Category Archives: TV

Thank You! to TWD for Ending my Cable Addiction

April 4th, 2016 – RottenTomatoes posed the question what did you think of The Walking Dead season six finale?

I am thoroughly ambivalent about The Last Day on Earth. The episode didn’t fit with the tenor of the rest of the season. It smacked of torture porn and marked the end of an unknown character, probably more than one character.  I’m waiting to see what happens next, for the first time in six seasons of loyal viewing, to decide if I’m still going to watch. More torture porn will make it not watching.

One of the other commenters observed to me I’m thinking that the season 5 finale marked a good point to end the series on a high note.
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I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Alien sequels ended with Aliens. That’s right, there are only two Alien movies in my headcanon. Hicks & Ripley settled down and adopted Newt after arriving safely back on Earth. End of story. Having already written my own endings for popular fiction in the past, albeit in my own head, writing my own end to The Walking Dead (TWD) will not be a problem. They all died. End of story. The season 5 finale was more positive, but also less definitive. I really was wondering what would happen next after watching that finale, a feeling I’m completely lacking this time around.


Someone resurrected this zombie thread (pun intended) with a spam comment today and while I was reading back through the comments I noticed that the one after mine took the time to break down how the camera perspective meant Glenn was the guy being beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Beaten to death, with a baseball bat. Let that sink in for a few, because it is a wakeup call. One of the most popular shows on television ends its sixth season with one of the most loved characters on TV of the time possibly being beaten to death with a barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat. We’ve come a long way from The Andy Griffith Show, just to mention another totally random show featuring a character that has a sheriff as its lead. Even if you compare TWD to Gunsmoke, the changes in America’s viewing culture is quite shocking.

It also bears noting that there is a certain amount of fatalism inherent in shows like TWD. All of the characters will die unremarked by anyone around them, because it is a story about the zombie apocalypse. No one will be left to record their last words, because there will be no one to recount the story. This is above and beyond the fatalism of TWD comic book fans who already know how your favorite characters die in their comic books. A literalism that they attempt to write onto the screen with every passing episode.

I can safely say, with not a hint of spoilers, the death wasn’t Glenn’s as the other commenter described. Not that Glenn didn’t die anyway. As I said, no spoilers. I binge-watched season seven on Netflix this past month, prepping to binge watch the final season this fall. Seventh season’s viewing numbers were so low that AMC decided to end the show on a high note and wrap it up with a second season of Negan vs. Rick.

I should thank TWD for making me finally cut the cable. Within a month of watching the season seven opener, the Wife and I decided we didn’t need to spend money on cable television that we weren’t going to be watching anyway. With BBC America moved to the even more expensive tier of cable subscription than the one we had, there was nothing on the TV we were overpaying for that we wanted to watch. Aside from which, it was less jarring to watch TWD on Netflix as a binge event, and not paying for cable TV has saved me a couple of thousand dollars by now.

On the subject of the eighth and final season of TWD, I’m having a real hard time believing Negan isn’t dead yet, much less figuring out why anyone would follow the son of a bitch anywhere. My experience over the last two years of TWD has shown me that you can’t take comic books and make videos out of the stories and characters directly (as if the DC movies are not proof of this already) it is better to let people who understand the medium of television write for that medium themselves.


TWD on G+

The promo for the mid-season opener popped up on my feed yesterday asking,

2 weeks left. Is the Kingdom ready for one last stand? #TWD

Of course, the pro and con trolls then proceeded to make hay over their various opinions on the subject of TWD in general and not the final half of the final season in particular, including one particular troll who threatened bodily harm to the naysayers. I haven’t watched the first half yet, not being willing to spend actual cash on seeing it before the season is finished. But opinions? I have a few.

I started with Threatening  us with injury is a punishable crime; as is everything Negan does in the show. I don’t accept that the character of Negan is realistically drawn or portrayed. I don’t accept that people will simply do as they’re told because they are afraid. There are too many examples of the contrary being true throughout history. The Governor was far more believable as a character, which means TWD has done the evil leader thing already in the show, and done it better previously.

Religious zealots who adopt labels like savior, groups that submerge the self, like Fight Club and Tyler Durden, they have a certain way of speaking and thinking, at least on the screen. This is important if you want your audience to come along with you for the ride. The first Negan’s, the first saviors our heroes meet in TWD? They displayed this behavior in a vague sense. It was a nice teaser, as far as teasers go.

Unfortunately it was a tease that was completely lost when we meet the Negan himself. He is no Tyler Durden. He doesn’t suffer to show his followers his dedication to the cause. The Negan is just another dictator. Kill him and the cult of personality dissolves because the power, the person, is lost. The problem of repercussions is negated if the saviors fall apart without him. The more complex, religiously motivated cult-like group is probably what the comic portrays (I don’t know or really care) but the writers for the television show wrote something else.  Negan grooms his people to blindly follow him. Without him they are nothing. This is just basic character motivation here. It isn’t hard to follow.

No, Negan would have been dead the first time he handed Rick the bat. Be honest. There wasn’t enough saviors there to do anything except die. The show has been torture porn since the end of season seven. I have only continued watching out of vague curiosity as to how the writers will complete the story. I ceased caring about the characters somewhere about minute 45 of Last Day on Earth. I ceased caring out of  a sense of self-preservation. It was clear through the course of that episode that the writers were purposefully tormenting the viewers with the death of their beloved characters. I don’t have time for that kind of mental illness.

If you are enjoying torture porn, you might want to ask yourself why? It’s a question everyone watching should ask themselves, and at least be truthful with yourself about the answer. What the answer implies is between you and your conscience alone. After all, no one will remember why you died in the zombie apocalypse. They won’t even remember that you lived.

Online comments reposted to the blog, with an addendum. “It is always now on the internet”


Atheism is not a Belief System

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” – Bertrand Russell, Is There a God?

Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine now. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.

I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.

Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off  because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.

I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry.

After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?

It’s funny in hindsight, this naive belief that two people could agree about anything on the internet. What happened over the years, from June 2, 2010 to the day the boards went down late in 2016 can only be described as a cluster fuck. There really isn’t any other words that will cover the mess that resulted from the creation of that thread.

Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave to the thread. Every one of the new names I gave to the thread following that one were blatant attempts to murder it. I changed the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread several times, over the course of years and it was largely ineffective, although I did get it to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.

As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from forum after forum. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.

That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please do not asphyxiate yourselves waiting to see if it will work.

Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand.  Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. It was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.

Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is what Winston Churchill called how he saw the afterlife. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an actual ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.

But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.

But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to that question is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means x I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.

What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.

Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.

Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well but it’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.

Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.

https://amazingjokes.com

This is not true of atheism. Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere. Here ends the discussion of belief systems.

Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists. – Atheism entry on Wikipedia

That is a workable definition of atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.

Atheism is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. They simply dispute the findings of science. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover.

Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist.

people who describe atheism as philosophy, ideology, or something analogous are trying to depict atheism as being much more complicated than it is. – ThoughtCoIs Atheism An Ism?

When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.

Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it. You might like it.

When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.


BBC, A Brief History of Disbelief presented by Jonathan Ross. 

The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was “reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about” is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. To do that we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.

What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.

This country, my country, the United States, was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.

The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.

There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.

This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader, may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.


It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.

Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. I’m going to take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few counter-arguments in advance. Saves time this way.

I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever; other than the sects of the majorities own religion that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.

The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention.

Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false. 

Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge; and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something does not exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, much more a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall more duly under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing. In this case, a god.

Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?

As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.

It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.

The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.

While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs… – Wikipedia entry on Evidentialism

An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.

“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.” Edward Tufte

I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.

Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me? Luckily, science has an answer for that,

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.

There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know. I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.

As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.

The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.

Edit history: General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section 03/24/2018

The First White President?

“By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.”

From The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates

An essay from his collection of essays due out shortly We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy I wish I could disagree with the content of the article more than I do. But I can’t. He’s voiced a lot of what I think privately in this article. It’s just too painful to read it and agree with it. The naked truth out in public like that. Shocking.

He was recently on All In with Chris Hayes, one of the few shows I find myself missing since I cut the cable. The first segment is titled You might be a white supremacist. The second one titled In 100 years, people will say we lost our minds carries his assessment of what history will think of the Trump presidency. In my opinion, history will only remember us as crazy if we are lucky enough to survive this flirtation with authoritarianism and white nationalism. Here he is being interviewed on WAMU’s The 1A.


Is Ta-Nehisi Coates being too harsh on White People? I sure wish I believed he was. But I suspect that from the eyes of a black man, he still hasn’t said enough. That, in itself, is a frightening thought to contemplate. To some extent the author is being over-broad in his condemnation of white action as racism. The broader social policy, the wrong-headed economic notion of the zero-sum game, is to blame for the belief that there must be social winners and losers, people who give and people who take. The economic structure crafted to make the zero-sum game a part of human life is where racism manifests; but in the end it is racism that is the cause for blacks and the brown-skinned to be seen as lessor, the natural losers in a zero-sum game.

This is so wrong-headed as to baffle the senses, adhering to the zero-sum game in modern society. When a farmer produces food for the marketplace and sells it, is he the winner or the loser? Are the people who buy the food winners because they get to eat, or losers because they paid for the food? Is he the winner because he keeps his farm and gets to keep working by accepting a money transaction, or is he the loser because he didn’t keep the food for himself? Life is not a zero-sum game beyond the observation that it starts with nothing and ends with nothing, but all that bit in the middle, the part where life is? That is the only part that matters from a personal perspective.

Does a black man care that he is poor because his ancestry led him to this place and time, through mechanisms that he doesn’t approve of and cannot control? No more than a poor white man does, I’m sure. Which is actually the heart of the problem of dealing with structural racism resultant from belief in the zero-sum game. White Nationalism masquerading as the alt-right will attempt to keep blacks in their place for fear of losing what is theirs, and in equal proportion poor blacks will push to escape the place forced on them by institutions that should never have been created in the first place.

I wrote the historical entries on poverty for this blog specifically to bring to the forefront the very issue in contention here. Systemic acceptance of grinding poverty as a necessary evil, a side-effect of the free market. Not just white poverty or black poverty, but poverty of and for itself. Poverty doesn’t have to exist anywhere on this planet. We humans are wealthy enough and understand enough now to be able to make every person on the planet capable of meeting their own needs. All we lack is the will to see this change take place.

The triumph of Trump’s campaign of bigotry presented the problematic spectacle of an American president succeeding at best in spite of his racism and possibly because of it. Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry. The implications—that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics; that the country is susceptible to such bigotry; that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos; that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures—were just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure, yet again, of class unity in the face of racism. Incorporating all of this into an analysis of America and the path forward proved too much to ask. Instead, the response has largely been an argument aimed at emotion—the summoning of the white working class, emblem of America’s hardscrabble roots, inheritor of its pioneer spirit, as a shield against the horrific and empirical evidence of trenchant bigotry. 

Packer dismisses the Democratic Party as a coalition of “rising professionals and diversity.” The dismissal is derived from, of all people, Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and White House economist, who last year labeled the Democratic Party “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The inference is that the party has forgotten how to speak on hard economic issues and prefers discussing presumably softer cultural issues such as “diversity.” It’s worth unpacking what, precisely, falls under this rubric of “diversity”—resistance to the monstrous incarceration of legions of black men, resistance to the destruction of health providers for poor women, resistance to the effort to deport parents, resistance to a policing whose sole legitimacy is rooted in brute force, resistance to a theory of education that preaches “no excuses” to black and brown children, even as excuses are proffered for mendacious corporate executives “too big to jail.” That this suite of concerns, taken together, can be dismissed by both an elite economist like Summers and a brilliant journalist like Packer as “diversity” simply reveals the safe space they enjoy. Because of their identity. 

From The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The basket of deplorables that voted for Trump, friends and family among them, should take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the face of modern American racism. I rejected Trump from the beginning. I recognized his race-baiting tactics immediately. He never tried to hide what he was doing, and I remain mystified why anyone, ANYONE voted for him. Why anyone didn’t know what they were voting for, a white nationalist, a racist, someone who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He couldn’t have made it more obvious if he stitched it onto bright red caps that he and everyone around him wore.

Oh, wait, he did stitch it onto hats! Make America Great Again by definition means a return to an America that was more racist than it was in the Obama years. It means more racism because America has never been less racist than it was during the last eight years, and it is only going to get worse as Trump’s administration continues to ramp up the racist rhetoric,. This is something he did just last week by announcing the repeal of DACA. The entirety of the history of Hispanics in this country has been a thinly veiled tale of racial exploitation. This really shouldn’t be news to anybody, but even I didn’t understand the full history of the expletive wetback until listening to a segment on the Texas Standard last week.

I’ve said this many times on this blog and elsewhere. When you are working in construction or out on the farm, anywhere there is labor that needs doing, you see brown faces out in the sun. The white faces are almost always hidden inside. They’re leading construction from the comfort of an air conditioned trailer, sitting in comfort inside of an idling truck. There are exceptions to this rule, but the presence of those few white faces simply amplifies the disparity.

My father did me a great service when I was a teenager, but I never understood it then. He sent me out in the fields to work one summer, so that I could get a taste of what working for a living without an education felt like. I was given over to a friend or perhaps a relative of one of his employees. A one-armed ancient hispanic man who made me look like a slacker, or the complete novice that I was, by doing more and better work with one arm than I could with two. He could and did do it day-in and day-out for months and years spanning into decades. He probably died out there in one of those fields. I don’t know because it wasn’t important to me. The lesson was learned, never to be forgotten. I wanted to work indoors, out of the sun. I wanted to turn knowledge into profit. I wanted to work smart instead of hard.

The ability to do what I’ve done? The ability to assert one’s knowledge without credentials or any evidence of talent or knack for the process? That comes from being who I was, where I was. If I had been born brown or black, African, Asian or Latino in this part of the world? That sort of assertiveness would have been ground out of me before I was even an adult, back in the time I was born into. That is what white privilege means. Ask Philando Castile if he can carry a weapon like a white man does, if you doubt this is true. Ask Ahmed Mohamed if he’s even allowed to be unusually bright and curious in this day and age. I could probably trot out a million examples of why my experiences warrant the label white privilege, but I would not convince a single Trump voter that what I said was the truth. That is the shame we are living through today.

And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. – Ta-Nehisi Coates


In 2015, the political scientists Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan L. Hajnal published White Backlash, a study of political trends, and found that “whites who hold more negative views of immigrants have a greater tendency to support Republican candidates at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels, even after controlling for party identification and other major factors purported to drive the vote.”

While that finding may seem obvious, it isn’t simply a description of existing Republicans, but of the trends driving some white Democrats into the Republican Party. Using data from the American National Election Survey, Abrajano and Hajnal conclude that “changes in individual attitudes toward immigrants precede shifts in partisanship,” and that “immigration really is driving individual defections from the Democratic to Republican Party.” – The Atlantic, The Nationalist’s Delusion

Offered simply to put paid to the lie that Republicans aren’t the racists in America. By and large, that is what they have become, and the OHM is an outgrowth of that increased racism in the party. He embodies and embraces it in ways that a less cynical man would be ashamed of. But the OHM knows that the average American is a clueless rube just waiting to be fleeced of the few coins in his purse. Just so long as you say the right things, stand the right way when you say it. I personally prefer our leaders to have more going for them than just the color of their skin, the type of sex organs hidden under their clothing. Apparently that is asking too much in this day and age.  

Unwanted Thoughts

Unwanted thoughts. That was the reference. And here I thought it was something everyone had.


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jan 16, 2016 Maria Bamford

Nope. Turns out that is also a symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Just another one of those things that makes you go hmmm… I am weirder than I thought after all. Gee thanks Maria Bamford​. I always wanted confirmation I was OCD (which should be CDO, and we both know why it should be) at least I can relax while checking the doors are locked for the twelfth time tonight.

Backdated to the blog. I loved this segment on LSSC. 

Cable Wars

I haven’t mentioned this on the blog, but I’ve been watching The Walking Dead since 3rd season rolled around.  I dismissed the concept when it was bandied about before production started, because I didn’t think you could do a television series that could be kept interesting throughout its run based on the the general idea of a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Wife has worked on zombie films in the past. Our garage has been turned into an effects studio and art studio more than once when the demands for getting effects completed for the films she has worked on grew larger than could be completed on set; if the film even actually had an official set they were shooting on.

So when The Walking Dead was proposed as a TV series, it crossed the radar here at the house simply because of the subject matter. When the series failed to disappear as I predicted, I decided to give it a viewing just to see what it was about. I binged-watched the first two seasons on Netflix, paid for the few of the third season episodes I had missed on Amazon, and started watching the show live after that.

I’d say I love the show, but really I’m just there for the characters and for Greg Nicotero‘s excellent effects work. The storyline has been inconsistent over the seasons and really could do with some long-term plotting in advance of shooting, in my completely amatuer opinion.  If there is storyline plotting across seasons, it isn’t apparent in the progression of the story. However, it is one of the few things I do watch on television these days, my tastes ranging to the truly eclectic corners of rarely watched channels available on cable television.

I used to watch a lot of programming on BBCA, having a long-term love of a wide range of BBC programming including the recently relaunched series of Doctor Who and the even more recently canceled Top Gear. I was forced to give up BBCA last year because of costs increases phased in by my local cable provider.  That and the Science channel (which I wish had more actual science on it) and several other channels I watched more than the more normal fare available on basic cable were priced out of my reach in the latest price increases rolled out by US cable providers.

Rather perversely, most of the cost that I pay for my cable subscription goes to fund the incredible price tag placed on live broadcast of sporting events.  The last time I ever watched a sporting event of any kind on television was the first Superbowl that the Seattle Seahawks qualified for, because the Wife loved the Seahawks when fantasy football first appeared back in the 1980’s.  She never watched a game in her life before that Superbowl, and I had to explain the most basic facts about gameplay (4th and ten? What is that?) to her in order for us to get through the game. That was also the game that was stolen from the Seahawks with a bad call by an umpire, reminding me precisely why I hated sports in the first place; that arbitrary interference by non-players on the field can alter the outcomes of games in ways that are patently unfair. So that was the first and last game ever watched in this household, and the common joke that my TV is broken it won’t display sporting events has held sway ever since.

Consequently the news that my local provider may be removing AMC from the list of channels I can currently afford has gotten under my skin.  I remember when Paramount pulled Voyager from syndication and insisted that Austin had to create a broadcaster for UPN (and the local cable companies had to then carry that broadcaster) in order for fans of the show to be able to see it. That is the number one reason I stopped being a Star Trek fan, a change in my preferences that was solidified by the creation of the Abramanation.   I also remember when Time Warner threatened to stop carrying football games because of the costs that cable provider refused to underwrite for the NFL.

We are in the midst of yet anther cable war, with the various parties attempting to get more of the piece of the pie than they are currently getting, and I really don’t have time for any of them. I am unconcerned about the profits of the various corporations who want to prove to their shareholders that they have the clout to get what they want, so buy our stock. All I want is to be able to watch the programming that I am interested in, however that content is delivered.  KeepAMC or TV on my side (one of the worst programmed sites on the internet, hands down) a pox on both your houses.

I have been threatening to cut my cable and get all my entertainment directly from the internet for a couple of years now. If my cable company really was on my side as their website claims, I would be able to watch the shows I wanted to watch without having to pay extra for programming I don’t watch. The cost of providing me access to old and independent films and even well-produced television series runs about $8 for Netflix, why do I have to pay upwards of $100 dollars to my cable company for virtually the same menu of items? If AMC really wanted me to watch their programming, they’d make it available directly from their website and not force me to subscribe to a cable provider.

Those are the facts of the case, not the crap that they offer as excuses through their proxies. If AMC is priced out of my ability to pay for it as the rest of their network currently is, I will be cutting the cord like so many other Americans have done. I have no use whatsoever for continuing to pay for cable access that is limited to programming that I don’t watch anyway.  Paying too much for that already. 

501c4 Means “No Politics”

I ran across a DailyKOS article in my Facebook feed today. I went looking and discovered they’re doing what I did ten years ago on this blog. They wrote one paragraph, pasted someone else’s content in as the body of the article, then wrote another paragraph and pretended it was their article. The original reporting is from CNN,

The Justice Department notified members of Congress on Friday that it is closing its two-year investigation into whether the IRS improperly targeted the tea party and other conservative groups.

There will be no charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner or anyone else at the agency, the Justice Department said in a letter. 

The probe found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints. But poor management is not a crime,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in the letter.

“We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution,” Kadzik said. “We also found no evidence that any official involved in the handling of tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice. Based on the evidence developed in this investigation and the recommendation of experienced career prosecutors and supervising attorneys at the department, we are closing our investigation and will not seek any criminal charges.”

This really isn’t news. The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell was all over this more than a year ago. The stats showed that liberal groups were actually turned down while none of the conservative or tea party groups were, so the claim of targeting was demagoguery and nothing more.

The truth is that no political groups should be allowed to operate under the tax status of 501c4 since they don’t meet the criteria for that bracket; or wouldn’t if the IRS hadn’t changed the wording of the law that congress passed.

It is the IRS that should be filing charges, and they should be doing it against all the political groups that wrongfully use this code to skirt the requirements for political contributions. I would love to see some tax cheats go to jail over this and related violations. Wouldn’t hold my breath on that score either.

(Facebook status from this date published on the blog two years later)

The Strange World of TV News

Robert Reich is the highlight of my Facebook experience.  I look for his posts in my feed to inform me about what is really going on politically from a left-sided vantage point.  He rarely fails to get my political brain turning over. Sunday he posted this status;

I’ve just come from ABC’s “This Week,” where Newt Gingrich, Matthew Dowd, Donna Brazile, and I went from talking about “American Pharoah”’s Triple Crown win to the Republican and Democratic primaries. In other words, it was all about horse races. The media seems to have no other way to address American politics than to ask who’s ahead and who’s behind, rather than what the candidates stand for and what America needs.

Seven months until the first primaries, and 17 until Election Day, we have plenty of time for a national debate about the nation’s real challenges. Yet every Republican candidate is repeating the same platitudes (strengthen the military, lower taxes, and promote religious values) the GOP has been spewing for 35 years. Scott Walker leads the pack in Iowa, but on the basis of, what? Fighting unions, defunding Planned Parenthood, making it harder for students and low-income people to vote, blocking abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape or incest, and threatening a constitutional amendment allowing states to decide on same-sex marriage. Oh, and he rides a Harley. He’s a brainless knee-jerk conservative whom the media is celebrating because he happens to be up in Iowa, whose Republican caucuses haven’t predicted anything in years.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are discussing real issues. She wants to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expand Obama’s executive order on immigration, roll back Republican state laws designed to suppress the votes of the poor, automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18, demilitarize the police, and get rid of mandatory prison sentences. Bernie Sanders wants to bust up the biggest Wall Street banks, make higher education free, and strengthen safety nets. But as long as the media remains fixated on the political horse race, America isn’t going to be debating any of this. Horse-race reportage allows the Republicans to get away with their racism, homophobia, anti-worker economics, and total dearth of ideas, while burying the important initiatives Democrats are proposing.

So what’s the answer?

TV news? It’s come a long way from the days when I used to watch it with my parents every night. We never missed the 10 o’clock news. Dan Rather.  David Brinkley. The giant himself, Walter Cronkite.  Most people watched television news at least on a daily basis, especially if you didn’t take time to read a daily paper.  You couldn’t consider yourself well informed without reading at least one paper a day.

Today the newspaper industry has either moved online, or fallen by the wayside.  TV news, the baseline for an informed society through most of my life, has become a pre-digested wasteland of oatmeal reporting on one end of the spectrum, and a haven for the craziest of right-wing political views on the other. You could still watch the nightly news if you wanted to, but why bother?  Most of the events that will be reported on during that half-hour broadcast are old news by the time the TV reports on them.

But I am a news junkie, have been one all my life.  I don’t feel like I’ve finished my day unless I’ve had a dose of the day’s events summarized for me.  So I need news, and a steady stream of it works best. Since I spend large sections of my day with a laptop, that’s generally not a problem.  Still, I like my news to sometimes be delivered in a video format. I am constantly two-screening as the saying goes; writing or gaming on one screen, watching something on another one.

I watched MSNBC daily for more than a year (probably more like three years) I started watching back when Dylan Ratigan was brought on.  The TV would be on and tuned to MSNBC from mid-afternoon through most of the evening shows, pretty much every weekday.  During that time I felt more informed, but spent large segments of my day trapped watching repetitive news items.  As the hosts of the afternoon and evening programming changed, with Ratigan famously flaming out (a moment I’m glad I got to see live) Cenk Uygur being added and then hastily removed, the inclusion of Al Sharpton’s hour-long program (which inexplicably remains on MSNBC despite his lack of journalistic competence) Chris Matthews’ maddening insistence on reporting politics as if it was a horse race (echoing Reich’s comments) rather than something real, I found my interests waning.

For the last few months I’ve moved away from watching any television news and getting my news almost exclusively from the internet.  The news programming on television feels disconnected from the reality of living in the US today; All In with Chris Hayes & The Rachel Maddow Show being the few exceptions to this observation (and a shout out to MHP on weekend mornings for being worth getting up for) but not worth the time to record and watch daily.

The only TV news I still reliably take the time to watch is faux news (as opposed to FOX news which is fake but treated as real) The Daily Show and The Nightly Show (which replaced The Colbert Report earlier this year) studies have shown not only that most younger people get their TV news from these shows, but that people who watch these shows are more informed than people who watch real TV news.  Which is a sad state of affairs if you think that TV news is important and relevant.

The solution to this problem is to move with the times.  As other commenters noted on the status, television news is a largely dying industry.  They influence smaller and smaller segments of the population.  The Young Turks gets more eyeballs than television news, and other internet sites do even better than they do at communicating news through text articles; the way humans have consumed news since the invention of the printing press.

When you look at the problem from a modern perspective, people are more connected than they have been in decades to the events around them.  This fact doesn’t reliably translate into actual influence of events, doesn’t sway the actions of the political leaders, probably because of the corrupting influence of money in politics.  The solution is to target the sources of corruption and get them closed off through legislative action in the states. It can be done, but it won’t be a short process.

Richard Dawkins on Startalk

I’ve listened to the Startalk podcast for years. It’s not my favorite, but I do enjoy it. Far more engaging has been the Startalk show on National Geographic.  This week the interview was with Richard Dawkins;

The interesting thing about this episode was Neil’s inclusion of a Jesuit priest in the panel. The lead-in giving credit to the Jesuits for our current calendar was a nice touch.

I would like to note that the priest is far more antagonistic towards Richard Dawkins than the converse during this episode. The hurt expressed by him, that he is seen as being crazy or stupid because he wears a collar angers him. I get that. Imagine how atheists feel when they are told that they cannot be good people without god?

The Passing of an Age

Leonard Nimoy’s death represents a figurative passing of an age in a way that so many other’s deaths cannot.  When I heard of Robin Williams death at his own hands a few months back, I burst immediately into tears.  It was such a shocking event, it was so hard to imagine a man who was so alive being able to take his own life like that. I was prepared for the news of Leonard’s passing because of his announcement of suffering from COPD.

To be honest about this subject (which is what I try to be on the blog) his star was tarnished for me when he agreed to appear in the Abramanation. Had he died before 2009 I would have mourned his loss as heavily as the Wife did. She adored the man and his works in ways that made me look like a  passing fancier. I couldn’t possibly compete with her devotion to him and Star Trek fandom in general. I’ve never felt that strongly about much of anything aside from architecture and archeology. I was and am so conflicted about this subject that I started this entry to commemorate Leonard’s death a week after he died, and then didn’t finish it until two and a half years later (the date I’m typing this at now) I thought at the time let’s see what the effect of his death is before making a big deal about it, but in my heart I just couldn’t speak ill of the dead so soon after their passing. So I left the paragraph above sitting all that time, and refused to delete it when I scrolled past it for two years running.

So I’m finishing it now.

I said in 2009,

I can’t help but wonder what Leonard Nimoy (whom I will hold blameless) saw in this film to recommend his tacit approval and his venerable image to it. Spock prime stands in sharp contrast to the new cast, carrying with him into history a mantle of respect this revisioined Star Trek will never achieve. Because unlike Star Trek and it’s 42 years of history, the Abramanation is just entertainment.

 But I’m pretty sure what he saw was money. And why not? He’d never gotten the wealth or admiration he deserved from Hollywood or his peers. Never received the acknowledgement for creating a character so adored by people everywhere that even today, fifty years later, few actors can even come close to achieving. Every attempt at a portrayal of the emotionless Vulcans Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned looks silly compared to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Writers don’t even know how to write those kinds of characters, as exampled by every single series since Gene’s death. Stories in which Vulcan society is morphed into some kind of vindictive hellhole that looks a lot like humans trying to paint an alien world devoid of emotion, and failing at it spectacularly. I’ve read a lot of Star Trek novels over the years, few of them come close to imagining the kinds of Vulcan that I saw hinted at in Gene’s canon.

The problem is that the world went somewhere else between 1967 and today than where it went in the future that Gene painted back then. Emotionlessness has become synonymous with sociopathy, with dark plottings of revenge, as if T’Pring was actually representational of all of Vulcan. Never mind that revenge is an emotion, too. We are so bathed in emotion as human beings we don’t even know what it is to not have them; which is the genius of Nimoy’s portrayal.

On the positive side of future history departing from Gene’s vision, we didn’t destroy ourselves with eugenics wars in the 1990’s; on the negative side, we can’t seem to recognize the ghost of eugenics when it raises it’s ugly head and calls all Mexicans rapists. On the even more negative side, we still don’t have a moon colony much less warp technology and transporters, which were always trappings of story-telling and not actual predictions of future technology. But not having a Moon colony yet? That’s just blind human stupidity. There is absolutely no reason for that not happening aside from our inability to see our own impending doom.

Like a man happily puffing away on a cigarette for most of his life never realizing that he’s destroying his own life-support mechanism and bringing a too early end to his own life in the process, humanity doesn’t realize that all life on this little ball of mud can be snuffed out in an instant. Nature doesn’t care about our petty little problems. The pale blue dot can be wiped away in an instant by some minor space collision or other, and the universe would never notice. Not even an artifact of humanity left over aside from a couple of probes we’ve managed to send beyond the influence of our sun. Is that our future?

I really hope it isn’t. 

Beware Cosmic Religious Propaganda

I went looking for Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on various internet outlets recently.  I had the first episode in my sweaty little palms on loan from Netflix, and I was ready to give up and just get a cheap second hand copy of the program.  Having found good prices on eBay, I thought I’d compare pricing on Amazon.com.

Went to Amazon, typed in “Cosmos Carl Sagan” and midway down the page I found “Created Cosmos. Unbelievably, Amazon had allowed creation propaganda  to be linked to Carl Sagan’s name and the most famous science series ever produced (if you click the search link in this paragraph, you will notice that this is no longer listed in the results. Thank You Amazon.com!) I felt obliged to review this travesty negatively;

I hate this for one very simple reason.  Not that I’ve seen it, it’s religion masquerading as science and not worth my time to investigate.  Much like the billboards claiming to care about poor pregnant women, but are actually nothing more than groups set up specifically to scare women away from having an abortion (every street in Texas has one of these billboards) this video exists merely obfuscate the truth of science and prop up the dying embers of religion in a scientific age. 

No, the reason I hate this video, the presence of this video in my search results, is that I specifically went looking for “Cosmos Carl Sagan”. I didn’t want to get false results for Neil Degrasse Tyson’s new show (not that I don’t love it too) what I wanted was to see the purchasing options for Carl Sagan’s PBS program.  Instead of finding a good offering for the real program, I’m offered this schlock in its place. 

I missed Cosmos when it was originally broadcast because the backwater of Kansas that I grew up in didn’t have access to public television.  We had churches on nearly every street corner, but only one tiny library.  Cable was a new invention.  By weird coincidence the cable company took over the Kingdom Hall across the street from my home in that small town, which was a great relief to us since the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped at our house every time they went canvassing. While we couldn’t afford to buy cable services, at least we were no longer disturbed by people who wanted to pass on their twisted message of god on a nearly daily basis. No computers, no internet.  Only country radio and two fuzzy TV channels we could pick up with an aerial.   

I’m reasonably certain that the idyllic setting I’m describing is something that the liars who created & marketed this program on Amazon including the keywords “Cosmos Carl Sagan” would greatly prefer over the current ability to find accurate information regarding the natural universe and what we really know about it.  That they would give up not only blu-rays and Amazon, the current technological marvels of cell phones, electric cars, wind turbines, etc; all of science, medicine and progress. Give it all up and go live in caves clad only in the skins of animals that they had to kill themselves, if only they could be assured that their bronze-age god was real. 

To them I say “go find your cave and give up your comfortable cotton clothing. Hand over your cell phones and your comfortable air conditioned houses. You do not deserve to benefit from the achievements of science, since you hold it in so little regard.” Either that, or pull this offering from the marketplace and apologize to the memory of Carl Sagan for ever creating it in the first place, much less placing it on Amazon falsely linked to his name. 

I really want to know.  Why is this program included in my search results?  Why is the Creation museum allowed to key their products with the name “Carl Sagan“?  This is disturbing, like finding homeopathic cures, and cigarettes in my pharmacy. Oh wait, that happens too.