Archive for December, 2012

Criticizing the religious inaction of unbelievers

December 31, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

Here we go again. Those of us who don’t acknowledge invisible sentient beings–OK, I’ll say it–imaginary beings, are being accused of having causal responsibility for the Sandy Hook massacre. Mike Huckabee is one of the loudest advocates of this insanity The Friendly Atheist is not accepting any such responsibility (nor am I).

A lot of [Huckabee’s] critics — many Christians included — cringed at those statements because they suggested that church/state separation and not forcing God down everybody’s throats were to blame for the crime. There’s obviously no evidence suggesting that.

Even if one acknowledges that non-believers (except for those of us who have advocated wacky NRA policies) aren’t any more responsible for Sandy Hook than any other American, we non-believers do look a bit awkward following tragedies. Believers put great energy into their public prayer services. They comfort the mourning families by dogmatically announcing that the dead are now alive in “heaven.” Many of us non-believers would like to say things like this to comfort others, but we generally choose to honest instead. That means that religious folks get lots of credit for helping the families of the dead, and we non-believers are seen as inactive bystanders. Or according to this article in the NYT, that’s how it looks.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?

To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.

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World’s best healthcare?

December 31, 2012 | By | Reply More

In his article at Common Dreams, Oregon doctor Samuel Metz destroys the notion that the United States has the world’s best health care system.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, “We do start with the notion, however, that we have the best health care in the world.” If McConnell had diabetes, he might pause. American diabetics suffer twice as many foot amputations as diabetics in Europe because they cannot afford care to prevent foot infections from turning deadly.

House Speaker John Boehner says we have “the best health care delivery system in the world.” But there are 35 other countries in which a pregnant woman and her baby have a better chance of surviving the pregnancy. The United States leads the industrialized world in deaths preventable with timely care. There are 15 other nations providing every citizen with lifesaving treatments denied to many unfortunate Americans.

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Infographic on piracy

December 28, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

Lots of facts and figures on video and audio piracy here.

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Charlie Chaplin speaks

December 28, 2012 | By | Reply More

I hadn’t before seen Charlie Chaplin’s movie, The Great Dictator, but it ends with a rousing speech. First, a bit of background from Wikipedia:

Chaplin spent two years developing the script, and began filming in September 1939. He had submitted to using spoken dialogue, partly out of acceptance that he had no other choice but also because he recognised it as a better method for delivering a political message. Making a comedy about Hitler was seen as highly controversial, but Chaplin’s financial independence allowed him to take the risk. “I was determined to go ahead,” he later wrote, “for Hitler must be laughed at.”Chaplin replaced the Tramp (while wearing similar attire) with “A Jewish Barber”, a reference to the Nazi party’s belief that the star was a Jew. In a dual performance he also plays the dictator “Adenoid Hynkle”, a parody of Hitler which Maland sees as revealing the “megalomania, narcissism, compulsion to dominate, and disregard for human life” of the German dictator.

Watching this speech reminds me about how history so often repeats itself.

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What is a Higgs boson?

December 27, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

This short video produced by The Guardian explains in a simple way.

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Picasso at work

December 27, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

You might want to turn down the overdramatic music, but this is a video of Picasso at work, painting on glass.

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Quote that captures my love of sleep

December 27, 2012 | By | Reply More

Ever since Arianna Huffington convinced me to undertake the “sleep challenge,” I have been trying to get more sleep, and I’ve been enjoying it more, as well as enjoying my better-rested awake time more. Yesterday, I stumbled across this quote:

“Sleeping is my drug, my bed is my dealer and my alarm clock is the police.”

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Not living with much

December 27, 2012 | By | Reply More

I enjoyed looking at this series of photos of Swedish students showing their modest amounts of possessions. I know that I’m no longer a student, and I do have children who have their own collections of things, but I do aspire to have a more portable existence. If I were to move to a small space, the most obvious problem is that I have thousands of paper books, many of them with my hand-written notes inside. If only there were an efficient way to scan all of those pages, to shrink all of them to the size of an external hard drive.

Another problem is that I have a workshop full of tools. Last night, I reached into some spare parts and fixed the furnace, so I’m weary of giving away even the boxes of odds and ends, much less the tools that I use to repair things at the house. And what would I do with my musical instruments? I have several guitars, as well as a PA and (once again) boxes of music.

Then again, I sometimes imagine the house being destroyed by fire–we all escape with nothing at all, but I do have backup hard drives off-site with all of my writings, photos, movies, financial paperwork.   It would be a disaster, of course, but in this thought experiment it would also be an opportunity to rebuild my collection of possession leaner and meaner.

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Video features the history of Wikileaks

December 27, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

There are still far to many people who assume that Wikileaks should be outlawed and banned. They assume that the rights Wikileaks asserts in doing its work are different than the rights asserted by the New York Times and other major media outlets when they are doing their best work. Most Americans don’t realize the incredible good that Wikileaks has done by exposing corruption and violence perpetrated by Americans in Guantanamo. They don’t realize that Wikileaks exposed a toxic waste dump in the Ivory Coast that caused tens of thousands of injuries (after The Guardian was gagged from reporting this horrific event by a secret court order). This video documents the admirable work done by Wikileaks in Iceland (see 16 min mark), exposing the corruption and incompetence of the Icelandic banks. It covers Wikileaks’ revelation of the corruption of Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi (min 8). Wikileaks exposed (min 25) the events related to the “collateral murder” video after the American military refused to come clean. This is an especially haunting episode. And consider (min 37) that Wikileaks exposed the widespread civilian deaths and the widespread torture, all of this facilitated or directly caused by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of this covered up by the United States.

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