Monday, August 17, 2015

Ignorance of Economics is Killing Us

The failure of our education system is manifest now to even the most obtuse observer or left-wing pundit. I truly believe that the single greatest failure--the one with the greatest consequences for society--has been the failure to properly teach economic principles.

When I say 'economic principles,' I don't mean how Wall Street works, or the bullshit voodoo (and it really is!) by which unemployment and GDP figures are rectally derived. I mean fundamental, basic tenets of economic thought. The idea that, in a free society--the type of society in which no man or woman is forced, either physically or by force of law, to provide goods or services to another--one must exchange things of value in order to get things of value from someone else voluntarily. To do otherwise--to compel someone to serve you involuntarily--is to make that person your slave. And their name, by God, is Toby!

The failure to understand or impart this is responsible for the legion of college graduates we now have waiting tables and defaulting on their student loans. These young hopefuls pursued--at great expense (again, trading value for value)--their degrees in philosophy, English, women's studies, medieval literature, and the like, with no understanding that very, very few employers would have need of people with experience in these disciplines, because these disciplines did not convey a skill set that would provide value to their enterprise. These youngsters didn't understand that if they didn't have something an employer needs, something that would contribute to the operation and success of her business, then she would not hire them. This is not because she is heartless, but because she is human. How often do you knowingly purchase something that you don't need, or that doesn't work for its intended purpose? And when you do so unknowingly--like say, a worthless college degree--aren't you upset?

In conjunction with this reality, there is the concomitant reality that the world runs on finite resources, and as such, everything--EVERYTHING--in life is a trade-off. There exists no such thing as a perfect solution, where all needs are met for all people all the time, and as a consequence, we must prioritize those things most important to us.

In economist geekspeak, this is known as "opportunity cost". When you have limited resources (and everyone has at least one resource that is unalterably limited--their time), making choice A means, by definition, giving up the option to make choices B through Z (through infinity, really) using those same resources. In other words, if I spend $20 on a haircut, then by definition, I do not have that $20 available now to go see a movie, buy a shirt, or get a lap dance in the champagne room.

The hapless students above not only went into sickening amounts of debt for a product (education) that did not serve their needs (to get a job), they also spent time that could have been spent more fruitfully by learning skills that would be more attractive to employers. That is time they will never, ever get back.

This conundrum is doubly harsh, because these students not only didn't have the cognitive tools to properly assess value and plan accordingly before, but they still do not possess said tools now. As a result they don't understand how to eventually reverse this setback (through hard work and the belated acquisition of skills), preferring instead to beseech politicians to ameliorate this disaster for them. The politicians, of course, will happily promise to do that in exchange for the votes of their new captive constituency.

I don't pretend to know the solution to the current dilemma. Retroactive education is problematic at best. I can only suggest a course going forward: teach the next generation about economics. Teach these principles early and often, with simple examples at first, progressing toward a more mature understanding later. Lay that groundwork, and give these children the cognitive tools to assess value within the framework of reality. Teach kids, in other words, to think like economists. We have failed to do this so far, and it has led to taking our first steps toward a tyranny born of ignorance. We can still reverse it, but we have to act now. Our future depends on it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

So You Wanna Be A Rap Superstar?

There is a preponderance of young black men here (the Kansas City metro) who come into my work with their computers, or seeking to purchase a computer, which they use for one purpose, and one purpose only: music production. It's like they all have the same idea/ambition to make it big in the music business.

I'm a firm believer in letting everyone live their lives as they see fit, but I can't help but be reminded of Larry Elder every time I encounter one of these young men (which is literally almost every day). I want to grab them by the shoulders and say something to the effect of:
"Look, you are almost 30/over 30 years old and living with your mom. It does not matter that your music software isn't working. The music business is almost impossibly hard, and only the barest few ever find enough success to live on. It's like becoming an astronaut or a Navy SEAL. 
Forget the music, save your money, and use this computer to help get your GED. From there, get a JOB and start learning some SKILLS. Heaven forbid, even go to the local community college or trade school, and learn something marketable that pays a living wage. I *promise* you, that path is about a million times more likely to yield real results for you than monkeying around with beats in your mom's basement. Trust me, you'll thank me someday."
But I'm sure that's just 'cynical' and 'racist'. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Obama's Not So Bad... Right?

A Facebook friend recently shared this post into my news feed:

To my Facebook family and community: I had a discussion with a less than clever associate who insisted that the reason people spread so much vitriol about President Obama is because he is black. I disagreed, but he asked me why people can feel so strongly, and almost seem to hate this President, when things are getting better. Why do they seem to hate him? So I looked up provable, empirical evidence, easy for anyone to fact check, for anyone inclined to do so, to see if the economy is, in fact, improving. And if so, why would they “Hate on him” if things aren't so bad… If these facts make you feel angry, than maybe there is a problem, since it is good news for all Americans. And if it does make you angry, ask yourself why? Why am I angry at this good news? Take a look:
Unemployment is at 5.6%, well below the 7.8% that it was when President Obama took office in 2009, and the 8.3% that it was during his first MONTH in office. The rate of Job creation for all of 2014 averaged 246,000 jobs per month, the highest since 1999, with Private Sector jobs leading the way by far. Even wages are beginning to rise, although very slightly.
The Deficit has fallen sharply. The Stock Market has more than doubled since this president took office. Rates of unpaid bills and medical debt have declined last year for the first time in more than a decade. The growth of healthcare costs has significantly slowed even though millions more people in America now have health care. Many more people are graduating college, gasoline prices have fallen sharply, the worth of your house has gone up...And nobody from the federal government with an Obama badge came to take away my guns…
To my republican friends: Times are not perfect, but they are improving, and we sure as heck are not in a Great Depression by any stretch. We are no longer even in a recession. If you feel angry reading this, ask yourself Why. Do I “Hate on him”? Maybe we can stop. Times are getting better than they were even 6 years ago... You remember. Thanks


Oh, my. Where to start? Well, aside from the fact that he throws out these numbers with no sources or context, let's just take them one at a time, shall we?

Unemployment has been dropping, though at a much slower rate than previous recoveries. That is due less to new job creation, however, than the increase in the number of people who have dropped out of the workforce. (Remember, to be considered in the unemployment figure, you have to "looking for a job.") And of course private sector jobs have led the way, but isn't it odd that it's in Republican states like Texas, not states like Illinois or California? Hmmm.

Yes, the deficit is, finally, *almost* as low as before Obama took office in 2009. Hooray. In the meantime, Obama has taken Bush's extravagant debt spending to stratospheric new heights, exceeding even the precipitous increase brought on by fighting two simultaneous foreign wars by *more than double*, and still counting.

Healthcare costs have decreased and more people have healthcare? Sure. Tell that to the millions who have had their premiums shoot up as much as 78%, and the millions of others being dumped into the overburdened Medicare and Medicaid rolls, forcing a cutback in benefits to enrollees.

More people are graduating college? Great! Except that the majority of them are graduating with a crippling student debt thanks to government student loan subsidies driving up tuition and fees. Congratulations to the most indebted generation of college graduates in US history.

Gasoline prices HAVE fallen sharply. Okay, I'll give this one to him. He obstructed the Keystone Pipeline, and has been trying to cripple the oil and gas industry since his term began, but he has supported fracking in the past, which is what is responsible for the precipitous drop in oil (and thus gasoline) prices.
In 2008, with 1300 active wells, the US produced just shy of 8 million barrels per day. Thanks to fracking, by 2014, with the same 1300 wells, we produced over 12 billion barrels per day. And, oh yeah, many of the jobs he's boasted about are in that icky oil and gas industry, not in abortive solar ventures like Solyndra, into which his administration flushed $500 million dollars. A Saudi prince was recently quoted as saying that oil prices--currently under $50 per barrel--would never again hit $100/barrel.

No, nobody has come to take away my guns as yet. Obama Justice Department appointee Eric Holder was just selling them to Mexican drug cartels, resulting in the deaths of law enforcement officers, like Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Of course, one thing not mentioned in this little screed is foreign policy. Understandable, since it has been an unmitigated disaster. Between supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, allowing the destruction of the US embassy in Benghazi and deaths of a US ambassador and three others, commanding the hastened withdrawal from Iraq leading directly to the ISIS threat that now consumes half the region, hitting the links while Russian bombers probe American territorial airspace, and the currently-imminent US embassy evacuation in Yemen... there isn't much to crow about, is there?

I could go on, but the point is made. The animosity toward the Obama administration didn't just materialize out of thin air. So, if you're NOT angry reading this, you might ask yourself, "Why not?"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Imagine, if you will...

Imagine this headline: "Iran indicts American over plot to bomb Jewish holy sites."

Of course you can't, because you know for a fact it would never happen.

The fact that the Israelis would go the extra mile to protect Muslims' cultural heritage, but everyone knows damn well that Muslims would never do the same for Israelis, tells you most of what you need to know about the Muslim/Jewish conflict. Still, some people want to pretend that the cultures are just "different," and that one is not *clearly* morally superior.

If you know such a person, slap them. Hard. For the good of all humanity.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Islam violent? Naaaaahhhh!

I just had to share this. Some commenter on "The Thinking Atheist" Facebook page challenged other commenters to show how Muslims around the world approve of the violence of Muslim extremists. One commenter by the name of Anibal Mejia Cardenas rose to that challenge with a vengeance. Enjoy the results below!
----

NOP Research: 1 in 4 British Muslims say 7/7 bombings were justified
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/08/14/opinion/main1893879.shtml&date=2011-04-06
http://www.webcitation.org/5xkMGAEvY

People-Press: 31% of Turks support suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq.
http://people-press.org/report/206/a-year-after-iraq-war

YNet: One third of Palestinians (32%) supported the slaughter of a Jewish family, including the children:
http://pajamasmedia.com/tatler/2011/04/06/32-of-palestinians-support-infanticide/
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4053251,00.html

World Public Opinion: 61% of Egyptians approve of attacks on Americans
32% of Indonesians approve of attacks on Americans
41% of Pakistanis approve of attacks on Americans
38% of Moroccans approve of attacks on Americans
83% of Palestinians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (only 14% oppose)
62% of Jordanians approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (21% oppose)
42% of Turks approve of some or most groups that attack Americans (45% oppose)
A minority of Muslims disagreed entirely with terror attacks on Americans:
(Egypt 34%; Indonesia 45%; Pakistan 33%)
About half of those opposed to attacking Americans were sympathetic with al-Qaeda’s attitude toward the U.S.
http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/feb09/STARTII_Feb09_rpt.pdf

Pew Research (2010): 55% of Jordanians have a positive view of Hezbollah
30% of Egyptians have a positive view of Hezbollah
45% of Nigerian Muslims have a positive view of Hezbollah (26% negative)
43% of Indonesians have a positive view of Hezbollah (30% negative)
http://pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

Pew Research (2010): 60% of Jordanians have a positive view of Hamas (34% negative).
49% of Egyptians have a positive view of Hamas (48% negative)
49% of Nigerian Muslims have a positive view of Hamas (25% negative)
39% of Indonesians have a positive view of Hamas (33% negative)
http://pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

Pew Research (2010): 15% of Indonesians believe suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified.
34% of Nigerian Muslims believe suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified.
http://pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

16% of young Muslims in Belgium state terrorism is "acceptable".
http://www.hln.be/hln/nl/1275/Islam/article/detail/1619036/2013/04/22/Zestien-procent-moslimjongens-vindt-terrorisme-aanvaardbaar.dhtml

Populus Poll (2006): 12% of young Muslims in Britain (and 12% overall) believe that suicide attacks against civilians in Britain can be justified.  1 in 4 support suicide attacks against British troops.
http://www.populuslimited.com/pdf/2006_02_07_times.pdf
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/07/more-survey-research-from-a-british-islamist

Pew Research (2007): 26% of younger Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are justified.
35% of young Muslims in Britain believe suicide bombings are justified (24% overall).
42% of young Muslims in France believe suicide bombings are justified (35% overall).
22% of young Muslims in Germany believe suicide bombings are justified.(13% overall).
29% of young Muslims in Spain believe suicide bombings are justified.(25% overall).
http://pewresearch.org/assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf#page=60

Pew Research (2011): 8% of Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified (81% never).
28% of Egyptian Muslims believe suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified (38% never).
http://www.people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/

Pew Research (2007): Muslim-Americans who identify more strongly with their religion are three times more likely to feel that suicide bombings are justified
http://pewresearch.org/assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf#page=60

ICM: 5% of Muslims in Britain tell pollsters they would not report a planned Islamic terror attack to authorities.
27% do not support the deportation of Islamic extremists preaching violence and hate.
http://www.scotsman.com/?id=1956912005
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/07/more-survey-research-from-a-british-islamist.html

Federation of Student Islamic Societies: About 1 in 5 Muslim students in Britain (18%) would not report a fellow Muslim planning a terror attack.
http://www.fosis.org.uk/sac/FullReport.pdf
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/07/more-survey-research-from-a-british-islamist

ICM Poll: 25% of British Muslims disagree that a Muslim has an obligation to report terrorists to police.
http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2004/Guardian%20Muslims%20Poll%20Nov%2004/Guardian%20Muslims%20Nov04.asp
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/07/more-survey-research-from-a-british-islamist

Populus Poll (2006): 16% of British Muslims believe suicide attacks against Israelis are justified.
37% believe Jews in Britain are a "legitimate target".
http://www.populuslimited.com/pdf/2006_02_07_times.pdf
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/07/more-survey-research-from-a-british-islamist

Pew Research (2013): At least 1 in 4 Muslims do not reject violence against civilians (study did not distinguish between those who believe it is partially justified and never justified).
http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Muslim/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

Pew Research (2013): 15% of Muslims in Turkey support suicide bombings (also 11% in Kosovo, 26% in Malaysia and 26% in Bangladesh).
http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Muslim/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

PCPO (2014): 89% of Palestinians support Hamas and other terrorists firing rockets at Israeli civilians.
http://www.jihadwatch.org/2014/08/poll-89-of-palestinians-support-jihad-terror-attacks-on-israel"

http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/opinion-polls.htm

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Atheism and Conservatism

I recently had an email dialog with someone from Twitter who was seeking to hear from people who were atheists, but held some conservative values. It was a very rewarding exchange, especially in so far as it allowed me to articulate in writing some things I had been meaning to address here on the blog for a long time. I have reprinted the exchange in chronological order below with emails redacted. I hope that you enjoy it, or at least find it interesting. It is incredibly long, so it might be a good read to start if you need to fall asleep fast! Also, I'm sorry for the occasionally screwball formatting.
-----------------------------------------------

from: Jack Parker
to:  Josh Ray waronidiots@.com
date: Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 11:34 PM
subject: Atheism and Conservatism

I was a lifelong Republican until about 15 years ago. I loved Reagan, and he's still my favorite president, though I never deified him like so many modern conservatives, and I am acutely aware that he was not perfect and did some things that were wrong. I increasingly parted company with the Republican party proper the more crazy religious they got, and now consider myself an independent. There are conservative thinkers whom I still value, but people like Sarah Palin, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann are not among them. I think the party has been abandoned to the lunatic fringe as they try harder and harder to court the religious zealots they perceive as their base, and I want no part of it.

I cannot stand wither party, nor can I stand the polarization of our current political state. I refuse to be a bannerman for either team, especially when both teams have been co-opted by their most extreme elements. I am for the maximum freedom possible. On any issue, I ask the question (stolen from Penn Jillette), "Is there a way to solve this with more freedom rather than less?" I am pro gay marriage, pro choice, pro drug legalization, pro gun rights, and pro freedom in general. The old joke is that a libertarian is someone who believes that a married gay couple should be able to defend their pot plants with firearms. :-)

That puts me in the "small L libertarian" camp, but by no means do I go as far as some anarcho-capitalist types in the libertarian department. I still appreciate that government does some things, and is the most practical solution for some functions like national defense, but I believe that it should be as small and limited in scope as possible. "The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen," as the saying goes. 

This is counter to the governing philosophies of both left and right. The left wants to be in your wallet and your business, while the right wants to be in your uterus and your bedroom. The right has their father figure, in the form of an invisible Bronze Age sky ghost, that they want society to follow. The left eschews the religion of mythical deities only to embrace the religion of statism, wherein they, too, have a higher authority that they want society to submit to. I reject both notions. Both are religious and devoid of critical thinking and rational analysis.

In terms of religion, I have never been strongly religious. My mother went to church, but was not strict about forcing her kids to do the same. She also fell into a lot of Deepak Chopra eastern mysticism horseshit during her spiritual exploration, but again, never shoved it down our throats. For much of my life, I was probably what you'd call a deist, though I had no exposure to that term. I thought it seemed logical that there had been some kind of prime mover who had set things in motion, but probably not an anthropomorphic being who intervened directly in people's lives. I saw no reason that evolution necessarily had to clash with the idea of a god. "Non overlapping majesteria," and all that.

That changed on September 11, 2001. Learning that those horrible attacks were perpetrated by middle class men who had lived and worked in western society, and some of whom were college educated, solely on the basis of their religious beliefs, got me interested in studying the phenomenon of belief and examining religious belief in a way that I really never had before. I wanted to know how a person's mind could become so warped. I devoured everything I could, which led me inexorably to the usual suspects--Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, Shermer, Russell, Hume, and others. I got a beautiful parallel text student bible--which had the original, unabridged KJV text, as well as translations, explanations, and commentaries by theologians--and for the first time, just read the bible. Penn Jillette was spot on: the fastest way to make an atheist is to get them to read the bible.

It is fair to say that the two phenomena coincided. As I became less religious, I became increasingly sensitive to how religious the Republicans had gotten, and increasingly divested myself from them. I still consider myself conservative on many things: strong defense, fiscal responsibility (which does NOT include subsidies, bailouts, and corporate welfare), and limited government (things conservatives say they are for, but they don't seem to walk the walk once they get into office). But I have come to believe that religion--even in its most benign presentation--is a detriment to society. It encourages magical thinking that retards the progress of society. At worst, it turns people--as in the case of Islam--into bloodthirsty murderers.

Anyway, I know this was ridiculously long, and probably mind numbingly boring, but I just wanted to explain where I'm at in the interest of clarity, and maybe I preemptively answered some of your questions. I'd be happy to answer more or explain further.

-Jack

***

from: War On Idiots
to: Jack Parker
date: Sat, Aug 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM
subject: Re: Atheism and Conservatism

Wow… that’s a lot to process.  I’ll compare notes later today or tomorrow and see if they line up with my questions. Thanks for the email.

—Josh (War On Idiots)

***

from: War On Idiots
to: Jack Parker
date: Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 9:52 PM
subject: Re: Atheism and Conservatism

Damn… that’s a hell of a response.  It actually goes a bit above and beyond the research I’m doing.  I am, in fact, rather impressed that you mentioned Penn Jillette, as I listen to his podcast rather regularly.  He’s an absolutely brilliant mind, which is likely why Teller chose him as the mouthpiece of the duo (or so I believe).

If you don’t mind, I’m going to probably use excerpts, if not your entire email, as part of the research I write, as it’s probably the most detailed response I could have imagined receiving even though I didn’t even send you the questions yet.  I’m still going to copy/paste the questions I’ve put together so that I can have a more uniformed way of compiling the information… I’m literally putting together a somewhat archaic Word document of all of the responses I’m receiving so I can refer back to the answers all in one place to compare notes.

All you have to do is just put your answers next to or underneath the questions.  No fancy formatting is needed… keep it simple.

1.     Pro-life or pro-choice?  If pro-life, why?
a.     Additionally, if pro-life, are you also against companies (i.e. Hobby Lobby) being mandated to provide insurance coverage for specific women’s health needs like contraception?  If so, why?
2.     Are you for or against marriage equality (more commonly known as “gay marriage”)?  If against, why?
3.     With regards to immigration, are you:
a.     For or against amnesty for children of parents from impoverished countries?  If against, why?
b.     For or against closing off every border and the entire visa system with regards to allowing immigrants to legally come to your country?  If against, why?
c.     For or against the concept of allowing members of non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc) to practice their religions freely in your country?  If against, why?
d.     For or against the concept of multi-lingual services in your country, such as multi-lingual signs or announcements in public places?  If against, why?
4.     From an environmental standpoint, do you believe we should practice more conservation principles, or spend money on researching renewable fuel sources, such as solar or wind?  Why?
5.     With regards to charities, many conservative Christians will donate to religious organizations or other organizations with significant religious fundamentals.  As a conservative atheist, what conservative charities or organizations that are commonly funded by religious conservatives do you support and/or donate to, and why?
6.     Do you feel that education needs to be more regulated, meaning, made more affordable and accessible for all ages, not just college-level?  Why?
a.     Speaking of college-level, do you feel there should be student loan or debt reform?  Why/why not?
7.     Are you for or against capital punishment, such as the death penalty?  Why or why not?
8.     Even though you have no beliefs as an atheist, do you still feel that there should be prayer in schools or that students even as young as primary school-age should be taught religious fundamentals or concepts?  If yes, what should and should not be taught?
9.     Going on that same concept, should private religious schools receive any state or federal funding, whether in the form of grants or cash funding, or through special tax incentives?  Again, explain where the line should be drawn.

I know you already answered many of the questions above, but if you don’t mind, please put your answers in here again so I can keep it all in once place.  Additionally, I know some of your answers are more left-leaning based on your email below, but if you were ever right-leaning on these topics previously in your life but while you still considered yourself atheist, please explain why you felt that way as well.

I truly, greatly appreciate your help with this research.  If all goes well, I’ll probably be submitting this to larger, more public organizations as a somewhat informal study that others may hopefully expand upon.

Feel free to keep in contact at any time if you’d like to contribute.  I plan on having a podcast and fully functional blog/forum site up and running by October.  You can preview everything atwww.waronidiots.com if you’d like.

Thank you, Jack, for everything you’ve contributed so far.  

—Josh

***

from: Jack Parker 
to: War On Idiots
date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 11:55 AM
subject: Re: Atheism and Conservatism
1.     Pro-life or pro-choice?  If pro-life, why?

Pro choice. This is an issue that divides libertarian types every bit as much as it divides the rest of the country, and for the same reason: because we (society) don't have a clear conception or agreed upon definition of where life, an individual, begins. For some, the life inside has the full rights of an individual that mustn't be violated. I don't agree with that, because again, where do you draw the line? A heartbeat? Motor neuron function? Cells in mitosis? I think most of the struggle about this goes back to religious conceptions of life, whether the person arguing is actively religious or not. It's like a residue on their thought process. Just as Sam Harris brilliantly deconstructed the ridiculous argument of "souls in a petrie dish," I would apply that to "Constitutional rights in a petrie dish." Do frozen embryos have Constitutional rights? It's just silly.
I'm also pro choice from a societal standpoint. In "Freakonomics," (which, if you haven't read it, you most definitely should), Leavitt and Dubner forward the shocking, but extremely compelling, hypothesis that the enormous drop in crime that we saw in the 90's resulted largely from the legalization of abortion in the 70's. The unwanted children of the 70's simply weren't born to grow up to be the criminals of the 90's. If you stop to consider the circumstances of a woman seeking abortion, she is usually either a teen, drug addicted, unmarried, poor, uneducated, or just simply unwilling to be a parent; those circumstances are the perfect breeding ground for children who will grow up at a huge disadvantage and maybe turn to addiction or crime. Elsewhere in the book, Leavitt and Dubner discuss which activities truly, provably give kids a "head start" in life. They found that none of them--baby Mozart, sports, music lessons, ballet, etc--mattered nearly as much as the fact that the child had parents who cared enough to do those things for their kids. A woman whose attitudes or circumstances push her in the direction of having an abortion is *precisely not that.* Why would you want to force them into having children--aside from the violation of her individual rights over her own body--only to have those children ill cared for? It's lunacy.
My ultimate hope is that science will eventually offer us a technological answer to this issue. If a doctor could, during immunization say, give babies--male and female--a shot that genetically turns off reproductive functionality until such time that that individual, as an adult, makes the conscious choice to go to the doctor and have the shot that turns it back on again, I think that would be ideal.

a.     Additionally, if pro-life, are you also against companies (i.e. Hobby Lobby) being mandated to provide insurance coverage for specific women’s health needs like contraception?  If so, why?


I'll try not to get into my myriad problems with Obamacare, which would be another email mini-novel. (Why is our health care still tied to our employer? That's an archaic holdover from WWII that Obamacare *could* have fixed had their objective really been to *fix* the health care system, not take it over.) There are a couple of things I should qualify first. One, Hobby Lobby *does* provide insurance that covers most contraception. It's just a couple of types that they (incorrectly) believe to be abortifacient that they had a problem with. Second, their whole stance is really bullshit. It was later shown that, through their employee's 401k program, they are already heavily invested in companies that make the very drugs and devices they claimed to be against, so.. yeah. I think the whole fiasco was really more about opposing Obamacare generally, and using religion as a device to do it. But whatever. Let's just pretend it was all about their religious objection.

Hobby Lobby, as a private business, shouldn't be *forced* to provide anything, just as an individual shouldn't be forced to do things. Religious reasons, to me, are the most stupid and inadequate of reasons for doing, or not doing, anything. That said, their reasons don't really matter. Not forcing someone else to pay for your birth control is not the same thing as that someone else denying you access to birth control. Your employer isn't mandated to provide you with groceries, but that doesn't deny you access to groceries--you just have to pay for them yourself, like you do with every other thing in life. I may think that their reasoning is fallacious and asinine, but not enough to use the force of law to compel them to conform to my way of thinking.

2.     Are you for or against marriage equality (more commonly known as “gay marriage”)?  If against, why?

I don't believe that the government should be involved in marriage, gay, straight, or otherwise. That said, I am very much in support of marriage equality. As with being pro choice, there are individual and societal reasons. I support it as a matter of individual rights, of course. Denying someone the right to be married to the person(s) they love on the basis of their sexuality is as abhorrent as denying it on the basis of race. As the (s) suggests, I am also in favor of poly marriages. If you want to do the whole "sister wives" thing, more power to you. As long as you're all consenting adults and it's not some cult where the leader is marrying 12 year olds, knock yourself out. It's none of my business.
Marriage is also important in terms of fostering societal stability and raising children who are well adjusted, which leads me into one of my views that you might regard as more "conservative": I think the *ideal* marriage in terms of providing a family unit for children, is between a man and a woman. Men and women each conspicuously have certain things, tangible and intangible, to impart to a child. You get certain things from mommy that you just can't get from daddy, and vice versa. I think a child ideally should have the benefit of both in an intact family unit. Is this to say that a child can't grow up loved and cared for and well adjusted and turn out just fine as the ward of a gay couple or a poly family unit? Of course not. But I do believe that, all other things being equal (and that is an important qualification), having a mommy and a daddy who are present and actively involved is ideal.

3.     With regards to immigration, are you:
a.     For or against amnesty for children of parents from impoverished countries?  If against, why?

I am against amnesty. Obviously, I feel for people in impoverished circumstances in other countries, but importing them to the US and further straining our already overstrained resources is not the answer. I would actually favor a Constitutional amendment that closes the "anchor baby" loophole in our immigration system. We are the only country that grants the babies born to foreign parents on our soil citizenship rights, and it's ludicrous. We cannot be the world's welfare any more than we can be its policeman. Those resources just don't exist. What those people really need is a country with free markets and the rule of law, but we can't help them with that, either. They have to do that themselves.

b.     For or against closing off every border and the entire visa system with regards to allowing immigrants to legally come to your country?  If against, why?

I am not for closing off the border, I am for *controlling* the border, which is something we are clearly failing miserably at now. That is particularly disturbing since (if you've taken PoliSci 101) having control of one's borders is one of the fundamental requirements of being considered a sovereign state. I am absolutely pro *legal* immigration. The more the merrier. Cultural, political, ethnic, genetic, and intellectual diversity makes us stronger as a whole. I am all for streamlining the immigration and naturalization process, as well as the visa system, to make legal immigration more accessible.
But we *must* have greater control over our borders. This is more urgent than ever in an age where we have Mexican drug cartels entering our southern border more or less at will and killing or kidnapping American citizens and law enforcement officers. That is absolutely unacceptable. In response to this incursion, the administration put up *signs* to warn *Americans* not to go into certain places. In our own country, we can't travel to certain places because of the threat of harm from foreign invaders. That is *insane*. It is also important, of course, in the age of terrorism, where terrorists can just sneak right in with who knows what.

c.     For or against the concept of allowing members of non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc) to practice their religions freely in your country?  If against, why?

I am absolutely for the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment, and I am actually much more relaxed about this than a lot of my fellow atheists. As long as religion is nowhere near government or the classroom, I don't care. I think religion corrupts people's moral sense and their reasoning ability, but as long as they don't try to get their beliefs legislated as law or taught in the classroom, and your religious practices don't endanger anyone but yourself (like animal sacrifices or not taking your kid to the hospital), then have at it.

d.     For or against the concept of multi-lingual services in your country, such as multi-lingual signs or announcements in public places?  If against, why?

For and against. Signs are fine. There obviously needs to be some accommodation for people visiting and working here on a temporary basis. For citizenship, I do believe that some rudimentary command of English should be required. If you can't fill out a driver's license application in English, I do not want you beside me on the freeway! I think this is par for the course in other countries. If I'm visiting France or Germany, I don't think anyone would expect me to really learn French or German. If I'm emigrating there to live permanently, I think everyone would expect that I learn French or German, and not expect the whole country to have to offer everything in English just to suit me.

4.     From an environmental standpoint, do you believe we should practice more conservation principles, or spend money on researching renewable fuel sources, such as solar or wind?  Why?

If by "we," you mean as individuals, then yes. If you mean "we" as in the government should be paying to do it or subsidize it, then no. If a practice, a technology, or a business is truly efficient and self sustaining, it does not need to be subsidized. (I am against government subsidies for anything--we throw away billions of (borrowed) dollars on corporate welfare, and it needs to end.) Renewable energy technologies are a foregone conclusion. Energy companies are not stupid, and entrepreneurs are always looking for the new technology that will make them millionaires. That's the beauty of the free market. As fossil resources become more scarce, and the cost of refining increases, the cost of gas will increase. Prices are a signal to the market, both for people to conserve on their own (no government force needed), and for innovators to find better ways to utilize resources and find alternatives (no subsidies needed).
As an example, people used to widely use whale oil for light, heating, and cooking. It resulted in a mass culling of those beautiful creatures, endangering them as a species. What stopped that? It wasn't anti whaling laws or government subsidies. It was the discovery of the incredible utility of crude oil. Land with oil under it used to be considered worthless, because you couldn't farm on it. Now, of course, land with oil under it is the most valuable land there is. Similarly, gasoline used to be considered a waste product produced when refining kerosene from crude. They actually used to dump it in landfill or rivers. Was that stopped by regulation or government subsidies into alternate fuels for kerosene? No. The internal combustion engine came along, and those who tinkered with it found it to be a superb fuel. The rest is history. The same thing will happen with alternative energy. Electric cars are already getting better and cheaper. Tinkerers are working on "solar freakin' roadways"--a ridiculous idea on SO many levels, but it shows the innovation that is happening out there every day.

5.     With regards to charities, many conservative Christians will donate to religious organizations or other organizations with significant religious fundamentals.  As a conservative atheist, what conservative charities or organizations that are commonly funded by religious conservatives do you support and/or donate to, and why?

I tend to donate to places like the EFF, FRFF, Sam Harris' Reason Foundation, or those Red Cross "text this number to donate $10 to disaster relief for hurricane Whoever" things. I have also donated clothes and stuff to the Salvation Army. I'm okay with charity of any stripe, provided that it is true charity and not some scam to line people's pockets. Charities with a religious component, where organizations might proselytize along with their charitable activities, are not ideal, but it still beats the government stealing tax money or borrowing from China to accomplish the same thing.
The Great Society really decimated private charity in American society. Prior to the growth of the welfare state, there existed in the country small networks of neighborhood aid programs called "mutual aid societies." These networks were local, neighborhood based charity initiatives who actually had personal contact with the people they helped, and knew whether they were people who were genuinely in need or a helping hand, or just needed a kick in the ass. We could use a lot more of that today. I would hope that secular organizations would be the ones to do it, but if it's the religious ones, then so be it.

6.     Do you feel that education needs to be more regulated, meaning, made more affordable and accessible for all ages, not just college-level?  Why?

I think the question has a false premise in it. More regulation does not (as it clearly has not) translated into greater access and affordability of education as a whole. We spend more per student than every other country, and clearly have not gotten better results. We have initiated massively expensive programs like Head Start and No Child Left Behind, and have not gotten better results. The problem is not access or money; the entire educational system needs to be reformed.
The whole approach to teaching children needs to be completely upended. Technology seems to be making inroads here. Places like Khan Academy, and universities offering free online courses, are just the start. Education needs to be made more individualized, and we need to do away with this regimented, one-size-fits-all archaic system we inherited from the Prussians. The rise of homeschooling--which is being embraced more widely everyday by people who aren't religious nutters--and the outstanding scores of homeschooled and charter schooled kids on standardized tests in contrast to their public (government) schooled counterparts, would seem to testify to this fact.
a.     Speaking of college-level, do you feel there should be student loan or debt reform?  Why/why not?

Yes. They need to get rid of it. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. In economics, you cannot just look at the intended consequences of a policy, you have to look at the unintended consequences as well. The intention to get more people into college is noble. What has actually happened is that college matriculation and graduation rates haven't changed all that much, and that education costs have skyrocketed. Tuition has gone up over 700% in the last decade. Why? Because government guaranteed student loans are just another form of corporate welfare. Colleges and universities are business that get paid by the head. The more students they have, the more money they get.
So to compete with the colleges and universities elsewhere for students, they build big new rec facilities (like the crazy one at Mizzou with a lazy river, a day spa, a sushi bar, and a gym with spinning classes and a rock wall) and offer other amenities. They have to pay for that somehow, so they raise fees. Government sees that loans aren't keeping up with fees, so they increase loan amounts. Universities see increased loan amounts, so they can up their fees! And on and on! It's a vicious cycle. Tuition is *more* unaffordable *because* government subsidizes it. Unintended consequence, but a consequence nonetheless. If colleges and universities had to compete for the more meager resources of individuals and families, they would have to lower fees and become more competitive to do so. Students may not get a day spa or a rock wall, but they might just get an affordable education and not have to spend half their working life in debt when it's done.
We also need to rid ourselves of this mentality that college is the only road to success. This country is hurting for skilled tradesmen and women. Welders, builders, plumbers, electricians, and such can make an outstanding living--far better, in many case, than many college majors. Not every kid is college bound, so instead of trying to steer every kid into college, the option of trade school should be presented as a far more viable option. Working with your hands should not be sneered at, as we seem to do today. If you MUST have student loans, they should cover trade schools, not just college. Mike Rowe (from Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs") is doing great work spreading the word about this, and has even established the WORKS scholarship.

7.     Are you for or against capital punishment, such as the death penalty?  Why or why not?

Morally, I'm for it. Practically, I'm against it. If some freak kidnaps, tortures, and murders a 9 year old girl, I don't think we need him in the gene pool. He is never going to be "rehabilitated." He needs to be put down like a dog with rabies. I can't fathom a good moral reason why a heinous murderer should continue to eat, draw breath, exercise in the yard, see the sun, and even write books and fall in love, when his victim(s) will never do those things.
The practical application of that, however, is problematic. Entrusting the state with the power to kill people is a dodgy prospect at best. How many death row cases have been overturned due to the discovery of new DNA evidence? The possibility that the state could execute the wrong man is a very real one. Also, because of our system, which allows people to languish on death row for years, if not decades, filing appeal after appeal after appeal, it actually ends up costing more to finally execute someone than it does to just throw them in a hole for life. So morally, I'm all for it, but without some serious reform practically, it's a non-starter.

8.     Even though you have no beliefs as an atheist, do you still feel that there should be prayer in schools or that students even as young as primary school-age should be taught religious fundamentals or concepts?  If yes, what should and should not be taught?

Prayer or religious teaching as organized by the (public) school? No. (Private schools are a different matter.) Prayer or religious teaching as organized by the students themselves, like if they want to have a prayer group during lunch or a Christian club or something? Sure. Again (running theme here), as long as it isn't being perpetrated or paid for or specifically endorsed by the state, I'm fine with it. A student praying during breaks is fine. A teacher leading students in prayer in the classroom? Not fine.
I am also okay with teaching the Bible (or Quran, or whatever) in a religious studies class, or as a part of history or literature. One can teach *about* religions and religious texts and their place in the historical and literary lexicon without proselytizing.

9.     Going on that same concept, should private religious schools receive any state or federal funding, whether in the form of grants or cash funding, or through special tax incentives?  Again, explain where the line should be drawn.

Putting aside the earlier points about the state and its disastrous effect on education as an enterprise, be it religious or secular, no. Religious schools should not receive state funding. At least, not directly. In the context of our current broken education system, I am in favor of vouchers. If parents want to take their vouchers and send the kid to a religious school, that's their business. It's not a perfect fix, but until the educational system gets the massive reforms it needs, parents need to have the opportunity to send their kids to decent schools, not just be stuck with the shitty school in their district. And the competition between schools that would necessarily arise might just help to bring about the needed reform.
---
Would you be okay with me reposting these emails on my blog at http://jacksrantspace.blogspot.com? This covers a lot of territory I've been meaning to address in future posts, and this seems like a great way to kill two birds with one stone. If you have any further questions, or need clarification, please feel free to ask.

-Jack

***

from: War On Idiots
to: Jack Parker
date: Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 12:04 AM
subject: Re: Atheism and Conservatism

You are, beyond any question, an absolutely brilliant mind.


In fact, in a way, you almost made me feel rather stupid and uneducated with how you broke everything down so intricately. This will take me at least a few days to process everything and even though the viewpoints you’ve posted are mostly in line with progressive and liberal ideologies, you still have brought up a few points at which some conservative-minded individuals will give a nod.


I do have a few points I’d like to clarify, however.


I have not read “Freakonomics,” as I don’t really read as much as I should. Between working two jobs and being a full time student at 31 years of age, I don’t have much spare time for anything, from reading to actually contributing to my own web site. I will graduate from school with my Bachelor’s in IT Management on October 1st, which coincidentally is the anticipated release date of my first podcast. I have two people working on content for the site, and I have now officially given one of them a homework assignment of reading “Freakonomics” from cover to cover. Most of my own personal reading comes from synopses of readings on Penn’s Sunday School, or another small handful of podcasts that regularly stream to my phone at my desk at work. Having said that, another topic I’m working on closely is inner city crime rate spikes with regards to minorities, such as black-on-black crime. (I live in Maryland and work near Baltimore, so much of the culture of the Baltimore suburbs could fit the stereotype that you’d expect.) If Leavitt and Dubner’s claims have any weight, I’m extremely curious to how that could be applied to the aforementioned concept.


Your answer to 1a caught the exact point that I was trying to make. I intentionally worded that question (with the help of someone else’s input) to not imply that Hobby Lobby already provides contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans because there are many individuals who are ignorant to your callout that the coverage exists, but doesn’t extend to all forms of contraception. I’m personally aware that there are only four or five forms of contraception that are not covered because of the company’s “religious beliefs,” but to your point that the legal battle was more to challenge the ACA is also accurate. I have a bookmark somewhere in my research about this topic that shows that Hobby Lobby’s owners had a sudden come-to-Jesus meeting before the ACA challenge was issued. Prior to the challenge, Hobby Lobby didn’t actually have the religion-heavy principles they claimed to have during the various lawsuits. I’ll dig up that link at some point.


Anyway, you actually answered that question correctly, considering it was an opinion question.


Your second answer that leads more toward a conservative viewpoint of a traditional family unit raising a child is actually the answer I was expecting to receive from this questionnaire. Religious fundamentalists will use the Bible to describe marriage between a man and a woman. Conservative fundamentalists who don’t use the Bible as a basis for their ideals will still stand by the “traditional” nuclear family model of mommy, daddy, and 2.33 children per child-bearing woman. Conservatives tend to stick to traditions, even if these traditions are based primarily from religious backgrounds. I’m expecting to see this response regularly from various individuals, and while that sort of incites bias, I’m having difficulty coming up with any other explanation as to why a conservative would be against same-sex marriages.


3a’s response is a rather conservative response, if you line it up with typical conservative values. Truth be told, I’m against the entitlements and handouts that our country offers as part of the amnesty program, but I do have a small soft spot for the less fortunate kids that are sent over the border from the south to find a better life here in this country.


3b brings up an interesting story. Film director Robert Rodriguez told a story on the Opie and Anthony Show on SiriusXM (prior to Anthony Cumia’s firing in early July) about his father being kidnapped for ransom by a Mexican cartel. He was very candid about the story and didn’t seem to be uncomfortable telling some of the details of the incident, but that story kind of changed my feelings on how we operate our borders to the south. The drug cartels and other trafficking that occurs along that border are more out of hand than I think our own government realizes, and while I don’t think sealing the border is the answer, I agree with you that controlling that border more closely is the answer. Instead of spending the money on the extremely liberal amnesty programs we have, we should instead invest that money into controlling the borders, but with careful consideration to the kids that wander toward the border. I don’t think turning them away is the answer, but there has to be some alternative solution. This is a topic that I’ve put on the back burner as it doesn’t have much to do with the religious (or lack thereof) research I’m performing at the moment, but it’s worth exploring later.


3c: I just saw the Family Guy episode recently with the kid whose parents believe that faith will heal him, but Lois kidnaps the kid to get him medical attention. This corruption of moral sense that stems from an extremist’s view of religion is exactly what needs to be addressed. Freedom of religion: absolutely. Freedom of ignorance as a result of religion: fuck no.


3d was more to instigate the topic of “I shouldn’t have to learn your language if you come here; you should learn ours instead.” The United States does not have an official language. English is not the official language of our country, contrary to the belief of conservative extremists. The statement of “I shouldn’t have to press 1 for English” is a completely invalid argument because of this premise of not having an official language, and the movements that are pushing to make English the official language are ludicrous at best.


I’m thinking about rephrasing question 4 since it deals more with fiscal conservatism than social. I’m trying to word it so that I can get a conservative’s response about why they’re against renewable energy sources. I know there isn’t much of a tie to religious backing here, but I intend to use it as a benchmark. I’m curious to hear your input on this.


Question 5’s response touched on community-based charities, and that reminds me of The Chive. Yes, The Chive is a group of people who focus on gorgeous women, great beer, and a culture of “Keep calm & chive on” mentalities (with the occasional douchebaggery that comes with sausage-fests), but with that culture comes the frequent occurrences of RAKs, or “Random Acts of Kindness.” The Chive has state-specific chapters who organize charity drives for various causes, which reminds me of your local neighborhood charities or “mutual aid societies.” If other groups existed like The Chive, I feel that these mutual aid societies would grow and flourish if enough individuals would participate. Growing that mentality to encourage participation in these groups is the real challenge, especially with the growing Welfare State that we’re experiencing.


The education dilemma in question 6 is a full novel of opinions, facts, and suggestions that are far too much to type out in an Outlook window after I just got done working a 12 hour shift at my office. I’ve read your response to that question two and a half times, and I really need to analyze and dig deeper into your response. I see your point though about the regulation, but that’s why I implied more regulation in education: to incite a response against the regulation that conservatives typically will fight against. I was told once, if I can’t afford the education, to simply not get said education. Today’s society doesn’t allow for young adults to hold career positions without that 11x14 piece of parchment, which is why I’ll be 32 years old when I finally obtain that piece of parchment. I’m $50k in the hole because of my education, which is why I so adamantly fight for education reform.


Capital punishment has its flaws, but less today than decades ago. DNA evidence that was found after a convicted murderer was executed has been proven to exonerate these individuals from their crimes, but it’s only been the past decade and a half that this technology has become extremely accurate. Throwing a guy on death row is more expensive than just locking him up for life, but that same logic applies to housing homeless people with subsidized housing rather than caring for those on the streets… subsidize housing for those who refuse to work (I firmly do not believe that people can’t work, I feel firmly that they choose not to work) and give them the entitlements of living for free, or let them die on the streets from their laziness. Compare that to throwing someone on death row and have decades of appeals and taking up the tax dollars for prosecution, or lock them up for the rest of their lives and let them die in an 8x8 cell… it’s a highly unusual situation with valid arguments on both sides from an economic standpoint. Morals, however, shouldn’t apply since the scumbag had no morals when he committed his crime.


Religious teachings in schools get a little hairy, as religious studies should focus on the multiple interpretations of religion, not the opinion of the person writing the curriculum. Ironically, I feel that religion should be taught by an atheist, someone who has no bias, but is educated in religion. More to come on this topic.


Religious private schools are generally reserved (at least, around here in Maryland) for those with the funds in their personal bank accounts to send their kids to these schools. An argument exists that those less fortunate should still be afforded the opportunity to send their kids to the overpriced private schools through some kind of voucher program, but the inaccurate statement of private schools providing better educations than public schools will cause parents to overflow the private schools and create the same problem that public schools have in some areas: overcrowding. For this reason, I don’t feel that vouchers are the answer, but both sides of any political spectrum will argue both sides of the argument simultaneously… ergo, the catch-22 of subsidized schooling.


Much more can be said about all of these topics, but you’ve given me significant content that I need to pick apart and digest before putting it all into a more formal report, once I receive more data from other sources.


Lastly, you are absolutely welcome to post these emails on your site, provided that any identifying information is removed. For the time being, I’m trying to keep all of this anonymous until I can compile all of this information. The podcast and website that I’m putting together are also somewhat based on anonymity, and contributors will only be identified on a first-name basis, sometimes a false first name if requested. While I intend to cause controversy in my posts and statements, I don’t feel ready just yet to expose my identity on this site as published words can always come back to bite a person in the proverbial ass. If the site and podcast attract a decent audience, I may identify myself… but for now, I’d rather stay unknown.


Please keep in touch with anything you feel would be of valuable contribution to this concept. I’m always willing to accept content from all sides and sources, provided the content is legitimate and any claims can be backed up with credible evidence.


—Josh
***

from: Jack Parker 
to: War On Idiots
date: Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 8:40 PM
subject:
 Re: Atheism and Conservatism
I sincerely thank you for the compliment. I expect I know a few people who might question that unquestionable fact. :-)

Yes, since these questions mostly dealt with social issues, my positions more closely map onto the "liberal" (or what passes for liberal) framework. Were our conversations to stray toward economics or foreign policy, you would see my position more closely adhere to the conservative end of the spectrum (at least, their stated positions--their follow through is a different matter).

I definitely understand not having time to read. I also work full time and go to school, which is why I am reliant on audiobooks. My commute is my "reading" time. Congratulations on your impending graduation!

Freakonomics also has a podcast that is well worth listening to. They apply economic theory--particularly incentives and disincentives--to all kinds of stuff that you would never associate with economics (hence the "freaky" part), like marriage, sports, kids' names, twitter, child test scores, you name it. Another excellent source for classical liberal political and economic info is learnliberty.org. Lots of great videos and seminars.

Best of luck in your project!

-Jack