I am at a loss for words. Seriously, there is not much I can add to the 1st video below.
Information about climate change is all around us. Everyone knows about it; Most people understand that it is real and it that poses an existential threat, quite possibly in our lifetimes. In our children’s lives, it will certainly lead to war, famine, cancer, and massive loss of land, structures and money. It is already raising sea level and killing off entire species at thousands of times the natural rate.
Yet, few people, organizations or governments treat the issue with the urgency of an existential crisis. Sure! A treaty was signed and this week, Jeff Bezos committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the world’s biggest retailer. But have we moved in the right direction since the Paris Accords were signed 4 years ago? On the contrary, we have accelerated the pace of self-destruction.
I want speak out—and, of course, this Blog post is my way of doing it. But I am at a loss for words, because everything I want to say is so deftly articulated by 15 year old Greta Thunberg. I cannot possibly add to or improve upon her message.
Greta is not your typical hero. She is a child, has Asperger’s, and is a high school Sophomore, yet she is a truant. That is, she regularly skips class, because she feels that doing her own thing is more important than education. She is absolutely right…
This week Greta educated the UN, US Congress and former President Obama (because the current president cannot grasp her message). She also led a protest campaign that attracted millions of Millennials in more than 100 cities across Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Greta Thunberg is racing to save the world—and all of humanity while she is at it.
Rather than link to her talk before Congress or the UN, or this overly-slick PSA, I choose three videos. The last one is only 49 seconds). Don’t have the time to pause for a video?—not even at bed time? Please reconsider. This one is really, really important. Even more important than not texting and driving. If ever you felt that there was something to communicate to your circle and pass onto your family, this is it. Your children are counting on you.
In the first two videos, Greta makes interesting point. If ever you imagined hearing an alarm bell, your ears should be clanging with these statements…
▪ 1st video, below
Greta was puzzled by an apparent incongruity when she was 8 years old: How is it that a widely reported existential threat has not resulted in a Stop-The-Presses, all out campaign to eliminate the threat? How is it that a majority of people claim to support the cause, applaud at speeches, support the Paris Accords—and yet the burning of fossil fuels has increased and the destruction of jungles & rain forests is accelerating? The carbon budget of the Paris Accords has already been ⅔ consumed! Even worse, scientists now believe that the budget was too relaxed. Even back then (3 years ago) things were worse than we had believed.
▪ 2nd video, below
Although Greta states it without emotion (a symptom of Asberger’s), she was surprised to find that America has climate change ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. Without a hint of sarcasm, she explains that in Sweden, everyone understands the facts.
Please view these videos. Is there anything in your day that is more important? I doubt it. Saving the planet is no longer a slogan. It’s our only chance at survival—and that chance is getting slimmer with each day.
With all of the Trump talk on television, American media networks have dropped the ball on newsworthy international events. Here is a humanitarian crisis that we haven’t heard much about lately.
In the 1980s and early 90s, many Colombians fled to Venezuela. At the time, the Venezuelan economy was booming. But now, the country is a poverty stricken dog, due to the colossal mismanagement of strong man, Nicolás Maduro.
Now, Venezuelans are fleeing. Inflation is hitting One Million Percent and the common laborer cannot feed his family. Artists make tote bags out of worthless currency. A hot dog from a street vendor cost the typical worker a month’s wages.
The US and Brazil have taken in 75,000 Venezuelans each. Peru has taken in far more than most countries with 414,000 immigrants. Yet, Columbia has taken in one million so far—and they are granting border crossers legal status. Many Columbian citizens are opening their homes, taking in whole families. Surprisingly, even the overcrowded border town (with massive migration at the port), enjoys booming economic activity.
Sure, there are some violent crimes blamed on new immigrants and one local police chief is trying to stir up Trump-style Xenophobia. But citizens and the national government are not buying it. 200 years ago, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador were one country (Gran Columbia, with Bogota as capital). Cross-border migration has been high throughout the past century due to drug wars, the conflict with FARC and various political & economic upheavals. These peoples have shared ancestry. Each country traces its roots to a similar mix of European, African & Native American ties.
Check out this short video. It is a sympathetic look at the current crises, a supportive callout to the people of Columbia and the source of my commentary, above.
For millennia, our planet has sustained a robust ecosystem; healing each deforestation, algae bloom, pollution or imbalance caused by natural events. Before the arrival of an industrialized, destructive and dominant global species, it could pretty much deal with anything short of a major meteor impact. In the big picture, even these cataclysmic events have not destroyed the environment—they just change the course of evolution and rearrange the dog pile. A new alpha animal emerges and thrives.
But with industrialization, the race for personal wealth, nations fighting nations, and modern comforts, we have recognized that our planet is not invincible. This is why I serve on the board of Lifeboat Foundation. The foundation is all about recognizing the limits to growth and protecting our fragile environment.
Check out this April news article on Trump’s appointment of Jim Bridenstine, a vocal climate denier, as head of NASA. NASA is one of the biggest agencies on earth. Despite a lack of training or experience—without literacy in science, technology or astrophysics—he was handed an enormous responsibility, a staff of 17,000 and a budget of $19 billion.
In 2013, Bridenstine criticized Obama for wasting taxpayer money on climate research, and claimed that global temperatures stopped rising 15 years ago.
The Vox News headline states “Trump’s next NASA administrator is a Republican congressman with no background in science”. It points out that Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation has been controversial — even among members of his own party.
Sometimes, flip-flopping is a good thing
In less than one month, Jim Bridenstine has changed—he has changed a lot!
After less then a month as head of NASA, he is convinced that climate change is real, that human activity is the significant cause and that it presents an existential threat. He has changed from climate denier to a passionate advocate for doing whatever is needed to reverse our impact and protect the environment.
Bridenstine acknowledges that he was a denier, but feels that exposure to the evidence and science is overwhelming and convincing—even in with just a few weeks exposure to world class scientists and engineers.
For anyone who still claims that there is no global warming or that the evidence is ‘iffy’, it is worth noting that Bridenstine is a hand-picked goon. His appointment was recommended by right wing conservatives and rubber stamped by the idiot-in-chief (the original stooge for the ultra right). He was a Denier—but had a sufficiently open mind to listen to experts and review the evidence.
Do you suppose that the US president is listening? Do you suppose that he will grasp the most important issues of this century? What about other world leaders, legislative bodies and rock stars? Will tey use their powers or influence to do the right thing? For the sake of our existence, let us hope they follow the lead of Jim Bridenstine, former climate denier!
Ironically, my more popular posts are ones furthest from my passion and core interests. They are larks—never intended to go viral. This is about one of them…
Apart from family, I typically steer clear of religious topics. I identify with a mainstream religion, but it is completely beside the purpose of this Blog, and it is a personal affair.
Yet, here we discuss a religious topic, after all. Let’s get started…
Do atheists agree that the fact that we can’t understand quantum physics is at least somewhat evidence of Allah?
An Objective Answer
Do you assert that a failure to understand something is evidence of God?
I don’t fully understand a triple-Lutz (ice skating) or the Jessica stitch (needlepoint)—and I certainly don’t get why an electric dryer leaves moisture on light weight linens, when a gas dryer gets them bone-dry before the plush towels.
Is my inability to solve these mysteries evidence of Allah (or Yahweh, haShem or Y’Shewa)? Of course, not! It has nothing to do with God or religion. The fact that I don’t quite grasp every complex task or unexplained science is not evidence of God, it is evidence of my own ignorance.
On the other hand, I am fortunate to understand quantum physics—both academically and from an innate perspective. That is, behavior of waves and matter on a subatomic scale make perfect sense to me.
You would be correct to point out that certain quantum behavior seems to violate common sense:
Probabilistic behavior. (i.e. Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive at once)
Measure photons or electrons as a wave, and it no longer behaves like particles
Entangled electrons (Einstein called it ‘Spooky action at a distance’)
The EPR Paradox (entanglement experiment demonstrates causality based on future knowledge. It seems profoundly unbelievable!)
But these things only seem strange, because we do not experience them first hand given our size and our senses. As the math and the mechanisms are understood through research and experimentation, the behavior begins to fit within physical laws as we understand them. Then, we can extrapolate (predict) other behaviors.
For example, as we begin to understand quantum mechanics, we can design a computer, an encryption mechanism—and eventually a teleportation system—that exploits the physical properties and laws.
1 I do not appreciate the outreach of evangelism. In my opinion, religious discussion is best amongst a like-minded community.
An argument against Evangelism
This isn’t a rant against personal faith. It is a rant against the idea that you should ‘push’ your views on unrelated individuals, especially strangers—even if you believe that your view offers salvation.
Anyone who has lived in a home or apartment, dormed at a college or housed in the military has been approached by well-intentioned Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptists, Hari Krishna or other evangelicals. I hold nothing against such missionaries. They are marketing conscience and faith in what they see as an act of love. Unfortunately, society is worse off for this type of love. They are horribly misguided. They mean well and they may have the inside track on creation, but their understanding of equality and civil liberties is naïve.
Is this a position of Intolerance? — Quite the opposite!
Even in far off lands, instant communication, air travel and nuclear weapons render our fiefdoms meaningless beyond the realms of taxation, defense, and road repair. We live in a pluralistic melting pot. The shrinking planet demands that we coexist. I have always felt that the only thing of which we can be intolerant is intolerance itself.
So, why do I shun religious outreach? Because, arguing that your book is better than mine can only be won on faith—and faith is both personal and unprovable. Sure, tolerance is often built on religious ideals. To function as a society without killing each other, tolerance is a necessity. But, tolerance and humanity are also built into the Golden Rule and every democratic constitution. Any attempt to persuade others to adopt your core beliefs about origin, doctrine or blasphemy is pointless and an affront to everyone elses’ beliefs.
Whew! It took courage to get that off my chest. I hope that my friend, Hiawatha Bray forgives me.
What about the contradiction between science and religion?
I have never seen any contradiction. Only someone who believes that the Earth was created in the past 6,000 years ago sees a contradiction. That belief is as goofy as the sun orbiting the earth.
If there is a God, then I suppose it explains the energy and matter that surrounds us. And if this is the case, he followed up by proclaiming the finely tuned natural laws of physics and biochemistry, and set everything in motion. Oh rejoice in his splendor! Because, after billions of years, life arose—and we are the interim products of an expanding universe. It’s awe-inspiring, but it certainly presents no contradiction.
I don’t consider myself an atheist. And despite offering an agnostic explanation of the universe, my religion is my business and not yours. But, I certainly believe in science! I side with Bill Nye and the late Carl Sagan (he was my former professor). No one with a sense of their surroundings and an appreciation for facts can ignore that the Earth and the universe have existed for billions of years.
We may be the product of an intelligent God, but if we are, we will never know. We lack to tools to discern the question that predates all other questions. Pointing to ancient scripture is nonsense. The scripture was written by men, seeking to explain everything that they observed in their times. Yet, these men had fewer facts about the universe than we have now. The faith that most believers associate with scripture is based on respect for the practices and beliefs of their parents.
Moreover, the men who created these book (the bibles of any religion), also created God. Why? To deal with mortality, explain tragedy, control the masses—or perhaps as a mental exercise. It may even be a byproduct of what they were ingesting and smoking.
What’s wrong with this illustration of the planets in our solar system? »
For one thing, it suggests that the planets line up for photos on the same solar ray, just like baby ducks in a row. That’s a pretty rare occurrence—perhaps once in several billion years. In fact, Pluto doesn’t even orbit on the same plane as the planets. Its orbit is tilted 17 degrees. So, forget it lining up with anything, except on rare occasions, when it crosses the equatorial plane. On that day, you might get it to line up with one or two planets.
But what about scale? Space is so vast. Perhaps our solar system looks like this ↓
No such luck! Stars and planets do not fill a significant volume of the void. They are lonely specs in the great enveloping cosmic dark.* Space is mostly filled with—well—space! Lots and lots of it. In fact, if Pluto and our own moon were represented by just a single pixel on your computer screen, you wouldn’t see anything around it. Even if you daisy chain a few hundred computer screens, you will not discern the outer planets. They are just too far away.
Josh Worth has created an interactive map of our solar system. For convenience, it also assumes that planets are lined up like ducks. But the relative sizes and distance between planets are accurate. Prepare to change your view of the cosmos…
1/7 the way to Pluto. I enlarged Jupiter’s moons. On a full-screen view, they are barely visible.
Just swipe your finger from the right edge of the screen to move away from the sun. Despite a fascinating experience (and many cute, provocative Easter eggs hidden between the planets), few readers swipe all the way out to Pluto and the author credits. On my high-resolution monitor, it requires more than a thousand swipes. Imagine if the Moon had been more than 1 pixel…It would take a long, long time! I would rather go out to dinner and a movie. But I urge you to travel at least to Jupiter. At 1/7 of the trip to Pluto, it should take less than 5 minutes.
On this scale, you won’t see the 1½ or 2 million asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. They aren’t large enough to merit a pixel. As Josh states, “Most space charts leave out the most significant part – all the space.” (an Easter egg at 1.12 billion km on the map).
* I borrowed this phrase from my former Cornell professor, Carl Sagan. He uses it in Pale Blue Dot [timestamp 2:14.]. This video tribute became a touchstone in my life; even more than having Sagan as a professor and mentor.
If you view it, be sure to also view Consider Again, Sagan’s follow-up in the video below. It is a thought-provoking observation of human-chauvinism throughout history—even among ancient Greeks. Carl isn’t the first atheist, of course. But he is eloquent in describing mankind’s ego trip: The delusion of a privileged place in the universe, or the religious depiction of God and his relationship with our species.
At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…
Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…
If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.
So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.
Let me offer an example:
I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations). Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.
Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.
As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:
I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
I think about all the people who view the world as he does
After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.
Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends with anyone who drank or smoked. I even resisted socializing with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.
In those days, I was referred to as “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!
In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.
I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.
I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.
Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) kicked up a firestorm last week, when she tweeted a photo of two side-by-side magazines on a newsstand. The contrast between cover features of Boys’ Life -vs- Girls’ Life is startling. With characteristic sarcastic wit, she tweeted:
“Why are you feminists always complaining?
We treat boys and girls exactly the same.”
For those who are reading this without the image below, the current issue of these magazines calls out to readers like this:
Boys:Would you like to build and fly the next generation of jet fighters?
Girls:What on Earth can you do with your hair and nails this weekend?
The difference between these covers suggests that the respective magazine editors are pushing 19th century aspirations onto the next generation of women. It’s a reminder of the differences in the way we perceive the sexes. But does this contrast present a fair and balanced comparison?
Certainly, there is work to do—but, the stark difference between these magazine covers may not point to a societal ill in the way that seems to jump off the screen.
Despite similar titles, these magazines have very different audiences and goals. I doubt that Girls’ Life is aimed at the broader demographics of Boys’ Life. The subscriber base evolved to target the girls of Toddlers and Tiaras. I am exaggerating by pointing to a narrow demographic, of course! but it sells to girls who already aspire to be future homemakers, or who simply have the fashion obsession that is still the hallmark of many preteen girls.
Unlike boys, girls really do have more options for viewing their future and their careers. Feminism and technological/political empowerment is not yet universal or even universally embraced. Some families, particularly among the south, among religious conservatives, and among hard-hat towns dependent upon muscles and mining, still promote the notion of TFRs onto the next generation (traditionally female roles). Right or wrong, it brings us to point #3…
It’s clear that there is a stark difference between covers: “How can I build a jet fighter?” -vs- “What will I do with my hair tonight?” But, it is all too easy to assume that we understand cause-and-effect. That is, the difference is likely to be a reaction to market forces, rather than the publisher’s attempt to shape desires. One cannot find fault with delivering content based on consumer demand.
If you tell me that there are plenty of girls that hope to build or fly a jet fighter, I will nod in agreement. But if you tell me that there is an equal fraction of boys who obsess over their nails, hair and the color of a blouse, I will wonder if we live on the same planet.
My teenage daughter is clearly in the former group: She imagines, asks tough questions, builds, tears down, and then builds a better gizmo from scratch. She codes Android apps and creates massive murals for the local shopping mall. But, some girls care about classic ‘girly’ things, at least during their early years. And here’s a surprise…
Many of these gilrly girls exhibit just as much technical proficiency and self-confidence as their empowered peers. They are assertive, independent, financially savvy, and aware of their equal political and career footings. Yet, many of us feminists bristle at the thought of a female child who obsesses about their hair and nails (at least to the point of subscribing to a magazine in that venue). In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive.
So, can I still call myself a feminist in the mold of Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem? Perhaps not. I am more likely to identify with a less militant Helen Gurley Brown. She was all about empowerment and sexual equality. Yet, somehow, she avoided pushing the sexes to be completely indistinguishable and androgynous.
Do you disagree? Do you think that I exhibit a Luddite attitude that is at the core of a chauvinistic society? Don’t just let it grate on you—Be a Wild Duck! Leave a comment.
Last year, an Op-Ed in my personal Blog, AWildDuck.com, caught the attention of a retired US politician. His staff contacted me, due to an editorial that was highly critical of his colleague (a younger politician who still holds office). Fearing an angry reader with clout, I was preparing to defend my position and my First Amendment freedoms, when the bigwig pulled the phone away from his assistant—and made me an offer.
He didn’t want me to retract the article about his colleague. In fact, he thought that the current US Senator was a bigger putz than I had portrayed. Instead, he wanted me to write his kiss-and-tell memoirs—
I was born in a house my father built…
a book that was guaranteed to be filled with all sorts of juicy revelations. I was ecstatic! This was a dream job—precisely the reason that I started the Blog: to land a string of high-dollar writing gigs.
His lawyers contacted me. We exchanged documents. I signed an NDA and provided writing samples in several different styles. His family and aides analyzed my writing for plagiarism, geographic or anachronistic idioms, and for level and clarity. Within the week, he hired me as his ghostwriter.
I began writing under the name of a well-known, national politician. During interviews, I was in awe of this internationally known historical figure, who—in the sunset of life—chose me as his personal conduit to history. Although I could not tell my family who was this important figure, my teenage daughter figured it out, based on overhearing my side of several interviews. She was sworn to secrecy.
“I put lipstick on a pig…I feel deep remorse.” —Illustration: J. Jaén
After three months, and several drafts of the first chapters, I backed out of the project and returned a sizable pile of cash. I was unable to apply my passion and zeal to this man’s shocking opinions and nuggets of “wisdom”, even though my name would not appear on the book. I just couldn’t bring myself to rephrase what he said in interviews and what appeared in his notes…
It’s unclear whether my employer had changed in his golden years, or if—perhaps—a racist misogynist was smoldering under the surface all these years.
Perhaps most surprising, for me, is that he had publicly championed women’s rights throughout an illustrious career, yet—at least today—he secretly feels that our country’s ills are a direct result of gains in women’s jobs, pay, education, rights and reproductive freedom. He wanted me to explain that empowerment of women during the 60s and 70s effectively castrated men both at home and on the job. He earnestly believes that the best place for a women is in the kitchen or the bedroom. He can barely tolerate a woman in the workplace, so long as she is a nurse or secretary or school teacher.
Today, I came across a similar story in The New Yorker. But this one has a very different ending. In this case, the ghostwriter completed the book, only to be filled with remorse!
Tony Schwartz,is the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. It is among the most successful business books in publishing history. Unlike me, he did not back out his gig. He is an excellent wordsmith, and—just like a good speech writer—he wove his compelling art for Donald Trump.
Tonight, Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for the highest office in our land. But, Tony Schwartz regrets “putting lipstick on a pig”. (Editor’s Note:I really like the metaphor!). Tony’s skillful pen made Trump look astute, insightful, savvy and successful. And it created an impression that hoodwinked the Republican nomination.
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t mean it…We thought it was the star of a an iconic Sheriff’s badge. Only crooked Hillary or the
liberal media would interpret it as an Anti-Semitic tweet.”
No, it’s not a quote from Mr. Trump. It is a mash-up of responses from his deputies and spin-meisters on CNN. They were responding to this graphic, issued from their leader’s personal and infamous Twitter account.
The great thing about using proxies to do your dirty work, is that you can throw whatever you want toward the wall, and then disavow whatever doesn’t stick.
Along with name-calling and race baiting, it’s what six year olds do best in a sandbox. Later, when they become teens, they mature into slashing tires, throwing Molotov cocktails or electing bigots to the white house.
This is what a Sheriff’s star looks like, Mr. Trump. It has 5, 6 or 7 points. Those with 6 points always have balls at the vertices—especially, if it constructed from two equilateral triangles. A Star of David is not an iconic Sheriff’s star.
When used to frame text, graphjic artists and layout editors almost always choose a 7-pointed star, because it maximizes text area. A Star of David is made of two overlapping, equilateral triangles. Although it can portray other things, the shape is fairly distinctive because of its simplicity. There are no balls at the vertices.
According to the FBI, 57% of hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews, while only 16% target Muslims. Your tweet plays to the haters. You know it. Believe me, Mr. Trump, you know it!
As a leading candidate for political office, you most certainly have a sense of your audience and how words and images are likely to be interpreted. You cannot play dumb with the rest of Americans. But in the event that you are, in fact, clueless, your naïveté or indifference is almost as dangerous as the hate that most Americans suspect of you.
The bottom line is that divisiveness, marginalization and intolerance are the hallmarks of a weak, thin-skinned bully. They have no place in politics and are not compatible with secular government or the democratic process.
Ellery is rarely a political pundit. But he has written about Donald Trump before:
According to The Clarion Project, a political information bureau that warns westerners of the growing threat from radical Islam, ISIS has published a ‘kill list’ that includes the names, addresses and emails of 15,000 Americans.
So far, this is interesting news, but it is not really new. I found ISIS, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida kill lists going back at least 8 years. This 2012 bulletin complains that NBC would not release the names contained on a kill list.
A kill list is newsworthy, and the Clarion article is interesting—but the article has more “facts” with which the publisher wishes to generate mob frenzy…
It echos a report by Circa News that the FBI has decided to not inform citizens that they are on the ISIS kill list.
In a clear effort to whip up and direct audience indignation, it asks readers to take a one-question poll. Which answer would you choose?
I have a right to know if I am on an ISIS kill list
I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list.
The FBI can protect me without my knowing
Let’s ignore, for a moment, that the editorial comment appended to answer #2 involves a misleading assumption (i.e. that your safety is related to inclusion on the list and that you need or would be the focus of FBI protection). Even before this cheap tactical mis-direction, I am frustrated with the sleazy promotional and shock tactics of The Clarion Project (formerly, stopradicalislam.org).
Muslim Imam, orders the destruction of Christian churches
This a pity—because the Clarion Project also creates and distributes valuable educational literature. For a few years, they were the credible standard in defining and issuing warnings about the dangers of radical Islam—especially as it is seeded and spread from within. The Clarion Project also produces terrific “wake-up” videos and documentary evidence about life under Sharia law and the shocking intolerance, misogyny and disrespect for human rights that characterize ISIS. It highlights the brutal tactics that emerge when regional governments are controlled by religious zealots. Like any repressive dictatorship, ISIS rules through fear instilled by bands of roaming thugs and by turning everyone into snitches.*
But the Kill List Poll points to a growing trend at Clarion. Four years ago, I objected to Meira Svirsky’s inflammatory report that criticizes a DOJ official for refusing to answer a complex and subtle question with a Yes-or-No response. The Clarion Project has a critical and noble goal. But pushing the emotional hot buttons of an audience by over simplifying or vilifying subtleties undermines the entire organization. In the end, it only demonstrates that they are bullies. And just like Donald Trump, bullying plays only to mobs. It is no the way to win hearts and minds.
My Answer to the Poll
I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list
Both ISIS leaders and radical clerics have repeatedly declared that *all* Americans, American allies, Jews and non-believers may be killed on the spot or taken as sex slaves to pleasure suicide bombers and Jihadist soldiers. They state that doing this fulfills Jihad and prophecy and is sanctioned by the Holy Qur’an. With this in mind, I feel that the poll options are political, selfish and offensive. It assumes that readers are idiots…
The multiple choice answers are incomplete and misleading. Of course, Americans have a right to know if they are on a kill list—and, in fact, we already know. We are all on that list!
About Radical Islam
The warning bell at the heart of Clarion journalism is an alarm that must be heard—very loudly. Radical Islam is a cancer and not just figuratively. It exhibits all earmarks of a spreading pathogen that invades and attaches itself to its neighbors while building offensive outposts far from the region that it started. It has not yet been contained and excised. It presents a significant ongoing threat to our safety, our health and our wealth.
* I could illustrate my point with photos of men being burned in a cage, the abduction of preteen school girls from their homes (they were given to soldiers), a child slitting the throat of captives, or a women having her nose cut off because she was raped by a stranger. After all, in the twisted world of radical Islam, anyone who is different, unique gay, Christian, or not in agreement with the local Imam is to be tortured and killed.
But I can similarly point to even this comparatively mild video. It shows a Turkish music store under attack last week (June 2016), because a group of thugs suspects that the band signing autographs represents secular hedonism—or that that fans in the store might be consuming alcohol during Ramadan.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence must be breathing a bit easier right now. It was just a year ago that his zealous support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatened to undermine every business sector in the state,
Of course, that was a year ago. Governor Pence has signed legislation that revises the law to prevent potential discrimination. Although the revised law doesn’t outlaw LGBT discrimination, the stench around Indiana lawmakers has abated because a year has passed since the glare of a media spotlight. Now, the spotlight is focusing on North Carolina, where House Bill 2 is threatening that state’s fiscal health.
For Indiana, the rebellion was led by sports teams, including national gatherings like NASCAR. With North Carolina, it is led by musicians and, of course, business. In just the past two weeks a slew of venues was cancelled or sidelined, including concerts by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Maroon 5 and Itzhak Perlman.
Business and enterprise has a slightly longer time horizon than concert bookings, but the handwriting is on the wall: PayPal withdrew plans for a new Charlotte operations center because it opposes the law; the center would have created more than 400 jobs for the city. Deutsche Bank froze plans to add 250 jobs.
Yes. This is the bill that thumbs its nose at the Obama administration after the White House issued guidance on common sense gender policies in public restrooms, especially in public schools, where it threatened the withdrawal of federal funds.
I won’t pretend that the issue is black & white. After all, a frequently repeated argument asserts that this ruling (or clarification of Title 9, as the White House characterizes it) permits a pervert to enter a girl’s bathroom by dressing as a woman or claiming to be transgendered, and that such entry poses a threat to children. The argument sounds reasonable-at least, that is, until you think about it for 10 seconds. Now I understand there are many transgender people that are now managing to be open about their decided gender, even those that have still been featured on sites like shemalehd.sex finally being able to be open about it – so this argument can be a tricky one.
To illustrate my own take on the “Bathroom Bill”, I will support the common sense rights of transgendered individuals in using facilities that match their gender (as opposed to their birth sex)-by countering the arguments espoused by this angry, bipolar transphobic who is yelling his opinions at a Target store. He may be more vocal on the issue, but his logic is identical to every argument for shutting down Title 9 protections.
Caleb is the WildDuck reader who referred me to this video. He exclaimed “Look at this ignorant nut and how a shopper takes him on,” This is my response to Caleb and anyone who is sitting on the fence about LGBT self determination…
Although you and I both disagree with the shouter in this video, Caleb, the term “ignorant” is not my first choice to describe this guy. I think that he is either a nut case, or he is off medication. But let’s consider his key argument: He claims that men can dress as women and take pictures of children in a kid’s bathroom.
I have not seen a kid’s-only bathroom-not even at Target. And so, I think that he is referring to the women’s bathroom.
There has always been the potential for a man to dress as a women and slip into a women’s bathroom. If the guy looks passable as a girl (whether transgendered or not), this activity cannot be easily prevented by Target or by turning back the transgender/Title 9 interpretation. After all, no one checks identity or gender when a customer ducks into a bathroom.
A pervert can just as easily take pictures of little boys. Just as with homosexual clergy, the proclivity to ogle little boys may be more common then it is with girls.
If a child is young (i.e. if she is defenseless), a parent or bigger sibling is generally in the bathroom too. When parent is with child, there may be a stranger taking covert photos, but who the h*ll cares? He doesn’t pose a threat-and he is more likely to be identified and reported. [continue below photo]
For all of these reasons, an inclusive and tolerant Title 9 interpretation is reasonable. The people who oppose tolerance are those who hate the idea that transgendered people exist (or worse: want them to be “cured”) . They oppose rights for personal and religious reasons. But, religion and exclusion have no place in government policy.
I admit that I paused to reflect on this issue-and a closely related issue regarding public school funding last week. But my reflection was brief. Transgendered individuals aren’t hurting anyone, nor damaging the fabric of society. Moreover, the opportunity to photograph kids in a bathroom is not increased by permitting individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That few people are likely to even know that their gender differs from their birth anatomy, makes this issue a red herring.
A Wild Duck Analysis
The fervent zeal to turn back transgender guidance is based on religion, hate, ignorance or intolerance. These traits have no place in government. It can be difficult to separate our fears from our better judgement, but these traits must never influence the law. Each member of society deserves civil rights. Congregate with whomever you wish, but our community laws should not attempt to repress benign behavior.
When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:
Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
Religious beliefs of any public figure
The abortion debate
Two Down; One to Go
Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…
a) Personal Vendettas
First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.
Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.
Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.
b) Religious Beliefs
Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.
Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.
…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.
Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.
The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. But, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.
FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice
I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.
A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.
Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. There must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.
Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.
I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.
Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble
One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.
This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.
In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?
One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.
But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.
I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.
The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…
I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. It points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.
Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.
Perception & Reputation
The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.
The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.
Consider how many natural laws and constants—both physical and chemical—have been discovered since the time of the early Greeks. Hundreds of thousands of natural laws have been unveiled in man’s never ending quest to understand Earth and the universe.
I couldn’t name 1% of the laws of nature and physics. Here are just a few that come to mind from my spotty recollection of high school science. I shall not offer a bulleted list, because that would suggest that these random references to laws and constants are organized or complete. It doesn’t even scratch the surface…
Newton’s Law of force (F=MA), Newton’s law of gravity, The electromagnetic force, strong force, weak force, Avogadro’s Constant, Boyle’s Law, the Lorentz Transformation, Maxwell’s equations, laws of thermodynamics, E=MC2, particles behave as waves, superpositioning of waves, universe inflation rate, for every action… etc, etc.
For some time, physicists, astronomers, chemists, and even theologians have pondered an interesting puzzle: Why is our universe so carefully tuned for our existence?And, not just our existence—After all, it makes sense that our stature, our senses and things like muscle mass and speed have evolved to match our environment. But here’s the odd thing—If even one of a great many laws, properties or constants were off by even a smidgen, the whole universe could not exist—at least not in a form that could support life as we imagine it! Even the laws and numbers listed above. All of creation would not be here, if any of these were just a bit off…
Well, there might be something out there, but it is unlikely to have resulted in life—not even life very different than ours. Why? Because without the incredibly unique balance of physical and chemical properties that we observe, matter would not coalesce into stars, planets would not crunch into balls that hold an atmosphere, and they would not clear their path to produce a stable orbit for eons. Compounds and tissue would not bind together. In fact, none of the things that we can imagine could exist.
Of course, theologians have a pat answer. In one form or another, religions answer all of cosmology by stating a matter of faith: “The universe adheres to God’s design, and so it makes sense that everything works”. This is a very convenient explanation, because these same individuals forbid the obvious question: ‘Who created God?’ and ‘What existed before God?’ Just ask Bill Nye or Bill Maher. They have accepted offers to debate those who feel that God created Man instead of the other way around.
Scientists, on the other hand, take pains to distance themselves from theological implications. They deal in facts and observable phenomenon. Then, they form a hypotheses and begin testing. That’s what we call the scientific method.
If any being could evolve without the perfect balance of laws and constants that we observe, it would be a single intelligence distributed amongst a cold cloud of gas. A universe that is not based on many of the observed numbers (including the total mass of everything in existence) probably could not be stable for very long.
Don’t discount that notion. Cosmologists acknowledge that your own existence is the only thing of which you can be absolutely sure. (“I think. Therefore, I am”). If you cannot completely trust your senses as a portal to reality, then no one else provably exists. But, most scientists (and the rest of us, too) are willing to assume that we come from a mother and father and that the person in front of us exists as a separate thinking entity. After all, if we can’t start with this assumption, then the rest of physics and reality hardly matters, because we are too far removed from the ‘other’ reality to even contemplate what is outside of our thoughts.
Two questions define the field of cosmology—How did it all begin and why does it work? Really big questions are difficult to test, and so we must rely heavily on tools and observation:
Is the Big Bang a one-off event, or is it one in a cycle of recurring events?
Is there something beyond the observable universe? (i.e. the one that traces back to the Big Bang)
Do the laws of physics and chemistry that we observe in our region of the galaxy apply everywhere?
Is there intelligent life beyond Earth?
Having theories that are difficult to test does not mean that scientists aren’t making progress. Even in the absence of frequent testing, a lot can be learned from observation. Prior to 1992, no planet had ever been observed or detected outside of our solar system. For this reason, we had no idea of the likelihood that planets form and take orbit around stars.
Today, almost 2000 exoplanets have been discovered with 500 of them belonging to multiple planetary systems. All of these were detected by indirect evidence—either the periodic eclipsing of light from a star, which indicates that something is in orbit around it, or subtle wobbling of the star itself, which indicates that it is shifting around a shared center of gravity with a smaller object. But wait! Just this month, a planet close to our solar system (about 30 light years away) was directly observed. This is a major breakthrough, because it gives us an opportunity to perform spectral analysis of the planet and its atmosphere.
Is this important? That depends on goals and your point of view. For example, one cannot begin to speculate on the chances for intelligent life, if we have no idea how common or unusual it is for a star to be orbited by planets. It is a critical factor in the Drake Equation. (I am discounting the possibility of a life form living within a sun, not because it is impossible or because I am a human-chauvinist, but because it would not likely be a life form that we will communicate with in this millennium).
Of course, progress sometimes raises completely new questions. In the 1970s, Francis Drake and Carl Sagan began exploring the changing rate of expansion between galaxies. This created an entirely new question and field of study related to the search for dark matter.
Concerning the titular question: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”, cosmologist Stephen Hawking offered an explanation last year that might help us to understand. At least, it offers a theory, even if it is difficult to test. The media did their best to make Professor Hawking’s explanation digestible, explaining it something like this [I am paraphrasing]:
There may be multiple universes. We observe only the one in which we exist. Since our observations are limited to a universe with physical constants and laws that resulted in us—along with Stars, planets, gravity and atmospheres, it seems that the conditions for life are all too coincidental. But if we imagine countless other universes outside of our realm (very few with life-supporting properties), then the coincidence can be dismissed. In effect, as observers, we are regionalized into a small corner.
The press picked up on this explanation with an unfortunate headline that blared the famous Professor had proven that God does not exist. Actually, Hawking said that miracles stemming out of religious beliefs are “not compatible with science”. Although he is an atheist, he said nothing about God not existing. He simply offered a theory to explain an improbable coincidence.
I am not a Cosmologist. I only recently have come to understand that it is the science of origin and is comprised of astronomy, particle physics, chemistry and philosophy. (But not religion—please don’t go there!). If my brief introduction piques your interest, a great place to spread your wings is with Tim Maudlin’s recent article in Aeon Magazine, The Calibrated Cosmos. Tim succinctly articulates the problem of a fine-tuned universe in the very first paragraph:
“Theories now suggest that the most general structural elements of the universe — the stars and planets, and the galaxies that contain them — are the products of finely calibrated laws and conditions that seem too good to be true.”
And: “Had the constants of nature taken slightly different values, we would not be here.”
The article delves into the question thoroughly, while still reading at a level commensurate with Sunday drivers like you and me. If you write to Tim, tell him I sent you. Tell him that his beautifully written article has added a whole new facet to my appreciation for being!
I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.
For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference! The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…
Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.
Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!
This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).
Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distancing themselves.
Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).
Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business
Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has canceled a tour stop in Indianapolis. Salesforce.com is canceling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Anyone in my FanDuel NASCAR fantasy league will be more than aware of how passionate I am about this troublesome issue. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.
Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:
Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live.
To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.
Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!
Peter is a good friend and a former business colleague. Having lived in Honolulu Hawaii for 2 decades, he has acquired a license to wear the floral print shirt in this photo.
This week, Peter posted this missive to his Facebook page:
Taking the atheist position that there is no God because there is no evidence is like being a fish in an aquarium. You state there is no such thing as an aquarium builder because you, as the fish, cannot find evidence of the builder. You, as the fish, insist that the aquarium just popped into existence on its own for no reason whatsoever. Yes, it’s ridiculous; being an atheist, that is.
My response to Peter:
The aquarium analogy is good, Peter. Point made…
I suspect that most atheists—or at least a significant fraction, like me—are more accurately agnostic. That is, we don’t deny that there is design, creativity or purpose to the universe (and to our existence), but we acknowledge that it is beyond our senses—and quite probably our comprehension—to fathom it from within our fish bowl. More importantly, atheists and agnostics vehemently reject scripture and institutional doctrine. These are human concoctions to explain the unexplainable—They are each self-anointing, pompous and righteous.
Atheists and agnostics don’t buy into a 6,000 year old universe, a 6 day creation, the idea that man is created in the image of God, and especially, that a conscious god wishes for us to worship him and save others. Finally, we attribute much of the horror on earth to religion: Throughout recorded history, the very worst acts of mankind have been prosecuted in the name of God. Individuals of faith are the least likely to be tolerant and inclusive.
Further, we see that religion has been the enemy of science, technology and democracy and personal liberty. In my opinion, of all the acts committed in ‘His’ name, only music, art and architecture have beauty. Clearly, whatever is the purpose of our design and creation, man has completely screwed up the interpretation and fulfillment of his religious obligation.
That said, I practice the religion of my parents, and I employ it to mark life’s events. It connects me to a people and a community. I even strive to study its codes of conduct. There is no contradiction in doing so. I recognize that the wisdom of eons can be a greater force for good than my limited experience. But I do so through the lens of scientific reasoning, an agnostic psyche, and a willingness to edit sections that undermine domestic tranquility.
Three days ago, ISIS released a video in which the Jordanian Pilot, Lt. Moa’ath al-Kasasbeh, was burned alive in a cage. The result? A blitz against ISIS positions and logistics with the fury of an enraged leopardess. Jordan and the US led coalition is getting sympathy and support from near and far—even from prospective allies with no former stake in this war.
Why do people commit atrocities on a deeply personal and individual level? Think about it before reading further.
Since you’re still reading, you will obviously learn my opinion:Actually, I just can’t figure it out…
I ‘get’ that some people/groups/governments/rebels want land, power, money, sex—or simply revenge on those they feel have brought suffering or dishonor to their people, their cause or their prophet. I also get that they commit atrocities in an attempt to achieve their goals. But, I cannot fathom why the really bad guys inevitably do things that are so grotesquely evil, inhumane and appalling that they bring unity and resolve to their enemies!
Referring to ISIS actions and tweets: “It is a PR stunt”. But PR serves a purpose, even if it is a twisted purpose or one hell-bent on religious fervor. I doubt that decapitations, burning a man alive, and kidnapping a young, female aid worker help the cause of ISIS, even among the angry, dispossessed youth that they routinely recruit.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, fellow at the Middle East Forum and researcher at the IDC Herzliya academic institution, explains that the video is a “wholly new level of public advertisement of brutality” and that it is “designed to terrorize the outside world, especially the Arab states taking part in the US-led coalition.”
How can anyone be so distorted as to think that such disgraceful and abominable tactics achieve anything other than invigorating enemies and generating massive sympathy for the other side. More to the point, do they not realize that their families will be hunted down and killed, humiliated or otherwise brought to justice?
ISIS believes the US led coalition forces to be an infidel, a disciple of Satan or a rabid animal (metaphors that radical Islam invokes toward anyone who is free, living under democracy, has a brain or a conscience). But even if you believe these things, it makes no sense to back a dog (or Satan) into a corner and poke him with a stick—especially if your opponent has satellite reconnaissance, powerful weapons and growing community sympathy.
Piers Morgan describes his reaction to viewing the ISIS video of Jordanian Pilot, Moa’ath al-Kasasbeh, burned alive in a cage. He didn’t want to watch, but is glad that he did.
Update: This article was written 2 weeks before the death of the Saudi leader
On Jan 23, (Friday morning, local time), Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, died. His half brother, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, ascended to the throne as expected. He promptly assured the international community that policies, alliances and contracts would continue as before.
The Saudi government is publicly standing with France in condemning the slaughter of editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, a satire magazine. They were gunned down in the name of defending the prophet’s honor.
Of course, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Iraq are waging war against extremist group Islamic State with expanding air and ground support from a US-led international coalition. Yet, I am sickened by the irony of their “outrage”.
The Saudis have no compunctions in savagely beating Raif Badawi for the crime of promoting free speech and debate. They have no problem beating women who drive a car or who travel without a male relative. We must take stock of our affiliations. It’s time to run with those who share our ideals and who appreciate a common humanity. The Saudi royals are neither just, moral or humane.
The fact that so many in the west consider the Saudi kingdom to be moderate or “a friend” is both ironic and a travesty. These are barbarians with starkly warped ideals. They are as backward and ruthless as those who slaughtered the journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Both groups respond to free thought and debate with righteous violence.
It’s time for western governments and NGOs to recognize that the Saudis are no more evolved than the Ayatollahs in Iran or the Imams and Muftis who promote and export Sharia Law the word over.
Consider the relationship of China with the US and Canada. The Chinese are a major trading partner, but few would suggest that this partnership indicates a shared kinship of political ideology or compatible individual freedoms. China’s government may change some day, but for now, modernization is limited to their economy and with a slightly heightened awareness of environmental issues. Democratic process and Personal freedoms be damned.
Like China, the Saudis are our temporary trading partner. We must not confuse trade or even military cooperation with friendship and we must constantly reevaluate the limits of our business and financial arrangements. Unlike China, Saudi Arabia bankrolls extremism and exports intolerant ideology that destabilizes the global community. They are no better than ISIL, Boka Haram or the most radical of Sharia-inspired zealots. The Saudi government is barely shy of being an enemy to every free democracy. I am not against constructive engagement. But we should also understand an ideological adversary and maintain a comfortable distance.
In my armchair observation of the world’s major religions, they each have scriptures, righteous examples or commandments that seek the destruction or subjugation of other races, infidels or non-believers. In short, among all the talk of love, peace and coexistence, there is inevitably a doctrine, which—if interpreted literally—espouses hate or the smiting of people who are different. Is this the case for every religion? Perhaps an exception is Buddhism and other religions that are associated more with spiritual or political philosophies rather than a deity (e.g. Confucianism is not really a religion).
But here’s the thing: Despite holy scripture that places adherents spiritually or morally above their neighbors, few individuals believe or act on scripture that suggests burning neighbors, cutting off their hands, or raping their daughters. They also leave their neighbors to establish and administer their own political and cultural practices, according to their own set of beliefs. That is, most cultures accept the universal maxims: “Live and let live” and “Treat others as you wish to be treated”. Adhering to these two simple golden principles of non-interference and cooperation are the keys to living in a multicultural world. Everyone understands this. Everyone lives it! Well, not quite everyone…
The problem with Islam, as I see it, is that a large fraction of followers actually implement an “interference doctrine”. But when an institution combines a nihilistic philosophy with growth and evangelism, it takes the form of a cancer: Constantly pushing out its boarders and consuming anything in the way. Many Islamic adherents (how many?) refuse to accommodate tolerance—at least for those outside of its beliefs, even when an Islamist community is a minority in the homeland of other cultures and philosophies.
I believe in tolerance. Given a connected world with a great many cultures and beliefs, it is the only way to foster peaceful and productive coexistence. The concept of Sharia Law—practiced against non-believers and especially outside of an Islamist homeland—is not only intolerant and abhorrent, it is impossible to reconcile within any framework of coexistence. Therefore, the only philosophy or practice of which we should be intolerant is intolerance itself.
I honestly don’t know the fraction of Islamists who teach hate and who seek to spread intolerance. But I can see that the absolute numbers are staggering. It’s not just growing in the Arab world, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali and Timbuktu. It has taken root in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Finland and even in North America. While I cringe in response to some reader suggestions (“We must destroy Islam. We need to institute a genocide”), I honestly don’t see how to contain a cancer by any means other than destroying it. As with any cancer, there is an urgent imperative to prevent spread and the consumption of surrounding tissue.
Is it possible that Islam can be gently prodded to correct the extremism within its many sects and among its zealous Mullahs? I don’t know. And I don’t know if we have time to engage on such a benign level. Despite my disdain for intolerance, I keep returning to my own maxim: The only thing of which we can be justifiably intolerant is intolerance itself. I believe that if we do not quickly squash intolerance, the haters will consume us.
(Continue below image)
That’s my opinion on the growth of a very destructive force from the dark side. My father had a considerably less tolerant plan… He died before there was a western acronym for ISIS [ISIL, Daesh, The Caliphate], but he once wrote that captured Taliban and Hammas fighters should be killed and a video sent to their families. The video would show the corpse of a religious extremist as it is buried alongside open carcasses of pigs, including intestines and pork brains. He figured that the graphic display of eternal damnation might persuade the next generation from spreading their hate and killing across other cultures. I hold out hope for a more civilized and humane way to encourage tolerance among neighbors.
In response to the titular question: Is Islam a religion of tolerance? It doesn’t appear to promote tolerance at any level. Not from religious leaders and not that I can see from the adherents. If Islam were tolerant, we would see swift condemnation of terrorist acts. We would see acceptance of other cultures and practices. We would sense an acceptance that women can be educated and treated as something other than cattle, and we would see a peaceful and productive coexistence with the greater communities, both religious and secular.
This Blog covers many topical events, often drawn from the headlines. But some readers have noticed that I have had nothing to say on a high-profile news story concerning an interracial shooting and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman.
In case you have been living under a rock or are reading this posting more than 10 days after the trial (the maximum duration of human retention), then let me refresh your memory:
Zimmerman’s community has recently experienced break-ins and robberies
He participates in a community watch (with zealous over-enthusiasm)
He is licensed to carry a concealed gun
He called 911 about a suspicious individual
He decides to investigate on his own
Approaching an unarmed African American youth, the two get into a fight
(the trial was all about who started the fight)
Zimmerman kills 17 year old Trayvon Martin, later claiming self defense
The victim was lawfully living with a relative in the same community and was walking home after buying candy from local store
Zimmerman claims that he exercised his right to defend himself from mortal harm. A great many people say that he was never threatened and had no right to shoot.
Yes, I have refrained from comment — and yes, of course, I have an opinion. But it’s not black and white (an unintended pun). That is, it is not sufficient to create a “For-or-Against” piece in my über-opinionated and superlative style (some would say it is a smart-a*s style).
For the record, I followed the news as it unfolded and I watched the trial on television. I didn’t write in AWildDuck because the trial was inconclusive and rife with contradictory testimony. No matter what is your position on Zimmerman, it’s difficult to imagine any decision other than acquittal. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he is innocent.
And so this posting is not about the justice or lack of justice for Zimmerman. Rather it is about something that happened just this week…
Mark Gerstle: Off my lawn!
Four days after George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” of 2nd degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, he was dodging the press and, potentially, a mob of angry armchair jurors turned vigilante. (Certainly, he has reason to fear mob justice). But still, he manages to get out and about…
This week, Zimmerman pulled two motorists to safety from an overturned car on a Florida highway. The car was in immediate peril from traffic and could have easily burst into flames. Mark and Dana Michelle Gerstle were very appreciative. In fact, they were so appreciative that they scheduled a news conference to publically thank Mr. Zimmerman.
At least, that’s what they planned. After thinking about it (and perhaps consulting with friends, colleagues or a three year old), the Gerstles cancelled the public show of appreciation and refused comment or requests for interviews.
I won’t argue with their right to chase reporters from their lawn. A gaggle of hungry reporters can be as unpleasant as a swarm of paparazzi. But why would Mark Gerstle cancel a public statement of appreciation that he had initiated? Did George Zimmerman say or do something after the fact? No! Apparently, they are concerned with either what he did before the fact – or perhaps they honestly fear for their safety. They have suggested that they don’t wish to contradict popular sentiment and that individuals angry at Zimmerman could transfer hostility onto them.
I say Hogwash! Mark and Dana Gerstle are ungrateful b*stards. My opinion is unrelated to the Trayvon Martin shooting or the Zimmerman verdict to acquit. Continue below photo…
I4 at Rt 46: The crash was less than 1 mile from the shot that killed Trayvon Martin
Can one individual be both evil and heroic?
If accurately reported, then the Gerstles have misguided advice or thinking process…
If they appreciate what Zimmerman has done and if they would have announced that appreciation in the absence of notoriety, then they should do so—regardless of popular sentiment, or their own opinions on his infamous shooting.
That is, even if one believes George Zimmerman is a racist and a murderer, they should not withhold recognition of meritorious behavior (in this case, an act of valor), if that act is unrelated to other aspects of his life.
I am not convinced that George Zimmerman had cause to kill Trayvon Martin, and I am reasonably certain that he profiled and even stalked the youth. The verdict in Florida does not sit easy with me. But none of this has anything to do with his successful effort to rescue individuals trapped in an overturned vehicle after a motor vehicle accident.
What on earth are the Gerstle’s thinking?! Do they really believe that acknowledging Zimmerman’s selfless act lets him off the hook for killing a young man? Do they believe that acknowledging his lifesaving intervention will cause rioters to target their home? Do they fear that it will appear that they are endorsing the Florida verdict to acquit?
None of these fears are relevant or even reasonable. The Gerstles are unappreciative clods. They should look deep within their hearts and ask themselves if they would have preferred to stay in that car.
So sayeth Ellery. What’s your take?
Here is an ethical conundrum…
Would I stick by these convictions if, say, Hitler had committed an individual act of heroism in the midst of the Holocaust?
No…Probably not. I realize that this presents a logical contradiction and a moral dilemma. But Hitler’s acts were not committed in the ‘2nd degree’. For populations that he targeted (a lesser species in his mind), the premeditated monstrosity of ethnic and social cleansing was justified. Although difficult to explain, a seeming act of kindness from the hand of a monster has no merit or historical consequence, because he has no sense of kindness.
But set aside my take-back on the Nazi angle. I wonder what readers think about the decision by Mark and Dana Gerstle to rescind recognition for a man who quite possibly saved their lives. You already know what I think. How about you?