Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yes and Noah

"It took 2000 years to find Noah's ark" said Bill Hemmer, Fox News' answer to Barbie's plastic pal Ken ( only dumber.)  Of course it's never been found, although no end of  Believers have assured me it has, but "Bible Bashing" archaeologists, geologists and historians don't want us to know.   I don't know whether Hemmer thinks it was found some millennia ago or whether the mythical world flood occurred back during the Roman Empire, but it doesn't matter since it never happened at all.

Of course writers from St Augustine to Andrew Snelling of Creation Ministries International, good Christians all, have warned believers to please check the facts before erupting in rapturous affirmation of  embarrassingly erroneous faith, but experience has been otherwise and embarrassment is rare amongst prophets and prognosticators of the believing kind.   To America's Christian Right, it's all true even when it contains contradictory claims -- and it does. 

Actually there are two interleaved Biblical versions of the story of Noah, with different names for God and different numbers of animals and different numbers of days it rained. Of course there are very similar flood accounts from other cultures in the region, with different angry gods and different ark builders and different outcomes reflecting the respective religious beliefs and different morals to the story, but we won't get into Utnapishtim and Ziusudra or  Gilgamesh and Enkidu.  This would turn into a long book in short order.

Suffice it to say that there is no geological evidence, there is not enough water anywhere to flood the earth that deep.  Suffice it to say that there are far, far too many species "clean" and "unclean"  to have fit on any boat, whether two by two or six by six, nor is there any way that they would somehow have been dropped off in their respective and far flung habitats.  Is there any reason to ask why the salt water fish didn't die from the fresh water or the fresh water fish didn't die from the salt?  No, because no matter how much you yell and scram, rage and shout, your belief is entirely, wholly and completely ridiculous and you know it.  It's absurd both from the claim of worldwide "wickedness" to
 the mechanics of flooding to a depth of  30,000 ft without leaving a trace.  Believing in the literal although contradictory truth of the Genesis stories fits every description of insanity I can think of.

So you'd naturally assume that the righteously ridiculous religious Right would be very dissatisfied with  "Noah," Darren Aronofsky's $130-million blend of both El and YHWH versions of  the Hebrew flood myth.  Like the truth itself, it's not "Biblically faithful," no matter how faithful it is to what the Bible says.  You can't please everyone -- not the Evangelicals and certainly not God, whether he's the Elohim or YHWH, or Allah, or the entire Babylonian pantheon even though he feels bad afterward and promises never to do it again if we'll only give him another chance. It's not just the Christian Taliban issuing proclamations and fatwahs, of course.  NOAH has been banned in Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and condemned elsewhere in the Muslim world. What else can you expect in  a world where organizations think they own a copyright on lies and can't abide anyone else telling them.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The takers

What do you call people who are exempt from taxes, get big government handouts and have a hugely disproportionate influence on the way government spends and our representatives vote?  What do you call people who somehow seem to be able to tell schools what to teach and what not to teach without seeming to care about historical, mathematical and scientific truths or the methods that revealed them?

I call them takers.

No, I'm not talking about people who don't pay much or sometimes any Federal Income Tax.  Not the people the Tea Party Republicans like to portray as leeches even though most of them pay out as much taxes percentage wise as the wealthy do.  I'm talking about the Christian Right for the most part.  Those folks who get federal support and public respect for schools that teach lies, fallacies and disrespect for logical thought processes. Those folks who somehow escape punishment for shouting down nearly every intellectual achievement since Aristotle.

I'm not going to exempt other religious organizations that take school voucher and tax-credit scholarship program  money to teach paleolithic superstition rather than mathematics and science, but few can come close to matching America's Children's Crusade.

Raw Story quotes one school as asserting:

"Our understanding is not complete until we filter it through God’s Word,”

It's not so much that I despise liars, cheats, perverts, idiots and child molesters, although of course I do, but that I despise people who make me pay for it -- who make all of us pay for it more.  We pay not only some billion dollars in subsidies to religious lie factories, we pay for it with our declining educational standards, with a generation less and less prepared and less willing to live in the real world. As Liberals, we oppose factors that put minorities and the poor at a social and educational and legal disadvantage but we're strangely silent on one of the most sinister assaults on education and on freedom, truth, justice and what we fatuously describe as the American Way. Frankly if you're cowed by self-appointed authority, afraid of  what might happen if we're allowed to follow truth where it takes us, we're not anything like a Liberal and we're part of  the empire that has opposed Democracy and freedom of thought for millennia.  How many of the world's greatest evils were not sold as God's word?  No wonder we're not supposed to respect truth.

Whether or not God is a lie, everything you say about him/her/it is filtered through someone's words and someone's agenda and usually it's the desire for power, for control that lie behind the words, the exhortations, the threats, the prophecy.  The easiest to control are the ignorant, the outcast, the troubled and afraid and such marginal people are what Big Christianity wishes to produce by teaching fear and lies and promoting ignorance and poverty.

Anyone who quotes God's word is a liar, even if he's right and any nation that allows its children to be lied to and misled by the Pat Robertsons, Oral Roberts's and all the other greedy perverts and child molesters of America has a grim future.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Face in the Stone

 There are many metaphors for the human tendency to assemble an argument from useless or irrelevant fragments. "grasping at straws" comes easily to mind but the desperation of a drowning person isn't a prerequisite to finding order, a coherent narrative and even 'proof' of a conjecture in randomness.  At breakfast every morning I stare at a granite counter top with as yet uncaffeinated eyes and see a myriad of faces and recognizable forms.  Evolution has designed our brains to identify faces in the weeds and  probably to identify other things that are not there. Better after all to flee the tiger that isn't there than to be eaten by the one that is.

Once you see that face, it's hard thereafter to see it as random assemblages of feldspar or mica or other minerals.  The eye hangs on, the way we hang on to other constructs we form out of the randomness of  being.  Once you've had Orion pointed out in the sky, you'll always see those stars as the hunter that isn't there and who never existed -- and apparently, once you decide that some sentient physical entity caused for instance, a particular Uranium nucleus to fission, it's nearly impossible to see it any other way, even though it's so random there's no way to predict the phenomenon. "If it happened, something caused it to happen" is the genesis of  theology and science emphatically does not support that assertion. Something indeed does come out of nothing and "nothingness" itself  is a condition we imagine but does not exist.

It becomes increasingly obvious that what we call the "Big Bang" occurred nearly 14 billion years ago and what we now see as the Universe expanded from a singularity at an incomprehensibly high rate: so much faster in the first instant that it's current limits are far beyond the distance we will ever be able to see. A discovery announced Monday of ripples in space-time or gravity waves are said to be evidence for that brief time of rapid inflation in the nanoseconds after "the beginning" which seems to be another piece of evidence that Einsteins predictions were right and "inflation" occurred. It's said to fit in with models including multiple universes.  It's a profound moment for cosmology and for the prevailing model of how the universe we perceive began.

But wouldn't you know it, the faithful see it otherwise -- as proof of the idea that a sentient entity who looks like us is behind it all.  It's proof, says Leslie A. Wickman, special to of the Biblical Genesis story.  It's nothing of the sort, of course, but in a construct some will not recognize as a decoy, Wickman asserts that the results of this new development offers "strong support for biblical beliefs." and that "it adds scientific support to the idea that the universe was caused – or created – by something or someone outside it and not dependent on it."

If in fact some argue that universes arise from some  random fluctuations in other universes, inflating into themselves as they separate forever from the host universe, it hardly fits the assumption of a God of any description. No condition that created all we see can persist as an entity today any more than we can travel to another universe. It's more than a stretch to say that the observations of polarized light through an Antarctic telescope have anything to do with a god, anthropomorphic, Biblical or not. But such is the parasitic nature of  religion, changing our eyes to see prescribed patterns in randomness, to see proof of God -- of a certain God in yet another piece of evidence that there is nothing even vaguely like that in this universe or elsewhere, nor is such an entity necessary or even useful to describe it's origins.  The implication that we can somehow attach all the ancient baggage we are liable to find in the Bible to a fallacious fabrication erroneously based on intentionally misunderstood scientific observation gives, I think, "strong support" to the idea of  our precious and often beautiful theology as hokum riding on conjecture born of blind ignorance.

The notion that the increasingly substantiated model of  the Big Bang answers any kind of ontological question like "who caused it," stems from the  assertion that for something to happen, something or someone must cause it, is the kind of common sense notion prevents us from seeing beyond our tiny frame of reference. Just as I see faces, usually human faces in the stone, we see in nature what isn't there and what we see is a reflection of us. In fact the stone contains nothing, and we are not able to see in it what we can't recognize elsewhere.

If it's indeed possible that some human may be able to create a new universe that immediately detaches from ours and inflates into itself like ours, it doesn't suggest that he who flips the switch is God or that she has any further influence on the course of history contained in that new place forever inaccessible to us.  Even less does the possibility that this is a natural and universal condition with universes budding off into some unimaginable hyperverse argue for "Biblical Beliefs."  It argues for some staggering sense of awe inherent in the infinite not in how we reduce the infinite to fit our biological limits.  If there is some universe of universe that may even be a mote itself in other universes -- if there is a reality in the infinitely small where nothing is true and everything is permitted, it hardly argues for anything whatever in our religions.  It argues instead that what we see has mostly to do with what we want to see. We want to see our significance and the significance of what we do and think and what we are.

So is there a God?   Is that in fact a question or an attempt to package a vast number of conjectures as an answer?  Maybe the answer is in the question: "what do you mean by God?" After all, the very word God is a concept smaller than the limitlessness of reality. Do atheists believe in nothing at all?  As Frank Moraes says so pithily: "So we have our gods, they just aren't anything that would be recognized by theists."   Perhaps reality itself isn't recognizable by Theists or the the faces in the stone aren't faces or in the stone.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Liar's Crusade

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

--Saint Augustine:  De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim --


Well you knew it was going to happen.  When it comes to a vessel big enough to contain the egos of the illiterate Biblical literalists, the world is not enough and if anything can expand, can inflate faster than the early universe, it's those very egos who insist we consider their idiotic, superstitious, fatuous and fact-free delusions to be reasonable alternatives to demonstrated and proven physical law.

Too bad that moronic mob of pretenders to received authority know as little about Christianity and its foundations as they know about nature as revealed in science and mathematics. Anything once rational and functional in early Christianity seems to have shed those attributes as vestigial organs, like the hip bones in a whale as an example of just how evolution works in all things.

There is nothing about the origin of species in the Fox TV series Cosmos that is without massive evidential support or that hasn't been thoroughly and repeatedly demonstrated in the fossil record and in the laboratory. The truth is that DNA based life forms not only can and do but must evolve over long periods of time into quite different life forms because of the mechanisms involved.  To argue otherwise is either dishonest or stupid or pathological.  Face it, only if one is staggeringly uninformed about basic physics and chemistry, geology and paleontology or mentally impaired and basically dishonest, is there any need to treat the fundamentals of science and mathematics as "opinions" that can honestly and reasonably be held by honest and reasonable people.

Few people would take the argument that because one can't come up with a final figure for Pi all numbers are so equally probable that I can't be mocked for saying it's 4 or worse. Would anyone honestly assert that I must be allowed in every classroom to insist that it's 4 because there's an old paleolithic legend I choose to delude myself with?  But it seems that there are more than a few who will, for many sinister and stupid reasons, tell you that facts are irrelevant and demand the right to interrupt your evening's entertainment and your offspring's education to demand respect for stupidity.

Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis showed up on the "Christ Centered" Janet Mefford Show  yesterday to accuse the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, of "marginalizing" those marginally rational and totally dishonest delusionals with "dissenting"  views on accepted scientific truths, reports Right Wing Watch. They say it's only fair to be allowed to refute the irrefutable -- and because they "believe" and belief is all they need to shut you up.

“Boy, but when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed,” 

Said Mefford, and presumably there were nodding heads all over the halls of idiocy and  cesspits of mendacity.   It's frightening to think someone can think of getting away with asserting that we have "so many scientists" and can't see the inherent contradiction.  (If you prefer unsupportable tradition over science, you're not a scientist)

So perhaps we have so many football fans who think the Seahawks lost the Superbowl, that the Sun orbits the flat Earth and Methusala lived 900 years. I have the right to interrupt anyone to assert this and for free.  May I demand the right to show up in any church on any Sunday to insist that there is no Yahweh, no El or Elohim, no trinity, no creation and never could have been?  That Jesus was nothing but another of many, failed anti-Roman zealots, that there is no heaven, no hell, no sin, no forgiveness, no resurrection -- no spirits, demons, angels and no souls?  Do I have the right to set up an altar to Zog in every Church, synagogue, Temple, Mosque and public school?

And why the hell not? 

Because it's not about fairness. It's not about honesty, it's certainly not about freedom of speech or of belief .  As Salmon Rushdie said of Fundamentalism: it's about power. It's about bringing untold trouble and sorrow, it's the idiot's crusade.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The extraordinary deeds of ordinary men.

I won't comment on the proposition that the men who were honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor yesterday had been overlooked because they had been identified with some less favored ethnic group. It takes away from their individual stories and suggests that by honoring them we're doing them some sort of favor by elevating them to the level of  "regular" Americans. 

Having listened yesterday to the long recitation of the deeds of these belated medal recipients, I don't doubt that they all earned the long delayed distinction in full.  In fact I felt that although I had only turned on the TV for a quick check of the stock market, I was duty bound as an American to watch the entire ceremony -- and I did.  None of these men seem to have borne a grudge for having been overlooked and that's more to their credit and speaks more to their character, but no one who endured such risk or paid such a price should ever be forgotten even by those like me who may not have approved of the actions that put them in harm's way and cost so many of them their lives.

We're a nation that loves to say "support the troops" instead of supporting their interests while they serve and afterwards.  There's far more to support than pestering anyone in uniform with applause while voting for politicians who constantly attack their benefits.  Applause is cheap, medals are inexpensive. Remembering what happens when we go to war; remembering what apparently ordinary men have done and can do when something needs to be done and despite the danger or the personal consequences, is a part of the obligation they place on us and the least we can do in return. 

Of all the things we are urged never to forget by people who foment wars, such men, such deeds are the most often and soon forgotten.  I would remember them individually if I could, but not so much as heroes but as another reminder of the value of human life; of how much an ordinary man can do, of how far beyond common experience he can rise and of how little his value has to do with the petty ways we measure our fellow Americans.

None of the survivors became millionaire industrialists or could afford to purchase political favors. Perhaps some could be described by the 'Patriots' on the Right as takers looking for handouts from the government at our expense. Can we ignore the lesson that the measure of a man is not money, nor knowledge, nor industry?  Can we remember that the man who mows your lawn, fixes your BMW or drives a school bus -- even the man who has never been able to hold a job may be, in such a staggering way, a better man than we are, that I am?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

They don't want you to know

I'm probably repeating myself by warning you that a sales pitch insisting that the item or idea or information you're selling is something someone doesn't want you to have or to learn about is a marker for hokum and perhaps outright fraud.  Similar marketing techniques include warnings that you must get this or read that or go to the website "before they ban it" or that scientists, or historians or doctors or liberals are hiding the real truth from you about things like magic beans or  some dietary trick that will block the effects of eating ten thousand calories a day -- or that some common ingredient is making you sick or pumping you full of  obscure 'toxins'  you can only get rid of if you buy my book.

Such marketing, if you can call it that, is so pervasive that it might seem as though the truth about most things has been hermetically
encapsulated in an impenetrable shell of propaganda: websites, infomercials and advertisements designed to misinform and mislead for profit.  We recognize some of it, tolerate much of it as just hyperbole and humor, but sometimes too much flim flam will send you to the slam.

Kevin Trudeau, whose Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About is a prime example of health and nutrition hokum, just found out the hard truth the hard way and will have ten years in Federal prison to meditate on life.

Do booksellers who feature and promote such books bear some responsibility for misleading millions into harming or at least neglecting their health?  As far as I know there have been few cases like it. It seems to be a rarity and there are no end of fraudulent sales pitches for water "with a different, non-toxic hydrogen bond angle,"  bracelets and pendants "tuned to natural frequencies" and books that assure you it's only the gluten-containing bun on that triple bacon chili cheese megaburger with cheese fries making you sick and giving you "grain brain."  Caveat Emptor after all, is part of the Tea Party Utopian dream where allowing anyone to cheat anyone else leads to liberty and justice for all -- and of course enforcing any kind of truth in advertising law would run up the debt and cost jobs and place an unnecessary regulatory burden on business.

After all, if we started going after scam artists, perpetrators of fraud and lie merchants we'd have no room to lock up the politicians.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Sometimes a finger is just a finger.

" So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel,"

Who knows what T.E. Lawrence really said, but Peter O'Toole delivered that line in the eponymous movie.  I can't help recalling it when listening to the God Damned Republicans trying to blame the situation in the Crimea on President Obama and trying to make sure it all goes badly for everyone so that Americans will come to their senses and elect some silly, greedy and barbarous puppet to represent crackpot religion and klepto-Capitalism. Why not? We're already silly, greedy, barbarous and cruel: a little people with big rhetoric, a cruel people with small minds and big guns.

It's not because of Republicans -- it's because of us, because of who and what we are and it shows in everything we do, well-intentioned or not.  It shows in how we latch onto theories and justify them with good intentions and use them to make things worse.  It shows in how we alienate allies by making good causes less about goodness than about rhetorical conformity, it shows in how we make facts bow to theory and let the theories we obey make things worse.

So how do you make schools safer?  Does it help to reduce tensions, make students feel less alienated and helpless and marginalized to expel one for pointing a finger at another student?  Of course not, but "we have a rule" against even pretending to be using a weapon and so because a student could conceivably think of his finger as a gun barrel, pointing it at someone is, in some mystical way punishable. A thought -- a presumed thought is magically identical with action.

We may laugh at the assertion that minimum wage laws stifle job creation because the State with the highest has the highest rate of job creation. We fail to laugh at our attempt to reduce school violence by insisting that a hug is assault, a kiss is rape and a finger is attempted murder. Silly, barbarous and cruel.

When an aspirin is "drugs;" when a nail clipper is a "weapon" -- when punishments explore the far reaches of what is reasonable and effective and meaningful and are defended with all the passion of a Spanish inquisitor without any  reference to the consequences --  so long as we continue to marginalize the reasonable for not adhering to formulas and incantations -- as long as we continue to marginalize decent, ordinary, well-intentioned people for saying the wrong word or pointing the wrong finger we will continue to be a little people: silly, greedy, barbarous and cruel.

Can I lay the foundation of this at the feet of a religion which equates "sinful" thought with sinful action?  Or is it just the nature of the self-righteous beast?  Perhaps the Devil makes us do it but I don't think it matters.  The enemy is us.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimean War II?

I admit, that my eyes rolled a bit when I noticed Wikipedia just entered some lines of disambiguation to their page on the Crimean War so that the flood of inquiries into just what and where the Crimea is would be directed elsewhere.  Yes America, there was another Crimean War and it's beginnings involved Russia claiming the right to "protect" Orthodox Christians in the peninsula as they apparently claim to be doing now by "protecting" ethnic Russians. Should we say Welcome to CW II?

I wonder how many of us will be prompted to recall how Hitler claimed to be protecting ethnic Germans in Poland.  There's not a hell of a lot new here and that's scary.  Weary and broke after years and years of ongoing and unnecessary war with no end apparent, we hardly need to get involved in yet another unwinnable contest with a major nuclear power.

That doesn't stop the Goddamned Republican Party from using the opportunity to accuse Obama of weakness, perhaps for not ramping up the chest pounding anthropoid display of  bellicose bravado those self-destructive bastards are so fond of.  Of course even though he's a chickenshit coward, a wimp and a trembling little girl, he's still a tyrant, right?  No, a real man, a real American hero like John Wayne would already have his finger on the button and the red phone in hand threatening Putin with annihilation just like Reagan would do.  No I don't think they want a nuclear war any more than you and I do, but they do want the humiliation of Barack Obama at any cost and at any risk -- all else be damned.

Look, Territorial aggression by Russia is a scary thing, but even scarier is the prospect of suddenly being carried back to the dark days of the Cold War and backyard bunkers simply because the Goddamn Republicans think they can use this to bash Obama and don't give a damn about the consequences.  We don't need the Incredible Hulk in the White House, we need a cold, calculating chess player.  We don't need more inane accusations of  "appeasement" and "Communist sympathies."  We need a supportive, helpful, informed  GOP  more concerned with our national future, security and the survival of  Democracy in the world than with promoting small minded bigotry and corporate feudalism.  We don't have it. We have the excremental Lindsey Graham  blaming Russian aggression on the premise that " We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression" while simultaneously blasting him for talking tough to Putin because after all, we can't do anything.

Perhaps we can't stare down the Russians, at least not in the short term.  We can do something about the saboteurs, the public enemies and the organized crime syndicate pretending to be patriots.  We can simply vote them out.  We have no other choice, we barely have time.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

I sing the body mechanical

"America's love affair with the automobile" used to be the most noticeably overused cliche in the the American idiom and indeed, starting with the 20th century few things transformed private life and personal liberty like the automobile. Few things contributed so much to economic growth From the end of  WWII and through the 1960's everything was about cars.  If you're one of the dwindling part of the population who remembers first hand, I don't have to explain.  You'll remember the car culture and you'll remember how it made the USA run.  Our youth was about the freedom cars brought.  The status of our families was displayed in the driveway and our introduction to love had a lot to do with the freedom of the road and the secluded areas it led to. It's gone. It's strip malls and plastic signs and Japanese designs. It's people locked safely inside, staring at little screens.

What would have happened to Jack Kerouac, who would have heard of Ken Kesey if this had been a nation where people gleefully chose some soulless transportation appliance chosen for cheapness and that simply took you places safely and economically without your participation?  Where do you find America, how do you get there but on the road?  Why even have a road if we can live in a hive?

I can't understand the mania for taking away our cars, for looking forward eagerly to cars that differ from Subway cars only in the passenger capacity, that run on electronic rails?  Safety and economy and the vision of  a future without back roads, the crunch of gravel, the wind in your hair on Summer nights, the smell of gumbo in road houses you pass as the V twin rumbles between your knees or the V8 sings as you change down from 6 to 5 to pass that Toyota safetybox with blacked out windows nd the 'Star Safety System' and the airbags.  I sing the body mechanical -- the music of the night and of freedom. The poetry of machines.

Soulless appliance, we don't know how it works and don't care -- a place to wait and text message and facebook and link to Linkedin and watch American idol as the soulless matrix sucks the life out of you in perfect safety.  What the hell has happened to us?  Are we really heir to the termites, the moles -- timid troglodytes  living in plastic tubes and breathing filtered air -- too timid to take control?

Pardon me, I'm making myself sick.  It's a beautiful Saturday and in the garage, my new Harley gleams, a symphony in Blue -- and route 714 waits, just over the bridge, leading west out to the big lake under miles of  trees, arched over the asphalt like a cathedral knave and the air smells the way most of you have never smelled it.  South along 441, along the levee, the live oaks and Spanish moss and fish camps and orchards and road houses and kids that still wave from front lawns as you ride by.  America, I'm still here, and I still remember. Of thee I still sing.