Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

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More prescient than even he would have expected

November 19, 2013

demonhauntedIt is well-known that Dr. Sagan was not religious – he described himself as agnostic, believing he had seen no proof of a supreme being. His 1995 book, The Demon Haunted World, was about using the scientific method and critical thinking instead of superstition and pseudoscience.

Admirable goals, and Carl Sagan was very articulate. His Cosmos series and book (PBS, 1980) probably did more to to help laymen understand the universe than any previous media program. (He also wrote the novel upon which the Jodie Foster film Contact was based.)

But I doubt he would have expected that his description of America in the quote above would have happened so quickly, or that we got there in the way we did. He seemed to believe the “New Age” trends he saw in the 1980s and 90s might grow, and that the much-publicized decrease in our ability to educate our students would result in an overall dumbing down of America. He himself did what he could to keep that from happening. I doubt he thought, though, that only two decades after he wrote those words we would have fallen so far and so willingly.

Hat tip to Scott Lowther and his “Up-Ship” blog for tipping me off to this one.

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The new constitution of the Nation of Hungary, part 1.

March 12, 2012

I recently found out that Hungary enacted a new constitution last year. Apparently it has generated some controversy, inside the country and out. I found the full English text of the constitution at www.presidentialactivism.com and I’ve started to parse it out. There are some interesting things in it.

I remember reading (in a novel, in fact) about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The uprising only lasted a couple of weeks before the Soviet Union put the hammer down, but it remains a special event in Hungarian memory – in fact, the date of the beginning of the uprising, October 23, is still a national holiday. We have our Independence Day, but our revolution was successful. The Hungarian people didn’t stand a chance against the Soviet military machine.

The new constitution takes into account two important facts: first, natives of Hungary are scattered throughout eastern Europe, and the constitution protects them as citizens even if they do not reside within its borders. I’m not talking about someone living in the Czech Republic for a year or two, working or attending a university; I’m talking residents of those countries and their descendants who were not born in Hungary. You see, the historical ethnic people of Hungary are the Magyars, and the current nation of Hungary is not the same borders as those of the mostly-Magyar nation prior to 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon broke several areas off. See this article for more.

This is similar to what happened to the Ottoman Empire, when a young Winston Churchill drew the boundaries for what are now many of the countries of the Middle East, without much regard for who lived where – except, apparently, a few ruling families that were on the right side when World War I ended. In this case, not only history, but geography was written by the victors.

So there are several significant ethnic and religious-based groups living within Hungary’s borders who are not, according to the government, “real Hungarians.” That’s my term. The term in the constitution is “nationalities.” Article XXIX states, in part:

(1) Nationalities living in Hungary shall be constituent parts of the State. Every Hungarian citizen belonging to any nationality shall have the right to freely express and preserve his or her identity. Nationalities living in Hungary shall have the right to use their native languages and to the individual and collective use of names in their own languages, to promote their own cultures, and to be educated in their native languages.

(2) Nationalities living in Hungary shall have the right to establish local and national self-governments.

If this was the US, I think that means (legal) Mexican immigrants can have government schools that teach in Spanish. Back about a hundred years ago, Chicago could have had government-sponsored schools that taught in Polish, and New York in Italian.

However, Article XXIII gives certain voting rights to non-citizens:

1) Every adult Hungarian citizen shall have the right to be a voter as well as a candidate in the elections of Members of Parliament, local representatives and mayors, and of members of the European Parliament.
(2) Every adult citizen of any other member state of the European Union who is a resident of Hungary shall have the right to be a voter as well as a candidate in the elections of local representatives and mayors, and of members of the European Parliament.
(3) Every adult person who is recognised as a refugee, immigrant or resident of Hungary shall have the right to be a voter in the elections of local representatives and mayors.

Yep, a non-citizen immigrant has the right to vote at least in local elections. No citizenship required. (I’m not even going to get into the whole European Union bit. The way things are going for the EU lately, it may not even exist by the time you read this.)

I thought that was interesting.

There are some other zingers. Article XXI prohibits pollutants being brought into the country for the purpose of dumping. Article XX outlaws “genetically modified organisms,” so no genmod seeds for Hungarian farmers.

There are four words or phrases that are of particular interest. One is “have the right,” and there are lots more rights in this document than in our Bill of Rights. Or, at least, they are enumerated in greater detail. There is “Hungary shall strive,” which gives them government an out on things like “providing every person with decent housing and access to public services.” (Article XXII.) My favorite is “shall be obliged,” and I don’t know the legal definition. This is used in places like Article XVI, in, “(4) Adult children shall be obliged to look after their parents if they are in need.” Does this mean Gramma and Grampa have to move in with you? Exactly what obligation do you have, and – I have to ask – what business is it of the government?

Turns out a lot is the business of the government. They may take your land (even though you have a right to ownership of property, Article XIII) but they must pay you for it right away. Article XVII says in part that every employee has the right to “annual paid leave.” What? How much?

Free and compulsory education is only through the primary grades. Secondary education must be “free and generally available.” (Article XI)

Here’s one of the things that has many in the EU getting their panties in a bunch: Article II, right away, states “Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; embryonic and foetal life shall be subject to protection from the moment of conception.” Yep. No pro-choice here, folks.

If you were waiting for that cloned liver to save you, don’t go to Budapest. Article III prohibits human cloning.

There’s more. As I said, it’s a very interesting document, and the connections between the State and religions is particularly novel, despite stating in Article VII that e”very person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

I’ll get to that in part 2. Stay tuned…

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“Progressive” radio talk show host mocks tornado victims

March 9, 2012

So there is a “progressive” talk show host named Mike Malloy who has a long history of saying incredibly insensitive things. On March 2 he went on a rant about the people who were victims of the recent rash of tornadoes. Among his comments:

“Their God … keeps smashing them into little grease spots on the pavement in  Alabama, and Mississippi, and Arkansas, and Georgia, and Oklahoma. You know, the Bible belt, where they ain’t gonna let no goddamned science get in the way, it says in the Bible, blah blah blah blah blah. So, according to their way of thinking, God with his omnipotent thumb reaches down here and so far tonight has smashed about 20 people into a grease spot on highway 12, or whatever the hell highway they live next to.”

He has since apologized on his web site. Okay, so he apologized. He has a history of bizarre and hateful on-air statements.

Should we all send letters to his sponsors telling them to drop him because of his speech? That’s what’s been going on with Rush Limbaugh.

I’ve already said I believe Rush got carried away and went too far. He was trying to make a point but it got out of hand. Of course the “mainstream” media has gleefully reported that many sponsors have dropped his show. According to Rush, some have, but in most cases they were local sponsors buying time on the commercial segments reserved for local advertising during his show – not the national sponsors.

Rush can be over the top. He also can be insightful. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not – but he has always made me think. The stuff this Malloy guy said would just make me very angry. Apparently he used to be on WLS-AM, which is, ironically, where Rush is broadcast in the Chicago market. I dimly recall the name but I don’t recall hearing him.

Rush was trying to make a point about how the Administration is usurping our freedoms in yet another way. He didn’t succeed because of the direction he took the discussion and the resulting focus on the wrong things. What Malloy said can’t be justified in any way I can see.

But he’s OK, of course. I haven’t heard that the President called the tornado victims to make sure they didn’t feel bad because of Malloy’s comments. But he was very concerned about Ms. Fluke.

As is often the case, Jerry Pournelle presents a logical discussion about the issues of contraception, the Catholic Church, and freedom.

Heinlein was right, but the “Crazy Years” have been going on too long…

 

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About the current Rush Limbaugh flap…

March 5, 2012

He’s an easy target. He makes a living “illustrating the absurd with absurdity.” He is often emotional, and does not suffer fools gladly. He also has the largest audience in talk radio…in fact, one of the largest audiences anywhere in any media. He has coined many phrases used by not only by conservatives, but by people of all political persuasions. (For example, he created “operation chaos” to keep the race between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama going through more primaries…and I’ve heard it used often by others over the last few weeks in referring to the Republican primaries.)

Now, I’m sure I’ve said some things without doing proper research from time to time. I expect all of us have. I have to say, though, that the statements I’ve read and heard from a variety of sources today seem to have been made without having ever heard the argument Rush Limbaugh made the other day.

I’ve been a Rush 24/7 member for years. I suppose that disqualifies me for this discussion. I have heard the whole argument, because I have listened to the audio files from earlier in the week.

As I understood it, Rush was making a couple of points. First, the entire “committee hearing” was a sham. The House Republicans wouldn’t allow “testimony” on the contraceptives/religious freedom issue the Current Occupant of the White House started. That decision was made by Rep. Darrell Issa, who has been critical of the whole issue in the past.

Therefore, Democrats decided to create a sort of a fake hearing to get their points out to the press. I’ve seen it referred to as a “Congressional Panel.” I guess that’s a true statement. There were Congressmen – but only Democrats. They listened to “testimony” from a “Georgetown University law school coed,” whose age was given as 23.

Except…Sandra Fluke is actually 30 and has a long history of promoting feminist causes. In fact, there is some evidence she decided to attend Georgetown specifically because she wanted to make the University’s health care policies an issue. She certainly was not a random female law school student, testifying as to the beliefs and concerns of all her fellow students. She is a woman with a very specific agenda.

So Limbaugh’s first point was that the entire “panel” was set up just to bring this issue to light in the way the Democrats wanted to present it, and the media lapped it up.

His second point was that, assuming Fluke’s testimony could be applied to all female students at the University, two things seemed absurd: if all female students were so concerned about contraception, they must all be having sex or contemplating same; and that they all believed it was the job of the Government to force health care plans to provide means of contraception free of charge. Georgetown, a Catholic Jesuit university, was a perfect target for Obama’s argument that all heath care plans should include contraception, even if they are provided by religious institutions that specifically discourage the use of contraception.

In his “illustration” of the absurdity of these issues – a sham “hearing” and a blatant infringement of religious freedom, not to mention the issue (still to be decided) of the constitutionality of Obamacare – Limbaugh used the absurd. If Ms. Fluke was sexually active – and she must be, or why should she be concerned about contraception? – why should her health care provider be forced to provide it? Granted, Limbaugh did have one break in his logic chain: the price of birth control pills does not increase based on the frequency of sexual activity – although condoms do, of course.

So, if Obamacare distributes the costs for health care across the largest possible group of people, then by extension, we, as contributors to Obamacare, are being forced to pay for her contraception. “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” Robert Heinlein tried to make that into a pronounceable acronym in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but TANSTAAFL doesn’t fall right off the tongue. It still is true, though. The bigger issue here is that we are being forced, through taxation, to pay for many, many things that should not be the responsibility of government. Doing so creates more opportunities for control, both in taxation and in rules and regulations.

Limbaugh attempted to show that if the government provides (or forces other agencies to provide) contraceptives for sexually active, unmarried young women, then we – as the providers of the funds used to provide said contraceptives – are, in essence, “paying these young women for having sex.”

Put aside for the moment the fact that a thirty-year-old unmarried law student publicly admitted that she is sexually active. (Even though she did nothing to lead us to believe she is in a committed relationship, even.) You may also put aside the fact that she tried to project her situation to other female students. We may instead stay focused on the issue of the government promoting contraception to the extent of requiring even religious institutions to provide it.

This was the core issue – an issue of religious freedom and public policy. It was not an issue of one law student being sexually promiscuous. Instead, that issue was overpowered by a personal attack.

Limbaugh pushed his logic too far by trying to personalize it and focus it on one person. I’ll agree with that. His apology to Sandra Fluke demonstrated that he realized it as well. You may say that the only reason he apologized was because his advertisers were beginning to bolt, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m sure he got some heat from Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes his show, even though they were quick to support him publicly. Should he have called this woman a slut…no. I don’t think so. But should the President of the United States call this same woman to express his support? No. By giving this incident the focus that can only come from the use of the “bully pulpit” of the Presidency.

The discussion we should be having is why the President is willing to trivialize a constitutional issue. It’s not the first time, of course, and it won’t be the last. Why does he do it? Because it’s his deception tactic – “pay attention to this little thing over here, and you won’t see the great big thing going on over there.”

Okay, Rush Limbaugh said a stupid thing, or at least said a thing stupidly. Is that worse that any one of a number of things Bill Maher has said about other women? Of course not. It was said by Rush Limbaugh, though, which means it’s automatically the most horrible thing ever said by one human being about another.

Let’s get back to the big issues. Rush probably learned a lesson, and maybe we all can, too. Let’s be concerned about how more and more of our freedoms are being taken away, instead.

 

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Does God Exist?

November 16, 2011
bubble universes

Bubble Universes visualized in journalofcosmology.com

I’ve been doing some interesting research for a novel I’m writing.  (More on that, maybe, in another post.) It concerns quantum physics and even smaller things – string theory, branes, theories of 10- or 11-dimensional space-time, multiple universes – all sorts of what can be considered either cutting-edge physics and cosmology or crazy crap.

I confess I came to the whole quantum physics stuff late. In high school we got “classical” physics, down to the electron, proton and neutron. I didn’t take a college science class (Yea music degree!) so I didn’t get anything there. Most of what I got was from science fiction I read, and the science fact articles I’ve absorbed through the years from Analog or other magazines.

Parallel to this I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio in the Sixties in a German-Lutheran environment, religiously speaking. The Lutheran Church there had not yet been changed by the inclusion of Scandinavian influences. I’ve always thought that the Church I grew up in was closer to old-school Roman Catholicism that the Catholic Church was in the Sixties. Minus that transubstantiation stuff, of course.

These two viewpoints always kind of fought in my head. Is there a God? Is He a personal God? If I pray to Him, does He hear me? Does he answer prayers? How do I reconcile my religious upbringing with, not Darwinism, but cosmology, which was trying to determine how the whole universe started.

What was here before there was a here? If the universe was created from a Big Bang, how did that happen? And why? I’ve always felt that the intense study of the Big Bang and what happened immediately after it, while extremely valuable, ignored the more basic question: what was there before it occurred?

Now there are scientists who are saying that maybe our universe has collided with others. (Also see here.) Some believe that branes have collided, or that gravity, weak in our 4-dimensional view, could be very strong in another dimension or set of dimensions. Others are seeking to understand why the universe seems to be perfectly set up for life to exist.

None of these, nor superstring theory or it’s successors using branes, really refers to why things are the way they are. They just seek to describe what they are. If strings exist at the Planck length (or less) it may be impossible to ever detect them directly. God may just not want us to look that far “behind the curtain.”

The more we know about the very small, the more we can determine about the very large. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is supposed to whack protons together so hard as to produce energies never before seen on Earth. There was an unfounded concern it would create a black hole that would ultimately eat the Earth. The smaller you want to observe, the greater the energy required. That may put a limit on what we can detect.

Instead of looking at this from the “blind watchmaker” angle, let’s look at it from the point of view that there is some kind of intelligence that is extra-universal. It exists outside of our universe but can perceive what happens in our universe. Perhaps it influences how our universe began. Is this the vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrews? Is this a being that cares about us at all as individual solar systems, as planets, let alone as individual people?

I don’t know. In an infinite set of universes, being created and collapsing, eventually there will be one that will have exactly the physical characteristics necessary for life to evolve. (If you wait long enough, those million monkeys will eventually type all of Shakespeare.)

I was going to say, “Are we lucky enough to be the only ones who live in that universe?” What popped into my head was, “Are we the only ones blessed with living in that universe?”

I have to confess that God nowadays seems a bit close-mouthed about things. Back a few thousand years ago he would talk to people, or smite somebody, and demonstrate he was there. Now we look for anything that might be somehow made to fit into our beliefs. I’ve got a couple of incidents myself (which I will not relate here). Is it just our evolved predator brains, looking for patterns where there are none?

I just can’t believe that. If there is some kind of intelligence outside of our universe that tweaked the parameters of our universe so that suns and planets could form, so that water and carbon and other elements could exist and combine in certain ways, and so that ultimately life, sentient life, could come to be – I’m calling it God. Does He listen to my prayers? If He can design a universe, why not? If He went to all the trouble to make the universe balance so we could exist, why wouldn’t He take an interest in His creations?

What happens outside of our universe? Are there more universes? How many more? An infinite number? At what point does the multiverse become self-aware? 

I think the problem with atheism is that it is thinking too small. “I can’t see it, or smell it, or touch it, so it can’t exist.” I think the ideas of what is outside of our universe, how our universe began and how it might end, and how it is built at its fundamental level all tell me it was designed for us. God did want companionship. Perhaps trillions of trillions of companions. Perhaps the multiverse is self-aware and is looking after its component parts, which it labored long and hard to build in a certain way.

Now: let’s say the multiverse idea is correct. What’s outside of the multiverse?

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” 

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"It's turtles, all the way down!"

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Is it raining frogs yet?

August 23, 2011

Record snow, heat, rain, tornadoes, now an earthquake in Washington D.C. I was willing to dismiss everything as normal variation until this. What’s God trying to tell us? And if he’s not, you can’t tell me that earthquakes are caused by “climate change.” (But I bet somebody will try.)

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Israel as the next world oil superpower

June 23, 2011

Israeli self-defense missile battery

I read an article the other day by a fellow named Lawrence Solomon about the oil shale deposits in Israel. The Shfela basin, west of Jerusalem, is estimated to contain 250 billion barrels of oil…Saudi Arabia is estimated to have reserves of 260 billion barrels.

It’s tied up in oil shale, but by using a new process using heated rods driven into the shale, only 25 square kilometers will be required for the oil field, with minimal environmental damage. The process was developed by Harold Vinegar, who used to be Shell Oil’s chief scientist.

This is a game-changer. The primary reason for the Western nations to play nice with the Arab states has been because they needed the oil – Europe far more than the US. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Otherwise, no one would bargain with a group such as OPEC. Now there might be a new major player in the oil business in the Middle East.

On the one hand, I think this is wonderful. A stable government with deep oil reserves anywhere in the world should be a positive thing. But…

What’s the reaction of all these new reactionary governments that are growing right now in the Middle East when Israel starts shipping oil? I don’t see Syria, Libya, Egypt, or Allah forbid, a mob-ruled Saudi Arabia standing for that as long as they have militaries. They already hate Israel on general principles. If they become a competitor for the only real source of income of those countries, Israel becomes more than an irritant – it becomes a real economic threat.

I hope the “foreign policy aides” to the Republican candidates are studying this, because at best one of them will have to advise a new President on how to handle a new, hot war in the eastern Mediterranean.