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Archive for August, 2008

Repeal Indiana’s Sectarian and Ineffective Blue Laws

Posted by Skeptigator on August 11, 2008

As many who live in Indiana are aware, we have some interesting laws regulating the sale of alcohol. Most notably is the prohibition of alcohol sales of any kind (beer, wine and liquor) on Sundays and during Election Days.

I can understand to some extent why Election Day is off-limits. It’s simply one of those hold-over laws that has never been repealed long after the practice has ended (many polling stations were in bars and pubs) for which the law was intended to regulate. Everybody has these kinds of laws. Here’s a state-by-state listing of weird and funny laws. Note the authors choice of funny Indiana laws, I believe this is the definition of irony.

However, one must ask themselves why we prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays. What’s so special about Sunday? [wink, wink]. Of course, everyone knows exactly why Sunday is singled out. I for one think it’s time to repeal Indiana’s Blue Laws.

There are 2 approaches to arguing for this, one more suitable in a freethought framework , the other is simple economics:

Indiana’s current Blue Laws are a remnant of religiously-dominant Prohibition-era thinking.

You only have to look at the history of Indiana’s Blue Laws (and Prohibition nationally) to realize that the motivations for banning alcohol sales were purely religious. The most notable example is the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, as a hint this wasn’t an organization of women whose name happened to be Christian.

Prohibition-era laws were promoted and adopted as a means for enforcing moral standards and maintaining the sanctity of the Sabbath. In a modern era, with a religiously-diverse population why should laws with that basis be allowed to stand? The sanctity of the Sabbath? Which one Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? What if I don’t have a Sabbath? Indiana says the only Sabbath that matters is Sunday in a sort of passive-aggressive way. Moral standards? Whose moral standards? Not even Christians can agree on whether or not alcohol is inherently immoral. Remember Prohibition isn’t a prohibition against drunkenness (we have separate laws governing that) but a prohibition against alcohol period.

I’m not going to dwell too deeply on these matters simply because very few people make arguments that would require these kinds of rebuttals. What I hear most often and perhaps holds the highest hurdle to overcome in some people’s minds is that regulating the sale of alcohol saves lives. I don’t doubt this fact however it’s the regulations that I am questioning specifically; what is the effectiveness of a one day ban on purchasing packaged alcohol?

Common sense tells you that when you can’t buy alcohol there will be less people drinking. But at least in Indiana, the prohibition against alcohol sales only applies to retail, package purchases. I can get in my car, drive to a bar or restaurant and drink. In fact, if I want a drink on Sunday my only option is to leave my home and drink somewhere else (assuming I don’t have any on hand). This is almost a de facto encouragement by the state of Indiana to drink and drive. So the arguments in support of Blue Laws (at least as practiced in Indiana) aren’t even logically consistent.

So if we dismiss the nonsensical reasoning is there any data that would support whether or not the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday has any effect, so I grabbed the latest alcohol-related automobile fatality statistics as well as state population statistics and did a quick and dirty; state-by-state fatalities per 100,000 residents chart. I only did the 3 states that ban alcohol on Sunday and Indiana’s surrounding states (that do not):

State 2006 Population* 2006 Fatalities** Fatality/100,000
Georgia 9,300,000 464 4.99
Indiana 6,300,000 247 3.92
Connecticut 3,500,000 109 3.11
 The following states surround Indiana and do not ban alcohol sales on Sunday
Kentucky 4,200,000 222 5.29
Illinois 12,800,000 444 3.47
Michigan 10,100,000 332 3.29
Ohio 11,500,000 377 3.28

I’m not a statistician but I play one on this blog. As you can see, despite our Blue Laws, Hoosiers manage to (at least) kill 4 people per 100,000 residents, whereas Illinois, Michigan and Ohio have no such bans. In addition to the ban on Sunday sales you can even purchase beer, cold beer no less, in gas stations in Ohio and Michigan (I’m not sure about Illinois but I imagine you can as well). I’ve even driven through a drive-thru and purchased alcohol in Ohio. It’s a miracle Ohioans(?) haven’t obliterated themselves in an alcohol-induced auto-armaggedon.

After examining this grid, I wondered why Kentucky had nearly 6 people per 100,000 citizens killed. Turns out there is no statewide “no Sunday” ban but individual counties can opt to be a Dry county or Wet county, and 54 out of 120 Kentucky counties are Dry. Not only do some residents of Kentucky have to drive to the local bar to have a drink some have to leave the county to do so. I don’t feel so bad living in Indiana now. I understand that 90% of all statistics are 50% wrong but I think this little chart uses such a simple basis of comparison that easily illustrates my point.  

From a freethinkers perspective the biggest focus would obviously be on the religious, sectarian basis for Indiana’s Blue Laws. But just from a common sense and basic statistical comparison they are ineffective, or at least show no obvious impact to health and safety of Indiana’s citizens.

Currently there is one day a week in which tax revenue from alcohol sales is lost.

The loss of tax revenue is especially important given historical budgeting problems in the state of Indiana. There are 2 ways in which tax revenue can be lost,

  • the first is that someone simply won’t purchase alcohol, period, if they failed to or were unable to plan ahead, it’s also important to point out that Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week. This tax revenue is lost to everyone.
  • The second loss results from those of us who are fortunate enough to live in border counties with Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and (for Fort Wayners) Ohio. We are spending our tax dollars in other states.

There is however one other economic aspect of Indiana’s regulation of alcohol sales that I believe is unique to our state. We have additional regulations that prohibit grocery stores from carrying cold alcohol (notably beer). You can only purchase cold beer in a liquor store (but no cold soda or milk, wtf?). The explanation for this is the obvious political manipulations of Indiana’s liquor laws by the liquor store lobby and vice-versa by the grocery store lobby.

In addition to the regulation of where (and when) you can purchase cold alcohol, Hoosiers are also unable to purchase alcohol at all from gas stations and convenience stores. What could possibly be the purpose for this prohibition except to limit who is allowed to sell alcohol, currently limited to packaged liquor, grocery and drug stores.

I know these last 2 items touch a bit more on policy and politics than strictly freethought matters and may betray a certain pinch of libertarianism (only a pinch, I swear) but I think it’s relevant to the discussion. I could argue that Indiana’s Blue Laws have opened the door (established a precedent) for these more obvious attempts by private businesses to use government power (aka Force) to establish and maintain private monopolies but I won’t go there… oh wait.

If you want to find out more information about the current status of Blue Laws in Indiana (and the U.S. in general) as well as a decent look at the history of U.S. Blue Laws, check out ProhibitionRepeal.com.

As usual my posts are prompted by some weird or interesting fact that gets my attention. There is a push to have Indiana’s Blue Laws repealed. Check out Hoosiers for Beverage Choices website for more information about signing a petition to “support convenience and choice” in Indiana’s liquor laws.  As usual these things are rarely without their own lobbying ties, please note the following from their website, they should be commended for the disclosure not all groups are forthcoming,

Indiana retailers are keenly aware of the wants and needs of their customers and have taken note of these consumer concerns. For these reasons, trade associations such as the Indiana Petroleum Council, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, and the Indiana Retail Council support this coalition.

 


* I used total fatalities (latest year, 2006) where Blood-Alcohol Level was 0.08 or greater.
** Census Bureau, click here to run estimated state population by year from 2000-2007. I used 2006 to match the same year for my fatality statistics.

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Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Secular Humanist Utopia… For Kids

Posted by dystressed on August 10, 2008

NPR ran this story last night and when I heard it, I almost ran my car off the road.

There IS a place to send kids to give them a good foundation in freethought and reason.

Growing up, I went to a private school and a church. I had a firm grasp on religion, but somewhere along the line, I went a little awry. I never went to summer camp, but I had plenty of church outings over the summer, so I think that counts for something.

I am actually wishing I were a kid again. Demographically, I’m the tail end of Generation X because I was over 20 in the year 2000. I think it’s amazing how parents in my generation are embracing freethought and reason. I hope that these and other children will feel comfortable growing up without all of the religiosity and hocus pocus.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Skepticism | 1 Comment »

Thank you Dr. Price and John W. Loftus

Posted by Eye4Cards on August 8, 2008

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Price for speaking for our group last night. I found it interesting and amusing, just like I do all of his stuff. I also wanted to thank John Loftus for taping a few episodes of our Enlightenment Show with Dr. Price. It is our best stuff yet. They are both setting the bar really high for us to try to keep getting fascinating and wonderful people to talk to our group. But hey, that’s what this group’s all about. I mean, when I think of what it is that would make me want to join a group like this, or even contribute to it myself, I think about the things I would want out of it.

I want engaging speakers that make us think about a myriad of things. So far, I’ve met two men and their lovely counterparts that I’ve already felt I’ve known a little from their books and blogs, and podcasts. I couldn’t ask for more and I’m looking forward to what’s in store for later.

I want local friends that I feel at ease with almost immediately. This isn’t normally an easy thing for me to find. This is probably my fault more than anything else. But I’ve never felt so completely at ease in such a large group of people before and it is refreshing. I told my wife after the meeting and pub last night about how therapeutic this whole experience has been for me. I look forward to reading our blog every day and am probably responsible for 2000 of the over 10,000(!) visits to our site to date. Alright, maybe not quite 2000, but it sure feels like it!

I also wanted to thank everybody that was able to make it last night. You all helped make it our biggest function to date, and I’m starting to sense a kind of group identity with our many varied and intriguing members. I felt bad because every time we have one of our meetings I can’t spend enough time with everybody and my attention goes in 10 different directions trying to take it all in. I guess that’s what the blog is for though. I had such a fun time last night that I ended up having a great roaming discussion with a couple of first timers I know well until almost 4:30 in the morning! It made my 11 hour work day go a little slower today, but it was worth it!

Posted in Local | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Her Faith Was Affected

Posted by dystressed on August 7, 2008

I’d like to pick up on one of the themes of Dr. Price’s discussion. Seeking prosperity.

I ran across this item about a flight attendant who was allegedly assaulted by Joel Osteen’s wife, Victoria. The flight attendant is now suing because her ‘faith was affected’ and she is now ‘traumatized.’

Putting on my skeptical hat, it smacks of a frivolous, desperate attempt to cash in on someone else’s good fortune. But then again, so is Joel Osteen.

By most readings of the New Testament, capitalism, material wealth, and outright greed are the antitheses of Christian teaching, but here is a pastor, now more a cottage industry, claiming that God’s ultimate plan is for believers to be rich and successful.

This doesn’t add up folks. To badly paraphrase Shakespeare, Something’s rotten in the estate of Osteen.

Posted in Humor, Religion | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Free membership to the American Humanist Association

Posted by Skeptigator on August 5, 2008

FriendlyAtheist.com just posted information for joining the American Humanist Association for free (the online version at least).

Check out his post and then join if you want, make sure you give Friendly Atheist credit for sending you there.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Heart of the Beholder-and more Free Speech talk

Posted by Andy D. on August 5, 2008

Check out this “Heart of the Beholder “ website and learn the true story behind the movie. You can watch the full movie online and see actual news clips. I think the actual story behind the movie is scary because it is was not that long ago and in St. Louis.

There was a zealous religious group called Citizens for Decency which I think has merged with Focus on the Family or something very similar. They started protesting rental video stores that carried movies that didn’t fit their idea of morality. They even banned The Mermaid because they thought it promoted bestiality because Tom Hanks got it on with a mermaid! The Citizens for Decency obsessed over “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I do remember pundits going ape shit over that movie. I liked the score. How can one not like Peter Gabriel? Those “moral” people destroyed a person’s lively hood, made death threats, fraudulently ordered junk mail and subscriptions, and even blackmailed a prosecutor, and falsely reported to child abuse services.

I think we have really made headway in this area of free speech.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer

Posted by Skeptigator on August 4, 2008

As I watched from the sidelines as the whole PZ/Cracker thing played out*, I couldn’t help but be struck by how similar the whole event was to an auto accident. You know how you sit at a red light next to a recent fender bender trying to recreate the accident to figure out whose fault it was? I’ve been doing it with the PZ/Cracker farce. Is the idea of “transubstantiation” ridiculous? Yes, on soooo many levels. Was PZ justified in criticizing not only the idea but also the way over-the-top actions of the particular Catholic church? Yea, sure. Was the call to have people send in a wafer to be desecrated over-the-top and unnecessary? Over-the-top? yes. Unnecessary, hmmm… now that’s an interesting question.

“When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Is it necessary sometimes to do unnecessarily outrageous things to point out injustice or simply the ridiculous. If it wasn’t necessary it’s safe to say that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert’s whole shtick wouldn’t be on the air. But one has to ask what defines the “appropriate unnecessary” action.

Let’s take some actions from the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the early 1960’s as an example. Why not simply write about racist treatment instead of boycotting buses? Clearly boycotting bus systems is far more effective than simple speeches and angry editorials (that would likely go unpublished). Why boycotting? Why not disabling buses, slashing tires, molotov cocktails or physically barring bus drivers from getting on the bus? Would those not achieve the same purpose? (Do me a favor and bare with the comparison. I don’t want to draw too many parallels with the Civil Rights Movement and the “oppression of atheists”. Certainly they are of the same kind but certainly not nearly the same degree, if you catch my drift.)

The question-at-hand/purpose of the boycotts was that some “more than necessary” action was required to truly raise awareness to an injustice. A speech or letter to the editor would have been all that was necessary. But that was not what was required since it would not contribute to an actual solution any time soon, at least. So the question remains, “When faced with an injustice and the “all that’s necessary” action won’t be enough, what should the form of the “unnecessary” action be?”.

In the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s answer to this question was Non-Violence.

Nonviolence is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of physical violence. As such, nonviolence is an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression and armed struggle against it. Practitioners of nonviolence may use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action, and targeted communication via mass media.

And with that definition in hand we can see the practical results of this policy. Fire-bombing a bus, no doubt effective as an “awarness-raiser”, would not probably qualify as a non-violent. Therefore when looking at the activities of the 1960’s you will see, lunch counter sit-ins, boycotts and peaceful protests. All consistent with a non-violent philosophy.

Of course, looking back is 20/20, we can say that this is a very effective form of protest. At the time there were serious doubts as to it’s effectiveness. Without that doubt the Black Panthers would never have had the appeal they did.

“We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why is the philosophy, if it can be called such, of non-violence effective? The key to it’s effectiveness lies in some of the very criticism that the strategy received, this from Black Panther George Jackson,

“The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one’s adversary.”

Isn’t it interesting to ask the question, whose philosophy/strategy/tactics survived today? Sorry George but you painted the entire U.S. population with the statements and actions of it’s most vocal members. And most importantly you grossly underestimated American (and human) compassion.

It took years but the American conscience couldn’t bare the sight of firehoses being aimed at peaceful protesters, armed guardsmen being necessary so that children could get an education, they couldn’t take the virulent, hateful rhetoric of so many politicians, they couldn’t take the images of bloodied men and women with bitemarks from police dogs, seemingly daily footage of riot gear-wearing police and guardsmen attacking men and women in the streets. Those protesters wore down the just-as-human xenophobia, ignorance and hate by showing the capacity of a fellow human being’s ability to suffer. America as a whole had to admit, “These are just ordinary folks trying to do and have ordinary things.”

The genius, if you can call it that, of the non-violent method is that it provides a third-way. What happens with violence (and violent reactions) is that it too often leads to further escalation and more insidiously creates a clear division, a line in the sand, if you will. Us vs. Them. Therefore, the question of justification can not be a valid one in this context. Is Israel justified in defending itself against mortar shell attacks from Palestine? Were the Negroes of the Civil Rights era justified in resisting oppression by violent means? Are half the bar fights around the world justified? Justification is a component but something else needs to temper that justification otherwise we won’t get anywhere as a society.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ok, I know, how are the two related? I’ll answer with a question. Is PZ Myers justified in his response to the admitted ridiculousness of this particular episode and “transubstantiation” in general? Ok, fine, how about these questions, “Is it effective?” or even better “Does it serve the intended purpose?” And the big question, “Is this “awareness raising” akin to a lunch counter sit-in or slashing the tires of a bus?”

Until I hit upon this analogy I have been torn, asking myself if I don’t like the whole affair simply because “it’s divisive” but then kicking myself because sometimes divisiveness can’t be avoided. Or I would say, “I sure wish that would have played out differently” but then I look at the actions of both parties realizing that there was little possibility of it happening in any different way. Literally, I said to myself, “I wish there was a third way” and that’s when the word-association triggered in my mind.

Neither the actions of the Church can be changed nor the actions of the student who absconded with wafer Jesus. However, by making the request and stating his intentions to desecrate the cracker, he was using the verbal equivalent of “violent” action or reaction. His “violent” reaction left little to no room for a third-way. It simply upped the level of rhetoric (escalation of violence) and drew a very clear line in the sand and said you are either “for” transubstantiation or you are “against” the established traditions and have to reject all forms of religion and become an atheist. The distinctions obviously were not stated in such a way but the idea remains.

“The only bad thing about burning your bridges behind you is that the world is round” – Unknown

You couldn’t gain support from the believing public who accept that the churches reaction was way over-the-top because in order to do so they would have to stand by a man who would be actively opposing everything you stood for (including some very minor things that you didn’t). The whole episode failed to build even a wafer-thin bridge** between two opposing viewpoints. Each side simply dug in a little deeper.

I bring up the whole affair not to encourage PZ Cracker trolls to visit this site but to point out that this little skirmish is indicative of poor tactics in general on the part of atheists, agnostics, secularists or whatever flavor you brand yourself. We need to build those bridges with the religious on those issues where we hold common ground. We need to where down the public consciousness to the idea that these atheists aren’t trying to tear anything down but simply trying to be treated like anyone else.

We need to continue to have stories where a member of the Armed Service, Jeremy Hall, who simply tried to opt out of a prayer and was threatened for his troubles, after all, he is just trying to serve his country in the best way he can. We need more public high school students, like Matthew LaClair,  who want to just go to class without being told they are going to hell.

So the question remains, do you throw the molotov cocktail through the bus window and feel justified? Or do you boycott the bus knowing you will be effective?


* To those who don’t follow such things, essentially a Catholic student took a Catholic communion wafer to his seat where he attempted to show a non-Catholic friend. He was subsequently assaulted (or nearly so) by Catholic laity and then he ran out of the sanctuary. This prompted the Catholic church to post guards at the next service.

PZ Myers, fairly well-known science blogger, wrote about the story and called to have someone send him a communion cracker so that he could desecrate it “properly”.

The ensuing drama, death threats and all-around juvenile behavior centered around not the churches over-reaction but actually on PZ Myers call to have someone “steal” a cracker.

** Oh no he didn’t!

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Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Kitten of God now being worshipped.

Posted by Eye4Cards on August 1, 2008

Just kidding. I couldn’t resist after seeing Andy’s post about Jesus advertising on kitty cats.

The funny thing is, these kinds of associations with religion are becoming quite routine.

Why, just the other day I saw the new advertising campaign for Dunkin’ Donuts:

I don’t know. It seems a little desperate to me.

Of course, it’s not as bad as what the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been advertising for a while:

You laugh, but that’s really from some of their older literature.

Even the Salvation Army isn’t beyond using today’s popular psychological tricks to get you to stop on in:

And as many burgers as Americans eat per year, it was only a matter of time before McDonald’s got in on the action:

Personally, I like it when Jesus takes a more direct approach when making appearances:

Alright. I’m done with clowning around for a while. The main reason I do these silly posts is because I find it necessary to lighten up as much as possible. If we can’t laugh at our ourselves once in a while, then life would be quite dreary in my opinion. Besides, if we keep heading in the current direction in this country, then maps might end up looking something like this:

And I don’t think that’s what He would have wanted.

Posted in Humor | 6 Comments »