Mitch Daniels’ anti-atheist comments

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is getting some favorable attention from libertarians, perhaps with some justification given his reading habits. However he has nothing kind to say about the atheists among us:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

I was going to write a longer post about this until I realized the quote is from a December interview. That’s remarkable in itself, given that I just recently came across it. An American governor saying that any religion “leads to brutality” would surely have made bigger headlines, but disparage atheists and hardly anyone takes notice until months later.

Atheists have polled as the least trusted group in the US and a majority of respondents say they would not vote for an atheist candidate. Statements from politicians like Daniels are part of the reason. Since atheists are an invisible minority we have the option of letting such comments slide. As I’ve written before, I think this is a mistake:

Respondents to the survey call atheists elitist and in one sense they are right. Academia and the sciences are wide open to us. Educated Americans on the coasts are more tolerant of atheism. Unless we’re running for public office, no ceiling blocks our ambitions. Unlike other minorities, we have the luxury of not caring what other people think. And so we don’t.

So maybe we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

To their credit, the Center for Inquiry Indiana has taken Daniels to task for his comments, and Jonathan Turley was on it immediately.


Smoking ban stupidity

There are too many smoking bans in the works these days for me to even try keeping up with them all. Indiana is one of the latest attempting to hop on the ban wagon:

State Rep. Charlie Brown is bracing for a fight.

He expects his third attempt to pass a statewide bill outlawing smoking in all public places to face opposition on several fronts.

And with the economy in a tailspin, advocates for bars, restaurants and casinos are preparing to let the Gary Democrat’s colleagues in the General Assembly know this is a particularly bad moment to force them to go smoke-free.

Yet Brown insists the time is right.

“Until somebody shows me concrete proof restaurants and casinos are hurt economically by being smoke-free, I won’t believe that,” said Brown, who chairs the House Public Health Committee.

“I would think, given that there are more non-smokers than smokers, this would be an economic benefit,” he said.

Do we really need to talk about this? Let’s try that argument in some other contexts:

“I would think, given that more people prefer hamburgers to Thai food, there would be an economic benefit to banning Thai restaurants.”

“I would think, given that more people prefer clothed servers to naked ones, there would be an economic benefit to banning strip clubs.”

“I would think, given that more people prefer quiet music to loud, there would be an economic benefit to banning loud music in bars and lounges.”

In any other circumstance this argument clearly makes no sense. Businesses cater to diversity. Thai restaurants cater to people who like Thai food, strip clubs cater to guys who like boobs, and yes, some bars and casinos cater to people who like to smoke. Regardless of what happens to the hospitality industry on net after a smoking ban goes into force, there are going to be some businesses that are adversely affected. Arguing otherwise is painfully stupid and anyone who does so ought to be ashamed of themselves.

For Rep. Brown’s sake, let’s try one more version of the argument:

“I would think, given that more people prefer smart leaders to dumb ones, there would be an economic benefit to banning self-righteous idiots from the Indiana House of Representatives.”

What do you say, eh Charlie?

The magic of politics


Conservatives and coffee

J. P. Freire reports on a new “Conservative Cafe” in Crowne Point, Indiana:

“No, we don’t carry the New York Times,” [owner David Beckham — not that David Beckham] assures me. They do, however, carry the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, café televisions are tuned to Fox News from open to close. As he describes his year-old venture, it’s clear that no fan of Starbucks would feel much at home in the Conservative Café. Then again, for Mr. Beckham, that’s the point.

“Nobody’s thought of starting a coffee shop that caters to more conservative thinking,” he stresses. But it’s not the thinking that seems to be at the center of his coffee shop’s experience. It’s the lifestyle. “We get a lot of curious people, but the majority of our clientele are conservatives. We’re in an area of Reagan Democrats. They’re over 30. They come with their families.”

Mr. Beckham’s coffeeshop sells t-shirts that use classic conservative shock-and-awe rhetoric, such as, “Silly Liberal: Paychecks are for workers,” and “Peace through superior firepower.” This comes despite his wife’s initial concerns that he would alienate half of all potential customers. “I told her that beauticians alienate half of their potential customers and they get by just fine.”

I’m all for letting a thousand flowers bloom, ideological diversity, small business, etc., but I’ve got to say: this sounds like an awful place. Just having TVs on in a coffee shop isn’t exactly a sign of vibrant intellectual life. But TVs tuned in constantly to FOX News? Ugh. As J. P. says, “There are no tomes of great philosophical or academic literature in the shop… Indeed, the portrait of TR pretty much precludes it.”

Left-wing shops like DC’s Busboys and Poets might not be much better; oddly, I never made it in. But at least they don’t exhibit this kind of anti-intellectualism. Selling the Wall Street Journal is great, but there’s no need to proudly shut out the New York Times. Sure, its editorials can be terrible, but the paper offers some of the best reporting in the country. A well-informed person ought to read it from time to time, not wear one’s dismissal of it as a badge of honor. (Today’s Republicans learn from the top, I guess.)

If conservatives would look into the soft lefty concern for the world’s poor expressed by many independent coffee companies, they’d see some intelligent commentary bubbling up. You know who offers the smartest critiques of Fair Trade? It’s not the conservatives and libertarians sneering at the label without a clue as to how coffee markets actually work. It’s the bean buyers who can tell you how Fair Trade is often an obstacle to improving farmers’ lives and how their own entrepreneurship has found better ways to reward farmers and raise standards of quality. They’re liberals, but they’re liberal capitalists. Their customers increasingly know this too.

And speaking of coffee, for a coffee shop owner Beckham says little about it. There’s no detail about his beans in the article and the cafe’s website isn’t very descriptive. It says they have four blends and that they are all roasted in Indiana. But the blends all come from individual countries: a Colombian, a Guatemalan, a Kenyan, and a Sumatran. So are they “blends” or are they single origins? And what do the “strength” ratings mean? Beckham doesn’t exactly sound like a coffee lover here: “We know what coffee is for. It’s to start your day. It’s not for sitting on a couch for 8 hours and looking for a friend on MySpace.” Or perhaps it’s for enjoying. Once again, this doesn’t sound like a place for the intellectually curious, in either its politics or its product.

I don’t want to slag this cafe too much. Coffee shops could use more diversity and I like to see small businesses succeed. For all I know, their coffee’s fantastic. Yet what I love about the best coffee shops is that they’re home to lively exchanges of ideas, not walled-off ideological conformity. If conservatives seem under-represented in them, that perhaps says more about conservatives than it does about coffee shops.


Inmates freer than diners

At least in Danny Rodden’s jail they are. Though the rest of the Indiana county is ruled by a smoking ban, Sheriff Rodden sets the rules in the county jail.

Though the jail had been nonsmoking, Rodden began to allow smoking in the jail about a third of the way into his first term as sheriff last year.

When he became sheriff, there were “so many behavioral problems,” Rodden said. Not all prisoners are allowed to smoke, but inmates with good behavior are given the option…

The new jail allows inmates to choose whether they reside in a smoking or nonsmoking pod.

What a concept. It’s too bad our governments aren’t equally willing to treat ordinary people like the adults they are.