Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The "jerk" in today's Jerk of the Day is for Dennis Kneale's knee-jerk reaction to an FDA advisory panel's recommendation to lower the maximum daily dosage of acetaminophin, the active ingredient in Tylenol, Vicadin, Percocett and a number of other medications. According to the panel, acetaminophen causes more liver damage than any other drug with as many as 20,000 accidental overdoses each year and as many as 100-200 deaths. Kneale couldn't pass up the chance to take a couple swipes at the Obama administration though:
This is an activist Obama FDA vowing that they’re going to take the lead in making the American public healthier. The side effect from too much use of Tylenol on the liver has been known for what, five or ten years? Only now it’s a new administration with a new policy and they’re going to crack down. I just think a simple warning “Hey, don’t take it so much” ought to be enough here. (Responding to the number of people who die each year) Out of how many millions who take it every year? It’s such a small number. Now you are going to have people who aren’t taking it enough and they will be in pain as a result of this decision. I just say its way interventionist and it’s an FDA commissioner who is crusading rather than regulating. And we’re going to change the rules for all of them because a hundred or two hundred die. I love the Obama era, they’re just protecting us from ourselves again and again.
That’s right! This moron actually suggested that the FDA should put a warning on a package that says “Hey, don’t take it so much” rather than recommending a specific maximum dosage.
Of all the jerks on CNBC, I least understand how Dennis Kneale still has a job. While Kudlow, Santelli and Cabruso-Cabrera are every bit as ideological, they usually have enough sense to stick to vague free market shibboleths rather than offering specific proposals that would expose their vacuity. Kneale just blurts out anything that comes into his head even if means scoffing at people dying.
It is hard for me to believe that anyone is going to see this as FDA overreaching. It’s not like changing the recommended dosage will prevent anyone from gobbling down as much Tylenol he wants. Maybe Kneale is worried that he won’t be able to get his doctor to prescribe enough Vicadin or Percocet to keep his capacity for rational thought disabled. If this qualifies as “crusading” from the Obama administration, I think we are in deep trouble.
I’m also rather puzzled that Kneale would want to make a point of the fact that the FDA did nothing about this side effect during the Bush administration. On the other hand, I suppose that Kneale figures that eight deaths from samonella is nothing compared to all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that get eaten.
My friend TGirsch has encouraged me to do more posts on the daily inanities on CNBC. I hope he appreciates that just the thought of how much Tylenol I am going to need to get rid of the pain in my skull that comes from listening to this jackass is causing my liver to fail.
Sure he can! After being diagnosed with cancer, if a customer who has paid his premiums for years doesn't like the fact that his policy has been rescinded because he didn't tell the insurance company about some note on a chart that he never knew the doctor had made, he can just get coverage from some other company. No problem!
There is an old movie from the 1960's called Guide for the Married Man in which Robert Morse instructs Walter Matthau in the fine art of philandering through a series of vignettes with cameos by many stars of the day. In one of them, Joey Bishop is caught by his wife in bed with another woman. His wife is played by Ann Morgan Gilbert a.k.a. Millie Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Bishop and the other woman quickly dress and make the bed as he ignores his wife's demands for an explanation. The choreography of the scene is perfectly executed by director Gene Kelly and in a matter of seconds, the woman is gone and Bishop is sitting innocently in a chair reading his newspaper as Gilbert stands in stunned silence trying to figure out what just happened. The moral as Morse explains to Matthau is to always deny everything.
I am put in mind of this scene almost everyday by someone on CNBC pretending that the last two years of financial turmoil never took place. Today it was Michelle Cabruso-Cabrera drawing the obvious conclusion from the Bernie Madoff scandal: get rid of the S.E.C. Naturally, the answer to crime is to get rid of the police. As she explains to former S.E.C. enforcer Thomas Gorman, "Government regulation gets in the way. It doesn't protect anybody." She prefers to put her confidence in those free market forces that didn't catch Madoff either while producing credit default swaps and toxic mortgage-backed securities.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Madoff’s approach may not have been all that much different than the thinking behind the current bank bailout. Bank balance sheets are loaded with toxic assets, but mark-to-market accounting has been suspended so that they don't have to recognize the losses and the government is pumping in additional money and lowering the banks' cost of funds in the hopes that they can earn their way out of the mess. Unfortunately, Bernie didn't have the government backstopping his schemes.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
By 1988, I came to the conclusion that a rising tide did not necessarily lift all boats. More importantly, I concluded that most of the people who were preaching the virtues of trickle down economics really didn't care whether anything trickled down or not.
It's like my Daddy used to tell me: Democrats and Republicans are all in politics trying to grab a piece of the pie, but with Democrats, the pie gets split more ways.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Evangelical Christians frequently accuse me of possessing an anti-supernatural bias that prevents me from objectively evaluating the historical evidence for Christianity. The funny thing is that we usually aren’t discussing some miraculous event when they level this charge. Often, we are discussing some fact that is entirely amenable to historical inquiry.
For example, did Jesus' early followers willingly die for their belief that he was the Messiah? That seems like a fact that I could accept or reject based purely on the historical evidence regardless of how I feel about the supernatural. After all, I don't have any trouble believing that there were people at Waco or Jonestown who willingly died as a result of a sincere belief in the outlandish claims made by David Koresh or Jim Jones. I can recognize as historical fact that some people willingly followed these men to their deaths regardless of whether I believe in miracles because it was in all the papers at the time
The early evidence that the apostles died for their beliefs isn’t nearly as strong though. Writing late in the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus reports that James was put to death for some unspecified unlawful conduct. It is seventy-five years before Christian sources start reporting that James was specifically executed for refusing to renounce his beliefs. The Roman historian Tacitus reports that Nero scapegoated the Christians in 67 A.D. for the fire in Rome that he was suspected of starting. If in fact, Peter and Paul were put to death at this time, it had nothing to do with their beliefs. Some of the traditions that have the apostles dying for their beliefs can only be dated to centuries after the fact
Even where there is evidence of persecution, it is difficult to establish as historical fact the specific belief for which early Christians were willing to die. The Romans didn’t persecute Christians because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or because they believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. The Romans didn’t care what the Christians believed. The Romans persecuted Christians for refusing to make the sacrifices that were necessary to maintain the favor of the pagan gods. The Jews occasionally encountered problems for the same reason without believing in Jesus at all. The historical record is not clear about the specific belief that inspired the Christians to martyrdom regardless of whether one believes in the supernatural.
It is even hard to establish what most of the foundational beliefs of the first Christians were, much less their willingness to die for them. It is not an aversion to miracles that makes me question whether the initial spread of Christianity was based on Jesus’ works and teachings. It is the historical fact that the most prolific writer and missionary of the early church says almost nothing about what Jesus said or did. Paul’s theology seems to be based exclusively on his personal interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection In fact, all the first century letters, including Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, are practically bereft of references to anything Jesus himself taught or did. As a question of historical fact, most of what the first followers of Jesus believed about him isn't clear.
Sometimes I get charged with an anti-supernatural bias for questioning the traditional authorship of the gospels. I doubt that anyone thinks that non-belief in miracles causes English literature scholars to conclude that William Shakespeare didn't write all the plays that are attributed to him. Nevertheless, some Christians seem to think that such bias can be the only motive for doubting whether first-century Palestinian peasants could have written Greek as well as the authors of the gospels did. According to them, only an atheistic hyper-skeptic would doubt that Irenaeous actually had any evidential basis for identifying Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as the authors of the canonical gospels a century after they were written.
Perhaps scholars in all fields should consider the possibility of the supernatural in their work. Wouldn’t a little miraculous intervention go a long way to explain how an uneducated commoner became the Bard of Avon? Supernatural explanations could be a great boon to military historians. They would not longer have to reconcile contradictory accounts that put a key commander at two different places on the battlefield. Simply invoke the supernatural and he’s at both places at the same time.
Christian apologists like to claim that allowing for the supernatural best explains all the evidence about Jesus of Nazareth, but I don’t think that this is true. It is the historian who applies methodological naturalism who has to find an explanation for the fantastic stories that are found in the gospels. The apologist doesn’t have to explain anything. Since he is not bound by any natural laws, he can just accept everything at face value.
For that matter, why do apologists feel bound to try to harmonize the contradictions in the different gospels? As long as natural law and natural reason don’t define the parameters of what is possible, why can’t both John and Mark be right even though they say the crucifixion took place on different days? Why couldn’t God have performed a little miracle that made both Acts and Matthew true in their accounts of Judas’ death? Do the apologists betray their own anti-supernatural bias when they insist upon harmonizing away the contradictions in the Bible?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
This whole war has been a heap of lies. We came into the war because a few men in authority , 'the dreamers', flung us into it. they could not accept that you don't do politics by dreaming. Politics is reality. You don't stake the future of a nation on a dream, a yearning for reinvigoration. It is idiotic to imagine that war can be a means of healing.Colonel Angelo Gatti writing in 1917 on Italy's decision to enter the First World War. From The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thomson.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Christian apologists often argue that the New Testament accounts can be trusted because they were written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses who could have pointed out any inaccuracies in the stories. It is hard for me to believe that that anyone who has actually read any history would buy such an argument. Grant and Sherman wrote their memoirs during the lifetime of tens of thousands of eyewitnesses who had served under or fought for or against General Thomas. In addition to the eyewitnesses, there were extensive written records of the campaigns in which Thomas served. Nevertheless, history largely accepted Grant and Sherman's version of events for many years.
It is not hard to see why Thomas' side of the story did not get told for a long time. He died in 1869 whereas Grant served as President of the United States from 1868 to 1876. Sherman became head of the army when Grant was elected President and he was followed in that post by General John Schofield who had intrigued to replace Thomas before his brilliant victory at the Battle of Nashville. Although Thomas had many loyal supporters, anyone with any military or political career ambitions after the war had little to gain by publicly challenging the accepted wisdom about who deserved credit for winning the war.
Confederate General James Longstreet faced a similar situation in the south. After the war, he was ostracized for committing two unpardonable sins: he criticized Lee's tactics and strategy at Gettysburg and other battles and he became a Republican and supported Grant's administration. As a result, other Confederate generals sought to make him the scapegoat for the defeat at Gettysburg as well as other setbacks suffered by the South. Historians today regard Longstreet as one of the finest brigade commanders on either side, but for many years, the accepted wisdom was that he had let Lee down at key moments.
I have been in several discussions recently in which a Christian claimed that historical methodology requires us to accepted the gospel accounts at face value because we have no evidence that they are not historically factual or that their authors did not intend to relate historical facts. This is just silly. Sometimes people do tell the absolute truth, but that isn't something to be expected. Most people tell the story from a particular perspective and some people shamelessly fabricate events to fit the way they would like others to believe they happened. It is only by comparing various versions of events that historians develop confidence in any particular version or combination of versions.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
This is what "market-based" solutions to the health care crisis looks like: insurance companies rewarding employees for cancelling people's insurance when they get sick.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I do not believe this propensity is sufficient reason to infer the existence of God. The rationalist in me says that it is probably some adaptation hardwired into the human psyche by evolution hundreds of thousands of years ago in order to cope with the overwhelming profundity of consciousness.
The problem for me is that what science knows about the workings of the human mind pales in comparison to what it doesn’t know. Science can’t tell us exactly how this spiritual propensity in man developed. More importantly, science can’t presently tell us that religion still does not fill some important psychological need. So while I am fully sympathetic with the more militant atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens when it comes to all the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of one religion or another, I don’t think that they have come close to establishing that all mankind would be better off without any religion.
I do not believe that belief in God is inherently irrational, but I do think that rationality suffers when religions, sects, and denominations insist upon objectifying what are subjective spiritual experiences. The inability or unwillingness to distinguish between understanding founded on empirical observation and understanding based on religious faith is what I find troubling.
I realize that none of this may actually be relevant to whether I am an atheist or an agnostic. It does, however, leave me in doubt about whether there is anything to be gained by affirming that God is non-existent rather that merely acknowledging that God is unknowable. Since resolving those doubts is not a particularly high priority in my life right now, I think I think I will remain more comfortable under the label “agnostic.”
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Recently, a Christian pointed me to N.T. Wright's "refutation" of the hypothesis that that the first appearances of the risen Jesus were visionary or hallucinatory experiences:
My response to this proposal is (a) that it requires enormous credulity to
suppose that, even allowing Peter and Paul to have had such fantasies or
hallucinations they would have generated more than a passing comment of sympathy
among their colleagues or contemporaries; (b) that psychological theories of
this sort—about people two thousand years ago in a different culture—are at best
unprovable and at worst wildly fantastic. But, and most important, (c) the
proposal simply does not make sense within the world or first-century Judaism.
Let's just think about this:
(1) It is an established historical fact that large numbers of nineteenth century Americans abandoned their homes in upstate New York for an arduous trek to Navoo, Illinois, followed by an even more arduous trek to Salt Lake City based on Joseph Smith's claim that he had looked into a hat and used magic seer stones to translate golden plates whose location had been revealed to him by a native american angel. Nevertheless, it somehow strains Wright's credulity to think that first century Jews and pagans might have been taken in by claims that a man had risen from the dead.
(2) Wright believes in the literal truth of every supernatural story in the Bible up to and including the zombie saints of Matthew Matt 28:53. Still, he insists that the possibility that Paul and Peter had a hallucination borders on the "wildly fantastic."
(3) Wright sneers at the notion of proposing psychological theories about people living two thousand year ago in a different culture. Nevertheless, he claims to understand first century Jewish thinking so well that he can confidently dismiss the possibility that they might be as gullible and uncritical as the nineteenth century followers of Joseph Smith, the sixteenth century followers of Sabbati Zevi, and the twelfth century followers of Francis of Assisi who all believed that God had acted miraculously through their leaders.
Is there anything in there that withstands thirty seconds reflection?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
When The Daily Show does a piece that humorously exposes your foibles, SHUT THE FUCK UP!!
Last week, Jon Stewart poked fun at the new deal under which Starbucks is sponsoring MSNBC's Morning Joe program. I didn't think the piece was terribly scathing, but Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski decided to react with huffy indignation and attack Stewart's sense of humor. How'd that work out for ya Joe?
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Morning Joe's Sarcastic Starbucks Sponsorship|
Here’s a classic from radio’s Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff:
I would like to deal with another supposed problem with the Bible that BartSo what’s Hank’s answer to this contradiction? He figures that John kept two different running totals of signs, one for signs performed in Cana and one for signs performed in Jerusalem.
Ehrman addresses in his book Jesus Interrupted. Ehrman states, “In John’s
gospel, Jesus performs his first miracle in chapter 2, when he turns water into
wine…and we’re told that ‘this was the first sign that Jesus did’ (John 2:11).
Later in that chapter we’re told that Jesus did ‘many signs’ in Jerusalem (John
2:23). And then, in chapter 4, he heals the son of a centurion and the author
says ‘This was the second sign that Jesus did.’ Huh? One sign, many signs and
then the second sign?”
To begin with, as clearly communicated in the Gospel of John, the first
miraculous sign that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee was to change water into
wine (John 2:1-11). Once again class, the first miraculous sign, number one in
Cana in Galilee was changing water into wine. Furthermore, in the Gospel of
John, the second miraculous sign Jesus performed while at Cana in Galilee was
healing the son of a centurion (John 4:26-54). What was the second sign Jesus
performed at Cana while in Galilee? All together now class: healing the son of a
centurion while at Cana in Galilee.
As should be patently obvious to Ehrman, the fact that Jesus did many signs inYou have to love the condescension, but the real red flag here is that Hanegraaff doesn’t quote the relevant verses from John. Anytime you see an apologist explaining the meaning of a Bible verse without quoting it, there is a darn good chance that it doesn’t say what he claims it is saying. Let’s take a look at John 2:23 in a few widely accepted translations:
Jerusalem is not a problem with the Bible at all.
- This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. NIV
- This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. NASB
- This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. KJV
- This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. NKJV
Note that not a single translation refers to “the signs that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee” as opposed to signs that Jesus did somewhere else. The only logical interpretation is that turning water into wine was the first of all the miracles that Jesus did rather than the first of the miracles that he did in a particular geographic location.
Here is another red flag: not only does Hank fail to quote the verse that refers to the second of Jesus’ miracles, he doesn’t even specifically identify John 4:54 as the verse where it occurs. He just refers to the entire passage John 4:26-54. The cynic might suspect that this verse is even worse for Hank’s argument and he would be right.
- This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee. NIV
- This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. NASB
- This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee. KJV
- This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. NKJV
In this verse it's even clearer that John isn’t talking about the number of miracles that were performed in a particular place because the reference to Galilee is being used to establish the time period during which the miracle was performed. In order for Hank’s logic to apply, John would have to be referring to three running totals: the number of miracles Jesus performed when he began his ministry in Galilee, the number performed when he went to Jerusalem, and now, the number of miracles he performed after he returned from Jerusalem to Galilee.
Another entertaining harmonization I ran across was an attempt to reconcile the reaction of the women to finding the tomb empty in Matthew and in the original ending of Mark
- Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Mark 16:8
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8
There are a number of ways to reconcile these verses. It should be noted firstHmmm?
that Matthew speaks of their intention, while Mark speaks of their action.
Second, while the women ran in fear, it may be that Mark was attempting to
convey their intention to avoid speaking on the way to the disciples. Third,
perhaps they “told” without ever “speaking.” Certainly, there is nothing here to
lead to the conclusion that the two are contradictory.
I don’t really get Randy’s first reconciliation. How does it help that Matthew is merely talking about their intention when what they intend to do is exactly what Mark says they didn’t do? Moreover, while Matthew does not actually describe the women telling the disciples about the empty tomb, the disciples end up going to Galilee to meet Jesus according to the instructions that Jesus gives the women so it seems pretty clear Matthew thinks that the women actually did the thing that Mark says they didn’t do.
I guess the second one isn’t the worst harmonization I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly better that the harmonization of Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18 in which Judas hangs himself from a tree, but the rope breaks and his body flips over in the air so that he lands head first with his stomach bursting open. Still, it is hard for me to buy that Mark intended the climactic point of his narrative to be that the women didn’t stop to tell any strangers about the empty tomb as they ran to tell the disciples.
The third one just strikes me as silly. Did the women mime the empty tomb for the rest of the disciples? Did they do an interpretive dance? Maybe they played charades.
What I love most though is Randy’s final assertion: “Certainly, there is nothing here to lead to the conclusion that the two are contradictory.” Oh really? It’s certain? There’s nothing at all? Not even a little bit? I guess that Randy and Hank figure that they make themselves appear erudite by being dismissive of anyone who has the gall to apply elementary logic to the Bible.
Monday, June 1, 2009
While I would like to see further confirmation of this story, the notion that we attacked Iraq because Shrub thought that Saddam was some scary monster that he read about in his magic book is profoundly disturbing.