How did your Senator vote on the $1.1 trillion Spending Bill?

Another US government shutdown was averted when the Senate approved the budget bill on Saturday,  Dec. 13. Voices were raised on both sides calling for No votes: Ted Cruz wanted the bill to do something about President Obama’s allegedly unconstitutional executive order on immigration enforcement, and Democratic progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders denounced the bill’s loosening of regulations on big banks. In the end, the bill passed 56 to 40. There’s a rundown on provisions of the bill at the Washington Post.

I wanted to know how my two senators voted, and had a bit of trouble locating that information. If you have the same question, there’s the official roll call here.

On that page, don’t be confused by the title of the bill, as I was. This really is the “omnibus spending bill” title:

H.R. 83: To require the Secretary of the Interior to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy …… needs of the insular areas of the United States and the Freely Associated States through the development of energy action plans aimed at promoting access to affordable, reliable energy, including increasing use of indigenous clean-energy resources, and for other purposes.

GovTrack explains it,

    This bill became the vehicle for passage of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 [pdf], which was approved by the House on December 11, 2014 and by the Senate on December 13, 2014.
    The bill was originally introduced on January 3, 2013 by Delegate Donna Christensen regarding clean energy in insular areas. It passed in the House on September 15, 2014 and the Senate on September 18, 2014, but the Senate made changes and sent it back to the House.
    The House subsequently replaced the entire text of the bill with the appropriations act and passed the bill in that form on December 11, 2014 (House vote), sending it back to the Senate for a final vote, which occurred on December 13, 2014 (Senate vote).
    The text of the original [energy-related] bill was put into a new bill, H.R.5803, which passed the House (again, in a sense).

And, if you are wondering about the reference to the “Freely Associated States” in that misleading title, they are the Federated 
States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands
(RMI), and the Republic of Palau. They were part of a trust territory administered by the US after World War II, and left that status after choosing to become chose to become “
sovereign nations in free association with the United States”.

Anyway, we have a federal budget…until the next showdown: it expires Sept. 30, 2015. And poor Homeland Security only gets funding through Feb. 27, 2015. Why? Because it runs most of the immigration-related stuff, so this allows for a whole new drama then, about the President’s Executive Order. Makes me tired just figuring it all out. 

Oh, and my senators? Both Oregon senators voted Nay, because of the banking regulation issue which relaxes rules concerning the sorts of transactions that led to the Great Recession of 2008. I emailed them my approval. We need a budget, but we need financial-system reform too.

 

Pogo;

Religion, contraception, and health insurance

In the US, there are two ways most of us get health insurance: through Medicaid (53 million enrollees) or Medicare (nearly 45 million), or through an employer (148 million).

That’s 44% of us relying on health insurance through our jobs, and the federal government has regulated this area for a long time, including mandating the inclusion of certain types of care. Nixon signed the Health Maintenance Organization Law of 1973, designed to encourage the formation of HMOs to provide medical care and contain costs. HMOs were required to deliver “basic health services” including mental health (maximum of 20 visits), medical treatment and referral for alcohol and drug abuse or addiction, home health services, and preventive services (vision care and preventive dental care for children, and family planning services). Other providers of health care for employees

Another 16% of the population receives health care through Medicaid, which is paid for jointly by the federal government and each state. States design their plans but must obey federal rules, which since 1972 have required that states include “family planning and supplies furnished (directly or under arrangements with others) to individuals of child-bearing age (including minors who can be considered to be sexually active)” to Medicaid eligible individuals. Though Medicaid coverage of prescription drugs is generally an option for states, contraceptives are specifically included under the mandate and therefore are required for all state programs. [This information is from a joint report by the Kaiser Foundation and the Guttmacher Institute; at the end of the post there appears an excerpt which summarizes why family planning was mandated.]

So, there is nothing new about the federal government requiring health care organizations such as HMOs to offer contraception, and every person or business paying state or federal taxes is supporting contraception dispensed by Medicaid.

What’s new is the government requiring that employers offer health care, and that the health care include contraception. Previously, we must suppose, religious organizations opposed to contraception have chosen health care plans that don’t cover it. Now, for good public health reasons (see the report excerpt at the end), that loophole is being closed.

Obama’s response to criticism of this requirement—criticism marked by hyperbole, e.g. calling it a “war on religion”, and a violation of freedom of religion—has been to say that the services must be offered, but no religious organization has to pay for contraceptive services: the insurance company must absorb the cost itself. Catholic bishops still object, and say they will take the issue to court, partly because some religious organizations are self-insured; no insurance company is involved. But as we have seen, if the churches are paying any taxes (sales tax, property tax on buildings they own and rent out, etc.) they’re already paying for Medicaid’s family planning, from counselling to IUDs and pills. If their court case succeeds, will they then file to be exempted from taxes that support Medicaid?

If Obama’s accommodation is the right solution, then surely we should exempt the Christian Science church from paying for health care insurance at all! And following this precedent, the rest of us should demand the same sort of line item veto for our income tax so we can opt out of paying for this or that war, for the agencies enforcing laws about civil rights and equal employment, for the next bank bailout, for federal aid to schools that teach sex education or evolution, for whatever we don’t personally like or need. The Tea Partyers will love this!

Coffee dyed paper

Below is the excerpt from the Kaiser Foundation/Guttmacher Institute report, Medicaid’s Role in Family Planning (2007).

Medicaid  family planning, excerpt from Guttmacher report at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_medicaidFP.pdf

Bin Laden’s death, a different point of view

The American media’s orgasm over the reported killing of Osama Bin Laden is unseemly and ill-advised. Here is why I think that.

Unseemly

Our morning newspaper had a single-word headline in huge black type, over Bin Laden’s photo:

Justice

At least they put quotation marks around it, appropriate to indicate a mis-applied word. And such an important word, too, concerning which we Americans have a particular pride. The United States: nation of laws.

The killing of Bin Laden was, of course, no more “justice” than a lynching is. What was it? Justifiable, yes; revenge sweet on the tongue of Americans, yes; necessary, perhaps—if only to tie up a politically embarrassing loose end.

I recognize that it was an impossible situation. There is no place on this planet, except perhaps Antarctica, where this man could have had a safe and reasonably public trial. Even if the trial were held at Camp McMurdo, there would predictably be suicide bombers elsewhere, mass murders of the innocent, just because.

So it had to be death, not capture. But having done it, let us not revel in it. And we might have done it better.

We could at least have pretended that we killed Bin Laden “during the fire fight”. The President in his address saidAfter a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body”. And Obama is a famously careful and considered speaker. Admitting that it was a deliberate killing, not one necessitated by combat, is honest, but it will enrage Muslims even more.

Ill-advised

The more we gloat, the more payback we will receive. No one should imagine that we have in any way made the US or the West safer by this deed. Islamic extremism is not a snake with one head to be cut off, or even two heads; as terrorism experts have endlessly told us, al Quaeda has for some years been a “franchise” with branches in many locations, and there are Muslims everywhere capable of low-budget, virtually impromptu, attacks. This is not like killing the political leader of an enemy nation; the root of the strife is no nation, but a religion.

Having killed Bin Laden we quickly disposed of his body to avoid the martyrdom issue; it might have been wiser to capture him, film his execution for later broadcast, and then drop the body in the ocean. He’ll be a martyr to many anyway, without doubt, and filming him alive and then showing his death would undermine the inevitable rumors that it’s all a hoax.

In matters concerning survival, clear thinking must be chosen over pleasing though misleading emotion. This is my effort.

Billboards for the Democrats

If you live in a state with hotly contested elections, your mail was full of wretchedly negative and misleading flyers last month. But, around here at least, we rarely see political billboards. When I did see one, it was this:

Billboard for conservatives.jpg

and it made me wonder why the Democrats hadn’t used billboards to get out simple positive messages about issues where there was great potential public support.

Here are some I made up, just quick mock-ups of a campaign for single-payer health care, but they give you the idea. If Obama had gotten people thinking along these lines, instead of ceding the issue to the Republicans, we might have a true universal health care system by now.

Health care for all means healthier kids billboard.jpg

“The United States provides health care to all senior citizens although children are the least expensive and most cost-effective group to cover.”

Single-payer health care for all means not losing your home to catastrophic health costs billboard.jpg

“Half of all respondents (49%) indicated that their foreclosure was caused in part by a medical problem, including illness or injuries (32%), unmanageable medical bills (23%), lost work due to a medical problem (27%), or caring for sick family members (14%). We also examined objective indicia of medical disruptions in the previous two years, including those respondents paying more than $2,000 of medical bills out of pocket (37%), those losing two or more weeks of work because of injury or illness (30%), those currently disabled and unable to work (8%), and those who used their home equity to pay medical bills (13%).

Altogether, seven in ten respondents (69%) reported at least one of these factors.” [from abstract of Christopher T. Robertson, Richard Egelhof, & Michael Hoke, “Get Sick, Get Out: The Medical Causes of Home Foreclosures” Health Matrix 18 (2008): 65-105.]

Billboardready to learn.jpg

Growing numbers of uninsured children have made it harder for educators to focus on classroom achievement without first addressing the medical needs of their students who lack health insurance or dental coverage. Instead of notifying parents when their children are ill, school officials increasingly must help find health care, arrange transportation for sick children and often advise beleaguered parents about the health consequences of their inaction. Schools that don’t accept the extra responsibility can lose those students to prolonged absences that jeopardize their academic advancement.“

And children who lack health insurance are unlikely to get help for conditions that interfere with learning, such as learning disabilities or vision and hearing problems.

Billboard “Single-payer health care for all…ask someone who already has it!”.jpg

An article about how people get happier as they get older, says it’s partly due to “resources that contribute to happiness, such as access to health care, Medicare and Medicaid”.

Billboard Single-payer health care for all…a healthier workforce”

Inadequately treated health problems result in lower productivity, greater absenteeism and turnover, and become more severe over time. Concern about losing job-related health insurance causes individuals to stay in jobs for which they are unsuited when they could be more productive and successful at other work (a situation called “job lock”).

Billboard, Universal Health Care means no more bake sales for kids with leukemia.jpg

It’s shameful to see contribution jars and raffles in local stores collecting for sick people who would otherwise be untreated. Mostly these are for kids, since we are all more sympathetic toward sick children, but there are also spaghetti feeds and various benefits put on for adults who have brain tumors or other acute and potentially fatal illnesses. And every year at this time brings those holiday campaigns in the newspaper, raising money for individuals or families, and often there’s a medical need there. One of the ones I remember was a local young man who’d lost a leg to bone cancer when he was 11; now he was working full time at a job (with no insurance) that was mostly standing, and since he was off his mother’s insurance he could not get a replacement for his outgrown prosthetic leg.

“It’s estimated that 9 million children are completely uninsured. But the new study says 11.5 million more kids end up without medical care for part of the year. And another 3 million can’t get a ride to the doctor. That’s more than 23 million children.” (2008 figures)

And finally,

Billboard Universal health care, it just amkes sense, and it’s the right thing to do

I don’t have a picture for this one. What I’d like it to be is not yet invented, some visual-mental device that reflects back to the viewer’s brain an image of him/herself, struck by a wasting disease well before the age of 65 when Medicare begins.

I do have a few more bits of information about the effects of not being insured. “Two large national studies of hospital admissions found that when the uninsured are admitted to a hospital, it is for a more serious mix of diseases and conditions, based on expected mortality, than the privately insured.…A study in California found that uninsured newborns with medical problems had significantly shorter stays (by 1.8-5.9 days) and received significantly less care (measured by total hospital charges) than privately insured newborns for several specific medical diagnoses. Another study found that the uninsured are at much greater risk of substandard hospital care due to negligence or poor quality: 40.3 percent of adverse events among the uninsured were due to negligence, compared to 20.3 percent for the privately insured who experienced adverse events.“ [source]

So the uninsured person, who is likely to be sicker when arriving at the hospital, is twice as likely to be the victim of negligent care during the stay. (Maybe it’s a mercy that the stay itself will be shorter than for the insured patient.) And the uninsured receive less treatment, whether for injury in a car accident, heart attack, or being born prematurely. More of them die, than insured people with the same conditions.

It’s a national disgrace and a drag on the economy; it’s contrary to our ideals and a terrible waste of the possibilities of human lives; it condemns many, from birth or before, to short and painful lives. It’s not open to compromise, Mr. President. You should have stood up for it and the issue should have been fully discussed before the people. If you think our attention spans are too short for extended discourse, you’re welcome to my billboard ideas.

Mouse with human brain speaks out

In the previous post, I described the one known mouse with a human brain. He’s named Clyven, and you can talk to him on the website of the hospital where research led to his creation. Or go direct to his page, here.

Well, imagine my surprise when Clyven himself posted a comment on that post. He was, as usual, brief and to the point:

Clyven's comment.jpg

Of course I rang Clyven up, and found him unengaged and ready to talk. He did not seem to remember our previous conversation but when I raised the subject of Christine O’Donnell, he became more animated. Here’s that portion of the brief interview:

ME: Clyven, I’d like to hear what you have to say about Ms. O’Donnell.
CLYVEN: I’m ever so pleased Christine O’Donnell spoke about me on the O’Reilly Factor back in 2007.
ME: What do you think of what she said?
CLYVEN: Aspiring Senator O’Donnell could perhaps learn a thing or two from a mouse with human cognition.
ME: And Christine O’Donnell as a person, how did she strike you?
CLYVEN: She’s funny. I think she is a witch!
ME: What are your political principles, Clyven?
CLYVEN: You should check out the main RYT Hospital web site for that: RYTHospital.com.
ME: A very politic answer, Clyven! Thank you for talking to us.

Clyven is a mouse of few words, which makes those few even more important. His gratitude for Ms. O’Donnell’s mentioning him on O’Reilly’s show may indicate that he would like to play a part on a wider stage himself. He is a native-born American, of American parents, but his crucial role in advanced biomedical research may rule out a run for office. A panel discussion, perhaps, with the two Delaware senatorial candidates? I can only hope that those whose job it is to plan such events and bring new points of view to the public, will be contacting him as soon as they’ve read this post.

O’Reilly, are you listening?

Christine O’Donnell, religion, and the human brain

Poor would-be senator Christine O’Donnell has been ridiculed for her comment about mice with human brains:

O’DONNELL: … these groups admitted that the report that said, “Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we’re using this to start cloning humans.” We have to keep…

O’REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won’t do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O’DONNELL: They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they’re already into this experiment.

From transcript of O’Reilly show, Friday, November 16, 2007.

Why would Ms. O’Donnell (or someone who informed her) believe this?

Reports of mouse-brain research have been greatly exaggerated

It doesn’t take much to find some of the “evidence” that may have convinced her or her informant. As others have noted, there have been experiments in which human cells were injected into embryo mice, and became part of their brains. A bit different than “cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains”, but all rumors have to start somewhere.

Bad reporting may be to blame: here’s the headline and first line of the 2005 article on the National Geographic site:

NatGeo article on mice.jpg

From nationalgeographic.com.

In case that last line is too small to read, it says “Researchers in California have created living mice with functioning human stem cells in their brains.”

Earlier that same year (2005) another article on the NatGeo site briefly referred to the same research (before it had occurred) this way “And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later this year to create mice with human brains.” The title of this misleading article was Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy. Yes, plenty of controversy, but in the article no hybridization is being talked about, only the use of stem cells to demonstrate their potential to be re-purposed. In biology, a hybrid is the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, such as a mule (a hybrid of a donkey and a horse), and that is the popular understanding as well. Few would consider a mouse with a few cells of human origin, all functioning as mouse cells, to be a hybrid.

mouse with human headSM.jpg

Christine, you need a smart friend; meet Clyven the mouse

But wait, it’s not all down to irresponsible journalism; perhaps Ms. O’Donnell got her information from this page, on the site of the prestigious RYT Hospital, about “Clyven: The World’s First Transgenic Mouse with Human Intelligence” :

Clyven1.jpg

Here’s the explanatory text from that page.

Margaret A. Keyes, M.D., Ph.D., is a researcher in genetic medicine and Professor of Cell Biology and Genetics at RYT Hospital-Dwayne Medical Center. She is exploring the use of embryonic stem cells as a means to cure neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

By implanting human brain cells (grown from a human embryo’s stem cells) into a mouse engineered to have Alzheimer’s, Dr. Keyes inadvertently made a remarkable and startling discovery: she not only cured the mouse’s Alzheimer’s Disease, but the animal soon developed the relative intelligence of a human being.

After extensive consideration by RYT Hospital’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), it was decided that this mouse would be placed under a new study led by Dr. Keyes’ lab.

As part of this new facility (pictured to the right), Clyven is placed inside a light-sensitive box with electrodes attached to him. He is able to communicate and interact with people via this neuro interface. He is able to communicate and interact with people via this neuro interface. [sic] To hear a live audio feed of Clyven inside his box, please click here.

© RYT Hospital-Dwayne Medical Center
Source.

Evidently RYT Hospital has a very understanding Ethics Committee; they approve of confining an animal with a human brain in a little box and punching his head full of electrodes. But Clyven is not bored—in fact, you are invited to chat with him or play a game against him.

Chat with Clyven.jpg

Unfortunately, Clyven’s conversation is limited and repetitious—maybe he himself wrote that quoted passage above, that has the repeated sentence. My best conversation with him was this one,

ME: Hi Clyven.
MOUSE: Yo.
ME: Do you know that a tea party candidate is talking about you?
MOUSE: That’s pretty silly.
ME: Yes.
MOUSE: Tell me more.
ME: I don’t want you to know how dumb people can get.
MOUSE: I’m sorry. I hope to get smarter as time goes on. Please be patient with me. I will be receiving additional neurological treatments next week.

On the other hand, don’t let him persuade you to bet money on that CheezeMaze contest, he’ll beat you paws down.

It’s surprising we haven’t heard more about this RYT Hospital, with the amazingly advanced and useful research that is being done there. Elsewhere on the site, you can read about a new drug, Revitalex

Revitalex.jpg

about successful gene therapy for back pain, and about “NanoDocs”, nanobots that circulate throughout the body repairing tissues.

medical nanites.jpg

Okay, so it’s not a real site but the project of an artist named Virgil Wong. He’s a painter, film-maker, and head of web design for two real hospitals.

Still, can’t you see how anybody might be taken in by the slick style, and accept that there really is a mouse with human intelligence, and nanobots that can tidy up your blood vessels?

No? You say anyone beyond the stage of believing in the Tooth Fairy should have seen through this? and through the distorted reports of growing human brains in mice?

I think so too.

Wherever Christine O’Donnell may have gotten her “information” about mice with human brains, the real problem is minds like hers that are unprepared to question things that most of us would find outlandish. They also believe that Obama is Hitler, Stalin, and a Kenyan anti-colonialist, all at the same time! which would explain why, as I have heard on good authority, Obama has three heads, a fact cleverly concealed by camera angles and good tailoring.

Newt, Eastern.jpg

Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), Red Eft Stage. Etymological note: Notophthalamus from the Greek noto (a mark) and ophthalmus (eye), presumably in reference to the eye spots on the sides and back; viridescens from the Latin, (slightly green) referring to the greenish color of the adults. Source.

One born every minute? or are they made?

Where do these credulous people come from? I don’t mean people like Newt Gingrich, who will repeat anything—no matter how preposterous—if it seems advantageous. No, demagogues use untruths consciously, with calculated intent. The power of the demagogue depends upon there being enough people who cannot distinguish between the likely, the possible, and the absurd, and therefore won’t laugh him off his soapbox. And where do they come from?

The beginning preparation for most credulous people of otherwise normal intelligence is, I think, being raised with a huge area of life and thought which is categorically excluded from rational examination. Now, every culture and sub-culture has some areas like that, because they are essential as part of the group’s self-definition. In this Land of the Unquestioned reside things like appropriate behavior (manners), kinship rules, dress codes, what we eat and how we cook it, all that sort of thing. That’s why our way of life seems so logical and natural, and other groups’ ways seem bizarre and senseless.

No problem when it’s a question of the relative merits of haggis or corn on the cob, but in the area of exclusion there are more significant topics also, such as attitudes to the “Other” (women, outsiders, those in your own group who don’t conform), and toward violence. That’s the cultural “Don’t think about these things” list. Then there’s religion and its list.

Religion is the really big no-fly zone for human reason. It covers a much wider area of life than ordinary cultural indoctrination, often upon a foundation of dogmatic zeal which asserts sole possession of truth, and enforces details of the dogma with extreme fervor.

Totalitarianism and extremist religions share two fundamental principles: there is only one true way, and everyone must be forced to acknowledge it. It is not enough for the non-believer to refrain from critical expression and deviant action: he or she must be made to believe. Hence the show trials held by the Soviets, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Inquisition, in which tortured inmates confess their nonexistent sins; hence the death penalty for apostasy in Islam, and the roasting alive of unrepentant Christians by the Romans and doggedly heathen Native Americans by the Christians. The Other must be brought within the fold or die, and it should be done in a public and painful way to present a compelling example to everyone else.

Children are born enquirers (non-believers), and about the age of three they start to ask “Why?” about everything, with irritating persistence. Give an answer and they ask for more details or ask “Why?” again. (Offer a non-answer like “I don’t know” or “Be quiet” and they repeat the original question or say nothing; curiosity discouraged begins to shut down.) Their brains are making and pruning connexions, they’re constructing an internal model of the world, and they want and need to know more and to discuss their own thoughts. They are also learning how to learn, how to figure things out.

A child who gets yelled at for asking about talking snakes, or smacked for asking why the God of Love is such a bloody-handed war-approving tyrant in the Old Testament (see note 1), will learn to accept what he or she is told and not think about it. The lesson is to avoid questioning—especially the things in life that seem illogical, cruel, unfair, out of sync with reality. And that “respect for authority” (actually, it is only respect for power and avoidance of punishment) carries over into other parts of life. The more intensely the “No Questions Zone” is defended, the more timid the young mind’s reason becomes.

Curiosity is inborn, but logic is learned. When children are exposed to illogical conclusions, such as “You got a cold right after you ate that ice cream, so no more ice cream” or “I know the Bible is the Word of God because the preacher says so and the Bible says to follow what the preacher says” they won’t learn the basic rules of logic that help humans sort true from false, as well as “probably true” from “probably false”. Ignorance of logic is of course a good thing for those enforcing a monolithic belief system.

Our country’s culture has an equivocal position on learning. Along with its tradition of independence and individualism, the US also has a strong anti-intellectual tradition, because of its religious foundations and the pragmatic demands of survival on successive frontiers from New England to the Pacific coast. When book-larnin’ is seen as irrelevant, perhaps un-masculine, some will make a positive virtue of ignorance. Also, study is hard, ignorance is effortless. Entropy prevails.

Logic and critical thinking are not enough. In order to winnow the wheat from the chaff reliably, it’s necessary to have some actual knowledge. When a statement is made, the hearers check it against their relevant knowledge base. This process is usually instant and automatic. The new information may directly conflict with existing knowledge, or it may just appear quite unlikely based on what is already known. A certain stock of knowledge, reliable because it has been tested or was provided by a trusted authority, is needed to get through life. Yet even some of this knowledge may be false—blondes are dumb, bankers are trustworthy, a barking dog never bites—and individuals must also possess the willingness to re-examine beliefs based on new experience. Except in the No Thinking Zone, where the only safe course is to agree with authority and otherwise keep your mouth shut.

When politics is the subject, then history must have special prominence among relevant areas of knowledge. Just like more workaday fields of endeavor, political systems embody responses to real needs and problems. If I were re-designing the internal combustion engine, I would first need to know why each part had been designed as it was; what earlier mechanisms were tried for mixing the fuel or timing the ignition, and what were their flaws?

It is history which answers these questions in politics, and must be consulted before tinkering or throwing away parts. For example, decades of controversy about the constitutional provision in the First Amendment usually referred to as “separation of church and state” have distorted public understanding of the law’s intent by framing it as a dispute between agnostics or atheists, vs. religious people. In fact it was enacted to defend all religions from government, and from a preference being shown for a single church, as well as to protect government (or non-religious persons) from religion. And the history of state-established religions illustrates the many repressions and disenfranchisements which are imposed upon members of the non-official religions, even including banishment and death. Only modern ignorance permits the discussion of this subject to be framed entirely as a conflict between religion and irreligion. [Christine O’Donnell, in a recent debate, was ignorant of the provision entirely. After the phrase “Government shall make no law respecting establishment of religion” was quoted to her, she asked “That is in the First Amendment?” Yes, it is, though the exact words are “Congress shall make no…”.]

Logic, general knowledge, critical thinking, history: how is the American public doing on these?

37% of Americans believe that houses can be haunted, and 25% believe in astrology, i.e. that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives.

Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity, only about 10% know what radiation is, and 20% think the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science abandoned by the 17th century.

50% of our fellow citizens believe in alien abductions, though happily only 7% say they or someone they know has been abducted.

39% of Americans could not name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

14 percent of Americans say President Barack Obama may be the Antichrist (24 percent of Republicans believe this). Almost 20% believe he is a Muslim. Does that add up to 34% or is there some overlap?

Two-thirds of 1,000 American adults polled couldn’t name a single current justice of the Supreme Court. In the same survey, more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution.

And 21% believe in witchcraft, so O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” ad did have its audience.

When you look through these and other poll results it seems that at least 10% to 25% of Americans believe in just about any unproven concept you can imagine. A larger percentage is very ignorant of history and public affairs.

If you’re reading this, and have been apathetic about getting to the polls, you better think again.

One final poll result: in 2009, 19% percent of Americans agreed that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, and 39% said the press has too much freedom.

mr natural.jpg

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

NOTE 1: I cite only two examples, both from the same holy book, for the sake of brevity, but every religion seems to have its own set of magical events and unquestioned cruelties which must be accepted in order to belong. Belong, get along, go along.