May 30, 2011

Amazing. We're winning a "soft war" and we don't even know we're fighting it...

In Censorship Move, Iran Plans Its Own, Private Internet -

Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world....

...The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the "soft war."...

...Few think that Iran could completely cut its links to the wider Internet. But it could move toward a dual-Internet structure used in a few other countries with repressive regimes.

Myanmar said last October that public Internet connections would run through a separate system controlled and monitored by a new government company, accessing theoretically just Myanmar content. It's introducing alternatives to popular websites including an email service, called Ymail, as a replacement for Google Inc.'s Gmail.

Cuba, too, has what amounts to two Internets--one that connects to the outside world for tourists and government officials, and the other a closed and monitored network, with limited access, for public use. North Korea is taking its first tentative steps into cyberspace with a similar dual network, though with far fewer people on a much more rudimentary system....

Nothing says "loser" like trying to keep information out. Here's a couple of tips, amigos. If you are trying to preserve something, it's dead. Like the French language. Things have to sell themselves. You have to have something desirable to offer in the marketplace of ideas.

I sympathize keenly with the losers. (The old cultures, I mean. Not to tinpot tyrants in places like Cuba.) I'm kind of a loser myself, since the art and ideas and culture I love and somewhat dwell in has been swept away by newer tides. [Link, link, link]. But I'm also "reality-based," and have no illusions about telling the tide not to roll over me...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:52 AM

May 29, 2011

"Go out to the highways and hedges"

This is not today's reading. But I was reading the gospel of Luke the other day, and it really struck me as an extraordinary story, from an extraordinary person. One gets so accustomed to Bible stories that it's easy to become numb to how strange and thrilling they are...

...But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'

So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.'

And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'" (Luke 14: 16-24)
Posted by John Weidner at 12:12 PM

May 26, 2011

"A false sense of separation"

'We Don't Ask Your Sons and Daughters to Die on Our Soil' - By David French - The Corner - National Review Online:

...Serving a year in Iraq's Diayala Province with the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, I was exposed to our jihadist enemy at close range. I saw their tactics, I learned their mindset, and we all experienced their absolute depravity. In conversations with Israelis who've been on the front lines of their own fight with Hamas and Hezbollah, the same themes and tactics emerge.

"We would track them and as they ran, they'd grab children by the arms and pull them along for protection."

"They traveled in ambulances, and fired out the back."

"Their weapons are hidden in mosques and they put missiles in the courtyards of schools."

And, most haunting of all:

"My friends died protecting Palestinian civilians, while their whole purpose is to kill our women and children."

Yet again and again we treat the "Israeli-Palestinian" conflict as if it is separate and apart from our own war against jihadists. We tell ourselves that Israel's conflict can be solved by the right signatures on the right pieces of paper when we hold no similar illusions for our own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, we understand that the only prelude to real peace is victory over the jihadists. But when it comes to the Israelis, president after president — Republican and Democrat — works to stay Israel's hand.

Why the difference? Perhaps one answer can be found in the title of this post. In a particularly memorable meeting, a high-ranking official was describing Israel's friendship with America, and he added: "We don't ask your sons and daughters to die on our soil. We believe we can and should defend ourselves with our own soldiers. Your soldiers are in Europe, in Japan, in Korea, and elsewhere in the Middle East, but not here."

While this fierce independence has spared American presidents from making hard decisions regarding American lives, perhaps it has also created a false sense of separation. Without that shared sacrifice and shared experience we fail to understand our common enemy....

I've heard conservatives say we should support Israel because they are "reliable allies." Or because we should support free and tolerant countries. All true, but that's not the reason. Israel is us. It was founded by very ordinary people with an extra-ordinary dream. Pioneers who fled from under the control of European elites, and carved out a new nation from a wilderness, under the attacks of savages.

We can no more not defend Israel, than we can not defend Alaska.

Australia is somewhat similar, but they only separated from Britain in the 20th century. Their defining moment was a war fought for the crown, not against it!

* Update: Walter Russell Mead:

...Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.

It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted.

Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don't 'get' Israel also don't 'get' America and don't 'get' God. Obama's political isolation on this issue, and the haste with which liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi left the embattled President to take the heat alone, testify to the pervasive sense in American politics that Israel is an American value. Said the Minority Leader to the Prime Minister: "I think it's clear that both sides of the Capitol believe you advance the cause of peace."...
Posted by John Weidner at 6:54 AM

May 22, 2011

"All men need guilt feelings..."

This is from a very interesting piece, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Conscience and Truth, Presented at the 10th Workshop for Bishops February 1991 Dallas, Texas:

...What I was only dimly aware of in this conversation became glaringly clear a little later in a dispute among colleagues about the justifying power of the erroneous conscience. Objecting to this thesis, someone countered that if this were so then the Nazi SS would be justified and we should seek them in heaven since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience. Another responded with utmost assurance that of course this was indeed the case. There is no doubting the fact that Hitler and his accomplices who were deeply convinced of their cause, could not have acted otherwise. Therefore, the objective terribleness of their deeds notwithstanding, they acted morally, subjectively speaking. Since they followed their albeit mistaken consciences, one would have to recognize their conduct as moral and, as a result, should not doubt their eternal salvation.

Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false. For, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom do not justify man. Some thirty years later, in the terse words of the psychologist, Albert Gorres, I found summarized the perceptions I was trying to articulate. The elaboration of these insights forms the heart of this address.

Gorres shows that the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make-up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self- satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain which signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, a "living corpse, a dramatic character's mask," as Gorres says. "Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did not have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings ... All men need guilt feelings."...

(This fits with this piece, on Newman's view of conscience as the ability to see truth.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:53 AM

Proxy wars...

Re: Obama's Mania for the "Peace Process"� — Commentary Magazine:

...By throwing in the 1967 borders as the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, he effectively drowns out his fairly inspiring vision for democratic change in the Arab world. But probably the most glaring lapse in the speech wasn't his call for specific borders; it was his failure to apply his own calls for democracy to the Palestinian regime.

What could have been more natural than to place his own conditions for Palestinian statehood, and to tie them directly to his democratic vision? Rather than just echoing Israel's demands for security and recognition, why not say clearly: Any Palestinian state will have to truly respect the rights of its citizens, to stop oppressing gays and Christians, to extend the same basic human rights to all that America expects of the other Arab states? To affirm equality before the law, freedom of speech and religion, and all the other "core principles" he set forth for Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain?

The absence of such words, just moments after they were invoked for the other Arab states, raises very uncomfortable questions. Are Palestinians less worthy of such basic rights than other Arabs? Or is the prospect of ensuring them so dim that the President is willing to abandon his own principles and endorse any peace deal between Israel and the PA regime, regardless of where it leaves Palestinians themselves?...

Please tell me if you think I'm crazy (or wrong or stupid or misguided), but it seems glaringly obvious that the purpose of the "Palestinians" is to be proxy Jew-haters. I think anti-Semitism is just as common as it was before WWII, but it's no longer quite as socially acceptable. Polite people no longer kill Jews; instead they pay Palestinians—in the form of foreign aid—to do it for them.

Jew hating used to be associated with the political Right, now it's common on the Left. Why? Because it's always the losers who hate the Jews. (I use the word "loser" in the American slang sense, ie. "I hope she doesn't marry that guy, he's such a loser.")

My guess is that even if Obama really believes in democracy in the Arab world (one doubts) it would never occur to him to include the Palestinians. Just as it never occurs to people like him that a "peace process" that goes on for decades without producing any peace is crazy. It doesn't seem crazy to them because the "peace process" is just a disguise for the keep-killing-Jews process.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 AM

May 20, 2011

iPhone delights...

Here's a little bit of the fun I'm having with my iPhone. The first picture is my home screen. If you click on the icon "Photos," you will find not only the expected photos of my children, pets, trips etc. But also my art galleries. I've been inspired by this marvelous little machine to systematically collect all the images which give me delight. (Not just in the category "art," but that's what I'm writing about today.)

The second screen is one of my albums. Shin Hanga means "new prints." It is an early 20th century Japanese movement, a new wave of woodblock printing. The artist is Yoshida Hiroshi, one of my favorites. You can see his work here. Cool stuff, eh? You'll notice that some of the images I have are similar to each other. That's because each run of prints tended to be different, so it's interesting to place different impressions adjacent to each other.

iphone screenshots1

I'll put some more below the fold...

If I could be "any artist," Jules Guerin is the guy. 1866 to 1946. (Despite the name, he's an American, from St Louis, and I'd hazard a guess that is name was pronounced, "Jools Goorin," not "Zhool Zhur-AHN.")

Someone described his work as "Art Nouveau combined with meticulous draftsmanship." That to me is about as good as it gets! Real and concrete things, rendered with love, and respect for their true qualities. And at the same time infused with the mysterious profundity and beauty we sometimes glimpse, but can hardly express.

The first image is Guerin's painting of the Arch Of The Rising Sun, in the Court Of The Universe, part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, in San Francisco. (second image is a photo of it.) It has a special meaning for me, because my grandfather, a recent immigrant from Sweden, made his way from Visalia to SF, to see the amazing exhibition. I recently learned that Guerin was the Director of Color for the exhibition, and created a color palette that the entire exhibition had to follow. Right down to the color of the sand spread on the paths! A first in history.

iPhone screenshots, art of Jules Guerin

Check out this page for some good Jules Guerin images. Click on the pictures to get to the large versions.

This is a miscellaneous album that's especially interesting to me for illustrations by Louis Darling of Eleanor Cameron's books, which influenced me in my childhood. That's where the name Random Jottings comes from. (More here.) The enlarged picture was on my first version of this blog, once I grasped that it was possible to add pictures! (My ignorance was profound. For instance, I had no idea one could link to a particular blog-post. But that was in 2001, which in Internet Time is about 70 years ago.)

iPhone screenshots, art of Louis Darling

When I was young, a person would have to be a millionaire to possess the amount of art that I'm carrying on my belt.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 AM

May 16, 2011

Modern art...


Microsoft bought Skype to keep Google from buying Skype.

Notice I didn't mention Apple. In terms of being the baddest MoFo in the market Apple has no peer, but Apple is following its own very different course. Apple isn't the next Microsoft, you see. Apple is not the next anything because the role it aspires to transcends anything imaginable by Microsoft, ever. Google is the next Microsoft, so Google is seen by Ballmer as the immediate threat — the one he has a hope in hell of actually doing something about.
This is Cringely at his best. I think he's nailed something true: Ballmer doesn't now and never has understood Apple. He doesn't understand what Apple does, what it aspires to, or what consumers see that's so appealing about Apple's products. But he understands Google, including the ways that Google's products threaten Microsoft's.

Remember when Ballmer made a fool of himself in 2007 by laughing about the iPhone's prospects? That's because he didn't get it. It wasn't just bluster or spin — I think he truly believed that "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share." I don't recall him ever exhibiting a similar blind spot regarding Google. That's not to say he knows what to do about Google, just that he at least understands it...

Actually it fascinates me how many people don't "get" what Apple is up to. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I've "drunk the Steve Jobs Kool Aid." Actually I now have—Ta Dah!—an iPhone, and I didn't even go into our nearby Apple Store to get it. I asked Charlene to pick it up at the Verizon store near her office.)

What is an iPhone? It's a work of art. When art historians of the future write about 21st century art, this will be on the cover of the book. And the filth and garbage in our "museums of modern art" will be forgotten.

Jobs and Jonathan Ive and their crew are the real artists of our time.

I should write a post on what I'm doing with me little gadget, just in case anybody's interested. Soon.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:10 PM

May 14, 2011

"I'm the troublemaker. That's my role in life. I'm the class clown..."

I recommend Converting Mamet: A playwright's progress by Andrew Ferguson:

..."They were highly polemical, angry books," [Rabbi Mordecai] Finley said. "They were very big on sympathy and compassion but really they weren't"—he looked for the word—"they simply weren't logically coherent. And Dave [Mamet] is very logical in his thinking. Dave thought What's the Matter with Kansas? had the answer for why people could even think to vote for a Republican—it's because they're duped by capitalist fat cats. I tried to tell him that people really weren't that stupid. They just have other interests, other values. They're values voters.

"That's one thing he began to see: The left flattens people, reduces people to financial interests. Dave's an artist. He knew people are deeper than that."

Before long, when Finley didn't budge, the books from Mamet stopped arriving, and Finley asked if he could send Mamet some books too. One of the first was A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution. In it Sowell expands on the difference between the "constrained vision" of human nature—close to the tragic view that infuses Mamet's greatest plays—and the "unconstrained vision" of man's endless improvement that suffused Mamet's politics and the politics of his profession and social class.

"He came back to me stunned. He said, 'This is incredible!' He said, 'Who thinks like this? Who are these people?' I said, 'Republicans think like this.' He said, 'Amazing.'"...

Another morsel...

...When I pushed him on the subject, he started talking about Jon Voight, another show business Republican.

One day Voight handed him Witness, the Cold War memoir by the Communist-turned-anti-Communist Whittaker Chambers.

"This book will change your life," Voight told Mamet.

"And he was right," Mamet said. "It had a huge effect on me. Forcing yourself into a new way of thinking about things is a wrenching experience. But first you have to look back and atone. You think, 'Oh my god, what have I done? What was I thinking?' You realize you've been a co-dependent with the herd. And then, when you decide to say what you've discovered, out loud, you take the risk that everyone you know will look on you as a fool."

Sitting on an overstuffed sofa in his office, he threw up his hands.

"But what the hell," he said. "I'm the troublemaker. That's my role in life. I'm the class clown."...


Posted by John Weidner at 7:40 PM

Drill baby, drill....

Somebody's vindicated...:

WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, under pressure from Republicans and the public to bring down gasoline prices, announced new measures on Saturday to expand domestic oil production in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

High fuel prices have dented Obama's ratings in opinion polls and threaten to dampen the economic recovery that is critical to his re-election in 2012....

What fun to see those horrid America-hating weaklings cave in when there's pressure.

Of course Democrat promises are worth nothing, and they will soon find technicalities to avoid any serious expansion of American strength. That goes without saying. But we sure have the wind at our backs.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:14 PM

May 11, 2011

The guy's really clueless...

Wall Street Journal editorial pretty much eliminates Mr Romney... from ever riding on the Cluetrain. Review & Outlook: Obama's Running Mate -

...Like Mr. Obama's reform, RomneyCare was predicated on the illusion that insurance would be less expensive if everyone were covered. Even if this theory were plausible, it is not true in Massachusetts today. So as costs continue to climb, Mr. Romney's Democratic successor now wants to create a central board of political appointees to decide how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for thousands of services.

The Romney camp blames all this on a failure of execution, not of design. But by this cause-and-effect standard, Mr. Romney could push someone out of an airplane and blame the ground for killing him. Once government takes on the direct or implicit liability of paying for health care for everyone, the only way to afford it is through raw political control of all medical decisions.

Mr. Romney's refusal to appreciate this, then and now, reveals a troubling failure of political understanding and principle. The raucous national debate over health care isn't about this or that technocratic detail, but about basic differences over the role of government. In the current debate over Medicare, Paul Ryan wants to reduce costs by encouraging private competition while Mr. Obama wants the cost-cutting done by a body of unelected experts like the one emerging in Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney's fundamental error was assuming that such differences could be parsed by his own group of experts, as if government can be run by management consultants. He still seems to believe he somehow squared the views of Jonathan Gruber, the MIT evangelist for ObamaCare, with those of the Heritage Foundation.

In reality, his ostensible liberal allies like the late Ted Kennedy saw an opening to advance their own priorities, and in Mr. Romney they took advantage of a politician who still doesn't seem to understand how government works. It's no accident that RomneyCare's most vociferous defenders now are in the White House and left-wing media and think tanks. They know what happened, even if he doesn't.

For a potential President whose core argument is that he knows how to revive free market economic growth, this amounts to a fatal flaw. Presidents lead by offering a vision for the country rooted in certain principles, not by promising a technocracy that runs on "data." Mr. Romney's highest principle seems to be faith in his own expertise....

In the Information Age almost everything will need to be self-regulating, simply because almost everything will be too complex for "experts" to parse. Anything that follows the phrase "a central board of political appointees to decide..." will be doomed to failure.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:43 PM

May 5, 2011

I find this flabbergasting...

Gov. Daniels on the Verge - By Ramesh Ponnuru - The Corner - National Review Online:

...His foreign-policy details are TBD. Daniels said that "it cannot be illegitimate to ask"� if some of the country's military commitments should be unwound, but he has not yet reached any conclusions about which should be—or, at least, any he is willing to share. On Afghanistan he refuses to second-guess the decisions of the president, to whose greater access to information he defers. On Libya he says only that he has not seen the case for intervention made. One gets the impression of someone who is much more cautious about foreign intervention than Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, but also cautious about saying so. He was asked if he were ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy. "Probably not." (He is candid.)...

This guy Mitch Daniels is apparently seriously considering running for the Republican nomination. Yet is just AWOL on foreign policy. He can't even fake it! How absurd is that?

I guess it's some weirdness about the personalities of politicians. They get in these situations that a little bit of foresight could have avoided. A few hours of prep could have given Daniels some good foreign policy talking points. (Plus, how can such an obviously intelligent man have simply not thought about these things? Bizarre.)

Similarly, how can Romney have spent gazillions trying for the Republican nomination, yet not bothered to do a little hunting, just to show he can? How can Obama have run without doing a bit of research on what ordinary American people are like? Crazy.

And can you imagine what all the Republican elite types would be saying if Sarah Palin confessed to having no thoughts on foreign policy! Wow!

Posted by John Weidner at 9:45 AM

May 1, 2011

Atheists demand Affirmative Action...

This is just a quick fisking of some sloppy or fallacious arguments. But the real counter-argument is that the authors are sociologists. They are pleading for tolerance of their atheism, but there isn't any sociology department in the country (except maybe in religious colleges) that is tolerant of conservatives or theists. And you will notice that the authors never suggest that respectful debate is of any interest to them. Or seem to have any personal acquaintance with the other side...

Why do Americans still dislike atheists? - The Washington Post:

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don't like much: atheists. [Category error. These things are simply not equivalent. Atheism is a philosophy, none of the others are.] Those who don't believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can't join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently "spiritual" in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens. [Strawman argument. Actually, the more thoughtful of conservative critics present clear arguments FOR the benefits of religious belief on people and societies. None of which you have answered.]

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science [Most of which is done by atheists] research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights [This is a bullshit argument, since you've made your own list of what constitutes morality, and then: surprise! You discover you are moral. ] — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, [Only when YOU get to decide what is "ethical." ] particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious. [This paragraph is a very good argument for forcing "diversity" (diversity of thought, that is) on sociology departments. These fools have obviously never been forced to defend their ideas in debate. They are pampered pets that can't survive out in the jungle! ]
Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon. [Bogus. Japan and Sweden are DYING, you fools. Both of them are in demographic collapse. As are ALL the post-religious states. Your atheism KILLED THEM.]

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. [A bullshit argument, because only high-scoring types take the trouble to define themselves as atheists. The world is thick with stupid atheists, but they don't talk about it.]They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. [Wrong. I live in San Francisco, I know these people, and they are close-minded and fearful. They can't even CONSIDER conservative or Christian ideas. And try to give them a scientific argument against Man-made Global Warming... Ha ha.] They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. [By what authority do you say "nationalistic or ethnocentric" are inferior? Your own, of course. And even if one accepts your list, who defines the terms? You do.] They value freedom of thought. [Try defending Sarah Palin in the sociology department, and you will discover how much atheists value freedom of thought. ]

While many studies show that secular Americans don't fare as well as the religious when it comes to certain indicators of mental health or subjective well-being, new scholarship is showing that the relationships among atheism, theism, and mental health and well-being are complex. [Obfuscation by reference to un-named "studies." What's your divorce rate, sociology boy? ] After all, Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives. [As judged by... themselves.]

Nontheism isn't all balloons and ice cream. Some studies suggest that suicide rates are higher among the non-religious. But surveys indicating that religious Americans are better off can be misleading because they include among the non-religious fence-sitters who are as likely to believe in God, whereas atheists who are more convinced are doing about as well as devout believers. On numerous respected measures of societal success — rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics — high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America. [They have the REAL social ill; they are DEAD. Nobody goes to Germany for exciting ideas, or Sweden for new philosophies. Nobody is worried that Japan or France will become economic colossi. The EU will not launch private spacecraft. No Reagans or Palins or Tea Parties will arise in Italy or Spain. Or San Francisco. The secularist parrot is dead. ]

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren't true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them. So when the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich engage in the politics of division and destruction by maligning atheists, they do so in disregard of reality. [A good example of a lying atheist, since those people do NOT malign atheists. Show us an example!]

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations' tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities. [Atheism is a philosophy, so it is not analogous to minority groups. And for a philosophy, respect of means being willing to debate. To suggest that a philosophy should be exempt from criticism, in the way we often think blacks should not be criticized, is to admit that it is either weak, or perhaps harmful. If the authors really wanted respect for their beliefs they we be saying, "Bring on your strongest criticism, and we will defeat it!" ]

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher in sociology and evolution. Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College, is the author of "Society Without God."
Posted by John Weidner at 9:43 AM