01 May 2011


POLITICAL ROAST. At the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, those in the public eye are fair game as both the sharpshooters and the targets of biting satire, and this year was no exception. President Barack Obama displayed his share of wit, joking about the "birther" controversy, Republicans, NPR and Donald Trump. You can see the full video of Obama's remarks here. Comedian Seth Myers also took shots at Joe Biden and at The Donald (who apparently couldn't take the heat and left early). My favorite Myers moment -- "Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising, because I just assumed that he was running as a joke." Here is the video of Myers' jokes.

On a far less humorous note, it was revealed two days ago that Donald Trump lied about why he never served in Vietnam. For years he claimed that he was not called to serve simply because he had a high draft number. Selective Service records indicate a different story -- Trump was granted student deferments during his college years, and after graduating was deemed (mysteriously) to be physically unfit for the military. In short, he skated free, while others with less wealth and influence fought and died.

I find this deeply troubling on several levels. First, do we want a liar in the White House, regardless of political affiliation? Yes, I know politics is all about half-truths and compromise, but to tell an outright lie about a matter of public record, rather than simply owning up to the truth, is repugnant. Second, I am a Vietnam War veteran who came to recognize the illegitimacy of that conflict firsthand, and subsequently became a member of the antiwar movement. Even so, I honor those who had no choice but to serve (the military has become all-volunteer since then), and I find Trump's weaseling out of service and then lying about his reasons to be a black insult to all veterans. Third, Trump falls into the same fetid swamp of unqualified pretenders as Sarah Palin and George W. Bush -- people who must use smoke and mirrors to mask their true pasts. Fourth, if Trump and his ilk were half the patriots they claim to be, rather than hiding behind deferments or money or fleeing to Canada or deliberately flunking military aptitude tests, they would seek out alternative national service (which should be universally manditory in any case, for both genders) -- the Peace Corps, VISTA, Habitat For Humanity and other worthy, non-military causes all chronically need volunteers.

Sorry, but I have zero respect for either Donald Trump or his politics.

ATHEISTS REDEFINED. Here is a truly fascinating article from the Washington Post: Why Do Americans Still Dislike Atheists? An exerpt from the essay says it best -- "Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don't like much: atheists. Those who don't believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked, and angry. They can't join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently 'spiritual' in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, non-believers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

"Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently -- and uncivilly -- declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers instrinsically suspect and second-class citizens. Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

"A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency -- issues such as government use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights -- the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

" .... As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.

" .... On numerous respected measures of societal success -- rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics -- high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America.

" .... As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations' tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast .... as many as 60 million Americans -- a fifth of the population -- are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities."

I've been an atheist for all of my adult life. My rejection of a belief in a supernatural god came from within -- I realized that there were too many internal inconsistences in religious dogma, and that science has been leading the way in furthering our understanding of life and the universe, while religion has constantly and reluctantly had to revise its tenets in order to keep up. Bottom line, there is no need for a superstition-based god to explain life's questions. The principle of parsimony obtains -- the simplest explanation is usually the most accurate one. And believe in a god is decidedly a complex, unwieldy explanation for much of anything.

I find the last statistic in the article (please click on the link to view the entire essay, including further links to the studies which back its content) to be of particular interest -- that in the U.S., one in five people is a non-believer. Imagine, all you deists out there, one out of every five people you know is an atheist. Quelle horreur! Similarly, roughly one in ten people you know is gay, and one in ten people you know is feminist. Isn't it time for Americans to emerge from the Dark Ages and embrace the full diversity and beauty of humanity?

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