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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wahabbism

For those who do not already know, the fundamentalist sect of Islam know as Wahabbi, is the dominate religious order in Saudi Arabia. The powerful mullahs there are a major influence on culture and justice in that country. Is it a coincidence that they share much in common with Daesh?

http://theconversation.com/we-need-to-talk-about-how-islamic-state-interprets-islam-51142

Climate Assessments, Presidential candidates and the Paris talks

Some of our best and brightest people work at the Pentagon. A number of these dedicated folks are tasked with a single mission. Their mission is to analyze threats to the United States of America. The people in these positions are human and we may assume, have their own personal beliefs. However, in their professional lives, no kudos are awarded for advancing ideas based upon political, personal, or religious ideology. The only thing that counts is thoughtful research and evidence based analysis that is open to challenge by other experts. So, one might be given to wonder, what does this group say, if anything, regarding the whole climate change hullabaloo? 

“Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems — such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions — that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.”

So, let us take a moment and break this down. First we notice that the assessment was not couched in maybe's and possibly's. This is more surprising than one might imagine. Let us stop to consider. Every contributor/signer on to this statement if very bright, very well educated, ambitious, competitive, and likely has considerable ego. In a conference room full of those people, how many times do these folks arrive at a definitive opinion without qualifications or parsing of words? With the personalities and high stakes involved, we may reasonably infer the answer to be, not often.

It is also worth noting how they arrive at such an opinion. When they were researching the topic,  from where did they obtain solid evidence? I'm suggesting they familiarized themselves with the data from climate scientists, among others. Did they look in any credible dissent among the climate scientists? With their jobs on the line as well as the safety and security of our nation, we can safely assume they did not leave any stone unturned. If they had looked over the climate science data and had felt that it failed to provide adequate confidence, would they have decided to plow forward and make such a strong statement as the one above? Not likely. 

What else might we reasonably infer? The random thoughts and half-baked opinions of people including, but not limited to, the Republican candidates for U.S. President entered in to their assessments, not at all.  Furthermore, did the policy wonks weigh the likelihood of Jesus imminent return and how to factor that idea into their assessment? Perhaps some will wish to take a deep breath here, maybe put on the kettle? A calming cup of tea might be just the thing while absorbing this news. And the answer is- not only no, but hell no! Okay, sure, this does not prove JC won't be returning soon. We are agreed on that. The bare facts are, when making plans/choices about the down-to-earth business here on planet Earth, the people who know the most factor in such considerations, not at all.

It is about time to wrap this puppy but before we do, let's make a couple more quick but important inferences.

What might we say if the assessments of our most knowledgeable and qualified people are directly at odds with what many of our elected leaders are spouting? Many would consider this a sobering, or outright frightening, problem. What if large powerful media outlets were observed to be shamelessly devoted either to the blunting/distorting of the facts or flat out lying? What if such media outlets had millions of viewers whose entire view of the world arrived through the broadcasts of these media outlets? Oh, mercy me. That couldn't be a good thing.
Finally, no discussion of these topics would be complete without mentioning modern Western style Capitalism and its corrupting, greed-driven, monolithic influence on, well, almost everything. For the geeks who thought I had forgotten, I should mention the bastard son of the aforementioned Capitalism, the military-industrial complex. For those who love mysteries and detective stories, remember the old adage, follow the money.

And, so, here we are. We know the players and the assessment. Now for the extra credit portion. Name one person who is willing to predict the current climate talks in Paris will result in the requisite global policy changes adequately addressing our current situation. Caveats: the person named must be an acknowledged expert verifiably familiar with the evidence on the scientific and political fronts.

Name one.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dandelions in November

Dandelions in November

Spring and fall are having a brief fling.
Thickly buttered dandelions and dry oak leaves cavort
on an impossibly green November hillside.
They can afford to be indiscreet
as they bask in the sly glow of a low slung sun.
For this is, perhaps, the last warm day
of a season within a season.

The boundaries of the permissible are curtains thrown back.
In this fingersnap moment,
some may step out of themselves,
even claim to be more than they are.
There is a small window for these small indiscretions.
But, the truth is, few will notice and fewer speak of it.
It is chalked up as late autumn madness
and barely noticed among the final rustling leaves.

By this point, many here have raised their collars.
Only the rebellious root themselves
to begrudge what surely follows.
They bravely, or vainly,
choose to hold the last catnap warmth in little fists
before the darkling year turns her cold shoulder.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Micro Aggression

micro aggression:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/the-rise-of-victimhood-culture/404794/

File this under the category “Why is basic science education so important?” Obviously it is advantageous to have less destructive aggression in the world. However, I can not even see how anything destructive has occurred. I am willing to concede that someone may have been offended and that person has a right to those feelings. I don’t see us getting very far if the best case one can make is, everyone needs to adopt a certain vocabulary that prevents me from feeling offended. How long would it be before the next person or group with hurt feelings decided that, we all needed to trim our (already shortened) word and phrase list? It is difficult not to be condescending when responding to this type of thing. How did we arrive at a situation in which people think that if they feel offended, those feelings are of ultimate importance in the wider world outside their own heads? Except for the fact that these folks appear not to understand the system in which they find themselves, I can not see where anyone has made a convincing case for anything that demands our attention. It does cause one to wonder if these folks realize that we share upwards of 95% of our genetic makeup with Chimpanzees. How can one know this fact and somehow expect a creature that acts in an entirely different way? It seems to me this is where end up if we begin asking questions from a mental framework of, “we are imperfect but we are essentially spiritual beings on our path to perfection”. Do I really need to add that this point of view is not supported by evidence? Any evidence. At all.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Belief, Violence, and Denial

An article worth reading: Sam Harris on extremists and apologists


I am convinced that otherwise intelligent decent folks end up becoming de facto apologists for religious violence.

How does that happen?

I suggest there are multiple factors in play. First, most of us either know personally, or know of, persons who belong to one of these groups and also exemplify moderation. This creates a gnarly thought branch.  We are confronted with the idea that not everyone who is a member of said group is an extremist. Further, being decent compassionate and open-minded humans, we have no wish to offend the reasonable members of the group by unintentionally lumping them in with the loopy members. Further yet, if the group to which we refer are Muslims (and in the early part of the twenty first century, this is too often the case) many people have a perfectly reasonable fear of offending Muslims- be they loopy or reasonable.

No explanation for trepidation is necessary with regard to the loopy ones. As to the moderates, they divide into two camps. The poor folks who are, mostly, like everyone else and simply wish to get along with others and thrive in the world and the ones who are one news article away from joining their loopy cousins. Now, here is where things get dicey. Non-Muslims simply have no viable way of sorting them out. And, rightly or wrongly, we perceive them as not adequately defining themselves. This leaves us on the horns of a dilemma.

On one hand, we fear the less moderate non-Muslims will simply take matters into their own hands and target Muslims indiscriminately. Need I mention this is a very bad idea on its face, beginning with the vigilante nature of such action? On the other hand we have those who, so wish to avoid judging, (and here’s the tricky bit) even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, they refuse to call out the nutters for fear of offending the others. It is understandable. Folks do not wish to have any spill-over from their judgment taint the good folks. I couldn’t be more sympathetic to that cause. However, what if this thinking results in our failure, on a collective level, to say what is true and act on what is true? In short, what if our apologist attitudes result in worsening the situation in every way? What happens when we fail to see the world clearly, say bravely what we see, and, when the consequences are potentially dire, act appropriately? I suggest it likely emboldens the undesirables on both sides. That is, non-Muslims who are all worked up because they feel like nobody is taking leadership may be emboldened to act out lawlessly. On the flip side of the coin, those who would do us harm perceive our mealymouthed vacillation as opportunity.

All that said, we haven’t yet dared to approach the real prickly bit. Would anyone care to hazard a guess on that score?

Here is what Sam Harris (among others) has said and, more disturbing for many, what he implies. Simply stated, the words in the Qur'an call out to be interpreted in the strictest sense. Why? To believers, these are the words of the Supreme Being. As such, the rules and admonitions are intended to be eternal. If that were not sufficient, the words appear within a highly charged context. This is intentional. The author, regardless if he is perceived to be human or a prophet of God, unapologetically intended for the words to fall as heavily weighted as possible upon the mind of the listener. On this point few, on any side of the question, would disagree. So, we come to the more disturbing bit. Mr. Harris could not, by rational argument, fail to include in his assessments the other books which are universally included in the canon of religious texts. That is to say, the scriptures associated with Judaism and Christianity. As any student knows, from the study of the three major religions to emerge from deserts of the Middle East, they are all related. The history on this is well known and anyone, regardless of formal training, can perform a simple internet search to familiarize themselves with the overlap.

So, what does it all mean?

Because humans have a tendency to be parochial and shortsighted, it is easy to wag our fingers at the “others”. In our time, Muslims make an easy target. Our President recently scratched the surface of an unsettling truth when he referenced the so-called Crusades. In fact, any of us with the shallowest knowledge of history could have cited any number of examples. What kind of examples? Well, basically, examples where the people who were considered to be the most righteous, the most pious, the most devout believers, the ones most likely to have a literal interpretation of their scriptures, acted very, very badly. 


Okay, so it is fair to say that such conflicts are, to some degree, bound up with politics and the acquisition of resources (usually someone else’s). And, it is also fair to say that, the stated justification for the heinous barbarism was the advancement of the religious agenda of the aggressors of either or both sides. For any that cared to read all the way to the end, No! This is not about some prejudice or dislike of Muslims. And, while I’m about it, I am offended if that is what you thought.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tiny Little Story, just for chuckles.

A Union Man

I understand the birds are forming a union around the feeder in my backyard. Avian Union International, Backyard Chapter, Local 803. I only came to that realization when they sent their union rep to speak with me. He was wearing an iridescent suit, real gangster style, and his bearing suggested he could handle himself.

He said I could call him Mr. Starling. I just nodded.

He spoke just above a whisper which forced me to lean in. Then, with thinly veiled menace, he suggested that ,when purchasing my next bag, I might wish to consider the fancy seed. I don’t know what gave me away but he soon made it clear that I shouldn’t even consider "being the cheap-fucker I know you are”. That stung but I figured maybe it was one of those, discretion is the better part of valor moments. I let it slide.

Apparently at this point he thought it would be helpful to fill in some of the blanks. He told me the others had chosen him because of his “chill, laid back nature and strong negotiating skills". He explained, “This is a lucky thing f’you. Da'restadem were just itching to go all Hitchcock on y’r ass”. 

That seemed a bit much and I made a move towards him, as if to shoo him away. He didn't even flinch and responded with a look I can only describe as the embodiment of “Bitch, please! It had occurred to you that I can fly, right?” Then he cocked his head to his right, drawing my attention to the murder of crows who eyed our discussion from a low branch nearby. I admit it galled me that the lot of them didn’t weigh five pounds. Still, they had a thuggish look about them and any thought of defiance drained straight away. 

I gathered by the way he ruffled his feathers, Mr. Starling had a couple of other things on his wish list. I briefly considered dashing for the kitchen door but decided it would only delay the inevitable. So I sat fiddling with my coffee cup.

He offered faint praise on the installation of the bird bath but added with a cocked head and a DeNiro-like shrug, “It’s fuckin’ winta here”. I took the hint and added a water warmer next to fancy bird seed on my mental shopping list.

The only other substantive issue was the transparency/reflectivity of the glass windows on my house. Apparently a few of the dimmer bulbs among their numbers had some ongoing problems. Chief among these were failing to notice the windows while in flight, which I conceded could ruin your day. After a brief back and forth, we concluded this was one of those, problem-noticed-and problem-immediately-solved deals. “Usually with a broken neck”, I said, looking for approval.  Mr. Starling nodded obligingly.

Also a few of the robins, upon seeing their own reflections, would incorrectly infer they were facing territorial rivals. This resulted in much energy being needlessly expended trying to peck the shit out of an imaginary foe. In the end we both agreed that this was funny as shit at some level. I bravely stuck to my guns on this matter and insisted the windows would remain unchanged.

Emboldened by my little victory, I queried the union rep about his bravado. He looked at me as though I were mentally challenged. I gazed back in a manner that apparently removed all doubt from his mind. Then he explained that, despite our species bias and overall hubris, our kind was ultimately the more vulnerable. He proudly stated that while I was descended from a small rodent-like creature, his kind were directly descended from “fuckin’ dinosaurs”. Seeing the deflated look on my face, he shook back his suit, wagged his head, and gave me a pitying look.

“Ay, fuggetaboudit. That’s just the luck of the draw, kid. But don’t you worry. We don’t peck the hand that feeds us. In fact, just between you, me, and your cheesy lawn furniture, we run the protection racket around here. So, ya’see, as long as you make your payments, we’ve gotcha back. “All you gotta do is pay attention for our calls and you’ll know when predators are in the area. 

Prior to that moment, I had never stopped to consider whether a bird could sneer or how you’d know if he had. Mr. Starling helped me to flesh out that thought.

“Other predators, that is”, he snickered.

“You follow?”

I tried to respond but only a mousy squeak came out. After clearing my throat, I managed, “Sure, I follow”. But he already had his back to me and was heading toward his group.

Then he paused and turned his head around one-eighty in the way birds do. He stared straight at me with his body facing in the opposite direction. Though I’d seen this many times before, this time it felt intimidating even before he spoke. 

He paused to make sure he had my attention and finally said, “Let’s not have any more trouble, hah? I’d hate to see anything happen to the paint job on that new car, you follow?”