Important Update on Kiva

Since I've endorsed Kiva in the past (and I stand by that endorsement), for transparency's sake it's worth linking to this post from David Roodman (see also the related article from the Times).The quick summary is that the connection between Kiva lenders and loan recipients isn't as direct as you might have thought. Although the individuals listed on the site are real and their business proposals are genuine, their loan requests don't necessarily sit in limbo until they're funded by Kiva … [Read more...]

Weekly Link Roundup

There are couple of news items this week that I thought merited a brief mention.First, in the New Yorker, James Wood provides another piece of evidence for my theory that the only kind of atheists considered "respectable" are the ones who wish they were religious:What is needed is neither the overweening rationalism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.And while we're on the topic of concern … [Read more...]

The Opportunity Cost of Pseudoscience

Last month, the U.S. government-funded National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine released a study which found that Americans spent $34 billion annually on alternative medicine. Although this is just 1.5% of total health care spending in the country, it represents over 11% of all out-of-pocket expenditures. The report estimates that about 38 million adults visited alternative practitioners in 2007.Unusually for a mainstream media outlet, the Boston Globe offers a much-welcomed … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: Military Spending

I've been following, with some incredulity, a battle brewing in Congress over a military-spending bill and whether it will include money to buy more F-22 Raptors, a jet fighter used by the Air Force during the Cold War. Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists that these planes are not needed, a contingent of Congresspeople are bent on putting that spending back into the budget - forcing the military to take these planes against their will!Bizarre as this sounds, it's a classic … [Read more...]

Benevolent Business

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on optimistic populism, or how free markets can be a force for good: by spurring efficiency and innovation, they increase the total amount of wealth in the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living for all people. I also noted the irony that libertarians, the fiercest defenders of the free market, so often misunderstand this. In their jeremiads against taxation, they're implicitly buying into the view that wealth cannot be created and that the economy … [Read more...]

Taxation Is Not Theft

In last August's post "Spread the Wealth", I talked about the justifications for redistributive taxation. I felt that some of the issues raised in the comments deserved to be revisited - and since it's tax time here in the U.S., it's worth a reminder of why we pay them and what we get out of it.The centerpiece of the libertarian rhetorical strategy is to refer to taxation as theft, robbery, slavery. I've heard these epithets and others like them many times. It's easy to see what purpose this … [Read more...]

Atheists, Do Some Good: Join Kiva

An accusation that's often leveled against atheists is that we lack charitable impulses, that faith-based organizations do the hard work of caring for the needy and atheism only promotes selfishness. This is a hateful slur, and to counter it, I've discussed outstanding acts of charity by individual atheists in the past. Evidence like this shows that, as a group, we do not lack compassion. On the contrary, we know that this life is the only one we'll ever have, which gives us the strongest … [Read more...]

Little-Known Bible Verses XII: Communism

"Atheism and communism always seem to go hand in hand," begins a letter to the editor I recently found through a Google alert. And though the fear of communism has died down since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the prejudice that this writer was parroting has affected our politics for decades.In the Cold War, when anti-communist fear and paranoia were rampant, we sought to differentiate ourselves from the enemy in every way possible. It was this fear that spurred the U.S. government to … [Read more...]

On Gift-Giving

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Hanukkah's prominence was the plan of reformist rabbis, seeking to create a Jewish holiday to compete with Christmas just as Christmas was created to compete with pagan solstice festivals. In an ironic sense, this campaign has been both a success and a failure: although the cause of Hanukkah was eagerly taken up by marketers, it failed to dislodge Christmas from public consciousness and has simply contributed further to the commercialization of the holiday … [Read more...]

A Solstice Sermon

In past years, I've used the occasion of the winter solstice to deliver a brief homily on an issue of moral importance. This year, I'd like to do so again.Although nearly every society has put its own religious or cultural gloss on it, the solstice is an event marked and commemorated by all of humanity. In Japan, the solstice festival is Amaterasu, the reemergence of the sun goddess. To ancient Romans, it was Brumalia, the feast of the wine god Bacchus, and to Germanic pagans, it was Yule. To … [Read more...]


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