Thursday, January 27, 2005

D.C. Gripes
By Alexander Marriott

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is forwarding legislation to allow "full voting rights" to those living in the District of Columbia, in effect granting them the ability to elect representatives to the congress. Since the District would still not be a state it could not elect senators. As of yet he has been unable to get a Republican to co-sponsor his bill, but he is threatening to attach his bill to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 coming up this year as a way to force the issue. On the surface this may seem a harmless bill, but it cuts to the very structure of the congress established in the Constitution after long and reasoned debate. To change this for those living in the District, all of whom have known full well the structure of the government and the law (but not the reasoning) preventing them from having representation in the congress. The fact that this wall of separation was compromised in the allowance of D.C. to have electoral college votes for the Presidency does not help in defending the organization of the government against this latest onslaught.

Now while it is quite obvious that Democrats have an incentive to get D.C. established for national representation because it would most assuredly send all Democrats to the congress, this is not the big problem with the plan. The capital was established on independent federal land to make sure that it would be independent of any particular state for land. The land now called the District of Columbia was secured in a compromise over Alexander Hamilton's fiscal stability plan during the presidential administration of George Washington.

The congress was established as the main repository of the legislative power (main because the President plays a limited though important role in the legislative process through the exercise of his veto) and was divided into two bodies for sound reasons. The lower house of representatives would be the direct representation of the people of the states and would be empowered by its exclusive ability to appropriate money. The upper house, or senate, would act as a body of ambassadors from the states to the federal government. As all the states were legal equals they were entitled to equal senate representation. Its members were, like the President, the indirect representatives of the people, as they were, until the passage of the 17th amendment, elected by the state legislatures. In other words, the congress was designed with the specific purpose to act as the representative of the people of the states and the states themselves. The District of Columbia is not a state and thus it can never, constitutionally, have any of representation guaranteed to the states.

The land set aside from Virginia and Maryland which forms the District of Columbia was meant for the specific purpose of housing the buildings of the federal government. The executive mansion, the supreme court, and the congress being the main buildings, but also accompanied by the office buildings for the departments of government. Those working for the federal government, whether it be the President or a clerk, were not meant to live their lives out in the capital. They were there as the representatives of states in the union or as the duly elected representatives of the country at large, or an aide to such a person. Anyone who would give up his residency in a state to live in the capital would be willingly giving up the right to vote in that state or any other, as only a resident of a state can vote for a state's representatives. This does not mean they become modern day Helots who have no recourse against any excesses of the federal government, but it does mean they are not in the same situation as their fellow citizens who live in the states. Living in the capital puts one under the authority of a municipal government with a mayor, but one which can be overruled by the congress. With this choice to live in the capital, as opposed to Maryland or Virginia, comes the known consequence of not having representation in the congress, because the congress is meant for the states which make up the federation which is the government of the United States of America.

Perhaps an understanding of the history of America and the reasoning that went into establishing the government will quell this push to make the District of Columbia something which it is not and cannot be, a state. Or perhaps the push for a fundamental change in the government in based almost solely on making partisan political gains which cannot be achieved in the states. Whatever the reason behind all the D.C. gripes, the fact remains that the movement is ill-informed and frankly dangerous to the already precarious balance upon which our government is organized.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dinosaurs and the Biblical Narrative of Creation
By Alexander Marriott

Perhaps my audience for this article is limited to skeptics, atheists, and other assorted non-believers, but if others read it I would greatly appreciate some sort of feedback as I have never received a satisfactory answer concerning the question of dinosaurs and the Biblical account of the creation of the world. For in essence, the presence of dinosaurs debunks the entire Biblical account in two fundamental ways. The first is the age of the earth which sense-ignoring fundamentalists contend is somewhere in the thousands of years; which is clearly impossible given (among innumerable other pieces of evidence) the presence of a whole other class of earth dominating animals that clearly predate human beings. The second is that the Biblical account fails to mention dinosaurs in numerous places starting with the creation of the earth along with animals and plants (dinosaurs not mentioned at all) and going into the infamously stolen Noah account (from the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh story among others) which does not mention any dinosaurs or a number of other beasts which exist on the planet today and would not have had time under the Biblical time frame to evolve, notably absent the American bison.

The reason I bring this up is not because I have any problems with this, being an atheist it makes no difference to me that religious texts that claim to be derived from supernatural forces and deities miss precisely the knowledge human beings at the time they were written lacked. But what troubles me is the tremendous amount of mental shutdown people who do believe in the Biblical account must be forcing upon themselves, or are simply unaware of in their unsubstantiated belief systems which are debunked, or at the very least, seriously challenged by the simple fact that God seems to have left out knowledge of the dinosaurs in his attempts to describe the creation of the earth and mankind (which allegedly happened in six days, although we need to know when the sun was created because without that, days are impossible, except that those who would have written the first books of the Bible would have assumed that the sun went around the earth, or something close to this belief).

The recent ascendance by the insanely religious, due mainly to the media wrongly attributing the recent election victory of President Bush to some sort of overriding concern with all things “moral” which in the media’s vernacular of ill-defined concepts means religious, has encouraged our modern day Augustines to stand up taller than before and shout their nonsense with a little more confidence than before. With their new-found publicity and reputation as king-makers the religious leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc., and their political friends like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have become more grandiose and aggressive in their religiously inspired assertions such as the renewed attack on evolution under the guise of teaching the entirely ascientific “intelligent design.”

The only problem is that “intelligent design” is on no better foundation scientifically than the Biblical account of creation given that its proponents do not offer evidence, merely assertions and questions based on the inability of scientists to explain certain things given gaps in current evidence. In the end the argument for “intelligent design” falls down to the “it could have happened this way because you cannot prove that it did not happen this way” argument. Of course if we are going to allow every theory that meets this criteria to be treated as legitimate science then I demand that my theory of purple unicorns in the center of the earth running the universe should also be taught as equally plausible since no one has been to the center of the earth yet to prove that I am wrong. Besides the purple unicorns told me it was true so I do not see why there should be a problem.

No matter what one may bring up as a reason to toss the Bible in the waste bin as anything other than poorly written literature, the fanatics will not be swayed from their irrational commitments, unless they snap out of it themselves. So long as people willingly abdicate their ability to think, there will be peddlers dressed in robes to collect money in exchange for pure and unadulterated hogwash.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Book Recommendation

A new feature for this blog will be short reviews of books I am reading or have already read that I think rational people would enjoy. To kick off this feature I have selected the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming, Casino Royale. All of the James Bond novels are exciting page turner adventure stories that encapsulate the actual internal dynamics of James Bond's life and romances, which tend to be cheapened by the movies. James Bond also doesn't skate by bad guys in these novels as he seems to in the movies, he is often beaten, tortured, shot, stabbed, etc. throughout the series, but he always pulls himself together or is saved by friendly agents before it is too late. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these novels and Casino Royale is the place to start since the stories are told in chronological order and because it is James Bond's first major adventure. The baccarat scene with the villain Le Chiffre and the final confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre are beautifully written passages that put you into the story with the penultimate British secret agent, James Bond.