Author Archive: Dan Klarmann

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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Festivities, Faith, but not Stupidity

| February 24, 2012 | Reply

At the end of a social event on the weekend before Mardi Gras, a casual friend asked a surprising question. I was bedecked with beads, primarily in purple and gold. This Catholic friend comes up and says something like, “Why are you all dressed up for the Christian holiday? Don’t you believe that anyone who believes in God is stupid?”

Dumbfounded. It took me a moment to parse this and compose a reply. As we were all heading out the door, I didn’t have time to fully answer all the implied misconceptions. So I said something on the order of, “I don’t think that; I know many smart people who are faithful.”

Let me first detail a minor misconception. Sociologically, rituals are important. Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday) was adopted by Christians from the earlier Carnival, and Saturnalia before that. It is a long standing late winter festival ending the season of harvest plenty in the days when food preservation was limited, and entering the lean period of rationing until the spring produce appeared (greens, lambs, milk, etc). And festivities are fun, whatever the nominal purpose. The Holy Roman church had so successfully rebranded all the pagan festivals that most Christians are unaware of the deeper not-Jesus purpose behind them, even as they embrace all the pre-Christian trappings.

But the big issue is the perception that I, an an atheist, think that Christians (the majority faith at present time and place) are stupid. Many converted Atheists do vehemently decry their former faith and deride its practitioners, as do Dawkins and Hitchens. My parents converted from religious to irreligious, and so I was raised without a particular god and with their lower expectations of people of faith. But that didn’t stick.

I grew up as a closeted atheist. On Sunday mornings I was dragged to a secular Sunday School where I had to wear jacket and tie from the age of 5. It didn’t fool my church going peers. I opted for the less hated liberal-Jew label that try to explain that all invisible friends seemed equally improbable to me. I endured various epithets in public schools hurled at non-Christians by the God fearing. But as I grew older and my peers become more reasonable, I started talking to them about such things.

I was actually less surprised to find people of deep faith at my fairly-high-standards college than I was to find sports fans. One of my closest college friends was a Young Earth, Born Again sort. I admit that I would sometimes light his fuse in a room full of geology or astronomy types, just to see to what heights his rationalizations could wax. (Anyone else visualizing Ceiling wax?)

I have also been reading arguments from both sides of the God conjecture since puberty. The problem is not whether one side is smarter, but which is the set of assumptions on which their sense of reality rests. Either cause and effect are real and the universe is knowable through a continuing and contentious process of observation, documentation, and modeling (science), or else the continually meddling god of Christianity is possible, as was declared by ancient authority. The majority of the American founders were Deists who believed that if there was a creator God, he did not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of men. I can accept that God, but still don’t believe in it. Cosmologists and astronomers are pushing his creative acts farther and farther to the margins.

So although I acknowledge the high correlation between less-learned people and deep faith, I do not assume that having faith implies that people are stupid.

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Superbowl Time

| February 5, 2012 | 3 Replies
Superbowl Time

Today is that time again when about 1.5% of the world will be watching a particular ball game in America, The Superbowl. Although Superbowl madness has been addressed on this forum, I’d like to put forward a couple of observations.

The Superbowl is the culmination of the 20th century adaptation of sports to mass media. The packaging, production, and marketing of this one game is a major profit center based on what is essentially a sedentary activity. There are 22 players on the field, and 100,000,000 people watching, most in comfy chairs via television.The game play is nominally an hour long, but the coverage lasts many hours. This includes pre-game and post-game coverage, plus the three hours needed to watch the sixty-minute game.

Worse than just sedentary, a predictable large fraction of the audience will be eating badly and drinking immoderately during the event. The advertising in all the media up to and during the event panders to and fosters this market segment. The message is clear: If you are not eating fried things and washing them down with booze, you are a weenie. If you are not buying these things for the family, you are not a good provider.

So let’s take a look at the activity itself. You have nearly two dozen buff young men in shiny tights periodically thrusting their bodies together to accomplish the explicit task of firmly holding a tapered cylinder with the goal of placing it repeatedly into the opponents end zone.
The result of this “scoring” is brief solo dancing and many a manly fanny patted.

What do I do on Superbowl Sunday evening? I go to a contradance. I spend the evening with a couple of dozen women in my arms, moving in rhythm and breathing hard. And the jocks in school called me gay.

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3 Idiots: “Aal Izz Well”

| January 26, 2012 | Reply

This may not be the perfect forum for a review, but the film “3 Idiots” is about education versus training, science versus engineering, fear versus hubris (and the happy medium), life and death, love and despair, laughter and tears. And it has colorful Bollywood dance numbers, too!

I rented it on a whim, as it was billed as a movie about too-smart engineering students versus the educational system. I was puzzled when it began with English subtitles during the (Indian accented) English dialog. I remembered a 1990’s PBS/BBC series on the English language, when some of the impenetrable-to-me accents of the U.K. had no subtitles, but the perfectly intelligible-to-me Cajun and Ebonic dialects did. But as the blend of Hindi and English became apparent, I saw the need.

I loved this movie. Once one gets into the esthetic swing of Bollywood productions, it makes perfect sense when serious issues become silly dance numbers, and all characters are played as borderline caricatures. One can observe the essential cultural differences between our familiar American dilute-Christian one-life-to-live and anyone-can-become-president attitude and the Indian institutionalized attitude that reincarnation is the only way to improve your lot except through extraordinary means.

Why I think this is appropriate to this forum is the take on education. The protagonist has a scientific mindset that is often at odds with engineering philosophy and even more with institutionalized education. The system of teaching to the test is questioned, as is the principle of square pegs hammered into round holes. Vocation versus avocation is central to this, and expounded toward the end.

The 3 Idiots – Official Trailer has embedding disabled, but preview is fun even without subtitles. You get the idea of how English and Hindi have merged in their culture.

I defy you to watch it and not have the songs “All izz well” and/or “Zoobi Doobi” stuck in your heads.

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More Postal Problems

| January 7, 2012 | 2 Replies

I am currently fuming at FedEx because UPS couldn’t deliver a package because they couldn’t locate my post office because USPS had to consolidate because congress put a burden on the post office that any other corporation could have sued to get out from under had they tried to inflict it on them. I explain why FedEx in Who is Killing the Post Office?

Current frustrating details: I ordered a new scanner from TigerDirect a few days ago. Today I wondered why it hadn’t been delivered. They usually have things at my door within a couple of days. So I tracked it online, and found the UPS reported that the recipient had moved and left no forwarding address.

Me, moved? I haven’t moved in 21 years, and regularly get deliveries from this company.

So I called TigerDee. They only knew what I knew from the online tracking.

I called UPS. Several tries at hacking my way through their labyrinthine voice mail system and I finally reached a person who could inform me that UPS now uses USPS for local residential deliveries. But as of this month, my local zip code office apparently no longer handles our zip code. And UPS couldn’t figure out where to send the package. So they returned it! Because UPS couldn’t locate the post office!

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Rand Paul Appears to Back Sharia Law

| December 21, 2011 | Reply
Rand Paul Appears to Back Sharia Law

I have recently been seeing a series of campaign ads for Rand Paul on certain liberal blogs. These are Google ads that target keywords, and thus regularly appear on pages that argue against those things supported by the ads.

But the Tea Party slant of this ad series offends me. The 1976 Hyde amendment already and still prohibits tax funding of abortions, except in cases of rape and incest. That is, if you can go to court and get a judge to rule your pregnancy as such, you can then get federal funding for your abortion. This does not happen very often, as the abortion is cheaper than a court appearance.

But the goal of this campaign seems to say that, as in the Old Testament and thus Sharia law, a poor rape victim must bear and raise the child of her rapist (and marry him, if he so chooses). This only applies to impoverished women; not the sort of folks that congresspeople know. After all, their servants have jobs.

Rand Paul and the Tea Party: Old Fashioned Morality for those who can’t afford better.

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Who is Killing the Post Office?

| December 13, 2011 | 4 Replies
Who is Killing the Post Office?

I’ve been wondering this for years, as the USPS has been struggling to subsidize the Congressionally mandated 75 years in advance retirement plan during the worst downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. In order to continue, they have to shut down stations, limit deliveries, and eliminate next-day mail. Or be in violation of a Federal Unfunded Mandate.

Note that the Post Office receives $0.00 in taxpayer money, yet Congress gets to tell it how much it is allowed to charge, how much it has to pre-pay on all its benefit programs, and even how many free perks it has to give to members of Congress. In my lifetime, the price of a First Class stamp has gone from the price of a cup of coffee (5¢) to less than a third of that. We pay less for postage now than ever before in history, in terms of coffee, movie tickets, ounces of gold, or any hard measure.

Yet Congress in its wisdom has been steadily adding burdens and removing permissions in the last decade. And I have been wondering, why? Sure, the answer is clearly pandering to the lobbyists. But whose? Who really wants to kill the only company that delivers to every house in the country? Last night, I think I got my answer.

I was watching the news, flipping through the networks, and every outlet covered this story: Record online holiday sales trigger record shipping day.So which stations covered which shipping company? Who covered this story for the USPS? For DHL? For UPS? No one.

But FedEx was given minutes of free advertising (as an in-depth story) on every network. Thus my wacky conspiracy theory of the day is: FedEx is behind the lobbyists who are behind the legislation that is gutting the post office.

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What Most Sets of Commandments Get Wrong

| December 11, 2011 | Reply
What Most Sets of Commandments Get Wrong

I recently read Penn Jillette’s 10 Commandments for atheists, written as a response to a challenge by Glenn Beck. Most of Penn’s rules made good sense. But one went off the rails, I opine.

He included one found in most mistranslations of the Christian Ten: “Don’t Lie.” Penn explicitly adds the caveat: “(You know, unless you’re doing magic tricks and it’s part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)”

But the premise is basically flawed. The original line in Exodus 20:16 (KJV) is Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. This is a very specific form of lie. Even too specific. Not only is it an injunction against perjury, but only against perjury against your landholding neighbor, as opposed to people from other places, or to property such as women and slaves.

Of course we all must lie on occasion. How else can we answer, “Isn’t she the most beautiful baby ever?” or “Honey, do I look puffy?” Would it be false testimony to confirm a harmless bias one on one?

Yet I suggest that the proper commandment should be, “Don’t bear false witness.” Period. Don’t testify to things of which you are not absolutely sure; that you have not personally experienced. Not in a public forum. Don’t repeat “what everybody knows” unless you preface it with an appropriate waffle, such as “I heard that someone else heard that…”

But this might make it difficult to testify to the all-embracing love of a demonstrably genocidal God. A Google image search of “Testify” gives mostly Christian imagery.

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Walmart Censors the Bible

| November 26, 2011 | 5 Replies
Walmart Censors the Bible

Granted that the one they chose to censor isn’t a typical, dull, dry Bible that you actually have to read to get to the good parts. This one is gaily illustrated with photographs of Lego™ dioramas for every juicy story. Years of work went into developing the Brick Testament as an online presence.

Then a paper publisher got interested, and more work went into producing several volumes (Available on Amazon).

But Walmart refused to distribute the books as is, full of literal illustrations of the stories in the Holy book, including the sexual parts. So the publisher persuaded the author to pull the most explicit scenes. And they produced a new volume specifically for Walmart and its clientele.

But after an initial small order, Walmart felt that even this censored version of the Bible was still too graphic, and refused to carry the volume. The other Bibles they sell, all of which include even the stories and scenes excised from the Brick Testament, are still for sale.

Want more details? Here’s a CNet report.
Here’s a “Patriot Update” report (I find that a Tea Party source can be an interesting perspective).

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How Atheism Happens

| November 14, 2011 | Reply

There is a new series on the Pharyngula blog: Posts confessing “Why I Am An Atheist” gleaned from comments and responses. Some are well written, others not so much. But each is selected for showing a particular path into the light for people who have recovered from invisible friend addiction.

The most recent post, Why I am an atheist – Adam, shows how an upbringing under the Ken Ham school of Young Earth Creation and science denialism eventually led him to an understanding of the willful ignorance and dishonesty that pervades that culture. Once he began to question the “facts” that he was raised with, he quickly climbed up toward rationalism and lost his religion.

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