Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mmm... Lamb. I want Moore.

Let’s see if I can stop laughing long enough to write my thoughts after reading Christopher Moore’s hilarious “Lamb”. I’m not sure every atheist would find this as funny as I did because it’s quite esoteric, in that a healthy understanding of scripture makes the book so much funnier. If you know the four gospels of the New Testament you will be reeling at in-joke after side-splitting in-joke. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun here even for an atheist who has assiduously avoided the “holy” texts.

One of the great points that the book made was that the bizarre beliefs of Christians are strongly related to all of the other absurd religions of the world. Intuitively, all atheists understand that you can put any label on religion and it is still the same thing – a reverently held fantasy that informs every aspect of the believer’s world view. It’s not that we, as non-believers, hold a special contempt for Christianity (although I know most Christians in America feel they are picked on by us). As atheists we simply have no use for any god hypothesis. The primary version of the god hypothesis we have thrust in our faces daily is Christianity and we rebel against it. But if we lived in India, it might be Hinduism that we would mock. This is part of the beauty of Lamb. It ties together several of the “great religions” of the world into the Christ story.

The four gospels are conspicuous in avoiding mention of the childhood life of Jesus (or Joshua, as he is called in Lamb. The name “Jesus” is from the early translations from Hebrew into Greek. My personal take on this is that since the scholars were able to more or less accurately translate the name “Joshua” (Yeshua in Hebrew) for the Joshua of the Old Testament, they probably felt that when it came to their new god, only a unique name would do – thus “Jesus”. This is only a hypothesis).

There is the famous manger story of his birth (in two of the four gospels only), mention of him impressing the Rabbis with his biblical knowledge at about age 12 and, if memory serves, one other childhood reference. We know virtually nothing else about the first 30 years of his incredibly significant life (if he lived). For instance, shortly after his birth, he and the entire family fled to Egypt to avoid the death sentence on males under the age of 2 ordered by Herod. Wouldn’t the story of what happened to god in Egypt be important? So Lamb gives us a fifth gospel! This one covers the years leading up to his ministry.

It is the Gospel of Levi (who is known as Biff). Biff is Jesus’ stalwart pal and is never far from his side from age 6 up until the crucifixion. Since we know nothing of how Jesus came to see himself as Son of God, how he prepared for his mission or why he introduced some ideas that were distinctly different from traditional Judaism, Biff happily enlightens us. How unsurprising to an atheist would it be if Jesus actually tutored for his Son of God gig under mystics, Buddhists and Hindus? Hell, why not?

After all, religion is religion. The aspects of the later Christ story are easily understandable under some elements of each of these other religious genres. There was no need to work Islam into it, because Islam came later and was also founded on the same Old Testament teachings that Christianity was.

A pinch of mysticism, a dash of Buddhism, a teaspoon of Hinduism, mix well with a half-pint of Judaism and there you have it – a cocktail that will have your head spinning for the remainder of your life.

Why not? And why not another Christopher Moore book for the Non-Believing Literati? If not, I'll just read it myself!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Great Hitchens Comment

I’m not a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens. I merely like him. He certainly says a lot of things that I think are 100% true. He does so with sly, sophisticated humor.

I was watching a recent video of him from the Daniel Dennett award ceremony that I recently posted about and he made this comment as an explanation for the advent of religion among Homo sapiens:

“We are pattern seeking primates. That is a good thing, since it gives us the itch of curiosity and innovation. But because of it we will often prefer a conspiracy theory or a junk theory to nothing at all”.

Well said.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's In a Symbol

We are a diverse group with many different beliefs and interests. We have more differences than commonalities. We see each one of us as a unique person. We have no meetings or mantras. We don’t believe in or worship anything. We don’t have a text that explains our single world view. We don’t have a symbol. But we do have many. We rally around one, many or none of them. Yet we are still, despite our unique individuality – an identifiable group.

We are atheists.

These three words may be the only thing we have in common. But it does set us apart in the eyes of much of the world. It's not a belief. It's a statement of non-belief. But because most "believers" have a hard time conceptualizing the notion of non-belief, they do put us into a single, unitary group. And they aren't completely wrong. At least on this one issue, we are united.

Like many of my fellow atheists, “I don’ need no stinkin’ badges”. But I’m OK with them and for those who post or wear them – as well as for those who don’t. Our main goal should be sharing the freedom of a world without gods through our words and actions. I talk about these issues all the time in person and on this blog (as do many of my free-thinker friends). If a little symbol up in the corner of my blog helps get the message out there, then I’m all for it.

To find out how this particular symbol came to be, read here. Of the many atheist symbols that are available, I particularly like this one – for two reasons. First, it really does make perfectly clear what I’m saying about myself. If someone really can’t figure it out, they probably aren’t ready for the message anyway. Secondly, it was created by someone I know and like. That makes it more special to me than the other symbols I could use.

Use this one if you like. Use the one originated by Richard Dawkins. Or use one of the many others that you can find. Or use none at all. If you are a free-thinker, it’s all good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Cartoon For You

Would someone care to ask me for an apology for posting this insulting cartoon about the President of the United States of America?

A Brief Examination of Democratic Party Cowardice

I don’t want to devote a lot of thought to the matter. I know it annoys me terribly every time I hear about the Democrats apologizing, backing down or (at this point) even trying to accommodate their political rivals.

Recent stories of their inability to stop the war or pass healthcare initiatives, rebuking a liberal political organization for an “inappropriate” newspaper advertisement and an apology for speaking out strongly about Bush and his war in Iraq (see video) should give context to what my complaints are all about.

I don’t want to psychoanalyze the Democratic Party. While not a member, I still feel an affinity for their general politics and, in particular at this time in our history, think they are the best hope we have for inserting rational thinking in to American politics. That’s a sad thought, but likely a correct one. So I simply want to make an observation of one of the reasons they are so weak when matched against their adversary.

For at least 30 years, the Democratic Party has spent an inordinate amount of time codifying some incredibly silly legislation in the name of decency and fairness. Instead of focusing on key issues of peace, fair economic prosperity, basic human rights, healthcare, etc. they legislate about a group of issues that I will lump under “political correctness”. They have people worrying about men complimenting women on their dresses, the use of Native American (and other cultures) names and mascots for sports teams, racial and ethnic slurs and nicknames that are spoken in any context, and you know the list goes on and on.

They do so with good intentions, but there are two negative results. They waste precious legislative capital and they paint themselves into a corner.

I won’t get into the first problem and will simply say that they could have been spending their time as law-makers on much more relevant issues.

The second problem of painting themselves into a corner is what I want to focus on briefly. When you are so concerned about curtailing speech to fit a pattern of acceptability, then it can be used against you as well. If we must be so concerned about “feelings” and appearance of “inclusiveness,” then when you speak out forcefully the other side will turn it on you. “How dare you not censure for besmirching an American general? Is it because you are not patriotic? Do you not love the men and women in uniform? Can’t you appreciate the sacrifice of a man who has devoted his entire life to the military? What kind of thoughtless, uncaring person must you be not to support this censure?”

The Republicans have the Democrats by the balls and will have their way until the Democrats grab them right back in the sack. Don’t fear free speech. Use it to articulate what is right. When it’s used in a negative way, people are smart enough to judge it for what it is.

The adversary doesn’t care about these niceties of speech. So when Rush Limbaugh, talking about military personnel who disagree with the war, calls them “phony soldiers” and the Democrats demand an apology from Republicans, they laugh in their faces. Censure Rush? Hell no. We’ll give him the Medal of Freedom! Can anyone seriously imagine a Republican apologizing like Pete Stark did, given a similar situation?

Here’s what Stark originally said:

Here’s how Democrats respond to attacks. (Make no mistake. This is not just about Pete Stark):

For those in the atheist community, here’s an extra heartbreaker for you. You may have heard that there was ONE member of Congress who responded to a poll about “belief” by saying that he had none. Pete is our guy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Don't Be Angry"

"Be amused. Be proud. We've got them on the run."

Recently Dan Dennett received the 2007 Richard Dawkins Award. He is introduced, and given the award, by Dawkins (who was in turn introduced by Julia Sweeney). Like for Dawkins (probably our only similarity) I look to Dan as somewhat of an intellectual hero.

Dennett gives a speech which mirrors my thinking on how atheists should proceed in the battle against theism. I realize there are a lot of us who don't believe the battle is winnable; that you can't really change how others think. Dennett may give you reason for hope. It’s a battle he believes we are winning.

“A little good natured chiding or teasing can work wonders”.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

From Butterflies to Humans

This is the video I was looking for recently regarding Evolutionary Developmental Biology or "Evo Devo". Sean B. Carroll gives a one hour over-view of some of what he covers in his fascinating book - "Endless Forms Most Beautiful".

Why are we so different from chimpanzees, even though science now tells us that (not only are they are closest living relatives in the animal kingdom) we share over 98% of our genes? Get used to the following terms - Tool Kit Genes and switches. They play a huge role in how genes affect development and how development can change - providing the opening needed by natural selection and, thus, evolution itself.

The Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory now has it's own missing link - Evo Devo - which provides a much fuller understanding of evolution and how it works. This is well worth watching and considering if you have any interest in evolution, because many of the future discoveries you will be reading about will be made possible by work in Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

Sean B. Carroll - in the fullest sense, an Evolutionary Middleman.

TRUE reason can offend a LOT of people

The problem with saying that I live my life by reason (or, at least, that I always attempt to apply reason, common sense, rationality to all philosophical problems) is that almost everyone will say that they believe the exact same thing about themselves! Ask a moderately intelligent creationist (yes, I know what an oxymoron that would appear on the surface) how he feels about "reason" or "rationality" and he will probably expound on their virtues. In addition, there are also a lot of other folks who share most of my primary positions and yet don’t fully apply reason to their stance. They arrived at a similar political/philosophical place to my own but it was not exclusively a result of rational thought. I have a small handful of examples.

The environment is a major concern for most reasonable people. Good stewardship of our planet should be all of our concerns. And yet, how many are willing to thoroughly examine the use of nuclear energy as a possible source of fuel for society? It might not be the best way to go. But, then again, it may be. It, at the very least, must be carefully but completely considered. Those in the environmental movement who adamantly refuse to bring the issue to the table, can hardly be said to employ rational thought. Another issue here is the magnitude of the danger from global warming and pollution we face. No reasonable person can deny the fact of global warming or that it can have disastrous effects on our planet. But the key word in the previous sentence was “can” – as opposed to “will”. Science is in consensus about what is going on with anthropic global warming. There is not complete agreement on “how soon” or “how bad”, in regards to the effects. That said, more and more scientific evidence is mounting that should spur us in to actions that should far exceed our concerns about terrorists or any other human matter at this time.

Most reasonable people agree on a woman’s right to choose concerning her body and the future (or non-future) of her pregnancy. While it is a very reasonable position that mere conception does not equal human life, does this mean that there is no moral issue, particularly as the pregnancy progresses to late term? A blastocyst is not a person. But can we say the same for a fetus in the 8th month? While one may still claim “life starts at birth”, it becomes somewhat problematic when one considers that at this point a cesarean operation would result in a human being. To say there is no moral issue here is to deny the use of reason. Also, consider the man’s right to choose. While rational thought leads us to say that no man should be able to cause a woman to have a child against her will, regardless of his desires for a child, there is every reason to think he should have something to say about being a father. A reasoned approach would be to say that if a woman (who can freely choose abortion) chooses to bring her pregnancy to full term, the man should be able to insist on aborting his fatherhood. Proponents of abortion rights suddenly loose their acute reasoning abilities when this obvious point is made.

Reason quickly reveals that the Bush/Cheney war in Iraq is misguided (at the very least). Anti-war critics rightly protest our military actions there (and worry with good reason about future similar ventures in Iran or elsewhere). But does this mean that we scorn those who advocate the use of violence as one of the tools against terrorism? A reasoned debate would discuss the use of military forces, directed at specific terrorist targets located in various locations around the world. Common sense should lead to the fact that attacking nations and attempting to install democracy (particularly on the faulty grounds of an imagined link to terrorist networks and an equally fallacious claim of nuclear intentions) can not be a viable way to combat terrorist groups; but planned violence directed against those who would themselves do violence based on their religious beliefs must be considered. Sloganeering "Peace" is not a well reasoned position on terrorism.

Science as relates to human nature has been a hotbed for philosophical debate over the last century and figures to continue into the future. There is no cause to fear what science can tell us about ourselves; as individuals or as groups. The fact is (as every reasonable person knows), we are evolved. And we evolved as species, races and sexes in a multitude of ways. As fair minded people, we want equality for ourselves and others. This is a highly reasonable goal for cognitive creatures evolved in a network of reciprocal altruism. But it defies reason to think that equality means there are no innate differences in races and sexes. While many people are deeply satisfied with research such as that shows biological linkage to sexual preference, some of these same people revile studies that demonstrate a genetic component in intelligence, emotions, and physical abilities. It is an unjustified fear which permits the rejection of science selectively in cases where it is thought science encourages racism or sexism. Science can tell us things about how the real universe is, but not what we should do about it. The fact of our differences is completely unrelated to our intellectual decision to treat everyone equally. All behaviors are on a continuum. Reason teaches that while Group Y may have more of a propensity towards some ability or behavior, anyone from Group X might be much further along that continuum than the average member of Group Y. The only reasonable solution is to treat all the same. One thing that would defy reason, common-sense and rational thinking, would be the denial of innate human nature and the grand variety it entails.

The four examples I gave could be greatly expanded upon. Nearly everyone thinks of themselves as striving to be rational thinkers. Certainly it is a major goal for those of us who are of the secular humanist community. But only by forcing ourselves to set aside our pet convictions and continue to explore with open minds all sides of any issue will we be privy to the wisdom gleaned from true reason. I have no doubt that some who think of themselves as rationalists will be offended one or more of the propositions above. But to ignore this warning, in favor of uninspected world-views, would be to open us to the same disdain we reserve for the so-called "reason" of a creationist.

Friday, October 19, 2007

This Guy Could Be My Mean Cousin!

He tackles the question of "why does faith deserve respect"? He tackles it the way Ray Lewis or Lawrence Taylor would tackle a 130 pound running back - a five yard loss and straight to the disabled list. He's a little more direct than I usually am, but I can't really disagree with anything he says - and articulates very well. I just wonder if it's a beneficial way of dissuading a person of faith from continuing down that path.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Couple of Daily Principles

My friend and tagger, Ordinary Girl, has tagged me for the following meme (it came to her from Deep Thoughts):

It’s meme time for me again, this one coming straight out of my own brain! I got to thinking recently about the idea that all of us, as humans, have principles we live by daily. These aren’t your over-arching beliefs necessarily, but rather the things that you do daily as a part of those beliefs. So, for example, it’s not that I’m an anarchist, but things I do daily in line with that. I’ve kept it to 5 on my own, but there’s no hard rules on this meme; name as few or as many as you’d like! Likewise, no limits on how few or how many (if any) people you tag… do whatever is comfortable!

She didn’t tag me at first (probably because she’s gotten the feeling that I don’t really like to play all that much). Then I went and added one to the comments, so she took that as “open season on John”. Some of mine kind of overlap with things she said, but it's the best I could do. The first one here is the one I left in her comments:

Release Bitterness -

We all go through situations that are heartbreaking, enraging, etc. It's part of life. But once it's done and handled to the best of your ability and it's no longer an on-going issue - let it go. Bitterness towards others (even those who rightly deserve your wrath) accomplishes exactly zero and only continues to torture you, not the person your anger is directed towards. Release is freedom.

Acknowledge Good Deeds

I’m a sucker for a compliment. I’m guessing most of us are. When you see someone do “the right thing”, let them know that you appreciate it. It’s likely to have them repeat the behavior more often. And hopefully it will make you more likely to do what they did.

Live in the Moment

I’m not sure if this is exactly a “principle”, but I suppose it qualifies based on the rules. It is age-old advice, and harder to do than to say. One trick that has helped me is to consciously think about the fact that you are attempting to enjoy whatever it is you are doing at the time, without allowing thoughts of what else needs to be done to interfere. It’s a little awkward and forced – in the beginning. But after a while it becomes more of a natural way of approaching life. I even try to trick myself on mundane tasks, like taking enjoyment out of cleaning up after my pets.

Accept Shortcomings

Don’t force yourself to be more than you are. If it doesn’t come, don’t beat yourself up and move on. Admit your shortcomings openly, to yourself and the world - like I’m doing right now. The first few principles came easily to me. I felt like I should be able to offer more and started scratching my head and staring at the ceiling. Then I decided to accept that I’m not the greatest philosopher on life and let it be. So that’s all I have for you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Oh Those Amusing Polls

Polls are always funny. Depending on how you word things, you can get almost any result. Even scientific polls need to be carefully worded, weighed, and cross-polled for errors. But unscientific polling, as done by newspapers and websites, are down-right hilarious.

I particularly love polls that have to do with science. As if it matters what people believe! Even in a controlled poll, asking a question like - "Do you think humans and apes have a common ancestor?", given to an American group, will undoubtedly show the majority saying "No". What do we take from this, other than the lack of scientific knowledge in the American populous? For that purpose, polls about science are extremely enlightening. Unfortunately, to non-scientists (or, at least, to lesser educated people) those poll results seem like a referendum on the issue - one that proves them correct in their beliefs. Science doesn't work like a democracy. Facts tend to win, whether the majority like them or not.

Back to the unscientific polls. Every day runs a number of polls - usually alongside a controversial story. I suppose they are fun, as long as that's all you take from them. While unscientific, you get a "fairly" intelligent group response. People who read the news and use computers to do so are generally going to score a little higher than average intelligence. So I was interested to see what the results would be in a poll today about whether you believe being gay has a genetic basis. Here's the current poll results -

Do you believe sexual orientation is rooted in genetics? * 46056 responses
Yes, people are either born gay or not.40%
Partly, it's probably a combination of nature and nurture.27%
No, it's a choice.32%

The closest thing to a correct answer, of course, is the one the got the fewest votes. Had they finished that response with "and other biological, but non-genetic factors", then it would have been about as spot on as research has been able to articulate - so far. Not that it matters. It's not a scientific poll, and even if it was it wouldn't matter what people think. The facts are the facts. But the most important fact is one that is not even considered - that it doesn't matter, because we need to allow people to live their lives in happiness and freedom, whatever their orientation.

Polls... blah...

Come On, People! It's SO OBVIOUS! They Hate Us For Our Freedoms

Some people don’t want us to go on the offensive. They want us to understand the other side of the issue. They wonder why we don’t understand the historical basis for what is happening.

I understand perfectly well. But the bottom line is that some people really hate America. In particular, they hate our freedoms. They hate the very ideals that have made our country a beacon of freedom throughout the world. They seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to undermine our freedoms.

I’m sorry if this post offends those who feel we should be inclusive and understanding people. I have made a point of always attempting to be such a person myself. But sometimes you have to say enough is enough.

So to any of my fellow Americans, whether Liberal or Conservative, Republican or Democrat, I say the following: Stop hating what our country is all about.

Stop making laws (or, worse, breaking laws) regarding peoples individual freedom. Stop fighting illegal wars against sovereign countries based on lies. Stop firing independent prosecutors because they don’t act politically. Stop imprisoning people and denying them basic habeas corpus rights. Stop torturing people. Stop spying on U.S. citizens outside of the basic legal way that is already in place to spy when you have reasonable cause. Stop attempting to ruin our educational system by teaching superstition alongside legitimate science. Stop attempting to short-circuit science itself, by disallowing basic research based solely on religious reasoning. Stop denying that our consumer-based society plays a role in the health of our planet and of the other species that inhabit it. Stop intruding on people's individual sexual life-styles. Stop suppression of games, movies and music that offends your personal sensibilities. Stop insisting that our free country is nothing more than a religious state. Stop attempting to strip the greatest political document in history, The United States Constitution, of all the meaning endowed in it by the Founders.

America – Love It, Or Leave It. You clearly hate America, so why don’t you just go start your own theocracy somewhere else? Might I suggest looking for some available property in Mesopotamia?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thoughts on the Christian Nation

This post is inspired by recent reading at You Made Me Say It, Spanish Inquisitor and No More Hornets.

Much of the Christian anxieties around the issues of "in god we trust" and "one nation, under god" revolves around the notion that these these are parts of our nation's traditions (traditions that they highly approve of) and don't want changed.

I was telling my wife (a Christian) about the 1997 Treaty of Tripoli in which our government clearly stated "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." The President of the United States of America at the time was George Washington.

My wife is a naturalized U.S. citizen and still does not know our history in depth. At first she thought that this Treaty of Tripoli must be some sort of anomaly. She looked me with raised eyebrows and, as if holding a trump card, said simply "one nation, under God".

So she was duly impressed when I informed her that neither the words in the pledge, nor the words "In God We Trust" on the money, were there from the beginning.

When I also pointed out to her that, as incredibly important as she finds Jesus personally that if the Founders had shared her feelings, when establishing the Constitution, they almost certainly would have had the words "Jesus Christ" appear in several (if not many) places.

The fact that they did not, and barely mention (pretty much with a collective shrug) "God", should speak volumes about their intent. When you realize that it is true that most of the Founders (not all) were indeed Christians (of various sects), then one can only reasonably conclude that they were determined to leave "Jesus Christ" out of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers, etc. Hardly what one would expect from designers of a "Christian nation".

Even though my wife is an immigrant, I truly believe there are many (if not most) natural born citizens who still are not aware of these facts. Once properly educated, there will be less resistance to the proper discontinuation of these terms on money and in the Pledge. Is it a big issue with me? Not at all. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be changed.

UPDATE 10/14 - In the opinions section of this post "The Exterminator said...
Just two minor corrections to your details:The Treaty of Tripoli was formalized when John Adams, not George Washington, was president.And there is no bare mention of god in the Constitution. There's no mention whatsoever

I'm happy to be corrected. God was mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but it is in the most general, non-Christian sense, and the Declaration has exactly zero impact on the laws by which our nation lives under.

More Daniel Dennett

Personally, I just can’t get enough of the guy. But if you have never read Dan Dennett's absolutely brilliant book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” then please at least take the time to watch this video. I always attempt to post videos that I think are worth watching, but this one is is a must-see in my opinion.

The book is one of the most powerfully written supports of the Theory of Natural Selection (and, equally, an overwhelmingly indisputable rebuttal of so called Intelligent Design) in history. He wrote it over a decade ago. You would think – hope – that the proponents of Intelligent Design (Behe, Dembski, Miller et al) would have read and deeply digested this book. Had they bothered to do so, I highly doubt they would have bothered further with their ID scheme. Clearly, they did not – could not – have done so. It completely bewilders me that ID could have arisen after this book was published.

This is a high quality video, apparently released quite recently, in which Dennett himself gives us an over-view of the book. It is compelling and thorough. I would suggest that if you do have the book on your future reading that you pass on this video because it is such an excellent summary of the book. On the other hand, if you think you probably won’t get to the book, then by all means take this opportunity to watch. Even those who are steeped in evolutionary theory will be enlightened by some of his unique insights. Fair warning – it is over an hour long and by the end you will wish it was two!

For some reason the imbed is not working on this video, but click here and it will take you right to it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One World...

That's all we've got.

Where is the love?

(Some disturbing imagery... skip this one if you think it might upset you)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Evolution Presented in Highly Understandable Fashion

I've mentioned Sean B. Carroll a few times in posts recently. I wanted to present a video of some of his work in Evo-Devo because I think it has become such an important new area of evolutionary study, and the work he does is right up at the front of it.

Hopefully I will soon find what I'm looking for. In the meantime, I found this. While he doesn't get in to his own field very much in it, what he does do is provide a great primer in the basics of evolution. I'm guessing most people who stop by here would find it interesting but a bit of "old news". There might be some though who don't understand how evolution could possibly work and thus continue to believe that all of the wonderful diversity we see could only possibly have been the product of design.

If this sounds like you, and you are truly interested in discovering for yourself if evolution as currently understood could be a fact, then this video is for you. Sean Carroll speaks to a group of high school students and lays out the historical background for the theory, plus the more current aspects of our knowledge, in a way that anyone can grasp. I can tell you that the work he does is a powerful new tool for our deeper understanding of evolution, but here he simply and eloquently describes the processes for profound change over the course of time.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Can Bush Be Stopped Legally When He Is Above The Constitution?

A very scary overview of where we have come to. Discussion between Keith Olbermann and Neal Katyal, the 2006 "Lawyer of the Year" and former National Security Advisor in the U.S. Justice Department.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Some Hopeful War News

Today the McClatchy Press ran the following story:

"New military leaders question Iraq mission"

In short, despite the administrations repeated attempts over the years to promote only those who agree whole-heartedly with their position on Iraq, those who haven risen to the top are expressing deep doubts about the direction of the war on terror.

Additionlly, the story gives the following 6 reasons for some hope:

1. The Democratic takeover of the Senate and the House of Representatives last January.

2. Bush's choice of Gates to replace Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the war. Gates was a member of the independent bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which called for the United States to reach out to Syria and Iran and "strongly urged" a drawdown in Iraq.

3. A shift, completed this week, in the military's top uniformed leadership from administration loyalists to officers who are more concerned about the growing strains on the military.

4. Mounting evidence, in a variety of official reports in recent weeks, that Iraqi forces won't be prepared to take over from American troops in significant numbers until late next year at the earliest, and that Iraqis have made little progress toward political reconciliation.

"Barring that, no amount of troops and no amount of time will make much of a difference," Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

5. Mounting evidence, most recently in a United Nations report, that the war against al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan is faltering, in part because Iraq is tying down so many U.S. troops.

More forces are needed in Afghanistan, and "we can't send them because we're bogged down" in an "intractable civil war" in Iraq, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Wednesday.

6. Bush's low approval ratings and popular discontent with the Iraq war, which have prompted some legislators to reconsider their support for the president's policy as next year's elections approach.

So the word for the day is "HOPE".

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

EVOLUTIONary middleman MEME

I was “tagged” recently by my friend The Exterminator over at No More Hornets to participate in The Evolution Meme. My task is to write about how my blog has evolved since its inception on August 19, 2005 and to provide 5 blog entries that demonstrate the evolution. I’ve been pretty lazy with my blogging lately and have put this one (and a number of others) off on a back-burner. I feel kind of bad about this one in particular, so the sooner I do this the better (proving that atheists can have a guilty conscience).

My very first blog entry very much represents how I still feel and how I still attempt to do this blog. I will say that there have been “adjustments”, but no major change of focus. Much like real evolution which occurs at extremely small points in the genome, and can only be detected after a very long passage of time, my blog retains the features I had in mind over two years ago.

I found this post about 6 months down the road. I was doing exactly what I talked about in my introduction by leading readers to a science blog that I found interesting, while discussing science and evolution.

About 18 months ago I made my first departure from the stated goals of the blog and talked about politics. In this case, it was about the possibility of expanding the “war on terrorism” by attacking Iran – potentially with battlefield nukes.

I thought this would be a good one to point out now, since we seem much closer to such a war than we were at the time I pleaded against it. As time has gone on, I have tossed in politics more and more, though I certainly don’t want this ever to be a blog specifically dedicated to such. However, as rational thinkers, we have a duty to speak out anytime and any place where we see a lack of clarity. In the case of this particular administration, it’s not just a lack of clarity but an assault on many of the fundamental values of a free society. I don’t have deep political interests, but it’s important to point some things out.

Perhaps the biggest change in my blog occurred earlier this year. During the previous 12 months, I had given my blog very little attention and was only posting every month or so. I decided to get into it a bit more and resolved to put up a couple of new items every week and, if inspired, even more. One of the first posts I put up at this time was one in which I encourage others to do as I do and read more about science.

I’ll end with a demonstration of yet another “adjustment” I made. I don’t consider myself a prolific writer. I can write quite a bit when the mood is right. But I can go months without writing at all. I figured to stay true to my demand on myself that I post regularly, regardless of how I was feeling, I was going to have to approach it with a new strategy. I would find interesting videos and news stories that were representative of my own point of view and post them along with a short comment from me. Some people have told me they stop by my blog specifically for this material. In other words, they like the videos and stories better than they like what I write! Somehow it doesn’t shock in the least. Here was one of the first ones I put up - no surprise that it deals with science and evolution!

Now, in conclusion, I am to select 5 fellow bloggers and tag them. I don’t know how it works if they have been tagged at an earlier time, but I’m just going to tag them without searching to find out.

Tales of an Ordinary Girl
Grumpy Lion
Fresh Brainz
The Choice is Now
The Loom

Monday, October 01, 2007

Is America a Christian Nation? Let's Ask Founding Father, Thomas Paine.

Here's a few of the many great quotes from the great American patriot and thinker.

For additional great reading, pick up his book "The Age of Reason" which is an effective demolition of the Holy Bible as being the inerrant words of an omniscient being and of Jehovah as a loving god worthy of our respect.

(You can also read the entire book online at