but it has real advantages, too - especially when I'm already playing far more games than I really have time for.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 9: Genesis, Chapter 27 - 28

Note: This continues directly from Part 8, or you can find the whole series here. All quotes are from the King James Bible.

Chapter 27:
1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I.

2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:

3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;

4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.

Note that Isaac may be old and blind here, but he doesn't actually die for a good twenty years or more. Actually, it looks like whoever put Genesis together from oral tales had trouble fitting this story into the mix. It doesn't make much sense here, but it wouldn't make any sense in later chapters, either.

In Chapter 25, we saw that Isaac and Rebekah favored different sons. (Apparently, it's too much to expect that they'd love both children.) Isaac loved Esau and wants to bless his son before he dies. But Rebekah hears this and persuades Jacob to impersonate his twin.

She makes a "savoury meat" from two young goats, and uses their skin to cover Jacob's hands and neck, so the blind Isaac will think it's actually Esau. (Apparently, Esau is really hairy!)
22 And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.

23 And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau's hands: so he blessed him.


28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:

29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee [sons? there's only Esau and him, isn't there?]: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.

You have to wonder what the big deal is here, don't you? Why wouldn't a father bless both of his sons? And if this is just a matter of inheritance,... well, Isaac isn't dead yet, so why can't he change his mind (write a new will, so to speak)?

But that's not how it works, and Esau is devastated to learn that he won't get his father's blessing after all:
34 And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.

35 And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.

36 And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?

37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?

38 And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.

Jacob seems to be a real asshole, doesn't he? (So, inevitably, that's the guy God favors.) I agree with Esau. Does a father have just one blessing to give? Why? Apparently, this isn't a blessing as we'd understand it, but magic. Nothing else makes sense here.
39 And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;

40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.

41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand [not really; Isaac doesn't die for a good twenty years yet]; then will I slay my brother Jacob.

Esau says this "in his heart," but someone still overhears it - don't ask me how that works - and tells Rebekah. So she warns Jacob, her favorite, telling him to flee to her brother Laban until Esau calms down and "forget(s) that which thou has done to him." (Yeah, that's not going to take long, is it?)

Besides, she has an ulterior motive:
46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?

Get that? In Chapter 26, Isaac and Rebekah were both grief-stricken that Esau had married two Hittite girls ("daughters of Heth"), instead of marrying a close relative, like the rest of them keep doing (Abraham even going so far as to marry his own sister).

If Jacob does the same, what good is her life anymore? Yeah, she's a real bigot, isn't she? Pity her daughters-in-law!

Chapter 28:
1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.

2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.

Isaac seems to have recovered quite well from being blind and near-death, don't you think? Apparently, he's also forgotten all about that trick Jacob just played on him (which is supposed to be the main reason Jacob is leaving).

Certainly, Isaac blesses his son again. So much for having just one blessing, too.
6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;

7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram;

8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;

9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.

Poor Esau. He just can't win, can he? OK, he's got two wives already (don't you just love that 'traditional marriage' in the Bible?), but if his parents want him to marry a relative, he'll marry a relative! But for his third wife, he picks a daughter of Ishmael, who was sent away from the family himself (since his mother was just a concubine).

No more is mentioned about this in the Bible - not that I've seen, at least - but can't you just imagine how that went over? Mahalath's mother and her grandmother were both Egyptian, at least one of them a slave. Yeah, she might have been Esau's first cousin, but I don't think that's what his parents had in mind!

Meanwhile, Jacob gets it right, making the family even more inbred. But I'll get to that in the next post.
12 And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;

14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

This is Jacob's ladder,... and there's a funny thing about that. Remember the cosmology here? As we saw in Chapter 1, God had put the Sun, the Moon, and the stars in the firmament, not far above the Earth. "And God called the firmament Heaven." Rain actually came from above Heaven. It really wasn't that far up.

In fact, in Chapter 11, God was worried that human beings would build a brick tower that high. That's why he confused their speech and scattered them across the Earth, because he was afraid they'd build a brick tower high enough to get to Heaven (and ruin the neighborhood, I suppose). So a ladder to Heaven wasn't necessarily a metaphor. In their minds, Heaven wasn't so very high up in the air.

The other funny thing here is how God continues to be hopelessly inept at picking his favorites. Remember Noah, drunk and disorderly? Remember Abraham, pimping out his wife? (Twice!) Remember Lot, raping his own children? Well, here's Jacob, who wouldn't feed his own starving brother without demanding Esau's birthright in payment, and who then pretended to be Esau in order to steal their father's blessing.

Of course, God promises that his seed will be "as the dust of the Earth," and that hasn't happened, either (although Jacob makes a good start at that).
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:

22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

I assume that this is where tithing comes from - a tenth of everything goes to God. But this isn't referring to money, here. There aren't even any priests to support.

What Jacob is talking about is burnt offerings, right? He's pledging a tenth of everything as a sacrifice - and almost certainly blood sacrifice, since we've already seen how God loves the smell of burning flesh. No vegetables, please! (Seriously, everything in the Bible so far indicates that animal flesh is what God wants - and human patriarchs, too. Plant foods just don't match up.)

OK, this is pretty short, I know, but Chapter 29-31 fit together, so I don't want to go any further right now. I'll leave those three chapters for next time.

Note: Again, links to all of the posts in this series are here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Arma 3 screenshots

Mission fail (click image to embiggen)

I've been playing Arma 3 with my buddies at Not-Quite-Dead-Yet tonight, as usual (every Saturday and Sunday at 6 PM Central Time), and I took a few screenshots of our mission. Usually, I don't think to do that, but there were a few things which demanded a screenshot this time. :)

The picture above, for example, shows how we failed the mission. We were supposed to steal the vehicle that's burning there and get it safely to the extraction point. Obviously, that's not going to happen now!

Here, I'm standing in front of a building (the same one shown in the next picture), but I was on the second floor when this happened. Unfortunately, I didn't have any anti-air or anti-tank weapons with me, but only a sniper rifle. Well, I stood on that balcony shooting round after round at the helicopters strafing us, without any effect at all.

Actually, the reason I took this picture is because of my buddy - I'm not sure who that is - sitting on his butt to the left of the picture, watching the fire burn. (Click on the image to enlarge it, if necessary.) I thought that was pretty funny, especially since you can see two more of our team lying dead in the fire.

(Obviously, the advantage of a game, over real life, is that death isn't permanent. So he was waiting for the fire to die down so he could revive our dead comrades. But I still thought this was funny.)

Not the shelter I thought it was

This was the two-story house I was in, sheltering from the helicopters as I tried (futilely) to bring them down. There were still enemy around, so I went back up to the second floor to look around. I was mostly watching to the south, but I went across to open the balcony door on the north just as an enemy tank drove up and started firing at me.

I hid behind a wall, feeling pretty smart,... until the tank blew the whole house up! It was really pretty funny. Remarkably, I wasn't killed. I was injured, as I fell through the floor to the lower level (when the floor itself disappeared), but there was enough of the lower level still standing to give me some cover.

So I huddled down in the middle of the ruin as the tank continued to rain shells on the house (in fact, I think there were two enemy vehicles firing at me), such that my whole screen shook. I didn't think to get a screenshot then, but this is what it looked like afterwards.

The really funny thing is that I hate to be without an anti-tank missile launcher, so I almost always grab one whenever I can. My buddies laugh at me, because I'm always so loaded down with equipment that I can hardly move. But this time, I just kept the sniper loadout I'd started with. That'll teach me, huh?

Anyway, we'd already failed the mission, but we still had the assignment to escape, ourselves. Unfortunately, this is how I ended up:

Dead in a crater, next to my burning quadbike

I was driving a quadbike, an ATV, which doesn't offer any protection but is fast and maneuverable. We were supposed to meet at the top of a high hill, and when we started to take fire, I raced ahead and set up with my sniper rifle, to try to cover my teammates coming up behind me.

That worked OK for taking out infantry (although I was shot, and nearly killed, by an enemy who managed to flank me), but we ended up under fire from two more helicopters, and I still had no way to bring them down. (I kept firing at them, but I've never brought down a helicopter with a sniper rifle.) Still, the rest of the team made it to the hill, and we tried a mad dash for the boats waiting to take us home,... and ran right into more enemy armor!

Again, I had nothing which would take out a tank, either, so I just gunned it. I'm a pretty erratic driver in the best of circumstances, and I was going cross-country at full speed. But it didn't do me any good. That's my quadbike burning in the screenshot above, and I'm lying dead in the crater from whatever hit me.

The rest of my teammates - there were ten of us altogether - died soon afterwards. I don't know if they were struck by tank rounds, hand-held missile launchers, or helicopter fire - or all three - but it was a complete massacre.

Lots of fun, though. :)

Note: There are more game-related posts here.

How democracy works

I thought this video went well with this cartoon, because these are two different visions of how democracy works.

Well, not entirely different, if American voters really are paying attention.

Just how crazy is Ted Cruz?

Ted Cruz is already campaigning in Iowa, running hard for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as the darling of the evangelical right.

But just how crazy is he? After all, anything can happen in politics. And I'm seeing some pretty crazy stuff here.

From TPM:
As I mentioned before, back when he showed up at Harvard Law School in 1992, he stunned his fellow classmates by putting up flyers around campus for an 'elite study group' with the instructions 'only magnas from top Ivys need apply.' In other words, at a place where arrogance is like air and self-awareness a precious commodity, Cruz managed to stand out on day one as a triple-ply arrogant ass.

Cruz never seems to have grasped that there are people every bit as sharp as him who didn't go to an Ivy League School (even a 'top Ivy'). My read on Cruz, from talking to people who knew him very well in college and law school, is that he's so confirmed in his belief in his own rectitude and genius that he's likely impervious to what most of us would interpret as rejection or failure. This didn't work? Well, too many stupid people or cowards who didn't flock to my banner. That seemed to be the gist of his speech before the vote. And my guess it wasn't just puffing but represented his genuine belief.

Remember, this is a man who by all accounts is 100% focused on being the 2016 Republican presidential nominee who has quickly racked up a cosmically abysmal level of popularity nationwide. According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, he has a 14% approval rating nationwide, with 28% disapproving of him. [Note: This leaves 58% with no opinion, so I'm not particularly comforted by these numbers.] Now he's back to saying that he can't rule out shutting down the government again.

Combine that personality with Christian Dominionist theology:
On the eve of our government shutdown, I wanted to do some research into the theological roots of Senator Ted Cruz, the standard-bearer of the Tea Party Republicans behind the shutdown. I'm interested in understanding what account of Christianity creates the "no compromise" crusade that the Tea Party has become known for. It turns out that Ted's father, Rafael Cruz, is a pastor with Texas charismatic ministry Purifying Fire International who has been campaigning against Obamacare the last several months. He has a distinct theological vision for what America is supposed to look like: Christian dominionism. ...

A good example comes from a speech at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit on August 12th where Cruz said that the government's "attack on religion" is part of a longer-term plan to establish socialism:
When you hear this attack on religion, it's not really an attack on religion. The fundamental basis is this. Socialism requires that government becomes your God. That's why they have to destroy your concept of God. They have to destroy all your loyalties except loyalty to the government. That's what's behind homosexual marriage. It's really more about the destruction of the traditional family than about homosexuality, because you need also to destroy loyalty to the family.

This paragraph is a textbook example of postmodern "truthiness," in which any narrative of reality "works" as long as it's structurally logical. Cruz start with asserting the socialist conspiracy as a fundamental given and then show how it works as an explanation for everything else that's going on. It's so fascinating when the same people who declare themselves to be defenders of "absolute truth" are absolutely relativistic about truth in practice.

A more disturbing element of Cruz's speeches were his repeated calls for a "black robe regiment," a concept promoted by Christian revisionist historian David Barton who claims that clergy were the main backbone of the American Revolutionary War. ...

The theological ethos of Rafael Cruz's vision is in Christian dominionism; he talks about preaching a "message of dominion" that all Christians have received an "anointing as kings." I watched a sermon he preached on August 26, 2012 at the New Beginnings megachurch in Irving, Texas, led by Christian Zionist charismatic pastor Larry Huch. Huch incidentally had a very interesting prophecy to share when he introduced Cruz to preach:
We've been doing this series here that God laid on my heart: Getting to the top and staying there. A message for us as individuals, the kingdom of God, but also for America. It's not enough to get there. We need to stay there. It's not a coincidence that in a few weeks, we go into what's called in the Bible Rosh Hashanad [sic]... It will be the beginning of the spiritual year 2012. The number 12 means divine government. That God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God's people and His kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that's why God got Rafael's son elected, Ted Cruz the next senator.

But here's the exciting thing... The rabbinical teaching is... that in a few weeks begins that year 2012 and that this will begin what we call the end-time transfer of wealth. And that when these Gentiles begin to receive this blessing, they will never go back financially through the valley again. They will grow and grow and grow. It's said this way: that God is looking at the church and everyone in it and deciding in the next three and a half years who will be his bankers. And the ones that say here I am Lord, you can trust me, we will become so blessed that we will usher in the coming of the messiah.

So it sounds like we're entering into the age where the Christians (who give faithfully) are going to get all the money through the "end-time transfer of wealth." Isn't the title of that sermon series just awesome? Getting to the Top and Staying There! It was a packed house. I wonder how many other apocalyptic prosperity gospel megachurches are packing their houses by preaching sermon series about getting to the top and staying there. ...

So to pull all this logic together, God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian "kings" who will accomplish the "end time transfer of wealth." Then "God's bankers" will usher in the "coming of the messiah." The government is being shut down so that God's bankers can bring Jesus back.

Great, isn't it? All you have to do is give money to these people, and vote the way they want, and you'll get this "end time transfer of wealth" from "God's bankers." What could be more reasonable than that?

Note that this isn't an atheist who wrote that article, but a Christian pastor. Even he thinks it's batshit crazy. But if you're faith-based, I could see the appeal (though I have to wonder what all that wealth will do for you when you think Jesus is coming back to 'rapture' you up into Heaven - can you actually take it with you?).

If these were Muslims, America would be scared to death. But these are Christians - their own religion - even if a batshit crazy offshoot which seeks to turn our democracy into a theocracy.

I always thought that 'prosperity gospel' stuff was about as crazy as you could get, but this takes it one step further. In this idea, Ted Cruz is one of those "kings" who's going to accomplish that "end time transfer of wealth."

Indeed, maybe he's already started:
One can interpret the "great transfer of wealth" -- predicted by Ted Cruz' father Rafael Cruz, and by Pastor Larry Huch, who threw his Texas megachurch's considerable heft behind the 2012 Cruz for Senate campaign -- in magical terms, sure.

But Ted Cruz' apparently notable role in getting George W. Bush into the presidency led in turn to Bush's "Faith Based Initiative" - that continues to this day under two successive Obama administrations and which, during the Bush years, funneled billions of dollars to churches and institutions associated with the religious right.

In other words, the "great transfer of wealth" is about more than wishful thinking. It's about an ongoing effort, by leaders and institutions of the evangelical right, to gradually gobble up the secular sphere of government.

Thus, for example, fast growing Christian schools such as the late Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, which now vacuums up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal student aid money each year. Or the hundreds of millions of diverted tax dollars now flowing, in a least 12 U.S. states, under so-called "neo-voucher" schemes, to private schools - many of which, as explored in a new Rolling Stone story, have virulently anti-LGBT policies. Under Bush, too, several billion dollars per year in USAID funding were shifted from secular aid nonprofits to religious ones, some them holding anti-gay and reactionary, even theocratic, underlying ideology.

There's a weird combination of magical thinking and naked greed underlying this, don't you think? Admittedly, it fits in well with the 'benefit the wealthy' ideology of Republican leaders, nearly all of whom are Christian, too.

Frankly, it would be easier to laugh at this stuff if the crazies didn't seem to be in firm control of the entire Republican Party.

And Christian Dominionists do seek to control all of America, yet they're staying under the radar for most Americans. As that Talk to Action article continued:
In September 2008, with the election looming and John McCain and Barack Obama readying their final battle plans, a strange video surfaced, from an August 2005 ceremony held at the most significant Alaska church of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

In the video, which became briefly notorious and unsettled many uncommitted moderate voters, Sarah Palin, who would soon run for and win the Alaska governor's seat, was shown being blessed and anointed by a Kenyan pastor with a croaking, raspy voice who called upon God to bless candidate Palin and protect her against witchcraft.

While that part of the video received considerable mockery from mainstream media, few seemed to notice a short speech by Muthee, which preceded the blessing and anointing of Palin. In the nakedly dominionist speech, Thomas Muthee - a close colleague of New Apostolic Reformation kingpin C. Peter Wagner - called upon believers to "invade" and "infiltrate" seven leading sectors of society:
"In a moment, I'll be asking you that we pray for Sarah, and I'll tell you the reason why. When we talk about transformation of a community, we are talking about God invading seven areas in our society. Let me repeat that one more time. When we talk about transformation of a society, a community, it's where we see God's Kingdom infiltrate, influence seven areas in our society. Number one is the spiritual aspect of our society...

...the second area whereby God wants to penetrate in our society is in the economic area. The Bible says the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous. It is high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers, you know, who are men and women of integrity, running the economics of our nations. That's what we are waiting for. That's part and parcel of transformation. If you look at the Israelites, you know, that's how they won. And that's how they are, even today....

So we go to the third area, it's in the area of politics... There are people who are wired to politics because God wants to take the political, you know, dimension of our societies. And those people should be prayed for. That's why I was, you know, I was so glad to see Sarah here. We should pray for her, we should back her up. And, you know, come the day of voting, we should be there, not just praying, we should be there. And I'm saying this because that's what I'm telling our church. I'm telling them that we need this in Parliament. In here is what you call Congressmen, you know, you know, the, the Governors, we need the brethren right inside there. Is anybody hearing me?

You know, because who will change the laws of the lands? The problem is do we just pray, but we do nothing about it. If the believers had not done something in this country, your president would not be in office today. Yes or no? Am I right?

Number three, or number four, it's the area of education. We need believers who are educationists. If we had them, today we would not be talking about the Ten Commandments being kicked out of the church, I mean out of our schools. They would still be there. One of the things that you, you know, I would love you to know, I'm a child of revival of the Seventies, and that revival swept through the schools. They are open to preaching, you know, open. Open. Wide open. You go to any school, there is what we call Christian Union. Christian Union is nothing more but a bunch of kids that are born again, spirit-filled, tongue-talking, devil-casting. Is anybody hearing me? All over the country! Is anybody hearing me?

We need God taking over our education system! Otherwise, we, if we have God in our schools, we will not have kids being taught, you know, how to worship Buddha, how to worship Mohammed, we will not have in the curriculum witchcraft and sorcery. Is anybody hearing me?

The other area is in the area of media. We need believers in the media. We need God taking over the media in our lands. Otherwise we will not have all the junk coming out of, you know, coming out of the media... Why can't we have our living church in Hollywood? Guess what will happen. If we have a living church right in Hollywood, we would not have all the kind of pornography that we are having. Is anybody hearing me?

And the last area is in the area of government. Hello? We need believers there. We need men and women of integrity. You know, as the Secretaries of State. We need them right there. People that are born again, spirit filled, people who know God, and people who are serious with God.

So in a moment if you do not mind, I'll ask, you know, even before I go to do this thing, you know, I'll ask Sarah, would you mind to come please? Would you mind? Come, please. Let's all stand up, and let's hold hands all over this house. Come, Pastor, come.

[Sarah Palin joins Muthee and two Alaska pastors onstage]

Thank you, Jesus. Let's all pray. Let's pray for Sarah. Hallelujah! Come on, hold your hands up and raise them. Hold them and raise them up here! Come on, talk to God about this woman! Come on, talk to God about this woman we declare favor from today. We say favor, favor, favor!  ...  We come in the hindrance of the enemy, standing in her way to there. In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus! Every form of witchcraft, it will be rebuked in the name of Jesus. Father, make her way now. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"The Bible says the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous." Nice, huh? All of our wealth, everything we "wicked" people own, that's supposed to be theirs, according to God. And these are the people who scream about 'wealth redistribution'?

(Also, note that this is why religious nuts have been running for school boards nationwide, too. "We need God taking over our education system!"  Many of these people home-school their own kids, but they're determined to control the public schools.)

Sarah Palin might have been too crazy for the American people, or just too dumb. Or maybe it was just that the memory of George W. Bush was too fresh in our minds. After all, this guy was right about one thing: "If the believers had not done something in this country, your president would not be in office today."

Of course, that was George W. Bush he was talking about, the darling of the evangelical right. You don't hear much about him these days, because he's still unpopular. But he was their candidate, right from the start.

From what I hear, Ted Cruz isn't dumb. He's crazy, yes. And his approval rating is in the toilet right now. But not with the evangelical right. Not with the Tea Party. Not with the far-right lunatics who actually vote in Republican primaries.

It's still a long time - in political terms - until 2016, and Cruz knows how short our memories are, here in America. So he doesn't care about the average American voter, not right now. Instead, he's wooing the crazies who control the GOP, just working on winning the Republican primary. (I suspect that he plans to play up his Cuban roots after that, expecting to woo Hispanics in the general election. But who knows?)

I think he's crazy. But anything can happen in politics. And Republicans seem determined to damage, if not destroy, our economy, which won't help the incumbent Democrats if they're not too clumsy about it (which is exactly why they're doing it). They took a big hit with this shutdown stuff, but it's a long time until 2016. And the GOP will have lots and lots of anonymous campaign donations to spend...

I don't think that Ted Cruz is going to be our next president. I think he's too crazy for America, but too egotistical to realize that.

But he's going to work hard at it, and he's going to have a lot of true-believers - and a lot of money - backing him. Given the makeup of today's Republican Party base, he probably has a good chance of winning the GOP nomination.

And anything can happen in the general election. Anything. I'm not overly worried about Ted Cruz,... but this is my country we're talking about. And if George W. Bush can get elected president, anyone can.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 8: Genesis, Chapter 24 - 26

Continued from Part 7, reading the King James version of the Bible, 1769 revision. (The entire series is here.)

Chapter 24:
1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh [they're kidding, right?]:

3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:

4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.

OK, we're about to switch to a new generation here. As we learn shortly, Isaac is 40 when he gets married (which makes Abraham 140), but he doesn't have anything to say about who he marries. That's all arranged for him. (Don't you love that 'traditional marriage' in the Bible?)

Abraham is determined that his son marry within the family - and I mean that literally - so he sends this servant back to his kindred to pick out a bride. I mean, you can't have any of that damned Canaanite blood mixing with theirs, right?

Of course, they're all related, because it hasn't been very long ago that there were only eight people left alive on the whole planet. (Canaan was Noah's grandson, cursed with servitude - through absolutely no fault of his own - because his father accidentally saw Noah drunk and naked. And it's the Canaanite land that God gives to Abraham's descendants in perpetuity, so the Lord actually screws them over twice.)
10 And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.

11 And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.


14 And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.

OK, he's got a plan. He settles by the village well, planning to choose a woman who is kindly enough to give him and his camels a drink of water. Hmm,... I'd say there are a few problems with that idea, but that's what happens.

As it turns out, the very first woman he encounters agrees to give him water. So it would have worked just as well to ask the first woman he saw, wouldn't it? Luckily, Rebekah is unmarried and a real hottie ("And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her").

She's also Isaac's first cousin once removed. (Her father and Isaac are first cousins.) Keep in mind that Isaac's mother and father were brother and sister (well, half-siblings - they had the same father, though different mothers). So now he's supposed to marry a close relative, himself? These guys clearly have no problem with inbreeding, huh?

Anyway, she takes him to her father's house:
33 And there was set meat before him to eat: but he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand. And he said, Speak on.

Now we hear the whole story all over again - the entire plan and everything that happened at the well with Rebekah, exactly as it was related to us just a few verses previously! I don't know who wrote this thing, but couldn't he have done a little better than that?

Anyway, this servant had valuable gold jewelry, plus all those camels, so Rebekah's family was fine with the whole idea. They do want to have a few days to say good-bye, but Abraham's servant insists on leaving immediately. (And Rebekah agrees to do so. The only decision she's asked to make is whether she's willing to leave immediately.)
67 And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

No big ceremonies, apparently, huh? But all's well that ends well.

Chapter 25:
1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.


5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.

6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

Abraham may have been 140 years old, but he was still a randy old goat. This says he "took a wife," but it also indicates that his other children were "sons of the concubines [note the plural], which Abraham had."

Apparently, Keturah was a "wife" the same way that Hagar, the slave girl, was a "wife." Only Sarah - his half-sister - was his real wife, and her son, Isaac, got everything (and that was the only son God was willing to establish his "covenant" with, too). The other sons were sent away.
8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre;

10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

Finally, Abraham dies, at the ripe old age of 175, and he's buried with his wife, Sarah. Interestingly, this says that Isaac and Ishmael buried him there, but note that Ishmael had been sent away to die in the wilderness 60 years previously.

According to that previous account in Genesis, Ishmael didn't die - and indeed, he flourished - but apparently they hadn't completely broken off contact. All of Abraham's sons with his concubines were sent away, but that first son, with his first concubine, still had a part in the funeral. Interesting, isn't it?

Indeed, Ishmael's sons are listed here, too - "twelve princes according to their nations" - and then he dies at age 137.
20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.

21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Rebekah, like Sarah, is barren (all this inbreeding?) before God comes through for them, twenty years after they're first married:
23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.

25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.

26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.

27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.

28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Given all the incest in the Bible, you might expect closer families, don't you think? Or maybe not, I don't know. Certainly, it didn't work out like that here.

Issac loves one of his sons, but Rebekah loves the other. What, they can't love them both? There's no love between the brothers, either. In the remaining verses of this chapter, Esau is dying of hunger ("I am at the point to die"), but Jacob refuses to give his brother any bread or soup until Esau gives up his birthright. Nice guy, huh? (Guess which one God is going to favor?)

Chapter 26:
1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.


7 And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.

8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

9 And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.

What? Again? This is the third time we've heard this story! Apparently, it was a popular theme among ancient storytellers, because we've read it three times already in Genesis, with just the details different.

The first two times, it was Abraham and Sarah, once with the Pharaoh of Egypt and then (when Sarah was already 90 years old - but still hot, apparently) with this same King Abimelech. Now it's Isaac who lies about his hot wife, Rebekah - because, of course, it's OK if the king rapes her, as long as Isaac isn't at risk, himself.

But the king catches them having sex, so he gets suspicious. (Actually, if he knew the family, that wouldn't have surprised him at all, huh?)

But come on! This is like a popular sitcom plot which may or may not have been original with I Love Lucy, but succeeding sitcoms just used over and over again. That's pretty clearly what happened here, don't you think? It must have been a popular theme, so different storytellers wove it into different stories.

But how could you read this - three times in Genesis alone - without realizing that? And here, there's no mention of their twin children, either, until the end of this chapter, so you kind of have to wonder about that, too, don't you?

At any rate, like Abraham, Isaac came out of the experience with great wealth:
13 And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:

14 For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.

There's also a similar disagreement about wells (well, this is an arid land), and a similar covenant with King Abimelech, just like we saw with Abraham in Chapter 21. Again, it sounds like the same story, ascribed to Abraham in one version of the tale, Isaac in another.

The last two verses of the chapter suddenly switch to a different problem:
34 And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:

35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Esau took two wives (which wasn't a problem, not in this time of 'traditional marriage'), but they were Hittite women - Canaanites - not kin. That was a "grief of mind" to Isaac and Rebekah. Clearly, bigotry has a long history in Christianity, huh?

We'll have lots more about Esau and Jacob coming up soon. :)

Note: There are links to all of these posts, in order, here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Suppressing the (Democratic) vote

Voting makes you gay? Heh, heh. Maybe voting turns you atheist. But then, that would probably suppress voting from Republicans and Democrats alike, huh?

Nightmare on Wall Street

I wanted to post these primarily for the very end of the second video. I love how The Daily Show digs out these clips (in this case of Jim Cramer) to demonstrate their points.

Yeah, back then, they thought that JP Morgan Chase made a brilliant bargain. And, as it turned out, that's exactly what happened. They're not paying much in penalties here - not as much as they expected, even before you consider the tax exemptions.

And you know? That's one of the risks you take. They knew the risks, but they knew what an opportunity this was, too. It's not as though they're facing criminal charges. That would be wrong, if it were someone else who committed the crime. But civil penalties? That's part of the cost of doing business.

This is funny, but it's also frustrating to see how much deference financial journalists (supposedly) are giving Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal - especially the editorial page. That was crazy even before the paper was bought by the same people who own Fox 'News.' Afterwards, why should we pay any attention to it at all?

Monkey court

We need more Democrats like this!

OK, OK, I know nothing about Rep. Frank Pallone, so I really can't say that. But he sure hits the nail on the head here, doesn't he?

From TPM:
During the House Energy and Commerce Committee's hearing on's launch, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) ripped the hearing as a "monkey court" used by his Republican colleagues to bash the Affordable Care Act.

He seized on a line of questioning from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who suggested that the private health information of Americans was at risk because of the website's poor design.

"I started out in my opening statement saying there was no legitimacy to this hearing and the last line of the questioning certainly confirms that. HIPAA only applies when there's health information being provided," Pallone said. "That's not in play here today. No health information is required in the application process. And why is that? Because pre-existing conditions don't matter. So once again, here we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Survival, with a spot of tea

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is on sale at Steam this week for only $10, so I thought I'd post this. It's an appropriate game for Halloween, don't you think?

I already own it, myself, since I supported it on Kickstarter. But I haven't played it yet, partly because I've got too many other games to play and partly because it's still in alpha (although it looks very playable).

I wanted to support the development of the game, but I'm afraid I'll get tired of it even before it's finished, if I start playing now. Some games I'll play during development; others, I won't. But it also depends on what else I'm playing and how much time I have.

Five stupid things about the manosphere

Steve Shives does a great job with all of his videos. I highly recommend his channel.

But I thought he was being too easy on these guys, at first. Sure, "angry self-pitying douchebags" is accurate, but hardly gets to the heart of the matter.

However, he redeemed himself with "shallow, insecure, deceitful, misogynistic assholes who blame women for the fact that they're such hapless fuckups," don't you think? :)

Best coin ever spent

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 7: Genesis, Chapter 21 - 23

Note: This post continues from Part 6. All quotes are from the King James Bible, and the entire series can be found here.

Chapter 21:
1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.

2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

After that weird little interlude that was Chapter 20 - and, before that, the Jerry Springer Show of Lot's experiences in Sodom - we're back to Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son, Isaac. Sarah finally has a son - at age 90 - but is she happy?
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.

12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Abraham casts out this poor slave girl, and his own 14-year-old son, because his wife is jealous (and because God encourages him to do so).
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.

16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

Hagar and Ishmael wander around in the wilderness until they run out of water. Then, rather than watch her child die of thirst, she puts him in the shade of a shrub and sits down to die, herself.

But God doesn't let them die. Why not? Does he feel sympathy for these two innocents? Of course not! After all, he killed every child on Earth not long ago, and children die in agony every minute, without him lifting a finger. No, it's because Ishmael is Abraham's "seed."

Abraham, that guy who twice pimped out his wife - once to the Pharaoh of Egypt and then to King Abimelech - that guy who raped his wife's slave, that guy who cast her, and her child, out into the wilderness to die,... that's God's new BFF. So God will "make a nation" of the child, just for Abraham's sake.

Of course, keep in mind what else the angel of the Lord had promised Hagar, previously, about her son: "And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him..." And God specifically refuses, in Chapter 17, to "make a covenant" with Ishmael, but only with Abraham's second son, Isaac.

The rest of this chapter is just Abraham making a deal with King Abimelech of the Philistines - yes, that same King Abimelech who had the hots for Abraham's 90-year-old wife - about water wells and fair dealing.

You know, it's kind of funny how all this magical stuff is interspersed with rather mundane tribal concerns - and simple genealogies, too - don't you think? It's not so hard to imagine how such stories developed as they were retold by storytellers over the years.

Chapter 22:
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

IMHO, this is one of the craziest parts of the Bible (and that's saying a lot, huh?). For one thing, this is God tempting Abraham. That's exactly what it says: "God did tempt Abraham." But isn't it supposed to be Satan who's the tempter?

OK, there's been no mention of Satan in the Bible, not yet. It was a serpent which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (and so God cursed snakes to crawl on their bellies afterwards, in this early 'just-so' story). But still, isn't this crazy, that God is tempting his worshipers?

But even crazier is Abraham's reaction. Tell me, what would you do if a god told you to kill your own son and roast him as a burnt offering?
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

This asshole doesn't even object! And when Isaac wonders why they haven't brought a lamb with them for the burnt offering, Abraham lies to his son - until they get to the place of sacrifice. Then Abraham takes young Isaac, ties him up and puts him on the wooden altar, then takes the knife "to slay his son."

But God was just joking. At the last minute, an angel stops Abraham.

You know, God acts kind of like Homer Simpson here, doesn't he? Remember when Homer surrounded the Flanders' house with police tape, and then laughed at Ned Flanders' reaction? "Hahahaha, hahahahaha. Fooled ya, Flanders! Made you think your family was dead! Hahhahahaha. You thought they were dead, didn't you? Hahahaha! Do you get it? They're not, though. But you thought they were. That's why it was so funny!"

If anything, this is even worse. What would you do if a god told you to kill and burn your own son, for a blood sacrifice? And how would you feel afterwards - whatever decision you'd made - to find out that it was just a test? God was just tempting you - or, perhaps, just having his little joke. How would you feel about that?

But Abraham passes with flying colors. He's such an obedient little slave that he's even willing to kill his own kid, if he thinks that's what God wants. How disgusting!

Or is he willing? Maybe he's just afraid of that big bully in the sky?
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Now they know that he fears God, that he fears God so much that he'll even kill his own son when ordered to do so. I've mentioned this previously. What God values in human beings - the only thing he values - is obedience. Yeah, it's fine if Abraham obeys out of fear,... as long as he obeys. Nothing else really seems to matter, not to God. That's made abundantly clear, in all of Genesis.

(Also, note that, despite what the angel says - two or three times - Isaac is not Abraham's "only son." After all, Ishmael is also Abraham's son, and although Abraham cast him out into the wilderness, he still lives.)
17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

God is real happy about Abraham's willingness to kill even his own son and again makes extravagant promises about multiplying Abraham's "seed." But note that none of those promises were actually kept. The Jews have remained a small minority pretty much everywhere.

The rest of the chapter briefly mentions the children of Abraham's brother, Nahor. Yeah, it's another 'traditional marriage' as defined in the Bible, as Nahor has children by his wife and by his concubine. (Of course, God has no problem with that whatsoever.)

Chapter 23:
1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

4 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

This entire chapter is just Abraham negotiating for a burial site for his wife. Abraham himself lives nearly 40 more years and has another six kids (all from another concubine, apparently). But none of those people are considered important, so the story switches to Isaac, mostly, after this.

But I'll get to that in the next episode.

Note: Again, links to this entire series are here.

30 things you shouldn't say to an atheist

This is Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist. Sure, he's no Jaclyn, but he's pretty good, don't you think? I suppose some people might even prefer him. (No, I can't understand that, either.)

Anyway, he started with that "15 things to NEVER say to an atheist," but then followed it up with another 15:

If you've been an atheist for very long, you'll have heard most of these. For the most part, they're incredibly dumb, and I like his reactions here. You can tell that he has a lot of patience - well, apparently he's a teacher - but even that gets strained, sometimes.

The only thing I don't like about these two videos is the porn music in the background. :)

PS. There are other dumb things people say to atheists which aren't specifically about atheism, though these Christians think they are. For example, just recently, I actually had a Christian ask me, "If human beings came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"

OK, they say there are no dumb questions, but it's hard to do anything but laugh at that, isn't it? If you had even a grade-school level understanding of evolution, you wouldn't say something so ridiculous. That question shows such an astounding level of ignorance that it's actually funny.

But what's also funny is that it has nothing to do with atheism. Even if you could disprove the theory of evolution, it wouldn't get you even one step closer to demonstrating that a god did it, let alone your particular 'God.' To do that, you'd have to show evidence which actually backs up that idea, not just disprove other ideas.

Many Christians think that disproving science would automatically make religion - and their own particular religion, at that - the winner by default. But that's not how it works. And given their abysmal knowledge of science  - at least, the Christians who make these kinds of arguments - their ideas of what disproves mainstream modern science tends to be completely laughable, anyway.

Hemant Mehta could easily do another video about these kinds of questions. Maybe I'll suggest it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 6: Genesis, Chapter 18 - 20

Note: This continues from Part 5, or you can get the whole series from the beginning, here. All quotes are from the King James version of the Bible.

Chapter 18:
1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:

5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.

As I noted previously, God and his angels don't mess around with vague feelings in the ancient world. If they have something to say, they appear right before you (and even want a wash and a snack, too).

I must note that it wasn't exactly a Kosher meal ("butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed"), either!
10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Again, God was right there with them, so that Sarah even overheard their talk in the tent nearby. Why then is God so shy these days?

Furthermore, we already heard this in the last chapter. This is a slightly different story, but either God keeps repeating himself, or we're hearing the same thing told twice. It's pretty clear, in all of Genesis, that these are separate stories which were combined at some point into one, isn't it?

This wasn't originally written as one document, but is simply a bunch of tales combined into a more or less coherent narrative. Here, as we saw in the last chapter, God promises that Abraham and Sarah will have a son, even though they're both very old.

In the previous chapter, Abraham laughs about it. Here, Sarah does. After all, she's nearly 90 and long past menopause. Again, these aren't the same stories, though they're quite similar, of course.
20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.

22 And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.

23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

I must say that Abraham has improved with age, hasn't he? He started out so cowardly - or so greedy - that he was willing to pimp out his wife to the Pharaoh. (Of course, this happens again, very soon.) But in Chapter 17, he bravely rescues his nephew from captivity, and if he rapes his wife's maidservant, at least he expresses concern for their son.

And here, he stands up to God, trying to convince him not to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, but to spare the righteous (but not the innocent, apparently - not the children). After all, if God destroys a city, that will affect everyone who lives there, not just the guilty.

(Note that God clearly isn't omniscient here. He says, "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know." God has heard rumors of Sodom and Gomorrah, but he doesn't know if those rumors are true, so he's going to check them out.)

So, after some clever haggling, Abraham gets God to agree to spare Sodom - where Abraham's nephew, Lot, lives - if he can find just ten righteous people. (But, again, there's no concern for the innocents, for the children who live there. You know there had to be more than ten of them.)

Chapter 19:
1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

OK, here's where things get weird! Two angels arrive in Sodom (those two who were with God in the previous chapter, presumably?), and Lot invites them inside so they can wash their feet, eat, and spend the night. In fact, he insists that they spend the night, when they indicate that they'll just stay "in the street all night."

Apparently, Lot knows his neighbors, because the men of the city surround his house, asking that the two strangers be brought outside, so that "we may know them." Um,... is that "knowing" in the biblical sense? Apparently, yes, because when Lot goes outside to argue with them, this is what he says:
6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Get that? Lot is a righteous man, so he offers to let the mob rape his two young daughters, instead.

Note that Lot is supposed to be the good guy in this story! Lot is the only righteous man in Sodom, the only one worth saving. Nice, huh? But women are only possessions in this culture - and not particularly valued possessions, at that.

The mob refuses, so I've really got to wonder which side is actually "righteous" here. I rather doubt if they meant to rape the two strange men in town, but they were certainly suspicious of strangers, so who knows what they had in mind? Still, these are angels, after all, so they just blind all the men in Sodom.

But even that's not enough punishment, so they tell Lot that they're going to destroy the city:
13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.

15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.

16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.

Isn't God merciful, though? :)

God sent the angels to destroy the city. That wasn't punishment for anything the men of the city had done or had threatened to do, and frankly, they were right to be suspicious, weren't they? Those two angels had arrived in the town specifically to destroy everything.

In addition to those two young daughters he was willing to give to the mob, Lot has other daughters, married daughters, but his sons-in-law don't believe him (they thought he was joking), so he leaves those daughters to die, too - along with all of the children in town. It's just Lot and his unnamed wife and his two virgin daughters who escape the city.
17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:

19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:

20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.

Now, the angels tell Lot to flee into the mountains, but Lot knows better. Angels might not need anything to sustain life, but human beings do. Lot will just die in the mountains. (Presumably, his wife and children will die, too - if he cares about that.)

You see, that's the thing about angels. It's OK for them to destroy an entire city, but Lot lived there. Lot's house, his possessions, his livestock - everything he owned - were also being destroyed. So how was he supposed to survive?

He talks the angels into letting him go to a nearby town - after all, it's just a little one - instead. Unfortunately, his wife turns to look behind them:
24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

You know, we never even learn her name. Women simply aren't important in the Bible - certainly not unless they're being blamed for something.

But this poor woman had just seen her husband offer her young daughters to the mob. Her older daughters - and perhaps her grandchildren - had been killed by God in a rain of fire and brimstone, which also destroyed her home and everything in it.

But when she looks back - in regret, in worry, in dismay (all very appropriate emotions at a time like this) - God turns her into a pillar of salt. What a dick, huh?
30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.

Even Lot is terrified by such lunacy. After convincing the angels to let him move to the little town of Zoar, instead of the mountains, Lot changes his mind. After seeing what God did to Sodom - to his town, his daughters, even his wife - he's apparently too scared to live in a town again.

So he takes his two young daughters and goes to live in a cave in the mountains.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:

32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

These are the two young girls, both virgins, whom Lot had offered to the mob. But now that his wife is dead, and they're living together in a cave, he gets them both pregnant. His own daughters!

Now, sure, the story tells how they got him drunk first. (They made him drink wine!) But come on! Would you really buy that if it happened today? If your neighbor had sex with his young daughters and got them both pregnant, would you really buy his excuse that, "well, they got me drunk first"?

Lot's a man. If he was so drunk that he didn't realize he was having sex with his daughter, he'd be too drunk to accomplish anything. You might be able to get a woman drunk enough to have sex with her without her consent, but good luck trying that with a man! Certainly, none of us would buy that as an excuse these days.

Again, this was the one righteous man in Sodom? This guy who offered his virgin daughters up for gang rape,... and then later raped them himself? This was the guy God thought worth saving? Yeah, I guess we really do need the Bible to teach us morality, huh? LOL

Chapter 20:
1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

I said that things were getting weird, didn't I? Well, this is basically the same story we read in Chapter 12. Just the details are different.

This time, it's the King of Gerar who takes Abraham's wife, not the Pharaoh of Egypt. And this time, the king doesn't actually have sex with her, so God doesn't cause plagues throughout the kingdom. (Instead, he "closed up all the wombs" of the women in the king's house.) But it's the same basic story.

Note that God punishes the Pharaoh for having sex with Abraham's wife, and he punishes the Kingdom of Gerar, too, before he realizes that they didn't actually have sex. (And note that neither the Pharaoh nor the king knew that Sarah was his wife, because both Abraham and Sarah had lied to them.) But Abraham could have sex with another woman - Hagar - and that was just fine with God. When it comes to bigamy, it's a clear double-standard, isn't it?

Of course, this is not meant to be the same story. But how in the world could you read this chapter and chapter 12 and not realize that something got screwed up when they were making Genesis out of ancient tribal stories? It's the same thing, right down to Abraham becoming wealthy from the deal:
14 And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.

15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.

16 And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver...

But there are two things which are really funny about this version. First, it turns out that Sarah really is his sister - his half-sister, at least - as well as his wife. Well, nothing like a little incest - as long as you keep it in the family, right?
11 And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

But the other funny thing? Sarah is more than 90 years old in this story! (We can tell that not just because of its placement in Genesis, but because they are Abraham and Sarah now, not Abram and Sarai.)

Yeah, Abraham is worried that he'll be killed because his 90-year-old wife is too hot to resist! Heh, heh. Funny, isn't it? How blind with faith would you have to be to ignore these things - especially when the other version of the story was just a few chapters earlier in Genesis?

This is a good place to stop, I think, although the next few chapters continue with Abraham and Sarah (and are almost as weird).

Note: Again, this entire series can be found here.