Sunday, April 30, 2006


     Yesterday Stephen Colbert, host of the TV show The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner. Almost everyone was there: the president, first lady, the outgoing and incoming press secretary, Scalia, everyone, well, except for Cheney. Anyhow, Colbert was outrageously candid and hard hitting in his jokes. So much that watching the video you can see and really feel the awkwardness (since most of the people he was making fun of were in the room). The highest quality version of this video is here (there's two parts~15 min). If this is laggy, try YouTube.

     I have so much respect for Colbert after doing this. It's one thing to speak truth to power, but another to do it with them sitting a few seats away from you. Colbert could have just done a few lighthearted jokes. This is what almost anyone else would have done. But no, he used this opportunity to really make a statement. If you read about the story in the corporate media they'll really shift the focus off of Colbert and onto some stupid Bush look-alike, but after you watch this video you'll see that this is really the interesting story. So watch this and pass it along to your friends, otherwise they won't hear about it. And please don't pity Bush while watching this, he deserves much more than public humiliation.

Update- If you'd like to thank Stephen, there is now a site up so that you can do so. As of this posting 36,000 people have posted a thank you!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Free Market Fantasies

    It seems that any discussion of politics ends up involving some sort of debate about economic systems. Since most atheists tend to identify themselves as liberal or libertarian, I thought that it'd be interesting to address these perspectives. I disagree with the liberal point of view because I believe that governments, much less powerful ones, can be very dangerous to people's freedoms. I also do not personally like the idea that someone who refuses to work will enjoy the fruits of labor of those who do. However, in this post I want to talk about the libertarian point of view. This is because while the liberal point of view is something that I don't personally like, the libertarian point of view is generally based upon the idea of a "free market", and this idea is one which I think is a complete fantasy.

     So first off, I'd like to say to those that think a free market is the best way to run an economy that I don't necessarily disagree with you. You may be right. I haven't put too much thought into it, and the reason for this that I don't think free markets can exist in actuality, and so talking about how nice it would be is a waste of time. Additionally, slight deviations from a truly free market result in a situation which I think is hard to argue for since essentially all of the redeeming characteristics of a free market are lost.

    The good thing about a free market economy is that products that are the best value succeed. If someone is charging too high of a price, someone else can come in and sell lower and still make a profit. The competition drives prices down and productivity up. However, this is not how markets work. When someone succeeds in business, they don't go back to square one. They're more wealthy now. This gives them an advantage which they can exploit to make their products, even if vastly inferior, succeed. If I'm wealthy I can simply drive my competitors out of business by operating at a loss, since I can sustain that while newcomers can't. Moreover, I have the money to advertise while others do not, and people might buy my inferior quality products for a higher price. This and other factors lead to the result that it's not the best quality products that succeed, but generally those who have previous wealth who succeed. Their previous success gives them current success, which gives them future success, and so on. Because the "game of capitalism" doesn't start anew, it overwhelmingly favors those whose are already wealthy. While some may or may not have a problem with this, the point is that this advantage destroys the level playing field and makes the market less competitive and thus not free.

    Another criticism of a free market is the existence of externalities, which create costs to the consumer that are not reflected in the purchase price. Pollution is a good example of this. A company which has the lowest costs can sell for lower, thereby giving their product an advantage in the marketplace. They can lower costs by mishandling the pollutants that product production creates. The market rewards this sort of behavior with a competitive edge, yet the actual price of their products is much higher than those of a competitor who doesn't pollute. Now it's true that you could hold people responsible for learning about the companies they buy products from. While this would be very difficult to do, I'm not entirely against this argument, although I think it's doubtful that people would be able to adequately judge what the businesses were up to.

    So to me, a free market is to economists what a massless string is to physicists. It's a nice idealization to help teach people basic concepts, but please don't build anything with it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

How hopeful are you for the future?

    I've had a lot of trouble blogging the past few weeks, and besides my busy schedule, I think the big reason is that I just don't feel that the situation in the world and in the U.S. is going to get better in both the near and distant future and it really sucks the motivation out of me.

     I hear a lot of people talking about how things are going to change after the 2006 midterm elections, but I really don't think it's going to make a difference. The Republicans might lose a few seats, but that's probably it. And in my opinion, it wouldn't even make a difference if the Democrats won a ton of seats. The Democrats don't even have the moral and intellectual clarity to call out the Republicans on all the crazy ass shit they do. Think it's because the dems don't have a backbone? On the contrary, I think they do, it's just that they really don't differ too much from the Republicans on these issues. Both are pro-business, pro-war parties who are in the hands of the wealthy. Sometimes you hear rumors that the Democrats are for giving gays the right to marry, funding stem cell research, and pulling the troops out of Iraq. But these are usually just quiet murmurs, and few Democrats take an actual strong stand that would be necessary to infuse enthusiasm into the issue. Not supporting scientific advances and equal rights for people of different sexual preferences SHOULD make it utterly impossible to get elected in a free, democratic society. And lying to the public to start a war of aggression is a war crime by the Geneva conventions. However, the current administration and mainstream media have made war crimes "patriotic" and dissent "treason". In a poll conducted in March, only 38% of the American public thought that the President should be censured for war crimes, much less impeached. Hell, this guy's approval ratings are still in the 30s! It would be utterly impossible for the remaining people to disapprove of him it seems, and these people are a large enough group that they themselves can almost get someone elected.

     If the Democrats take back a lot of seats this year, what will we get to look forward to? Well, maybe they'll start the process on stem cell research and gay marriage. After a few years perhaps we'll have those things. Big deal, we'll still be sprinting toward disaster because of our utter disregard for any issue that's important to our civilization's survival. And even if they allow gay marriage, I'm going to have to wait forever until the slippery slope allows me to marry that deer in the woods I've always had the hots for.

    So I'm curious, how hopeful are you for the future?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

At Best, Prayer Doesn't Work

     The blogging has been pretty light lately. Sometimes I wish I didn't imply a certain timescale for posts in my blog title. Maybe Freethought Sporadically would be more appropriate. Anyway, I have an interesting video clip you will probably like. Some of you may have heard of the study done on heart patients where some were prayed for, some weren't, etc, in order to see if prayer affected anything. Turns out that those who were prayed for had a slightly higher risk of complications, but other than that of course nothing was different. Jon Stewart recently covered this in a funny segment on the Daily Show. Just go here and click on the video "Votive or Die". LBBP has a funny post about this as well.