Saturday, August 16, 2014

Maryland ACLU too small to dispute no atheists club

By Mathew Goldstein

I recently became aware that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is still sponsoring Venturing Crew 202 through the Baltimore Area Council of The Boy Scouts of America.  The Maryland DNR has been sponsoring this Venturing Crew since 2000.   I first heard about this some years ago, and I initially thought the sponsorship may have been short term, but it has proven to be long term.  I have been a card carrying member of the ACLU for many years and I faxed a complaint to the Maryland ACLU.

Four days later I called to verify that they received the fax.  I described my complaint as being about a state sponsored youth group that discriminates. I was told my complaint was not yet entered on their computers and I was asked to identify the target of the discrimination.  After I replied "atheists and agnostics" I was told that it could take months for the ACLU to decide if they would pursue my complaint. 

I faxed another copy of the complaint the next week and, this time, when I again called them four days later, I was told they had a record of the complaint.  A mere two weeks later I received a letter from the ACLU explaining that their legal staff is small and they provide legal assistance for "a small number of cases each year."  They concluded they are "unable to assist" in this matter due to their "limited resources".  The Maryland ACLU claims to have "approximately 14,000 members statewide."

Fortunately, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims "more than 400" members in Maryland, is willing to assist.  They wrote "... we are concerned about the relationship between the Boy Scouts and the DNR. One principal concern we have is that all BSA organizations have to sign an “Annual Charter Agreement.” The general form has the sponsor agree to: “Conducting the Scouting program according to its own policies and guidelines as well as those of the Boy Scouts of America.” The Venturing Oath and Code are also a problem...."  

Clearly FFRF understands the problem, and furthermore it appears that the FFRF is more efficient at deploying their limited resources in contexts like this than the ACLU.  Assuming that the DNR rejects the complaint and continues sponsoring their no atheists youth group, I would not be surprised if the now reluctant ACLU reverses course and decides they are able to devote some of their resources to this matter once the complaint is scheduled for a hearing before a judge.  Meanwhile, if you are one of the 14,000 members of the Maryland ACLU, please consider calling or writing to ask them to reconsider their decision not to pursue the ACLU file number 3470 claim against the Maryland Department of Natural Resources sponsorship of Venturing Crew 202.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Abortion clinic hospital admitting-privileges laws have nothing to do with women's health or safety.

Edd Doerr (
 Responded to a Washington Post, Aug 11, story “Admitting-privileges laws give abortion foes potent tool”. 

Below is the response I posted in the Post on line. NY Times, Aug 11
note there was an excellent editorial on same subject, “A Judge Rules for Alabama Women”. 

Abortion clinic hospital admitting-privileges laws have nothing to do with women's health or safety. Rather, they are gimmicks used by the misogynist Religious Right to impose their narrow medieval religious opinions on all women, to take away women's religious liberty and rights of conscience. By cutting off access to clinics these laws actually harm women's health.

These laws are based on the peculiar idea that fetuses are persons at conception, a belief that is supported by neither science nor the Judeo-Christian Bible. Scientists concur that what makes us "persons" is a functioning brain, a functioning cerebral cortex, and this is not possible until some time after 28 to 32 weeks of gestation. 90% of abortions are performed by 13 weeks, 99% by 20 weeks. Procedures after viability (23-24 weeks) are not common and are done only for serious medical reasons.

The Bible (Gen 1:27 and 2:7) has it that persons are created "in the image of God", which surely must refer to consciousness and will, not flesh and blood and DNA), and science shows that these are not possible until some time after 28-32 weeks.

These laws are Orwellian Big Brother gimmicks that are intended to elevate the prejudices of conservative male politicians over the fundamental rights of women. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Outrageous Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict -Part 3 of a Series

by Gary Berg-Cross

Having outrageously dispatched 2 global problems in prior posts on Climate Change and the Wealth Gap, we can try some simpler regional problem like Israel-Palestine (I-P).  Well to be fair as a child there were 3 intractable disputes: South Africa, Ireland-Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine. With difficult 2 of these have been handled and the tougher nut is left.

 You might say that the Irish issue goes back pretty far and has called for outrageous, but modest proposals for solution. In 1729 Jonathan Swift  anonymously & satirically publishedA Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.  It took a while to settle that one, and the I-P conflict goes back to an even earlier invasion.  

Even Jon Stewart can’t solve this one, although he has some modest proposals, like fewer weapons sent to the area. Seems like an important ingredient but this has already gotten him criticized so we have to step delicately here too and note that the problem is dynamic and when something is tried such as things that worked in either South Africa (boycotts) or George Mitchell diplomacy (Ireland) there is blockage even if some negotiations start. Unfortunately I-P negotiations aren’t between the likes of MLK and Gandhi.  It’s more like warlords. As with the wealth gap there are asymmetries to the situation. One side has the power and uses disproportional responses. So the other side uses unconventional means.  Both seem to be criminal in their own way.

In I-P the key folks know how to bollix things up.  There is, for example, Israel's sequence of reasons offered for attacking Gaza – see  video report. So maybe sidelining them is a solution ingredient.

The usual approach of first diagnosing the problem of being responsible, as well as fact based and settling into hard negotiations over a long time. But you know understand the situation hasn’t been fruitful. The problem is as emotional as they come. Revenge seems an important ingredient.

At first blush, since the problem of land control disputes and conquest goes back thousands of years (per the previous upsetting animation on the history of conflict in this land) we might try some older techniques.  I was thinking of the old royal hostage exchange. 

“In medieval Europe hostages were given, not taken. They were a means of guarantee used to secure transactions ranging from treaties to wartime commitments to financial transactions. In principle, the force of the guarantee lay in the threat to the life of the hostage if the agreement were broken but, while violation of agreements was common, execution of hostages was a rarity. Medieval hostages are thus best understood not as simple pledges, but as a political institution characteristic of the medieval millennium, embedded in its changing historical contexts.” From Hostages in the Middle Ages  Adam J. Kosto

The idea is that each side offer some of its elite children, who would grow up in the others land and help preserve the peace. We’d have to put Jewish children near the Gaza border, for example, so that their presence would stop the type of bombing and destruction we saw as IDF troops move in.  Palestine would be raised in Israeli cities and towns and…
you know this isn't going to work.  

There is not much risk to their being killed by small rockets or suicide bombs.  The previously mentioned asymmetry of the situation doesn't make this outrageous approach feasible.

Back to the sketchy pad. 

So again we need something simple and bottom line. Something like getting a bunch of the war crime responsible parties before the International Criminal Court ICC.  Human Rights Watch for example is for this. This would give some space for moderates.

What to do next as past crimes are being prosecuted and each side has
some revenge going? Well the US has leverage with both sides.  The Palestinians need us to negotiate as the indispensable country. Israel needs our vote at the UN and we provide $3 billion or so a year in support. Sure this is hard to use as leverage because in the US American Israel Public Affairs Committee takes Pols out who disagree with the conservative Israeli government policies.  So if a Pol argues, as some have, that you only get progress when Israel is pressed, you find yourself running against a well-funded opponent.

How to get around that blockage?  There is the simple idea again of using a moral argument.  We’d have to reinforce it maybe with ur secular religion (see part 2 of outrageous solutions). It should help promote the idea around the world, and recall we already talked about UN and ICC backing. With this in place we argue that it’s just seems fair that from now on with the ICC going parties responsible for any new damage should pay for them.  I mean financially sort of like implied by the “your break it, you bought it idea.”  It’s bottom line stuff that everyone can understand. Jewish author and scholar Norman Finkelstein, touched on this briefly in an interview.

“It’s really a kind of weird conflict. I mean, there are so many weirdnesses about
this conflict. Israel blows everything up. Nobody even talks about Israel paying reparations. It’s just taken as a matter of fact that the international community rebuilds after Israel destroys. … We destroy, they pay. Nobody even discusses the possibility maybe Israel should pay reparations for its death and destruction in Gaza.”

Ok, so we have some American Jews buying in. But Palestinians have to pay for the damage they cause too, just as the relevant people have to go to the ICC for war crimes. Let’s say that we could agree on making the groups doing the damage responsible for them.
Now asymmetry works to dampen the damage.  And throw in the idea that the US will allocate $$ from the 3 billion a year it ships over.  So if we have a $5 billion or so conflict in Gaza with Israeli weapons that’s almost 2 years of the money Israel normally receives. 

This is getting a bit complicated, but we need one more outrageous idea to make this work.  

There will be lots of legal wrangling over this. Like Oslo this process would be gamed.  So we need a good legal team with the right experience to manage this.  It has to be better than what was done in Oslo.  I think that we need a team of  LA divorce lawyers to handle the negotiations.  It’s probably the only group that has the experience and tenacity to handle the egos involved.  Too bad that Donald Sterling won't be available. 

One thing though.  Can we afford these lawyers with just 3 billion or so to work with after damages?

Saturday, August 09, 2014

response to “Poor kids left behind as D.C. grows richer”

by Edd Doerr (

Wash Post writer Petula Dvorak’s Aug 8 article “Poor kids left behind as D.C. grows richer” called attention to increasing poverty in the nation’s capital. Here is the response I posted in the paper on line.  

Thank you, Petula Dvorak, for reminding us of the growing gap between the poor and the more well off. But this applies not just to DC but to the whole US, where about 25% of our kids live below the poverty line, compared to western Europe, where that figure is under 10%. But the situation is even worse than this bare statistic shows us. More than 60% of US kids live in families whose highest level of education is a high school diploma, per a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Even among parents with some college, 18% live in poverty and 43% have low incomes, according to the Foundation for Child Development and the Center for Law and Social Policy. Kids whose parents have at least bachelor's degrees are 14% more likely to read proficiently and 19% better at math than kids with parents with only some college.

These figures also show that the poor have more kids than the more well off, and this will only get worse in the wake of the Supreme Court's terribly wrong June 30 Hobby Lobby ruling and the nationwide Republican drive to deny women, especially poor women, access to family planning aid. Add to that the conservative drive to undermine our public schools and divert public funds to special interest private schools and to charter schools that tend to be selective and to not be adequately responsible to elected school boards.

With elections coming up in November, voters who want a fairer, more equitable America should carefully consider the above.

"Hemingway and Gellhorn"

by Edd Doerr

HBO's "Hemingway and Gellhorn" premiered on Memorial Day. Although the Washington Post's reviewer looked down its nose at the 2.5 hour film starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman (who nicely shed their British and Australian accents) it was really quite good. It follows the writing pair from the beginning of the Spanish civil war through the Soviet-Finnish war in 1940 through World Wat II. Over half of the film deals with the Spanish civil war and ddes  not spare its complexity and rough-and-tumble. Hemingway's personal flaws are all there and Martha Gellhorn is clearly the gutsier of the pair.The film looses blasts at theb Catholic Church for its support of Franco. I would give the film at least four stars.

While we are on the subject of Spain's civil war, let me recommend three other films. "Land and  Freedom" is a terrific British film from a decade or so ago based on George Orwell's book Homage to Catalonia (though, oddly, without attribution). It fictionalizes the Orwell account and highlights the conflicting factiins on the republican side.

"Pan's Labyrinth" won the best foreign film Oscar a couple of years or so ago. A magnificent Spanish film, its fascinating story takes place in the summer of 1944 when republican forces were still holding out against Franco's victorious fascists and hoping that the Allies would knock off Franco after they finished with Hitler. (Too bad they didn't.)

"Ay, Carmela!", from over a decade ago, is a Spanish film that follows a couple of Spanish republican entertainers who fall into the hands of Italian troops aiding Franco. The funniest scene involves the Italian commander, an amateur theatrical producer in civilian life in Italy, persuading the Spanish entertainer to put on a musical the Italian has written in exchange for his life and that of his entertainer wife. The Spaniard is speaking  Spanish and the Italian Ita

A Correction to the Mother and Child Home story in Ireland, please read!

I was drawn to a story this morning posted in the Irish Times regarding the horrific tale of the almost 800 infant/child skeletons found in the septic tank at a Mother and Child Home (as they are known in Ireland - actually homes for unwed mothers and "illegitimate" children) by a researcher doing genealogy a while back.

It seems that many of the stories which have been spread from the original article misinterpreted some of the facts.  The linked to article sets us straight.  Most of the infants and children buried at the Tuan home were buried in a cemetery within the grounds of the home, not IN the septic tank.  According to an interview of one of the boys who originally found the tank and it's occupants, there were no more than perhaps twenty bodies within the tank itself.

There are a couple of  implications of this correction, but rest assured, lessening of the fault of the Roman Catholic Church in the existence and the terrible conditions in these homes is not one of them!

It does lessen the horror somewhat to know that most of the children who died there were at least accorded some modicum of decency in death, if not in life.  It increases the chances that conditions in most of the other homes may be found to be no worse and perhaps even a bit better.  

On the other hand, the environment inculcated by the Church allowed an atmosphere to develop which allowed at least one and perhaps a small cabal of abusers to cause these children - as few as five or as many as twenty - to be disposed of in a septic tank seperate and apart from the normal burial procedures at that one home.  What abuse and neglect caused these deaths, we may never know, but still, the fault lies with the Institution which allowed the abuse to occur and continue as long as it did.

There is no doubt that any story is at once too simple and also often incorrectly reported at first glance.  This one is not an exception.  I am sure that even in these institutions of callousness and indifference, there were individuals who did their best to mitigate the cruelty and intolerance showed by the institution and its rules towards a badly mistreated underclass.  Even amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, there were stories of the occasional kindness by even the worst of the criminals who staffed the camps.  It is and has always been possible for good people to be trapped by circumstances in a terrible place and time where their ability to mitigate the damage is limited to individual kindnesses on an occasional basis. I am sure, once the story of these homes is finally told, we will hear of people who were kind, even heroic in their attempts to fight the indifference and the horrors they were faced with in an institution whose purpose was the denigration and enslavement of an underclass of officially detested women and their children.  People will, after all, be people, and even in terrible circumstances, the basic goodness of mankind will often show itself.

But let's make no mistake.  The basic reasons these homes existed was to warehouse and make disappear the detritus of a society which considered them to be a sinful and evil mistake.  A society which was outlined in my post on my Facebook page yesterday describing the social institutions built by the Roman Catholic Church within Irish society in the first half of the twentieth century.

There is and can be no lessening of the fault and the guilt of that institution by the revelation of this article that some have misinterpreted the story of the children's' burials in the Tuan Home.  This story must be and more than likely will be investigated and eventually told in all of its horror, frightful detail and the occasional lighthearted story of heroism or courage in the face of adversity.

It will be at once more complex and nuanced than we have seen at first glance, and yet, we must not lose sight of the basic lesson we should take away from it.

The entire edifice of Irish society which enabled these homes to exist - which in fact required them to be built - is the result of the Roman Catholic Church and the teachings and dogma of that institution resulting from the interpretation of Christian Scripture by the Church Hierarchy of the day.  Teachings and interpretations which continue virtually unchanged to this very day and age, and which would, if that institution had its way, require the very same kinds of homes to continue to exist into the future.

Interpretations which could, at any time, be re-examined and reinterpreted to end that terrible intolerance.  If the teachings and dogma of that bygone age continue, it is by the willing and intentional decisions made by current Church Fathers (read: Pope and Cardinals) to continue the horror.

They have a choice, and it seems they've already made it.

Another Outrageous solution to an Intractable Problem: The Wealth Gap Part 2 of 3 Problems

by Gary Berg-Cross
In an earlier post I proposed an outrageous solution to Climate Change. Make it a bet with $$ behind it to help the winning side.  We'll need trillions to clean up the mess if it is an accurate prediction of a similar amount to heal wealth that is taxed to solve a non-problem. Well the 1% creeping into the climate change issue and they are part of the destabilizing wealth gap issue.  It is worldwide, (see Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economicsbut just the trend in US is troubling with lots of downsides and destabilizing effects.  So they say.

“Since 1960, income inequality has jumped more in the U.S. than in any other major Western country, according to a November analysis from noted economics professors.HufPo article

It’s “ Let them eat cake” and what follows are problems of neglect.  I’ve got mine and earned it (well I was born into a worthy family in a prosperous place).  But who wants the French Revolution on a global scale?

Now in finding a solution here we want to avoid class warfare. Well since one class has the weapons that wealth brings such as owning politicians and media that's not likely to work well.

To ease the problem we might dream of outlandish solutions like Scandinavia annexing the US or China buying up the Kochs, but that’s not likely.

So here’s another idea to find some transcendent force that can close the gap despite the 1% opposition.  

We can start a morality-based religion.

Something where solving the wealth gap is a moral good, espoused by Religion.  I've heard rumors that this idea is in some religions, but obviously the message isn't getting through.  It’s buried too deeply or covered up by other commandments and priorities or abstractions that are interpreted by special people who have a direct line to the supreme mover.

Indeed there is a prosperity gospel which pushes things in the other way towards the chosen 1%.

So maybe we have a good start from some earlier work in this area but we need to start over.  Earlier efforts has been captured by elites and we have wealth religions.

Let’s be a little scientific and systematic about this and get to useful ends like narrowing the wealth gap. 

Practically we need an inspired book to start.  Who can we get to Ghost write the book? Chis Hitchens’ ghost perhaps?  Wishful thinking. I tried that and got no response.

The founding fathers might be good, Jefferson and Madison could take a swing.  They might include Tom Paine.  That’s a better set of writers than most books of revelation can claim.  Unfortunately I got no response from them either.  Maybe I’m not a good conductor and need to fast in the desert a bit.

Perhaps a team of folks lead by a philosopher like A.C. Grayling might ghost the book.  His “The GoodBook" is certainly a good start with parables and quotable ideas that get at thinking, belief and lifestyle values.  Here is one example that gets at the asymmetry or wealth issue in a moral, reasoning way:
These reasonings are unconnected, though foolish people think them: 
’I am richer than you, therefore I am better’; ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better’.
The true connection is this: ‘I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours’; ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours’.

And he reuses much wisdom to put wealth and foolishness in perspective:

"Prosperity reveals vice, adversity virtue;" and 
"They are strong who conquer others, they are mighty who conquer themselves."

We just have to treat the ideas a bit more reverently. Dress it up and get some persuasive spokesman out there.  Maybe Chris Hitchens will respond from beyond in time.  Here’s an idea we'll just make it up as if he has.

Ok, so we start with a revered book and disciple who preach the message.  I guess we’ll need some institution building.  How about Humanist Libraries and academies where people come to learn and hear the word?  Well we do have a start with AHA, CFI and others (like WASH), so I guess we just need to gear up with long range and short term or conversion approaches flowing out of them.

We probably need a better conversion mechanism to get this rolling. What facilitates conversions?  If it isn't the gradual process of being raised in the culture (a long-range approach), it’s all about sudden turning points and well crisis. So we need to be prepared as they come via the wealth gap as the 99% run out of cake. Let’s be ready for the next big finanhcial bubble bust. Sudden conversions will come as a result of overwhelming anxiety and guilt from personal errors.  Why didn’t I sell all my stock or protect my retirement of sell my house or not take on that college loan?  Guilt will becomes uncomfortable, making conversion a functional solution to ease these emotions.  What actions will ease this guilt? Let’s get into those Occupy Wall Street crowds and Walmart protests and get people committed to a moral, caring society.

So Psychological understanding helps. We can leverage for example Rambo, L. R. (1993). Understanding religious conversion. New Haven: CT: Yale University Press.

We need to structure the right type of encounters and interactions as people search for a solution to problems caused by some people having it all and not contributing to solutions.  Using our Gooder Book we can lead converts to a moral society recognition and a new identity. We’ll probably need some songs and ceremonies.  We can leverage the progressive community a bit here.

We can expect some pushback for sure.  After all this would be a pretty “light” religion.  I guess we should use Religion in quotes.  So "religion." 
One without the usual God, spiritual aspect.  So we may have to get the Templeton Foundation to fund us and help clear the way with things like their evolution of "religion" efforts.  It's might be a challenge, but, hey, let's keep the faith and try.

We should have a contest for the best name for the new religion.  Something catchy like secular humanism perhaps.  Let’s give it a try and cross our fingers (is that too superstitious?) for the best. I sure hope we don’t need martyrs to make this work. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Outrageous solutions to Intractable problems: Part 1

By Gary Berg-Cross

We are gridlocked by what seems protracted, destructive problems that are deep rooted and elude solution. The problems escalate and become irreducible, high-stakes situation which have an I, win, you lose character.  Brad Spangler, drawing from bargaining situations discusses finding "zone of possible agreement" (ZOPA). Often one needs time to explore unpleasant alternatives to find this solution zone.  But of course if people don’t want compromise they make the problem dynamic and create barriers  r limit progress towards a solution zone. How can we find solutions when normal paths seem closed and routinized processes keep us out of the agreement area? 

Well perhaps we can take unusual paths and bypass some roadblocks.  Of course these may be unreasonable and outrageous, but perhaps they make a point. Let’s consider outrageous “solutions’ to 3 outsized, intractable problems starting with Climate Change.  This is part 1. Climate change.

What should we do about climate change?  In his book Climate Matters; Ethics in a w  arming world. John Broome (2012), discussed the seemingly intractable problem.  As you can tell from the book title it is a mess of moral but it also comes with deep rooted eco-political problems. It is scientifically and psychologically challenged.  Many things are tangled up. Broome helps us think through the tangle but dynamic opposition with I win –you-lose psychology makes some thoughtful, theorical-ethical approaches difficult. I’m going to suggest something simper.  Something with bottom line appeal.

The projected impacts of climate change are probabilistic.  Things may happen. It’s a gamble with people having implicit bets on either side.  OK, let’s go with that but make it explicit. Let’s make it a bet or bets that matter.  Let get beyond the us them argument and have put up of shut up bet.

The idea is simple to start.  On the pro side scientists argue that damaging change is coming. The IPCC lays out some of this which Broome also covers:

hundreds of thousands of indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic are already finding their way of life threatened. Soon “innocent people all over the world” will be struggling (as Broome points out, in a cruel misalignment of responsibility and vulnerability the world’s poor – who have contributed far less to climate change are set to suffer much more harm than the rich). Hundreds of millions of people will be affected by floods and displacement, crop failures and famines, droughts and water scarcity, and mortality through heat waves and an increase in disease. (Review of Broome).

On the other side are more conservative, sci-skeptic voices funded by grounds & establishment folks like the Kochs.  The argument is that it is a waste of (their) money to do something about a natural process
OK, if each side believes in its position let’s get together and make predictions of likely damage about the next 10 or 20 years.  What phenomena to use? The situation is a bit like the Simon–Ehrlich population bomb wager decades earlier but we can learn from those problems of having definable outcomes.

More ice melting on Greenland or the West Antarctic Ice sheet? Heading for a big freeze, number or record highs, water level, droughts? Higher ocean levels, more acidic oceans, die offs?  We’d need to agree on the measures and they have to be in time to help one side or the other.

How much to bet?  We need enough to make a difference.  Will a trillion or so?.  Let’s start there and see who is interested.  Who would get involved? The Koch brothers and their institutions. Bankers and conservative economists…The 1% might be well represented.  The 99% and people who may be damaged by floods might be on the other side.  It could be a form of climate insurance.

Maybe the UN can hold the bets and use the interest to good effect.  We might even find that groups that talk the talk are not willing to put real money up against the issue.