Oct 31, 2009

Myths and Folklore Can be Fun in a Reality-Based World. Escape from Reality Shouldn't be a Constant!

Halloweeeeeen! Oh, I love a good old myth. Jac-O-Lantern is such a ridiculous story that's is amusing. I wish I could say the same about some other--many official--holidays, but I won't go into that today. There are many pagan elements to this fun holiday, and, of course, witchcraft. All in good fun, but not according to the CBN (Pat Robertson's tube). The fundies are afraid that "demonic influences" may be lurking in the candy, because most of the candy "sold this year has been dedicated and prayed over by witches"! This story would be funny if it weren't for the fact millions of Americans believe such things. For an advanced society, this is appalling; the lunatic fringe is too big to be on the fringes of our society--with practical implications in our culture and politics.

I think most people don't spend much time thinking about their belief systems. Obviously, Halloween is a fun holiday and nothing more than that to most people, including myself. But, it's big business in the US. In this recession times, Americans are expected to spend more this year on costumes, candy and parties than ever before. Escape from reality. I mean, it's OK to do this once in a while, but being in a alternate-reality universe can be a problem.
Religious rituals have been with humanity ever since thunder was observed. Fear and ignorance was the guiding forces behind inventing rituals to appease the gods and cope with the harsh life. It wasn't long after that the elites used religion to further entrench their privileged status and further keep people in a state of few and ignorance. I suppose if a person has no education, no access to information--other than what culture and the authorities allow--and is indoctrinated into a rigid belief system (absolutism), then it's rather impossible to escape this reality.
It's not accident that change in human societies (including certain ideas), took thousands of years to take hold. Even when there was change, including new belief systems, usually it was one absolute idea/practice replaced by another. Pagan practices gave rise to Christian ones. Actually all three Abrahamic religions have common views of human nature, morality, society, and of a god who capriciously suspends his own physical laws.
Although most of our human history has been an exercise for survival in a very difficult environment (state of nature, and man-made conditions), human have chosen the convenient whenever it was possible. Of course, primitive societies had taboos against change; change was not borne by forthought or encouragement. Some change came because of unintented consequences and/or by some brave individuals who went against the current. But, nowadays, I'd prefer a bit more of an effort to understand the world around us. A bit of an inquiry into long-held beliefs that have a direct effect on our lives. Times have changed indeed, I just wish there was a bit more rational thinking going on.

Oct 27, 2009

Leave it to the Republicans to Distort the Meaning of Freedom

I think we need to have a discussion on what freedom is. Freedom doesn't reside in the vacuum of space. It's about meaningful choices and actions. The system we have, the government we elect should make sure that the people have access to opportunity and that the whole thingy we have here is for the benefit of the commonwealth not the elites.

The Republicans say they're concerned about freedom and are afraid of big government. First, they have their priorities wrong. You don't get freedom by eliminating choice or, get this, by allowing predatory practices. Of course, they want to pay lip service to freedom--as to many authoritarian regimes--because freedom means something to many of us. So, Senator McCain introduces the "Internet Freedom Act" to destroy net neutrality and affect the people's access to information or whatever else they desire when they get on the internet.

Access to internet is becoming increasingly important in so many ways, so there should be no speed restrictions. A century ago, the railways (monopolies) tried to do the same--transport certain cargo faster while delaying others--and that was a bad thing and we remedied it through the law. It's like the electric company striking deals with appliance manufacturers so some work better in household. Why should Faux news load faster than the Liberal Citizen blog? If you have the same connection to the internet, you should be the one to decide where to go and that you have the same speed throughout your journey.

I tried, I really did, to find some redeeming features in what policies the conservatives have been pushing, but it's quite appalling. Consumer protection: Against. Environment-friendly: Against. Science: Against. Education: Against. Freedom of conscience: Against. Equal rights under the law: Against. Social safety net: Against. Health care for all: Against. Access to equal opportunity: Against. Civil liberties: Against. Civil Rights:...(you guessed it).

Oct 14, 2009

Arguments for a Balanced View? ..Or, a Balancing Act on the Edge of the Abyss?

Does this make sense to you? After all, don't you want your kids to get the best education by exposing them to different points of view and alternative theories? [tricky question]...

Watch this video and laugh or weep, or both.

There is a big problem when too many people can't figure out the logical fallacies presented by such arguments.

Because of circumstance and certain conditions prevailing in the US, our country managed to do great compared to others, but either I missed the memo or I'm reading the current trajectory of our country, we're fading fast from the self-assured "number 1" position.

A note to our leaders: don't be wimps* and narrow-minded [which doesn't mean accept any point of view as valid] and let's forge a progressive path to a more enlightened society. Stop playing stupid politics and appealing to the lowest common denominator.



*Memo to the Democrats in charge of Congress and the White House: This past election was about change. Very specific promises were made during the campaign; the people expect progressive change through bold leadership. The Republicans will not help--not when they're moving closer to the Dark Ages. Oh, and health care reform shouldn't be left on the graces of president Olympia Snowe or the DINOS [Democrats in Name Only].

Oct 9, 2009

How Morons Succeed in Politics

Appropriate for another era?

To be fair, intelligence hasn't been the golden standard for admission into US politics, and I suspect that some elected politicians aren't that dumb--they just appeal to their base! Nevertheless, stupidity and ignorance is a commodity that has a lasting quality in our system. There's a critical mass of Americans [I'm not talking about obesity, even though it is a problem on its own] who confuse opinion with facts, and personal preferences with reality.

Human brains are quite capable of holding many contradictory ideas at the same time. For example, some say life is sacred but not if it's not attached to a piece of paper that confirms eligibility to health care--and, thus, survival.

It's no wonder why more than 1/3 of Americans seriously entertain the thought that 9-11 was the result of a government conspiracy--that is, our government's. Never mind the ludicrous and unproven claims strewn out there to support such claim. That's the problem with talking to an unreasonable person: They are not bound by logic, facts, or anything else. You talk to them while you limit yourself to logical arguments and evidence. And, invariably, they'll say, you can't prove that there was no conspiracy.... It's the same as saying, you can't prove there's no tooth fairy!

Just the other day, the House voted “to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation” by passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. What's wrong with that? Ah, the moral police [a.k.a. The Republican party] is against it. As they're against repealing the DODT [Don't Ask Don't Tell ridiculous policy in our armed forces], because the social conservatives are obsessed with "unnatural" sex! Sex or sexual orientation should be left to the individual and no one should be forced to pretend or legally penalized based on their sexual orientation or the sex they practice in private. I know, this progressive view offends the fundies.

Isn't it embarrassing to have so many elected representatives [like those GOPers who were running for president last year and actually said they didn't believe in evolution (science)?!!] that spew such nonsense? Have you heard the arguments that when we loosen up our morality it leads to ..necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, and to fascism?

I don't think I'll ever be a Republican, but I'd like to see a vibrant, mature, and, yes, progressive Republican party, because it will be good for our country. Unfortunately, this GOP now represents the most extreme, vile, and ignorant segments of American society. OK, they represent big business too, as well as the notion that government should be so small as to be ineffective in regulating big business and providing any social services to its people. Funny thing, the GOP would not dispute this statement of mine today!

How about climate change? Or, science and science education in the US? The environment? Consumer protection? Equality of opportunity? Safety net? [yes, safety means more than "fighting them over there"], Wealth distribution and the diminishing of the middle class? Access to information & education? Promoting tolerance and talent? Intellectual development?.... etc... I'm sure you can add to this list of the Republicans' vision and plans for America.

Explaining Political Science to Morons
Forget it! As an educator I don't give up easily in trying to explain a concept, but if someone doesn't want to absorb anything through their filters of ignorance and prejudice, then it's pointless to persist. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is such a moron! He's introduced legislation in the US Senate [embarrassingly, he's in the top echelons of US power along with several other ignorant politicians who are elected by millions of our compatriots] to ..bar the National Science Foundation (NSF) from “wasting federal research funding on political science.” Coburn argues that these political sciences issues “have little, if anything, to do with science.” He believes that by turning to Fox News, CNN, etc, a person can get all the political science he desires. Simple, heh? Likewise, I'd suppose, series like House, Grey's Anatomy, can sub for an education in medicine. The series Lost can replace political philosophy on how to organize a human society in a deserted island. While at it, Sabrina The Teenage Witch can be sufficient for understanding the laws of nature.

I'm fond of science--it's very interesting as it expands our understanding, and it has made human life better and longer. Political Science is a discipline and even though it doesn't deal with physical laws, it's scientific. There are things to be observed and measured. There are theories that explain and predict. There is an ongoing research and amendment. There are variables that once identified help explain trends and conditions. For example, without knowing anything about a country, if you ask, what is the status of women in that society? The answer to this question will tell you a great deal. We know that the status of women is directly linked to the political and economic development, and to a myriad of other ways we use to measure a society.

The scientific method is the best tool of understanding we have. It's amazing and worrisome that the US has achieved such great achievements while so many Americans are really ignorant about the world they live in. Obviously, moronic beliefs influence our policy. We elect leaders more fit for the Dark Ages. Do you know that 2/3 of our fellow citizens can't find Iraq on the map or even name the three branches of our government? That 1 in 5 adults believes the ..sun revolves around the earth?! That only 26% know natural selection is a mechanism of evolution, let alone that most don't accept the theory of evolution as valid?!! The theory of evolution--one of the strongest scientific theories we've got!

Now, what kind of public policy an ignoramus would support? Guess. Keep in mind that close to a majority Americans believe Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime! That the earth is only between 6 and 10 thousand years old! That there's a divine plan... That the end of times is a good thing....

I'm going out to see the autumn leaves... If you are in the Northeast don't miss this spectacular show of nature.