Don’t mess with us

The Guardian reports that the UK government is using anti-terrorism laws to intimidate citizens with no evidence that they are in any way connected to terrorism. Officers at Heathrow recently stopped an individual, David Miranda, whose domestic partner happens to be Glenn Greenwald, the man who interviewed whistleblower Edward Snowden and published articles about the NSA’s spying programs. The officers held Miranda for nine hours (the maximum allowable time period) and confiscated thousands of dollars of his personal affects. “Suspects” detained under this provision of the UK’s Terrorism Act (called “Schedule 7”) are compelled to cooperate with questioning or risk being arrested for “obstruction.”

Make no mistake, this is not diplomacy. This particular law has been on the books in the UK since 2000. It’s been suggested, with good reason, that most of its victims are racially profiled–that they “look” like terrorists. The detention of David Miranda was not naive racism by ignorant cops who should know better, it was intimidation, pure and simple. It was abuse of power for the purposes of cowing those who might dare threaten the very power being abused. We have every reason to be gravely concerned.

The Dismal Science

The picture to the left was the cover of Ruskin on Himself and Things in General, a late 1800s collection of essay extracts by John Ruskin. The white, bearded, thin-faced Ruskin tramples his dark, broad-faced and flat-nosed enemy. In the slain man’s hand is a bag that reads “Wealth of Nations” and “L.S.D.” (not the drug, but the abbreviation for “pounds, shillings, and pence”). Next to him is a book titled “The Dismal Science.” How does the “dismal science” connect with this obvious racism? Most know that economics got its unfortunate nickname from Thomas Carlyle, who coined the phrase based on Malthus’ population doomsdaying. However, this well-known story is simply not true. As economists David Levy and Sandra Peart explain,

[Thomas] Carlyle’s target was not Malthus, but economists such as John Stuart Mill, who argued that it was institutions, not race, that explained why some nations were rich and others poor. Carlyle attacked Mill, not for supporting Malthus’s predictions about the dire consequences of population growth, but for supporting the emancipation of slaves. It was this fact—that economics assumed that people were basically all the same, and thus all entitled to liberty—that led Carlyle to label economics “the dismal science.”

Carlyle was not alone in denouncing economics for making its radical claims about the equality of all men. Others who joined him included Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. The connection was so well known throughout the 19th century, that even cartoonists could refer to it, knowing that their audience would get the reference.


Perhaps capitalism has more to do with emancipation than exploitation.


Mormons…the new Jew?: Exploring the Jewish-Mormon Connection
BYU’s Jerusalem Center

Rabbi Perry Tirschwell wrote an interesting comparison of Mormons and Jews in the Jewish Press yesterday. Ever since Orson Hyde dedicated the Holy Land and prophesied about the Zionist movement, Mormons have had a vested interest in witnessing the restoration of the Jews’ place in the world. It should be clear, though, that Latter-day Saint Church leaders are on record in expressing love for towards both Jews and Muslims, lest people think we’re taking a side in certain Middle-East conflict. The late Mormon president/prophet Howard  W. Hunter said in his excellent 1979 address “All Are Alike Unto God”:

Read moreMormons…the new Jew?: Exploring the Jewish-Mormon Connection

Why Vote? Society as Emergent Property, Part 1

2013-08-29 The Ethics of Voting

When economists look at voting, they usually say that the benefit from voting is the probability that your vote will be the deciding vote in an election. Since no major political election in American history has been decided by one vote–or even by anything close to one vote–this means that the effective benefit of voting is basically zero.

And yet people vote. What’s more, we have an idea that people ought to vote, and that they probably should try to be moderately informed about it, too.

Jason Brennan is one philosopher who feels quite differently. His argument, in The Ethics of Voting, is that there’s no real civic duty to vote. If you’re uninformed, he argues, then your vote does more harm than good. And instead of spending the effort to become informed, why not spend the effort on some other socially beneficial activity? Start a business, found a charity, volunteer somewhere: but skip the voting.

Here’s the problem with that analysis, however. The term “more informed” is, by definition, relative. So if we say that only the most informed 50% of the electorate should vote (morally speaking, I’m not suggesting any kind of law or policy to disenfranchise ignorant people here), why stop there? Now instead of 200,000,000 voters you have 100,000,000 voters, but 50% of them are smarter than the other 50%, so shouldn’t we reduce the number again, to 50,000,000? The point is that there’s no good reason to ever stop this winnowing process until we end up with a world where only a handful of super-geniuses are voting and the rest of us are just sitting on the sidelines. 

Read moreWhy Vote? Society as Emergent Property, Part 1

Five Economic Game Changers

The following comes from a new report out of the McKinsey Global Institute (McKinsey & Co.):


As shown above, the report identifies five major catalysts for economic growth:

  • Shale-gas and oil production
  • US trade competitiveness in knowledge-intensive goods
  • Big data analytics as a productivity tool
  • Increased investment in infrastructure, with a new emphasis on productivity
  • A more effective US system of talent development

Perhaps the US does not need to “get used to slower growth.” Perhaps we just need to know our options.

92% Down Syndrome Babies Aborted


Ok, this isn’t a new statistic.  In fact, the video I watched (below) that sparked this post is almost a year old.  But it’s something I think about a lot because it just makes me so sad.  Eugenics is horrifying, and we need to talk about it, and we need to give women support who get these diagnoses.

I particularly loved this comment on a LifeSiteNews article about the video:

it’s so odd that people want “perfect” children, I was briefly pregnant at age 46 (had a miscarriage) and had refused pre-natal testing because by then my other children were teenagers and I had learned there is no pre-natal test for tantrums, bed-wetting, climbing out on the roof, jumping out of 2nd story windows, driving 89 mph in a 40 zone, driving a car 15 miles without oil, failing math or physics, losing a brand new Starter jacket, or pooping on the sidewalk after church. There is no prenatal test for any of that, so why bother?  No child is perfect!

Watch the ESPN video below about a marathon runner who wanted his wife to choose abortion when their second daughter was diagnosed with Down and instead learned a lesson about perfection.

Child custody rights for rapists?

rapists custody rights

I’ve seen the claim that most states allow rapists custody rights to children they fathered through rape. In this context I wasn’t sure whether “rapists” meant men found guilty of rape or men accused of rape. Apparently it is the former. According to the recently introduced Rape Survivor Child Custody Act:

Currently only 6 States have statutes allowing rape survivors to petition for the termination of parental rights of the rapist based on clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived through rape.

This CNN article discusses the estimated tens of thousands of pregnancies that result from rape each year in the US. The article claims about two thirds of these pregnancies are terminated, which still means thousands of rape victims choosing to carry to term each year.

These women should not have to fear being tethered to their attackers for the first 18 years of their children’s lives.Removing a rapist’s parental rights seems to be the obvious choice for women’s rights advocates, as well as people on both sides of the abortion debate; neither pro-lifers nor pro-choicers want women to feel coerced into getting abortions.

If we were talking about taking away parental rights from men accused of but not found guilty of rape, I think there would be a significant concern that such legislation could take away parental rights from innocent men. However, if the legislation only applies to cases involving “clear and convincing evidence” of rape, what could be the arguments against such legislation?

The Virtuous Atheist or Atheist Maligned: Atheism Comforted and Confronted in my Religious Plays, Part One

ASU's Binary Theatre Company's production of A Roof Overhead, October 2012
ASU’s Binary Theatre Company’s production of A Roof Overhead, October 2012

WARNING: Spoilers ahoy! If you want the context of the play referenced, A Roof Overhead, the majority of the production by ASU’s Binary Theatre Company was recorded and is up on You Tube. It’s not the highest quality recording, and it was a matinee (thus, historically, less audience engagement and laughing), but you get a good sense of that particular production. The Utah production, unfortunately, was not recorded due to technical difficulties (so not even I got to see it!).  Of course, I think the issues the essay raises go beyond the actual play, so feel free to read it if you haven’t the time to watch an entire play at the moment.

James Goldberg’s award winning one act play “Prodigal Son” is a stirring play that flips Jesus’ proverb of the same name, showing the relationship between a former Mormon turned atheist and his son Daniel, who joins the faith his father had long since rejected. The tension and conflict caused by the reversal of the parental disapproval is both ironic and effective. Set in this gem of a play is a haunting monologue addressed to the audience by Daniel’s father:

We’re far too casual, I think, in the way we talk about losing. “I’ve lost my keys,” for example, really means you’ve mislaid them. We say we’re “lost” when we’re just disoriented. And we lose our tempers all the time, only to find them again a few minutes later—

I wish we wouldn’t dilute the best word we have for when things are truly and permanently gone. “Lost cause” is a good phrase. It’s a cold, hard dose of reality. No one goes out to find a lost cause. It’s just lost. That phrase understands the power of the word’s finality…

So when I tell you that a long time ago I lost my faith, I don’t want you imagine that I’ve misplaced or that I could be capable of finding it again. Lost faith is like a lost limb…if it’s broken and bleeding, if you try to patch it up and ends up being inflamed and infected…at some point you have to cut it off. And after you’ve lost it the only thing left is the occasional flash of phantom pain.

I lost my faith. Twenty years later I lost my wife. And now maybe I’m losing my son.

Don’t take away from me the only word I have to cope with that.[1]

Coming from a practicing Mormon like Goldberg, the monologue is unusually and beautifully sensitive towards this fictional father’s disbelief in God and religion. It shows a well of compassion and charity on Goldberg’s part towards what really amounts to a religious minority (at least in the United States and other predominately religious countries, although that trend is fast reversing in many places in the world). It’s an unexpectedly poignant moment in a beautiful play.

In this way, Goldberg has shown that he is particularly ready to clarify the way of the atheist to believers, and pleas for understanding on the his atheist friends behalf—perhaps even to the point of being a warm ambassador or a defensive patron when discussing atheism among believers. Thus it makes sense that, in his review of my play A Roof Overhead, he was quick to come to the defense of the doubter, even though such a vigorous and heated defense was hardly needed considering the context of the play’s intended message of tolerance and pleas for mutual understanding.

As Goldberg is not the only critic to misrepresent my representation of atheism, including a handful of antagonistic reviews written against my plays Swallow the Sun and Prometheus Unbound, I feel compelled to address the issue directly. I normally like my plays to stand on their own artistically, so that people may interact with them based on their own experiences and what they personally bring to the play, without constant and intrusive commentary from me.

However, some have tried to tie me to a pattern of intolerance towards atheists, even resorting to rather personal slights and warnings to others against my work. Thus, in the name of my reputation, I feel it best to clear up what my intent is, and what my intent decidedly isn’t, towards atheism and atheists. After all, if I’m to be lambasted on the matter, I would prefer to be lambasted for something I actually believe.

Read moreThe Virtuous Atheist or Atheist Maligned: Atheism Comforted and Confronted in my Religious Plays, Part One

Should all medical procedures be safe?

George Weigel has an excellent piece over at First Things, On Really Not Getting it.  In it, Weigel discusses media and abortion advocate’s disgust at having any safety regulations on abortion procedures, responds to a WaPo piece that claims, after Gosnell, the evidence of a need for any such safety regulations “is weak,” and makes a few other great points surrounding the debate.

It’s all good (please read it!!), but one of my favorite parts is this:

Marcus noted that, irrespective of what was happening in state capitols, a 1973 Gallup Poll “found 64 percent agreeing ‘that the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician.’” And here is another of the canards of Those Who Really Don’t Get It.  The abortion decision is most frequently made, not by a woman and “her physician,” but by a frightened woman talking with a “counselor” in a clinic run by an agency like Planned Parenthood, which has a deep financial interest in abortion. That frightened woman, who has often been abandoned by an irresponsible man, is then remanded to an abortion “provider” who is no more “her physician” than he or she is “her hairdresser.”

Bam.  Here’s the link again, so you can check the whole thing out.

& without sanitary conditions!