Obama should not suffer for being maximally ethical

Posted on March 23rd, 2008 — permalink

I read a particularly annoying letter to the editor in The Tennessean this morning that assets that Obama’s candidacy is “over” because he refused to abandon the preacher, a longtime friend, who made some racist (anti-white) statements.  What’s more, this letter writer, Edgar Davie, seems to think that this is as it should be.

I certainly hope that Davie is wrong in his prediction; I know that he is wrong in his moralizing.

In our soundbyte-and-scandal driven media-saturated election season, the most extreme response to any negative feedback seems to be what people always demand. If somebody in the Clinton campaign makes a statement about race that others find offensive, rather than thinking about it and engaging it, that person is expected to resign.  If an ally of a candidate makes statements that we would find alarming if made by the candidate himself, the candidate is expected to fully repudiate and reject that ally in all ways.

And, yet, what does Obama do?  He shows that we can be thoughtful, that we need not have the most extreme reaction to the slightest offense.  He shows that in fact reality, including human relationships and difficult issues, are complicated.  They need to be met head on with care and consideration, not with immediate and extreme reactions designed for media spin control.  This is exactly what we should want in a presidential candidate.  Obama’s famous race speech should in fact be getting him all the positive responses we’ve seen because it’s the perfect response, it’s what we need to have been doing all along.  I just hope that Davie is wrong in asserting that the thoughtful response will be forgotten before the demands for a thoughtless and immediate response.

Consider: Rev. Wright is a longtime and deep family friend of Obama.  Myself, I have friends whom I still consider friends even though I have heard them espouse beliefs about homosexuals that I consider bigoted.  I have grandparents and relatives that I still love despite having heard them make statements about race that I consider bigoted.  Am I just as much a bigot as them for refusing to completely cut off my relationships because they say things that I disagree with?  Ask yourselves; does everybody in your life that you value hold identical views with you about such charged topics?  Have you completely abandoned all of those who may have publicly expressed a bigoted view? And, if not, why demand that Obama do so?

Specifically with regard to his relationship with Rev. Wright, the most important statement Obama made was this: “I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.”

Obama has condemned the words that he disagrees with, that he finds wrong and offensive… and that so many of the rest of us find wrong and offensive.  If the campaign is about Obama, and not about finding a reason to somehow justify not voting for Obama, this should be enough.  Why then do people demand that he completely abandon the man, the cherished and loved friend of his family?  We really do not want a president who will do that.  We want a president who will engage those whom he disagrees with, those whom (dare I say it) are wrong.  Who will continue to take their wisdom where they are wise, who will try to change their hearts where they are wrong, but who will no matter what continue to respect and value them as human beings worthy of our care and compassion.

Everybody, grow up.  Obama has.


Five Great Science Education Places in Second Life

Posted on March 17th, 2008 — permalink

I originally wrote this for Second Opinion, Linden Lab’s internal newsletter. It was going to appear as the “Fab Five”… in what turned out to be the issue after the last issue. Oops. Since it never saw light of day there, I figured I’d post it here.

It’s been a number of months since I wrote this. Were I doing it now, there may be some other sites I would have been tempted to include. In particular, the weekly Science Friday broadcasts are something not to be missed. The in-world broadcats, complete with the lively discussions we have in text while listening and the occasional question from a Second Life avatar read on-air happen at the Science Friday Island.



Non-news from Second Life

Posted on March 14th, 2008 — permalink

Read about it on the official blog.

I’ve seen some reactions already that use words like “dramatic shift” or otherwise seem to indicate that this is some kind of “stepping down.” Read what Philip says on the blog. It’s all true. He’s still Our Leader.


E. Gary Gygax

Posted on March 10th, 2008 — permalink

I know I’m late to the tribute game, but this blog has never been about breaking news.

Gary Gygax, who together with Dave Arneson created the original Dungeons & Dragons back in the early 1970’s, died on March 4 at the age of 69. On a gaming mailing list I belong to, we had a brief discussion as to just how big a stamp Gary Gygax left on the world. The fact is that role playing gaming remains a very fringe hobby… but its secondary effects can be seen everywhere. There are direct derivatives, such as the enormously popular World of Warcraft. (Having had the mentality that “geek culture” is a fringe thing that the mainstream only acknowledges with scorn, and almost never watching TV, I found myself surprised to see WoW adds during the Superbowl… but there you have it.) But there are secondary derivatives everywhere. Assuredly D&D had a major influence in vaulting fantasy as a major mainstream genre. Would we have had the big-budget Lord of the Rings movies if it weren’t for the number of people who at one time in their lives had their imaginations fired by pretending to be heroes in a land of magic and monsters? I don’t know, but I suspect not.

On this mailing list, we compared Gygax to Neil Gaiman. The fact is that the individual works of Gaiman— his Sandman comic series, his Nebula and Hugo award winning novels, the novels that have been made into movies (including the delightful Stardust)— are, at least today, better regarded and better remembered than the spottily edited works of Gygax. But, I asserted on this mailing list, the world would be more different today if Gygax had not written what he had written than it would be if Gaiman had not written what he had written.


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I am one of those moderate Christians

Posted on March 7th, 2008 — permalink

Phil Plait calls out McCain for accepting the endorsement of a religious extremist, but, thankfully, unlike some atheist bloggers, he also reminds us that there are lots of moderate and reasonable religious people out there who may diagree with Phil about the details of religion, but are good folks for whom the extremists do not speak. He does, however, extort us moderate religious types to stand up and remind everybody that the extremists do not speak for us.

So I’m doing that.

The sad fact is that the religious right has had an increasing influence over politics in recent years. Mind you, I’ve been aware of them for a long time. I grew up in Berkeley, CA, where people (including people in my church) were all upset about the Religious Right long before they were really an appreciable political force. But, today, the extreme religious types have contributed to what is, from my perspective, the ruining of the Republican party.

I voted for John McCain in the 2000 primary. I will not vote for him this year. Not unless he repudiates both the creationist political forces that have become de rigeur constitents for any Republican candidate, and not unless he repudiates the Bush/Cheney administration as a horrible thing. He will do neither. (Actually, even if he did, I still wouldn’t vote for him at this point, but I might think about him as a serious candidate.)

I am a Christian, but I don’t want to shove that down anybody’s throat. The church I grew up in was the United Church of Christ– the same denomination, incidentally, that Barak Obama belongs to. We had Nobel prize winning scientists in our congregation. We had ministers who liked to talk about Stephen Hawking. (We’ve also had openly homosexual worship leaders and ordained ministers.) We had no problems whatsoever with evolution or anything else coming out of science. We think it silly from a historical and text perspective to try to read the Bible as literal truth, never mind from a scientific perspective. And we are all very sad to see extremely loudmouthed jingoistic knee-jerk Biblical literalists out there defining what it is to be “Christian” in a lot of the popular press.

I sometimes fear that some Christians are creationists because they think they have to be in order to remain faithful to their religion. I occasionally have had students come up to me and express basically that after I’ve given talks about cosmology. I remember one student late last year who really wanted to believe the stuff I was talking about, because it was so cool, but wanted to be able to make it work with what she believed. My answer was that, well, you really can’t accept the scientific evidence for this cosmology stuff if you insist on believing that the world was created in seven literal days exactly as described in the first chapter of Genesis. But there are a lot of Christians out there with a very deep and thoughtful faith in both God and Jesus who have no problem with understanding that much of the Bible is composed of stories that say something about being human, and are not necessarily factual history. I continue to write science and religion things, despite the fact that when I do so (such as I did on scienceblogs.com when my blog was there for a time) atheists line up to jump on me for being soft-headed or contributing to the acceptance of the extremists. Part of the reason I do this is in hopes that I might reach out to one or two Christians out there who do not want to abandon their faith, and who may not have realized that they can accept modern science without doing so.