Silsbee Texas: Apologists for Rapists

A girl was raped in the Texas town of Silsbee by a student athlete.  Since the rape, she has been ordered to “lay low”, kicked off the cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer (when ordered by superintendent Richard Bain Jr) for her rapist.  The community turned against her, supporting the rapist (and his accomplice), calling her a slut, and a bitch (one cowardly family even going so far as to put their 2 year old up to the task) and even threatening her life.  The Supreme Court of the US has shown brazen moral bankruptcy in refusing to hear her free speech case (rape victims don’t rate as high on their priority list as corporations seeking to influence elections).  As a result she now owes school district $45,000 in legal fees.  (You can donate directly here, or commission comic art with all proceeds going to help pay the fees here (via)).  Trigger Warning: Full Details Here.

While it is worth calling attention to the heroic actions of the two young men who broke down the door (putting an end to the attack) and even attempted to chase down and confront her attackers (in one case succeeding), on the whole the town of Silsbee and its citizens have shown themselves to be the very worst sort of people.  There is a vile rotting husk of flesh where there ought to be a heart, and their actions epitomize so much of what is deeply wrong with our country.  They need to be taught a lesson in morality.

I’m not sure what form that lesson ought to take, whether a boycott will have any meaning for instance.  Given the campaign of shame and harassment aimed at this young woman, I think it only appropriate to respond – legally – in kind.  Below the fold is contact information.  For the superintendent of schools.  For city hall.  A link to a google search with a list of Churches.  Call the superintendent and let him know what kind of person he is.  Call city hall and let them know their town is no longer the home of “Tiger Pride”, their new public face is “Rapist Pride”.  Call the churches and ask ministers and priests to work their thoughts on rape into their sermons.  Clearly communicate both what you think of the people you call, the community at large, and what it is their moral responsibility to do: Regardless of their court victory, the school district owes the rape survivor and her family an apology – and to absolve them of any responsibility for paying the district’s legal fees.

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Cows That Feel No Pain

There’s talk of genetically altering cows to feel no pain:

Philosopher Adam Shriver suggested that genetically engineering cows to feel no pain could be an acceptable alternative to eliminating factory farming in a paper published in Neuroscience. Work by neuroscientist Zhou-Feng Chen at Washington University may turn Shriver’s suggestion a reality. Chen has been working on identifying the genes that control “affective” pain, the unpleasantness part of a painful sensation.

Let’s leave aside the many health issues that arise from factory farming, and focus purely on the ethical impact of altering cows so we may slaughter them more effectively. The first and most obvious question is, do you think this is humane or inhumane?

Now let’s imagine the implications. What if this affects the taste? Perhaps cows experiencing pain increases the tastiness of the meat. In that case, this sort of engineering opens the door to cows engineered specifically to feel more pain. Then there is the function of pain to be considered. Cows unable to feel pain could injure themselves to the point of accidental death.

Why stop with pain? Why not engineer animals with minimal brain tissue, so that they are not even conscious? How about engineering animals whose bodies release endorphins in a way that encourages lack of movement, and makes behavior most conducive to mass farming seem desirable? Or engineering flavors into cows, so their meat comes with a particular flavor built in from birth?

That this is even being considered should give us grave pause, and occasion us to give more than a cursory glance to the ethical price of our eating habits.

In Defense of Greta Van Susteren

Reading over the comments at the HuffPost, I couldn’t help but notice hostility aimed at Greta Van Susteren’s harsh take on CNN’s holiday firing:

Fox News Greta van Susteren has some harsh words for her former employer CNN after hearing that the network is laying off people right before the holidays:

They did it again! CNN fires people just in time for Christmas! Make you sick?
People often ask why I left CNN…..I didn’t like management. I liked my colleagues in the news gathering but the corporate culture that seized management when AOL came in (Steve Case and Gerry Levin) was disgusting. Everything changed. Don’t get me wrong – I like corporate organization and a corporation should make money – what I don’t like is a mean spirited selfish management that, despite not doing its job of efficiently running the company, lines it pockets. And then the topper? because the management didn’t run the company well, CNN fires loyal people to meet some bottom line the management failed to meet.

She’s actually right on target.  I know people who worked at AOL.  The holiday pink slip was a perennial dark joke (as was job security).  The layoffs were so bad they’d sometimes have a direct impact on projects they were working on “Oh that was built/maintained by XYZ, who was let go”.  Its a toxic corporate culture, which is a shame, since some talented and wonderful people work for AOL.

This comment by rasit stood out:

How about a lecture like this to the Management of all the failed banks, corporations etc. where people lost their pensions, 401 etc. because of crooks,

How about some compassion for the thousands of ordinary working class people losing their jobs for good, NOT just laid off?

How about some supportive words for the people losing their homes; cannot afford healthcare etc.

GET REAL GRETA, and don’t expect the rest of us to feel sorry for you or the other overpaid “so called” reporters!!

THE REAL world has been HURTING for quite some time now!!! I’m glad Greta, FINALLY noticed something is wrong…

You guys are a big joke…

He has half a point.  The callousness with which the people laid off as a result of the unpunished (and outrageously enough, richly rewarded) top brass who sunk us all into this economic mess ought to be called out.  There is a stunning case for public shaming here.  Being laid off means a very different thing in a recession.

But the people AOL lays off will be a range of people.  Reporters, Technicians, Developers, Accountants, Marketers, Secretaries, etc.

When the economy takes your job away, as a liberal, my first thought is “how can we find or create a new job for you”, not “you deserve it”.  Corporate culture that leads to constant punishment of workers and rewarding of management regardless of performance is an ethical poison.  Unchecked it will continue to spread, and the only way to check it is to call it out.  Greta Van Susteren was right on, and I hope she’ll have the integrity and courage to call out other employers who are as ruthless and cold.

Immaculate Rape

Immaculate Rape (noun) – Rape in which there is no rapist, merely a victim who may be found culpable due to one or more of the following: ingestion of alchohol, wearing of revealing clothing, living in a society that permits sex outside of marriage, being near a male in the throes of the evolutionary perogative.

Immaculate Rape as an accusation usually grows out of a right-wing religious cosmology, yet any attempts to link right-wing religious cosmology with mysogyny are met with accusations and derision.

Peter Hitchens makes this argument in an article eviscerated by Jessica and Melissa.  The crux:

Of course she is culpable, just as she would be culpable if she crashed a car and injured someone while drunk, or stepped out into the traffic while drunk and was run over.

Getting drunk is not something that happens to you. It is something you do.

I think Melissa shuts that down very effectively (Trigger Warning) in her post.  Jessica does it in the following line:

Hitchens can’t seem to get his head around the idea that rapists rape women, rather than women magically “getting themselves” raped.

But maybe Hitchens and purveyors of the immaculate rape myth ought to be taken at more than face value.  If alcohol is an invitation to get raped, why aren’t we making it a felony to serve rape juice to women?  Why doesn’t every bottle of rape beer contain a surgeon general’s warning: “may excuse rape”?

One things for certain, I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking with Peter Hitchens.

(image source)

Marcotte’s Jungle: People Make Mistakes

We have such a deeply ingrained “gotcha” culture that the natural response to an asshole move, whether intentional or not on the part of the guilty, is to condemn that person as a whole and eschew their contributions entirely. This is a grave mistake to make, as it sacrifices what that person might have accomplished, but also our own integrity. Are we without awful mistakes?

I know I am not.

Therefore when someone makes an honest mistake, I am most likely to take a step back and consider it fully. When I read this over at Our Descent Into Madness, I was shocked:

Via Off Our Pedestals, this is absolutely unbelievable.

Let me just say, to the people (coughMARCOTTEcoughSEALcough) responsible for that particular bit of total bullshit: don’t you fucking dare claim ignorance of this one. This isn’t an oversight, this isn’t a failure to acknowledge someone. This is an obvious act of racism. Someone proposed this. Other considered and approved it. This is deliberate, or, if not deliberate, such a massive blunder that those responsible are as culpable as if it has been intentional. This is so blatantly racist, I cannot respect anyone involved. Ever. Again.

Thank you, though, for finally being upfront about the fact that when you say “women” you really do only mean “white women,” if not an even narrower group than that.

So I read. I read Jill’s take on Feministe, Amanda’s apology, and Seal Press’s Apology (emphasis mine):

We also extend this apology to the author, Amanda Marcotte, who did not select these images for her book. Writing humor is very difficult. While our intention was to complement your words, we see that these images have had the opposite effect, and for that, we are sorry.

I’ll say it right now, that Amanda’s book is too important a starting point to let fail because of a slip up like this. We need to be training each other to be more effective and aggressive in hostile environments to survive and thrive as progressives, as liberals. That said, the issues raised by this fuck up are as important to deal with as they are difficult (Karnythia, emphasis mine):

I’ve made no bones in the past about my feelings that feminism by and large has very little to do with actually helping all women and is really just for white women. Oh, I know it espouses anti-racist ideology, but it has never failed to escape my attention (or the attention of other WOC) that feminism has a distressing tendency to focus on the concerns of middle class white women while ignoring the realities of racism and colonialism and anything remotely to do with intersectionality between gender and race. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen white feminists assume a very paternalistic attitude with WOC particularly when it came to discussions about issues involving MOC while ignoring their own internalized racism.

I suppose that depends on which feminists we are talking about.

She continues:

So where does that leave WOC and feminism? Frankly we’re at a point where it’s time for feminism to either get it together, or for us to leave it where it is and continue on with our own progressive movements. There’s been some talk for years about how feminism is comprised of multiple movements and until now that’s been enough for me. But I think that I’ve been deluding myself by thinking that the behavior of the allies that do get it trumps the hurt spawned by the bigots calling themselves feminists. I can’t take calls for sisterhood or solidarity seriously from white feminists at this point and I’m sure someone is going to call that attitude racist. And that’s their lookout, but I can’t stand in sisterhood with someone that’s (maybe) willing to knife me in the back and it’s taking too much effort to try to weed out the ones that are really allies from the ones that are only claiming the title.

I feel like this is the wrong approach. Feminism shouldn’t become a dirty word because the final straw to break the camel’s back was a publisher including racist images in a book, and the author failing to catch it. Rather, this should be an invitation to open up those aspects of feminism Karynthia correctly sees as underserved. Pam writes:

Well since the train has already left the station — with Amanda’s forthright, all-laid bare apology already out there, all I can say is yes, those images are inappropriate, and certainly would have been called out if, say, someone on the right used them in a tome. The difference, since Amanda obviously wasn’t attempting to promote a white supremacy theme in the book, is the blind spot of white privilege, in this case Seal Press, which has an apology on its site.

Please know that neither the cover, nor the interior images, were meant to make any serious statement. We were hoping for a campy, retro package to complement the author’s humor. That is all. We were not thinking.As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.

As folks know, I discuss race matters a lot and this deserves some attention because this kind of blind spot occurs all the time, and it’s not only in the context of race (or, as we also see in the imagery, gender). The blind spot is that some white progressives, in their zeal to believe we are a post-racial society, in this case the publisher, just assumed everyone only sees camp in the images.

Rather then condemning allies for having a blind spot, we ought to be pointing it out:

What’s most important is that people need to keep discussing race in an open and honest way, instead of sweeping it under the rug or automatically running to defensive corners.

When it comes down to it we are allies, all of us progressives. We are here to strengthen each other and aid each other in making the world a more just and compassionate place. Jill hits on the same point Pam makes (emphasis mine):

When that didn’t happen, she should have listened to the valid concerns of women of color instead of coming in with her dukes up. The initial article could have shared the wealth of such a wide audience by spreading the word about the WOC-run organizations and the WOC-penned articles and ideas that have laid the foundation for this work; after the article ran and concerns were raised, they could have been responded to with care, not anger and defensiveness.

Amanda Marcotte is a person of rare strength and good character. She is not defended lightly or reflexively. I’m standing in her corner because of that character and her work, and what it means for the progressive community. But I am also doing so to warmly invite further discussion and analysis of the problems our community as a whole has with issues outside our direct expertise or even interest. If we can figure out that balance between inclusiveness and focus, and use this as an opportunity to grow closer together as a movement, then we’ll emerge stronger and better prepared to affect change. I sincerely hope we can do that.

How Purity Invites Murder

The word theocracy is a powerful one.  It brings to mind the prospect of a religious authority ruling people.  And religious control of politics is always that: rule.  It is a single authority exercising its will on the people.

A subtler form may also take root.  This unfortunate news via Pandagon:

I suppose this was inevitable, but the growing movement of doctors and pharmacists who decide that you’re not worthy of medical treatment if you’re female and engaging in sexual behavior they disapprove of has reached the point where some doctors are refusing to perform Pap smears on unmarried women. I guess you probably don’t really need one if you’re a virgin, because they’re looking for cervical cancer, which is linked to HPV, which is sexually transmitted. For the people who think unwanted pregnancy and STDs are just the proper punishment for unmarried, sexually active women, it follows that death from cervical cancer should go on the “punishments for sluts” list.

Make no mistake about this.  Doctors are refusing to perform a vital medical test on women they personally do not believe should be having sex.  From the article:

To look for answers, I turned to Patricia LaRue, Executive Director at Canadians for Choice, to see what she could tell me if doctors have the right to refuse ANY procedure that they see as going against their religion.  She reminded me that doctors have a “conscience clause,” allowing them to refuse prescriptions for birth control, abortion, and now pap smears.  The conscious clause is put in place by the Canadian Medical Association so that physicians are not forced to act in any way that goes against their personal beliefs.

If a women is denied a vital medical service, and then dies, the doctor is directly responsible for her death.  This is no different than a doctor refusing to help a gunshot victim or test the swollen lymph nodes of a patient because of the color of his skin.

For me, this goes beyond the question of whether or not a person may cite religious objections when going directly against the Hippocratic Oath. I wonder, what kind of religion comes from such a place of cold arrogant judgment that its adherents believe they have the right to commit murder?

The obsession over purity is really an obsession over a lack of control.  A control that should be forever beyond the reach of governments and churches.

How long until doctors claim the right to refuse to treat homosexuals?  Until people of other faiths are off-limits?  Will everything from the Ten Commandments to the most obscure line in scripture become justification for refusing to stand by the Hippocratic Oath?

Texas Minister: Murder and False Idols

A Minister turned himself in for a murder he committed 14 years ago, and the reactions from the community are striking (CNN, Hat tip to Sally Jane Beaufort):

The youth minister who confessed to a 1994 killing is being widely forgiven by members of his former congregation, who say they admire his courage in finally surrendering to police.

Calvin Wayne Inman, 29, confessed to a slaying he committed nearly 14 years ago, police say.

Calvin Wayne Inman, 29, remains jailed without bail since he was charged Wednesday with capital murder in the stabbing death of a convenience store clerk during a robbery. He was 16 at the time.

On approach, you do have to admire the courage it takes to turn yourself in for a crime you essentially got away with. Especially when the crime carries such significant consequences. But some of his flock want to erase those consequences (emphasis mine):

He’s a hero, really,” said Kelley Graham, 24. “I don’t know how many people would do what he did. The Bible says you just need to confess to God. Calvin took an extra step.”

“The debt he’s paying to our society is teaching our young people to do the right thing,” said Cheryl Ellis, a member of the church’s youth staff. “To lock him away someplace and say he owes it to society is robbing the next generation of a mentor.”

Robin Thac said her 17-year-old son was active in the youth group that Inman led.

I am thrilled my son has a role model to accept responsibility the way Calvin has,” Thac said. “There are way too many men who don’t accept responsibility.”

This is scary stuff.  And a great reason why letting Church run State is a really really bad idea.  How many Christians actually believe in the idea of redemption so strongly they would remove the legal consequences for it?  This reminds me strongly of Amanda’s piece asserting a link between extremist belief and our justice system.

A man who killed another man is not a hero.  He should absolutely not be pardoned.  While any person who turns themselves in ought to see a reasonable leniency and pragmatism applied in their case, to imagine that person utterly skirting responsibility for their crime is really beyond the pale.  This man is not a hero to be worshiped.  He is a murderer who needs help and deserves punishment, and who finally found the courage to ask for it.

The Deft White Supremacist

The inaptly named “Patritoic Activist” put up a post on Obama’s economic stimulus package.  He titled it “Obama bribes voters”.  The actual post was mostly innocuous:

Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday that as president he would spend $210 billion to create jobs in construction and environmental industries, as he tried to win over economically struggling voters.

Obama’s investment would be over 10 years as part of two programs. The larger is $150 billion to create 5 million so-called “green collar” jobs to develop more environmentally friendly energy sources.

Sixty billion would go to a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild highways, bridges, airports and other public projects. Obama estimated that could generate nearly 2 million jobs, many of them in the construction industry that’s been hit by the housing crisis.

No big deal.  One can easily point out that all candidates do the same by proposing, oh say, massive tax cuts our economy cannot support, as Republicans are wont to do.

So the post itself, objectivity (far) aside, appears harmless, save for a graphic (AIPAC for Obama) that links to a white nationalist website.  The Rational Psychic was first out the door taking PA to task for this:

 What are you trying to prove by having this white nationalist link on your page?

PA’s response?

I’m sorry but don’t I understand your question.

Take care,

Yeah, right.  But this guys blog makes for really good reading.  He’s pretty overtly anti-semitic.  But his bigotry towards immigrants is something special:

Originally from the Mexican state of Zacatecas, he’s lived north, in the US, for more than 40 years. He is currently president of the Federation of Zacatecan Associations.

The migrants’ influence comes with the massive amounts of money they send back home.

Despite the relative stagnation of the US economy, this flow of money keeps growing, according to recent data. In 2003 it increased by 35% – the total amount sent that year to Mexico was more than $13bn.

In other words, his point is that the migrants are bleeding an already wounded America dry.  This is a point you might see in the mainstream media.  Its always nice to know your source.

Bigots like PA use a particularly familiar rhetorical strategy.  Pick your target (non white christian males), pick your audience (christian white males), and connect the two via a vulnerability.  As much as possible, scrape the language clean of overt racism and stick to the meat of the issue, using it as a wedge to push your audience away from your target socially, economically, and politically.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Extra bonus, this guy is running for office in Florida.  Seems he has a political plan for bigots across the nation (St. Petersberg Times, emphasis mine):

“We’re sitting down and we’re waiting to die,” said John Ubele, a 28-year-old Shady Hills resident who calls himself a white separatist and has ties to two groups with similar views, the National Alliance and the National Vanguard. “We’re waiting to be wiped out.”

A stranger who ran into Ubele at a party might never discover his extremism. He is clean-cut and soft-spoken with no visible piercings or tattoos. He repairs windows for a living and likes his pancakes with butter-pecan syrup.

While he may not fit the profile of a political firebrand, Ubele has grand ambitions and a nationwide strategy.

If he can win a seat on the three-member Mosquito Control Board in the Nov. 7 general election – and the competition is stiff, partly because board members get $400 a month for attending just one meeting – Ubele wants to ride his political capital to the County Commission and perhaps the Governor’s Mansion after that.

There’s more. Ubele is using the Internet to mobilize other white separatists to run for office around the United States.

“Let’s make 2006 the year we explode onto the political scene,” he wrote on the Web site of the National Vanguard’s Tampa chapter. “Every other race has politicians in office which represent their interests. It’s time we have politicians to represent ours.”

The trouble for people like Ubele is that their bigotry and hatred comes seething out in the end no matter how skillfully they hide their ethical and intellectual failure, and its never pretty to watch.

McCain Supports Torture

From the caustic irony department, McCain sells his ethics for no fucking reason (ThinkProgress):

Today, the Senate brought the Intelligence Authorization Bill to the floor, which contained a provision from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) establishing one interrogation standard across the government. The bill requires the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as articulated in the Army Field Manual and bans waterboarding.

Just hours ago, the Senate voted in favor of the bill, 51-45.

Earlier today, ThinkProgress noted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war, has spoken strongly in favor of implementing the Army Field Manual standard. When confronted today with the decision of whether to stick with his conscience or cave to the right wing, McCain chose to ditch his principles and instead vote to preserve waterboarding:

Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, has consistently voiced opposition to waterboarding and other methods that critics say is a form torture. But the Republicans, confident of a White House veto, did not mount the challenge. Mr. McCain voted “no” on Wednesday afternoon.

The New York Times Times notes that “the White House has long said Mr. Bush will veto the bill, saying it ‘would prevent the president from taking the lawful actions necessary to protect Americans from attack in wartime.’”

After Bush vetoes the bill, McCain will again be confronted with a vote to either stand with President Bush or stand against torture. He indicated with his vote today where he will come down on that issue.

John McCain already has the nomination locked up.  What does he stand to gain by ditching his principles yet again?  Why give in on one of the issues he should be a defining voice of reason on?  I disagree with McCain on so many fronts the thought of him winning the presidency makes me sick to my stomach.  But there was once a time, before he became George Bush’s lapdog, when I genuinely respected the man.  That pre-2000 John McCain wouldn’t have sold out with bloody hands.  He’d have stood up and roared.  He’d have never stooped to being a sycophant, he would have been a leader.

God is Not Just

A random encounter on the metro yesterday turned into an unexpected debate.

Upon reflection, I realized that the evangelical mindset has a worrying impact on our justice system, and how we approach both crime and criminals. In other words, I had run smack into the premise of one of Amanda’s posts over at Pandagon.

During the course of our debate, we came to the question of Justice. I was taking the position that God would never commit murder, while my evangelical friend asked “what about justice?”. One particular story we sparred over was that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Two points of contention arose. One was whether a perfect being can commit an imperfect action. If a person were to say, set off a bomb in a city, killing all of its inhabitants, this person would be rightly condemned to prison for life. The biblical god does it, and he is praised for his “justice”. This is a similar problem to the questions of God having emotions like anger and jealousy. Why would a perfect being possess imperfect, negative, human emotions? By the same token, one wonders why it is the biblical god gets away with murder.

Which leads into the second point of contention. “Do you suppose”, I asked, “that there were children under the age of two in Sodom?”. After this was affirmed, I asked whether such young children could be justly punished so violently and cruelly for their parents sins. The answer? “Its different because when God does it, it is just. The children would go to heaven, which is better than Earth.”.

This immediately raised a very worrying question. Was this evangelical suggesting that it was ok to kill children under 2? That sending them to heaven was somehow just, or even kind? What kind of a God was being worshiped, when his actions were cruel and evil enough that were they committed by a human being, they would be harshly condemned?

The actions we ascribe to God as moral are those we ourselves aspire to. I cannot think of a theistic religion in which the practitioner does not attempt to be like God. So how does one interpret scripture that insists God killed the innocent? How does one read this and continue to believe that those words describe or even approach perfection?

What does such a mindset bring to practical questions of law and justice as practiced in our country?

Democrats United: Pre-Existing Conditions

Right now, you can be as hard working as you like. Got a pre-existing condition? Health Care denied.

One thing all of the Democrats share in common, from Obama to Clinton to Edwards, is the desire to pass a law outlawing discrimination based on previous conditions. (Edwards is the only candidate to support universal health care coverage).

Neither McCain, Romney, Ron Paul, Giuliani or Huckabee have a plan to deal with this. The Republicans as a whole are loathe to regulate the insurance industry on this vital matter.

This is a practical issue that effects many of us. It is an issue on which the Democrats present a united front, and stand firmly on the side of ethics.

Love, Don’t Fear God

Philosophy starts (and one may effectively joke ends) with a question.  Here’s one.  Why fear God?  Mike writes:

The total lack of the fear of God is what marks the ungodly. (Romans 3:18)

I’d argue that it is a transpersonal love of God and all sentient beings which marks the godly.  If it says anything, then the fear of God is the mark of the controlled.  It is control that mars organized religion.  Why was there such a backlash against The Golden Compass and The DaVinci Code?  Because both books where at their core about the control exerted by the Church.  Regarding the Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials Trilogy, Amanda (Pandagon) observes (warning, rest of review contains major spoilers):

the concept of original sin was not sexualized by accident, but instead was a tool to poison people’s intimate relationships with misogyny and shame , and cripple our collective development into better people.

You see, if one’s relationship with God is one of fear, then one acts like a child with an authoritarian teacher.  A Matilda in a Miss Trunchbull’s class.  The problem for organized religion is that God is not marred by imperfections like hate, jealously, or pettiness.  And when we step outside the confines of organized religion, and re-affirm our natural relationship to God is one of love, we become enamored of a life in which all the rich promise of religion is realized without the stunted self expression that supposedly must accompany it.  We find that the God described in scripture is at odds with the notion of a perfect being, and find that the subtle warmth in the depths of our being has been inviting us inward all along.  We leave Miss Trunchbull a quivering mess of harmless anger, and walk into Miss Honey’s waiting arms.

So don’t fear God.  God is not some thundering mountain deity who will give crops or withhold rains if we live outside narrow rules of conduct.  Humans make such rules.  God is an eternal fountain of love and light, the inner teacher who always has time to nurture, guide and comfort.

Fear of God speaks in religion’s political tongue.  Love of God is our shared language.

As far as how we should conduct ourselves, how cynical must we be to require fear of heavenly punishment to behave correctly?  We know how to behave justly, and when we are truly lost, it is not a fear of God that will guide us.  It is a love without limit.

Health Insurance: Health Based Charges?

It looks like one company is evaluating charging unhealthy people more for health insurance (slashdot):

Joe The Dragon sends us a BusinessWeek story, run on Yahoo, about Clarian Health and the new thing they are trying with health insurance coverage for their employees. They are charging unhealthy people more. The article goes into some depth about whether this is a good idea and whether the practice might spread. “In late June, the Indianapolis-based hospital system announced that starting in 2009, it will fine employees $10 per paycheck if their body mass index (BMI, a ratio of height to weight that measures body fat) is over 30. If their cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels are too high, they’ll be charged $5 for each standard they don’t meet. Ditto if they smoke: Starting next year, they’ll be charged another $5 in each check.”

A positive reaction is understandable (smokers and unhealthy people should be charged more!).  But this is a dangerous development for a two reasons:

  • Impact
  • Slippery Slope


By charging people more for fat, suddenly pressure on all food suppliers (not just fast food) will change drastically.  Using high fructose corn syrup (which is in nearly everything) will become a much more contentious issue.  Lawsuits for providing unhealthy ingredients will increase.  Maybe this isn’t a bad thing, but it is something that needs to be taken into account.

Slippery Slope

This is where the crux of the problem lies.  Make no mistake, its ethics sliding down this slope.  For example, what about people who are genetically predisposed to higher bmi’s?  Is it right to charge some people extra for a condition they were born with?  Why stop there?  If the reasoning is unhealthy people cost the system more, why not charge people extra with a genetic predisposition to heart disease or cancer?

Why not structure health insurance like car insurance:  if you get sick, your premiums go up?

After all the goal is to reduce costs, and that is a surefire way to do so.

While it seems like this is a neat, innovative idea, it is just the first step towards a profoundly unbalanced approach to health care.  It is one that comes naturally from a system that obsesses over keeping costs down, and puts the actual health of the people in its care second.

The battle over health care is a battle over a single question:  whose health matters.

Clarian Health is taking us another step away from the ethical answer.

Climate Change and our Shared Responsibility

Even if we were not causing climate change through our actions, the industrialized countries of world bear a responsibility to as a unified group take in refugees like those from Kiribati:

New Zealand is the only nation to publicly accept climate change refugees – from Kiribati they accept 75 refugees per year, while the President grimly reported that tens of thousands of inhabitants will lose their homes.

And what will happen to these people, their sovereignty, their identity – as climate change literally removes their homeland from the surface of the earth?

But the fact is that we have created this climate change.  A few industry backed scientists and all the PR money in the world will not change that.

I think future generations will look back with disgust on the nations that turned their backs to refugees they created.

While the rich may be able to insulate themselves from the problem, this is a global humanitarian crisis that we must face together.

In the case of global warming, all the rich can do is bury their heads in the sand.   Global warming is a truly global crisis because the effects will spread like fire on oil.  The last thing we need is another violent wake up call to the reality of global warming, and yet here it is.  I hope the nations of the world take it seriously.

Morality: Action vs Identity

There is an interesting step some religious folks take when arguing over questions of morality. They make the jump from discussing moral action to moral identity. I think this jump plays into how people vote, act, and speak, and would like to delve into it a little further.

In the comments of my post “We Don’t Need God to be Good“, Bill writes:

I would say a liar is a bad person. I would also say that if you’ve ever told an immoral lie, you’re a liar. How many murders do I have to commit before I’m a murderer? When you lied you had free will, and you chose to deceive another person.

So if you commit a single immoral act, you become defined by that act. This cannot also logically apply in reverse. Otherwise in committing a single good act, along with a single immoral act, one would be both good and evil, by definition.


It gets more interesting if we take a look at two particular examples. If we look at the Biblical God’s destruction of entire cities, God might be defined as immoral. After all God killed a mass of people (including children). Who would think every single person in said city was truly guilty and deserving of death? Worse, why couldn’t an omnipotent God act in a more compassionate way to achieve the same end? Justice is the tool of the weak by nature, humanity. Surely God can be greater than merely just?

A second example is one of redemption. One of the most powerful moments in the biographical movie “Gandhi” was when a man approaches Gandhi who is fasting in protest. The man laments that he is going to hell, since he murdered a child of a different religion (to gain revenge for what had been down to his child). Gandhi calms the man, saying we are all going to hell, and then asks him to find and raise an orphaned child of that same hated religion, in that religion. This is a beautiful example of redemption. Can the essence of the man himself still be said to be that of a murderer? Why is he a good man who became irreversibly corrupted by the act, rather than a good man who committed an evil act?

What compelling reason is there for determining that identity follows the act?