Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Road to Civil War

 Before we begin our discussion of the Civil War we need to see and understand the South and their perspective on the Nation, the United States of America. Firstly, there was not a unified idea of the US as a nation. Recall that the neither the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence used the word Nation. The Declaration originally did but the southern representatives had it cut from the final version.

John Marshall, Supreme Court Justice and Federalist who first asserted that the US was a Nation, in 1821.  There was a States Rights attitude in regard to the Federal Government in every aspect of Southern life. We’ll be clear that the most powerful cultural, social and FINANCIAL expression of this was Slavery and it was the only tool that the South could use to compete with the growing Industrialization of the North.

A little bit about that.

The North, after the North phased out slavery, was able to launch an industrial revolution that led to urbanization, which in turn led to increased education, which in its own turn gave ever-increasing strength to various reform movements but especially abolitionism. Seven immigrants out of eight settled in the North (and the fact that most immigrants viewed slavery with disfavor), compounded by the fact that twice as many whites left the South for the North as vice versa, contributed to the South's defensive-aggressive political behavior. It has been argued that the North and South were not only two Peoples, but two rival, hostile Peoples. Truthfully, two countries united by only a contract, the Declaration of Independence.

At the root of these cultural differences was not only the problem of slavery, but fundamental assumptions, tastes, and cultural aims of the regions which were diverging in other ways as well. More specifically, the North was rapidly modernizing in a manner threatening to the South.

The South's concept of republicanism (lower case “r” as in the ideology of governing a society or state as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity)  had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North's had.... The ascension to power of the Republican Party (Capital R), with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the Northern majority had turned irrevocably towards this revolutionary future.
As another aside,

The politicians of the 1850s were acting in a society in which the traditional restraints that suppressed sectional conflict in the 1820s and 1850s– the most important of which being the stability of the two-party system– were being eroded as this rapid extension of mass democracy went forward in the North and South. It was an era when the mass political party galvanized voter participation to an unprecedented degree, and a time in which politics formed an essential component of American mass culture. Historians claim that political involvement was a larger concern to the average American in the 1850s than today. Politics was, in one of its functions, a form of mass entertainment, a spectacle with rallies, parades, and colorful personalities. Leading politicians, moreover, often served as a focus for popular interests, aspirations, and values.

An abundance of new parties emerged 1854–56, including the Republicans, People's party men, Anti-Nebraskans, Fusionists, Know-Nothings, Know-Somethings (anti-slavery nativists), Maine Lawites, Temperance men, Rum Democrats, Silver Gray Whigs, Hindus, Hard Shell Democrats, Soft Shells, Half Shells and Adopted Citizens. I I shit you not.  By 1858, they were mostly gone, but there was just a lot of involvement.

This is a little bit of the Cultural backdrop on which we need to paint the historical facts as they unfold.
Ok, so as the 19th Century revved up, this issue states' rights moved to the forefront. This issue of slavery polarized the union, with the Jeffersonian principles often being used by both sides—anti-slavery Northerners, and Southern slaveholders and secessionists—in debates. Supporters of slavery often argued that one of the rights of the states was the protection of slave property wherever it went. In contrast, opponents of slavery argued that the non-slave-states' rights were violated by having to bow to the laws of Slave states. In a lot of ways it is paralleled nicely with the States Rights issue of today, Gay marriage and legitimacy in Non-Gay Marriage States. Amusing that the South is now on the other side of this argument.

A major Southern argument in the 1850s was that banning slavery in the territories discriminated against states that allowed slavery, making them second-class states. In 1857 the Supreme Court sided with the states' rights supporters, declaring in Dred Scott v. Sandford that Congress had no authority to regulate slavery in the territories.

Jefferson Davis, US United States Secretary of War 1853 to 1857 and soon to be President of the Confederacy used the following argument in favor of the equal rights of states was a big slavery guy. He lamented that in joining the Union, Southern Stated had forfeited the right to make treaties and acquire new territories. He, along with many other Southerners, wanted to acquire Cuba as a perfect slave state.

In many ways the Southern secession and the ensuing conflict was, to some degree, also a fiscal quarrel than a war over slavery. Northern-inspired tariffs benefited Northern interests but were detrimental to Southern interests and were destroying the economy in the South.  These tariffs would be less subject to states rights' arguments.

In 1846, as the dispute over slavery in the United States developed in the wake of the Mexican-American War, the use of the term "popular sovereignty" began to gain currency as a method to resolve the status of slavery in the country. The war ended with the United States acquisition of lands once held by Mexico.  The effort to incorporate these lands into the United States uncovered long-simmering disputes about the extension of slavery – whether slavery would be permitted, protected, abolished, or perpetuated in these newly acquired areas.  Congressional attempts to resolve this issue led to gridlock. Several congressional leaders, in an effort to resolve the "deadlock" over slavery as a term or condition for admission or administration of the territories, searched for a "middle ground."

Senator Lewis Cass introduced the idea of popular sovereignty in Congress. In an attempt to hold the Congress together as it continued to divide along sectional, rather than party lines, Cass proposed that Congress did not have the power to determine whether territories could allow slavery since this was not an enumerated power listed in the Constitution.
The question of slavery became all the more urgent with the discovery of gold in California in 1848. The next year, there was a massive influx of prospectors and miners looking to strike it rich. Most migrants to California (the uh,  'Forty-Niners') abandoned their jobs, homes, and families looking for gold.

The influx of population led to California's application of statehood in 1850. This created a renewal of sectional tension because California's admission into the Union threatened to upset the balance of power in Congress. The imminent admission of Oregon, New Mexico, and Utah also threatened to upset the balance. Many Southerners also realized that the climate of those territories did not lend themselves to the extension of slavery.

The Compromise of 1850 was proposed by "The Great Compromiser," Henry Clay and was passed by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Through the compromise, California was admitted as a free state, Texas was financially compensated for the loss of its Western territories, the slave trade (not slavery) was abolished in the District of Columbia, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed as a concession to the South, and, most importantly, the New Mexico Territory (including modern day Arizona and the Utah Territory) would determine its status (either free or slave) by popular vote. The Compromise of 1850 temporarily defused the divisive issue, but the peace was not to last long.

Industrialization went forward in the Northeast and a rail network (and a telegraph network) linked the nation economically, opening up new markets. Immigration brought millions of European workers and farmers to the North. In the South planters shifted operations (and slaves) from the poor soils of the Southeast to the rich cotton lands of the Southwest.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, nullified the Missouri Compromise and instead implemented the concept of popular sovereignty. The newly formed Republican party stood against the expansion of slavery and won control of most northern states.

After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, border wars broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state was left to the inhabitants. Abolitionist John Brown was active in the rebellion and killing in "Bleeding Kansas", as were many white Southerners. At the same time, fears that the Slave Power was seizing full control of the national government swept anti-slavery Republicans into office.

The 1857 Dread-Scott decision, decided 7–2, held that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state; Congress could not bar slavery from a territory; and people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants, could not be citizens. A state could not bar slave owners from bringing slaves into that state. Many Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, considered the decision unjust and as proof that the Slave Power had seized control of the Supreme Court. Written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the decision effectively barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship. Abolitionists were enraged and slave owners encouraged.

The divisions became fully exposed with the 1860 presidential election. The electorate split four ways. The Southern Democrats endorsed slavery, while the Republicans denounced it. The Northern Democrats said democracy required the people to decide on slavery locally. The Constitutional Union Party said the survival of the Union was at stake and everything else should be compromised.

Lincoln, the Republican, won with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln, however, did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election necessarily split the nation along sectional lines. Many slave owners in the South feared that the real intent of the Republicans was the abolition of slavery in states where it already existed, and that the sudden emancipation of four million slaves would be problematic for the slave owners and for the economy that drew its greatest profits from the labor of people who were not paid.
So what then? Well, Reconstruction.

At war's end, one president was murdered and another was imprisoned. Uncertainty gripped both North and South. Families everywhere mourned the deaths and maiming of countless young men. Four million Americans who had been enslaved were free. An entire social system and much of the South's wealth had been destroyed. For the first time, many Americans knew the bitter taste of total defeat. The Confederacy was dead, but so too was the old Union. What would take its place? What was America to be?

The process of reconstruction really began during the war as President Abraham Lincoln experimented with policies to restore Union-held areas of the Confederacy to their "proper relationship" with the federal government. To most people, however, the term Reconstruction means the period of federal intervention in the South from the end of the war until the withdrawal of troops in 1877. This was a confusing and contradictory era in which all the former Confederate states were readmitted to the United States; African Americans, mostly former slaves, were elected to political office for the first time; and the Ku Klux Klan was born. One thing is certain: Reconstruction did not end wartime conflicts.

The Civil War laid the groundwork for the rapid postwar economic growth and industrialization of America, stimulated by such federal initiatives as the transcontinental railroad, homesteading in the West, land grant colleges (such as Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Texas A&M), and a national paper currency known as the "greenback." The South, devastated by war, shared little in the economic growth of the nation as a whole until World War II.

The Civil War was a formative experience for many Americans who helped build the nation we know today. People such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Mark Twain, and Oliver Wendell Holmes shaped modern America.
In the South, the war left loss, devastation, poverty, and desolation in its wake. Some thirty-seven percent of all Southern white males of military age were wounded or killed, affecting almost every white family. One thing Southerners could hold onto was their heritage of military valor and sacrifice. Another was opposition to the social revolution that Reconstruction had forced on them.

The abandonment of Reconstruction left black Americans to work for a return to the ideals of freedom and equality that had prevailed during the war and Reconstruction.

The Civil War, its causes and legacies have had an enormous impact on American culture. For example, American literature would be almost unrecognizable without such classics as Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, Walt Whitman's O Captain! My Captain!, Allen Tate's Ode to the Confederate Dead, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, and William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! The war similarly impacted American popular culture, music, painting, and sculpture.

Within a few decades of the Civil War, an American nation consolidated by Union victory stepped onto the world stage. An industrial powerhouse separated from the petty squabbles of Europe by an ocean and with Naval access to both Oceans and therefore trade connections to the old west and the rising East. We had a European Powerhouse here in the new world dominating an entire hemisphere of up and coming Neo-Colonies. The Monroe Doctrine only worked with this new United States of America.

In many ways the Civil War made America the new world power.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

History: What you need to know.

I have spent the last few decades thinking about history.  I spent much of that time reading history and sitting through hours and hours of lectures on history. Asian  history (I like the Meiji Period in Japan and the great Mongolian conquests of the Huns), European History, Mesoamerican History, and most recently I have spent a lot of time on the early days of the Russian people and the invention of the concept of “race”.

I realized this a long time ago but am just getting around to fleshing out my conclusion. We are all aware that history is more than a recitation of facts. There are dynamics and relationships which move these facts into place and fill them with meaning. I have come to realize that understanding a period requires understanding it from a few different perspectives.

Three overlapping Magisteria: Politics, Class and Culture.  This is what you need to know as a student of history.

Politics, the way power is held. A democracy, a theocracy, a dictatorship, or what have you.

Class, the divisions which make up our communities. Today we use money and academic status. A few hundred years ago it was aristocratic birth order.

Culture, the glue of civilization. One might argue that this one encompasses the other two but there are some lines I like to draw.  Culture is the glue of society. It is academia, economic systems, means of production and societal standing (slaves, minorities, women, gays and the like.).

Combined these three are all you need to know about any society and facts are useless without the necessary context. What did the discovery of the New World mean in 1492? Now we need to understand Spain and its place in Europe and the world. We need to look to our overlapping Magesteria.

Same could be said for the Atomic Bomb, Apartheid, The Communist Revolution in the USSR or China, The Democratic Revolutions in the US or France, or Constantine's conversion to Christianity. These events mean things only in the broader sense of the culture or society in question. 

So I suggest, as you will probably guess, that instead of memorizing facts we spend a little more time understanding the worlds they take place in.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

True Believer

The little guy in the middle is me.

I have always wanted to be a true believer.

This is not strange considering my family history. My grandparents were members of the American Communist Party. This was during the Red Scare, McCarthyism and the height of the Cold War. They believed so deeply in the equality of mankind and the injustices of Capitalism that they were willing to sacrifice their Academic careers (my grandfather lost his job teaching at Cornell and became a Janitor), and privacy (the FBI opened their mail regularly and sometimes put the letters back in the wrong envelopes). They were willing to sacrifice everything for their ideals. Their children did the same.

My mother and her brothers grew up during the height of the civil rights movement and there were plenty of glasses of Kool-Aid to partake in. Good, moral ones. The march on Washington (50th anniversary was just a few days ago), sit ins, women's lib, the fight against poverty... there were many causes worth being invested in. I come from a family of IQs over 150. I come from a family of total failures. I come from a family of true believers.

And that is what I want. Seems strange to say. I don't want to be successful. Financially successful, that is. I was raised to see money as a necessary inconvenience. A thing you need to accomplish in order to do the things you really want to do. Grandparents were Commies, remember.

I was raised to see real success in an Aristotelian sense. In Aristotle's Nicomacean Ethics he uses a term. "eudaimonia". Early translations were "happiness" but over the last few decades it has more correctly been translated as "flourishing".

Flourishing: developing rapidly and successfully; thriving. This is what I need. I need an external cause to devote myself to. I need some Kool-Aid. I need some Kool-Aid which will not make me sick.

I tried the trendy causes of today, as my ancestors did before me. Organic? It has flaws and I tried it for years. It was and is a load of crap. Alternative Energy? I am pro but see the massive alteration of any energy cycle as potentially dangerous. Additionally, there will be little advancement in this area until the technology advances. We will win when we make a discovery. Secularism? I would love so much to drink the Kool-Aid of secularism. I just don't think it exists. Removing superstition and poor reasoning is what the education systems are for. Over the last few decades we have made advancement after advancement toward a more secular world. I, for one, think we are doing great and am just waiting for tomorrow which I think will be glorious.

I have always wanted to be a true believer. I have always wanted a calling. Like a priest is supposed to have. I want a cause which is good. No, great. I want a cause which I can feel good at participating in. I want a cause that I feel is so noble in attempting that it is glorious even to fail.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dolly Madison was a badass!

 So, Dolly Madison was kind of a badass. The more I read about the early years of our country, the more I realize that fact. According to legend she was the first woman to be known as the First Lady. Her Eulogy, delivered by incumbent President Zachary Taylor, referred to her as "our nation's first lady for half a century." There is no version of the eulogy ever written down but that is the story. Part of this may be due to her powerful presence in the capital beginning when our third president, Jefferson, a widower, asked her to act as hostess for the White House for 8 years then acted as hostess for her husband's 8 years as president.

Being our first "First Lady" was not the end of her accomplishments. While both Washington and Jefferson loved ice cream it was Dolly Madison who was credited for popularizing the dessert.

After James Madison left the Presidency, they returned home to Virginia, where she helped her husband organize his papers including the notes he used in drafting the Constitution.

After her hubby died and she returned to D.C. she was awarded an honorary seat in Congress. Making her the first woman with a seat (while powerless) in the the Congress. She was the first private citizen to transmit a message via telegraph (an honor given to her by Sam Morse of morse code fame).

Dolly Madison was known for exercising actual political influence (a first for First Ladies), became our first female public celebrity and loaded up loot from the white house, delaying departure for hours with the British on their way to burn it down.

She was a heavy featured woman who stood 2.5 inches above her husband and had a great mind and heart. Dolly Madison kicked ass!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bible and No Homo? No Steak-o?

So, we all know the Bible bans the act of Homosexuality. What else do we have to do to stay on God's good side?

We need to keep our women from speaking in church:  1 Corinthians 14:34-35  King James Version (KJV)
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
Never eat a rare steak:  Genesis 9:4 King James Version (KJV)
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Oh and don't eat a fatty steak doubly:  Leviticus 3:17    King James Version (KJV)
17 It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.

 We know that pork is a no no:  Leviticus 11:7-8  King James Version (KJV)
And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

 And we remember no shellfish:  Deuteronomy 14:9-10 King James Version (KJV)
These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat:
10 And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.

 Or of strangled animals:  Acts 15:28-29  King James Version (KJV)
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Additionally, what the hell does "from fornication" mean in this context??

God is not only concerned with where we put our genitals and exactly what and how we eat. Oh, no! He is into fashion: Leviticus 19:19 King James Version (KJV)
19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
And style:Leviticus 19:27 King James Version (KJV)
27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.  AND Leviticus 19:28King James Version (KJV) 28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

These are just the ones I remembered off the top of my head. And for all of you who think that this is the Old Testament and does not apply (like Leviticus 18 and 20?) but consider: Matthew 5:17-18King James Version (KJV)
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

One problem with God

One major reason that I find the Abrahamic concept of God (Jesus, YHWH, Jehovah, El, Lord, Allah, or God) unbelievable.

Why create the Universe? Why create at all? Why act at all?

We have a perfect, all powerful creature. ALL Powerful. Not really really powerful, but Omnipotent. It's will is reality and reality is its will. There is only this creature and there is nothing else. There could be no time, as chronology is a restriction upon an Omnipotent will and the Creature had not created anything yet. It simply existed in perfectly in perfect perfection.

My problem comes in when we consider two things; why creatures, as a whole, act and what is perfection?

Perfection is one of those tricky words that we understand but not really. Usually, when people use the word "perfect" they mean "really really good" or "as good as could be expected". That is because there is really no such thing as "perfect" in the world. It is an exaggeration that we all accept without question because we live in a complex, multifaceted world where things are more or less useful or appropriate depending on circumstance.

Perfection is much simpler, though incomprehensible, word when we introduce Omnipotence. An Omnipotent being could actually be perfect. Without flaw, limit, diminution, weakness, restriction or want. It is and that is enough. This is the situation before creation, according to the Abrahamic faiths. Prior to creation there was perfection and perfection was what there was.

So, why create? Why would God act at all? I read or watch TV or talk when I am bored. I may paint a picture because I can create beauty. I eat because I am hungry. I think for amusement (because I'm bored). Everything I do is to solve a problem or to make something better. Out of a lacking of some kind. Somehow something is missing. Not the case with our Omnipotent Creature, God. Nope, God is perfect and missing nothing and is all there is.

Considering that God was supposed to be all there was and God was perfect then creation would either keep all exactly as perfect as it was (no improvement or diminution) or would make all less perfect. Perfect God would create less perfection. Not that perfect a creator?

So we have an intentionless creation (intention means that God has plans for the future - therefore the present is not what an Omnipotent perfect being wants) which makes no difference in the perfection of all (because He would have to choose that option and not make things less perfect) in order to satisfy no want or desire of any kind (again, perfect being).

Action stems from want, desire, need or deficiency and loss. A perfect, Omnipotent being should have no deficiency or loss and have already satisfied all wants, desires, or needs. That is my problem with the Abrahamic creation myth.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What if we were to be Judged?

So, I have always denied being a straight up Atheist. Oh, I am an Atheist but that is not all I am, in regards to metaphysics or the divinity. I am also an "Ignostic" (the view that before we can discuss the question of whether or not there is a "God" we must first properly define the word), and a Scientific Pantheist (a belief that holds that the universe is in itself divine but that there is no Godhead or consciousness. Similar to the beliefs of Spinoza and Einstein).

But sometimes, not often, I like to do a thought experiment. I imagine the most Godlike god concept I can bring myself to posit seriously, The Deist. Deism, the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God but rejecting revelation or interference in the universe after creation. The Deist God, basically, created the universe and then had a sandwich someplace else.

Well, my thought experiment is, assuming the Deistic God were correct, what if It came back. What if we are nothing more then an experiment? What if this deity comes back to judge the petri dish which our universe would be? Not to send out immortal "souls" to Heaven or Hell or what have you, no. To decide if this petri dish was a good deal or a bad deal. What did we accomplish?

I would like to think we would make this imaginary creator happy. Our planet alone has reached its own satellite beyond our protective atmosphere. We have walked on another celestial body. We have created amazing machines which we have used to explore other planets and sent these deep into the recesses of space just to learn. We crossed the great oceans, flew through the skies and then to other planets. There is little real world benefit aside from knowing things - understanding. 

We split the atom and looked inside. Sure we found terrible destruction and devastation but we also learned about the building blocks of reality. We discovered the relationship between matter and energy and broken the universe down to 1.616199 times ten to the negative thirty fifth meters. Infinitesimally small. We explore the nature of reality. We are introspective in the truest sense of the word. Looking to see what makes us up - what makes everything up.

Sure, we still kill for personal profit or power. We bomb women and children in the name of liberty and freedom. I never said that we were done with our travel. Were not perfect. We have not solved starvation or disease. But, we put a damper on it. 

If I were a Deity and I came down to judge mankind I think I would be pleased and proud of my creation. We have used our resources, explored our world, created Gods and Magic, and dispelled it when it became more hindrance than benefit.

I am proud of my species. A bunch of brutally violent, daydreaming, chimps in pants have traveled into space and have worked out the deepest recesses of matter and the nature of reality its self. We have conquered our environment, cooperated with our environment, and been subjugated by it but we have always found a way to move forward. Via force, cooperation or redirection. Human kind has found a way. 

And myself, would this imagined creator deity be pleased with me? That is stupid. My existence is of such little importance that it is only my participation in these grand endeavors, then the results of those which could bless or damn me. Any deity worth the title would not even be aware of my individual existence. We are. Humans. What have we done together? What has this sad little pack animal, evolved from rodents too small to be killed by a meteorite 65 million years ago, been able to accomplishI think a lot.

I am proud of our species and think you should be too.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns and Stuff

Josh's Ideas and thoughts on Guns, the Second amendment and such. No order. Just "buckshot" Get it?

Imagine that in my yard, neighbors
It is the right to bear arms. Not guns. If you interpret arms to mean machine gun then tell me why I cannot interpret the same as atomic bomb? If you have trouble, then you already agree with me on gun control. We are just haggling over details. No constitutional violation. Quit your crying.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Yep... "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State". Since we did not have a professional army at the time we needed our citizens to be familiar with muskets so they could defend the nation and the government would not have to pay for guns. "War on! BYOG!" Bring your own guns.  Since we now have the most powerful professional army on the earth. This seems silly.

What about the second amendment protecting us from a tyrannical autocratic state? Try to stop the United States Army with your machine gun. Stop the choppers, tanks, Aircraft Carriers, Bombers, Nuclear Subs, Nuclear Missiles, and thousands upon thousands of troops. If you can resist even the ATF with your private arsenal, then you are Action movie baddass. Or is that just the fantasy...
Get past these and you still have the Marines...

Sure, you can kill people with a hatchet or a knife. It's just so much more satisfying to mow down a whole crowd in 35 seconds. I would just like to keep that power out of the hands of those who might be so inclined. Call me crazy. Or, call someone who wants the power to kill two dozen people in a few moments crazy. Your choice.

"We cannot have a federal registry because it will make it easier to confiscate the guns later." This necessitates the hidden assumption that these people are looking to break a law which has not even been written yet. Next time someone makes this sort of argument, listen to the statement. Close. They want to stop a law which would make it harder to break another law which has not yet been written. Go 'Murica!I come from country, farm folks. Where there were guns just laying around. I learned to shoot at 9 or 10. Without permission. Just picked them up and went out to the pasture. In the country there are different rules than one might expect in the urban centers. I understand this. My problem is more with the arguments than the guns. Though I do not like the high capacity or automatic weapons. I also suggest a ballistics test on all manufactured guns and all in circulation (that we can get) run by an independent non-governmental organization. Info available, but only by warrant.

This is a rough, off the cuff, group of thoughts. A bit scatter shot but best I got on the fly!!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fake Skeptics

So, one thing I hate is the fake skeptic. Because, folks, there are really three kinds of skeptics.

There are actual skeptics. Who think, analyze and question things. Even things that they want to be true. I am a staunch leftest but question whether Bush's crazy wars led to the Arab spring. I question whether Free Market Capitalism really would solve a lot of our economic problems. I do care about the collateral damage that might ensue in the form of sick and starving children and think the short run is more important. But I actively question to this day.

There are those who have questioned a thing or two that society propagates and disagreed but do not question a lot of other things.. Anti-supernaturalists, atheists, anti-quack medicine, anti-alien-contacters. They find one or two things bullshit but do not bother to question the others.

Then there are those that I really get pissed off about. Fake skeptics. They decide to join a club. The atheist club. The anti superstition club. The republican party. Whatever. They drink that Kool Aid. They do not actively question anything. They just take the contrary view that their small sect professes. The religious do this a lot. They think Astrology is bunk because their religion tells them so. Alien contact can't exist because it is not in the bible. Oddly it does not bother me when the religious do this because they are not professing to be skeptics.

I recall at TAM 9, perhaps, (and, no, I did not go) there was an announcement that the atheists should not challenge the religious views of theistic skeptics. Try not to offend them.

I call shenanigans!! A skeptic should be willing to examine any belief. ANY! Paul and I spent some time a year or so ago doing research on the Holocaust. I am Jewish and had relatives who died in the death camps. Still willing to look critically at the story and see how much of it is supported. We found out a lot. I recommend that you do the same. Our research revealed some inconsistencies and flaws in the historical story but supported much and I now am totally justified in defending the existence and horror that the Holocaust was. Because I questioned it.

I have done the same for slavery, the industrial revolution, Memetics, Chanukah, Dark matter and many others. By questioning what I thought I knew I get to do two things. First, I get to correct my misunderstandings. Second, I get real honest support when I was right to begin with. I can now argue the areas I have examined. I don't just assume I am right but now can say I know (as much as we can ever know) that I am right. I challenged my assumptions, corrected where I was wrong and supported where I was right. I was a critical thinker and that IS skepticism.

The fake skeptics just join a club and accept the doctrine. Skeptical of what the club is skeptical about and accepting of the preconceived notions that the club professes. I am a Democrat and still spend a fair amount of time considering the benefits of Fraking, capital gains tax policy, affirmative action, socialized medicine and the like. Just because I join a club does not mean I joined a cult and drank the Kool Aid.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Miracle Diets from the land of Oz

Not related but read this. Quackery!
  It is time for the diet season to get into full steam. Everybody is making New Years Resolutions and they are trying to kick that pesky holiday weight. Some people are using the "Paleo Diet" of eating only foods that would have been available during our species' formative years; no grain, legumes, or refined sugar. Mostly meat and veggies. Some people are still on the "Zone" or Adkins diets of a few years ago. Some madmen are still doing low fat! Goodness sake. All have merit and all require eating less and moving more. None are a magic bullet, though.

This year the trend is to follow the new health guru, Mehmet Oz, MD. After all, he is Oprah's guy and she is always right. Most of his diet advice is ok. He says eat less simple sugars, syrups (which are usually sugar anyway), Enriched Flours (should say non-whole grain as enriching is putting vitamins in, but, whatever), Saturated Fats (which in very small amounts is necessary for hormones and such) and Trans Fats. Aside from my nit picking this is generally good advice. Basically, limit fats and simple sugars. How could we argue with that. At least he is not saying No Carbs or No Fat, like a simple minded asshole. He also has some common sense guidelines:
  • Cut 100 calories. Skip a soda, a 100-calorie snack, or two cookies.
  • Make it automatic. Eat the same meals to cut guesswork and curb temptations.
  • Control portion sizes. Use smaller plates.
  • Don’t eat after 8:30 p.m.
  • Find a weight loss buddy to whom you can turn for support.
  • Learn to cheat responsibly. Make foods flavorful with spices. Or distract yourself until the craving passes.
  • Check in with your doctor.
  • Walk 10,000 steps per day.
  • Monitor your waistline and weight.
  • Keep it up during the second week. And make the basics of healthy eating and activity part of your lifestyle for good.
All fine and dandy. But why leave well enough alone? Dr. Oz goes on to recommend a magic bullet supplement which has been studied for years and has been widely discredited. Hydroxycitric acid. The stuff that gave "Hydroxycut", the diet supplement, its name. It showed promise as a "fat burner" 15 years or more ago but the science has turned up empty. Oz recomends "Garcinia cambogia" which is found in weird sounding fruits like mangosteen and is just another name for hydroxycitric acid.  He promotes "Garcinia cambogia" as new and avoids mentioning that is is the same debunked crap bodybuilders sold a decade ago.

In case anybody is wondering about which supplements have shown a benefit in fat loss: Stimulants. Yep. Uppers. Caffine, Ephedrine, Meth, Cocaine, amphetamines, and the like. They force your body to burn more calories. They make you hyper, and hot, and jittery. That burns calories. It is also not too good for you. What else?
Excess fiber, of course it makes you fart and shit a lot.
Fat blockers, which make you shit liquid. Yay!
Diuretics, which make you lose water weight and feel like crap.
Multivitamins, which do virtually nothing for fat loss except give you all the nutrients you lost with the diuretics and fat blockers.
That is about it. 

What should people do? Follow any of the diets out there, most have some merit. The best diet is the one you will stick to, after all. Can't give up fat? Go for an Adkins or Paleo diet. Can't give up sugar? Go for a low fat diet. Follow Dr. Oz's actual diet plan. But whatever you do, remember that the first week you can lose up to five pounds but not much more. After the first week you should not lose more than two pounds a week. It is dangerous and any diet, supplement or quack which says you should be able to under their product is lying to you. They are taking advantage of you.

This diet season (and I think it is one), I ask you to be reasonable, my friends. Be reasonable and skeptical. You are not going to get great results without putting in the work. For some people it is a lot of work. But gaining a pound requires 3500 or so extra calories, so that took a bit of work too. Great results come from cutting calories by 100 and adding 40 minutes of exercise, three times a week. I recommend 20 minutes of weights and 20 minutes of cardio. But the best exercise regime is the one you will stick with.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I don't want to be an Atheist

To a majority of this country, and a majority of the world, for that matter, atheists are a poorly understood group consisting of people who hate god, sinners, blasphemers, communists, pimps, prostitutes, sodomites, Satan worshipers, and a group determined to tear down the church. Our battles over the ten commandments, nativity scenes, and creationism have left us guilty of all the above charges in the court of public opinion.

All of these battles we have fought, all these wars we have waged, were necessary, and I am 100% behind any who take up arms (metaphorically) against those who would spend public tax dollars and use public land to promote a religious agenda, no matter how seemly benign. We've won time and time again, not in the court of public opinion, but in the court system of the United States Government.

But who amongst us is out there proselytizing the other side of the coin?

Atheism, in its truest sense, is simply being absent a theology. A-theology. A point that is clearly missed by anyone proclaiming 'I'm agnostic, I'm not an atheist because I don't presume to know.' Clearly, those who claim agnosticism in this manner have no idea what either one of those words mean.

And that is partially our fault. Even those who can get past the whole 'God-hating sinner and sodomites' position are still confronted with the secondary criticism of our collective: we are snobby elitists and 'intellectuals' (used derogatorily, of course.)

When Josh and I started this blog two and a half years ago, we chose the name very carefully. We knew we were bound to offend, but we were also aware that our simple existence would be considered by some to be an afront to good, strong family values, and a Godly existence full of reverence and fear for a man on high guiding our every move and demanding our servitude and idolization.

Not ones to back down from a fight, we chose to put it right up front, right there in the title. We know we are going to piss some of you off, we know you are going to disagree with us. We had hoped that those who do disagree would respond with coherent arguments, and the ensuing dialogue would benefit us, the opposition, and our readers.

This hasn't happened. Oh sure, we get plenty of mail, both from those who are on our side, and from those who are clearly not. Unfortunately, those who oppose us don't seem to be entering into a dialogue, but rather diatribing and disappearing. And, that's understandable. It's easy to throw a bottle through a window, and run like hell. It's infinitely harder to stand your ground, and stick to your convictions, whatever they may be.

Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, Harris; all have entered into great debates, and we have watched them with a smug satisfaction reserved for those who are convinced they are right. We have watched them, waiting for the snide comment, the rhetorical death blow, the deflation and destruction of the opposition's argument. These debates are important, as they serve to tease out those among us who may be afraid to come forward, not realizing that there is a whole community of like-minded people. Those debates have strengthened our base, and have swelled our numbers. Plus, there was nothing quite as entertaining as watching Hitchens decimate Dinesh Desouza.

Those debates, and the debates that are certain to come in the future, were, and are, important, yes. But, sooner or later we are going to have to shift from decimating the religious out there, and move towards educating them. We are a hated, and misunderstood, group. Those misunderstandings are what foster the misplaced beliefs about atheism that are listed above. Those misunderstandings are barring us from politics, education, journalism, and business. When was the last time you heard of anyone in government declaring that they are an atheist? My money is on Al Franken, but I'm not holding my breath.

By some on the religious right, we will always be seen as the enemy, nothing will change that. Your standard television evangelist is not going to one day come out and embrace atheism as 'an alternative lifestyle.' That is not a fight we can win. The fight we can win lay within the flock, who can change the channel, turn off the television, read a book. That is a fight we can win, but we can't win it with snide remarks and moral superiority. We win it by convincing the public that we are not the devil...something we have done a piss-poor job of doing thus far.

I don't want to be an atheist in the public perception of what that word means. I will always be absent a theology, as I'm not getting up on Sunday to go to church, or keeping holy the Sabbath. (Our show is on Sunday, so we are kinda screwed on that one.) When I say I don't want to be an atheist, I mean that I am tired of our group being a public enemy. I'm sick of hearing about uproar over our billboards, I'm sick of watching the representatives from various atheist organizations paraded on to Fox News to be attacked by the various right wing nutjobs who they seem to give microphones to. I'm sick of the public perception of atheism.

And, it is for those reasons that I don't want to be an atheist. I long for the day when the word becomes unnecessary. I long for the day when theology is a non-issue, something studied in history class, a time when we were looking for any candle flame to help us find our way in a dark filled with demons, and monsters, and fear of death. A time when we were afraid of the world, a time that has passed. We can only get there by helping those who believe to understand why we say what we say.

I don't want to be an atheist...but I have to be.
For now.

-Paul Wittmeyer