Friday, November 30, 2007

Equal Opportunity Idiocy

“Hundreds of protesters brandishing swords and sticks gathered outside Khartoum's presidential palace Friday to vent their anger against a British teacher jailed for allowing children to name a teddy bear "Mohammed.”

“A few hours after a judge ruled that a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness sick with leukemia had the right to refuse a blood transfusion that might have helped him, the boy died, a newspaper reported.”

'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bible Tells Me So

Watched the “Republican Debacle” last night on CNN. Loved the stammering response of Romney to the question, “do you believe every word written in the Bible”. He seemed to realize how utterly stupid it would sound if he said that he did. You could see the clogs slowly moving in his addled brain, “OMG I better say yes to cover all my ‘evangelical’ bases”. Giuliani’s and Huckabee’s responses weren’t much different. Giuliani at least recognized that the bible should not be taken literally, while Huckabee, preacher and ole southern boy that he is, gave an ‘aw shucks’ reply. Unfortunately, this is the level of political discourse we’re subject to as we begin moving further into the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Couldn't Have Said it Better

Pat Condell tells it like it is. He took the words right out of my mouth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

GOD Spelled Backwards is DOG

Thought readers would enjoy this. I won't give away who produced it, so as not to destroy the effect. It leads the viewer towards an unexpected conclusion and is a wonderful counterpoint to what would be the more conventional message. You will know what I mean after watching it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christian fundamentalist evangelicals deny global warming, look to Jesus' return to save the earth

The NY Times recently had this article about the IPCC's latest and final "synthesis" report on global warming:

Although some evangelical Christians have acknowledged the reality of global warming and are calling for carbon-emissions reductions from individuals, corporations, and governments, I am, sadly, related to many who deny that global warming is real. They believe, and I quote an aunt, that we just have to wait for Jesus' second coming, when he will clean up all of the pollution for us and give us a new earth to live on for his million-year reign before the apocalypse and judgment day, after which those of us who have been born again and saved will live with him for eternity in heaven and the rest will live an eternity of everlasting damnation in hell. This type of superstitious belief, when held by a powerful political bloc like the religious right in this country, threatens our very future existence and that of the other species inhabiting this planet. It is the reason the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in science and is able to elect a president who thinks he talks to god and believes intelligent design deserves equal (or greater) time and credence in public-school science teaching. This administration and the religious right have declared war on science and reason. Reasonable people must fight back.

Judicial Injustice

Here are two items of interest for us to ponder. First, the Rosenbaum Foundation and the Open Society Institute have issued a report on the US “Injustice System” (my phrasing) showing that, “the US prison population has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to the taxpayer”. “There are more than 1.5 million people in US state and federal jails” and “inmate numbers are projected to rise by 192,000 in five years, costing $27.5bn to build and run jails”. The report goes on to state, “There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer”.

The second item concerns juvenile offenders. A study, titled Sentencing Children to Die in Prison, by the University of San Francisco's Centre for Law & Global Justice, found that the United States has far more juveniles serving life terms than any other country — 2387. Israel, the only other country that imprisons juveniles for life has seven — and has not issued such a sentence since 2004. In California, black juveniles are 20 times more likely to receive such sentences. In the US, life terms have fallen disproportionately on non-white children, who are 10 times more likely than white children to be given life without parole, the report found.

The above statistics are a national disgrace. Our judicial system rivals that of Saudi Arabia as the most punitive and archaic in the world. And why should this be? I would suggest it’s due to the influence of the Bible-thumping miscreants who rule the roost in this country, insisting on imposing their vindictive, punitive medieval ideology on the rest of us.

As our Draft Statement of Principles says, “We categorically oppose all forms of capital punishment, torture and our system of punitive judicial injustice.” I urge one and all to contact your representatives to demand they begin to address these issues and bring our penal system in line with civilized 21st century norms. The US system of judicial injustice is a hideous and painful reminder of our vengeful Judeo-Christian heritage.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Real US Military Death Toll From the War in Iraq: Take 2

I'm not the only one to comment on recent revelations regarding the astronomic suicide rate among Iraqi War vets. Over at Counterpunch, Mike Whitney has a similar analysis.

Musings of a Lifelong Atheist

I’ve been thinking that these pages can be used as a means for members of our group to tell their own stories. How you came to be a skeptic, agnostic, atheist or whatever it is you like to call yourself. You can also use your post to describe your personal belief system. Just e-mail it to me for posting or ask for posting rights so you can do-it-yourself. I’ll take the lead with my own musings.

I’ve been an atheist my entire life. One of my earliest and fondest memories is proudly proclaiming to a peer (i.e. another 5 year old) that I did not believe in god and thought the concept made absolutely no sense.

Theists are peculiarly self-righteous, thinking that the human condition makes no sense and the universe is meaningless if not for the existence of their god. My own personal experience however runs counter to their sanctimonious insistence that a godless world is devoid of meaning and morality. I am sensitive to the feelings of others and experience empathy towards the plight of those in pain and suffering. I give to charitable causes and lead what I consider to be a relatively moral life. In other words, I’m no different than most people with whom I associate.

As a scientist I accept naturalistic explanations for worldly phenomena. Call me a “materialist” if you will. I intuitively feel for others and care for them and their well-being. Rather than ascribe these feelings to adherence to some religious scripture, I am convinced that there is a naturalistic explanation (i.e. sociobiological, evolutionary or psychological ) for my and most of humanity’s similar personality traits. Moreover, I do not believe in emotional or behavioral creationism, i.e. the belief that feelings and emotions are unique to our species. I believe that other species possess consciousness and have emotional lives, including the ability to be empathetic. To my way of thinking this is a perspective that is morally superior to the anthropocentric morality of most religionists. What evidence do I have in support of my belief system? Much more than any born again fundamentalist has about the resurrection. There is large body of comparative scientific research on primates and other animals that attest to their possession of empathy, feelings of inequality, and the giving of deferred rewards and punishments to members of the group they belong to. That is all those aspects of morality that have been thought to be the special preserve of us people. So when I'm asked, as an atheistic materialist why I care if people live or die; and if matter is all there is, why does it "matter" to me if I live or die, my only response is to not suffer the fool. I care because I was born to care as a member of a social order of mammals that has been evolving for millions upon millions of years to function within a nexus of complex cooperative cum competitive social relationships.

Now tell me. I’ve always wondered, why does the god of the Jews, Christians and Islamists (JCIs) behave so badly? I’m a father. I have three sons. Good kids. Never given me any trouble. Sometimes they do clueless things and I get angry. You can say they’ve sinned against me (at times being disrespectful, not acknowledging the sacrifices I’ve made to ensure their well-being, not believing what I tell them, etc.). Should I therefore disinherit them and condemn them to eternal damnation? Why does the god of the bible act in such strange and mysterious ways, setting up this obtuse situation where he creates people who are flawed (i.e. they sin) and then creating this theater of the absurd where you have this ridiculous trinity and crucifixion and all the other nonsense and mumbo-jumbo that Christianity preaches? As a father I do not want my sons to bow down to me and wipe my feet. I don’t want then to cower in fear of me. I love them unconditionally. Isn’t that the way Christians describe their god’s love for humanity? If so, why all this business about being saved? Look, if one of my sons committed a heinous crime I’d want him to be punished, perhaps put away for life, basically to protect others from the harm he may commit in the future. But I’m against the death penalty and believe in rehabilitation. Why is the spiritual “father” of JCIs so vengeful and mean-spirited? Of course, it has to do with the historical development of Hebraic religions based on tribal patriarchy in which fathers actually did want their sons to kiss their feet, etc. Are JCI’s so clueless not to recognize this? Hebraic religion is a crock, full of outmoded, outrageous ideas that should be studied in the same fashion that the beliefs of animists are studied.

Well, if a belief in the JCI god, or any god for that matter, is not a prerequisite for empathetic, moral behavior and if the behavior of their god is abominable to say the least, why the need for adherence to such an antiquated and unnecessary belief system? In my discussions with Christian apologists philosophically, at least, the whole question of “god” devolves to the question of first cause. Theists insist that there is a cause for every effect except for god itself. God is exempted because it exists in a supernatural eternal realm beyond human experience. Thus its postulated that only god can constitute the first cause that initiated the phenomenal universe. The existence of god is inferred as a logical necessity to explain the creation event per se. But what is this creation event? In actuality, it is an attempt to confront the fundamental question of existence itself. It is the question of existence that needs explaining, not the question of god. In fact, god can be conceptualized as a personification of existence. Existence has all the attributes of god. If we accept the premise that something cannot come from nothing, existence has no beginning or end. For proponents of the Big Bang, even nothing is something, as virtual particles are constantly popping into existence out of the quantum vacuum. Existence is therefore eternal, it has neither a beginning nor end. Existence encompasses all that is, has been or will be, it is thus both omnipresent and omniscient. Since existence produces all phenomena, it is thus omnipotent. All the above qualities of the abstract notion of existence have been rarefied and attributed to god. The only difference between the two concepts is that existence is impersonal and part and parcel of the phenomenal world, while god is personal and placed beyond the phenomenal world in a separate supernatural realm. For a materialist, god as a first cause is therefore totally superfluous. Just as the theist sees god as a cause unto itself, for the atheist so is the universe (i.e. the realm of objective reality).

What is most pathetic however is the overwhelming hubris of many (not all) theists, particularly the most ignorant amongst them. They live in a hermetically sealed, self-referenced world stuck in a medieval mind-set, their appreciation of the wonders of the real, material universe is circumscribed by the limited vision of bronze age tribal shepherds. The nearly infinite beauty of the cosmos, the vastness of time and space, the innumerable permutations of the natural world, and the profound unity of all creation escapes them completely. Rather than the awe-inspiring grandeur of organic evolution with its “endless forms most beautiful” responding by the seat of their pants to ever changing environmental fluctuations, they are left with a Geppettan tinkerer fumbling around cobbling together a hodge-podge of trilobites, dinosaurs and mammoths for no apparent rhyme or reason other than to satisfy their god's whimsical fancy. Give me the real thing any time, not some pale, uninspired, insipid imitation. Revel in the mysteries of existence. We know but a fraction of what there is to know. If we continue to advance our scientific knowledge of the material world what wonders of nature will we comprehend in a hundred years or a thousand years hence? The religionists among us would have us groping about like the proverbial six blind men feeling an elephant.

Finally, we come to the great fear of death and its aftermath. But the nature of things long ago determined that there is no life without death. We would still be archaean prokaryotic bacteria if not for death. Every life, both human and non-human, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has an impact on the lives that follow. Think of yourself as a quantum burst of consciousness lighting up your little corner of the world in a crescendo of sentience that will eventually engulf the universe. Or perhaps we are but a flicker, a wisp of cognizance that will be blown out never to be realized again, a unique confluence of matter and energy at a particular juncture in space-time. However one views their place in nature make the most of the limited time we have, within our limited abilities, to move our beautifully sublime spinning globe one step closer to the unity and harmony which should be our offspring’s birthright.

It is only by humbling ourselves before the fount of wisdom that nature provides that we can come to grips with both our insignificance and our transcendence.

American Mussolini Makes New Pledge

“Seeking support during an address to the Federalist Society, Giuliani promised to nominate justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as well as endorsing gun rights.” --- LA Times

Why is it that these Republican hopefuls get a free pass when they pander to the most far rightwing elements in the electorate? Imagine if ‘Hillary,’ Edwards, or Obama promised during an address to a convention that they would nominate only left-wing “abortionists” and pacifists to the Supreme Court. The outcry from the MSM (mainstream media) would be cacophonous. Where’s the outrage that should ensue when a leading candidate for president promises to stack the court with rightwing ideologues who would skew the SC towards reaction for decades to come?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Displaced Aggression

As an antidote to the pious moralizing of religionists who think they have a premium on ethics read David P. Barash on displaced aggression. It’s a cogent article that outlines the biological imperatives behind much of human aggression. If we are going to understand “crime and punishment” from a secular humanist perspective, I think this essay is must reading. I’d be interested in comments about what Prof. Barash has to say. You can also listen to an interview with Dr. Barash on NPR in which he explains that taking out anger on others may be biologically good for us, but it doesn't mean we should continue to do it.

African children accused of witchcraft abused, cast out, even killed by own relatives, including parents

See this NY Times article about this tragic happening in Angola, Congo, and Congo Republic:

The churches promoting belief in witchcraft are Christian. Take a look at the pictures. As the article explains, the real reason behind parents accusing their children of witchcraft and then throwing them out to fend for themselves on the streets is poverty. Believing their child is a witch gives them an excuse not to care for the child. Cultural disintegration is on display here at a truly low level, and religion is playing a huge role in that disintegration. I realize the one Catholic church and its bishop cited in the article are trying to help some of these children, but how much is the world Catholic church and its stance against birth control and sex education to blame for causing the situation--large families with unwanted children--in the first place? This is what fundamentalist and Catholic Christian missionaries have wrought in Africa, a horrible blend of their superstition with existing Bantu superstition, both of which include belief in witches. Angola, Congo, and Congo Republic are living in a medieval world in the 21st century.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Real US Military Death Toll From the War in Iraq

The Bush Administration is not supporting our troops and as a result thousands upon thousands are dying both at home and abroad.

Let’s put two and two together, and in the process demonstrate that the US military fatalities resulting from the War in Iraq are much greater than previously reported. First off, let's look at the number of military personnel dismissed from the Army, without subsequent support or benefits, for so-called personality disorders. According to NPR:

“New Pentagon figures … show that since the United States invaded Iraq, officers have kicked out far more troops for having behavior issues that are potentially linked to post-traumatic stress disorder than they did before the war.”

“… an Army chart, which NPR recently received, shows that since the United States invaded Iraq:

— Commanders have discharged almost 20 percent more soldiers for "misconduct" than they did in the same period before the war;

— Commanders have discharged more than twice as many soldiers for "drug abuse" (a subset of the "misconduct" category);

— Commanders have discharged almost 40 percent more soldiers for "personality disorder."

In all, the Army has kicked out more than 28,000 soldiers since the war in Iraq began on the grounds of personality disorder and misconduct.”

(Click here to read the entire NPR Report)

These soldiers are basically given what amounts to a dishonorable discharge and are not eligible for VA medical care or other benefits. They are almost uniformly misdiagnosed and actually suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and as a consequence of their dismissal are not able to get proper psychological treatment. It can be assumed that such soldiers would be very susceptible to major psychological distress including an increased potential for suicide.

Next, let’s add in the following ingredient, the actual incidence of suicide amongst vets who served in Iraq versus earlier pre-war vets and the public at large. As CBS reported on Veteran’s Day there is a suicide epidemic amongst Iraqi War vets. What CBS found was that:

“In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)”

(Click here to read the entire CBS Report).

We can extrapolate that over the five years of war there has been an excess of at least 15,000 service related suicides relative to pre-war numbers, certainly a direct consequence of the trauma these vets have suffered in battle and the lack of concern or care for them after their “homecoming” The real death toll of the Iraqi War is therefore more like 20-25,000 rather than the 3700 acknowledged battlefield fatalities. These delayed deaths are just as tragic and even more inexcusable, since they could have been easily prevented with proper counseling. For all their pious pronouncements about "supporting the troops," the premeditated mistreatment of these vets and their resulting deaths, must be laid at the doorstep of the criminal Bush Administration.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (NOVA)

Be sure to watch the latest episode of NOVA on PBS: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. As the lead-in states - Science is 'Exhibit A' in a landmark trial on the teaching of evolution. It's all about the Dover trial on the teaching of ID and Judge Jones' landmark decision equating ID with the teaching of creationism. Its gotten rave reviews. As a physical anthropologist I can attest to its high standard of reportage. It aired yesterday (November 13, 2007) on PBS, but is being repeated multiple times on Comcast Cable. It's definitely a must see.

Welcoming Statement

Welcome to the blog of the Secular Humanists of Santa Cruz County. The SHSCC is a non-sectarian organization dedicated to protecting the separation of church and state and promoting a non-theistic world-view. This blog has been established to promote the rational discussion of international, national and local issues from a secular humanist perspective. Please contact the moderator for posting privileges.