Star-Ledge Endorsement of Christie Was a Mistake They Are Keen to Repeat

Chris ChristieTom Moran and The Star-Ledger Editorial Board published a bizarre editorial today, Chris Christie Endorsement Is Regrettable. It starts off by noting that they were wrong to endorse Christie for governor. Then they explain why they did it. And they finish by arguing that even with all they know, they would endorse him as Republican nominee for president. Get that? “We don’t think he should be governor, but president would be okay.”

I agree with their reasons for picking Christie rather than picking no one at all. “But voters have to push one button or the other, and we felt The Star-Ledger should belly up to the challenge and offer them our best advice.” This is the same reasoning that makes me a Democrat. Mostly, I think the Democratic Party sucks. But in a two party system, you really need to choose one of the big parties and the Democrats are far better than the Republicans.

Reading a bit between the lines, it seems that the main reason that The Star-Ledger tipped to Christie’s side is because they have very typical New Democrat thinking on education policy. I don’t personally have strong opinions about this. But it definitely seems that those in favor of “educational reform” are far too certain of the justness of their cause than the data would indicate. Reading the article, I get the impression that what the editors are saying is, “If we had endorsed Barbara Buono, who would have gone after the unions?!”

Regardless, the article is at its most bizarre when it turns its attention to the 2016 presidential election. It says, “[I]f you turn your focus to the presidential race in 2016, you might wind up facing the same dilemma we did in the fall.” Really?! Are we going to end up with Christie running against some loser Democrat? Well, no. That’s not what they are talking about. They just think that if Christie doesn’t get the nomination, Rand Paul might. And you never know; he might win.

Based upon this match-up, The Star-Ledger would pick Christie over Rand Paul. This is truly bizarre. Unless the Republicans had both houses of Congress, I don’t imagine Paul getting much done. Christie, on the other hand, with his prosecutorial hardball tactics? It might be like having J Edgar Hoover in the White House. But it would at least be like having Richard Nixon back in the White House.

In the end, the editorial seems to be a set up for their presidential endorsement in 2016. Assuming that Christie manages to survive his scandals, The Star-Ledger will be there to endorse him. They’ll start out by noting that he’s a bully and a liar and a criminal. They’ll go on to note that he isn’t actually any good at his job. And they’ll conclude, “Chris Christie 2016!” And in 2018 as Watergate 2.0 is breaking, they’ll write another article, “Chris Christie Endorsement Is Regrettable.”

Joseph Stiglitz and Carole King

Joseph StiglitzNote: Today in Thomas Paine‘s birthday. I screwed up and celebrated it on 29 January. I’m really sorry about this. I saw the “old style” calendar date and ran with it. What can I say, I got excited. Go and read what I wrote and you’ll see.

It was fifty years ago today
That the Beatles went on Ed to play
They have never gone out of style
But anymore they do not make me smile
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan!

Watching these old performances, I’m reminded of two things: George isn’t a bad rhythm guitarist and Paul is a wonderful bassist. Otherwise: ugh!

The great singer and songwriter Carole King is 72 today. Before she became a legend as a singer, she was a songwriting legend with her then husband Gerry Goffin in the 1960s. I don’t know how many Top 40 hits, they wrote, but we are certainly talking dozens. They wrote songs such as “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “The Loco-Motion,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” But their greatest song is probably “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” She later covered the song on her megahit album Tapestry. And since I have a special fondness for her vulnerable take on the song, here she is doing it live:

Other birthdays: Hungarian mathematician Farkas Bolyai (1775); novelist Anthony Hope (1863); another Hungarian mathematician Lipot Fejer (1880); twelve-tone composer Alban Berg (1885); actor Ronald Colman (1891); illustrator Frank Frazetta (1928); songwriter Barry Mann (75); novelist J M Coetzee (74); singer and songwriter Barbara Lewis (71); and the fine actor Mia Farrow (69).

The day, however, belongs to the great economist Joseph Stiglitz who is 71 today. I know him from his popular books like The Price of Inequality and Freefall. But unlike with most economists, I actually understand his academic work. And it is really important. I get so frustrated hearing people with a small amount of economics knowledge say things like, “We can’t raise the minimum wage; it will cost jobs; it’s just simple supply and demand!” Sadly, this is more or less what I hear from real conservative economists who know far more economics than I do. Stiglitz’s work deals with what I think is a critical problem with all this economic theory. He showed the effects of information asymmetries on markets. And wouldn’t you know: he found that the supposedly perfect markets were anything but. Of course, Stiglitz is not the only one to work on information asymmetries. People have been working on that for a long time, but he was the one with the major breakthrough. I still find it amazing that conservatives hang onto neoclassical models of the economy. But I guess the money is better as an apologist than an economist. Here is Stiglitz giving a brief TEDx Talk:

Happy birthday Joseph Stiglitz!

Spiritualism vs Religion

Religion vs SpiritualismSince I just used an Atheist Eve cartoon, I was reminded of another of her cartoons where she takes people to task for being “spiritual” but not “religious.” With all due respect to my fellow atheists, this kind of determined ignorance is the main reason that I feel queasy about self-identifying as an atheist. In the cartoon, one character says, “I’m a spiritual person, but not religious. Know what I mean?” And the other character (presumably Atheist Eve herself) says, “Actually, I have no clue what you mean. Do you?” I don’t believe this for a second.

I too have my problems with the whole spiritual crowd. Their thinking on spiritual matters is usually very sloppy. What’s more, it is very easy: they believe whatever they want. They are rarely constrained by the implications of their belief because they don’t take it seriously enough to consider the implications. On the other hand, they aren’t dogmatic. They are open minded enough to search for answers themselves rather than accepting pat answers from religious authorities. And here is the best thing about these people: I can talk to them about spiritual matters without getting a load of crap like, “We know God loves us because it says so in John 3:16!”

Regardless of one’s belief system, there is still one unanswered question, “Why does anything exist?” Now it is possible that one day this question will be answered by science. But atheists who claim that natural selection and the big bang answer it are being disingenuous. There is only one way to deal with the question: define it as unanswered and move on. But it is wrong to say that those of us who do want to think about the question are just the same as people who think that God impregnated a woman so the child could die for the sins of the world. To me, serious spiritual thought is an extension of mathematics. I think, for example, that Godel’s incompleteness theorems tells us something about the nature of systems. Existence is paradoxical, but then so is algebra. The point of thinking about ontology is to gain insight that allow us to ask better questions. I’m not really interested in answers because I don’t think any exist.

I understand that most atheists will object at this point. “But that isn’t spiritualism, that’s math!” they will say. Not at all. Regardless of how you go about gaining insights, it is still spiritual thought. It is true that the character in the comic doesn’t think this carefully about spiritual matters. But that just takes us back to the fundamental problem with most atheists: they are constantly arguing against the most childish religious beliefs. I realize these are the most common beliefs, but the net effect is to devalue atheism itself. “Hippy punching” does not a great movement make.

There is a very general question here: if my interest in ontological questions is not spirituality, what is it? My belief is that there is some kind of process that explains the nature the existence but that it is outside what we think of as reality. If you wanted to, you could say that I was interested in negative theology. But I don’t like the idea of theology—it implies intention, which I don’t accept. So I’m going to continue to use the word “spiritual” because that is broadly what people mean when they use the word.

Except that isn’t how many atheists want to define it. That’s fine, they can do whatever they want. But it isn’t good for the movement. It makes atheism seem like the mirror image of Christianity: just another dogmatic system. I know that atheists will go into fits on reading this, “But religion is based upon faith and science is not!” Yeah, right. Every human uses faith throughout every day without having much idea they are even doing it. And this is why atheists largely do come off as closed minded.

If we want to make inroads with theists, we need to understand why people quite understandably believe in God. There are questions that people have that religion, while mostly doing a terrible job, tries to answer. I am extremely interested in these questions and it amazes me that most atheists are not. But that in itself is fine. The problem is that most atheists want to dismiss those who are interested in these questions. The questions are valid and valuable. And they should be treated with respect.

The big question for the atheist movement is whether it is going to be like Protestantism. Is it going to break up into a thousand pieces over minor issues of thought? Because I’m inclusive. I certainly think that anti-ontological atheists are limited in their thinking, but I would never say they don’t belong. And in truth, no one is especially questioning my place as an atheist. But I think “spiritual” neo-hippies are good candidates for our movement. Atheists tend to confuse their beliefs with science. They aren’t the same. Just as religion and spiritualism are not the same. If sloppy thinking prevented atheists from being part of the movement, there would only be a handful of people in the movement.


Some may wonder why I don’t just use the word “ontology.” The reason is that most people I talk to have no idea what that word means. I have enough of a problem with people thinking I’m an ostentatious intellectual. I will admit, however, that “spiritual” is a difficult word. But it grounds any conversation in the right area without turning it into a discussion of dogmatic beliefs.

Why American Christians Feel Persecuted

Christian Persecution - Atheist Eve

Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent article over at AlterNet last week, The Christian Right’s Bizarre Delusions of Persecution. She points out the way that Christians create scandals by breaking social norms and then, when they are corrected, claiming that they are being persecuted. The focus of the story is the retracted Oscar nomination for Bruce Broughton. He broke Academy rules by sending an email out to 70 members asking for their vote. In the conservative Christian press, this turned into, “Broughton was taken out of Oscar contention because he is a Christian!” It is all very sad.

I’ve thought about this a lot. And although I’ve come to a number of conclusions, on a gut level, it is still hard to understand how a religion that 80% of the country follows—that is followed by the richest and more powerful people as well—can be persecuted. Of course, it isn’t any different than the conservative claim that the only prejudice that remains in America is that against straight white males. But that isn’t reasonable either. The problem is one of definitions. When I use the word “persecution,” I mean something very different than they do.

As I’ve argued before, conservative Christians do not want equal rights. They most certainly already have that. They want special rights. To me, Christian belief is no more true than Norse mythology. I don’t especially care about either. But if anyone finds either religion helpful to them, that’s great! I’m not on a mission to convert anyone. The problem with Christians is that they are on a mission to convert everyone by any means necessary.

The fact that 80% of Americas do self-identify as Christian makes the more fervent individuals mistake their beliefs for facts. If less than half of the country claimed to be Christian—as it is in France—it would be harder for them to just assume that Christianity is fact. Of course, every religious believer thinks that his religion is true. But relatively few think it literally true. Unfortunately, in this country, almost half the people are fundamentalists who think that the Bible is the literal word of God.

It is understandable then, that these people think that it is an affront to God when others don’t believe. This gets to the whole Christian Right outrage machine about saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The issue there is that “Happy Holidays” is inclusive: Christmas is part of it. But that relegates Christianity to just another religion, not the One True Religion.

Thus, we are left with a religious group that thinks it is persecuted when others don’t accept it. Buddhists, for example, don’t have that luxury. They can’t look across America and conclude that they are being abused because the president didn’t mention the Dalai Lama in a speech. But Christians can, because they are an overwhelming majority in this country. They’ve been so pandered to over the years that they think they are persecuted when they aren’t pandered to.