Monday, October 01, 2012

Pathetic: Atheists ape religion

With apologies to apes.  I live in a country where church attendance is small and the normal social assumption is that the person you are talking to is not religious.  It is quite common for Christians to be regarded as a bit defective in fact.  But nobody parades their unbelief and Christians are treated with normal politeness.  So the characters below seem very childish and insecure to me, even though I am myself an utter atheist.  Why make a fuss about something you DON'T do?  Have they not got  something positive to recommend them? -- JR

Atheists are looking for cohesion. Like their theistic counterparts, many secularists, particularly those in the activist community, are on a constant path to seek others who view the world through their lens of non-belief. As history has shown, one of the most common ways that a collective defines itself is through symbolism (we’ve examined atheists’ use of symbols in the past). While Christians often wear crosses and Jewish adherents embrace the Star of David, atheists have a symbol, too – the scarlet letter.

Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston covers the atheist activist movement’s use of the red “A” — a literary symbol that may be familiar to readers who have studied Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” While, in the book, the letter was meant to shame the main character, Hester Prynne, some non-believers are embracing it as a public sign of their non-theist views.

The red letter “A” is, thus, being placed on jewelry designs so that atheists, like Christians, Jews and other faith adherents, can showcase their non-belief for the public at large.

The letter, which isn’t necessarily an official symbol of the atheist movement, originated in 2007, when the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science implemented its “Out Campaign,” Winston reports. The purpose was to encourage non-believers to “come out” to those around them about their non-belief.

While not officially sanctioned (after all, there’s no central leadership in the atheist activist community), the symbol continues to be one of the more prominent images embraced by the community at large. In fact, Amy Roth told Winston that the scarlet letter is “the most recognized symbol in our community right now.”

Roth, an atheist based in Los Angeles, incorporates the “A” into Surlyramics, the non-theistic jewelry line she launched. The artist brings these items to atheist conventions and meetings and sells them on the Internet as well.

In her article, Winston highlights 26-year-old Danny Samuelson’s story. Samuelson, who resides in Orange County, California, wears a pendant with the “A” around his neck daily.

“I am telling people I am willing to discuss this, that this is how I am and you have to accept this,” he told Winston. “I am essentially othering myself to show that normal people with normal lives and problems are atheists.”

Earlier this month, Business Week tackled the issue of product markets for non-believers. While the focus was more general, some fascinating questions were asked, particularly when it comes to the growth of the atheist movement:
Is there a market for merchandise for the godless? Retailers who cater to evangelical Christians with items including books, apparel, gifts, and Bibles represent $4.63 billion annually, according to the Association for Christian Retail. Those who sell to nonbelievers tend to be small business owners who are true nonbelievers. While bumper stickers and T-shirts are obvious favorites, books about evolution, educational games for children, and science-themed jewelry also hold appeal, says Derek Colanduno, an Atlanta computer programmer who hosts a podcast for skeptics. [...]

    The relative newness of the modern freethought movement, a collection of secular-minded organizations and nontheistic individuals, is partly responsible for the immaturity of the business market. It was Internet message boards, blogs, and podcasts that brought together younger skeptical and science-minded individuals to establish communities and attend regular conferences, says Colanduno. “Before the Internet, it was the old guard, the old white-haired men meeting in peoples’ basements,” he says.

As the secular movement grows, jewelry, bumper stickers, books, films and other related items will likely become increasingly popular. Previously, the market was spread out and not cohesive, but with the Internet bringing non-believers and entrepreneurs together, there’s potential for growth.

Just as Christians who seek community also tend to purchase faith-based products, secularists — as evidenced by Samuelson’s reasoning for wearing an atheist pendant — will also look to purchase items that reinforce their views.

In the end, the overall scenario is interesting as are the prospects, but, for now, the majority of jewelers and companies remain small businesses who are using conferences, web sites and social media to tout their products.


British government attempts to bypass hungry local bureaucracies over  residential construction are  too little too late

The Government's recent announcements on changes to planning are to be welcomed, but they represent a very half-hearted attempt to reduce the disincentives to construction (it's a shame that they also came with dollops of more spending as well). Contra the Local Government Association's propaganda, it is quite clear  that it is the planning system which is the principal contributor to Britain's dire shortage of housing. As I recently pointed out, it is this shortage which explains the lack of affordability of housing - both for purchase and rentals, not to mention the vast economic distortions which this constrained supply creates. These initiatives - where they are not entirely misdirected - are tiny compared to the scale of the problems.

But what government giveth, government also taketh away. This take away is in the form of the Communities Infrastructure Levy, which was introduced in 2010 (stemming from the Labour Government's 2008 Planning Act) and is gradually being implemented. The CIL permits local councils to levy an infrastructure charge on developers in order to fund the demand for new infrastructure created by their development. Unfortunately, CIL does not replace the pre-existing Section 106 Agreements under the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) - often used to subsidise 'affordable housing' - but instead is supplementary. The Section 106 Agreements were rather arbitrary whereas the CIL will at least have the benefit of transparency as it is simply levied on a pre-determined rate per m2.

According to the Department of Communities and Local Government's information: 'Under the system of planning obligations only 6 per cent of all planning permissions brought any contribution to the cost of supporting infrastructure, when even small developments can create a need for new services. The levy creates a fairer system, with all but the smallest building projects making a contribution towards additional infrastructure that is needed as a result of their development.' Immediately we should observe an issue; if the CIL intends to increase the amount of contributions derived from developers then this can only represent a further disincentive to developers to build housing. Whilst there is great stress laid upon the need for Councils to balance the CIL - the rate of which is determined by the individual Councils themselves - with the economic viability of development, this effectively means that Councils can determine how much profit any developer can make. The CIL is expected to derive an extra £1billion p.a. by 2016 for spending on infrastructure - which must represent an additional tax of £1billion on development. This hardly seems likely to encourage something that is in short supply and seems to run contrary to the Government's own stated policy aims.

There are also some rather more unforeseen and pernicious effects of the CIL, as recently reported in the Sunday Times [Homes section 2/9/2012]. Firstly, certain councils appear to be using the CIL and Section 106 to raise revenues in the face of tightening from central government and the decline of the volume of housebuilding, especially as the rates are discretionary.

However, like most regulation and taxation the CIL will hit the small man the hardest - in this case, self-builders. As the CIL is levied on any building over 100m2 it may render many self-builds financially unviable according to the postcode lottery of charges. In the worst instance Wandsworth has set rates at over £500/m2 - given that the average self-build is 200m2 the additional costs are hugely disproportionate to the infrastructure demands of any one household. Again, encouraging self-build was encouraged by the Government, particularly by out-going Housing Minister Grant Shapps. Whilst self-builds account for less than 10% of UK house build, disincentivising them is hardly going to help our dire housing situation.

Of course, there is much more that could be said here regarding the distortionary impacts of government control of infrastructure and planning on the housing market and the resultant difficulties the UK experiences in providing sufficient supply of housing. In this limited space it is sufficient to say that this is an ill-conceived policy that should have been scrapped by the incoming Coalition Government. Instead, it is being turned into a means of making up the shortfalls in council funding at the expense of further residential construction. What we have here is a classic but all-too-typical case of Governments advocating and attempting to stimulate via spending a desired behaviour in one area whilst at the same time Government is disincentivising the very same behaviour by another method. Additional infrastructure construction - if it must come from Government - should instead come from existing budgets by eliminating the vast amount of wasteful spending that local Government currently engages in. 


Couples who share housework divorce more: study
Norwegian researchers have concluded that the more work a man does in the home the higher the risk that a couple will get divorced, explaining the correlation as a sign of "modern" attitudes.

The divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 percent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

"The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate," Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled "Equality in the Home", told AFP.

Researchers found no, or very little, cause-and-effect. Rather, they saw in the correlation a sign of "modern" attitudes.

"Modern couples are just that, both in the way they divide up the chores and in their perception of marriage" as being less sacred, Hansen said, stressing it was all about values.

"In these modern couples, women also have a high level of education and a well-paid job, which makes them less dependent on their spouse financially. They can manage much easier if they divorce," he said.

There were only some marginal aspects where researchers said there may be cause-and-effect.

"Maybe it's sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity ... where one person is not stepping on the other's toes," Hansen suggested.

"There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight," he added,

In Norway, which has long tradition of gender equality, childrearing is generally shared equally between mothers and fathers (in seven out of 10 couples), said Hansen, speaking notably from a park where he was minding his children.

But when it comes to housework, women in Norway still account for most of it in seven out of 10 couples.

The study also pointed out however that those women were largely satisfied with the situation, and their overall happiness was very close to those women who lived in "modern" couples.


The worst possible option, except...

A comment from an Australian Leftist lady.  She comes to a reasonable conclusion

Freedom of speech: it is one of those concepts that sounds delightfully simple, until it's put to the test. And of late, locally and around the world, it's been put to the test again and again.

Should freedom of speech be afforded to a bunch of American bozos putting together an extremely bad fake movie apparently designed specifically to enrage a group of extremist lunatics in the Middle East?

And should it be extended to a group of fools who choose to protest in a Sydney park against the American filmmaking bozos with equally provocative placards (some carried by children) calling for the beheading of infidels, despite the fact that no one in Australia has anything at all to do with the bad fake movie?

The urge to restrain such crackpots and provocateurs is understandable. Muslim extremists cause pain and damage to their more moderate colleagues. Idiot American filmmakers trigger violent events that cause real people to lose real family members. Is the harm they cause really outweighed by the abstract benefit of a generalised right to freedom of speech, especially when there isn't a shred of anything else - logic, good sense, artistic merit, nice shoes, ANYTHING - adding further weight to the let-them-speak case?

The US President, Barack Obama, speaking during the United Nations general congress last week, answered pretty much in the affirmative: Yes. Idiots get free speech, too.

But for Mr Obama, the freedom of speech question isn't simple either. His own government takes a much harder line, for example, against whistleblowers in its ranks than did the government of his predecessor.

Julian Assange was fairly swift to point this out in his own UN address, pictured, last week, which was delivered via a wonky video link filmed in front of the latest of what must be a dwindling supply of new backdrops in London's tiny Ecuadorean embassy.

Mr Obama, Assange said, had "done more to criminalise free speech than any other US president".

But Assange's free-speech story is complicated, too. He's holed up at the embassy by grace of the Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, who himself has used legislation, specially crafted defamation laws and police to shut down critics in his own country, and would give Mr Obama more than a run for his money in the repressive-president stakes.

Assange has, moreover, got his own TV show on Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed cable channel and propaganda arm set up by Vladimir Putin in 2005.

Russia Today would never in a blue fit broadcast any of the stuff WikiLeaks has released about the Russian President, and yet Assange is happy to use a platform entirely based on repressive government information control to broadcast his own stuff.

See what I mean? It's complicated.

What would Assange make of Putin's own most famous critics - a trio of young ladies who donned coloured balaclavas and barged into a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow to perform an anti-Putin feminist punk song earlier this year, now in prison?

Said Mr Putin of their arrest: "The state is obliged to protect the feelings of the faithful." This has not always been the Russian government view, of course. But it suits the circumstance, even though the Pussy Riot ladies are only marginally more outlandish than the Russian President himself in their talent for attention-grabbing stunts.

(Earlier this month, Mr Putin disguised himself as a giant bird and boarded a hang-glider in order to drift over Siberia and encourage a group of endangered white cranes to migrate to warmer climes for the winter. The outfit required the President to wear a special beak, but Mr Putin did not allow photographs of himself in a beaked state to be published, because he's not a fool or anything.)

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has just fined one of its own members for insulting a fellow MP in a debate. The UK Independence Party leader, Nigel Farage, told the European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, that he had "the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk".

He also suggested that Mr Van Rompuy's native Belgium was "pretty much a non-country"; the European Court of Justice last week upheld his €3000 ($3712) fine.

Freedom of speech - it's simple in theory, but endlessly complicated and distorted by a million other factors of politics, circumstance, or the belief that you're restricting it for the best possible reasons.

In the end, freedom of speech is like democracy: the worst possible system, except for all the others.

Attempts to curb freedom of speech for entirely excellent reasons are the most tempting of all: the shutting down of hate speech, for example, or the protection of society from extremes.

Human nature is to insulate ourselves against nasty shocks. That's why we invented insurance. But you can't insure against genuinely irrational human evil, any more than you can against stupidity or malice.

Which is why the bottom line on freedom of speech must always be: sometimes you just have to suck it up.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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