Feb 26, 2014

Lincoln's Decision to Use Silver to Kill Vampires & Warewolves Instead of Buying Slaves Cost the Nation Dearly! (Enjoy Your Black History Month)

We like to believe what makes us feel good; it's called confirmation bias. So, why look any further? Oh, I don't know, it might be OK to keep in touch with reality, because understanding reality may have something to do with the decisions we make in real life.

How about history, the past? Bygones let them be bygones. There's no harm in revising history to fit a narrative we promote in contemporary politics. Racism, bigotry? All in the past. No need to have legal protections for people who may have had problems in the past--as the conservatives on the Supreme Court now tell us when they rule that racism is practically over, and that uninhibited access to voting, especially in the South and in GOP-dominated areas is good and dandy.

Personally, I find willful ignorance annoying. Those who spread stupidity and lies--like almost everyone at Faux News--are doing a disservice to our country. If I were to use their rhetoric, they're like Hitler holocausting history, and committing treason for betraying our country's noble mission statement, all men are created equal, and of-by-for the people.

 Revisionist history of the worst kind. The bullcrap of Faux News

 Just before Black History month ends (February), the vile opinionators (like that ass judge Napolitano in this video) at Fox News attempt to distort reality again. Jon Stuart's show has the perfect comeback.

Feb 17, 2014

President(s)' Day Thoughts.

President(s)' Day today honoring... well, whatever states want, though the federal holiday is about George Washington who was born not today (2/17th but on the 22nd). Several states mark the occasion differently. Guess what? Lincoln's birthday (2/12) is included in this except in the South. I wonder why. So the third Monday in February is set for "president(s)" to sell all sorts of consumer stuff and some patriotic version of history.

The General with a maid in his headquarters, Newburgh, NY

I feel patriotic, so stop the caustic emails. But, this doesn't prevent me from trying to learn about the truth--as much as it can be ascertained--and examine causes and effects. Let's start by asking, what is patriotism? And, where, why did it start? The notion of patriotism begins with the notion of patris--country. So, how did the British citizens in the 13 colonies see themselves in the 1770s?

Musket warfare
Under the mercantile economic system, there was a zero-sum game: for every winner it had to have a loser. The colonies were a source of wealth for the then empires, and under imperial policy, the colonies were there to exploit the local resources and populations for the benefit of the mother country. It was forbidden for the colonies to trade with anyone else. But, that didn't prevent the American colonists from breaking the law to enrich themselves. When Britain turned the screws, they rebelled. Yes, the economic elites in the colonies had an economic reason for self-governance and thus a revolution.

The Tea Party rebellion? Well, it was triggered by Britain's decision to give the East India Co. the monopoly of the tea trade, thus crippling American economic interests, not withstanding that the EIC tea was cheaper and of better quality. The colonies had enjoyed a relative independence to conduct their own "internal" affairs and the New World had unique conditions, like the reality of the expanding frontier. All these factors made for a different breed of a citizen. 
Harbrouck House, New Paltz, NY.

Yet, even at the break of the revolution, most Americans in the colonies [let's not forget they were other "Americans" in the continent too] were British citizens. Even the Declaration of Independence demonstrates that the colonists believed they were denied their British rights of life, liberty and property, and, therefore, had a right, indeed a duty, to replace a government after a "long train of abuses."

The ideology of liberalism with its "natural rights for every man" that came out of the Enlightenment was used as the foundation of the regime of the new country to be. But, it would take a long time to turn those Americans into patriotic United States of America citizens. Patriotism primarily evolved along with the formation of the modern state in the last 2-3 centuries. Allegiance was to one's own tribe, ethnic or religious group, and later to a city-state or a larger state, like New York. Most Americans then identified their loyalties to their particular states, not the US. Fully 1/3 of the colonists remained loyal to Britain; most were expelled, many were killed, a few remained.

Class System, Order of the Universe

The belief that the universe had an ordained, divine order was widespread. A rigid class system prevailed too. Yes, it was possible for merchants to elbow their way into the upper caste--like the despised nouveau riche by the "old money" aristocracy--but everybody "knew their place." Old Europe operated on this scheme, so it's amazing that the ideas of liberalism sprouted and even used as ideals for a new state/country. Of course, anyone who has watched docudramas of the last 200 years or has visited the mansions of the rich knows how society worked those days.

The elites often went to war against each other for power and wealth, but they had their code of honor which meant that death would be visiting primarily the lower-class soldiers and civilians. It was against military honor to shoot at officers of the opposing army! George Washington could have been killed by British snipers on a couple occasions but he was spared because he was an officer. The Americans didn't shoot at British officers either...  Well, some American riflemen, often despised by both sides, broke this code by indiscriminately killing British infantry and officers. Nowadays, taking out the enemy command is standard military strategy; not back then, which is incredible if you think about it. The thinking, I'm going to let the enemy generals be so their army can be more effective against me and my side, is totally crazy unless....

At first, it seems natural that the French would side and aid the American colonists in their war of independence. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say. But, it was a troubling decision since rebelling against the crown was a no-no among all royal houses of Europe. Yes, royal factions could engage each other, even in civil war, but challenging the notion of monarchy was evil. 

George Washington could have been king after the revolution, though to his credit he did not wish it and admonished those who proposed a monarchy for the new country. While in Newburgh, NY, he communicated with many domestic leaders and urged for a constitutional republic. The constitution of 1787 provided a blueprint for a federal country, which is still evolving today. Many of the good changes and ideas come from the top, the educated elites, but also as the result of bloody conflicts.

The country the presidents we're celebrating today knew is much different today, and I think for the better. It's OK to appreciate the effort and the good ideas of past leaders, but I don't think we need to idealize-idolize them. Some were very progressive while most were trapped in their time & culture. There's no divine order in human society; it's what we make of ourselves, our understanding of the important issues, and the policies we can muster for a good life for every citizen, indeed a human being.
Fictional rendition of the Delaware river crossing (note the "U.S. flag")

Feb 12, 2014

Darwin Day: February 12th. A Celebration of the father of Evolution and the Scientific Method

One of the strongest scientific theories we have is that of evolution, whose fundamental tenets have been confirmed by several scientific disciplines, from archaeology to forensics, and from genetics to geology and biology.

Recently there was a debate on the ..validity of evolution between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. [link] I'm all for reasonable debates but when there are not standards of evidence and reason, I think it's futile to argue with the creationist. I've done it on occasion on panels and other events. I now bring with me the "magic box" so I can--for the purpose of demonstration--make any claim I want, no matter how ridiculous, and then point to the box to say, the answer/reason/method are in that box!

Those who refute evolution point to their own magic box, the holy books, to argue that all they need to know is in that box, which, conveniently, has the inscription that everything within it is absolutely true!


Charles Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809, and 50 years later he published the ground-breaking theory of evolution. [Here's a great BBC documentary on Darwin's Tree of Life with David Attenborough]

When I was little I couldn't understand the concept of billions of years. I looked at those over 30 and thought they were too old! It was the time I believed in Santa Claus and in superheroes with fantastical supernatural powers. Then I slowly began to learn all sorts of wonderful stuff about history, science, and critical thinking. Eventually I was exposed to the theory of evolution. Eventually this led  me to ask one of my teachers when the soul entered the human body in this long chain of changing forms--from the very primitive to modern humans--a question I've asked anyone who tries to reconcile evolution with creationism; I haven't gotten a satisfactory answer.

The teachings of religion used to be the source to explain everything. Science has replaced this, at least, for those who have answered the question, which knowledge is more reliable? There are gaps or unknowns, but a scientific method is the best tool we have to discover and understand the world around us. It's a matter of self-confidence to accept notions like, I don't know, and, it remains to be seen, rather than opting for a "sure thing" that's based on irrational conjecture at best.

It's amazing that it took so long for humans to come up with a rather obvious theory of adaptation, survival, and changing forms in response to environmental conditions. Since the domestication of animals and plants, our ancestors could see evolution taking place in their lifetimes, yet, they stuck with the religious notions that everything was designed in its present form! 

These remnants of thought-inhibitors are still erecting obstacles to progress today. How else can you explain the current debate about contraception? The bishops say contraception is bad, because they figured out that what the maker of the universe wants, so they're part of the debate and given political considerations! Oyvey.

I tip my proverbial hat to Charles Darwin for having the courage (to go against his family and the prevailing social views) and the intellectual fortitude to formulate such an important scientific theory--by observation, testing, factual investigation, reasoning--and advance important knowledge for humanity.

Science depends on people who understand its importance and on people who value it so they're willing to support such an endeavor. I'm saddened though that we have not succeeded in teaching the most important thing science is to every person in the US, and indeed the world: skepticism, rational thinking, and inquiry.