Saturday, August 27, 2005

An ancient question for the Creationists

As I understand it, the premise of Intelligent Design is that the ecosystem (or parts thereof) is too complex to be described adequately by the theory of evolution. Creationists therefore conclude that there must be a Creator. If the ecosystem is the result of intelligent design, then the intelligence responsible for that design must, ipso facto, be more complex than the design itself, or you would have something akin to the old "monkeys with typewriters" scenario. Since no explanation but creation is acceptable to Creationists regarding the state of the planet, and since the postulated Creator represents an even higher level of complexity,

Quis no nostri formator?

(Who made our maker?)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bonus Material

St. Anthony, version 2.0, the search engine.

Never miss an opportunity to substitute your mythology for reality.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Salting the Mine

If you have never heard this expression before, salting the mine refers to an old scam. If you want to sell a worthless, played-out or empty gold mine, you open up a shotgun shell, replace the shot with gold ore, and blast it into the wall of your mine. Now, it looks like there’s a vein of ore in the wall, and all you have to do is come up with some plausible story as to why you are not digging it out yourself. Since the guy you’re trying to scam has gold fever, and wants to believe you, you don’t even have to work too hard at that story. If you think about it, the scammer is taking gold from a real mine and using it to give the illusion of value to a worthless hole in the ground. Which brings me to Evangelist, Author, and part-time bootlick to the rich and powerful, Stephen Mansfield. If you’re not familiar with this man and his personal version of the money machine, you can read about him here and read about some of the things he’s been up to here. I have to admit, he has found a path to success by hobbing with the “right” knobs. Heck, when the Protestants and the Catholics got into a little turf war in northern Iraq, he was right there, convincing both sides to act like one big happy Family. He has also found the beauty of diversifying to create several income streams. His latest literary work, “The Faith of the American Soldier” has elevated him to the status of war profiteer. His friends in high places love this I’m sure. By pointing out the honor and sacrifice of the common soldier, he is attempting to take that nobility and apply it to a military campaign that is an abuse of power and a misuse of that military commitment. Salting an empty shaft with the gold of human honor and hoping that no one will notice that it’s stolen, and incidentally, that he’s making money doing it. Oddly enough, this wasn’t a blatant enough attempt at confusion to raise my ire. This tool actually outdid himself. He found the need to involve himself in the vigil of Cindy Sheehan outside “Dubya’s” ranch in Crawford, Texas. In an open letter to Sheehan, that you can listen to on the NPR web site, Mansfield states that he is concerned that Cindy Sheehan’s actions will adversely affect the memory of her son and somehow tarnish his heroism. This is a despicable confusion of ideas. The actions of Casey Sheehan and the performance of his duty, leading to his death, cannot be altered by the actions of another.

Mansfield’s letter is a crude attempt to influence opinion. Unfortunately, it has a good chance of succeeding with people that refuse to look beneath the surface. He opens with false concern in a build up that is obvious to anyone who has ever read and understood Marc Anthony’s speech in “Julius Caesar”. I’m betting that he even thought he was being clever. I could take his speech apart sentence by sentence and find a problem with every one of them. He uses phrases like “what must be a disorienting swirl of world attention”, and “...must be among the most soul-wrenching experiences possible”. “Must be”, “should”, “has to be” is the language of a control freak. His inflection and cadence is that of someone who has grown confident in his ability to persuade others; someone who is used to talking down to people. He continues, “From your blogging on Michael Moore’s web site....” making the association to a name that his followers have already been told what to think about. Also, incidentally, making plain what has inspired this attempt at damage control. His arguments amount to little more than, “your actions could hurt the whole town!” He continues, saying that when a person joins the military, he “places himself on an altar of sacrifice.“ No. A soldier places him/herself in the hands of their officers. The “altar of sacrifice” view went out with the “cannon fodder” approach. He insists on using the language of symbolism, and wrapping these events in a shroud of abstraction and higher purpose. Nowhere does he talk about actual tactics or logistics. His is the language of the civilian, the armchair General, not the soldier. He actually says, ostensibly to Cindy Sheehan but really quite publicly, “His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning.” And how was that play again, Mrs. Lincoln?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Pride n. That terrible thing that lets you feel good about yourself.

I certainly don’t think that there is anything wrong with a reasonable amount of pride. Pride is a basic building block of self-esteem. From

pride n.
1. A sense of one's own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.
3. Arrogant or disdainful conduct or treatment; haughtiness.
a. A cause or source of pleasure or satisfaction; the best of a group or class: These soldiers were their country's pride.
b. The most successful or thriving condition; prime: the pride of youth.
5. An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.
6. Mettle or spirit in horses.
7. A company of lions. See Synonyms at flock1.
8. A flamboyant or impressive group: a pride of acrobats.

As I say, I don’t have a problem with pride, if there is something one can point to and be proud of, but if you’re a Christian, pride is a mortal sin, and only definition #5 above should be considered. This is true of course, because the god takes the credit for anything positive that you might accomplish, while the human weakness and failure part is all you. This makes you a good little needy churchgoer with no self-esteem. Yup, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and the bible says so.

Scriptures Related to the Sin of Pride

Prov 11:2, "When pride comes, then come dishonor."

Prov 16:18, "Pride precedes destruction, and before a fall there is a lifestyle of pride."

Prov 23:29, "A person's pride will bring him low, but a lifestyle of humility will attain honor."

Rom 12:3, "For I say through the grace which has been given to me to everyone who is among you, stop thinking of self in terms of pride beyond what you ought to think, but think in terms of sanity for the purpose of being rational without illusion as God has assigned to each one of us a standard of thinking from doctrine."Pride is defined in terms of the sin of jealousy in

Jam 3:14-16, "But if you have bitter jealousy and inordinate ambition in your right lobe, stop being arrogant, and stop lying against the truth [Bible doctrine]. This pseudo wisdom is not that which comes from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic. For where jealousy and inordinate ambition exist there is disorder and every evil deed."

Prov 13:10, "Through pride comes strife, but wisdom is with those who receive instruction."

1 Pet 5:5, "Likewise you younger men be subject to the elder [pastor], and all of you cloth yourselves with humility toward one another. `For God makes war against the arrogant, but He gives grace to the humble.' Therefore, humble yourselves under the powerful hand of God, that He may promote you at the proper time."

The comments in brackets are from a zealot that wanted to be sure we knew how self-serving these verses truly are. Ok, the Bible seems pretty clear on the subject of pride... so, “WHAT'S ALL THIS THEN?”

Apparently, pride is no longer a sin if you are willing to add it to your shopping cart.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

If You Can't Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Bamboozle Them With Bullshit!

Sometimes a little confusion of ideas can work in your favor. Here's a lovely example:

I'm all for teaching DUH
in America's schools!

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Spirituality Machine (Part 2)

Before continuing, I feel the need to clarify some things. I am not attempting to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with being a spiritual person. I do not know what happens after you die (if you can read this, and you have already died, please drop me an e-mail). I do not believe that anyone else really knows, either. I am objecting to the exploitation of spirituality by means of an unrelenting reiteration of a certain system of beliefs and symbols, and the effect that this has on the human mind. There are all sorts of possible scenarios for spiritual connections (or lack thereof) in this life and/or afterward. Some of these scenarios are more plausible than others, some appear absurd, but none to my knowledge are provable. I have my own theory, but I have also experienced things first-hand that I cannot easily explain in terms of finite organic existence. For those who deal strictly in logic, I will simply say that Occam's Razor would lead me to believe that there is a man hidden behind my dashboard, making the sounds I hear from my radio. Ok, that’s frivolous, and I am stretching a point to make the point that sometimes the solution is not so simple. I can think of at least one theory, making use of theoretical higher dimensions (above the four in which we operate) that could be used to explain persistence of being beyond death by postulating a non-linear aspect to time itself. Since I cannot experience or measure these dimensions, this theory is as un-provable as three dimensions are to Mr. A Square of Flatland. What I won’t do, is convince myself that I am so sure that I’m right that I must be right, and use this theory as the basis for yet another New-age Psudoreligious mega-scam. In the absence of proof, it is nothing more than a product of my imagination, which brings me at last to my topic.

Imagination is the way in which the human mind differs from the computer. If I tell you to close your eyes and imagine a lawn of pink grass, most of you will be able to do it, given that you know what “lawn”, “grass”, and “pink” mean. If this reaches enough people, there is a good chance that one of you will never forget this image, and “pink lawn” will be with you until the day you die. Sorry about that! Without imagination, our ancestors would not have been able to improvise their way out of bad situations. Nothing can be invented without a human mind imagining it first, no matter how imperfectly. There is, unfortunately, an exploitable aspect to imagination. If I tell you that I have just had a divine revelation, wherein a six-winged messenger of god told me to gargle with armpit sweat to please the deity, you can picture this scene taking place. You might not believe it, but if you had no reason not to, and if I was adamant that it happened, you might accept the picture formed in your head as truth. This process is used both deliberately and inadvertently, to plant false memories. The fact that we can form pictures in our heads of unreal events and objects increases the chances of false information slipping through the gaps in the picket fence and bypassing higher reasoning and critical thinking.

Who was the first person to imagine the ram-horned (or cow-horned), Mr. Universe-massive, wedge-chinned devil creature that keeps showing up in bad occult/horror movies? Could any of us have pictured this before the picture was painted for us? And, why does he always talk like a bad-tempered, basso-profundo Fozzy Bear?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Museum Exhibit: The Spirituality Machine (Part 1)

The name says it all; if you are a spiritual person, you believe in spirits. At the very least, you believe that there is a ghost inside you, manipulating your body the way a puppeteer manipulates a marionette. Beyond that, you might believe that there is a whole host of non-corporeal beings. Some of these ghosts, you might believe, are bigger, badder, and more powerful than your ghost, with nothing better to do than to screw around in your life and pass judgment on your actions. If this wasn’t enough to create a constant state of anxiety, some of you believe that these big bad ghosts will fuck with you for all eternity if you aren’t under the protection of the big good ghosts. (It’s their job!) Where does this concept come from, and how does it gain such wide acceptance despite the acknowledged lack of empirical evidence? It comes from the Spirituality Machine, which constantly reinforces these beliefs within the human mind. How the Spirituality Machine works can be explained by both the similarities to, and the differences between, the human mind and the computer.

The basic similarity is that both the computer and the human mind are capable of receiving instruction (input). In addition, both are capable of receiving instruction without discrimination, or validation of that input. This is the natural state for a computer, and is the cause for the adage, “garbage in, garbage out”. In the human mind, this non-discriminating input state exists when the mind is in a hypnotic, or hypnagogic state. This is evidenced in the “garbage out” state that a hypnotist can create in a subject by planting false but accepted inputs of sight, sound, taste and feeling. If you have never been to a hypnotist stage show, I highly recommend it for the lesson that it teaches about the vulnerability of the human mind.

The hynagogic state is not as wide open as the hypnotic state, but it is possible to hallucinate (garbage out), or to have information fed directly into a primitive portion of the brain without passing through the filter of higher reasoning (garbage in) while in this state. Dimly lit rooms, droning chants, burning candles and incense and closed crowded rooms with reduced oxygen levels, can all be used to help produce a hypnagogic state. Sound familiar? Television also can produce a hypnagogic state. If you are watching television in a darkened room, and become so “zoned in” to what is happening on the screen that you are no longer aware of your surroundings, you are in a hypnagogic state. Perhaps this explains in part the success of televangelists? Because the hypnagogic state is not as open to suggestion as the hypnotic state, repetition is the key to forcing information past the discriminating filters of the brain. Picture a picket fence with pickets placed with just enough space to pass a tennis ball in between. Throw the tennis ball against the fence, and most of the time it will bounce off. Eventually, the ball will slip perfectly through the pickets, but only when it totally avoids touching a picket. The endless repetition of modern advertising will eventually cause a message to slip through and produce a craving for a McDonald’s hamburger, for example.

The same thing might be true for the endless variations of the “evil spirits” and “good spirits” themes in modern movies and television. From the unseen higher powers implied in a show like “Lost”, to the un-killable shitheads like Jason and Freddie, we are constantly barraged with “spirit” scenarios. Even though (I hope) most of us understand these stories to be works of fiction, they might be constantly validating the idea of a spirit world to the darker recesses of our brains.