Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Largest…And Most Despised Minority

A friend and I were emailing the other day concerning the political situation here in North Carolina, specifically in regard to how we can replace our Senator Burr in the upcoming election, when my friend jokingly suggested that I run for the position.  My first thought was, well, there was no problem with qualifying ‘cause Burr’s last job prior to the Senate was selling cars.  I was forgetting (for the moment) that I have no political connections to speak of, no money, no backers and no highly placed friends.  Other than that, though there was only one other minor problem:  I happen to live in one of the eight states that absolutely forbids people in the largest minority in the country, to which I belong, from running for any state political office!

Nope, I’m not a felon; in fact I’ve never been arrested or accused of anything.  I have never been diagnosed with any mental disorder, I’m a natural-born citizen of the United States, have lived in North Carolina for almost twenty years, am a Vietnam combat veteran, pay my taxes, vote and drive a pickup truck.  What have I done, you might ask, that is so terrible that the North Carolina Constitution forbids me from running for political office? Continue reading

The Healthfear Crisis

“This is nothing but a government takeover of health care!”  “They will be killing elderly people!”  “They will take away my Medicare!”  “I won’t get to keep my doctor!”  “My health care costs will go up!”  “My taxes will go up!”  “Quality of health care will go down!”  “I’ll have to wait a month to see a doctor!”

This New York Times article indicates that the Republican “Healthfear” blitz is having the desired effect.  The million-and-a-half-a-day the insurance industry is providing for the fight against the plan is certainly being well spent.  The Republicans have two excellent reasons to kill health care reform:

  1. If successful they get to deprive the Obama administration of a major piece of legislation, which they think will gain them huge political advantage in the next election cycle.
  2. They are being well-paid by the healthcare insurance industry who are only too happy to fill their campaign coffers in return for fighting for the status quo.

The so-called “Blue dog” Democrats, identified as representing districts which voted for McCain in the last election, seem to be working with the Republicans for the following reasons:

  1. They are being well-paid by the healthcare insurance industry who are only too happy to fill their campaign coffers in return for fighting for the status quo.
  2. They are scared-to-death of being replaced in the next cycle by either a more conservative Democrat, or a Republican.

So, those are the people fighting against healthcare reform, and you might notice that their reasons for being against reform have nothing whatsoever to do with hard-working Americans, many of whom are one illness or accident away from bankruptcy.  There are a couple of poll numbers in the article that indicate just how frightened Americans are about the future of healthcare.

“And despite Mr. Obama’s efforts to address public misgivings — in speeches, news conferences, town hall meetings and other forums — 69 percent of respondents in the poll said they were concerned that the quality of their own care would get worse if the government created a program that covers everyone….The poll found 66 percent of respondents were concerned that they might eventually lose their insurance if the government does not create a new health care system, and 80 percent said they were concerned the percentage of Americans without health care would continue to increase unless Congress acts.” (Emphasis mine)

69 percent were concerned that their own care would get worse if the government acted, and 66 percent were concerned that they would lose their insurance if the government did not overhaul the system.  Those numbers are hard to reconcile, aren’t they?  To me they indicate that Healthfear is working just like it was supposed to, and a majority of Americans are failing to see that they are being manipulated by powerful forces in the insurance industry working through their stooges in congress.

The latest on the negotiations, as I write this, indicate that an agreement has been reached in one of the committees, that waters down the public option by failing to tie costs on the option to Medicare costs, which means the public option must negotiate with providers to set costs.  What this means to you and me is that there will essentially be no competition with the insurance companies to keep them in line, so they can continue to rip us off as they have before.

Anything other then a full public option, with set costs is not health care reform at all, it is meaningless and not worth doing.  But that’s just what the insurance industry wants – it’s the best of both worlds for them.

Sam Harris Rips the Covers Off Francis Collins

Many of us “seculars” worked hard to elect Obama, believing, among other things, that he would work to restore science to its proper place of influence in governmental affairs.  Religion being an unfortunate part of the landscape in Washington, we were under no illusions that he would eliminate it entirely, but we were certainly hoping that he would place the best available scientific minds in the most critical positions.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. The NIH mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone. NIH works toward that mission by: conducting research in its own laboratories; supporting the research of non-Federal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country and abroad; helping in the training of research investigators; and fostering communication of medical and health sciences information.

The President has nominated Francis Collins, a brilliant physical chemist, a medical geneticist, and the former head of the Human Genome Project to serve as the next director of the NIH.  At first, the choice didn’t really bother me, although I was, of  course, aware of his “religiosity,” or at least I thought I was.  In 2006, he published “The Language of God,” in which he claimed there was a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity.

Sam Harris wrote an OP-Ed for the NY Times this morning, in which he spoke about a talk Dr. Collins gave at Berkeley in 2008:

What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:

Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”

Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

“Why should Dr. Collins’s beliefs be of concern?

There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States. This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are counterintuitive. It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana. It can be difficult to think like a scientist. But few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion.”

What concerns me most about Dr. Collins’s talk is that he presented these slides as though they were the result of the interpretation of actual empirical evidence, rather then plain old Christian dogma backed-up with nothing but faith – his faith.  I’m bothered most by the fifth slide, concerning the so-called “moral law.”  What he says there is absolute nonsense!  Good and evil are defined with respect to their effects, and the intent of the perpetrator, not by adherence to some bronze-age religious code.  And do I want to live within the worldview that morals are about how we treat one another?  You’re damned right I do!

Collins is, no doubt, a conscientious scientist and an excellent administrator, a skill set that will probably make him an outstanding Director.  My concern is that that he pollutes science by pretending, number one, that the existence of God (His God) can be proven by empirical evidence, and two, that science cannot delve into the realm of  morals and ethics.