April 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Any time I hear the words “Twitter is ablaze” prefacing any sentence, I tune out. My automatic assumption is that if people have nothing better to do than tweet about it, it probably isn’t very important. If it were, it would require more than 140 characters to express.
Somewhat related is the fact that if I see a meme — one of those pictures with text passed around Facebook and Tumblr and loads of other places — I assume it’s a lie masquerading as a fact.
Much like a Republican idea, though, if you pass a meme around enough, it will become the truth, regardless of what it says. The next time you see a photo of Mark Twain with a quote attributed to him on it, count the minutes until you see a phrase like, “even if he didn’t say it, this is so true” in regard to it.
The Internet is a wonderful tool for passing along information quickly, as well as communicating important ideas across barriers and coordinating protests. Sadly all that often takes a back seat to hissy fits about things that don’t matter or are completely wrong.
In a best case scenario, Internet communication is best utilized to unite people solely for the purpose of discussing which superheroes will be featured in the next Avengers movie, looking at endless preview stills from Game of Thrones and staring blankly at animated GIFs — loads and loads and loads of animated GIFs.
I take note of this report on a Public Policy Polling survey (bit.ly/13RmQyo) which revealed, among other things, that 13 percent of Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist and another 13 percent weren’t sure if he was or not. I don’t think they mean Antichrist like “big jerk” — they mean it as a physical being meant to battle Jesus in the End Times. Personally, I would love to see Obama ride a fiery serpent, or whatever it is an Antichrist does.
The poll also reveals that 37 percent of Americans believe global warming is a hoax — not wrong data or a mistake, but an intentional trick perpetuated on the people. And despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, 20 percent still believe that autism is linked with childhood vaccines and another 34 percent aren’t sure.
Also, 7 percent believe the moon landing was fake, 14 percent believe in Bigfoot and 5 percent believe that Paul McCartney died in the 1960s.
I know these beliefs aren’t entirely attributable to the misinformation on the Internet, but I do believe this is a glimpse into the future when people base all their views on the landslide of memes they encounter every day. Vaccines, Bigfoot, whatever, it will all be easier to convince everybody about anything. No one will probably even remember how to verify information in the future.
One topic that surprisingly isn’t in the original poll (bit.ly/ZzNPWz) is the idea that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a conspiracy that will turn us humans into genetic monsters and make the world essentially a real life zombie movie. Or a Godzilla movie, maybe.
I see more memes about GMOs than anything else, which is a lot of information that is either skewed, simplified or just wrong being passed around by well-meaning people.
GMOs are a pretty complicated situation, I think most of us can agree. Look no further for proof than the website for the Union of Concerned Scientists to see a more subtle opposition to the issue (bit.ly/10quMl6) which concerns itself less with the technology being evil and more with the technology as it is currently being implemented for commercial use as being misguided. That’s a huge difference.
There are plenty of scientists explaining the actual genetic science behind GMOs and debunking some of the worst fears of the meme-passers. This piece on Discovery’s Denialism blog (bit.ly/13Ro1xY) goes into great detail about what genes do and don’t do, but it’s long, requires more than one reading for us laymen to absorb the information and is impossible to breakdown onto a little image that people can pass around on Facebook.
You’re free to think whatever you think about GMOs, global warming or Paul McCartney, though I might disagree with you about it, but please, please, please, don’t decide that Paul is dead until you’ve gone beyond the photo of a smirking Willy Wonka telling you that he is. You might come to the same conclusion regardless, but it will at least make you better equipped to argue your point — and you’re doing your part to avoid a future where a meme stream will replace reading the actual news.
March 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A recent Scientific American article revealed that there are a number of people moving toward a gluten-free diet, and the medical community is trying to stop that. Why? Because these people aren’t allergic to gluten.
That gluten-free section in your grocery store that’s appeared over the past few years exists because of people with gluten allergies. It does not exist because gluten is uniformly bad for you. For people who aren’t allergic to it, the foods that contain gluten also offer nutrients and fiber that they need.
Giving up gluten if you are not allergic to it does nothing good for you, and it is actually bad for you.
This is much like giving up peanut butter because some other people have peanut allergies.
But still, peanuts can be toxic, right?
Toxicity is a hot buzz word these days, but it’s often used in popular media without any understanding of what actually is toxic. Online, I recently saw a message being passed around about fluoride, dismissing the idea that any portion of it was good for you and proclaiming that no poison is good for you in small amounts.
This highlighted many things to me, most notably the term poison can be used pretty loosely to serve a misinformed agenda.
It is true, very high quantities of fluoride can harm people, but those levels are rarely reached. The most susceptible are children, but this is why dentists advise against young children using toothpaste to brush their teeth.
Remember, fluoride can be found naturally in water. It can also be found in tea leaves, rocks and seaweed in the forms of hexafluorosilicic acid and sodium hexafluorosilicate. It is not just confined to toothpaste, mouth wash and treated drinking water. If you’re going to fight fluoride, you’re going to have to fight nature.
The problem is that these are also additives in some poisons. The majority of fluoride toxicity cases are from children swallowing the poisons that contain these rather than from using dental products.
There are plenty of other things that can be toxic in equally high levels, but are good for you in smaller doses. Calcium can kill you. So can iron — rather gruesomely, actually.
Have you considered salt? Salt is in almost everything we eat, and we add more on top of that. High levels of salt will also kill you if not immediately treated.
That high quantities of chocolate can poison dogs is well known, but it can also harm humans. It’s technically called theobromine poisoning, and it can also be caused by tea, cola and all those acai berries that are supposedly so good for you. The elderly are more susceptible than anyone to theobromine poisoning. I’ve not yet heard of a movement to get rid of chocolate, tea, Coke and Pepsi, though.
Theobromine poisoning can also be caused by too much Vitamin A, which means that you can overdose on carrots. Carrots are toxic? Yep. You eat too much of them, your skin becomes orange. Keep munching and the Vitamin A poisoning kicks in. Anyone up for trying to get carrots off the market?
Or how about that Vitamin D that doctors are prescribing like candy? Swallow too much and the calcium builds up in your blood, which leads to kidney and liver damage.
Everyone loves their caffeine drinks, and anybody can be poisoned by those. There are plenty cases where caffeine has reached toxic levels and killed someone, causing seizures and hyperglycemia. Ten grams of caffeine is considered a fatal dose and has been at the center of recent controversy involving energy drinks.
Anyone want to try and take down Starbucks?
Even the basics of life can reach toxic levels. Drinking too much water can lead to water poisoning — one of the high profile cases of that occurred in the 2002 Boston Marathon.
And trusty old oxygen can do you in. Too much of it causes nausea and convulsions, and ends up slowing down its own delivery in your body, overloading in places that are sensitive to it, and that’s all folks.
Did you know that the current effort to curb global warming is actually a plan to allow more oxygen into our atmosphere? Does that sound safe to you? Anyone up for fighting against the poison known as oxygen? Surely that’s more of a threat to us all than silly old gluten and fluoride.
January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
NRA goes from bananas to ape crazy
This week’s firearm legislation in New York might seem like a good idea to some of us, but that mild-mannered gun safety club the NRA certainly doesn’t agree with that. But the NRA has become a special kind of crazy, at least those sitting at the top.
I heard head paranoid gun nut Wayne LaPierre say on NPR this week that the government confiscating guns was actually a strong likelihood following a national gun registry. That’s the sort of thing unhinged white people worry about when they get their minds off “city dwellers” and other varieties of dark-hued individuals that are coming to invade their homes. Always vigilant against bogeymen!
Even their regular paranoia doesn’t come close to matching that on display in this new video that makes the claim that your children need the same amount of security as the president’s do, and because the president is out to stifle your God-given right to have the same firepower as a team of Secret Service agents surrounding a world leader.
It really speaks for itself, and when someone does bother to talk about it, it’s usually accompanied by words like “crazy,” “whacked out” and other varieties with the same meaning. Is there anyone out there who wants to start of an actual national gun safety advocacy group, or do we all prefer the distinct Jack D. Ripper-styled concerns of the current group?
It’s okay, though, because if science comes through for us, it’s all going to turn out to be bunk, anyhow. I mean reality; I mean how we perceive it.
This Slate article not only examines the idea that we don’t live in a real universe, but rather a Matrix-like simulation, but says this is something that can be tested.
Not only that, the Daily Galaxy is offering the research of string theorist Erik Verlinde, who is working to show that gravity and the Big Bang, like temperature, is not what it appears to be to us, but an illusion based on circumstances in the quantum level.
Without going into all the hubbub, the basic idea is that there is no “nothing”: The smaller you go, the more you find something that is imperceptible to humans and therefore makes the human perception of any force of nature to be far from the reality of what that force is.
Kon nichi wa, Jesus
A force people can quantify a little better is that of some kind of god — not me, of course, but that’s what makes such stories as this Smithsonian coverage of the Jesus legend in Japan so amusing and, well, charming.
The little burg of Shingo offers itself as “Christ’s hometown” and has a funny little legend to go with it:
Apparently, Jesus was not crucified. That was his brother Isukiri. Jesus had come to Japan during his famous lost years and returned after he faked his own death, taking the name Daitenku Taro Jurai, marrying and having a daughter. Jesus’ remains are buried there. He has descendants. Every spring there is a Christ Festival. The town has the Legend of Christ Museum.
You didn’t know all this and you call yourself a Christian? No surprise really. You’re only just now accepting Mormonism, and even that is tough because you’re doing your best to ignore its update of the Jesus story, so I understand if the Japanese addition is challenging to embrace.
January 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In looking at the facts of the technological present, I can’t help but notice that land lines are on the decline, which is the one area where I am happily a grumpy old man.
It’s reported by the Center for Disease Control that 60 percent of all adults under 30 don’t even have a land line, relying on cell for everything (http://bit.ly/Vvl9xT). Across the board, it’s over a third of everyone, but it’s also worth noting that another 15 percent reports that although they have land lines, they don’t have any use for them. That adds up to half of Americans conducting 99 percent of the telephone business on a cell phone.
Don’t even get me started. I’ve long maintained we’ve raised a generation that’s come to accept high pricing for subpar service as a norm because of cell phones, not to mention that the general rudeness of taking a phone call when you have guests has now spilled out into every aspect of life and the ability to disconnect from your life and have a real vacation is non-existent for many. Phooey on all that.
Besides, cell phones have been one more way that people have decided to lay down and play dead in the wake of Big Brother, as reports earlier this year revealed that cell phone surveillance by feds is rising (http://huff.to/S5usbq), so much so that telecommunications have had to devote whole teams to handling the onslaught of requests.
But what can you say? We’re the type of people who spill all our info into Facebook and then complain when Facebook makes use of our information, but the government is usually above such concern. How else can the federal government be so ignored when they propose putting little black boxes in all cars from now on (http://bit.ly/W3aAjS)? “Event data recorders” are well known for their function on airplanes, and thought the impetus is on safety with these car versions, privacy advocates are worried about misuse.
Who can really blame them for considering worst-case scenarios? When it comes to spying on your own citizens, the federal government seems to be an never-ending worst-case scenario. The latest example of this is the recent report that reveals the FBI operated in collusion with the private financial sector for purposes of surveillance of the Occupy movement (http://bit.ly/YU3Bw4), branding it a possible terrorist threat. There were even informants to the FBI passing on names of Occupy participants in their local areas, and I bet they didn’t need any fancy technology like cell phones to work their spineless evil. I bet they could accomplish everything they wanted on a land line.
Outside of politics, though, I do take heart that the official proof is finally in: LPs are easily more awesome than CDs. We all knew it immediately back in 1989 when CDs were pushing records off the shelf.
Then we realized how easy it is to break those terrible CD plastic cases. And when a CD gets damaged, it just plays damaged. A record? Stick a damn penny on the needle and get some more life out of your scratched surface. The Economist reports that vinyl record sales are continuing to climb (http://econ.st/UnuKYc), almost doubling from two years ago, to nearly 5 million – and this does not include any records musicians sell directly. Meanwhile, CDs have plummeted by half and only make up about two-thirds of music sales, with the expectation it will just keep dropping and predictions that in a decade, vinyl might again be the biggest physical form to buy music in.
With that news also comes a chilling vision of a whole new kind of record (http://io9.com/5971712/). Released by the Swedish rock band the Shout Out Louds, we have now moved onto ice as a recorded medium.
The band made a limited edition of 10 kits for select journalists and fans to create their own playable ice records, and, as the video proves, it works. It sounds at least as good as most flexi-discs ever did, and the novelty gage goes much higher. You just have to be calm about the possibility of getting your turntable wet.
Review: All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals” By John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Dr. Darren Naish, with skeletal drawings by Scott Hartman
January 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
One fact about science that is hard to communicate to not only those who reject it, but also those who stand at a distance from it even as they are open to its findings, is that science is a form of changing knowledge where evidence leads truth, and as evidence changes, so does truth. In this way, science marches alongside art, although in that field, it’s more often revelation through experimentation that fuels its changes.
Tackling these issues in a practical way — as well as an engaging and informative one — is this self-published hybrid art and science book that barrels ahead for attention from interested lay people.
The basic idea is not a simple one. Paleoart, although integral to the communication between research and general public, is too often ruled by the task of getting out the most basic information about dinosaurs by depicting them in recurring poses and situations. What this does is perpetuate popular legends about the creatures that just aren’t up-to-date and also play more into cinema than science. The goal here is to update these perceptions, and also show that, at the very least, when it comes to science, art is hard and as much a discipline of the mind, reliant on research and studied speculation as the discipline from which it takes its cues.
Some popular wrongs become righted, such as the insistence of too many visual artists on portraying microraptors as more lizard-like rather than in their full bird-like glory — too alien, apparently, and indicative of a larger lag in the field, the digging in of heels on transitioning into the changing perceptions of feathered dinosaurs or even furred-ones or hybrids of the two, such as Theizinosaurus.
There’s also plenty of studied scientific speculation, based on the full knowledge of current animal behavior, used to illustrate unknown corners of dinosaur knowledge, such as placing protoceratops in trees and depicting Tyrannosaurus rex in a sleeping position, despite the popular perception that they were terrorizing the world 24/7.
“All Yesterdays” has a lot to offer. Its presentation of not only the particulars of how paleoart is rendered, but also the history of it as a discipline, is engaging and unpretentious — you do not have to be an expert to love this book. The gorgeous illustrations, though, make the effort most special, walking between imagination and study, through illuminations that capture the common ground between them and revealing each to be a mandatory part of the other.
For ordering information, visit irregularbooks.co.
October 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Fact-checking the end times
As some would have it, we live in the End Times, and Obama’s role in that is to bring on the Tribulation — or something like that. You make up your own rules in fantasy and with extremist Christianity, like other role-playing games, sitting on the outside trying to makes sense of the internal logic can get pretty dizzying.
The question remains: What would Obama do in a second term and how would that further the End Times? — and blogger Libby Anne does a pretty skillful job of figuring out those answers. How does she do it? By analyzing the arguments made in 2008 that specifically predicted what 2012 would look like after an Obama presidency, specifically those put forth by Focus on the Family (bit.ly/UHJchp).
And how does the future look? Well, we aren’t wearing jet packs and we haven’t outlawed religion yet.
Can we get a Rapture here?
If you wonder why the battle against Obama is filled with End Times Chicken Littles and how such arguments become so dominant in the just-under-the-radar political rhetoric, you don’t need to look much further than Arkansas. Is it that Arkansas Republicans are a special brand of crazy or that the Arkansas Times’ Arkansas Blog is a special brand of newspaper blogs, one that seems intent on calling out GOP nuttiness and documenting it meticulously? Probably both.
You’ve got Republican Representative Jon Hubbard, who argues that slavery was good for black people and that Christians are rising up just like the Nazis, and that’s a good thing (bit.ly/Oo6hSy).
You’ve got Republican legislator Charlie Fuqua and current candidate, who endorses the death penalty for rebellious children (bit.ly/Rft93R).
You’ve got Republican Representative Loy Mauch, who basically argues that Jesus didn’t think slavery was so bad (bit.ly/W1ipul).
Are these politicians or villains in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sequels?
You don’t have to stick to Arkansas. My home state of Georgia is doing it’s part with Congressman Dr. Paul Broun, who recently dismissed all scientific reality in favor of the Biblical equivalent, mostly that the earth is 9,000 years old, following divine creation. And this guy sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (bit.ly/T52pCU).
For all the tea party’s libertarian posturing, they sure do like some old-fashioned, dictatorial authority figures that don’t allow for much free thought.
It’s not just politicians, though. Other community leaders on the right are happy to pass around nonsense. Like these nuns, the Children of Mary Order, who link homosexuality with birth control (bit.ly/TgxFyE). What? Always trust nuns on irrefutable scientific data, that’s what I say.
And if they aren’t passing around nonsensical information, churches seem intent on using every ounce of power they might have with members of their congregation to stop the free flow of actual information that might inform choices, particularly those of the presidential election type.
The Latter Day Saints have come raining down on David Twede after he criticized Mitt Romney on his blog, threatening the guy with excommunication unless he “cease and desist” (bit.ly/SLOc1e). The icing on the cake is that Twede doesn’t use his name on the site — the elders involved had to actually poke around to find out who he was.
So Obama is the one who’s going to usher in a dystopian nightmare? Really? Because his opponents are looking awfully scary to many of us. Doubleplusgood!
When zombies awaken
Don’t worry. It might all be over soon. Maybe. Not the world, just religious nonsense trying to take control through religious disinformation and strong-arming — or at least the end to it being the public standard rather than the exception. It’s not quite a war against Christianity, more a subtle shift away from monolithic worship.
A new study from the Pew Forum (bit.ly/OTtttc) reveals that 21 percent of Americans age 31 to 49 are now religiously unaffiliated — actually 32 percent age 29 and below. About a third of these numbers belong to Atheists and Agnostics — 13 million and apparently consistently growing over the past decade.
There are no numbers for these particular designations, but if you add in Buddhists as well as Quakers, Unitarians and other sane, liberal Christians within the larger churches, there may be hope for the future yet.
And while we’re moving toward it, feel free to enjoy this catchy, science-based music by DJ John D. Boswell, which he calls “Symphony of Science” (bit.ly/PX6Kao). It’s fun, informative and meditative, and it reveals the beauty of the universe without the supernatural and the philosophy of reality and even love without a religion to dominate these emotions within you.
October 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
What you thought you knew, you didn’t know, especially if you are a modern Republican. The New Yorker has done an admirable job in compiling the historical claims of the movers and shakers in that political realm. This means a complete history according to 21st century conservatives has been organized (http://nyr.kr/TB7U2k) and no doubt is one step away of filling all the textbooks headed for Texas.
The time line runs from Rick Perry’s dialogue on the birth of America — you remember, in the 1500s — all the way to Sean Hannity’s riveting narrative of how George W. Bush killed Osama Bin Ladin. It’s a feisty history that reveals the ways in which liberal bias has infected our children’s education and attempts to steal truth and knowledge away from the lies of liberal teachers.
Finally, thanks to Dan Quayle, kids everywhere will learn that the real Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1908, and it went something like this: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”
Even Mitt Romney couldn’t bungle it better.
Milking the rich
One of the major givens of the modern Republican platform is that rich people shouldn’t be taxed much because it’s good for the economy. A great rundown on how this has worked for us — and what the world was like before – is provided by Shamus Khan in Time magazine (http://ti.me/PnS7xP).
Khan’s narrative is one of the rich spending decades viewing their higher tax rate as part of their civic duty towards the country in which they lived on these spoils of good fortune. It was during the Reagan years that it all started plummeting, as did our economy save a few precious bubbles, and we’re still arguing about the same thing 30 years later.
Go back 100 years, and the Republicans were quite different. Says Khan, “In 1909, Republican president Teddy Roosevelt argued in favor of income and inheritance taxes, as they would promote, ‘equality of opportunity.’ “
Wait a minute! That’s the same year as the real Pledge of Allegiance was written! And a year before the birth of Mitt Romney’s father, George, who, it was recently revealed by Mitt’s mom, lived off welfare for awhile (http://bit.ly/UIcJ9s). Good thing Mitt’s going to put an end to that nonsense!
It never ends
Everything you know is probably wrong, anyhow. You don’t have to be a Republican to be in that position. At the same time, it turns out that anything you can imagine has the possibility of being real.
Last week, this article in Live Science (http://bit.ly/RhJlE3) covered the way scientific research doesn’t so much disprove the existence of God as just display his lack of importance in explaining the universe. In other words, why say 1+1+0=2 when you can just say 1+1 and leave out the unnecessary zero? God is that unnecessary zero.
For instance, if Quantum Gravity Theory’s prediction that time is endless and the Big Bang is just part of a transitionary phase of a never-ending universe, rather than the beginning of time, then the universe formed from the consequence of the law of physics and there is no creation for God to create. Time is eternal, without beginning, and thus no work for God to do.
The big picture revelation comes from the idea that string theory predicts a number of universes and these multiverses are infinite. A result of that is that every possible mix of elements, etc., exists parsed amongst the multiverses and a universe like ours — with sentient life — is just the inevitable result of being the universe that happens to have the correct combinations. It doesn’t need to be created special and be attributed to a creator; it’s just a side effect of the infinite multiverses. When possibilities are endless and everything exists across the universe, ours is just one of the infinite, inevitable and not that special.
What that really means is that the evangelicals are entirely right about science chipping away at faith, but they still can’t comprehend that it’s all just data, not agenda. I do wonder though: If all things that are possible in an infinite multiverse are real, does that mean that there is a universe somewhere that does have a God? Or is that the one thing all the universes have in common?
September 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Prejudice hits both candidates
In some places, it turns out, bigoted ignorance hurts Mitt Romney almost as much as Barack Obama. According to this news analysis (http://yhoo.it/RwjRzy), some Republicans seem to look at the election as a battle between two religions they dislike — Mormonism and Islam.
There’s also this small issue: “Overall, 54 percent of Americans — and a decisive 69 percent of white low- and median-income Southerners — opposed Obamacare. … But when asked about specific parts of the law, the results largely favored the president.”
Read the whole article. There’s not one informed person in the bunch, regardless of who they’re voting for. They just pull ideas out of the ether and decide to believe them in regard to both candidates. It’s nightmarish. Who’s going to save us from ourselves?
And how can you take their religious bigotry seriously when they can’t even parse the facts about a piece of legislation they are vehemently against except for the fact that they support it?
Shining a light on Mormonism
As to Mormonism, though, I’ve not read it discussed more intelligently than in this piece written for The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/S7sCUH), in which British philosophy professor Simon Critchley discusses not only prejudice against the religion by big city, lefty intellectuals who would never utter a horrible word about certain other faiths – yes, this is what the right refers to as political correctness gone mad, and it’s a valid criticism here — but goes onto accuse them, and most Americans, of being horribly misinformed about this very American religion.
Through Critchley’s view of the teachings of Joseph Smith, Mormonism is a great equalizer, a burst of democracy put upon the almighty. The central idea is that God is finite and did not create the universe; it’s an elevated human who only organizes matter. This is a very radical view of the Judeo-Christian god and one that comes off as a lot more progressive than is perceived by most of America.
Romney has done an excellent job at one thing: not presenting his faith as the punk rock version of Christianity that shatters the belief system of the majority of people whose votes he’s courting. As with Islam, I think these voters would be surprised by Mormonism’s moving forward from Christianity — and probably threatened by the entire notion of a Romney presidency because of it.
I say Mormonism is not a problem in regard to Romney. In fact, it might be his only real strength.
The Dalai Lama for the win
And the wisest words yet on religion’s place in the modern world have officially been spoken by a religious leader from the east. The Dalai Lama is a great science enthusiast. I’d urge anyone who wants to know about truth and beauty and the meaning of life and the universe: Science will give that to you, but you’ve got to do a little work of your own in order to achieve maximum satisfaction.
The Dalai Lama posted this on his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/DalaiLama) last week, and it’s a radical proclamation of the place of faith in the realm of human behavior, one that flies in the face of the more dominating religions that enforce codes of ethics as part of their belief systems.
“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”
Earlier in a New York Times interview (http://nyti.ms/QBXhX6), the Dalai Lama made plain his feelings about science as a method of parsing the truth, hinting at the ways in which religion and spirituality are not bound to overrule reality as it is observed. In fact, the Dalai Lama seems to feel that the teachings of religion must change with the facts as uncovered by science.
“My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation. If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
Buddhism and Mormonism: Are these the progressive religions of the future that change the paradigms of accepted belief? Or will we continue to be stuck in the Middle Ages with that troublesome god and his judgmental temper that keeps getting us all in trouble?
August 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Killing each other
More news of the end of the world comes with confirmation that this terrible drought is actually related to global warming, despite continual denialism on the part of politically-motivated right-wingers.
Personal discomfort is what it takes to convince many Americans of provable facts, so the high temperatures have apparently tipped the scales for climate change belief among citizens — only about 50 percent two years ago, but after breaking never-ending sweat, up to 70 percent of Americans now. As with same sex marriage, the majority of people approve, but Republicans are still intent on telling us what is best for us.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north have a astonishingly decisive 98 percent acceptance level of climate change. That may be partially because the northern borders of their country are some of the regions being most effected. Conservatives in Florida won’t take notice until their over-priced property in the Keys are flooded over.
Belief in the truth should be about more than being hot, though. Climate change is going to bring all sorts of other horribleness to our existence — for instance, it’s recently been shown that parasites, like tapeworms, will become more virulent, making us sicker easier and longer. Add that fact to the end of the world pile, I guess.
But for end of the world dismissal scenarios, climate change denial is easily challenged by diabetes denial — not that it exists, but that anything can be done about it. This article in Salon documents the disease’s devastating effect in Appalachia and the mindset that can accompany it. Hopelessness is the biggest emotion exhibited, the idea that diabetes is something that is beyond the control of the sufferer.
I personally think that diabetes denial can be a marker for clinical depression and the Salon article doesn’t dissuade me (nor, believe me, does personal experience). You don’t have to be a poor coal mining family to display the attitudes about diabetes that many of these people do — a sense of hopelessness and inevitability in regard to the disease, sluggishness and defeatism when faced with the fight and often a disassociation from any personal responsibility.
Diabetes is a pretty ugly disease, as anyone who’s witnessed it firsthand can tell you. Failing kidneys, sores, amputations and, of course, a quick death, it’s all possible with diabetes. You ever seen someone who needed dialysis desperately but hasn’t had it yet? Ever seen how a person with a kidney transplant has to live?
Doing nothing to fight such a disease borders on Munchausen’s Syndrome.
Diabetes effects the economy as much as anything else — witness reports this year that 10 percent of the British health system spending goes to diabetes and 80 percent of that is on amputations and other preventable maintenance.
And diabetes spending is expected to grow to insane proportions in that country. No wonder our government is so afraid of a national health system — they see what’s going on in England, look at the statistic in our own country and know pretty quickly where the money for that will be directed.
We in Massachusetts are supposed to take heart in recent statistics that show our state has the third lowest obesity rate in the country, but at 22.7 percent, that’s still not great, and it’s believed that number isn’t correct, that the percentage is higher.
Add to that the national rate — only one-third of Americans are considered to be at a healthy weight — and the fact that Americans now are far less likely to count themselves as overweight than they were two decades ago. Why is that? Because the median has shifted enough to the heavy side that there’s a new normal.
It’s become a race to see how it all falls apart — will our surroundings kill us, or will our bodies? Will we be like the dinosaurs or the Neanderthals? Will whatever creature that dominates the earth in a million years unearth evidence that its previous residents — us — died off corpulent and dehydrated?
July 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
No God so far, but we have found his particle
We’ve yet to find Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, the Ark of the Covenant and many other things the Bible assures us are real, but last week the human race found two items that the scripture is entirely silent on — the Higgs Boson particle and dark matter.
The Higgs Boson is more complicated than one little newspaper column can contain — I’ll let this excellent animated piece explain that for me.
As for dark matter, you can read the announcement here.
The specifics of these events are fascinating in and of themselves, but I’m going to take the broader view that what has transpired, and what is yet to come in regard to the two, is a wonderful primer in how science works.
Science makes predictions based on evidence and probability. These predictions are made after plenty of consideration, debate and mathematical formulas that neither you nor I could ever master.
It is complicated. Do I have faith that it is reliable? No. I leave centuries of research and study and fact-finding on the part of the human race, as well as scholarship and systems designed to pass on the skill of creating more science, to those who are motivated enough to do so.
If I care to look at the evidence, it’s all there for me to see. If I want, I, too, have the opportunity to learn how to parse through the material and not have scientists explain it to me.
I don’t know how to fix a car either, but it’s not faith that makes me think my auto mechanic can — it’s the knowledge that there are ways for people learn that skill, and evidence to prove that they have or not in the form of your car being fixed.
Bible stories are very nice and, like Aesop’s Fables or the Grimm Brothers, they often leave room for interpretation that is valuable to creative thinking, but they are not facts. They are stories that are part of the rich human heritage, and that is a nice thing on its own.
There is already debate whether the Higgs Boson particle is exactly what CERN scientists claim. And that’s how science works. If after the more research and conversation, it is decided that the proper particle was not observed, then scientists will look at the data and decide whether they think the matter is worth pursuing further. It probably is.
Regardless, the basic truth revealed here is that science changes with the data and you don’t need to have faith in that.
Forget all that hard data, though — there is also a lovely sideshow to the Higgs Boson story, though, and it’s one more nail in the coffin of the clichés about scientists that we cling to. This article about Les Horribles Cernettes reveals a girl-group parody band made up of women who worked at CERN — the site of the Higgs Boson discovery — existed in 1992. And they performed at a party at least once. And the photo of them is also believed to hold the distinction of being the first ever uploaded on the Internet.
Surely the band will reunite given recent developments.
Check it out
News of transforming an ugly box Walmart into a beautiful library made me think of our own future empty Walmart problem in North Adams. Such transformations aren’t a new idea here, they are just rarely enacted.
Many will remember when the former K-Mart plaza — now known as the former Staples plaza — was completely abandoned, though some locals, myself included, supported an idea floating around of turning it into an art center of some sort — perhaps a commercial one, or studios, or something. The point was that there are more uses for these places than the obvious ones.
I remember there was a brief, 11th hour suggestion to do something similar to that, but the box store mentality obviously prevailed, and that victory is currently standing proud for all of us to see. Did I mention there used to be a Staples there?
This isn’t to single out artsoriented solutions necessarily, but to say there are other ways than the obvious to solve the problem of empty hulks.
And by the sight of that new Dollar General store being built in Adams — I mean, they’re actually constructing one instead of taking over another space — this is an idea our neighbors to the south might want to bookmark for the future.