A letter to the editor

I have again written a letter to the editor of my local paper. Here it is:

The media is an interesting thing. In its desire to appear objective it will pretty consistently go out and seek ‘both sides of the story’. When discretion is not used – and let’s be honest, how often is it? – the result is kooks getting exposure for their causes. For instance, anti-vaccine nuts have become a prevalent danger over the past decade or so because of people willing to give Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy a platform from which to tell lies.

This is bad, but it gets worse when the media does manage to use its discretion but in the wrong way. Take the recent articles and reports all across the state on this new legislative prayer caucus. I have yet to find a single dissenting view. Apparently there are no atheists in the state of Maine.

Of course, it isn’t easy to find organized atheists. We don’t have any central dogma. We don’t have tenets of faith (also known as belief without evidence). So I can cut a little slack on that point – though let’s be honest, it’s unlikely anyone bothered to open up Google and do a search for some Maine groups – but how about talking to some historians? Surely someone could have found a qualified person to slap down garbage like this from Maine Senate President Kevin Raye: “Let us keep in mind this nation’s founders placed such importance on prayer and God’s role in the life of our fledgling experiment in democracy…”

This is blatantly false. The founders placed importance on individual freedoms and the right to believe or not believe as one pleased. They did not want church and state to be entangled, or to have one’s religious beliefs be the de facto principle by which the nation operates.

Even when the media only gets one side of the story I guess it’s still possible to find the kooks.

(Letter appears as I wrote it, not as the KJ edited it. AP style can go to hell.)

The legislative prayer caucus, from what I gather, is just a bunch of Bible-thumpers in the legislature getting together to prayer after their sessions. I don’t have an issue with that (except insofar as it’s dumb). My problem is with the fact that if an atheist group did anything locally, the first thing the paper would do is seek out a response from a church.

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I can’t believe people take this idea seriously

One of the absolute worst ideas I have ever heard in regard to education has to be Maine governor Paul LePage’s idea to add a 5th year to high school so students can earn their Associate degrees.  He mentioned it during the campaign season but had gone silent on it since. I was hopeful he had abandoned the thought. It’s just awful:

  • High school teachers are not qualified to teach college level courses
  • Associate degrees typically take 2 years to get
  • High schools are not accredited institutions (I feel bad for the students that will get laughed at when they attempt to transfer their credits to real colleges and universities.)
  • This insults everyone who has a legitimate Associate degree

Unfortunately, it looks like people are still taking this stuff seriously, including the local newspaper:

A high school diploma is not enough for today’s job market, and current school programs work well for many students but still leave too many behind. Too often, students finish high school without the skills they need to get a good job or make the transition to college-level work.

Making it easier for more people to move from high school to college will not only improve their economic prospects, but everyone’s. It’s still an interesting idea and well worth pursuing.

Except this is not college-level work. There is not a single teacher in the state of Maine – or anywhere else – that is qualified to teach at the college level except in cases of special instruction and other, relatively rare exceptions – or when they are also professors. A sociology teacher at a high school cannot teach a sociology course at the college level. A high school biology teacher cannot teach me about genetics under any formal requirements. The same goes for all the major subjects. Until colleges start offering gym courses, high school teachers need to stay in their own buildings, teaching at their own level.

This is just the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying that because LePage is a Republican and generally a bad governor. I’m saying it because it’s so ridiculous and demonstrates an extreme poverty of understanding of the differences between high schools and colleges. If this dolt wants to subsidize real college degrees, earned at real colleges, then great. Do it. Or if he wants to trim many of the useless classes high school students have to take so that they can more easily be sent to classes at universities and community colleges, then great. Do it. But if he wants to add a 5th year of high school without accounting for the quality of instruction, the new class space needed, the space needed for the added students – the high school in my city already has taken on 7th and 8th graders in addition to the other students – or why he believes it’s okay to give away two year degrees to under-taught students in a hugely compressed time frame, then no. That’s awful and Paul LePage needs to keep his face away from anything to do with education. He obviously has no idea what he’s doing and he hasn’t bothered to think through this idea in the least.

Marty Soule is a good person

It always makes me feel good when I see people promoting smart ideas:

The March 13 letter to the editor warning about not supporting Planned Parenthood because it offers the Gardasil vaccine would have wide-reaching effects if the warning were followed.

One would need to avoid all pediatric and family medicine practices; all physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses; the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The reason that health-care providers support the use of Gardasil and other vaccines is that they help to protect our children from terrible diseases. Immunizations given early in life allow our immune system to prepare so that it can protect us from disease later in life.

Gardasil helps to prevent cervical cancer. A friend of mine died of cervical cancer several years ago. I want to do what I can to protect others from that same fate.

Marty Soule

Readfield

Well done, Marty.

Atheism does not lead to hatred

At least that was the argument I put forth in my most recent letter to the editor.

On Jan. 15, Marie-Anne Jacques wrote that there has been increasing hatred over the past decade because people have completely lost faith in God. As one piece of evidence, she points to the throwing of an egg at her manger scene over the holidays.

I would like to say that I am offended only as an atheist. I could make a pretty good letter on that basis alone, I think. Unfortunately, I have to take some of my valuable space to point out how offended I am just on a purely logical basis.

Someone throwing an egg at her manger scene could have been motivated by any number of things. Maybe someone found her display gaudy. Or maybe someone in her neighborhood dislikes her. Or maybe someone was just looking to throw an egg. I don’t think Christians are somehow inherently above any of these motivations.

But more important than Jacques’ shortcomings of logic is the fact that she is equating atheism with hatred. Can anyone tell me what philosophy derives from atheism? Can anyone tell me how atheism could ever possibly drive anyone to do anything?

Last time I checked, atheism was a descriptive position, not a normative one. (And let’s nip this one — Adolf Hitler was a Christian creationist who was motivated by racism and nationalism, not atheism or religion.)

Atheism is a perfectly rational position that does not somehow magically lead to hatred or random acts of vandalism. Our neighbors, our friends, our families, they all have among and within them atheists. I, for one, am unprepared to call such a massive group of people inherently hateful.

Michael Hawkins

Augusta

forthesakeofscience@gmail.com

I think my next letter will make the point of further explaining how atheism is descriptive. At least, it will if people in the comment section show a severe misunderstanding of the difference between a descriptive and normative position.

The letter to which I was responding can be found here.

Just an awful response

Someone wrote a terrible letter to the editor a few days ago.

We have seen a lot hatred in this decade, and it is increasing by the minute. The problem is that people have completely lost faith in the Lord.

One of these sick people showed his true colors during the Christmas season by actually throwing eggs at my lovely manger. I pray that he sees the light.

Marie-Anne Jacques

Augusta

I’m not going to respond to Jacques’ comments here because I have already written a response letter to the paper. (I will, of course, publish that here once it gets printed.) But to what I will respond is one of the comments to this letter.

People will deny God at all costs in order to not have to face themselves. You can believe that there is no God but it takes more to not believe than it takes to beileve as more than 80% of Americans do believe.

The prophecies in the Bible clearly show that there is a God. There is no other way so many prophecies could be fulfilled unless there is a God. These prophecies that were written thousands of years ago are being fulfilled right before our eyes. Israel wasn’t a nation for close to 2000 years and now it is a nation as prophesied. A one world cuurency leading up to the mark of the beast, a one world religion, a one world government, a one world military, Israel performing sacrifices in the temple again; these are all things being planned right now all over the world fulfilling prophecy. The Bible talks about the sun getting so hot that it will burn people’s skin and on NASA’s website it tells of solar flare ups that are to start in about a year that will scortch the earth and all of our government leaders have built underground dwellings to hide from this onslaught from the sun. All this is foretold by the Bilbe and much more and it could never be foretold unless there is a God who knows the beginning from the end like it says.

Just awful.

That first line is the exact reason I wrote about Christians deep down. It amounts to calling atheists liars. “Why, you just deny God at all costs for your own sake!” No, no, no. Don’t you get it? I don’t believe in your god. In fact, I don’t believe in any god. Please don’t claim that I am just lying to you right now and I really do believe. I don’t. Deal.

And that second line? Aside from ending in a point of gibberish, it is a profound misunderstanding of atheism. I am NOT claiming that I know there is no God. There very well could be. There could also be a teapot in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. But I see no evidence for it. Just the same, you have no evidence for your god.

Oh, but wait. There’s that whole paragraph about how so many prophecies have been fulfilled. Like a global currency. Or a global religion. Or a global government. Or a global military. Right? I mean, right? I think my favorite is the claim of a global religion, if only because the commenter just got done citing that nearly 20% of Americans do not believe in God (the number is lower, but I don’t expect this guy to deal in facts).

Letter to the editor correction

After butchering a previous letter to the editor I wrote, the Kennebec Journal has printed my correction.

On July 19, the Kennebec Journal ran a letter with my name as the author. Neither the title nor the edited content reflected what I had originally written.

The piece was titled “Irreparable harm to sciences if LePage is elected?” The substance of the letter did not make any such claim. Paul LePage will cause harm to science, but it will not be irreparable. Science is the best way of knowing we have; it can recover from an anti-science politician like LePage. It would just be preferable to avoid any harm in the first place.

Two paragraphs were edited to say “LePage seems to indicate he thinks public schools ought to teach creationism to children.” I stand by what I wrote: “Paul LePage thinks public schools ought to teach creationism to children.”

I used this wording because when asked in a debate if he believes in creationism and if he thinks it should be taught in schools LePage’s answer concluded, “I believe yes and yes.” My second paragraph compared LePage’s rationality to a common aquatic bird found on many Maine lakes.

The KJ has offered me this space so I may clarify the original letter. For that, I am thankful. But there is the much more important issue of LePage’s anti-science stances.

Any politician who rejects some fundamental aspect of any field of science based on religious belief is unqualified for any public leadership position.

Eliot Cutler, Kevin Scott and Shawn Moody have all voiced their support for the strong teaching of evolution in public schools. Libby Mitchell has not stated a position, but there is little doubt of her support for the fact of evolution. All are far better choices than LePage to lead Maine.

For those who haven’t read or don’t remember my first letter, that “common aquatic bird” is a loon. Personally I think I was being too generous.

A plea worth repeating

This letter appeared in today’s Kennebec Journal.

Research in cancer has come a long way but still has a long way to go. There was an article out that there may be a vaccine for breast cancer in as little as a year. Hopefully that is true. But more needs to happen. Just recently lost a wonderful co-worker to cancer. Another is going through breast cancer. She had both her breasts removed and will soon be going through chemo and radiation. We need to do something.

There has been enough suffering. I will be working on a Total Cancer Awareness Dinner. I will also be having my head shaved and donate my hair for wigs for those who have lost their hair.

It will be for everyone who has passed on, those who currently suffer from cancer and any future cancer patients. This terrible affliction needs to stop.

It is possible to beat this. Imagine a life without cancer!

Jesse Burgess

South Gardiner

I haven’t heard anything of a vaccine that soon, but one researcher who is struggling for funding has had success in preventing the disease in mice.