Saturday, November 10, 2012

Four More Years!

Aaaaahhhh, the schadenfreude.  For once, I actually enjoy watching Fox News, and this Tumblr, White People Mourning Romney, has given me nothing but a steady stream of Me gusta.  The best part is that Obama's margin of victory was almost exactly what Nate Silver and the other scientifically-grounded statisticians had predicted, unlike the "unskewed" polls coming from nearly every conservative outlet.  It's always fun to watch reality force itself upon the willfully ignorant. 

I'm also thankful Obama won the popular vote.  If he had received fewer actual votes than Romney, I can imagine that would have been a huge source of contention in the months ahead.  Of course, it seems one of the Republicans' current coping mechanisms is to to insist that the popular vote was really close--which it  A win's a win, and the only thing that matters anyway is the electoral college, so there you go.

Looking to the future, check out this chart from Slate that breaks down the races of each candidates' supporters:

Clearly Republicans have a problem.  The only group they dominate is the only one that isn't growing as an overall share.  Furthermore, in both 2008 and 2012, Obama has garnered overwhelming support from all age groups below the age of 40.  So Republicans, you've spent the past thirty-plus accusing minorities and young people of being lazy grifters, bashing gays, and forcing Conservative Christianity on everyone else.  Sure, it allowed you to dominate the old white people demographic, which worked out pretty well for a while.  But guess what?  You've successfully painted yourself into a corner.  Have fun with that shrinking constituency.  And oh my science, it's been great watching the blowhards on Fox News shed tears of infinite sadness over the death of "traditional" America.

It'll be interesting to see what happens from here.  Because of the demographics above, Democrats look to have a structual lock on the electoral college, and it will become tougher and tougher for Republicans to break through in future presidential contests.  Already, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, wants to find a way to award Ohio's electoral college votes in the next election based on the outcome of each congressional district rather than as a winner takes all system.  This would almost guarantee a Repulbican candidate 12 of Ohio's 16 electoral votes due to gerrymandering after the 2010 census.  Indeed, such a system across the country would result in a Republican landslide unless the Democratic candidate achieved a massive margin of victory in the popular vote.  So yeah, expect that to be a fight in the near future. 

Personally, I think we need to do away with the electoral college all together and use a straight popular vote.  It would give everyone incentive to vote and not just the voters in a handful of swing states.  But who knows if that will ever happen.

Looking beyond the Presidential contest, I also get the sense that this election will mark a tipping point in the ongoing demographic and generational shift.  I already mentioned the structural challenges for the Republican Party to win the presidency, but we also saw equality for gays win out this year in every state where it was on the ballot, and marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington.  I'm thrilled to see gay rights finally succeeding at the ballot box.  I never expected opinions to turn this fast, and hopefully this will be the year that everything changed.  And with marijuana, perhaps the end of it's prohibition is in sight, and we can stop incarcerating so many of our fellow citizens for partaking in a substance that is no more harmful than alcohol.  Not only would it free millions from jail, but it would save billions of taxpayer dollars too.

Anyway, I hope this election marks the point when my fellow Millenials finally take control of the national conversation and steer the country towards a more inclusive future.  I'm sur ethere will be setback along the way, but things feel pretty good this week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pandora Found!

Okay, it's not eactly Pandora (Avatar, not Borderlands), but this is still awesome.  Yesterday astronomers at the European Southern Observatory announced they had found a planet slightly larger than Earth.  While that's cool by itself, the nerd in me squealed in delight because the planet is orbiting Alpha Centari B, which is a member of the star system closest to our own. 

An artist's impression of Alpha Centauri Bb from the ESO press release

Sure, the planet is only four million miles from its star, making it far too hot for life...but it's only 4.3 light years away from us!  That's tantalizingly close.  If a planet like that can exist in our backyard, who knows what else might be out there.  At this rate, it's only a matter of time until we start locating potential habital worlds.  Sure, our current technology can't get there in any reasonable length of time, but with a little investment, and the motivation that likely exploration targets could generate, you never know.  I'll admit, I yearn to live long enough to see the first close-up images of a planet outside our solar system with life, intelligent or not (most likely not).

Between Kepler's findings, the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars, and now this, it's been an exciting couple of years for astronomy.  I can't wait to see what we find next!

You can find the press release here and some great analysis from Phil Plait here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The non-religious continue to grow, but that doesn't mean they're letting go of God

The big news in the atheist sphere is the new Pew Research Center report showing that Americans who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or non-religious continues to grow.  Over the last five years, the combined number has grown nearly 5% with the largest gains among those who are simply unaffiliated.

While I'm happy to see the numbers of agnostics and atheists growing, I'm not going to get too excited over the growth of "nothing in particular".  I can only speculate, but to me it seems this could be a natural reaction to the excessive moralizing of the Conservative Protestant and Catholic churches, especially over the last decade.  From what I've seen, most people don't seek religion to hear doom and gloom or to receive constant lectures on how to live their lives.  Okay, maybe some want that, but the vast majority seek religion to find community, acceptance, or seemingly reasonable answers to life's difficulties.  Whether or not organized religion is the best place to find those things is another argument, but it does provide them nonetheless.

Now, the past couple decades have seen Conservative Christianity seize control of a major US political party, and the Catholic Church has come down strongly in support of several of the same interests as the Religious Right.  An incredible amount of time and effort has been invested trying to halt society's natural evolution and return it to the "Eden" of the 1950s.  Nevertheless, time marches on and people's opinions change.

Obviously, I'm on the outside looking in, but it seems to me that if I were the member of an organization whose ostensible purpose was to explore the deeper meaning of life, I would be extremely disappointed to find that organization become so invested in petty political mud-slinging.  It must cheapen the experience when the leaders of these organizations continue to insist that gay marriage will destroy marriage, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It must also take an incredible degree of mental compartmentalization to be the member of an organization whose founder clearly supported redistribution of wealth and then hear the leaders of your organization argue for the exact opposite and encourage you to vote for Republicans.

What I'm trying to say is, don't celebrate too much.  Just because people are disillusioned with Christianity doesn't necessarily mean they're seeking what the non-theists are selling.  Sure, atheists and agnostics are growing, but no religion in particular is growing faster, and they aren't necessarily looking for scientific answers.  I'm sure many still believe in a God of some sort, and many are those who eagerly snap up "The Secret" or one of the countless other New Age tomes of nonsense.

Still, it's nice to see atheists and agnostics growing, but I would argue for caution.  A lot of committed atheists out there are just as bad as the most judgmental Christians.  We've all seen them trolling the internet, picking fights and being generally nasty just because someone holds theistic beliefs.  It does the rest of us no favors, helps fuel the "militant atheist" argument, and turns people off in the same manner as Conservative Christianity.  We can continue to grow our numbers, but we can't do it by taking the low road.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Now I see, I've been wrong

I need to go rethink my life after this one:

My wife sent me this to me, and I had to share the laugh.  Too bad it's from a someone being serious and not The Onion...sigh.

Everyone Chill Out

I know I missed a busy week politically, but I just got back from an amazing trip to Paris and Normandy.  Being a history major, it was nice to finally see several of the places I had spent so long reading about.

Anyway, the big political news of the weekend was Romney's debate "victory".  Now that 've seen it, yes, Obama lost on style while Romney enthusiastically and convincingly endorsed policy positions that he had completely opposed the week before.  Since the last debate's audience was a national one, I suppose Romney was smart to suddenly take a centrist position.  In hindsight, the Obama campaign should have expected it, considering Romney always tells his current audience what they want to hear, but the complete about-face was surprising even for Romney.  Instead of tacking to the center, he sprinted to it.

The real question is, will it matter?  Andrew Sullivan is in full despair mode and ready to admit defeat while the rest of the media jumped on the narrative that the debate is a game changer, but I'm skeptical that one poor debate performance can throw an entire election, especially when the electoral college is so strongly in Obama's favor and the number of undecideds are so low.  Besides, George W. Bush was an atrocious debater and he (arguably) won two terms.

Looking at the big picture, the BLS released improved unemployment numbers, which certainly helps Obama.  The usual suspects screamed conspiracy, but things are getting better, if slowly.  The first post-debate polls have been coming out, and depite a huge reversal in Pew's numbers, most show a modest bounce for Romney that has improved his chance of victory to only 25.2 percent in Nate Silver's model.

So to the Obama supporters out there who are in a panic, maybe it's time to take a step back from the horse race and not read any election news for a few days.  Never forget, the media's going to make this one look close until the very end, because that's where the money is. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Election 2012

Today I'd like to talk about the election.  Not that anyone really cares about my opinion, but this is my blog and if you're here, you get to read my're welcome.

But seriously, as it stands today, things are looking promising for Obama.  Nate Silver's model currently gives Obama a 79.7% chance of victory, and Romney's campaign is quickly turning into a joke (albeit a disturbingly frightening and callous one if you're a little light in the bank account).  I think that's what happens when you run for president after holding only one prior elected position and are the least bad choice in a primary filled with incompetent hacks.  Romney's just not ready for the big leagues, and it shows.  Maybe I should be thankful this election is showing that being rich can't buy you the presidency...or at least not yet.

I'd be lying if I said I was feeling this confident back in January.  With the slow economy and the promise of unlimited Super PAC money supporting the Republican party, it seemed Obama faced an insurmountable hurdle.  As it turns out, lots of Americans seem to disagree with the Republican fantasy that cutting all assistance to the poor and lowering taxes on millionaires will magically fix the economy because job creators will suddenly have "confidence".  As I see it, if business people need to feel confident all the time in order to run a business, then maybe they shouldn't be in business, but maybe that's just me.

With the Super PAC spending, it seems to have discovered the point of diminishing returns.  There are only so many commercial slots one can buy, and after a while people just tune it all out.  In some way this has been the silver lining of the Citizens United ruling.  Let the billionaires waste their money.  It wouldn't make it into the economy otherwise.  But I am glad I live in Germany at the moment so I don't have to suffer through the barrage every time I turn on the TV.

As for Obama, I will gladly vote for him again even though being a Texas resident will render my vote mostly harmless.  Still, I've been generally pleased with Obama's first term.  Sure, he hasn't done everything the liberal in me would like, and he has done little to relax the police state atmosphere that arose after 9/11, but from the beginning Obama has presented himself as a centrist candidate so it shouldn't be a surprise.  Moreover, he's accomplished far more than any Democrat since LBJ.  He managed to get health care reform through Congress.  No, it wasn't perfect and was more of a give-away to the insurance industry than I would have liked.  Still, it's a start, and it finally allows the US to join the rest of the world in providing some degree of socialized healthcare for its citizens.  That alone is a monumental achievement, but then the stimulus was the greatest investment in alternative energy in US history, gay and lesbian service members can finally serve their country without having to hide who they are, and Obama was the first president to publicly support gay marriage, which finally pushed the Democratic Party to make the issue a plank of its platform.

Of course, the Tea Party came along halfway through and put the breaks on everything.  I know the media tries to claim that both parties are responsible for the gridlock, but when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader, says his number one goal is "to make Obama a one term president" even when there's a severe recession and two ongoing wars (at the time), you know there's something seriously wrong with a party's priorities.  My greatest concern at this point is that Democrats will not be able to retake the House, and we'll have two more years where the only thing to make it out of the lower chamber will be Ayn Rand fantasies masquerading as "serious" ideas.

Back to Obama, I have been deeply disappointed with his growing use of drones to assassinate individuals, even US citizens, without due process.  While the world might be better off without those killed (especially Bin Laden), it is a disturbing milestone in our nation's long slide away from the ideals of justice and fairness for all.  Still, the Republican Party's opinion on the matter is even more ruthless, so I guess I can thank the President for showing a degree of restraint.

Sorry about the long post.  I know I'm jumping into the race at the home stretch, but I felt like airing my thoughts before moving forward.  For what it's worth, I endorse Obama for reelection, and I wil be voting for him in November.  Please go out and vote, and let's run up the score to get Obama some help from Congress.  And if you're a Republican, I still want to encourage you to go out and vote for your preferred candidates.  It's your right as an American and the best chance you get to have a say in what happens in this country.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hello Again!

So a friend of mine Tweeted me tonight (yeah, I know...I resisted for so long) asking about the lack of posts on this blog, and I must admit I have felt the urge of late.  Last week I was reading through some of my old posts, and in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

Looking back, I see the original incarnation of this blog was a means of self discovery for me.  I suppose I was looking for a way to reject the overwhelmingly Conservative Christian atmosphere at my school, and I was frankly horrified at the creeping theocratic urges of the Republican party during the Bush era (if only college me could see Republicans now...).  I also discovered my atheism at that time.  It was the beginning of the atheist blogosphere and the books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins had just been published.  It was an exciting time to be nonreligious because I no longer felt like I was alone in my beliefs or lack thereof, and the atheist blogging community seemed like a window into a wider world.

Once I graduated from college, my first job's responsibilities set in, and I felt like I had less time for blogging.  Now it feels like it was just more of an excuse.  Regardless, it felt like things had taken a turn for the better in the country.  Obama had won the presidency, and the Democrats were in charge.  I blogged a little bit during the rise of the Tea Party, but it just felt like more of the same.

What about now?  I'm just as atheist as ever, although I think I have a more nuanced position on it (I call myself an Agnostic Atheist to anyone who asks, but I'll save that for a future post).  I'm still a registered Democrat, and, though I am often disappointed in what they produce in Washington, they're far better than the alternative.  Plus, I feel Obama has been a good president who's done the best he can under the circumstances.

From here on out I'm going to make this more of a personal blog.  I'll still post plenty on Atheism and politics like before, but I'd like to get into my other passions as well.  Expect to see posts on science, hiking, and scuba diving.  I'm also a huge nerd, so you may see a fair amount about video games, sci-fi, fantasy, and other nerdly pursuits.  I may even post chapters from my nearly completed novel.  Hopefully, this will keep me posting more often, we'll see.

On a final note, I've decided to do away with my pseudonym all together.  From now on, my actual name, Justin Logan, will accompany my posts.  I have nothing to be ashamed of in any of my posts, and I really don't mind who finds this blog.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I hope you find whatever I write mildly interesting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quote of the Week

"It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

- Charles Darwin, from the introduction of The Descent of Man

Friday, March 12, 2010

Quote of the Week

"I had no need of that hypothesis."

- Pierre-Simon Laplace, explaining to Napoleon why he did not mention God in his book of astronomy.

They Chose...Poorly

Constance McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, just wanted to go to the prom with her significant other. What makes Ms. McMillen's desire slightly unusual is that her significant other is also a woman. Plus, McMillen wanted to wear a tuxedo instead of the usual gown. That's nice, you might think, but what's the big deal? I agree. This shouldn't be newsworthy. Oh wait...Itawamba Agricultural High School is in rural Mississippi. Uh-oh.

Naturally, the school immediately denied McMillen's request to dress in a tux and take someone of the same sex as a date, saying it was against the rules. Then the ACLU became involved and tried informally to encourage the school administrators to rethink their position. In response, the school took the most reasonable route possible: they cancelled prom...for everyone. Their reason?

"Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year."

The district school board also said that their decision took "into consideration the education, safety and well-being of our students."

Of course, the school wasn't shy about who caused this decision, and now McMillen is in the uncomfortable position of being the one "responsible" for ruining that class's senior year. Now the ACLU is formally suing the school district for infringement of McMillen's free speech.

I know this is in rural Mississippi, so it's not exactly the most progressive of lands, but how does this make any sense? Sure, some parents would have definitely been outraged with the open display of "the gay" in their precious, God-fearing community, but does that mean the entire senior class has to suffer? Wouldn't it have been far easier on everyone if the school just turned a blind eye to the whole thing? The night would have passed with a few snide remarks from students and perhaps a handful of angry phone calls from parents that following Monday, but then everyone would forget about it and move on with their lives. Instead, the school has made sure no one will forget about it, and the district will now have to pay a fortune in legal fees, all in an attempt to preserve the fiction that gays don't exist.