Dec 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is Up in Heaven Now **

 "Great voice against cant, against hypocrisy, against obscurantism and pretension, against all tyrants including God." Richard Dawkins

I don't know if it's bravery or simply intellectual honesty, but when a person is confronted with his own immediate destruction and doesn't seek false comfort, I think there's something to be admired. Christopher Hitchens eventually succumbed to cancer last Thursday, and our community is grieving the loss of a brilliant fighter against bigotry, intolerance, indoctrination, stupidity, and totalitarianism. But, he had a life of wonder, and I think he fully enjoyed it, as he put it, he burned the candle at both ends.

Hitch was not timid in attacking the fake, the unreasonable, and even the popular. What I like the most was his sharp wit, great reasoning and the knowledge on the subjects he talked about. I read his books, and watched his many debates and interviews, and read faithfully his essays. That's his legacy, though it would have been nice to have had him around for a while longer.

When once was asked why he was so forceful against religion and many popular icons, he responded by saying he does it for love! He said he loved freedom, the individual, education, a civil life, but there are those who hate what he loved so he had no choice but to fight back. So do we!

Incredulity and fear are promoted by the elites and those who want to maintain their special status. Especially fear--everybody feels and knows fear--because it motivates people while altering their reality. But, the teaching of ignorance by all religions is what needs to be addressed, and a voice like Hitchens' had one of the best polemical voices.

A Matter of Faith

In the US democracy today, no one can run for an important position without professing their strong faith--even if such faith holds truly crazy stuff, as in the case of Mormon, Scientology, etc.. In other words, leaders find it politically advantageous to proudly declare that they can suspend reason and discard evidence! 
If a belief is part of a person's identity, then it's very hard to even critically evaluate it--it becomes faith. Confirmation bias is the method by which someone accepts ideas and images in their heads if they're not interested in amendments. Society and culture play an important role in enforcing norms and beliefs as well. Strong challenges aren't welcomed, since they question the validity of fundamental beliefs.

Here's a sample of Hitchens' argument against religion as he debates Chris Hedges:

Which knowledge is more reliable?

Of course, the answer should be obvious, yet it isn't to everyone. Soothing, comforting, and easily-understood beliefs may be preferable to uncertainty or to a reality that's harsher than a person can accept. But, we must keep the dialog, and, yes, polemical debates going.  Through thoughtful discussions, exchange of ideas, and the scientific method we can understand more about ourselves and the universe. Even morality should be based on a thought out process, free from the tribal superstitions of the writers of the "holy" books.

Religion, its manifestations, and its privileged status was a target of Hitchens. He was an important figure among those who questioned revealed knowledge. I often point out that fear should not be the cause for accepting something or even acting morally. A person's own volition, a thoughtful act, kindness, charity, compassion, and morality shouldn't be based on the altar of bargaining, punishment, and terror.

Just in Time for the Holidays

I watched the following video a few days ago, and I've been pondering how to present it here as it's extremely disturbing. It's a demonstration of mindless belief and how religion (faith) can make good people do horrible things to others, including children. Belief without evidence and reason is extremely dangerous, especially when it involves how others are treated. 

A totalitarian, absolute ruler of the universe, who created all the heavens and earth, and humans, and viruses, and diseases, and natural catastrophes, who cares how we think (yes, there's ..thought crime), how we dress, what we eat, how we have sex, and tells us to kill (obviously the followers of the wrong gods), this supernatural entity must be given credit for everything--the good and the bad.

Of course, I've heard about "free will" and the (bad) choices humans make, but assuming bad things happen to people who deserve it, why do bad things happen to babies, or little children who haven't had the chance to exercise their free will? Hitchens spent his last days in a hospital part of a medical center whose tallest tower was a reminder of, at the very least, a God who doesn't care. It's a hospital for children with cancer!

David Hume [The Problem of Evil] put it succinctly : Is God able but not willing? Then he's no moral. Is God willing but not able? Then he's no god. Why God is so apocryphal? Like Hitch put it, millions of humans for thousands of years died in pain, agony, fear, ignorance, etc. Everywhere, from the Americas to Australia. Then the Heavens decide to intervene by telling a few Bronze-age tribal people living in obscurity that there's a true God.  And, for hundreds of years no one else on Earth knew about it. So, people kept dying in ignorance.

I don't know, an infinite entity with all the wisdom would at least have told the tribes to wash their hands. Or, at the very least, not have created the germs, viruses, diseases, etc, to torture the humans he made out of his own image. There's a water-born worm in Africa that's responsible for blinding millions of children (and adults) in the continent. It enters the eyeball of the victim and eats it from the inside out. But, for the rest, we have butterflies and rainbows to marvel at, praise God.

**(From the title of this post). This is the explanation, and it's based on Kurt Vonnegut's joke.

Dec 9, 2011

Obama Joins the Battle to Save Christmas from the Claws of Festivus

We know that everything Obama has been doing is to win reelection and he's figured that the game is attracting the "floaters" and independents. Therefore, he's been harsh on his core supporters--the progressives--and easy on his opponents. This is not good.

It's not good because it's not a good electoral strategy. The floaters and independents want a strong president, even if they disagree on policy issues--as they did with Bush 43. It's not good because elections are often decided by turnout of the political base. You can't alienate your core supporters then.

The best thing Obama has right now is the declared Republican candidates. Obama's bad luck to be elected during very difficult times, was followed by his indecision and naivete (that he had a partner in Government--Congress), and now his fortune not to be facing credible challengers. This does not mean that the eventual GOP nominee wouldn't have a good chance of winning the presidency if the economy worsened. 

Myth: Taxes on the Millionaires Hurts Job Creation

Why this meme still circulates is amazing and a testament to the Conservative noise machine. Yet, many reasonable people believe that taxes on small business, millionaires, and big corporations are job killers. Businesses pay taxes on the profits they generate, unlike most of us whose entire income is subject to taxation. Also, someone who makes millions of dollars (like an athlete or a lawyer, etc) can be a "small business" if he has relatively few hired workers.

So, NPR went to the Republicans and other groups who oppose the millionaires' tax and asked them to find a person who'd be affected by this new tax proposal. They couldn't get anyone. After a wide search, including postings on Facebook, NPR spoke to a few small business owners, who confirmed what every business owner would say, that hiring new workers happens when there's an expectation of investment return. In other words, if you think expanding means more business, you do it.

Jobs aren't created because a business has cash on hand. Corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash right now. They're not hiring. Why should they when they're under utilizing their capacity as it is?

As to how many small business owners this new millionaires tax would affect? Just 0,01%. And, they can certainly afford this small tax increase. The Conservatives are siding with a few thousands instead of the millions of hardworking Americans whose paycheck withholding deduction will expire if the Congressional Republicans don't vote to extend this by the end of the year.  The Grinch that stole xmas may be real.

Dec 8, 2011

Aristotle: Extremes of Power and Wealth Are Not Good for Society!

The Republicans block, filibuster, oppose, obstract, and deny anything that has to do with consumer protection and rights. They have perfected Newspeak--the Orwellian language in 1984 whereas words have the opposite meaning. Like, freedom is slavery, war is peace, and their favorite, ignorance is strength.


So, what kind of a society do they want to maintain and advance?

 "What kind of society, exactly, do modern Republicans want? [...] They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life. 

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century."
Robert Reich