Saturday, September 27, 2008

And that’s the truth…

All life is evolved from other less complex life with all life inter-related.  This includes humans (Homo sapiens).  Our next closest living relatives are the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobos (Pan paniscus).  Our common ancestor with these two species lived between 5 and 7 million years ago.

A slightly more distant relative of ours is the gorilla (Gorilla) with the common ancestor of humans, chimps/bonobos and gorillas having lived about 10 million years ago.  Next in the family line from humans are orang utans (Pongo).  Humans, chimps/bonobos, gorillas and orang utans had a common ancestor that lived around 14 million years ago.  It goes on like this for each and every living species on earth. 

And that’s the truth. 

John 8:32 tells us "And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  I’m fairly certain that, whoever the author of "John" in the New Testament was, he didn’t mean it the way I’m using it here.  But truth is truth.  And like a few dozen other wise sayings that can be found in the Holy Bible, this one is right on target. 

Truth may or may not be pleasant or fit in with how we would like to see ourselves or the universe.  But when we deny the truth, we demean ourselves and become phonies.  Whatever other positive traits we may possess, we become frauds to ourselves when we deny known truths.  

Reprise in Peace

Friday, September 26, 2008

Evo's Genesis

The first book I ever read about evolution was written in 1961 by Robert Ardrey.  It was called African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man. I read it in 1971 after having been raised in a strict belief in a world created by god.  As an 18 year old,  despite going to a modern high school in a "liberal" neighborhood, I had never been taught anything about evolution.  It was an eye-popping experience for me and changed my life in many, many ways.  I decided to re-read it and am currently doing so, as you can see on my sidebar.

While reading it last night I ran into something that again caused me to pause and think.  It was not highly relevant to the subject at hand but I did find it enlightening when we look at the perplexing views on so many subjects of our fellow citizens.  I'm going to leave you with about a page from the book.  It will seem like a lot more than a page, seeing it here on a blog - but it's just a page.  Give it a read and think about how it relates to everything from conspiracy theories to devout religious belief.  As Darwin once said, "light will be thrown".

The Illusion of Central Position, so the  theory goes, is the birthright of every human baby.  He enters an unknown world.  He lies in a basket, or a cradle, or a clutch of straw.  His eyesight is vague.  Bright objects appear for his amusement, bottles and breasts for his comfort.  His groping consciousness finds no reason at all to doubt the world's consecration to his needs and purposes.  His Illusion of Central Position is perfect.

Time and growth, however, unfold experience, and most experiences disillusionment. The baby wakes in the midst of the impenetrable night and his wails command companionship.  But weary parents sleep unheeding.  the baby has encountered neglect.  Or in the bright, cheerful, morning sun the inexplicable cat may scratch him.  The baby has encountered hostility.  Or most dreadful experience of all, in a year or so a baby sister may arrive.  Now the laughter and breasts and bright objects are showered on another, and shout of the world's deceit.

Self-awareness is a human attribute; and central position, so the theory states, is its primary assumption.  But every human being throughout his entire life-span faces an unending series of experiences each of which is a disillusionment affecting the primary assumption.  We may accept the blow, reintegrate our personality to include it, and proceed with our Illusion of Central Position slightly dented; in that case we mature.  Or we may by one fanciful means or another reject the experience, escape the disillusionment, and proceed with our primary assumption intact.  In this case, of course, we fail to mature.

Human resource is a mine of great richness; and coins of many metals may ransom our illusion.  We may as far as possible renounce the challenge of experience and retire at early age behind the sheltering skirts of a co-operative mother.  Or, renouncing even her, we may find our refuge in mood and masturbation.  Or we may take a quite contrary course and accept all blows, even seek them, while we interpret every unpleasant experience as evidence of some grand conspiracy magnificently arranged against us.  By this cunning means we not only preserve intact the Illusion of Central Position; we exalt it, and see the world in its acute hostility as confirm our peculiar station. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain is losing it

And at least it isn't going unnoticed. 

And now the latest... He wants to "suspend" the Biden/Palin debate too!  Oh, I'll bet he does.  Can't blame him really.

It really doesn't say much about the Obama campaign that they aren't up by 20 points in the polls.  I guess it doesn't say much about our fellow citizens either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Follow-up to the last post

This is how the bailout will screw you:

Bottom line - Exactly the same bottom line of my previous post.  


Monday, September 22, 2008

Economy - Get a grip, people!

Doesn’t this seem eerily familiar?

A cataclysmic moment.  George Bush and his minions have THE answer.  We have to move fast and give them the authority they request or it will be disastrous. Don’t think about it too much; just sign on if you are a “true patriot”.  United States Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson needs complete authority to use 700 Billion dollars (or more, if necessary) to bail out countless banks and other financial firms for the horrible business practices they have engaged in for years.  No oversight over Paulson’s actions.  No court powers to over-ride any decisions he makes.  Socialism for corporations as seen fit by Bush, Cheney and Paulson.  If they take over Goldman Sachs (for which Paulson worked and walked away from with a cool $38 million himself) they don’t even have to put an end to the gigantic payoffs to fired or retiring execs.


No fucking way.  Sorry.  Not again.  We know this dance and it doesn’t end well for us, for America or for freedom in general.

We thought Bush’s great culmination might be launching yet another war – perhaps on Iran.  How naive of us to think that Cheney would allow Bush to “think small” at the time for a crowning achievement.  Naomi Klein has defined the Shock Doctrine.  It’s clear how they play the game.  There is no excuse this time if we let them get away with it.  Look, we’ve been involved in our own demise in every other area.  This is a culture of greed and rampant consumerism and we loved it. We can’t just scream “BUSH DID IT”!  It was us, folks.  But for fuck’s sake, are we really going to get fooled again?  If so, we deserve everything that will happen to us.  No one should complain later about what’s happening right now.  Don’t dare play victim.  You aren’t a victim.  You are an accomplice.  Remember that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Odds of McCain Winning

I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the online gambling sites and see what they are offering in terms of odds for either Obama or McCain, should you want to back up your prediction by putting a few bucks on it.  To me, this election still seems like it could go either way with a lot riding on what happens in the next few weeks.  The oddsmakers disagree with me.  They think it's extremely likely that our next President will be Barack Obama.  

If you want to bet on McCain, you can make money faster than by being the CEO of Blackwater during a Bush Administration.  Put a cool 10 mil down on Johnny Mac and take home $15,000,000 on November 5th.  Five million dollars never came so easily!
I only mention this because these are some very serious analysts of the American electoral process.  Unlike Keith Olbermann or Joe Scarborough, they actually can lose a lot of money if they are wrong.  They are in business and not looking to give away money.  If they are offering a buck fifty for your dollar bet, they are pretty sure what the result is going to be.  Of course they are wrong "all the time".  But what you don't see is the precentage of times that they nail compared to the times they are wrong.  They could be wrong this time, but they're in the business of being right.  Bet on it.


Some non-gamblers think it's even more of a sure thing.  Polling site FiveThirtyEight, based on how things are shaping up from an electoral point of view, currently has Obama taking in 311.5 electoral votes (270 needed to elect) and rates his chances of winning at 74.4%.  

Hey, I hope all of this is accurate.  I'll still be one surprised guy if Obama wins - let alone so easily.  These are, after all, the Democrats running against the GOP machine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Economy - where do we go from here?

Hey, economics is not exactly my thing either, John.  So you and I might want to step aside and let someone take us in  a different direction.  

One thing I do understand, as a rational thinker, is that when you scream, "Free Markets" and "Drill, Baby, Drill", you are acting out a faith-based position on what form of government and economics you think actually works.  Barack Obama, clearly and in detail, articulates what needs to be done now (and why McCain is exactly the wrong choice for America) in this video at BJ Keefe's blog.  If you feel a bit undereducated on economics, take 40 minutes of your time and catch up.  John and Sarah are certainly welcome to watch and learn.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

He didn't fly far enough

There’s still a mystery about faith,” he went on. “It’s not enough just to recognize the natural impulses behind it.  You can’t live as if God exists when you secretly believe he doesn’t.  You still have to decide, somehow, whether your desire, the projected image, does or doesn’t stand for something outside your head.  And once you make the decision that it does, the decision leads to it own peculiar kind of certainty.”

So speaks our faithful protagonist, in Martin Gardner’s “The Flight of Peter Fromm”.  The book was our latest reading for the Nonbelieving Literati and it was a tortuous read for this atheist.  Not that it was badly written.  Far from it.  Unfortunately it was not ultimately simply unsatisfying.  It was disheartening.

Gardner used the character Peter as an analogy for his own slow slide into atheism.  The difference, apparently, is that Gardner actually reached a higher enlightenment of life without imaginary causations.  Peter Fromm made his flight from the Pentecostal upbringing which propelled him on to the University of Chicago and its theological studies program.  But the lines I quoted at the beginning of this post are not some mid-point in his deconversion process.  It is from the end of the book!  While he is, at this point, not much more than a deist, he is still unable to “let go”.  Sadly, that’s probably where most people end up, and I was truly left exhausted by it all.

Here is an incredibly bright young man, who studies the philosophies of virtually every major theologian of the past two thousand years and keeps finding their apologetics as coming up short.  Yet he still can’t make the final leap out.  Instead, it is his mentor, Homer, who seems to represent the final place where Gardner himself landed.

Is there no hope of reason being the ultimate safe harbor for intelligent freethinkers if they, themselves, don’t make a conscious choice to go there?  And, in fact, is it completely impossible for some people to do so?  This might be Gardner’s message and, if so, he just might be on to something.  Unfortunately.

When history mimics a Tom Clancy wild-ride

Or, "what is truly at stake on November 4th, 2008."

Did you ever read, or see the movie, A Clear and Present Danger?  If not, take a couple of hours and watch it.  It quite an energetic, fanciful journey into the heart of darkness of the hallowed halls of the CIA, NSA, FBI and the White House.  But I never imagined that it could really happen.  Of course, the last 8 years has made a fool of me.  As it has you, and all of America.

These 8 years have set an almost unthinkable precedent for what an Executive can do, contrary to the express will of the people as articulated in law by the Constitution.  And America shrugs.  Alternating through bouts of fear and complacency we have, collectively, given the green light to continue on this path.

There are many, many examples of what has “gone wrong” since 9/11 (and almost none of it is what the terrorists have done to us).  This one article encapsulates a whole lot of it.  What’s incredible is that I no longer find it incredible. 

Soon after hearing what had happened between Goldsmith and Gonzales, the vice president asked Andy Card to set up a meeting at noon with Mike Hayden, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and John McLaughlin from the CIA (substituting for his boss, George J. Tenet). Cheney spoke to them in Card's office, the door closed.

Four hours later, at 4 p.m., the same cast reconvened. This time the Justice contingent was invited. Comey, Goldsmith and Philbin found the titans of the intelligence establishment lined up, a bunch of grave-faced analysts behind them for added mass. The spy chiefs brought no lawyers. The law was not the point. This meeting, described by officials with access to two sets of contemporaneous notes, was about telling Justice to set its qualms aside.

Anyway, point is, the precedents are set.  But not set in stone.  Yet.

Would President Obama be a better President than McCain on our economic woes (related to our war woes) and in restoring fruitful relations with the major world players?  Almost certainly.  Would he be better on education, health care and developing new forms of energy to propel us through the 21st century?  Absolutely.  But all of these things are meaningless without our basic constitutional rights being restored.  Only Obama has a chance of accomplishing this task.

McCain/Palin would represent a solidification of what Bush/Cheney (or Cheney/Bush) has unleashed.  It seems like a big part of the restoration would have to include the prosecution of anyone who defied the Constitution during Bush’s presidency.  That absolutely will  not happen if McCain is elected.  Worse, the policies that Bush put in place will be followed and probably expanded.

By the end of McCain/Palin (and who knows when that would be?) America will not be America anymore.  You have to wonder if it is even now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Campaign of HOPE

Oh, hell yeah. This is what I'm talking about. Now, just don't feel guilty about it, Democrats. Embrace your inner beast and go for the jugular. Every day for 50 days, another ad like this - Please.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a pig

Obama wasn’t saying that Sarah Palin is a pig. That’s ridiculous. She is the lipstick in this metaphor, folks. McCain, Bush, the Republicans and the world that has been modeled by all of them is “The Pig”.

He won’t say it that way. Unfortunately. But I will.

And I’ll say to the 30 million or so out there who were for Obama 10 days ago and are for McCain today (how else can you describe it?), you are the Pig Shit.

You folks really jazzed about this flake Sarah Palin, are ya? Wow. What a fucked up country we live in. There ain’t no hope. No hope.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Punch-line: Sarah Palin

Which candidate running for either President or Vice-President this year:

1. Thinks the solution to the energy crisis is to drill our way out of it?

2. Is adamantly “pro-life” but not when it comes to capital punishment or polar bears?

3. Strongly supports “abstinence only” despite the fact it doesn’t work (as evidenced by the daughter)?

4. Rejects sex education and easily available contraception (see previous)?

5. Would allow creationism discussed in science class and doesn’t trust the science that shows a human connection to global climate change?

6. As recently as 2007 had no real opinion on the Iraq war?

7. Immediately asked – so what exactly would be my daily duties?

8. As governor badgered a subordinate into firing someone who had been a pain in civilian life, and fired the subordinate when he didn’t comply?

9. As mayor wanted to relieve the local librarian of her duties, because the librarian refused to ban books with “dirty words”?

10. Believes that when our leaders are going to send our troops into war we need to pray and make sure it’s god’s will?

Did you answer Sarah Palin? Well you should have. I already told you the punch-line!

But this is no laughing matter unless you think our country will be better off with 4 more years of the same – and moving a few godly steps closer to becoming a theocracy. That old ad hominem of “American Taliban” doesn’t seem so over-the-top anymore.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Complexity and the human desire for supernatural answers

We humans are funny. We are hard-wired to seek patterns and answers. But don’t make those answers too complicated, because we don’t like that. Up and down, good and bad, Black and white with as few colors to the rainbow as possible. Tell me the answer – quickly and easily.

I’m reading a wonderful book right now called Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin. Shubin doesn’t refute creationism. He doesn’t have to. He just tells what we know from decades and centuries of scientific discoveries. As an expert in both paleontology and embryological genetics, he is uniquely positioned to provide the information. He also has a layman friendly writing style, but doesn’t dumb-down the science along the way.

I read these:

“Genes interact with each other at all stages of development. One gene may inhibit the activity of another or promote it. Sometimes many genes interact to turn another gene on or off. Fortunately, new tools allow us to study the activity of thousands of genes in a cell at once. Couple this technology with new computer-based ways of interpreting gene function and we have enormous potential to understand how genes build cells, tissues, and bodies.”

And a little later:

It is hard not to feel awestruck watching an animal assemble itself. Just like a brick house, a limb is built by smaller pieces joining to make a larger structure. But there is a huge difference. Houses have a builder, somebody who actually knows where all the bricks need to go; limbs and bodies do not. The information that builds limbs is not in some architectural plan but is contained within each cell. Imagine a house coming together spontaneously from all the information contained in the bricks: that is how animal bodies are made.”

Those really got me to thinking about us Homo sapiens. Not about our bodies; but about our minds and how we incorporate information into our daily existence. Grasping the complexity of just this one small part of biology is not easy. We live in a society in which some of us feel flabbergasted that others can’t learn that there are no racial differences beyond what we can see with our eyes. Sure, there are cultural differences, and race has played a part because we section ourselves off according to various criteria for in-groups and out-groups. Once isolated, groups diverge culturally. But it has nothing to do with fundamental genetics. We see people everywhere who seem incapable of grasping very basic ideas and living according to them. How much more difficult would it be, then, to expect them to have a deep understanding of biological functions, or geologic reality, or anything about the nature of the universe?

We want things simple. We strive to limit complications of all sorts. We get up, brush our teeth, go to the kitchen for coffee, and sit down to scan the newspaper (or check it on the Internet). With those few motions, we could have instead done any of billions of other actions. But we didn’t. We committed to that line of behavior because it is easy to form a habit structure and stick to it. It’s extremely difficult to do dramatically different actions. Our very nature fights against it. And this is where things get dangerous for many, many people.

Rather than face the complexities that have been revealed by science, it is so much less complicated to attribute all of what we don’t know, or are uncertain about, to some unseen force and leave it at that. It requires a tremendous act of will for those of us who want to expand our horizons by learning out at the edges of our cumulative knowledge. Most people simply lack the will to do so and instead succumb to the easy answer. Especially when whatever answer is chosen can even provide a solution to the things that science can not. It’s both uncomplicated and all-encompassing.