Archive for December 2nd, 2009

Obama, Afghanistan, and deja vu all over again

| December 2, 2009 | 21 Replies
Obama, Afghanistan, and deja vu all over again

First, some background:

  • May 1, 2003 President George W. Bush, while standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, declares “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”
  • October 27, 2007 Presidential candidate Barack H. Obama, speaking on the Iraq War, declares “I will promise you this: that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home, we will bring an end to this war, you can take that to the bank.”
  • November 4, 2008 Candidate Obama is elected to the presidency.
  • January 20, 2009 Obama’s inauguration.
  • January 21, 2009 First full-day of Obama’s presidency passes with no sign that he intends to bring the troops home.
  • February 18, 2009 President Obama orders 17,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan.
  • February 27, 2009 President Obama declares “Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Ok, so it’s not the “first thing he will do”, but he will definitely do it. Someday. For sure, all the troops from Iraq will be out by 2011. It’s hard to tell though, the 2012 elections will be right around the corner by that point…
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Left, Right, Center, Lunacy Is Still Lunacy

| December 2, 2009 | 7 Replies
Left, Right, Center, Lunacy Is Still Lunacy

Several years ago at a science fiction convention I saw a charlatan in the dealers room fleecing people with bogus “kirlian aura” photographs. The person in question had constructed an elaborate chair with complex armrests with hand-shaped inserts and cables. The victim sat in the chair, placed the hands on the plates, and a photograph was taken (a polaroid) that showed a bust portrait int he midst of swirling colors. I got a glimpse of the set up—there were mirrors on either side of the lens reflecting brightly-colored streamers that flanked the magic chair. Somehow, this created a lens flare of multi-hued cloudiness.

I am a photographer by training. I know a little something about Kirlian “aura” photographs, enough to know that (a) you can’t take them in full light and (b) Polaroid never made a film sensitive enough in the format this person was using to record the faint electrical tracings. You also couldn’t run enough electricity safely through a whole human body to create even a thin outline much less the solar flare explosion these prints displayed. They looked nothing like a Kirlian photograph.

But people were buying them, fifteen bucks a shot, and I expect the photographer in question made nice change that weekend. When an acquaintance of mine was showing hers off later I made a couple of remarks about the fraudulent aspects of it and all I got for my trouble was frostiness and dismissal as a hopeless skeptic. I confess I took that as my cue to say nothing further. I did not unmask the fraud, which would have been brave and ethical, but might well have gotten me pilloried as a spoil sport.

This past year I sat on a panel about alternate religions and mythology at another convention. I was the only self-professed atheist on the panel. When I made my introductions and stated my position, a co-panelist asked me “So you’re not a Christian? What are you then?”

I was a bit dumbfounded. Did she not know what the word Atheist meant? I expounded. “I’m a humanist and rational materialist. I think all religions are essentially the same. Some are more benign than others but all of them are based on assumptions I can’t accept. So I’m not only not a Christian, I am not a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or any variety of Pagan or New Age mystic. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all bunk.”

I was not pilloried. We had a good discussion. I chopped up every religious assertion regardless its source and we all had a rousing good time fencing with each other and I was even congratulated later for having the guts to state my position clearly and forcefully.

But afterward, the same co-panelist who asked my what I was if not a Christian came up to me and pressed me further. Do I believe in reincarnation?

“No. There’s no proof for it. It seems to me to be the same sort of wishful thinking all the rest of them embrace and I have no use for it.”

I think she was offended at that point.

Thinking about it now, I’m beginning to realize why we have such difficulty in public forums discussing religion, especially religion in our political life.

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