I acknowledge that you can't ALL support the awful things your chosen candidate said during the campaign. You might even believe that he just said those things to get elected. Okay. NOW YOU HAVE A SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THOSE THINGS.

Speak out against racism, fascism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and all the other sick, disgusting things your cohort are spewing and doing right now. Speak out against your candidate's choices for advisors when they embody the worst in human nature. Let the rest of the nation know that Not All Trump Supporters are the awful creatures we're hearing the loudest. And because most Americans are so confused and scared right now, you need to do it not in a "Rah-rah we won!" or "Stop whining, we're Not All Bad" kind of way. Be sensitive to other people's real fears and let us know that a Trump presidency is not a parallel to what happened in 1930s German, only in a nation that's the world superpower with nukes and drones over every nation and pervasive surveillance.

Right now, most Americans fear an impending dystopian nightmare. Let us know that you won't allow your chosen representatives make that a reality.

So, please, speak out against hatred and bigotry. You put this guy in the position to change this country. Don't let him and his people destroy it or the rest of the world.

You're the only ones that the incoming administration might listen to.
I went to see the movie a few days ago, and loved it. Like many people, I, too, harbored qualms about supporting a project that might profit a hate-mongering, sexist homophobe, but I loved the story (and book), and the previews looked good. So I went, and was really pleased I did. Though I admit to having used a free pass to the theater that I'd been saving, on ethical grounds, I'd not feel bad if I had paid actual cash money.

Ender's Game (book or movie) is not Orson Scott Card; in many ways, it feels strange thinking that such a foul person could have written such a beautiful and painful story (which was brilliantly acted by young people in the movie). But he wrote it some two decades ago, when he was (presumably) not such an ass-hat as he comes across lately.

Do you have a problem with the movie? Consider Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crud." I know a lot of people who would say the same thing about other human beings, that 90% of them aren't people you'd want to befriend. But if you deny yourself enjoying the 10% of stuff that's worthy of your attention because 90% of that was written by someone you find despicable (what's that leave, 1% or something?), you're in for a desolate life.

For more fantastic discussion about this, check out Tessa Gratton's powerfully personal post about this here. Also Bart Calendar's commentary on the issue of artist vs. art here.
Senator Michael Bennet (on today's Morning Edition NPR show), about the House Shutdown of the government: "People should be upset. The government is closed. It's an outrage. It's ridiculous. It's an embarrassment. There's a reason we have a [5%] approval rate.

"I used to spend a lot of time wondering why anyone would want to work in a place with a [5%] approval rate... if your ideology is about dismantling the federal government, having a [5%] approval rate suits you just find, because you get to go home and say, 'See how horrible these people are?'

"The more degraded they can make the government seem, the more it suits their ideological purposes."

Hear, freakin' hear. It's all so clear to me now.

He also points out that "The divide between Democrats and Republicans is less than the divide that exists in the Republican Party."
That's it, I'm done with our government. It's one thing to make power-grabs, gradually erode our freedoms, and serve only their richy-rich masters, but to eliminate NASA's public outreach and educational programs? The budget they're proposing for Fiscal Year 2013 forces NASA to walk away from planned missions to Mars and Europa's oceans, delay for decades any missions to the outer planets, and radically slow the pace of scientific discovery, including the search for life on other worlds. For example, Mars exploration would totally be put on hold, taking a 38.5% cut.

THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS.


Click the image to see the io9 article.

Bill Nye and other Planetary Society folks posted a great piece on this, too. Did you know that NASA's total budget is far less than 1% of the federal budget? Chopping NASA's budget for exploration like this only saves 0.01% of the federal budget. That's one ten-thousandth, a hundredth of a penny for each tax dollar.

THROW THE BASTARDS OUT. Is the representative from your district someone who screwed around during the budget debates or actively worked against creating a reasonable budget? Was your rep one of the bastards who let the "sequester" happen? Then write them! Tell them what you think of chopping off the good parts of our nation in order to feed the greed of those who support their elections.

Heck, let's just fire them all, do a 100% recall election, then make them beg for the jobs from us (the voters) for once - and prevent them from getting re-election financing from anyone more than, say, $20/person. That'll change things. Because when basic research dollars get yanked (not just at NASA but all over the place, in every university), and public education programs get canceled, we might as well throw in the towel as a nation.

NO MORE.

Chris
Because some 200 million US Citizens do. That's 2/3 of us all in this country.

The Department of Homeland Security Theater has defined a 100-mile "border" around the nation. Within that "border" they can - and do - search and seize Americans (and everyone else) WITHOUT REASONABLE CAUSE. If you resist, YOU TOO can be seized. Click the map below to find out.


Click the image to see if you live in a 4th-Amendment-free zone.

Here's the original WIRED story that broke the news... which I'll bet you haven't heard about.

How is this not huge news all across the nation? Why aren't people protesting in the streets? Between 2008 and 2010, 6,500 people have had their electronic devices searched along the US border, according to DHS data. What happens to those who refuse? Have you heard what happens to those who refuse DHS? NOT GOOD THINGS. In fact, refusing DHS orders by definition makes you a terrorist suspect, which then give them cause to detain you indefinitely until they are assured you pose no threat.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Here's the petition you need to sign to stop this Constitutionally illegal DHS behavior. Go there now. If you're a US citizen, it's your duty.

I was about to type, "I can't believe this has been going on in our country," but I can, actually. Why? here's a litany of what's become of the USA since the Neocons transformed this nation from one that represents the people to one that represents the 1% of the filthy-rich who possess 99% of the wealth:

Wiretaps, search and seizure, indefinite detention, citizen surveillance, thought police, assassinations, invasions of sovereign nations, on and on... this is no longer a nation of law, but a place that's being transformed into a tyrannical empire ruled by royalty who don't attain their power over us all (and their special segregation from rule of law) through birth but through financial privilege... which their power ever-increases, which in turn provides them more power, and so on, an eternal spiral sucking freedom and wealth from the rest of us and funneling it into their vaults. The ultra-rich are a power-singularity, around which orbit the politicians they own, and into which all we have will ultimately spiral, erasing the US Middle Class as surely as a black hole erases all traces of matter that passes within its event horizon.



All of this is an outrage. An outrage against us as citizens, against the Constitution which defines this nation, against this nation as a whole, and because of our position in the world and how we project power, an outrage against everyone on Earth. Why aren't we all outraged?

This cannot go on forever - at least not without destroying every remaining aspect of America-as-the-dream-that-was. Will Americans once again just lie back and allow this new assault on our rights and freedoms? Will we let the dream fade forever into history?

Or will we sign that petition, organize protests and marches, offer sane political candidates, and put our nation back on course toward freedom? Will this finally give the Occupy movement (or something like it) a core around which to rally?

I can hope.

Chris
Turns out that it's now illegal in the US to have disgusting fantasies... even when you explicitly state that the online chat you're having about said fantasy is just that: Only a fantasy.

From the Slate.com article:

In the government's version of the facts, Valle had been working up "practical and strategic" plans to kidnap, rape, torture, kill, and eat several women, including his own wife. One of his Google searches shows he was looking for audio clips of knives being sharpened, utensils clanking, or whatever else might serve to whet his violent appetite.

The prosecuting attorney - a representative of the US government, of us all - said in closing statements, "That's not a fantasy that's OK."

Clearly, this guy's fantasies are creepy as hell. But is having creepy fantasies something we should make illegal? Should we put people in jail for having bad thoughts? If so, where do we draw the line for what we consider okay? And who gets to decide that? Do you want someone with his own repressed fantasies deciding yours aren't okay because he feels guilty about his dark desires? Or someone who's so pure as to think oral sex isn't okay? Do you think you've never had a fantasy that someone, somewhere in power would find disgusting?


The Thought Police are here. Time to start practicing your mind-block jingle.

Chris
Extending yesterday's post about the national conversation about guns. Thanks to everyone for contributing (even the "f**k you" response shed some light on the discussion).

My related Facebook post generated some interesting discussion, as well, that combined with this discussion got me thinking.

  • It's vital that we shift our national focus from ridiculous, horrible, treasure-wasting, murderous, human-suffering-inducing military adventures like our wars on [insert item here: drugs, terror, etc.] and instead invest this wasted creative energy, power, money, resources, and so forth into things that make our nation and humankind better and stronger in the long term.

  • We need to invest in vastly improving our public schools, mental-health institutions, scientific research... you name it: all the things that make us grow healthier and stronger instead of weaker and sicker.

  • To do this, we need to get money and religion out of politics. When our political representatives must spend the majority of their creative, emotional, and intellectual energy on gathering support from big donors and financial interests as well as anti-intellectual powers, we the people are not represented or served. These are all forces of entropy.

  • We need to debunk the corporate fiction of logarithmically increasing profits. It's unsustainable and leads to financial collapse, as we've witnessed recently. It imbues people with starry-eyed notions that they, too, can become wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, which leads to all manner of sickness and moral decay.

  • We need to teach our children that money is an abstract tool, not a goal in life. At the same time, we need to teach them how to be a productive, contributing member of the world while earning a living, and that becoming wealthy for the sake of wealth is a goal unworthy of a good citizen.

  • We need to teach people - especially our children - that working to understand empathy for others is the answer to most of our problems.

  • Something we can all do: Love things deeply and share your love for those things, one classroom at a time, one room of gamers at a time, one dinner-party at a time, one person at a time. If someone wants to share their love with you, give them a chance. Open your mind. Don't exclude people, don't dismiss their love.


What would happen if, instead of wasting money and resources and mental energy and lives on war and destruction as a nation, we invested it?

What would happen if we made building a better future the goal instead of inducing and propagating fear? Would people feel the need to own guns if they didn't fear others? What would our culture look like if our greatest aspirations revolved around building a better world instead of protecting against threats and becoming rich?

Would people grow up emotionally healthier if they weren't bombarded with the messages of a culture of war and fear and rape and violence and profiteering?

Is it possible that being tacit supporters of such horrors as our nation commits in our name is a root cause of our national dysfunction?

If this is supposed to be a "Christian nation," as defined by so many of those who propagate these horrors, why do we value and act out the inverse? I believe we really could make this country a respectable place and become a beacon of hope for humankind if we actually followed the teachings of Jesus. But we don't, and organized religion always falls prey to the rot that destroys other human institutions, so the religionists need to either shut up about our "Christian nation" or else start acting in a way the historical Jesus taught. But they need to leave out the notion of gods and instead work on building an actual heaven on Earth.

Indeed, making this a truly secular nation would go a long way toward saving us. Heck, eliminating the notion of "nation" would help, too, as would eradicating all the other sub-tribal, exclusionary concepts with which we've enchained ourselves and dragged along through time like sledges since our earliest ages. Religions ruin civilizations, which I find to be a bitter irony, in that they were formed to organize and help people. Religious leaders destroy religions. Politicians ruin governments. Governments destroy nations. And so on.

Establishing anything leads to entropy, a crumbling and ruination and dying of everything that people build with their energy and enthusiasm. Whenever an institution settles, wherever bureaucracy forms, entropy sets in. So we must continually rebuild, reinvest, explore, discover. We must let go of what we cling to out of fear and comfort. We must always keep growing and learning, else we begin dying. This is the lesson all of history teaches us, as does physics, as does medicine....

Wanna save the world? Wanna make it a better place? I wanna hear your ideas.

Chris
Conservatives in the US - especially of the evangelical-Christian variety - have been wailing about our nation's plight in this week since the election proved Romney is no kind of savior. An author whose blog I watch (largely out of "I want to understand the other side" motivation) recently linked to this post by a religious teacher trying to understand what it means that Obama was re-elected. I found reading the post and other people's responses immensely enlightening. I've always wondered why otherwise-seeming reasonable people go off the rails about President Obama. He is not a socialist (far from it), fascist (less so than other recent Presidents, anyway), Kenyan (really?), or Muslim (did they forget his controversy-stirring Christian pastor?). He is not the antichrist (one assumes). So I've wondered why they were so freaked out about him. I've also wondered why I've wondered why they're so filled with bile and venom about gays, secular government, even the new healthcare law - I mean, it does the kinds of things Jesus taught, like helping the poor. Heck, if it had lived up to what many wanted it to be - nonprofit healthcare for all Americans (what the US Right feared, and what the US Left wanted, and which no one got) - we would be living in a much more Christian nation.

Well, now I think I understand the fundamentalist, evangelical Right a lot more:

1) Fundamental religionists (particularly from the evangelical branches of Islam and Christianity) hope to establish religious states not only where they live but to spread their fundamentalism across the world.

2) Those who do not believe as they do are wrong in the eyes of their respective gods, lost, and therefore unworthy of respect. Those gods, I might add, are the same "one true God," only with different prophets reforming His message in slightly but significantly different ways.

3) When fundamentalists pray but do not get what they want, they do not see the opposite result as God's will. Instead, they twist the results to prove that this is God teaching them a lesson... say, to work harder on the thing that someone with clear vision would see as something God did not want. If God really did want, say, Romney as President of the US, and you believe in an omnipotent god, don't you think it would have happened? By simple deduction, Obama's winning re-election despite people praying otherwise proves that God wanted Obama to win. (This sort of reasoning is nonsense, of course, in either direction.)

4) The recent US healthcare law is the work of anti-religion because it includes women's health and family planning as part of "healthcare."

5) I knew this one: Favorite passages from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are more important than the teachings of Jesus.

This brings me to two conclusions:

A) "Fundamentalist" is another word for "illogical" and "self-contradictory."

B) Most importantly: So-called "fundamentalist" religionists don't follow the fundamentals of their religion at all. They pick-and-choose their favorite messages of hate and exclusion from pre-prophet writings while ignoring their chosen prophet's messages. They use their religion and the strength of numbers it provides in order to get what they want, rather than following the teachings of their prophets.

Fundamentalist religion is just another display of human selfishness. The illogic and ignorance they display is a symptom of their selfishness. They feel they know their god better than God's chosen prophet, who came to Earth to teach us the truer message. I don't claim to be an Islamic scholar, but I was raised Christian in an evangelical, fundamentalist branch of Lutheranism, so I'll talk in terms of Jesus' message.

If Christian fundamentalists were truly "Christian," they would follow the reformations that Jesus taught:

They would love one another as themselves, not fear everyone who is different. They would feel sorrow, sympathy, and compassion for others, not hate the "other."

They would turn the other cheek when attacked and love their enemies, not identify everyone who isn't just like themselves as "enemy" and then seek to destroy them.

They would sell everything you have and give to the poor, not strive to accumulate wealth by sucking dry the middle class, placing corporate profits above human welfare, and exploiting the lower class.

Finally, they would follow Jesus' "greatest commandment," which was, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," followed closely by, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This precludes hating others, because that is hating God's work. It precludes hate at all, because if "God is love," then hating is turning one's back on God's love - giving in to Satan, to use Christian metaphor.

So this loony little post taught me a lot about American fundamentalist Christians: They are not Christians at all. Fundamentally, they are no different from the Taliban: Selfish hate-mongers who think they understand their gods better than their chosen prophets. If, in all practical ways, they oppose Jesus (or Mohammed), how can they claim to follow the reformed religion with which they associate?

If empathy is the highest goal a human can strive to achieve (in these and many other religions), what happened to make their fundamentalist adherents so blind to their prophets' teachings and spiritually sick?

I can only conclude that ethical humanism is closer to the fundamentalist teachings of these reformist prophets than the modern evangelical religions, and that - in their recent US election defeats, however they perceive them - the lesson their gods are trying to teach them is: You are wrong. Pay attention.

Full disclosure:
I abandoned organized Christianity decades ago. This dissociation started when my church tried to teach me that all unbaptized babies to go Hell. This did not sync with the teachings of Jesus, and when I tried to argue this point, I was told I could not be "confirmed" (accept Communion) without saying the words. This taught me fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is more concerned with human interpretation and the spread of their church than with understanding God's message from Jesus. My disillusion grew whenever I visited my stepfather's Catholic mass, which was less overtly hateful yet more smugly certain that everyone who went against the Pope's message was wrong. My search for spiritual fulfillment led me to study many other forms of religion, including the Christian mystics, Buddhism, Shinto, and countless less-favored forms. At the root of all these, I felt, we can identify God's or the gods' true message.

The mental readjustment for me arrived one day when I was camping in the Montana Badlands. This was the last day I lived in that state. I was the only human being for hundreds of miles around. A lone deer attended me as I hiked through dinosaur-bone-studded buttes. Layers of gray, brown, and black stone and dirt described in measurable form more than 100 million years of time piling upon the Earth. Occasionally the little deer came upon a flowering cactus - the only real color in that dusty place - and munched it, then resumed following me on my quest. At some point, in the quiet of my own thoughts punctuated only by breezes brushing loose mudstone pebbles, I realized that I was walking through a cathedral more holy than the greatest structure built by human hands.

As the sky darkened from cyan to cobalt to black, the endless universe around our little pebble of Earth began to appear in little pinpricks of light, extending the cathedral 12 billion light-years. Through telescopes I've glimpsed the miracle of star-birth amid vast clouds of gas and dust; I've seen stars gold and blue and yellow; I've watched distant galaxies pinwheel around their central supermassive black holes. By sweeping my telescope at random across the sky, I've explored the mysteries of the Milky Way, stumbled upon star-clusters ten thousand times the size of our Solar System, watched planets and their moons spin and orbit around the Sun, the hydrogen-powered ball of plasma and fusion from which all life on Earth depends.

Astronomy shows us the magic of the large-scale universe. It is silence and an infinity of stars overhead, an eyepiece to reveal the secrets hidden among them, Earth's rotation slowly sweeping new stars into view. For me, that's the best way to feel at one with the universe.

Biology and paleontology show us the magic of life, how living beings come to be, how they reshape over time and survive changing conditions, how they eat and mate and bear young and, yes, even love.

Geology and paleontology show us time, manifest. Each layer is an epoch, a million or ten million years of dust and death, compressed into stone. Buttes filled with relics of ancient days: Dinosaur bones literally poured out of those hillsides; you can feel the passage of time locked in rock.

Every science does this. They all seek to reveal the fundamental magic of the universe. Scientists openly share their results with others, and the practitioners who do it right praise the discoveries of others - even when new discoveries disprove part of what they believed until the moment when it was disproven. They then seek to fit this new discovery into their own world-view, or discard their prior belief if it cannot fit. And thus does science progress.

So that night in the Badlands, fatigued from hiking all day through rocks in my cowboy boots, I had to sit atop a dry-grass butte, for I could not stand beneath this beauty and glory that was the universal cathedral. The wondrous thing about the cathedral of science is that you do not avert your eyes from its mysteries; you stare into them to better understand! This is the moment I realized that religion is not the answer.

We will never find God at the core of any human-invented religion. The messages of religion are what's important, when they are appropriately examined, tested, and adapted to fit changing circumstances. By being secular humanists who strive to make the world a better place, who strive to feel empathy for all other creatures, who seek deeper understanding, we become closer to God than any fundamentalist evangelical follower of a human-manufactured organization could hope to approach.

We can only reach a fundamental understanding of our personal spirituality - become "at one with God," if you will - by seeking our individual connection with others and the universe around us. If there is any god, it resides in the energy of the stars, in the life-force of all living things, in sapient species' striving to understand the universe. All of this is God, as close as a secular universe allows. The stars and planets and galaxies form its body, nuclear fusion and other forces power its life, living beings comprise its spirit, and our self-awareness encompasses its mind. Our search for truth and understanding - the scientific process - is the universe coming to understand itself. So science, and sharing what we learn, and being open with one another, and active empathy - these are far better methods to be good followers of God than you could hope for by being part of any fundamentalist religion.

Chris
Conservatives in the US - especially of the evangelical-Christian variety - have been wailing about our nation's plight in this week since the election proved Romney is no kind of savior. An author whose blog I watch (largely out of "I want to understand the other side" motivation) recently linked to this post by a religious teacher trying to understand what it means that Obama was re-elected. I found reading the post and other people's responses immensely enlightening. I've always wondered why otherwise-seeming reasonable people go off the rails about President Obama. He is not a socialist (far from it), fascist (less so than other recent Presidents, anyway), Kenyan (really?), or Muslim (did they forget his controversy-stirring Christian pastor?). He is not the antichrist (one assumes). So I've wondered why they were so freaked out about him. I've also wondered why I've wondered why they're so filled with bile and venom about gays, secular government, even the new healthcare law - I mean, it does the kinds of things Jesus taught, like helping the poor. Heck, if it had lived up to what many wanted it to be - nonprofit healthcare for all Americans (what the US Right feared, and what the US Left wanted, and which no one got) - we would be living in a much more Christian nation.

Well, now I think I understand the fundamentalist, evangelical Right a lot more:

1) Fundamental religionists (particularly from the evangelical branches of Islam and Christianity) hope to establish religious states not only where they live but to spread their fundamentalism across the world.

2) Those who do not believe as they do are wrong in the eyes of their respective gods, lost, and therefore unworthy of respect. Those gods, I might add, are the same "one true God," only with different prophets reforming His message in slightly but significantly different ways.

3) When fundamentalists pray but do not get what they want, they do not see the opposite result as God's will. Instead, they twist the results to prove that this is God teaching them a lesson... say, to work harder on the thing that someone with clear vision would see as something God did not want. If God really did want, say, Romney as President of the US, and you believe in an omnipotent god, don't you think it would have happened? By simple deduction, Obama's winning re-election despite people praying otherwise proves that God wanted Obama to win. (This sort of reasoning is nonsense, of course, in either direction.)

4) The recent US healthcare law is the work of anti-religion because it includes women's health and family planning as part of "healthcare."

5) I knew this one: Favorite passages from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are more important than the teachings of Jesus.

This brings me to two conclusions:

A) "Fundamentalist" is another word for "illogical" and "self-contradictory."

B) Most importantly: So-called "fundamentalist" religionists don't follow the fundamentals of their religion at all. They pick-and-choose their favorite messages of hate and exclusion from pre-prophet writings while ignoring their chosen prophet's messages. They use their religion and the strength of numbers it provides in order to get what they want, rather than following the teachings of their prophets.

Fundamentalist religion is just another display of human selfishness. The illogic and ignorance they display is a symptom of their selfishness. They feel they know their god better than God's chosen prophet, who came to Earth to teach us the truer message. I don't claim to be an Islamic scholar, but I was raised Christian in an evangelical, fundamentalist branch of Lutheranism, so I'll talk in terms of Jesus' message.

If Christian fundamentalists were truly "Christian," they would follow the reformations that Jesus taught:

They would love one another as themselves, not fear everyone who is different. They would feel sorrow, sympathy, and compassion for others, not hate the "other."

They would turn the other cheek when attacked and love their enemies, not identify everyone who isn't just like themselves as "enemy" and then seek to destroy them.

They would sell everything you have and give to the poor, not strive to accumulate wealth by sucking dry the middle class, placing corporate profits above human welfare, and exploiting the lower class.

Finally, they would follow Jesus' "greatest commandment," which was, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," followed closely by, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This precludes hating others, because that is hating God's work. It precludes hate at all, because if "God is love," then hating is turning one's back on God's love - giving in to Satan, to use Christian metaphor.

So this loony little post taught me a lot about American fundamentalist Christians: They are not Christians at all. Fundamentally, they are no different from the Taliban: Selfish hate-mongers who think they understand their gods better than their chosen prophets. If, in all practical ways, they oppose Jesus (or Mohammed), how can they claim to follow the reformed religion with which they associate?

If empathy is the highest goal a human can strive to achieve (in these and many other religions), what happened to make their fundamentalist adherents so blind to their prophets' teachings and spiritually sick?

I can only conclude that ethical humanism is closer to the fundamentalist teachings of these reformist prophets than the modern evangelical religions, and that - in their recent US election defeats, however they perceive them - the lesson their gods are trying to teach them is: You are wrong. Pay attention.

Full disclosure:
I abandoned organized Christianity decades ago. This dissociation started when my church tried to teach me that all unbaptized babies to go Hell. This did not sync with the teachings of Jesus, and when I tried to argue this point, I was told I could not be "confirmed" (accept Communion) without saying the words. This taught me fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is more concerned with human interpretation and the spread of their church than with understanding God's message from Jesus. My disillusion grew whenever I visited my stepfather's Catholic mass, which was less overtly hateful yet more smugly certain that everyone who went against the Pope's message was wrong. My search for spiritual fulfillment led me to study many other forms of religion, including the Christian mystics, Buddhism, Shinto, and countless less-favored forms. At the root of all these, I felt, we can identify God's or the gods' true message.

The mental readjustment for me arrived one day when I was camping in the Montana Badlands. This was the last day I lived in that state. I was the only human being for hundreds of miles around. A lone deer attended me as I hiked through dinosaur-bone-studded buttes. Layers of gray, brown, and black stone and dirt described in measurable form more than 100 million years of time piling upon the Earth. Occasionally the little deer came upon a flowering cactus - the only real color in that dusty place - and munched it, then resumed following me on my quest. At some point, in the quiet of my own thoughts punctuated only by breezes brushing loose mudstone pebbles, I realized that I was walking through a cathedral more holy than the greatest structure built by human hands.

As the sky darkened from cyan to cobalt to black, the endless universe around our little pebble of Earth began to appear in little pinpricks of light, extending the cathedral 12 billion light-years. Through telescopes I've glimpsed the miracle of star-birth amid vast clouds of gas and dust; I've seen stars gold and blue and yellow; I've watched distant galaxies pinwheel around their central supermassive black holes. By sweeping my telescope at random across the sky, I've explored the mysteries of the Milky Way, stumbled upon star-clusters ten thousand times the size of our Solar System, watched planets and their moons spin and orbit around the Sun, the hydrogen-powered ball of plasma and fusion from which all life on Earth depends.

Astronomy shows us the magic of the large-scale universe. It is silence and an infinity of stars overhead, an eyepiece to reveal the secrets hidden among them, Earth's rotation slowly sweeping new stars into view. For me, that's the best way to feel at one with the universe.

Biology and paleontology show us the magic of life, how living beings come to be, how they reshape over time and survive changing conditions, how they eat and mate and bear young and, yes, even love.

Geology and paleontology show us time, manifest. Each layer is an epoch, a million or ten million years of dust and death, compressed into stone. Buttes filled with relics of ancient days: Dinosaur bones literally poured out of those hillsides; you can feel the passage of time locked in rock.

Every science does this. They all seek to reveal the fundamental magic of the universe. Scientists openly share their results with others, and the practitioners who do it right praise the discoveries of others - even when new discoveries disprove part of what they believed until the moment when it was disproven. They then seek to fit this new discovery into their own world-view, or discard their prior belief if it cannot fit. And thus does science progress.

So that night in the Badlands, fatigued from hiking all day through rocks in my cowboy boots, I had to sit atop a dry-grass butte, for I could not stand beneath this beauty and glory that was the universal cathedral. The wondrous thing about the cathedral of science is that you do not avert your eyes from its mysteries; you stare into them to better understand! This is the moment I realized that religion is not the answer.

We will never find God at the core of any human-invented religion. The messages of religion are what's important, when they are appropriately examined, tested, and adapted to fit changing circumstances. By being secular humanists who strive to make the world a better place, who strive to feel empathy for all other creatures, who seek deeper understanding, we become closer to God than any fundamentalist evangelical follower of a human-manufactured organization could hope to approach.

We can only reach a fundamental understanding of our personal spirituality - become "at one with God," if you will - by seeking our individual connection with others and the universe around us. If there is any god, it resides in the energy of the stars, in the life-force of all living things, in sapient species' striving to understand the universe. All of this is God, as close as a secular universe allows. The stars and planets and galaxies form its body, nuclear fusion and other forces power its life, living beings comprise its spirit, and our self-awareness encompasses its mind. Our search for truth and understanding - the scientific process - is the universe coming to understand itself. So science, and sharing what we learn, and being open with one another, and active empathy - these are far better methods to be good followers of God than you could hope for by being part of any fundamentalist religion.

Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)
( Nov. 7th, 2012 01:21 am)
My faith in Ameicans is (slightly) restored. Also, now my stress level has dropped sufficiently that I can sleep. I felt a knot in my stomach (which I didn't know was there until after Obama's speech was done) let go. *whew*

G'night, all, and here's hoping for a better tomorrow.

Chris
First, a bit of Doomsday Astro-Porn: On February 15 (just a few months from now), Asteroid 2012 DA14 will whoosh between the Earth and our geostationary communication satellites. You read that right. Not between the Earth and the Moon, but below high Earth orbit. Current estimates have is blasting past at just 22,500km above the surface of the Earth - the closest call in regards to asteroids of this size since 1908 (if you believe the Tunguska impactor was an asteroid, not a comet) or the Barringer impactor (which made Arizona's Meteor Crater) 50,000 years ago. That one blasted a hole 1,200 meters in diameter and 170 meters deep, exploding with the force of a nuclear bomb. This puppy is a little bigger than that one, about the size of a city block: approximately 45 meters in diameter and massing about 130,000 tons. Here's what it looks like, lurking in the dark:


Click the image to see the Cosmos Magazine article.

Next: It's Election Day tomorrow in the US! If you haven't already voted early (like me!), get out there. On a totally unrelated note, Frederik Pohl writes about how the failure of our social support network appears to be leading the elderly into a life of crime. I wonder how many incarcerated seniors end up in prison by choice, considering the 63% rise in their prison population and all. Now, if Fred were writing this (as fiction), we could see some very interesting outcomes....

Speaking of doomsday and politics, Doonesbury nails it on the head:


Click the image to see the Slate Doonesbury page.

And third: Check out this article about how some kids in totally undeveloped Africa not only learned how to use tablet computers - and hack them! - but figured out all this on their own, in another language. As I started reading this, I thought, "Whoah, that sounds like Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age." And then the article's author says the same thing. Very informative about human nature and about ways kids learn.

Oh, and despite Halloween socializing, I got another 1000 words written on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella! (Okay, technically that's five things.)

Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)
( Oct. 29th, 2012 01:23 pm)
Y'know, checking my posting frequency really reveals how much time grading and teaching-related work consumes a teacher's life from mid-terms through the end of the semester. Sorry! Dropping in for a quick update before, yes, getting back to grading.

But first, I'm going to VOTE EARLY at the Burge Union at the University of Kansas! You can probably vote early where you live, too. But whether you do or you wait for the Big Day, VOTE.

Over the last week, I've:

* Tinkered with the Chevelle. Wanted to do a lot more, but... life.

*Finally bought myself a proper solar telescope, which I've been coveting since the Venus transit observing event in the spring. I got a super deal for it barely used on eBay; it's a double-stacked Coronado SolarMax 40mm Hydrogen-alpha with the SM40 and T-Max tuner. Here it is:



As soon as it arrives (just got it from eBay - half price!), you KNOW I'll drop it onto my antique German equatorial mount with slow-motion handles to track the Sun across the sky, take some photos, and post 'em here.

* Reorganized the sheds to make room to move the (wrecked, soon-to-be Land Speed Record) Aprilia RS50 and put the BMW R100S away for winter. This means the covered front-porch parking spot is available for my winter transportation: My Vespa S150! (With windshield, of course.)

* Wrote another 2500 words on the novel, which means I finally broke the 20k barrier! I'll be using the NaNoWriMo excuse to work lots more on it this coming month.

The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:


In case you haven't seen it yet, John Scalzi wrote a smart (and disturbing) response to some politicians about rape and politics. Check it out, but be warned it's just plain creepy. Some of the responses are disturbing in other ways. But it's an important thing to read right now as we head into politics season, as The Handmaid's Tale becomes less SFnal and more mimetic.

Speaking of politics,
xkcd does it again with a fascinating infographic on changing political demographics in the US.

To those who live out East, please be safe as the big storm blasts your way.

Best,
Chris
There's been lots of talk in the media about banning guns and so forth since the Colorado shooting. That's nonsense, even assuming we could collect every gun (and they likely outnumber American citizens) in this country, because the bad guys are certain to not turn in their weapons. But really, this is only a symptom.

Something is fundamentally wrong in the USA: Switzerland is 2nd in the world (next to us) in gun ownership, yet they have one of the lowest murder rates in the world, about 1/6 of ours. It's clearly not the guns that are the problem, but rather something about how our nation treats mental illness, deals with violence, engages in debate, and so much more.

We have - by a wide margin - the highest citizen-incarceration rate in the world. In the 1980s, we purge our mentally ill onto the streets. Ours is a fractured and sick nation.

Our culture is painfully divided between 1) fanatical religious types who feel it is God's will to do things like bomb healthcare providers, and 2) progressives who cannot even understand why the "followers of Jesus" - a man who preached love and understanding - can spout such hatred that even politicians running for high office feel they must say things they don't believe in order to get the vote of the radical right-wing. This only proves to the religous right that "teh leebrals" are wrong-headed. The two sides are incapable of talking to one another.

Meanwhile, we're imprisoning people left and right for such minor offenses as smoking pot three times. People with mental illness are not identified and treated. Poor folks live in desperate hopelessness where selling drugs is the only bright spot. And everyone else is so terrified of losing an income and health care that they remain wage-slaves to jobs they despise.

Solving those problems is HARD. The US doesn't seem to be a nation that has patience for long-term fixes; politically, our will is shorter than two years.

What can be done for our country? How can we cure our ills? We're doing it wrong, people.

Chris
Have you been following the Doonesbury comics over the past week? Holy Relevant Politics, Batman!

Here's the progression so far:









Have you read The Handmaid's Tale? In it, Atwood paints a dark portrait of how the US might look if the Christian Right gains the reins of government. When I first read the book - when it cam out, about the time I started college - I thought this an unlikely future. I mean, we wouldn't let this kind of insanity happen, right? Half our population is women - surely they would defend their rights!

I was wrong. This is the direction our country is headed. Women of America, do you like the vision portrayed in this novel? If that's too SFnal for you, let me put it this way: Do you like the world in which women live in theocracies and religion-dominated nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan under the Taliban (or even now), and so forth? Because that's where we're headed.

Don't believe it could happen here? Then you're not paying attention. You're like the young me, privileged with having grown up white male in a United States freshly reformed after the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.

This is not only our future; it's happening now. Do something about it.

I'm adding The Handmaid's Tale to my SF Novels reading list.

Chris

Hacked DC School Board Voting Elects Bender President

Time to go back to voting on paper ballots. "Hanging chads" are nothing compared to living under a Bender dictatorship! Seriously, though, this casts a bit of doubt on our election security, doesn't it? And what of all the new state laws for preventing electoral fraud? I suspect we'll see more actions like this one, designed to prove there is no such thing as computer security.

Chris
Tags:
"What's the Occupy movement all about? They have no agenda except to beat drums and bitch and stink up our parks with dirty hippies."

You hear this a lot, especially from those who think that the banking system or Corporate Persons will save us; in other words, from peopel who forgot that those very institutions are the reason we're in the mess we're in today.

What the Occupy movement means to me:

1) Rein in the banks.
2) Restore power to the human beings of our country.
3) Re-establish representational equity.
And a bunch of other stuff, too, but those are the top three as I understand 'em, and what matter most to me.

Watch this great vid that clarifies the Occupy movement the best I've seen so far. Afterward, you can respond to those who question what we're all about without any hedging. Great stuff:

I wrote an essay decrying the rise of dangerous corporate power back in 2002, and I think it's even more relevant today.

Don't fear The Terminator, folks; non-human entities are already our masters. The Occupy movement seeks to dethrone them and restore humans to power. Think Londo Mollari's Drakh Keeper in Babylon 5: We all serve our masters even as they drain us of life and destroy our freedom.

No more. Occupy! Change the system!

Chris
1) Asimov's Science Fiction magazine editor Sheila Williams writes a lovely editorial about KU and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, including happy memories of riding on the back of my scooter ;-)

2) Excellent article examining the Occupy and T-Party movements - how they're really just two halves of the same thing:


Click the image to read the piece.

3) I had hoped to show a pic of my fully repaired electric bicycle:

Unfortunately, I can't get the hub all apart to strip the torn wires. Backstory: Last year, I got a flat on the rear, where the motor resides in the hub. The lazy SOBs who assembled the bike in the first place had installed a nut on the axle in such a way that stripped the bolt, so when I removed said bolt, it rotated the axle in such a way that tore the wires loose *sigh* Last week, I got the wheel back from a local machine shop - axle's all fixed - and hoped to solder the wires this week. Not so much. Can't get the nut off the other side in order to get inside and work on the wires. Hmph. Later.


4) Pumpkin carving at my house over the weekend!




5) The KU Science Fiction Film Club also watched (John Carpenter's) The Thing after carving pumpkins. We'd intended to see the new prequel afterward in the classic movie-marathon tradition, but the motivation just wasn't there. I think everyone was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the original. I still plan to see it, but maybe on Blu-Ray....

Chris
What is happening to this country?

I've been wondering this for most of my adult life, but it's come up a lot during the past decade, and the past few days of following the Wall Street protest news coverage - more to the point, the lack of news coverage - have made this question blow up once more.

I know that not all police officers are warped by their daily exposure to criminals. I know that not all police officers take every opportunity to abuse the citizens they're sworn to protect and serve. I know that not all police officers view non-cops as potential perpetrators, that they're not all puppets to those in power, that they wouldn't all idly stand by or actively join in as crimes were committed by their fellow emotionally perverted officers, but once again we get evidence that this particular line of work attracts the worst elements in the human species:



In this essay from a few years ago, I write about the day that my respect and appreciation of the police force dissipated in a cloud of violence. I lived through the Seattle Police Riots of 1999 - sorry; the Newspeak way to say it is, "World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity." I watched peaceful protests against the WTO turn into a riot of violence against the citizens of my neighborhood. I watched neighbors - whose only crimes were trying to eat dinner in a restaurant, or leave the tear-gas-reeking streets, or looking too gay - get gassed and shot and beaten and terrorized for days. I got to experience what it's like to stumble through a two-block-long city park enshrouded in a cloud of CS gas (commonly known as "tear gas"), my asthma-afflicted partner barely able to breathe, among thousands of other peaceful protesters all suffering the burning skin and constricted lungs and disoriented brains and chaotic emotions that go with it. For two city blocks. In a park. Where the people had come out not to protest the WTO but to protest the violent police occupation of our neighborhood.

I could go on and on about this, but that was the turning-point for me. My eyes were opened to a fundamental truth:

Those in power tend to stay in power. And they'll do whatever it takes to ensure that.

This is also why I don't trust any high-level politician, and why I'm suspect of even local politicians. And when they turn the armed civil forces - our police - against us, it's worse than a crime, largely because it's not a crime for them to do so. Do your benefactors not like the protests against their corporation or industry? Arrest them at random, beat them in front of other protesters, gas them and mace them and kneel on their heads against the pavement. The others will get the idea.

Except that doesn't work in the long run. The harder they push us, the harder we push back. Just look at what's going on in the Middle East, especially Syria right now. The Syrian people are dying by the hundreds, perhaps the thousands, at the hands of their police forces. But they're not going home cowed by the Fascist oppression; they're just finding more ways to get the word out, and they're feeling empowered by the world's response against their oppressors.

When will we do the same here in the USA? When will we say, "Enough!" as our government and our police forces continue to abuse their power? When will we stop fighting among ourselves - with the full support and incitement of the mainstream media - and jackhammer out the current foundations of power? Which, by the way, aren't the police forces or the Congresspeople or whatever - those are just the instruments of those really in power: The corporate leaders and the ultra-rich, the 1% who control the rest of us by manipulating the political landscape and evaporating what the USA stands for in order to grow their own power.

The United States of America was formed on a revolutionary idea: That we, the people, should be free to protest what we perceive as wrongs without fear for our life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

What the hell happened to that?

Chris
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