December 29, 2008

Atheistic Rights & Responsibilities

Courtesy of iamanatheist.com:

As a moral atheist you have a number of rights and responsibilities. These include (but are not limited to):

1) Have no gods.
2) Don't worship stuff.
3) Be polite.
4) Take a day off once in a while.
5) Be nice to folks.
6) Don't kill people.
7) Don't cheat on your significant other.
8) Don't steal stuff.
9) Don't lie about stuff.
10) Don't be greedy.

Remember, theists may condemn you for living by this code because you are doing it of your own free will instead of because you're afraid that if you don't a supreme being will set you on fire.

Cool! All of the world's Holy Books have been rendered obsolete.

December 23, 2008

Diagoras- the 1st Confirmed Atheist?

The ancient Greek poet/philosopher Diagoras of Melos (5th Century B.C.E.) might be regarded as history's earliest known confirmed Atheist. Historical evidence shows that Diagoras wasn't afraid to speak his mind regarding his atheism.

Though information on Diagoras is somewhat scanty, he was documented by Aristophanes, Cicero, and others. In fact, Diagoras' giving offense to others by rejecting "the Gods" is the one point about him that historians can be certain on. According to Athenagoras, "he made the downright assertion that god does not exist at all."

Diagoras appears to have been very bold, witty, and unapologetic about his lack of belief in deities. From historian Jennifer Michael Hecht:

"The poet Diagoras of Melos was perhaps the most famous atheist of the fifth century. Although he did not write about atheism, anecdotes about his unbelief suggest he was self-confident, almost teasing, and very public. He revealed the secret rituals of the Eleusinian mystery religion to everyone and "thus made them ordinary," that is, he purposefully demystified a cherished secret rite, apparently to provoke his contemporaries into thought. In another famous story, a friend pointed out an expensive display of votive gifts and said, "You think the gods have no care for man? Why, you can see from all these votive pictures here how many people have escaped the fury of storms at sea by praying to the gods who have brought them safe to harbor." To which Diagoras replied, "Yes, indeed, but where are the pictures of all those who suffered shipwreck and perished in the waves?" A good question. Diagoras was indicted for profaning the mysteries, but escaped."

According to the Swedish historian Stefan Stenuud, Diagoras was expelled from Athens in 411 B.C.E. for attacking religion. Stenuud also documents events that may have led to Diagoras' atheism:

"According to Sextus Empiricus, Diagoras became an atheist when an enemy of his perjured himself in court and got away with it. There are some variations in other sources to this anecdote, though not changing its moral content – immorality seems to go unpunished, so how can there be any gods in the sense of watchers over human virtue?"

None of Diagoras' writings seem to have survived, unfortunately for us infidels...

Mark Tiborsky, the Cleveland Freethinkers

Inspirational Quip #3

"The history of religion can be compared to a layer cake... a mountain of layers of stale dogma, interspaced with the congealed blood of its victims, and overlaid with a sweetened opiate to make itself appealing to the gullible."

---Donald Henry Gudehus (U.S. Astronomer/Composer)

December 21, 2008

Inspirational Quip #2

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing,

"Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!"

If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it...

--- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist

December 20, 2008

Inspirational Quip #1

"I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood."

--- George Carlin




October 28, 2008

Letter to the U.S. Republican Party

Republicans, meet your evil spawn.

I don't know who this fellow is, nor would I want to. He appears to be exercising his First Amendment rights- the rights of free speech & free expression, along with freedom of belief; rights which are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to each & every citizen of the United States of America.

He is also a deluded ignoramus.

Shame on the McCain/Palin campaign, along with many others in the GOP... shame on the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, and all their minions... shame on all of you who perpetrated & disseminated the millions of noxious emails, chock full of distorted, misleading, and downright false information.

Last, but not least- shame on the millions of "mainstream" conservatives who stand idly by while their party moves to the fringe. You, mainstream Republicans, have let your party become anti-educated and anti-idea.

I am positive that millions of Americans would join me in the sentiment, "SPREADING FEAR AND IGNORANCE IS NOT MY IDEA OF PATRIOTISM."

People like the man pictured above are YOUR wayward children... and they will be YOURS to deal with.

We, the remainder of America, hereby wash our hands of them!

Mark Tiborsky, the Cleveland Freethinkers

October 22, 2008

The Cleveland Unfree Thinkers

Scary stuff.  A reporter confronts an agry, ignorant mob outside a McCain-Palin rally in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville last week.  I know there are pockets of ignorant people around here - but this? How do we stop such ignorance and hate?



September 14, 2008

Easy Answers

Ah yes... the default answer for all of humankind's toughest, most perplexing questions!

August 17, 2008

Even an atheist would find the miracle in a pregnant woman dying

Thank you Mr. Daly for speaking for me.

The article starts, "Even and atheist would say some sort of higher power was at work..." and then describes a crowd of strangers who came together to lift a school bus off of a pregnant woman. And even a Jew would say Jesus were at work. Here we have the classic, flip side of the "no atheists in foxholes," cliche.

"From where?" the local man speculates about the origin of the ability of these people to all come together in an act of compassion. "We all know where, but we don't always speak of it." From the set up of this article, the quote implies that the man on the street is referring to God, but the rest of the quote casts ambiguity upon that conclusion; " Goodness, goodness and love." Goodness and love, two characteristics of human beings at their best, no higher power required, but sold separately to those convinced they need it.

This story appears to be the typical, "something bad happened, then people worked really hard and something good happened, sha-zam, a miracle occurred story but it's not.

First the rescue of the mother is not the actual miracle. She died! The actual miracle is that hard-working and skilled medical professionals saved the unborn baby, just like another baby of a killed pregnant woman had been saved 14 years ago. Is it really unusual for a baby to be rescued from a critically injured woman late in her pregnancy?

What an insult to the people who tried to rescue this woman and to the doctors who saved the baby. They deserve the credit. It's no "miracle" that the average person would be decent enough to help lift a bus off a pregnant woman. That is, unless you really think mankind is fundamentally evil, as many religious traditions do. (Or that you can't expect people in on "this corner" to be decent people.) As one of the commenters said, "No Mr. Daly, an atheist like me would say that someone's mom wouldn't end up under a bus, if a God ruled over the planet."

ETA- Read this article that argues how lucky this baby is because he wasn't one of the millions of babies whose mother isn't crushed to death by a bus before it was even born.

August 9, 2008

Against Ignorance: Science Education in the 21st Century





Moderated by Mark A. Kay of the Stanford School of Medicine

Cosponsored with the Stanford School of Medicine

Sunday, March 9, 2008
2:00-4:00pm

Memorial Auditorium

The rise of religiously motivated threats to scientific practice and instruction in American schools has motivated biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss to engage in a public dialogue on strategies for science education in the twenty-first century. Their open conversation concerning science literacy and related issues began in the July 2007 Scientific American and continues at this Aurora Forum event moderated by Mark Kay of the Stanford School of Medicine.

.


RICHARD DAWKINS


Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Professor in the Public Understanding of Science, at the University of Oxford, is an ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and popular science writer who first came to prominence with his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, which popularized the gene-centered view of evolution and introduced the term meme into the lexicon, helping found memetics. In 1982, he made a widely cited contribution to the science of evolution with the theory presented in The Extended Phenotype that phenotypic effects are not limited to an organism's body but can stretch far into the environment, including into the bodies of other organisms. He has since written several best-selling popular books, and appeared in a number of television and radio programs, concerning evolutionary biology, creationism, and religion. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. His many prizes include the International Cosmos Prize, the Nakayama Prize for Human Science and the Shakespeare Prize for Distinguished Contributions to British Culture. The author of The God Delusion, he is an outspoken atheist, secular humanist, and sceptic. In 2006 he created the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

http://richarddawkins.net/

LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS


Lawrence Krauss, the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University, received his PhD from MIT in 1982 and then joined the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. Author of seven popular books, including The Physics of Star Trek, and dozens of commentaries for national publications, radio and television, he also lectures widely on science and public policy. Among his many scientific honors, he has the unique distinction of having received the highest awards from all three U.S. physics societies. A Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has been particularly active in issues of science and society, leading the effort by scientists to defend the teaching of science in public schools, and to help define the proper limits of both science and religion, as well as defending scientific integrity in government. An open letter he sent to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, urging the pontiff not to build new walls between science and faith, led the Vatican to reaffirm the Roman Catholic Church’s acceptance of natural selection as a valid scientific theory. Most recently he has led the call for a presidential debate on science and technology.

http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss


MARK A. KAY (MODERATOR)


Mark Kay, the Director of the Program in Human Gene Therapy and the Dennis Farrey Family Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Genetics at Stanford University, received a PhD in Developmental Genetics and MD from Case Western Reserve University. Before coming to Stanford, he was at the University of Washington as Associate Professor in the Departments of Medicine, with adjuncts in Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Pathology. His research has lead to over 175 scientific publications in various leading journals. He is currently oversees a laboratory focused on gene therapy for hemophilia and viral hepatitis. His work has been recognized by many awards. He was on the founding board of directors of the American Society for Gene Therapy and served as the Society’s President in 2005-2006.

http://med.stanford.edu/profiles/Mark_Kay

August 6, 2008

Scenes from an Atheist De-Baptism Ceremony

Scenes from an Atheist De-Baptism Ceremony
Posted in Friendly Atheist at 7:00 am by Hemant Mehta
How does one actually go about having an atheist de-baptism ceremony?
I attended one in Westerville, Ohio over the weekend and I can now tell you about all the ceremonial details.
It begins with some words from Acting President of American Atheists, Frank Zindler:
“Do you agree that the magical potency of today’s ceremony is exactly equal to the magical efficacy of ceremonial baptism with dihydrogen monoxide, and do you agree that the power of all magical ceremonies is nonexistent?”
Then, everyone responds with a booming, “Amen!”
There is no Baptismal pool here.
All that is needed is a blow dryer — in this case, the Blow Dryer of Reason — held by AA’s Legal Director Edwin Kagin:

Then, the masses form a line to take part in this joyous occasion:

One by one, they go underneath the Dryer…

And sometimes, the non-religious emotion overcomes you and you just fall (via jenigray2000):

Some people just can’t get enough!


Even President George W. Bush wants to get in on this action:

It’s not just for adults. This little girl can now see the light!




What do you get after you’ve gone through the whole process?
A nifty certificate.
This woman is positively thrilled:

What does that certificate say…?

And no de-baptism service is complete without stopping by the de-communion table, which holds the holy A&W Root Beer and peanut butter and honey de-communion crackers.


This raises an interesting question… what happens if you desecrate an atheist communion wafer?!
One brave soul wants to find out and is surely seeking the wrath of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue…





His inbox is going to have *so* much crazy hate mail…

The media had a good time with this ceremony as well. Here’s a great article by Sarah Pulliam of The Columbus Dispatch.

Special thanks to event organizer (and good friend) Ashley Paramore for putting together a really kickass event.

August 4, 2008

Decency Deficit

The Roman Philosopher Seneca observed that the great source of anger within his realm was unrealistically high expectations. He noted that the nobility of Rome, with all their pomp and wealth, held unrealistically high expectations of others and of life; and were in turn destined to suffer in fury when things did not work out the way they wanted. His proposal was for us to adapt to our surroundings; that we should not expect precision and promptness in every event; rather, that we should expect delays, omissions, mistakes, accidents, and any other unintended occurrence that may or may not be avoidable. To spend one's time harping at every slight, every mistake, every little thing that one dislikes is not only a complete waste of energy; It has the opposite effect than intended. Pointing out the minor and insignificant occurrences we all make irritates; I often catch my mistakes as I make them, often correcting them, but I don't obsess over them.

Workplaces can be difficult to conduct oneself in a pleasant manner; Using retail as as example: It is expected that customers will bring whatever moods or problems they have into the store with them. The assumption that any employee of a store is required to behave as a subordinate to the customer is a mindset that too many people possess. I have had far too many exchanges with people who assume my job is to placate their every whim to pass it off as a few bad eggs. A simple search online of blogs by people in the service industry will tell you everything you need to know. I don't often make sweeping generalizations, but I will now; the American consumer is a pretentious asshole.

The solution, is easy to put in writing. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Allow for mistakes. Laugh off any nuisance. Don't harp on someone the second the mess up. I do these things. I haven't always, but I can say with complete honesty that for the last year I have made my surroundings a more pleasant place because of my commitment to this ideal.

What have I observed? Well, that I am for the most part alone. Women tend to be nicer. Younger people in general have better attitudes. Minorities tend to be one, or the other. Economic status plays a role; If you have a lot of money, or a little, you are more likely to be a jerk. The one politician I assisted was a very nice individual, although his daughter was quite unappreciative of the money he was spending on her.

What is my point? It's easy. Why should we not behave with decency towards other human beings? And why shouldn't that apply everywhere? Why do we not treat one another with respect, all the time? Why did I have to be told time and time again from the age of ten just how nice and polite I was? It has been clear to me for a long time that people simply do not expect much from one another.

I am starting a new tactic today. From now on, I will continue to be kind, helpful, courteous, and friendly to every single person I meet. And if they do not respond in kind, provided I am not at work, I will point this out. I hear all the time how unhappy people are with one another. Isn't it time to do something about it?

Michael

July 28, 2008

Join the Cleveland Freethinkers! (?)

Hello to anyone who may have seen our little blurb in today's (7/28) Cleveland Plain Dealer!

Do you think the sentiment expressed above is utterly absurd?

Then join us! It's as easy as clicking on the wording below the Cleveland Freethinkers meetup.com tag on the upper right, and signing up. Membership is free, of course.

Yes, quite a few atheists & agnostics lurk within the Cleveland Freethinkers- and our membership also includes open-minded believers & spiritual folk. Our statement of purpose, in a nutshell, can be found on the right-hand side of this blog. You can find more info by simply clicking on the wording below the meetup.com tag.

Join us! It'll be fun and informative.

But if, perchance, you happen to think that the sentiment in the church sign pictured above makes perfect sense...

Then RUN! FLEE! Click on the li'l "x" in the upper right corner of your screen!

There is content here that may curl the pages of Holy books... this group is not for you. Run!

Mark T. (Asst. Organizer, the Cleveland Freethinkers)

July 15, 2008

An Atheist Meets God

Here's a healthy dose of comic relief from EdwardCurrent! (4m52s)

MT

Dennett on Memes

From TED: Ideas Worth Spreading
http://www.ted.com/index.php/

This 17-minute presentation by Daniel Dennett is good food for freethought... enjoy!

MT

July 5, 2008

Green Revolution

Thomas Friedman Calls For Green Revolution

Hindsight is 20/20. Foresight; Well, it depends on your perspective. Take the war in Iraq, for example. 30% of us had the foresight to see the travesty coming; Yet we invaded, and arrogantly pronounced our "mission accomplished". Just look at how things turned out.

Now everyone is concerned about something which, to my admittedly biased eyes, is obvious. In the very near future, we are going to need to shift away from fossil fuels and start utilizing renewable energy sources. This is not a new line of thinking. Unfortunately, we are slow to adapt. Why only now do we strive to create a sustainable economy? Why only now are we, as a whole, asking ourselves the questions that the few asked earlier and were mocked for? Why have we allowed our culture to deteriorate to the point that we are unable adapt without usurping our status quo?

Thomas Friedman is asking the same question that I am, but from a different perspective. He is thinking in economic terms. He is thinking of solving our problems the same way we have for the last hundred years. The problem with his line of thinking is that it is constrained by his disillusion with the free market system we have in place. He wants the system to work for us, and he believes that the system is in place for us. He is wrong, because he fails to include in his calculations things like greed, fear, corruption, and bigotry. He wants something to happen within a system designed to trample over new ideas, allowing only the most connected and expedient to survive. He wants a revolution of thinking, but he's talking to the wrong crowd.

Still, he has a hell of a good point.

Michael

June 23, 2008

In Memory of George Carlin

One of the great freethinking voices silenced

May 29, 2008

Atheist or Non-Theist: Is There a Difference?

ATHEISM: a disbelief in the existence of deity

Many people who do not believe in the existence any sort of supreme being(s) are very reluctant to label themselves as Atheists. This is somewhat understandable- considering the stigma which has always been, and still is, attached to that particular term.

While I personally have no problem calling myself an Atheist, I actually prefer the broader term of Freethinker- which, as per the definition atop this blog, encompasses not only Atheists & Agnostics & the like but also certain types of Theists. It is my personal belief that Atheists alone will have a hard time making Earth a better place- but a true conglomeration of Freethinkers might have a pretty good shot at it...

Some terms for the philosophies of nonbelief have definitions that are markedly different than the term atheism- humanism & secular humanism, for example:

HUMANISM: a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason

SECULAR HUMANISM: humanistic philosophy viewed as a nontheistic religion antagonistic to traditional religion

For the most part, the definition of atheism still applies to the above terms?

Lately I have come across the term non-theist somewhat frequently- I have to admit that this one confuses me a bit. "I do not consider myself an Atheist, I prefer to think of myself as a Non-Theist", or so they say...

NON-THEIST: one not having or involving a belief in God, especially as a being who reveals himself to humanity

Aw, c'mon... well, in truth, the term non-theist could be applied to adherents of Buddhism & other religions that do not involve a deity. But the beautifully simple definition of atheism still applies here, does it not?

Mark T.

May 21, 2008

God's Location?

A freethought poem written by a member of the Cleveland Freethinkers, Don Boos...

Where is God?
by Don Boos

"Is there really a god?" you ask yourself,
As you take your bible off the shelf.

This is alleged to be God's word,
Written by scribes who claim to have heard...

The voice of God, or so they said,
But the voice was only within their head.

When people hear voices others cannot hear,
They are mentally ill is what we fear...

But when they claim the voice is God,
They're viewed as holy rather than odd!

So in your search for God you find,
God exists in one place... and thats in men's mind!

May 8, 2008

Cross Carrying Chuck



Looks like this guy just wants attention, and if he doesn't get it? Then a disaster will strike your town! I'm also pretty sure that when Jesus had to carry his cross in the bible, that it didn't have training wheels...

May 2, 2008

Child Abuse



Now children, we are going to take you through a museum, a building designed with the intent of imparting knowledge upon the masses through displays, representations, recreations, and rendered media, all of which have been exhaustingly researched and critiqued by millions of dedicated and well-meaning scientists, archaeologists, paleontologists, etc.; what we want you to do, is to look at everything you see, and whatever clashes with what we have told you actually happened, because we have a book that tells us so, we want you to reject it, and to laugh at it, because it is stupid!

Michael

April 22, 2008

Conversations in Ellwood City, PA




The following is a description of my experience canvassing for Barack Obama last weekend. While I can't say that the sequence of events is exact, the descriptions of the people and places and the words they said to me are.

To be fair to Ellwood, the whole city is not in such a poor condition. I arrive early morning at our staging area, a picturesque home in a quaint, clean, and quiet neighborhood. A few hundred feet down the road at the local park, a city Earth Day festival is unfolding. The house I walk into is owned by a lovely woman, the wife of a local pastor, who has volunteered her home for the weekend and taken time out of her busy day caring for her young children to help the Obama campaign. But a short trip across the bridge to the West reveals a completely different world. It is a world mentioned in the news and in political speeches, but quickly forgotten by city folk. It is a world often passed by on a long drive, but never entered. It is a world where American dreams go to die.

As the early morning chill gives way to the warmth of the sun, the smell of burning trash is in the air. I have a list of Democratic households to visit, and my goal is to get a feel for Obama's support in the area. I set out to meet the people of West Elwood City. The roads are unkempt, many of the houses in disrepair, and the lawns littered with debris. The stickers and signs on the homes reveal a love for Jesus and country that is rivaled only by a love for Pittsburgh Steeler football. My morning optimism quickly fades as a man stops me on the road. He is middle aged and shoddily dressed with gray hair, a thick mustache, and a half smoked cigarette hanging from his mouth. He asks me what I'm doing. "I'm volunteering for the Barack Obama campaign, " I reply. He says condescendingly, "What do you want to work for him for? He's not going to do anything but raise your taxes." I briefly explain Obama's plan to lower taxes for the middle class, to which he simply replies, "I don't believe you." It is clear he has already made up his mind, even without knowing the facts. I move on to the homes on my list.

After knocking on the doors of a few vacant houses, I walk up to a small home with a large "This home is protected by Jesus" sticker on door. I knock. A tall woman with messy hair and a dirty white t-shirt answers the door with a hint of a smile on her face. "Can I help you?" she says. I tell her I am volunteer from the Obama campaign and her semblance of a smile quickly disappears. "I'm a Hillary supporter, " she snaps. "I would never vote for him. I would even for McCain before I'd vote for him." She slams the door in my face. I trudge on, trying not to be discouraged.

A few streets over I approach a dilapidated bungalow that sits below street level. There are no stairs. I hop down to reach the front door and knock. A large, well built man answers the door wearing a bright red union t-shirt. He carries a toddler in his right arm and a large wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. I ask him who he is supporting in the upcoming election. The man tells me that he likes Obama, but that he has to vote with his union, and they have yet to endorse a candidate. I thank him for his time and move on.

After a few hours with little success, I step onto the porch of the left side of small duplex and ring the bell. A young African American man answers. When I tell him I am working for Obama, a large smile inches across his face. He tells me he is undecided but would like to talk. We sit on the porch and talk for about five minutes. He says he is a local pastor, and that he is surprised to see me in his area. While he does not say it outright, he hints at a strong sentiment of racism in his town and I tell him that I've noticed. As we conclude he admits he is leaning toward Obama and gives me a wink. I leave the house with a lifted spirit.

Down the street I creep up to a tattered home where the door is open and country music is blaring. I knock on the side. A hairy, heavy set white man in a dirty wifebeater walks up the hallway. "Hi, I'm a volunteer with the Barack Obam--." He quickly interrupts me by moving his hand in a shooing motion as he barks, "No, no! You get out of here!". As I scuttle away, he shouts from the door, " And tell your friends not to come back neither!"

Dejected, I walk up a long steep hillside to reach the final houses on my list. The summit provides a view over the whole side of town - the worn houses, the crumbling infrastructure, the failing commercial area, and the decrepit factories in the distance - the remnants of a once booming steel town. I come upon the last home on my list. It's no bigger than a trailer, and set a distance from the road. On the front lawn an oil drum filled with trash is burning. Two girls in their early twenties sit on lawn chairs smoking while six or seven children and a small dog chase each other excitedly around the house. One of the girls gets up to greet me and I ask for the name on my list. "She doesn't live here anymore, " replies the young girl. I thank her and ask who she might be supporting. She blows a plume of smoke and smiles as she says, "Oh, I don't really pay attention to that stuff." As I head back down the hill toward my car, a pickup truck passes by with a confederate flag in place of a front license plate.

Back at my staging area, I report my grim numbers to the woman in charge. "I'm not surprised, " she says, "at least we have more information now." I notice a pile of Obama lawn signs that were dropped off while I was out, and I ask here why she has not put one up. She sighs as she tells me that it wouldn't be appropriate due to her husband's position as pastor. I sigh in return, and thank her for being such a gracious host.

My heart is heavy on the PA Turnpike as the tiny town of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania fades in the distance. In my head I hear the words of Obama himself, words that have been replayed time and time again on the news, words about the bitterness in small town America, words that have been turned against him to paint him as "disconnected" and "elitist". But I see now that he is only honest. The bitterness is real, and those who ignore it are disconnected. There is little hope for a better America in the people of West Ellwood City.

April 20, 2008

The Devil's Handiwork

A funny dose of reality from comedian Lewis Black!

April 14, 2008

Musings On Adaptation



I did not expect to find this clip of a water lily so fascinating, yet once again the internets, this time courtesy of i-am-bored.com, have surprised me. Here you have a clear example of a plant engaging in strategic behavior in order to ensure it's own survival. I don't mean to equate adaptive characteristics to thought-out planning; what fascinates me is how something as unremarkable as a floating leaf can devise methods of survival that captivate the imagination.

Last night, the National Geographic channel premiered a much-hyped special called The Human Footprint, in which they laid out visually much of the materials the average American goes through in their 77.75 year lifespan. While some of the numbers were mundane and expected, (5,054 newspapers in a lifetime, 31,350 gallons of gas) others were surprising (to me) and troubling. Take diapers, for instance The average toddler goes through 3,796 diapers; the materials used in creating those diapers include 1,898 pints of crude oil, 715 pounds of plastic, and the pulp of 4 1/2 trees; washing reusable diapers requires 22,455 gallons of water. And this is just the beginning.

Watch the show- I recommend it, solely for the value of knowing just how much we consume in our lives. I have to make an observation, though. Trust me, I know this is a leap, but just compare how efficient natural selection can be, like in the case of the water lily, when contrasted with the machinations of the Human species. With the lily, every element of the plant has a purpose. Spikes on the bottoms to ward off fish, curled edges to push aways competitors, flowers large enough to ensnare the required insects for pollenation; there is little waste, little frivolity when the issue at hand is survival.

Do we not have the same motives in life? Are we not driven by natural impulse to procreate, to leave our mark on this earth, to entrust our genetic survival to our offspring? Then why the hell are we at such a great level so inept at grasping such a simple concept; My well being is dependent on the fitness of that which surrounds me. Why do people think that there is no consequence for their actions? I have been a member of the environmental movement since I was eleven, and I have watched with much anger as people clung to the old way of doing things, then consider changing, then talk about changing, and then really seriously talk about changing (all the while going about their daily lives as though nothing were wrong); and doing nothing.

Well, now things are happening. Corporations have exploited the complacency of our government, and have flaunted regulations that were put in place decades ago with the specific intention of protecting people. NAFTA has enabled corporations to file suit against the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican government, suing them for money lost because of legislation enacted to curb environmental damage and social problems. And this is just the beginning. How much do you think it's going to cost us just to reduce U.S. material consumption by a paltry 10%? Doing so would be a great boon for our species and our planet, but the measures that need to be taken would usurp our entire way of life, were it to be done immediately.

What we need is compromise. What we needed long ago was compromise; unfortunately, those people responsible for building our great economic empire did so with great success mostly because they unfailingly, and often deliberately, ignored the consequences of their actions. Waste was produced and disposed of with no consideration for its effect on anyone or anything it came in contact with; working conditions were designed to maximize productivity with little, (and in some cases, in spite of) regard for the well being of those doing the work; products were designed to be profitable- efficiency and quality were secondary considerations; any additions to the infrastructure of the company or the area around it were implemented with zero consideration for the environmental effect it had; just to name a few problems.

I don't mean to condemn past generations for their ignorance. I do condemn them for their lack of effort and consideration. The reason we have the problems we do today is because of a pandemic of the mind; people have little reverence for life.

Michael

April 12, 2008

The Bigger, the Gooder

Marnster & I just got back from a wonderful trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On the way home, we took a little side excursion to visit the world's largest PLUS SIGN!!!

This huge plus sign, which dwarfs Marnster at over 100 ft. high, is located in Caryville, TN. We saw another giant plus sign in the cheesy tourist hole of Pigeon Forge, TN (the home of Dollywood).

Here is the lowdown on the immense plus signs- courtesy of Jill McNeal, WATE-TV, Knoxville...

--- A local pastor wants to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Knox County by having a giant cross erected on the horizon. The cross will be visible near the exits for Washington Pike and Millertown Pike on Interstate 640.

You may already be familiar with Jim Potter's work. If you've driven on Interstate 75 in Campbell County, you've seen Potter's huge steel and concrete cross in Caryville off exit 141.
Now Potter is looking for help to continue his crusade in Knox County.


"It's an area that needs a cross. It'd be a shame for Knox County and the city of Knoxville not to have cross, wouldn't it? Ain't that what the Lord would say?" Potter asks.


Since Potter became a born again Christian at age 50, he's has been doing everything he can to share his story. "The cross is the most outward appearance of our inward faith."

Valley View Pastor Justin Pratt says from the ridge behind the church, the cross could be seen for miles. "I think it would just serve as a wonderful monument to our community that we in this area still want to lift the name of Christ and show people we're not ashamed of who we've put our trust and confidence in," Pastor Pratt says.

Jim Potter hopes the cross would inspire all who see it, like a woman he heard from in the past.
"She said, 'Are you the one who put up this big cross down here in Loudon County? Said the hair's still standing up on my arms where I went by that cross.' She said, 'I had to turn around and find out more about it,'" Potter recalls.


Potter sometimes encounters resistance to his towering monuments. Several years ago, he had to take down a similar cross in Anderson County, due to zoning laws. Potter hopes his next plan will be smooth sailing as he tries to put up a cross to Knoxville.---

Each cross stands over 100 feet tall and costs about $60,000. Potter has put up 10 giant crosses from Indiana to Virginia.

Mark T.

April 9, 2008

A Reminder



A reminder that, though we often associate religious extremists with the fringes of society, stereotyping them as nothing more than the ignorant and close-minded base of the Republican party, you will find that this mentality crosses many boundaries. What would make a supposedly progressive-minded state legislator spew this kind of bile? Religion. Her statement that, "It's dangerous for our children to even know your philosophy exists!" sums up the problem that we Freethinkers face in this society. We are not hated just for disagreeing. We are loathed and feared because we exist.

Michael

Top Ten Books

From my copy of Publishers Lunch today:

Harris Interactive surveyed American adults to find out "What is your favorite book of all time?" The answers:

1. The Bible
2. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
3. Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
5. The Stand, by Stephen King
6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
8. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
10. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

That number one book is still wielding far too much influence for my taste. Do you think a majority would still claim it as their favorite, if they concluded that it was a complete fiction? Or almost completely fiction with a tiny bit of nonfiction now and then in reference to people's names or the occasional true event?

I don't see The God Delusion on the list. Or, The Pale Blue Eye, a stunning crime novel that came out in the last 2 years. Or Toni Morrison's masterpiece, Beloved. Or Richard Wright's Native Son. Or Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I love them all, and more, and cannot choose between them.

If anyone had asked me, my favorite book is the dictionary. After that there are too many to narrow it down, but none are on the above list. I choose the dictionary because all the other books are inside it, they're just jumbled up.
(When I say dictionary I mean to include all dictionaries, accounting for different versions and different languages.)

What's your favorite book? Is it on the above list? Are you surprised by the titles on the list? Pleased by them? Disappointed?

April 6, 2008

Three Things That Define A Freethinker, According To Michael

One- Rejection of dogma
So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night — are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless. - Preface to Les Misérables

Dogma is, to sum its intent and consequence equally, the end of thought. A truly insidious idea; that one source provides the answers to all questions, the justification for all action, and the motive for all desire. While not exclusively a religious element, it is embraced most forcefully and most consistently by the faithful. Once a person commits themself to dogma, their world-view becomes corrupted by the necessity of maintaining their belief. I do not mean to say we should avoid any commitment to an ideal; rather, it is important for a Freethinker to vet any and all ideas that come to them, so as to ascertain the truth, and to commit themselves to that which proves itself worthy of devotion. Love, peace, happiness, enterprise, personal achievement; friendship, family, sex, art, humor, skill, exercise; striving to have fun, striving to try new things, striving to experience new ideas and new ways of living, striving to better ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, our country, and our planet, and our earth, and our environment; striving to achieve the closest thing to utopia (while recognizing that a true utopia is unachievable); I challenge anyone to tell me how this ideal is unrealistic. And, I challenge anyone to tell me how wanting to experience the most out of life, as I believe any true Freethinker should, is dogma.


Two- Acknowledgement of Human Progress
There is the past and its continuing horrors: violence, war, prejudices against those who are different, outrageous monopolization of the good earth's wealth by a few, political power in the hands of liars and murderers, the building of prisons instead of schools, the poisoning of the press and the entire culture by money. It is easy to become discouraged observing this, especially since this is what the press and television insist that we look at, and nothing more.
But there is also the bubbling of change under the surface of obedience: the growing revulsion against endless wars, the insistence of women all over the world that they will no longer tolerate abuse and subordination... There is civil disobedience against the military machine, protest against police brutality directed especially at people of color. - Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States


We hear constantly how violent and obscene our society is, how nobody looks out for one another and how good things used to be. I have heard many times from people much older than me about how communities used to look out for one another, and how they and the church helped to keep children under control and violence at a minimum. It's a nice thought. But it is a idea that has absolutely no basis on reality. I could explain why a person is likely to feel that things were better when they were young, but I'd rather offer a single historical perspective. I think it gets my point across well enough.

Violence has decreased dramatically in the last century. I was unaware of this until last summer. It was a revelation that helped make me aware of just how far we had come in the last few centuries. What I learned was that, if you were to tabulate the number of people killed by human hands in each century, starting with the earliest centuries we can accurately draw information from, all the way to the end of the twentieth century, you would notice two things. One, for the most part, there was a steady rate at which people slaughtered each other from year to year. The second thing, is that approximately 500 million people died in the twentieth century at the hands of another person; that number is half of what should have been expected, if you were to assume that the rate of killing from one century to another were remain consistent.

Think about it. In the century in which we saw a dramatic population rise, a drastic increase in our ability to sow destruction across the earth, via jets and missiles and nukes, with more people competing for the same amount of land and resources, we had less killing. I must also point out that the religiosity of the human race is arguably at its lowest, having declined over the same time period. Whatever explanation you may offer at the micro level, the macro truth is the one I am stating here: education, communication, and greater awareness of the plights of other people has improved the quality of life for everyone, and there is no reason to suspect that that trend will change.


Three- Quest For Wisdom & Knowledge
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly. - Albert Einstein, "Autobiographical Notes"

The truth shall set you free; a mantra I both deplore and accept; far too many long-winded and empty sermons have preached the greatness of "truth". The corruption of an idea that should be impervious to misuse is by far the greatest offense the masses of small minds have forced upon us. Ask someone to tell you their name, their age, their gender, their hair color, their occupation, and you will get a response with little or no hesitation, without the need to think too carefully. Now ask them to make a true statement. I've tried it. Nearly everyone I posed this question to was confounded by the very concept. Why? Say something that is true: my name is Michael, I am a man, as I type this sentence, the sun is facing the opposite side of the earth. It shouldn't be difficult to ascertain truth in life. We are bombarded with things that are true every second we are awake, from birth until death. Yet, thanks to the actions of no one and nothing but our fellow Human beings, we have contrived to live in a world where anything, and everything, is subject to irrational and illogical interpretation. People define reality as it relates to their own existence; every action, every sense, every event, every intent, every single thing they become aware of is subject to interpretation as they see fit.

It is easy to ignore or diminish the difficulties in life; it is hard, and often dangerous to confront them; it is impossible to eradicate them. But, we all need to find a purpose in this life. It is the universal question everyone asks; why? Each one of us has a different answer. I do not feel as though I am being unfair when I say that not all answers are created equal. To declare that your purpose in life is to sow destruction and malice upon the earth is deplorable, just as it is to believe that your only reason for existing is to prepare yourself for the "next" stage; there are many ways to squander the only thing we know for certain we will ever have. It is my absolute conviction that our greatest challenge in life is our effort to find meaning in it. I believe that identifying what it is we want to achieve, be it something great or something benign, is the crucial first step in finding happiness from life.

So what do truth and purpose have in common? The absence of one corrupts the other. Ignorance, perpetuated falsehoods, and out right lies have affected Humanity's existence greatly, and not for the better. We are still emerging from an intellectual coma that non-reason and dogma had put us in. There is still much that needs to be done in terms of progress; whether it be our system of education or health, our government, our infrastructure, our social and economic and foreign relations, our culture, our technological advancement, our ecological impact; these things are still in their infancy in terms of what we can achieve, but already we have done much to set our species off course. We must assert control, both within our own minds and as a collective society, if we wish to thrive. We cannot let the trials and travails of past generations hold us back. We must learn to utilize the lessons of the past to guide us. We must not let fables and ignorance dictate where science and reason have already spoken. We must accept that in life, there are some lines that should, and must be drawn. In short, I believe we should all commit ourselves to discovering what really is "true", and through that, what is right.

Michael

March 29, 2008

A Christian Skewers ID


A recent exchange on the subject of Intelligent Design vs. Evolution/"Expelled", courtesy of the ABC News "Science & Society" blog...

TOM said;
"Anyone who believes we evolved from apes without a single transitional species to be found (and there should be "countless" millions of them in the fossil record) is clearly operating on blind faith.

There are SO many gaps in evolutionary theory, how it is so widely accepted is miraculous. This movie will expose alot of truth that has been withheld for too long."


To which my hero, RAYMOND, replied;
"Of course there are transitional fossils found! Any student of the subject would know this. And we really are beginning to collect an impression collection of human/hominid fossils stretching way back. Of course, every time a new fossil is found we create another "gap." So the abundance of gaps in the fossil record is a testimony to the abundance of fossils we have found, a huge amount of evidence. The evidence is not only in the fossil record itself, but also in our own DNA.

I am a former creationist. I have not lost faith in God one little bit, but I have lost faith in creationism and the pseudo-science that is done in the name of God. None of it is real science, none of it follows the evidence to come to a conclusion, but all of it, all of the evidence and interpretation of it in creationism is bent to a predetermined conclusion. Lying is pretty much an all-the-time event, including lying about what science says, what science is, what science does, and why it does it. These lies are blatant and fill their literature. They take what scientists say and remove the context and twist the words to make it appear that they are saying something else or admitting to something they are not. They easily ignore anything that does not agree with their predetermined position, and continue to repeat arguments or claim as evidence things which have been conclusively shown to be false.


Dawkins was absolutely right to be incensed by the trickery of these hypocrites. True Christians would have been straightforward and honest in their dealings. The interviews in the picture were stolen by lies.


So please, fellow Christians, forgive me when I say that no good thing can come from this. Any philosophy or position which must be supported by lying is corrupt, and creationism is about as corrupt as it is possible to get. Hmmm. Now what punishment did Christ say would be handed out to "workers of iniquity" who claimed to follow him?"


A thousand tips of the hat to you, Raymond!!!

Mark T.

March 25, 2008

Intelligent Design 1:2

Intelligent Design proponents are twistin' and spinnin'!

Premise Media, which is planning to release Ben Stein's "Expelled" on April 18th, had this to say about the PZ Myers affair:


“It is amazing to see the reaction of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and their cohorts when one of them is simply expelled from a movie. Yet these men applaud when professors throughout the nation are fired from their jobs and permanently excluded from their profession for mentioning Intelligent Design,” said producer Mark Mathis. Mathis was at the event that has raised this controversy.

Mathis continued, “I hope PZ’s experience has helped him see the light. He is distraught because he could not see a movie. What if he wasn’t allowed to teach on a college campus or was denied tenure? Maybe he will think twice before he starts demanding more professors be blacklisted and expelled simply because they question the adequacy of Darwin's theory.”


"...simply because they question the adequacy of Darwin's theory"... sounds rather scientific. But wouldn't "simply because they want to teach religion as science" be closer to the truth?

The truth comes out when one digs a bit deeper... here is an excerpt from the official "Expelled" blog:

"The proponents of evolutionism are so fanatical in promoting their belief system, and in forcing it in EVERYBODY, they just give no chance for any other explanation to be heard.

But here is the way it really is. It is called the Gap Theory, and it comports both with the Genesis account and the physical evidence:

Between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2... the most common variety of “gap theory” assumes that a chronological gap occurs between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, during which vast spans of geologic time are presumed to have elapsed. It is thus postulated that the Earth was initially created in the distant past, and that all geologic events pointing to an old Earth transpired before some event that reduced the Earth to a state of formlessness or chaos as described in Genesis 1:2."


STOP!!! It's THAT "ridiculous book" again...

Mark T.


March 19, 2008

Cleveland's Freethinking Past

The Cleveland area was a hotbed of freethought in the late 1800's/early 1900's.

Here is an excerpt from "The School and the Immigrant" by Herbert Adolphus Miller (1916).

BOHEMIANS

It is impossible to understand the Bohemians in America without some knowledge of Bohemian history. They are one of the national divisions of the Slavs. The Bohemians who dwell in the northwestern part of Austria, directly between Dresden and Vienna, have been the subject of more German influence than any other Slavic people, and in many respects are indistinguishable from the Germans. In 1415 the church and the state burned at the stake John Huss, a Bohemian priest, the first martyr to religious freedom. A revolt took place which made Bohemia Protestant until the Thirty Years War, which began in 1618. After that Catholicism was re-established, and to this day embraces nearly all the inhabitants of Bohemia.

In America, beginning more than 50 years ago, a reaction was organized until at the present time approximately two-thirds of an estimated million are aggressive free-thinkers. In Cleveland about half are Catholics and the rest free-thinkers, with only a few hundred Protestants. Both parties have many organizations and, while the feeling between the two is very strong, the common Slavic feeling manifests itself most strongly in antipathy for the German language. The free-thinkers are the more nationalistic, and fortunately so, for with the loss of the control of the church there is a tendency to materialism which can be counteracted only by devotion to some social cause. There is no group to which the mother tongue and national history can have more moral value. This is in part because their history is peculiarly rich. Commemus, one of the world's greatest educators, was a Bohemian, exiled during the Thirty Years War. The influence of Bohemian history has been such that the people refuse to accept dogma, and even the children argue theology.

Even the children? Must've been nice! Many Czechs who settled in this area were Freethinkers also.

May the Cleveland area be a hotbed of freethought once again! (eventually...)

MT

March 11, 2008

Recent CFT Ruminations

Here are some excerpts from the Cleveland Freethinkers' recent email threads...

JOSH, on a common misinterpretation of atheism:

I think atheism (as most I know define it) is misunderstood. It's not the belief in no god, but rather the lack of a belief in god. There is a big difference. I don't say "there is no god". I say "whether there is god or not, I've seen nothing to make think he has any effect on my life, so I choose to live as if he does not exist". Does that make sense? I'm through and through a skeptic, so I'll always leave open the possibility that I'm wrong, but I don't let it affect the way I live.

RICHARD, on the value of an Atheist speaking his/her mind to a Theist:

It does much to speak words of reality to those that try to live outside of it in their own minds. It takes more work to protect their religious minds than it takes for us to simply live. The majority of religious people do not work very hard to protect their dogma... they become vulnerable to glimpses of reality.

CLOUDBERRY, on the "atheist's burden" (the challenge to "prove" that God doesn't exist):

The thing about the God dilemma is that it seems to be hinging on this: If I say I believe in God, and I don't consider myself stupid enough to believe in something unless it exists, then I believe God exists... and it is an insult to me to say that God doesn't exist. So, if I say God exists, and someone questions that, I begin to revert to the methods of childhood. I get mad, and then I say, "all right- you think I'm so wrong, prove it. I bet you can't."

The trouble is, there is no way I know of to prove that something does not exist- even something simple, like an apple. If I am holding an apple and I say I believe this apple exists, because I can see it and touch it and smell it and eat it, then almost everyone will agree that the apple is real. Very few people will argue the apple does not exist. They might call it by another name, but they will agree there is such a thing as an apple. But, if I have no apple, and no one has ever seen or touched or eaten an apple, and I insist that I have a vision of an apple in my head and I believe it exists, does that mean it is real?

GORDON, in response to the following statement: "Agnosticism leads to truth and investigation without limitations."

Just for clarity, when one arrives at truth, does it have to be taken on faith?

Zinger! More to follow.

MT

March 2, 2008

Three Points of Atheism

In a recent Cleveland Freethinkers discussion thread, I attempted to present three points of evidence on which I base my atheism.

Joining me in this part of the discussion (which has not concluded as of yet) are Paul, an Agnostic (as far as I know)- and Michael (CFT's Blogmaster), an Atheist like myself. Both Paul and Michael gave their analysis on each of the three points.

Here is what ensued... (Mark blue, Paul red, Michael black)

1) The distinct and obvious lack of ANY empirical evidence for the existence of a Supreme Being (all hearsay & manipulated science are ruled out).

1) I agree with the above because it is true. However if we flip the coin we have: The distinct and obvious lack of ANY empirical evidence for the non-existence of a Supreme Being etc....

1) The argument of evidence, or lack thereof, in defense or critique of god, is one that I feel very strongly about, and on that I personally believe best illustrates the nature of the debate. A person who claims that the lack of evidence of non existence can be construed as possible evidence of existence is revealing them self to be guilty of wanting that existence to be true, to the extent that they are willing to reject any argument that conflicts with that desire. Desire does not have any influence over reality, and as such cannot be used in defense of a position.

2) Being human myself, I know of the human mind's propensity for falling prey to both fear of the unknown and wishful thinking.

2) We can wish there is a God and we can wish there isn't a God. This statement proves nothing other than human beings can wish. It doesn't add anything credible to whether or not God does or does not exist. It simply levels the conversation to one of choice!

2) As I said previously, desire does not have any influence over reality. You clearly recognize that thinking along these lines reduces the argument to one of choice- I have to ask, why then should we dismiss the significance of choice in defense of the the god hypothesis? I think we can all agree that we are, by nature, atheist at birth, needing to be influenced by our environments and families in order to embrace any understanding of a higher power. Why cannot it be argued that those who believe in a higher power are doing out of no more compelling motivation than their own selfish desires? Why is the natural position, one of atheistic agnosticism, the position that must do all the intellectual heavy lifting?

3) The observable, measurable natural universe is capable of self-organization, self-regulation, and self-replication within the framework of nature itself- no "intelligent designer" needed!

3) Says who? You! A person can say: The observable ............of nature itself needs an intelligent designer. Your statement is faith based because you can't prove it. There are colors the human eye cannot see and sounds we can't hear. Because we can't see or hear a thing with our five senses does not mean it doesn't exist! Therefore something could be standing next to us made of a color we can't see, speaking to us in a range we can't hear! I'm a philosopher but I'm also a realist and admit what I can't prove to be true or false.

3) I have to point out that you have not addressed Mark's statement with your comment, but rather suggested that he makes it out of faith. I agree with Mark's position that the natural world functions without intervention, and that there is no omnipotent, invisible hand manipulating things in our absence. I disagree with your assessment of that position being a faith claim. As I understand it, a faith claim has it's origins in the human mind, not in the observable natural world. We can, and have, and do, and will, for our entire lives, be able to observe and interpret and manipulate with great effect the machinations of the natural world. This is no faith claim. I can plant a seed, give it water and light, and in time it will grow into a adult specimen of a plant. If I planted a sunflower seed, I could have faith that it would grow into a pear tree, but the reality of nature dictates that things operate independently of our thoughts and desires, and that I would be disappointed with the outcome, as every person is who bases their faith outside of what is real, determined through observation, reason, and experimentation. god is not obervable, his existence cannot be proved through experimentation (I will argue that is have been disproved through experimentation), and the very notion of it's existence is unreasonable (though understandable). Therefore, god cannot be real.

MT

February 17, 2008

Washin' Some Brain

Behold the genius of Kent Hovind!
In today's sermon, Kent "sheds some light" on Atheism/Agnosticism...

February 13, 2008

Nice Guys Finish First

This is a short film Richard Dawkins did for the BBC in 1987. Considering the era in which it was filmed, I find the argument he makes compelling.



Michael

February 5, 2008

Free Market Capitalism as Religion?




Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of
the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it... He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Okay, this passage from the founding father of Capitalism, Adam Smith, may be taken out of context. Smith's invisible hand is really a metaphor for his prediction that self-interest will drive the market to a relative balance. He admits later in his landmark work, The Wealth of Nations, that the system would not be perfect and would require some regulation to prevent corruption, collusion, and monopoly.

250 years later, the substance of Smith's work has been forgotten, and the invisible hand has suddenly become a god in itself. Many on the Christian right have taken the hand literally to mean that of their own god. Contemporarychristianity.org writes:

If one holds to a strong theology of Providence and common grace it is possible to believe that God uses the market mechanism (Smith’s “invisible hand”) to achieve “least worst outcomes” in a Fallen world.


But more so, even the non-religious have assumed the belief that the market will always just correct itself, and that any regulation or intervention is harmful. When a leading hedge fund lost billions and shocked the market, and people cried for regulation, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan testified before congress that the market should stay self-regulated and that regulation would make things worse. Greenspan said this about the famous Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed to break up corrupt monopolies at the turn of the 20th century:

No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born. No one can ever compute the price that all of us have paid for that Act which, by inducing less effective use of capital, has kept our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible.


This kind of absolute faith is harmful whether in religion or economy. In the last decade, broadband internet in the US has slowly been falling behind Europe and Asia in speed and access. Just a few days ago, the Bush administration released it's strategy for pulling America back to the forefront. What was that plan? Do nothing. Rather than providing steps for better broadband, the report simply regurgitates the arguments that regulation is bad, government intervention is bad, and if we leave the market alone it will catch itself up. Here's a sample from the "plan" Network Nation: Broadband in America 2007:

Experience teaches that when government tries to substitute its
judgment for that of the free market, or otherwise anticipate consumer
demand by favoring one product or vendor over another, it can easily
distort the market place


The free market has many positives. It is fairly stable, it fosters innovation, and it allows a lot of personal freedom, but we would be no different from religious zealots if we believed absolutely that the market will perfect itself without human intervention. Smith's invisible hand was just a metaphor for people's tendency to make society better through self interest. People drive the market, and people need to fix it. There is no invisible hand. It's a shame Smith has been taken so out of context.

On a side note - interesting that those who believe in the invisible hand of god and those who believe in the invisible hand of the market both tend to be in the same political party...

February 2, 2008

Federalism

This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit recently, and I am working on a essay I will post on our blog/forum, but first I wanted to see what the group as a whole has to say on this subject.

As someone who is very much interested in all things related to Human interaction, and as someone who invests a great deal of their time in politics and government, I have been considering the role and possible future evolution of Federalism within our society. To clarify the topic, I offer the initial paragraph from Wikipedia's entry on the subject: Political federalism is a political philosophy in which a group of members are bound together (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term federalism is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). Federalism is the system in which the power to govern is shared between the national & state governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists. The United States is the second largest and oldest Federation, with India being the most populous; Germany,Russia, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands,Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina being European Federations; Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia being the only African Federations; Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Canada joining the U.S. in the New World; Australia, Malaysia, Iraq, Nepal, and the United Arab Emirates from Asia.



You can see the diversity here. It seems to me that Federalism is the governmental system of choice for nations with a tenacity for change. The African countries aside (as, sadly, they always seem to be), the countries that have adopted Federalism as their government structure appear to have three traits in common: they lack long-term historical and cultural independence, (in the way the French, Chinese, British, Iranians and Spanish have had, for example); they have all seen significant changes as far as their wealth and security are concerned; and, thanks to innumerable factors that cannot be listed here, have a great deal of exposure to outside influences that are reflected in their modern day culture.

So, my questions for you are: Do you feel, as I do, that the Federalist structure of Nation->State->Individual is effective and beneficial to our well being? What role should each element play within this system, and what power and rights should each posses? Where do corporations, churches, organizations (ours, the NRA, MADD, the many guilds and groups of Hollywood, etc.), hospitals, colleges and universities fit in, and how should they function within the Federal system, and what authority should each of them posses on their own?

I will post this on our blog, and in our forum, as well as with several other groups that I am a part of. My intent is to clarify for myself specifically, and those around me who are interested, just what direction our government should be heading in. I appreciate everyone's input, and look forward to reading what you have to say.

Michael

Absence

All right, you guys know the rest of the saying about absence: Does not make the heart grow fonder. And I'll bet you've already guessed that I'm not talking about intimate relationships. No, I'm referring to the lack of public presence for people who think freely outside the dictates of religion. Fox TV is a prime example. And where are the counterparts to Contemporary Christian radio? Even Sirius has a Catholic channel. Damn!

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe there is something good and great and ungodly that I am not aware of. I hope so. But for now, my question is: Where are the Atheist radio stations? Where is the media that speaks for the atheist or skeptic or agnostic or freethinker?

It's no wonder people fear us. They don't know who the hell we are, so we trigger the ancient reptile section of the brain that says look out! There's a monster hiding under the bed. Hey, we know we're not monsters. We know we're nice, normal, law abiding people. We know we don't eat babies for brunch. The trouble is, they don't.

I used to be in radio (before engineering, before writing, before art) and had what most people would consider my own show. But it wasn't a show of my own choosing. I hosted a show based on the Program Director's ideas, and while I came up with my own interview questions, and chose who to invite to be on the air, the theme of the program was outside my control. OK then, not OK now.

How does a new show get started? How do people convince hostile or reluctant station owners to give them a chance? This is the great unknown, and I'm hoping someone out there will have answers. If I have faith in anything, it is the brilliance, resourcefulness, skill, and talent of the members of this group and similar groups.

So here's my thought for the day: We need to establish a media presence, in concert with the wonderful books being written by our atheist stars (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) and the sooner the better. Any ideas?

February 1, 2008

MySpace Atheists

Once again, Rupert Murdoch has unsheaved his claws, digging deep into our cultural wounds he has already drawn to rend yet another piece of flesh off our backs. He, and his conservative ilk, like hyenas, tore off another piece from the carcass that is the corporate-controlled internet; MySpace has deleted a group, the Atheist and Agnostic Group, a group 35,000 strong, doing no harm to anyone, for allegedly offending theists.

No specific offense, no particular event justified this act. Just the mere idea that a group of, *gasp*, ATHEISTS!, would attempt such a callous and undignified spectacle; to organize, communicate, and meet each other! Why, what must those scurrilous scoundrels be attempting? They want to meet each other? *Eeech* They want to talk, and discuss ideas? *Blech* They, for the love of god, want to help people improve their lives? *Retch* My god, they even want to consume FOOD while they commit such sins! *Turn it off! Turn it off! I cant take any more!*

What is this world coming to?

Michael

January 27, 2008

In Govt. We Trust

Well, I guess no one should be surprised that when the U.S. Mint released their plans for the new Predisdential one dollar coins the babies on the christian right would be in an uproar over how they took "In God We Trust" off of our coins!


Except they didn't. They just moved the saying and our other motto, "E pluribus unum", the mint mark, and the year the coin was minted, to the edge of the coin. When they initially released the coins, there was an error at the mint, and 50,000 coins got out without their edge inscriptions. Anyone who wants to see an anti-christian bias here will find it, but the rest of us intelligent, reasonable, rational, thinking adults can see how this was just a simple mistake, easily fixed, and that we can all go on not using these coins except when they are forced upon us.

Michael

January 23, 2008

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


A change in topic here, but one that I feel falls into the category of freethought. What this post is about is art, the most subjective and disputed of all of man's creations.

The list of nominees for the 80th Academy Awards was released today, and once again, the majority of the movie going public was struck sharply across the face by the elitist cabal of self-congratulating pricks that make up the voting members of the academy.


When you hear the words Best Cinemetography, do you not assume as I do that they are pointing out the fine achievement in visual exposition that one or few persons managed to capture; a feat requiring incredible skill to produce the desired effect shot after shot for an entire feature length film; a measured collaboration of light, shadow, color, motion, energy, temperature, atmosphere; a thoroughly calculated series of decisions as to what angle and speed and focus with hundreds of cameras, dozens of mediums, and millions of minute details that could through the whole shot off as per the director's specifications? Sit down and watch a film like 300, Transformers, Rescue Dawn, I am legend, The Bourne Ultimatum, Bridge To Terabithia, The Astronaut Farmer, Zodiac, Reign Over Me, Shooter, Grindhouse, Disturbia, Next, Spiderman 3, 28 Weeks Later, Fantastic 4, 1408, Live Free Or Die Hard, Stardust, The Invasion, War, Halloween, Into The Wild, Resident Evil Extinction, Michael Clayton, 30 Days Of Night, Rendition, Saw IV, American Gangster, The Mist, The Golden Compass, and Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, just to name a few; ask yourself, "Did No Country For Old Men really have superior cinematography, with regards to the complexity, creativity, knowledge and ingenuity required to obtain those shots desired?" Personally, having seen many of those movies and having watched the behind the scenes footage, and by nature studying the screen for minor flaws and inconsistencies in a film, I absolutely refuse to accept the choices for the award this year.

What movies would I have chosen for that particular award? Transformers, Rescue Dawn, 1408, Sunshine, and 300. I haven't seen every movie that came out this year, but I can tell you that holding a camera and filming terrific acting, excellent directing, beautiful scenery bound together with an spectacular plot does not merit an award. The Academy's voters are rewarding the cinematographers of five very good movies for being a part of that movie and capturing all of it's elements; that is not all that is cinematography. A video camera today is capable of capturing a film and its elements and making a great movie (Blair Witch Project); so what is cinematography? Get rid of everything except the camera, the people operating it, and the scene that is supposed to be captured. A good cinematographer is an artist. Their muse is the director, telling him what is expected and what is wanted; their tool is the camera; their medium is the electromagnetic spectrum, both visible and invisible to the naked eye. We should reward the effort, not the product.


Why are the Academy Awards losing viewer ship? Because people are catching on to this crap. Last year the best movie to be released was V for Vendetta. It had action, drama, romance, comedy, a message (hundreds of them, in fact), it was relevant to the times, it was filmed beautifully, it was adapted quite well from a terrific source, and every person involved with the film had passion for it. It wasn't even nominated for best picture. And why not? What does Best Picture really mean? It means the best fucking movie to come out all year, the movie that touched the most hearts, inspired the most minds, drew in the most crowds, motivated the most discussions, had the most viral videos made about it. Hollywood has more power on earth than any other force. When a movie comes out that makes a significant impact upon Human Culture, it deserves to be honored. Last year The Departed won Best Picture. That was the first time in a long time that I have agreed with the academy's choice.

Right now, I have lost complete faith in them. They truly are a group of pretentious assholes, reveling in their ability to piss people off. Well, they succeeded with me.

Michael