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george carlin, 1937-2008 June 22, 2008

Posted by KG in comedy, news, religion.
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nytimes:

During his live 1996 HBO special, “Back in Town,” he raged over the shallowness of the ’90s “me first” culture — mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names, sneakers with lights on them, and lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards. Baby boomers, “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ …from cocaine to Rogaine,” and pro life advocates (“How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”), were some of his prime targets.

Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

who’s bitter? April 22, 2008

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jonathan chait in the new republic:

But nobody’s challenging the validity of caring more about your religion, or even your right to hunt, than your income. The objection is whether it makes sense to vote on that basis. There are, after all, stark differences between the two parties on economic matters. Republicans do want to make working-class voters pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, restrain popular social programs, erode the value of the minimum wage, and so on.

Democrats, on the other hand, have no plans to keep anybody from attending church or hunting. A few years ago, their gun-control agenda revolved around issues like safety locks, banning assault weapons, and other restrictions carefully designed to have virtually no impact on hunters or average gun owners. Now Democrats have abandoned even those meager steps. The GOP’s appeal on those “issues” rests on cultural pandering rather than any concrete legislative program.

Now, it’s true that many working-class whites also vote on social issues that do have some political relevance, like abortion or gay marriage. It’s certainly not irrational on its face to vote your values over your wallet. (Democratic billionaires do it, too.) On the other hand, conservatives routinely express their fury that a majority of Jews stubbornly flout their own “self-interest”–defined as low tax rates and a maximally hawkish Middle East policy–to vote Democratic. The process of trying to persuade others to reconsider the nature of their self-interest is not some Marxist exercise or an accusation of false consciousness. It’s what we call “democracy.”

Sorry, did that sound condescending?

using science to explain religion March 23, 2008

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economist.com:

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

Explaining Religion is an ambitious attempt to do this. The experiments it will sponsor are designed to look at the mental mechanisms needed to represent an omniscient deity, whether (and how) belief in such a “surveillance-camera” God might improve reproductive success to an individual’s Darwinian advantage, and whether religion enhances a person’s reputation—for instance, do people think that those who believe in God are more trustworthy than those who do not? The researchers will also seek to establish whether different religions foster different levels of co-operation, for what reasons, and whether such co-operation brings collective benefits, both to the religious community and to those outside it.

religion and modernity February 25, 2008

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alan wolfe writes a piece on wealth and religiosity at theatlantic.com:

Until relatively recently, most social theorists, from Marx to Freud to Weber, believed that as societies became more modern, religion would lose its capacity to inspire. Industrialization would substitute the rational pursuit of self-interest for blind submission to authority. Science would undermine belief in miracles. Democracy would encourage the separation of church and state. Gender equality would undermine patriarchy, and with it, clerical authority. However one defined modernity, it always seemed likely to involve societies focused on this world rather than on some other.

But intellectual fashions are fickle, and the idea of inevitable secularization has fallen out of favor with many scholars and journalists. Still, its most basic tenet—that material progress will slowly erode religious fervor—appears unassailable. Last October, the Pew Global Attitudes Project plotted 44 countries according to per capita gross domestic product and intensity of religious belief, gauged by the responses to several questions about faith (a rendition of the Pew data appears on the opposite page). The pattern, as seen in the Pew study and a number of other sources, is hard to miss: when God and Mammon collide, Mammon usually wins.

but wait! you may be thinking, i just netflixed jesus camp and boy are people here crazy!

You’ll have noticed that I’ve said nothing yet about the United States. Talk about an outlier—there on the Pew chart it stands, nearly alone, as the only country in the world, apart from Kuwait, that is both wealthy and religious. Americans are not only more religious than Europeans; they are more religious than the citizens of some Latin American countries. If proof is needed that religion will remain a dominant force in history for a long time to come, the fact that the world’s most affluent society is also well up among the faithful would seem to provide it. When the president says that his decision to invade another country was influenced by a call from God, or when school boards decide to include creationism in their curriculum, it appears safe to conclude that Americans are not living in the world envisioned by Marx or Freud.

and finally, wolfe details what i have informally called my “hey let’s hang out at jesus’s house, he’s got a ps3 and a trampoline” theory:

So what happens to religions that find themselves with many competitors? Consider what is occurring within the growing American evangelical movement. It has built megachurches that meet the needs of time-pressed professionals by offering such things as day-care centers, self-help groups, and networking opportunities. Its music owes more to Janis Joplin than to Johann Sebastian Bach. Its church officials learn more from business-school case studies than from theological texts. And its young people—well, as the children of parents who have gone through a born-again experience, they are not likely to be as obedient as the evangelical leader James Dobson wants them to be. Having opted to grow on secular terms, American evangelicalism is becoming less hostile to liberal ideas such as tolerance and pluralism. New efforts to take it in directions sympathetic to environmentalism and social justice are a direct result of the maturing of the faith, which followed from earlier decisions to make the movement more appealing to large numbers of Americans, especially the young.

hitchens on huckabee January 7, 2008

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a bit of vitriol from slate:

Isn’t it amazing how self-pitying and self-aggrandizing the religious freaks in this country are? It’s not enough that they can make straight-faced professions of “faith” at election times and impose their language on everything from the Pledge of Allegiance to the currency. It’s not enough that they can claim tax exemption and even subsidy for anything “faith-based.” It’s that when they are even slightly criticized for their absurd opinions, they can squeal as if being martyred and act as if they are truly being persecuted.

the huckabee factor December 17, 2007

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, econ, news, politics, religion.
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nytimes magazine:

But things have changed since then. Huckabee says he believes that the next president of the United States will have to lead Western civilization in a worldwide conflict with radical Islam. For a man with that kind of ambition, he has not been particularly well briefed. On Dec. 4, for instance, he was asked about the National Intelligence Estimate released the day before, which found that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Huckabee said that he hadn’t seen it, though it had been the top news story in the country, maybe the world, for the previous 24 hours.

At lunch, when I asked him who influences his thinking on foreign affairs, he mentioned Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, and Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative and the founder of a research group called the Center for Security Policy. This is like taking travel advice from Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but the governor seemed unaware of the incongruity. When I pressed him, he mentioned he had once ”visited” with Richard Haass, the middle-of-the-road president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Huckabee has no military experience beyond commanding the Arkansas National Guard, but he doesn’t see this as an insuperable problem. ”What you do,” he explained, ”is surround yourself with the best possible advice.” The only name he mentioned was Representative Duncan Hunter of California. ”Duncan is extraordinarily well qualified to be secretary of Defense,” he said.

Huckabee does not have an impressive grasp of its details. When I suggested, for example, that consumers might evade the tax simply by acquiring goods and services for cash on the black market, he seemed genuinely surprised. 

As a premillennialist evangelical, Huckabee also has no problem with enforcing the law, at the border or anywhere else. ”A person with a biblical worldview of human nature says humans are by nature selfish,” he has written. ”We are not basically good; rather, we are basically self-centered. . . . Only two things will change this behavior: either our nature will be changed by a supernatural experience with God through Christ, or we will fear the consequences of not doing the right thing.”

 

mitt romney – just plain crazy or extra crazy? you decide. December 6, 2007

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cnn:

Romney said religion is essential to freedom, without pointing to any specific faith.

Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone,” the GOP contender said.

freedom requires religion? really?

oh god, somebody please pray for mitt romney’s sanity.

excerpt from ‘the portable atheist’ November 27, 2007

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usatoday ran this excerpt from the introduction to christopher hitchens’ the portable atheist: essential readings for the nonbeliever, which has selected writings from bertrand russell, darwin, einstein, twain and others, along with some new pieces by salman rushdie and ayaan hirsi ali…

Richard Dawkins may have phrased it most pungently when he argued that everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god—from Ra to Shiva—in which he does not believe. All that the serious and objective atheist does is to take the next step and to say that there is just one more god to disbelieve in. Human solipsism can generally be counted upon to become enraged and to maintain that this discountable god must not be the one in which the believer himself has invested so much credence. So it goes. But the man-made character of religion, from which monotheism swore to deliver us at least in its pagan form, persists in a terrifying shape in our own time, as believers fight each other over the correct interpretation and even kill members of their own faiths in battles over doctrine. Civilization has been immensely retarded by such arcane interfaith quarrels and could now be destroyed by their modern versions.

Believing then—as this religious objection implicitly concedes—that human life is actually worth living, one can combat one’s natural pessimism by stoicism and the refusal of illusion, while embellishing the scene with any one of the following. There are the beauties of science and the extraordinary marvels of nature. There is the consolation and irony of philosophy. There are the infinite splendors of literature and poetry, not excluding the liturgical and devotional aspects of these, such as those found in John Donne or George Herbert. There is the grand resource of art and music and architecture, again not excluding those elements that aspire to the sublime. In all of these pursuits, any one of them enough to absorb a lifetime, there may be found a sense of awe and magnificence that does not depend at all on any invocation of the supernatural.

can biology do better than faith? November 26, 2007

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edward o. wilson, professor of entomology at harvard university, opines at newscientist.com on what he considers irreconcilable systems.

spoiler alert: biology wins.

rolling stone’s 40th anniversary issue November 14, 2007

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, arts/culture, books, campaign finance, comedy, design, econ, environment, film, health, hip-hop, history, immigration, international, interviews, iraq, iraq war, media, misc, music, news, politics, race, religion, science, style, tech, television, terrorism.
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“This issue looks forward, not back, and it’s packed with interviews with the artists, leaders and thinkers who can best divine what our future holds. It arrives, appropriately, during the run-up to next year’s presidential election, which looms as a moment of truth for our nation. “People are nauseous about being perceived as the enemy,” Bono says of America’s standing in the world. “Whoever fixes that problem gets elected.” But it’s not just politics – as a society, we face choices that will likely determine the fate of our civilization, matters of war and peace, resource depletion and explosive population growth. And, of course, global warming: “It’s a mistake to think of the climate crisis as one in a list of issues that will define our future,” Al Gore tells us. “It is the issue.”

We don’t claim to have the answers to these challenges, but we do know where to look for leadership and inspiration. The values of tolerance, inclusiveness, common sense and personal liberty (not to mention fun) that took shape in the 1960s have animated this magazine ever since.”

chock full of wit and wisdom from some of the world’s most interesting minds…

you can find the entire issue digitally right here, but the interface rolling stone set up is really horrible, so i’ve made the text from some of the interviews into pdfs:

BILL CLINTON

BILL GATES

AL GORE

SAM HARRIS

PAUL KRUGMAN

BILL MAHER

JON STEWART

CORNEL WEST

KANYE WEST

here’s some quotes that i’ve culled:

(more…)