Obama aides to meet with atheists

Thanks, Guy Harrison, for bringing this Miami Herald article to our attention:

…several administration officials will sit down quietly for a morning meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus with about 60 workhorses from the coalition’s 10 member groups, including the American Atheists and the Council for Secular Humanism. Tina Tchen, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and representatives from the Justice and Health and Human Services departments will participate.

Coalition leaders are billing their visit as an important meeting between a presidential administration and the “nontheist” community. On the agenda are three policy areas: child medical neglect, military proselytizing and faith-based initiatives.

“We’re raising important issues that affect real people’s lives,” said Sean Faircloth, 49, a former Maine state legislator who’s the coalition’s executive director.

Not a HUGE step, but it’s a start.

Obama’s education speech: a quick one

So, Obama’s upcoming speech to students is now online, and it looks as if all the right-wing hysteria about how this is going to be an exercise in Marxist Hitler Youth Indoctrination (or whatever scary buzzwords conservatives have figured out how to pronounce this week) is, surprise surprise, a tad overblown. It’s a nicely composed pep talk about the value of education, not the tiniest bit controversial, not even — for me — in its standard-issue “God Bless America” signoff. I know that kind of language has earned a sneer from PZ and some other atheists, but I’m not the kind of guy to think seven words of boilerplate political-speech language detracts from the actual content in any way.

I’m hopeful that, once this speech is out there, more people will begin to wake up to just how out of control the right has become in their reactionary scaremongering over our Eeebul Socialist Kenyan President, and a few hot heads start to come off the boil a bit. I’m also hopeful I’ll find 10 million dollars in a paper grocery bag abandoned in a ditch and that Chris Jansing will knock on my front door tonight wearing nothing but baby oil. We’ll see which of these little hopes pans out first.

Now, I do think there is a legitimate objection to the idea of making the watching of this speech a mandatory class event. Let’s be honest, if Dubya had prepared a speech for mandatory school viewing, those of us who were less than his most ardent fans would have objected too, and probably voiced concerns about possible inappropriate political proselytizing. Some bloggers have made the point that, where the students are concerned, this will merely be a boring interruption in an already boring school day, something lame that the grownups want them to take part in, like eating vegetables, that you’ve got to do because it’s good for you. I’d say that, with YouTube and other internet sources set up to make a speech like this available on demand, into perpetuity, there’s no reason for watching it to be some kind of class requirement. Indeed, to make it one would smack of demagoguery, regardless of how inoffensive the actual speech content turns out to be. Better perhaps to encourage students to watch it, perhaps at home with their parents, and maybe earn extra credit for doing so and writing a couple of paragraphs of feedback. Sure, there is that terror-stricken element of the ultra-right freak fringe who hear Obama’s name and immediately think of The Scary Nazi Communist Black Man Who Wants To Kill Grandma. But those people are not exactly big on the whole education concept in the first place, are they? If they were, at the very least, they’d know that the Nazis and Communists loathed each other.

Obama disappoints religious right repeatedly

This isn’t new news, but I’m cleaning up loose ends since I promised to post these stories to the blog on the last show.

Dobson ‘Disappointed’ Obama Skipped Day of Prayer Ceremony

Evangelical author and radio host James Dobson said that he is “disappointed” that for the first time in nearly two decades there was no representative from the White House during the National Day of Prayer event.

“I have not asked to meet with the president and certainly he has not asked to meet with me, but I would just like this country to remember its foundation, to remember its heritage and honor it, especially on the day set aside by George Washington in the beginning for prayer in this country,” he said. “And I would hope that that would have occurred.”

The president has disappointed James Dobson. Folks, can I get an “Awwwww”?

It wouldn’t be right to give Obama full marks for snubbing Dobson without noting that it came out later that Dobson didn’t actually invite him to the event.


Only ‘Pro-Life’ White House Officials Invited to Prayer Day Event

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson scolded the White House for neglecting to send a representative to yesterday’s National Day of Prayer event at the Capitol, but a source familiar with the situation said the Obama team didn’t have much of a chance. That’s because the event organizers stipulated that the White House representative had to be opposed to abortion rights, according to this source.

“The administration’s representative had to be pro-life,” says the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Nobody else was allowed to go.”

Damn, now Obama has an excuse. I would have preferred it if he had just come out and said “James Dobson can kiss my ass.”

But in other happy news,


Obama budget cuts funds for abstinence-only sex education

President Obama’s new budget would eliminate most money for abstinence-only sex education and shift it to teen pregnancy prevention — a U-turn in what has been more than a decade of sex education policy in the USA.

The proposed budget, sent to Congress last Thursday, “reflects the research,” says Melody Barnes, director of the team that coordinates White House domestic policy.

Since we all know by now that abstinence-only education simply doesn’t work, this appears to be another nice step on the road to moving us back towards being a reality-based country.

Stem cell research at last

I’m pleased, as is anyone in the pro-science camp, at Obama’s expected reversal of Bush’s ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I especially appreciate these comments he made.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

That last is another richly deserved rebuke of the Bush administration, and its kowtowing to fundamentalist ignorance in issues of science. In particular, the Right Wing Cult of the Fetus is driven berserk by the idea that “babies” are being “killed” so that mad scientists can do their freakish lab experiments. The point that the fetuses being used are among those routinely destroyed as surplus by fertility clinics is not the kind of inconvenient fact that will pierce the armor plating of their righteousness. Nor is the fact that these fetuses will still be available for infertile parents who wish to conceive in vitro.

As for the results we may one day enjoy from such research, which are also disputed by the RA crowd (Righteous Anger), well, we cannot say for sure right this minute that, fifty years from now, paraplegics will be dancing the rhumba after having their new spines installed as an outpatient procedure, or that we’ll have eradicated dozens of diseases, or what have you. But the possibility is there, and not to be ignored, and that’s why research is so vital. If we can better the lives of people, we should. That’s basic.

Still, though, sometimes I think conservatives cannot only think long-term, but literally can’t understand anything that doesn’t appear to have an immediate, tangible benefit. It’s as if scientific research isn’t worth doing if it doesn’t work like an ATM, spitting out instant gratification. Get a load of Republican Rep. Eric Cantor’s ignorant and hypocritical whimper, which he tries to couch in terms of the economy.

“Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1. Let’s focus on what needs to be done,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Once more with feeling: Cantor’s party bequeathed us this tattered economy, so that’s quite enough pretense from their side of the aisle that theirs is the party that’s all about fiscal responsibility, thank you kindly. And with the stimulus package now signed, well, let’s say that the l-o-n-g road to economic repair is, at least, being mapped out.

But what’s doubly stupid about Cantor’s remarks is his failure to understand that a country engaging in strong and well-funded scientific research is one whose economy is thriving. Not only does it put researchers to work — you know, jobs — but if their research really does bear fruit, and we begin to see real treatments emerge that we’ve never had before…well, that means money, dammit, and plenty of it. It means medicine we can export, it means more students getting advanced degrees in the sciences due to the increase in jobs in the wake of these new treatments…I mean, there’s no downside.

The only downside to scientific research is when ideology hurls itself bodily in science’s path. I’m glad that, for right now at least, we have a president who respects the role of science in benefiting humanity. And the economy.

America Hating Theocrats Pray For Failure

Hey everybody, let’s all pray for the failure of the new president!

Wait, you silly fundie, haven’t you heard that it is treasonous to criticize a sitting president in a time of war?

OOOOOHHHHH! I’ve been waiting to say that for a long time.

…But seriously, folks, I’d like to say a few words about partisanship.

I don’t believe in treating both sides equally. That should be clear from my consistently stated position on teaching Intelligent Design in schools (for example, in this press release that I wrote), or their latest smokescreen, euphemistically known as “academic freedom” or “teach the controversy.” There is no “controversy” other than the one raised by a tiny minority of religious goons seeking to camouflage their efforts to make political hay. Matt and I have both repeatedly said that it’s a good thing to be biased in favor of reality, and not make up reasons to criticize both sides equally. There are not really two sides to the question of whether we landed on the moon, or whether Barack Obama is secretly a reptoid. Or rather, there are two sides, but one side is clearly a bunch of idiots.

So. I’ve occasionally been accused of being a partisan hack for Obama. I don’t love everything Obama does. I have some objections to his overt religious statements, which I believe I’ve aired out on the show before. I’m not delighted with his choice of Rick Warren as a speaker yesterday. When I specifically object to some of Obama’s policies, I’ll let you know.

However, it would be a mistake to think that it reflects some sort of unthinking bias if I am less critical of this president than the previous one. Casting around for an analogy… okay, let’s talk about movies. I absolutely love Inherit the Wind. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I own the DVD, I watch it repeatedly. It is an enduring classic with great acting and a powerful message.

If presidents were movies, Barack Obama would not be Inherit the Wind. He would be… oh let’s say… Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters is a pretty good movie. It’s funny. It’s got some good performances and quotable lines. If it happened to be on TV I would probably watch it. But it’s not in the same league as Inherit the Wind.

On the other hand, the Bush presidency in my opinion has been Plan 9 From Outer Space. There’s very, very little for me to recommend it, whether we’re considering faith-based initiatives, or otherwise funneling money into organizations with evangelical ties like Blackwater, or constant lip service to the National Day of Prayer, or an aide’s snide dismissal of the “reality-based community.”

There is simply no comparison. It’s not mere partisanship that impels me to say that Barack Obama is likely to be a better president than George Bush. It’s simply that it would be hard for him to do much worse. I disagree with the new president on some of his choices, and appreciate him for others — like his straightforward acknowledgment of non-believers as part of our nation’s heritage. A minor thing, it doesn’t translate into any policy changes, but it’s something Bush would never, ever have done.

However, as with everything, I reserve the right to change my opinion when presented with new evidence. So when Obama does something clearly offensive to the atheist community, I promise you’ll hear about it from me.

Today makes me go wOOt

Hey gang. Did you hear?

George W. Bush is not the president any more! He’s gone! Out!

Everybody exhale.

That frackin’ miserable useless failure has joined the expanding ranks of our nation’s many unemployed!

We have a new guy. I like him. I have high, but realistic hopes for him. I do think there has been a bit of excess from the media hype machine about his inauguration, but I put that down to pride over the fact that the USA, with its utterly appalling history of racism, has elected a non-white president, as well as general excitement over the fact that George W. Bush is no longer the president!

I’m pleased to be living in an America where the people are excited, rather than appalled and embarrassed by, our president. But go easy on the rockstar stuff. President Obama has eight years of almost apocalyptic disaster to fix. It will take time. He will have failures as well as successes. He knows how hard a row he has to hoe. I just want all of his slathering fans supporters to know that too. The higher they build you up, the longer and harder the fall you may be in for. Just remember, Obama is a man, not a messiah. I think he stands to be a better president than most we’ve had in my lifetime. But let’s keep our heads, and stay realistic. Today’s excitement aside, tomorrow we’re back to workaday. There’s a big job ahead.

Good luck, Mr. President.

Obama’s first big screwup

Everyone is bitching about Barack Obama’s ill-advised choice to ask pop-pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. I agree. Bad move, bad choice, total pandering. Warren talks a moderate game, but his views are not basically less conservative than the more blustery evangelicals out there. Warren’s support of Proposition 8 (aka Proposition H8) in California last month sends a message to the gay community that this supposedly liberal new president may not necessarily be as friendly to their concerns as one might think.

I know that Obama and Warren likely don’t see eye to eye on every single issue, and gay rights may be one of those issues. But you know, the company you keep says a lot about you. You’d think Obama might have learned a lesson about dubious religious affiliations earlier this year, what with all the flap about Wright. But maybe not. This could just be show business and not an indicator of how Obama’s first term will play out in the big picture. But…it does seem as if Obama will bear watching. We shouldn’t take him for granted, as many of his supporters have done, as some great progressive “messiah” who will usher in a new golden age in America, not just yet.