Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Another comforting thought, no charge.

Here’s a thought for those who have studied a bit of history and have some idea of how societies and institutions grew and changed up to this very minute. Now, imagine if every trace of one of the world’s three major religions disappeared today. It doesn’t matter which one. But, every thought, every memory, and every word ever written about it, gone. What is the likelihood that the exact same structure would spring up again? Effectively, zero. Human nature suggests that something else might spring up in its place, but never that exact thing. If science and all scientific knowledge disappeared today, there is not doubt that people would figure out how to do it all again. And, most crucially, they would come up with the exact same answers. Again. Comforting, isn’t it?

This is blatantly restating the words of Penn Jillette.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The extent of silence is the extent of culpability.

A short rant because my attention span is dipping towards the national average.

The U.S. government at work helping to insure poverty and misery

Sure, it is rescinded at the moment, but for how long. If another Republican is elected President, who will have his ear? To whom will he owe fealty? Religious Conservatives? Ya, think?

The Catholic Church doing what it does.

Note that the full-court-press on these issues is always where the population is poorest and has the least education.

My contention is that educated first-world Catholics can no longer simply decide not to follow the “rules” they don’t like and call it a day. The policies of the Catholic church encourage the blight of over-population and the resultant misery, poverty, and disease. It does not matter how many charities they also operate, as long as their policies help to ensure a constant state of poverty. It doesn’t matter how much the faithful pray that things will “work out” for their brethren in these third-world countries- as long as the officials of their church use out-dated mythology to insure the unfortunates stay that way.

Oh, and by the way, in my mind this applies equally to any other church or organization with similar policies. 
Sure- These two examples are scarcely the only bad actors on the scene. They are only the low hanging fruit.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This Holiday Message brought to you by your local Pasatafarians.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, the best of the season to you. I hope it finds you well and surrounded by all that you treasure.

To my fellow Pastafarians (and others on the fringe of the seemingly all-pervasive Christian model here in the good old U.S. of A.)- I know this time of year can leave you feeling a bit "left out". Don't despair weary traveller. Most of them don't intend to exclude you, it just comes with the territory of those in the dominant group. Never forget, you are also deserving and you also belong. Though I don't go for proselytizing, remember, His noodly appendage is outstretched for all. If you have need, allow yourself to be touched by His Noodliness, and know the warmth of self-reliance, the comradeship of other thoughtful travelers, and the keen sense of independence and personal power that accrues to those who stand unbowed staring face-to-face with the universe. Bend no knee in service to anything but what is right and what is true as best you are able to perceive it. 

Finally, my resolution is to cooperate with those on the other side when I can. Also, during the times when that’s not happening, I pledge to do my best to avoid fussing with them. Heck, in the end, we are stuck on this rock together.

Peace, out.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Laugh Test and why we don't do it just for grins.

I am highly skeptical. Think of the people who are backing this idea. I mean aside from the obvious loonies. Two groups. One is the emotional families of 911 victims who want there to be something more than a single act of a few crazies. Bless their hearts, I can scarcely imagine what the must have endured and I point no finger of blame at them. However, I can easily see how some of these distraught folks might feel as though the death of their loved ones might have more “meaning” somehow if there had been a conspiracy. Also there are some architects and engineers who put forward the same conspiracy theory that people planted explosives in the buildings. I believe they also have an agenda. A subtle one. They have a dog in the fight. They hate to think the buildings they design can be brought down so easily and neatly by a handful of crazies. Worse yet that the pancake collapse was not planned. Clearly, the crazies (if they gave any thought to it at all) were hoping that, if the buildings collapsed, they would do so in the most messy way possible. One could imagine how such a neat but unplanned and unplannable outcome might rattle some of the very smart people associated with the design and erection of such stuctures.

The truth is the World Trade Center was one of the best observed and guarded buildings in the country. After the bomb attack of 1993, security was heightened and never lowered. So, the idea that multiple highly skilled people planned and executed a "stealthy demolition" of the WTC, for my money, does not pass the laugh test. It would have only required one security guard or thoughtful maintenence worker to notice and report one strange event to thwart such a scenario. Of course it would have required hundreds of actions/events to fulfill such a plan. Also, if an unnamed shadowy "they" had orchestrated such a demolition setup, unnoticed by a legion of security and maintenence personnel over a period of weeks, there would be no need for jets to ram the buildings. Theoretically, little more than a cell phone would have been needed to trigger the blast. And why would they need someone else upon whom they might lay blame? At that point, they would have, by every measure, gotten away with it. And I don’t mean the perpetrators would have escaped detection merely for that moment. They would have effectively gotten away with it forever.

Add to this the fact that people love conspiracies. Love them. Think about it. What books do we read? What movies do we watch? It is much more exciting, interesting, engaging if bad things are a result of a vast conspiracy. Especially if there is a background love story, one or more attractive and scantily clad women who figure into the whole thing. If the “hero” is a handsome, strong but vulnerable hunk, well all the better.

So, I don’t care if it is a public broadcasting station airing this drivel. I think it was a poor idea on their part even if it garnered good ratings. And, I remain a public broadcasting fan despite an occasional dip in the otherwise high level programming.

Oh, and by the way, the National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted an extensive investigation of the structural failures and concluded the buildings collapsed due to strictly prosaic reasons. Further, beyond ruling out the evil-doings of shadowy insiders, NIST was tasked with understanding the reasons for the failures in order to improve future buildings. This might lead some to infer that NIST investigators would see it as being in their own interest to do the best job possible. On the other hand, if people wish to infer that NIST was in collusion with super stealthy and nefarious group(s), who am I to say they can’t take such a position? Given the current media offerings in America, I would not be surprised to see a televised seance in which 911 victims, speaking from “beyond the veil”, reveal everything between beer and car commericals. Of course, that would leave us to sort out which of the spirits might have been in on the whole thing. Seriously, I see no reason we'd trust them just because they're dead.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Big Bare Pole

The Bare Pole

Thanksgiving Day holiday shopping, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Is the whole sad business driving you crazy? Leaving you frustrated and saddened? Perhaps you are borderline embarassed to be an American in the twenty first century. I feel your pain. This is the type of situation that can only be fixed by a complete overhaul. Think Healthcare dot Gov. That kind of overhaul.

Therefore I suggest open proselytizing! Pledge to do your part and make certain everyone hears about Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us. Though its origins are dubious and spoofy, I believe we can take up the Festivus Pole, wave it proudly and claim its rituals as our own. So, get your family, friends, and loved ones around the dining table and let the healing begin. Rest assured, there is nothing to buy, little to remember, nothing extra to worry about. Once you’ve erected your Festivus Pole and have your family around the table, you’re half way there. The customary beginning ritual is the “Airing of Grievances”. This should come naturally. After a few drinks and some conversation about politics, the ever popular ritual “Feats of Strength” should naturally follow. Later as things mellow, everyone will enjoy reciting “Festivus Miracles”.

Buck-up Bah-Humbuggers! Let’s be clear and have no fear, Festivus is here— to stayyyyyy….

Friday, October 4, 2013

This I Believe

For sometime now my local radio station running this series of essays sent in by listeners. The topic is, This I Believe. I have enjoyed several of them. Others, not so much. In short I have been rolling this topic around my brain for a while. I kept thinking that I would write something down- eventually. Then, out of nowhere, a friend asks me to comment on a quote by Robert Anton Wilson regarding belief. So, I figured I would just let it out.

I basically agree with R.A. Wilson when he says, "My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence". However, though he only died in 2007, Mr. Wilson was born in 1932 and though very knowledgeable and thoughtful, he belonged to another time. This doesn't make him wrong. I am just not certain that he was aware of the latest brain research, which turns out to be pertinent. This is my view and I will expand upon it momentarily.

One of the first problems we run into when discussing "Belief" is how many people, sophisticates and lay folks, conflate or overlap their usage of this concept. People regularly say things like, "I believe I will go to the gym", when they really mean, "I have decided to go to the gym". Here is another way we loosely use this idea. "I believe in love or family or values and so on)". They use this device when they really mean, "I like loving and being loved. It feels good". One infers the subcontext to be, "I observe loving behavior is also important to others". How about, "I believe in America". Or, "I believe in justice". I concede, these phrases have a nice ring to them. Sadly, they are often used in such a shallow manner that they have sunk to a level between insipid and meaningless. Many times such statements are made to glorify the person making the statement and/or laying blame/guilt upon those of a different opinion in a given matter. I refer to this as, 'The Belief as a Bludgeon' strategy. I suggest this is the last refuge for a mind that can not or will not engage in critical thought or rational discourse. Or, in the worst scenario, the first refuge.

Then further, we hear people essentially say, "I believe in an invisible, (often anthropomorphic, though sometimes disperse and all-pervading), being who is all-powerful, judgmental, and lives in the sky (or wherever) and who intervenes in human business through magic unseen channels". Now we are in different territory.

So, what is the problem with a person stating that they "believe in love"? If we cede the semantic ground and infer their real intent, nothing. Well, almost nothing. I suggest that one little problem does begin to rear it's ugly head in such discussions. Too often, those making such claims appear to have skipped right over the important bit. Huh, what important bit? In a word, Evidence. I purposefully capitalize the word. I suggest it should rightfully be captialized in keeping with its profound importance.

When a person says, she believes in love, a number of factors are at work in arriving at such a claim. I will not attempt to enumerate all of them but community norms might be one such factor. However, there is one thing we all can reasonably infer from such a statement, there was a groundwork of Evidence through experience that leads a person to this claim. Sure, we don't usually label things overtly in this manner as we go through our days. As in, "Wow, I had a loving interaction and this has provided me with further evidence for my claim".In fact, science now indicates that our emotions tend to mediate such experiences and inform our judgments. In other words, the whole system seems to be built-in to some degree and we are scarcely even aware of the process, at least consciously. *See suggested reading below.

I will make a brief aside regarding a complex topic to which I could not do justice in this small space. Recent brain research tends to show that we have a tendency to belief or, at minimum, imperative choice. An admittedly way-to-simplified expanation would be that our survival (early in our sentient development) necessitated making relatively quick potentially life or death judgments. This very roughly corresponds (though on another biological level) to belief. I know it's sketchy and others explain it rather better, though, I suspect, not in this little space.

Ok, now the tricky bit. What is the problem with believing in the Big Guy in the Sky? The short version is, there really isn't a short version that is easily stated, truly informative, and powerfully persuasive. With that said, what am I bound to do? Correct-a-mundo! Elucidate a short version. Disclaimer. For my believing friends and family and others, feel free to skip over this part or read it and dismiss it as you wish. And, now, (I hear a drum roll. Do you?) the short version of something for which I've already admitted there is not short version.

The believer perspective starts from the position, "I know how the world is (the BGS made the earth, and the flowers, and the mountains, and the stars and so on. Then, rather like a cherry on the top of an ice-cream sundae, he made humans. Now, it is incumbent upon me to go about and make the world fit into this model". The non-believer perspective is, "I don't know how the world is (except to the extent that, I stand on the shoulders of giants who came before and laid a road of discovery upon which I am priveleged to tread and marvel). And even then, I need to question, examine, and discover what is true, as best I am able, with the tools at hand. And, if I were to find a thing to be true, which ran counter to the claims of some previous giant, I sleep easy in the knowledge that this is nothing less than she would expect from her progeny of discoverers."

*Suggested reading: Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotions, by Dr. Victor S. Johnston.
Yes, it is, like most everything else, available on Amazon.
Spoiler/Warning: If your personal operating system is not yet upgraded to include Evolution by Natural Selection, this book could cause a mind melting dissonance.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Navy Yard Massacre and the ensuing policy debate

Gosh, another massacre and another flare up of the so-called "gun control" debate. First, the whole thing is misnamed. I believe intentionally by the "gun huggers" (defined entirely by me as: those who value their supposedly inviolate second amendment rights more than they value the safety and security of their fellow citizens). The real thing we are discussing is the thoughtful rational approach to public safety and crime prevention as it relates to firearms. 

One of the popular gun-hugger positions is that baseball bats, automobiles, or a dozen other prosaic items cause more deaths in a time period than do assault weapons. This is truly specious argument. The fact is hammers are not designed to kill as many human beings at a distance with as quick and overwhelming a force as possible. Neither are cars. Or feet. Long range semi-automatic weapons are designed to do that. Oh, and for those "deep thinkers" who are going to bring up the notion that these weapons are also used for target shooting, sorry, but no. Sure they are used for this purpose but using that argument to justify the proliferation of such weapons throughout our society to virtually anyone who wants one is prima facie wrong. The desire of "gun huggers" to target shoot is, in the estimation of thoughtful people, entirely outweighed by public safety concerns. I unapologetically suggest that people who love their guns more than the safety of their fellow citizens do not deserve to have their arguments acribed the same weight as those of more rational public policy advocates.

The time for agreeing to disagree is over. It is time for us to stand together and convince our Legislators to do the right thing or vote them out.
Senator Gabrielle Giffords, a gun owner and victim of gun violence stands firm with thoughtful majority on this issue. The thoughtful majority needs to stand with her. Her group is Americans for Responsible Solutions.