Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oh snow!

Well we almost got through all of 2012 with no snow, but we've since received a few inches on Monday, Wednesday and now Saturday. No big deal. It was easy to shovel, and didn't really make the roads bad. But you can always tell when it's been a while since the last snow because that's the point you see a large chunk of drivers doing the wrong things or just plain being irresponsible. The most common problem you will see if people driving around without their headlights on. When it's not snowing anymore it's simply stupid because you are putting yourself in danger by being less visible to others. But when it is still snowing, not only does this make it more dangerous due to the reduced visibility, but it is also illegal! I tend to flash my lights at these people in hopes that they will get the hint. But I am almost always met with oblivious looks or a confused stare. Next there are those that don't clean the snow off the roof of their car, or only clean the windows. Again, not only is it dangerous to not clean off the roof, but it is illegal! If it is a dry snow, it will blow off the roof in a fine mist as you drive, which reduces the visibility from those behind. If it is a snow with an ice layer on top, there is a larger danger. In these conditions, and at the right speeds, a chunk can suddenly fly off the roof and impact those behind. This can cause damage or an accident. But what if it's a snow with a moist layer at the bottom? Well, stop for a stop sign or stop light fast enough and that snow slides right off the roof to cover your windscreen an leave you driving blind. So not only are you breaking the law if you don't clear your roof off, but you are a danger to yourself and others. But today I saw the worst example ever. This was a white car with no headlights on, and the only thing cleared was the windscreen (and even that was only cleared by the windscreen wipers)! I don't know how they managed it, but the grille, hood, roof, trunk, back windows, and even all the side windows were all covered with snow! How they were able to get in and close the drivers door without disturbing the snow covering it, I will never know. But seriously, who can get in that car, use the wipers to clear the windscreen, and presumably be aware of the obvious fact that they are surrounded by snow and only have visibility in one direction and still think it is a good idea to drive under those conditions? This person couldn't even see out of the driver's side window for crying out loud, let alone any of the mirrors. I award that driver the award of the pinnacle of ignorant Winter driving stupidity!

There are also those that don't know how to drive in the snow. There are those that freak out when the conditions really aren't that bad for starters. If you are from down south, I'll give you a pass. But when you live through the same Winter just about every year, you have no excuse. Then there are those that follow too closely. It's not a good idea when it's dry, but when traction and stopping distances may be compromised, you're just asking for a collision. I saw one driver the other day that was from the Carolinas, so I'll give him a little bit of a pass. But every time he tried to change lanes he would start to drive on the little bit of slush that collects on the line dividing the lanes. What would he do each and every time? Why, jerk his wheel back into the lane he was in of course... Not a good idea. On that day it wasn't really that bad out, and he could have easily completed his lane change had he continued on his originally plotted course. But had conditions actually been slippery, such an abrupt action would have sent him into a spin. Low traction situations call for careful maneuvers all around. Don't mash on the gas. Don't jerk the wheel. Don't stab the brakes. If you do, you are asking for trouble. You need to respect the conditions and drive in a careful and considered manner.

Lets not forget some non-motoring offenders though. Let's start with those clearing snow... One is people who shovel the snow from in front of their house, and rather than throw it in their front yard instead throw it into the street. This is illegal in some paces, but it is inconsiderate and a hazard everywhere. If the plow hasn't come yet, it might not be too big of a deal, except for the fact that more snow in the road equals more snow pushed by the plow to block driveways. If the plow has come but is coming back, your snow will likely end up under cars parked along the road. But if the road has been plowed you are creating an obstacle in the road. Remember the plow came to clear the snow so people can pass. You shoveling snow into the street reintroduces potentially slippery snow. Then there are those with their own plows. I agree that it is frustrating when the plow pushes the snow and it collects across your driveway, but that does not give you a pass to push that snow (and sometimes all the snow in your driveway) out into the street. This creates a much bigger and dangerous obstacle than the shoveler ever could.

Finally, there are the store crowds. If there is a blizzard coming, I can understand people stocking up. But when they are calling on 2-4 inches? I kid you not, but the market was a mad house the day before each of our three snows this week. Each time the were calling for two to four inches. Yet people panicked and ran to stock up at the slightest chance of snow. It was only 2-4 inches. No one was going to be snowed in and cut off from the rest of the world. The next confusing point was so many panic sessions in such a short period. Surely all those people that panicked and went to get emergency reserves of Sunday didn't use up all their bread and milk by Tuesday, and again by Friday. Well, if they are going through that much milk, at least they should have strong bones! It's just a little snow. Take it easy and enjoy it while you can. Because if it continues at this rate all Winter long, we'll all be sick of the fluffy white stuff for some time I think.

-BH

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Taunting Tebow, Low blow?

I don't care for football, but even I know who Tebow is. (Glory, glory, Man. United!) Well this morning I saw an article in my news feed by Jay Hart. It was a piece defending Tebow and discounting all his detractors as bitter and/or hateful. It also frames around a rant against Tebow from Merril Hoge. The story goes on to declare that people don't hate Tebow because he's bad, but because he's good... too good to be true in fact. That he's only guilty of being a wonderful role model and then there's the old claim that he's being persecuted for his faith. However, I find it ridiculous to claim that the reason he is persecuted is because of his religion when the United States is 78.4% Christians. I hear that he's apparently not very good. But I can imagine this only mattering to fans of whatever team he's playing for at that time. So every fan of every other team should be happy if a rival quarterback isn't very good, and thus, should make life easier for their favored team. I think that it's more to do with when he gets political and proselytizes. As I stated before, most Americans (and NFL fans) are Christians, yet a good chunk seem to also take issue with him despite their shared faith. Come to think of it, maybe Tim got his calling wrong. Perhaps he's not good at football (assuming that's so) because he's supposed to be playing the other football (soccer). Perhaps Tebow was supposed to be a goalkeeper. After all, Jesus saves!



 I think that the problem comes from every other word he says being "Thank Jesus". (Not to mention the silly pose he popularized) When other Christians are getting tired of hearing you say "Jesus", you most likely sound like a broken record. He does seem to live a fairly good life (in many meanings of that phrase), but I would stop shy of calling him a stand-up role model though. In my book, a role model leads by example and that's it. His proselytizing means that he is actually trying to tell people how to live, and by association, that any way other than his own is morally repugnant, wrong, and worthy of the torture his religion teaches. I have no problem with him having a load of faith. To each his own. The fact that we can believe what (and as much) as we want is part of what makes America great. But telling others how they should live their lives (and what happens if you don't) disallows me from granting him role-model status despite his otherwise 'clean' life. So no Mr. Hart, I don't think that people dislike Tebow because he is 'too good to be true'... at least not most of them. I don't follow American football, but what I do know about this Tebow bloke leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Do I dislike him because of his skill level? No. I've never even seen him play. So I couldn't even comment on that. Is it because he's a Christian? No. I have no problem with people being Christian if they aren't trying to force their views on others. Is it because he's such a great role model? Don't be ridiculous! Good role models are a great thing. The problem is, that his proselytizing excludes him from being the role model that his fans posit him to be. So when Hart claims that Tebow's detractors are acting as if they are holier than thou, when it is actually Tebow acting as such through his proselytizing.

-BH


Monday, December 24, 2012

'Duty' to reproduce?

This evening, we were visiting some family for dinner and dropping by some gifts for those that won't be able to come over our house tomorrow. The food was good, and it was a good time overall. But then as we were getting ready to leave, a family friend asked when we were going to have a baby. I've blogged about this nonsensical assumption that marriage equal kids, so I won't go into that here. But after we stated that we don't really want kids right now is when he stated that we need to at least have one, because good people have good kids, and that we need more good people.

Okay, if he would have stopped there I would have been perfectly fine. After all, it is more likely that two healthy parents would have a healthier child than sickly parents. And two smart parents could be more likely to have a smarter child than those with more limited mental faculties (obviously genetics isn't everything with regard to intelligence). But he didn't stop there. He continued on to say that we should have two children in order to 'replace' ourselves.

He went on to reference the situation in Japan, where more of the younger generations are opting not to have children. Because so many are making this choice, the population and rate of births is declining. He said, that as this continues generation after generation, there will be very little Japanese left, and that the country will have to rely on immigration to remain prosperous. The inference was then made that we must produce at least two offspring in order to avoid such a calamity in this country.

Before I share my initial reply, lets look at the problems with what he had said thus far. First, the population problem in Japan... Something like 40% of the Japanese population is elderly. As you can imagine many of these people rely on the social programs set up by the government. But if less people are reproducing, that is less money going into the program and taxes in general. In fact, if birth rates continue at their current reduced rate, it is forecast that the population could drop one third by 2060. But there is one big problem with the statistic and the friends claim.

Yes, there may be a short term risk from the transition to the current younger generation. But there is no way of knowing that this trend will continue. In fact, there won't be a problem if the birth rate should cease it's decline and continue at the present reduced rate. If that occurs, then it will all even out. Disaster avoided. But was it reasonable to apply the Japanese population decline problem to the United States? I would wager that you can not draw such an equivalency. That would be because the US population is continuing to increase each and every year. Considering this fact, the decision of one couple to not have children is not going to put the nation in peril. Also consider that for the examples like us, there are other families having three, four or five children. The country's population is still quite healthy in number and is growing continuously.

So what was my initial and less lengthy reply?  I started out by stating that you could argue that less people also meant more resources to go around. However he countered that resources are made by people, and that less people means less sources. Well... Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Lets imagine a farm. It is staffed by a few dozen workers. They sow the fields, tend to the crops, and harvest when they are ready. But lets remove one or two of the workers. Does this mean that they will now produce less yield? No, of course not. There are a couple options available. They will either work slightly longer hours to do more with less manpower (meaning  a greater profit), or can hire new workers that were otherwise unemployed to replace our hypothetical worker that was removed.

Factory settings can also sometimes mean that no productivity is lost if the job can be filled by a machine. But lets assume some sort of assembly line where the number of workers directly impacts the number of products produced on a single day. Let's say that this factory is staffed by 1,000 people, and it produces 500,000 items a day. Before we do anything about the staff figures, we can see that the factory is producing many more items than there are employees. Lets now remove my two hypothetical offspring from the factory's staff. Assuming a linear staff to production relationship, a workforce of 998 workers should result in 499,000 items made. This would be the worst case situation, where the removal of a few 'cogs' results in a ballooned shortfall on the other end. Of course, that is rarely how productivity works. As I stated before, there is currently no shortage of individuals that could and would fill any vacancy that should occur. But more importantly, in the computer age, such linear relationships between workforce and production are rare. What with machinery  and computers, our factory likely wouldn't notice the removal of a couple workers.

For the sake of argument, lets grant the worst case scenario for that factory. But lets also realize that some industries will be less impacted than others. Lets also realize that if the population were to be slightly lower, there is less demand. If the population is lower, our worst case scenario predicts a slight reduction in production of products (that people may or may not even want, and are already made in excess). So given the dynamics of the US population, and how little production would be lost (if any) the end result would be an evening out of the reduced demand and reduced production, or more likely a slight excess that can either be distributed to those that really need it, or drive prices down slightly.

The greatest irony though, was that this individual was originally from Africa. He of all people should know the very real problem of there being more people than there are resources to care for them all. Yet he is promoting (at the very least) sustaining current population figures. Sure, the US is a land of plenty, but there are still those, even here, that are forced to go without (usually for socioeconomic reasons). So even though resources aren't spread as thinly as they are in poorer nations, we can (and should) do better. Considering this, why should it be our 'duty' to produce children that we don't even want at this point in time?

Worldwide, population growth is out of control. It may be slightly controversial, but in my opinion, our fine globe may have too many inhabitants already. I feel this is an issue for the welfare of the people themselves, and for the welfare of our planet as well. One thing mankind is very good at, is exploiting and destroying the environment for it's gain. I agree with Sir David Attenborough when he said, "Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment."

True, our family not producing one or two children won't make much difference. But a few things are true. We do not have a duty to reproduce, and that the dynamics of the United States and industry show that there is no risk to the country, or resource production. Our biggest worry shouldn't be if we are having enough children, but if we are having too many. Growing populations means increased demand on resources, but also an increased demand on housing. This demand typically translates to farmland being paved over to create more housing and retail locations. So what we really end up with is more demand and less supply. The very opposite of what the world desperately needs.

I find it sad that so many remain ignorant to these facts and instead choose to uphold the absurd assumptions that marriage equals kids, and that it is our duty to at the very least replace ourselves. What we really need it a carefully balanced population. One that (willingly) balances population with availability of resources. While Japan may see short term problems from their tapering population, they may be better off in the long run if other populations continue to explode and cause resources to be increasingly scarce. It won't be a problem for my generation, or one that is even answered by the next, but time will show that population growth can not be sustained indefinitely. Either we need to make a long term plan for the survival of humanity and the environment on which we rely on. Or we may very well create the next mass extinction event by our own actions.


-Brain Hulk

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Terra Lumina

If you're like me, you finished your holiday shopping ages ago. But if you aren't, and have a science fan on your list, let me share this new album with you. Terra Lumina is an album of science themed music from the makers of the Symphony of Science (http://www.symphonyofscience.com/) series of songs that remix speech of past and present scientists into music. While Symphony of Science is good, Terra Lumina is a bit different. These songs are not remixes of existing audio, but rather originally written and composed music. And may I say that they did a fantastic job! The lyrics are smart and meaningful, and the composition is also very well done. The music varies from rock to a bit folk-rock. But whatever the style, the songs are all great and very enjoyable, both as music, but also a vehicle for spreading an understanding and appreciation of science. They are selling their album in a few formats. But if you are looking for a last minute gift, may I suggest the digital download. Just download for $10 and save the files onto a cheap USB key. If your gift recipient is anything like me, they will certainly appreciate this gift and get many hours of enjoyment form it.

Terra Lumina site: http://terralumina.bandcamp.com/

-BH

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End...

Well, not really THE END. But at least it's the end of hearing about that inane babel about today being the end of the world. We all know the story. The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012 and that somehow counts as foresight of apocalypse. There's a huge problem with the claims that the Mayans predicted the end of the world though. The insignificant little fast that well... they didn't! You read that correctly. All these people worrying about something that Mayans predicted, when they never even predicted what they are worried about. They simply had Dec. 21st, 2012 as the end of that calendar, and called for the dawning of a 'new age'. The calendar ends, so what? Our calendars end on December 31st every year. If these people are freaking out about December 21st this year, they should be freaking out December 31st every year, because the same thing is happening... The end of a calendar. The only difference is that the Mayan calendar was a longer duration of 'ages', whereas we mark our calendars in years.

Oh but the real fun starts when they start to claim how the world is due to end. Odd that these end of the world believers would put so much stock in the predictions of people that didn't even foresee the fall of their own civilization, but there we have it. But back to the crazy claims!

Planetary collision/asteroid:
There is a claim that a rouge planet or asteroid will hit the Earth and end all life on our fine globe. There's a problem of course. That is the fact that 'Planet X' does not exist. Scientists are tracking many objects traveling through space, but none (of note) are on a collision course with Earth. Sure, small objects falling to Earth aren't that uncommon. But There's definitely nothing cataclysmic in our neighborhood.

Planetary ejection:
'Planet X' is back for seconds. Others claim that 'Planet X' will not hit the Earth, but rather come close to us, disrupt gravity and throw Earth out of orbit around the Sun. A planet would have to be very big and very close to override the Suns gravity. I mean, Jupiter big! Something that big wouldn't go unnoticed. Nothing like that is on NASA's radar, and then there's the second reason this claim fails. Did I mention that 'planet x' doesn't exist?

Galactic Alignment
This is a fun one because it looks like a close alignment could happen, but it doesn't matter anyway. The claim goes like this. The Sun, Earth, and galactic center will all come into perfect alignment as the Earth passes the galactic equator. This will create excess gravity that will either fling Earth our of the solar system or trigger world ending earthquakes. I'm guessing these guys missed the class in grade school that explained that plate tectonics cause earthquakes, but I digress. First off, it looks like at best, only a close alignment will happen (even though the 21st may actually be a couple days late and things will actually several degrees off). Second, they make it sound like the galactic plane isn't a thin tipping point like they make it sound like. It's actually much wider than that. In fact, it takes sever hundred years for the sun to finish it's journey across the plain. But lets assume that everything aligned perfectly. If you know anything about gravity at all, you will realize that bodies coming into alignment at such great distances will have not effect on the Earth. The distances are just too great, and gravitational changes are minimal. Expecting the alignment to fracture the Earth would be like setting up bowling pins and a bowling alley,  but you showing up at an alley two states away hoping that rolling the ball there will get you a strike at the first alley. It just isn't going to happen! Oh, and there's one other way we know that there's no reason to worry about galactic alignments. That's the fact that they happen every 26,000 years. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the Earth wasn't destroyed 26,000 years ago.

So no worries, the Earth will continue spinning on as is has. But my worry is for the news that is yet to come. I'm fearful that while the world didn't end, that individual worlds may have been ended. There are a lot of crazies out there, and I have a feeling that there will be stories of people who killed their families and then themselves in order to make sure they didn't suffer the '2012 apocalypse'. Either that or straight out suicides. I really hope that I am wrong, but I feel like people may have died over this ridiculous claim that the world was ending today. On the grand scale, nothing happened as I've said all along. We simply reached the Winter Solstice. This means that brighter and longer days are now coming our way. I just hope that no one was robbed of seeing those brighter days by this irrational hysteria.

-BH

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thought police.

Thought crime. It's unthinkable that anyone could be guilty of a crime simply because of something the thought. But that's exactly what we see in the Bible.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

-Matthew 5:28
That's right! Just thinking lustfully about a woman makes you guilty of adultery by Jesus' standards!

It's an outrageous assertion and ignores the fact that actions are what actually make you guilty of something. Additionally, is never looking at a woman with lust really something to be considered virtuous? It's human nature to have these desires. However, it's how one responds to these desires that matters. Is it really hard for a person who never feels lust or desire to not commit adultery? No, it isn't. They are doing the only thing they know and are never faced with making a choice.

However, wouldn't it be far more 'virtuous' for a being to feel that lust for another, yet with the presence of that desire still decide to not act on it and stay true to their partner? This person would actually be faced with a choice. 1) Succumb to their desires and cheat on their spouse. or 2) Not give in to those desires and remain true. Surely it is an obvious decision. The person that has the desires but doesn't give in, is a far better ideal than those that feel no desire at all.

Again, it's actions that matter. Option 1 means that there's no action to take, and thus no choice that will lead to positive or negative consequences. However, Option 2 does pose a real and serious choice. You can cheat, and gain a short term physical gain at the cost of broken trust. Or you can decide not to cheat and claim the moral high ground.

Additionally, if lust equals adultery, then Jesus surely hates capitalism. By the 'logic' that says thoughts of lust equals adultery, than desire of products for sale and those of others should equal theft. So Jesus would ask that you not desire products. Lets face it, desire for products and possessions is a huge part of what drives the economy. So Republicans, I must ask... Why does Jesus hate America?


-Brain Hulk

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Persecution complex.



Okay, not that the obligatory Monty Python reference is out of the way, lets get back to business. The other day I heard a Christian complaining about the nativity being challenged in government and public locals. But it wasn't the usual complaint we're used to hearing. They weren't complaining about the laughable 'war on Christmas', but rather their issue was with who isn't having their symbols contested. He claimed that old joke that us atheists are singling out and trying to oppress Christianity. His 'proof' was that it is always Christian displays that are being challenged, but you never hear anything about a Ramadan display being challenged. His conclusion was that we are either singling out Christianity, or are just afraid of reprisal from Muslims.

But it shouldn't be any surprise that his argument is nonsensical and reeks of the all too popular Christian persecution complex. First of all... Ramadan displays? Ramadan is the Muslim holy month. It is a month of fasting and abstaining. Aside from some lanterns, I can't think of what a Ramadan display would consist of. I can tell you that I've never seen one. But let's assume there were displays. There is one huge reason whey Christian displays are challenged, and others are not... and it's not because we're afraid of Muslim backlash. If it were, would that mean we're also afraid of Jewish backlash? No, the reason is the nature of the displays.

The reason you don't see reports of Ramadan displays being challenged is because you don't see Ramadan displays taking center stage on government property. If there was a Ramadan display monopolizing the state capitol, that would be challenged as well. If there was a ten foot tall menorah going it solo on the White House lawn, that would be challenged. But time and time again, it is the Christian displays that try to monopolize the public square and try to defy even the thought of including other displays. These aren't challenged to single out and oppress Christianity. Rather, it's to uphold the Constitution.

Here in the United States, we have a Constitutionally founded separation of church and state. In fact, the first amendment prohibits the making of any laws respecting an establishment of religion, as well as prohibiting the free exercise thereof. When you have a government building displaying a nativity scene and nothing else, that promotes and suggests an establishment of religious favoritism. Government is supposed to be unbiased about religion. Not only does that keep the government free of religious corruption. But it also frees religions from corruption from the government. I find it strange that so many are opposed to this separation, when the separation of church and state is the theist's friend just as much as the atheist's.

So no, there is no conspiracy to single out Christians and Christmas, or to oppress them. Jesus portraits in schools are challenged, and so would the imagery of some other religion. Follow the constitution, and stop dreaming of a theocracy and there would be no conflict. Perhaps the Christians that are so quick to jump on Muslims should take a page from Ramadan celebrations, and just enjoy the holiday for the wondrous time of year it is, rather than trying to claim the summit all for themselves.

-Brain Hulk

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas, the borrowed holiday.

One thing that irks me about the holidays is when a Christian starts complaining to me because I, an atheist, have a tree, lights and decorations up. They sing the familiar song that they think I'm being hypocritical. They claim that these are inherent symbols of Christmas, and that I have no business displaying them. But, as per usual, they are completely wrong. The symbolism (save the nativity... though Jesus wasn't the first virgin born savior) is completely stolen from older traditions, and the date itself isn't even unique. Let's look at some history.

The various traditions stem back to the Winter Solstice. Today we typically mark the 21st of December as the Winter Solstice. But previous calendars had the solstice as December 25th. The Winter Solstice was an important event for these people of the past. It marked the transition from the days getting shorter and shorter, to the days getting longer again. To them, this was a sign that the life bringing Sun would now continue it's march higher and higher into the sky, and that the Winter would again be replace with the Spring in due course.

Through the ages, peoples have celebrated this celestial event, and others have anthropomorphized it into stories and myths. Various cultures created and worshiped Sun gods, and used this day to mark their birth or re-birth. Others even marked the solstice an an annual battle that their Sun god would fight with the darkness. They would hold festivals in support of the Sun god, and celebrate when the days grew longer and the nights shorter. The them this meant that their god had won the battle, and the warmer days or Spring, Summer and (more importantly) the growing season would be allowed to return to them. While many Christians think the roots of the Christmas season is the birth of 'the son', the true roots are in the 're-birth' of the Sun.

Also important to note is that the Bible suggests Jesus would have been born in shepherding season. This would place his (alleged) birth in the Summer or early Autumn... not December. So why December 25th? In today's terms, we'd call it a PR move. Other traditions were already celebrating at this time, so what was one more? By absorbing various other traditions and borrowing the same date, it would be easier to get people to convert. So the truth of it was that they eschewed accuracy, for the simple desire to gain as many followers as they could. But it really shouldn't be a surprise to see believers unconcerned with accuracy though.

But what about the individual symbols of what we now call Christmas? A lot of us enjoy a good ham for our Christmas dinner. But why is it that ham it the meat of choice? To find our answer, we have to go back to the celebration of Yule. Norse tradition involved sacrificing a wild boar at Yule, to gain favor with Freyr, the fertility god, so that the land would become fruitful once more.

And what about that lovely video of a roaring fireplace that many will display on their television screen on Christmas morning? Much like the tradition of hanging mistletoe, the Yule log is of pagan origin. In the case of the Yule log, it seems to stem from the ancient fire festival of the solstice season.  As for mistletoe, it didn't originate as an innocent plant that people kiss under. Rather, it was another symbol of fertility.

Decking the halls with holly and evergreens? Again, it's the Pagans. They observed that these plants stayed green all through the Winter. Because of this they became symbols of fertility and life. For these reasons, they brought them into their homes in hopes of ushering the life and fertility of Spring to return again.

Remember that song, the twelve days of Christmas? There are twelve days because Yule was twelve days long. And on the subject of carols, they stem from the practice of wassailing. This Yulesinging was also part of pagan rituals for health and fertility. Before there were the eight tiny reindeer guiding Santa's sleigh, there was Sleipnir. Sleipnir was Odin's eight-legged horse. Odin would lead the Yule hunt, riding Sleipnir through the sky and would give gifts of food.

The roots of gift giving may be seen in the Saturnalia celebration, where  gifts were traditionally given on December 23rd. And what about that most common and arguably the biggest symbols of Christmas?

I'm of course speaking of Santa and the Christmas tree. Some of the earliest inspiration of the modern Santa Claus can again be found in Odin. Remember how he would lead the hunt with his flying eight legged horse, rather than eight flying reindeer? Well, there is a tradition that children would leave boots full of carrots and straw for Sleipnir to eat. In return, Odin would reward them by replacing the carrots and straw with gifts of candy.

 The Christmas tree is also a symbol of pagan origin. Remember, it is an evergreen and served a similar purpose as the holly and evergreens as symbols of life and fertility. Additionally, the early church (and some sects still today) opposed the Christmas tree as a phallic pagan symbol. But now if you have the audacity to call a Christmas tree a 'holiday tree' or anything else, some Christians will lose their minds in outrage (I'm looking at you fox news). So odd that they now try to claim sole ownership of this pagan symbol that the church once stood in opposition to. Finally, the practice of lighting the Christmas tree harkens back to the use of candles on the pagan Yule tree. The candles on the tree were another extension of the Pagan fire festivals of old.

Christmas trees: Expressly decried by
the Bible in Jeremiah 10:1-10.
As you can see very little of what we associate with Christmas really has anything to do with Christianity. Because of this, it is frustrating and bewildering when Christians try to claim outright ownership of the season and all it's many traditions. As can be seen, Christmas as we know it is a conglomeration of older traditions that have been combined into what we now recognize as Christmas. Does that mean we should eject all the Pagan traditions from the holiday, or keep the Pagan and Christian portions as two separate holidays? No, I don't think we should do anything.

We should leave the traditions as-is, call them what we are used to calling them, and celebrate for whatever reasons we wish to celebrate the season. If you celebrate because you (falsely) think it's the birth-date of Christ, then fine. Or if you are like me and celebrate for the fun of the season and traditions, as well as getting together with friends and family, that's great too. All I ask is that Christians not get outraged when people celebrate for reasons different than their own, and that they not try to claim sole ownership of the season and highlight their ignorance as to it's true origins.


-Brain Hulk

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Friday, December 7, 2012

What's in a name?

Like many, I celebrate the Christmas season this time of year. Obviously I celebrate a secular Christmas since I am an atheist, but every now and then you come across a theist who won't accept that. They will say that if you aren't a Christian, you can't celebrate Christmas, or call it Christmas, or wish anyone a happy Christmas. That doing so would be hypocritical. I disagree for multiple reasons. For one, 'Christmas' is just the latest name this holiday season has become known as. Also, they do not realize that they are daily committing the same infraction that they are accusing me of. They only believe in the Christian god. But if they take issue with me celebrating a secular Christmas, why haven't they made up their own calendar yet? Time for specifics...

Monday
This name comes from 'Moon's day' and is related to the moon goddesses Selene (Greek) and Luna (Roman).

Tuesday
This day is named for gods of war. Tyr (Norse) was the inspiration for Twia/Tui (Tui's day), the Germanic god of war and the sky. This also came from the gods Mars (Roman) and Ares (Greek).

Wednesday
Wednesday is derived from 'Woden's day'. Woden was the Anglo/Saxon version of previous gods. Odin (Norse), Mercury (Roman) and Hermes (Greek).

Thursday
This day is 'Thor's Day'. Thor is the Norse god of thunder. The Roman's viewed this day in dedication to their god Jupiter.

Friday
This day is also named for a Norse god. This time the honors go to Freya (Freya's day). She was the Norse goddess of love and beauty. Similarly, the Romans recognized this day for Venus, and the Greeks, Aphrodite. Both were also the respective cultures goddess of love and beauty.

Saturday
'Saturn's day'. This day is named for Saturn, the Roman god of the  harvest/agriculture. The Greek counterpart to Saturn was Kronos.

Sunday
This is simply the day of the sun, or 'Sun's day'. The Greek god associated with this day was Helios, and the Roman god was Solis.

And now for the months...

January
This first month of the year is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, gates and doors, and endings and time.

February
Februa was the Roman festival of purification. This took place on the fifteenth day of the second month, which is where February drew it's name from.

March
March is Named for the Roman god of war, Mars. (Ares in Greek)

April
This months origin is a bit unsure. It either comes from the Roman goddess Aphrodite (Venus in Greek), or the Latin word 'aperire', which means 'to open' (like flowers).

May
This next month is named for the Roman goddess Maia. There was also a Greek Maia whom was the mother of Hermes.

June
June is named for another Roman goddess. This time that goddess is Juno (Junius in Latin), the goddess of marriage.

July
No supernatural origin here. July is named for none other than the Roman ruler Julius Caesar.

August
Much like July, August is named for a Roman leader. This time it's Augustus Caesar.

September
This month is named for the Latin word 'septem', which means 'seven'. This is because this was the seventh month of the year under the Roman calendar.

October
This month is named for the Latin word 'octo', which means 'eight '. This is because this was the eighth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

November
This month is named for the Latin word 'novem', which means 'nine'. This is because this was the ninth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

December
This month is named for the Latin word 'decem', which means 'ten'. This is because this was the tenth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

As we can plainly see, some names no longer make much sense any more (September to December), while most other months and days of the week are named for gods and goddesses that hardly anyone believes in anymore. So when a Christian takes issue with me using the term Christmas, or celebrating on Christmas, I like to ask them if they denounce and refuse to use the word Thursday since they don't believe in Thor. I think it's important for believers and non-believers alike to remember that names that once had a specific meaning long ago, may now be taken for granted.

Maybe we don't subscribe to the original concepts, but these words are part of our lexicon. The days used to be called different things, but these are the names we have adopted. Same for Christmas. It has been known as the Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, etc, and is now known as Christmas. Sure, the Christians may have named their version of this Winter festival for their Christ, but that doesn't mean we have to accept Christ to enjoy Christmas any more than one has to accept Freya in order to be happy about it being Friday. After all, it's just a name. What's ultimately important is what the day means for you.


-Brain Hulk

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The imagined war.

It's that time of year again. The annual happening where the Fox (faux?) news Christians scream that there is a war on Christmas. That's right, they've created a 'war' that is just as make believe as their favored mythology. You know the story, Christians voicing outrage when people don't defy the Constitution and proclaim Christianity and everything attached to it as the unquestioned official religion of our nation. Fake controversy after another, it's always proclaimed that there is an all out war on Christmas.

One of the cases this year concerns holiday displays in Santa Monica. They have a tradition there where there are 'stalls' that are given out to groups to decorate. For years they were always Christmas displays of nativity scenes and other sorts. The way it worked was that groups could enter, and then the 'winners' would be randomly selected out of a hat. No problems there, but last year is when the 'problems' started. In 2011, atheist groups also started entering their groups into the pool. As luck would have it, the majority of the slots chosen were atheist groups. So in the place of the many nativity scenes were secular messages and Solstice displays. Even though the slots were selected the same way they always had been, the local churches were outraged that they no longer enjoyed the monopoly they once enjoyed. They complained until they were blue in the mouth. And after that didn't force the city to overturn their fair and random selection procedure is when the vandalism started. After that ordeal, after the complaints, after the vandalism that needed to be fixed and due to budget reasons, they simply decided not to do the displays at all this year. Cue the outraged church groups. Since they didn't offer the display space this year, they claimed it was an example of the 'war of Christmas'. Sorry, but no. If it was a war on Christmas, they would still do the displays but disallow Christians from taking part. Little do they realize, that had they not raised such a fuss and abstained from vandalizing the displays they didn't like, then the city may have offered the displays again this year as well. But when you have a persecution complex, it's probably not tough to see how they missed that.

Another example is when a government building displays a nativity scene and nothing else. Often, a group will sue and the result will often be that they must also allow other displays or have no displays at all. Following that, other displays would be posted alongside the nativity. Often, one will be an atheistic message, or Solstice display. But then Christian groups will claim that not allowing the nativity to stand all by itself is somehow an example of this supposed war of Christmas. No, it's an upholding of the Constitution. What would be a war on Christmas would be if they said everything but a nativity was allowed.

I also have to hear that we are trying to git rid of Christmas or stop others from celebrating Christmas. Outrageous! The only problem I and others have is when Christians try to force their beliefs and force Christmas as the only holiday and that if you don't celebrate it, you are a terrible person. Well... that and when there are obvious violations of the Constitution at play. Personally, I fell that everyone should celebrate whatever holidays they see fit. I'm an atheist, so I am supposedly 'out to destroy Christmas'. Wrong! I always have and still do celebrate Christmas. Not in a religious way of course, but a secular way. At the root of it all, Christmas is just a re-branded collection of older traditions. I celebrate for the Solstice, but more so for my family, friends and all of us getting together. There is no war on Christmas. Only zealots with throwing their toys from the pram because they can't force everyone into doing as they want.

-BH

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hold the phone (call)

The more we're connected, the odder communication can be at times. Pointless calls, devices not being used for their intended use, etc. Sometimes I have to sit back and ask myself, "What was the point of that call?"

One such example was a customer that called my office the other day. She called and said that she saw that someone at my office had called and left a message, and she was calling to see what the call was for. In fact, my boss did call her and leave a message. This message stated that the material her poster was to be printed on had in fact come in and that we would print it that day and call her when it was completed. This seemed pretty straight forward to me, so I asked what my boss had told her on the message, as to confirm if there was anything new to tell her. That is when she told me that she didn't listen to it yet. So I ended up telling her exactly what the message said. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence. Surprisingly often, I will call customers to let them know that their orders are ready for pick up. Half the time I don't get an answer, so I leave them a message. Then, about ten minutes later they call back stating that someone had called from the shop's number, and wanting to know who called. Again, they didn't listen to the message first. I ask, is it really so hard to check your messages before calling back every call you've missed? The purpose of those messages is to leave a recording of the nature of the call or request a call back. By listening to those messages you can determine which calls were important and which calls warranted a call back. Specifically, with the call from the first customer, she was wasting time. They needed their order right away, yet she wasted time by calling for the same information that was left on her message. I was actually working on her order when she called. By calling, I had to stop working on her project part-way through. Doing so means that the project will take longer to complete, but it also means that there is the risk that it will get ruined while I am away from it. So the end result is wasted time, a wasted call and possibly wasted material.

Another type of pointless call is the call reply to an email, where another email would have made more sense. At my job, I send clients design proofs via email. Sometimes customers have more complex feedback that is hard for them to explain in an email. These calls are fine and understandable. The ones that make no sense are the easy ones. Design proofs will sometimes contain just one option, or sometime an A, B, and C option. If any of these look good as-is, it would make sense to reply that it "Looks good" if there was only one choice, or "Let's go with option B" if there were more than one. Yet there are people that will get the email, make their selection and then call to tell me it looks good or to select the option they would like to go with. Doing this wastes time... both mine and theirs. Now, if I am at my desk it won't waste much time, but it will wast some. But there are times where I am working on another project or in another room on the other side of the shop when I hear the phone ring. As before, I need to drop what I'm doing, hope that project doesn't get messed up,  and run to the phone to answer the call. Then if I get to the phone only to find that they are approving a proof, it can obviously be a bit annoying. I had to drop what I was doing and run to the hone for something that would have been better handled by an email. Furthermore, an email would be better for them. By sending an email, there is a written record of what they would like. There have been times where a customer would call, speak to someone else, and they would mistakenly wright down the incorrect proof for approval. We would print the project and the customer would show up to find the wrong layout has been printed for their project. This obviously leaves they understandably upset. But by sending an email, the chances for things to go wrong would be reduced.

But sometimes email prompts pointless calls as well. I have a client that likes to call me about new projects and to tell me that he is about to send an email for what he is needing to order. This is another waste of time. 1) When the email comes, I will see it in my inbox. No need to call and tell me you are about to send one. 2) The information he tells me over the phone is also included in the email. So I'm going over the same information twice. When the info is in an email, there's also less chance of missing something. So there's no need to call to tell me what will be in the email. 3) When he calls, I have to stop what I'm doing to take the call. This means that I have to stop working on a project to talk to him. There have actually been cases where I have been working on a job for him that he had a rush on, only for him to call about something else and cause me to take longer on the time sensitive job. Had an email been sent without a call, I could instead skim it quickly and save it for later once I saw it didn't pertain to the current project. Another similar pointless call type is the call to tell us that they sent an email or make sure we got their email. If you are replying to an email we sent you, and you don't get an error back, we will get it. This may be surprising, but if you don't get an instant reply it's probably because you aren't the only customer or job we are working on right at that moment...

Another thing I don't understand is those that have a mobile phone for emergencies but hardly have it with them or on. I know people who only have one just in case of an emergency. Wet they only ever have it on when they leave the house. What if you're outside and fall and break your leg? This person may be in trouble because when they are home, the phone sits on a table inside and is off. There are also those that have their phone on all the time, but don't keep it with them when they are home. They don't have a home phone, but do have their mobile. Yet I'll see them sit in one room, while the phone sits in the other room and is ignored while it rings. This is their only line of communication outside of email, yet it is ignored  half the time. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep it in the same room with you and at least look to see who is calling or messaging you to see if it might be important? Obviously you could still ignore the call if it didn't look important, but what if you did simply ignore an important call because you ignored the ringer from the other room?

Obviously, there are many more observations we could make about phone calls and communication, but I think we cal all agree where we have answered calls before and asked ourselves at the end, "What was the point of that call?" I know I have had to ask that question far too often.

-BH

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chuck Norris vs Jesus

Jesus. Inevitably, he comes up in any religious conversation with a Christian. They will often cite him as a historical figure who's existence is beyond question. Of course many atheist's do not believe there ever was a Jesus. Many, but not all. There are also those that feel that there was a Jesus, or someone that the character is based on. But just a regular man and/or teacher. Not divine, no magic, no virgin birth, not the son of any god. Just a figure who had followers, who's story has been embellished through the years.

Personally, I don't think that it's such a stretch to believe that there was an inspirational figure who
later became legend. But I'm certainly not buying any of the supernatural claims. Trouble with being honest is, that if I admit that there could have been a human 'Jesus', that many a theist will then just claim victory. They instantly equate Jesus' existence to being the divine son of God. But the fact is that existence would not automatically equal divinity. The amazing claims that are attributed to him come from one, and only one source... the Bible. There aren't even any solid sources for his existence. But you can not cite the text that introduces him as authoritative if it is not backed by external and reliable evidence. That's the simple fact. Sadly, some don't see this clear and obvious truth.

What if in some post apocalyptic future, future generations are able to recover www.chucknorrisfacts.com, and this is the only source they have for the existence of Chuck Norris? If this is their one and only source for the existence of Chuck Norris, would they be justified in believing that his tears could cure cancer? Would it be fair to assume that he can swim through land? Would it be true that Death is afraid of Chuck Norris? Would it be assumed to be factual that Chuck Norris does not sleep, but waits. Does Chuck Norris not have a reflection because there can only be one Chuck Norris. Did he roundhouse kick the Earth into rotation?

 Some of those future people may find the claims amazing, yet unbelievable. Some may even believe it and deify him. But what if they later unearth photographic and historical evidence that a Chuck Norris really did exist? Would that instantly validate that Chuck Norris has another fist behind his beard or that when he does a push up, he pushes the Earth down? Or does it leave us pretty much right where we started? The existence of Chuck Norris may have been confirmed, but that in itself does not confirm the other spectacular claims.

The same is true of Jesus. Even if his existence were to be proven, that would only prove that he existed, not that he was the divine son of God. That would require a whole new set of specific evidence. As Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Extraordinary claims are what are present for both Jesus and Norris. But the evidence aspect is deafening silent. So if you agree that our future selves wouldn't be justified in believing Chuck  Norris was a superhuman deity. Then it would be wrong for believers to claim certainty for the divinity of Jesus.

-Brain Hulk

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Curiousity piqued.

By now we've all heard that NASA's JPL Martian rover 'Curiosity'  may have found something big. Data came back from the SAM kit on Curiosity after it had tested some of the Martian soil. In an interview, John Grotzinger (lead scientist on the mission) had this to say:
This data is going to be one for the history books, it's looking really good
Obviously  his statement does not tell us what they think they've found, but this much we do know... SAM is designed to detect organics (among other things) if they are present in the soil samples. So the smart money is that Curiosity has in fact found organic material in the soil. This actually wouldn't be a huge surprise, given that scientists believe organic material falls to Mars regularly. However, the earlier Viking lander tested for organics and surprisingly came up empty. Though, with that in mind, I would call the discovery of organics on Mars would be important, but not really 'one for the history books' in my opinion. Obviously the internet is a-buzz about what they may have found that would be that big of news (assuming followup tests confirm results and rule out Earthly contamination). The leading thoughts are 1) NASA exaggeration, and 2) Curiosity has found evidence of past or present life on Mars! Personally, I am hoping for the latter, but we'll have to wait and see what is announced. They've said it may take several weeks to confirm their findings. But there are rumors of a possible announcement in early December. While I am hopeful that they have found some evidence for life, I wouldn't be surprised if it is just the confirmation of organics. But is that really a total let down. One could argue that the finding of organics might be a good thing for the past Viking mission. One test that Viking ran, actually looked to have found evidence of metabolism in the Martian soil. Something that would confirm still living bacteria. But then the test for organics came up empty. No organics equals no life. The same test was later ran on soil from a similarly dry place on Earth, and that test also came up empty. So there has been some dispute that the Viking tests may have found organics and the test was flawed, and that the metabolism test may have been valid as well. So if Curiosity has in fact found proof of organics, that means that the ingredients of life should be present, and that Viking may have found life all those years ago. But let's assume for a moment that Curiosity itself has found evidence for life on Mars. If it has, that would be amazing news. It would prove that we are not alone in the universe, and that life on Earth is not even unique in our solar system. The implications would mean that life is actually widespread throughout the cosmos. Additionally, it could give humanity the kick in the pants needed to get serious about real and far reaching space exploration.

Another interesting thing to see would be the reaction by the religious. To many, the discovery of life outside of Earth would have serious implications. Sure, there are those that are already open minded to life elsewhere. But they tend to be the ones that are the more generic forms of followers or are not as literally religious. There would also be those that would say that life on Mars simply wasn't mentioned because Earth was what was important, or that 'God had a plan for them as well', or that the Bible doesn't explicitly say that there is no other life. But the most interesting ones would be those that will claim that the Bible always has the truth about everything, and that life on Mars is included as well. I have a feeling that it would go something like the following... The story of Adam of Eve would suddenly become less literal then they usually claim. Mars would be Eden, and Adam & Eve would be the microbes in the Martian soil. Then a meteor impact carried them to Earth to seed it. 'The fall' would become the literal fall of the meteor to Earth. Finally, the life of work and toil that followed after Eden/Mars would be the life that then flourished on our wet globe. Obviously there are still terminal problems with such a claim. But we can worry about those later. If Curiosity truly has proof of past or current life on Mars, that will be amazing and important news. So, like everyone else not lucky enough to be part of the inner circle on the Mars mission, I'll be waiting with great anticipation to learn what Curiosity may have unearthed on our planetary next door neighbor irregardless of what the announcement is.

-BH

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An atheist grace.



Thanksgiving is tomorrow here in the USA. Many of us will be gathering with friends and family. If you are like me, you've had to sit through family talking to themselves in devotion to whichever god they subscribe. I just sit there, keep my head up and wait for the superstitious formalities to be over with. My non-belief is know, so I am never asked to 'say grace'. But what if I was asked to 'do the honors'. Obviously, I would not falsely espouse any belief in thanks for divine gardening. Instead I wrote my own version just in case...

We sit here today, with this wonderful feast before us. It did not come of its own making though. For that, I am thankful to my wife, the men and woman who reaped the harvest, and those who cared for and raised the livestock. But I’m also thankful for a star. Not just any star, but a star that is long since gone... Whose remnants we see every day. I’m thankful to that ancient high-mass star, whose death fortified our place in the Milkyway. I’m thankful that the law of gravity caused those ingredients to coalesce as they did, forming our small local star and the planetary system that we call home. I’m thankful to the dawn of the first self replicators who started off a long and unbroken evolutionary train of ancestors that lead to all of us. I’m thankful to my parents, who gave me all the love and support I needed. All the way from a single cell to the person I am today. And I am thankful for my beautiful wife. Yes she gave us this wonderful meal before us, but she also gave me the gift of her love. But the thing that I am most thankful for? It has to be that NONE of this had to happen, but it did! And I think that is something to be amazingly thankful for. Here’s to longer, brighter days!

Cheers!


The chances that I'll ever get to use that are slim, but I keep it at the ready just in case. Anyone reading this is more than welcome to use this or modify it to fit their needs. Here's hoping everyone has a nice Thanksgiving.

-BH

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hard > Easy

Sometimes I hear it said that I'm only an atheist because, "That's the easy thing to do." That people are non-believers because they are lazy. These people will claim that the faithful are the ones walking the hard road... That belief means that you can't sit idly by. It shouldn't be too hard to guess that I disagree with these thoughts wholeheartedly.

Fist of all, most any atheist can tell you that being a non-believer is not 'the easy thing to do'. This is
doubly true depending on where you live. I can tell you that in many places in the United States, simply being open about your atheism can be a very bad idea. I've heard no shortage of stories about people being disowned by their families, dumped by friends, have a boyfriend or girlfriend suddenly leave them, be passed over for jobs or professional advancement, threats, or simply have people's attitude change for the worse. I ask you, what is 'easy' about risking ones relations and social circle? Meanwhile, the easy thing to do would be to espouse to belief in the Christian religion. Say you're Christian, and no one bats an eye. But be honest and your world could be turned on it's head.

Then there is the thought that we are 'just lazy'. Often this is a dig at the supposed thought that we're just too lazy to wake up early, get dressed up and go to church on Sunday mornings. While it may be true that we don't get up and go to church, that doesn't mean we are eternal sloths that sit around and waste our days away. Maybe I prefer to sleep in on the weekends, but after a long work week, who doesn't? One thing for sure is that I'm far from lazy. I constantly have projects, and even though I like to get those elusive extra hours of sleep on the weekend, I'll still find myself rising early to catch a live Manchester United game, get a start on my day, or just to surprise my wife with breakfast in bed.

 But I certainly wouldn't say that the lack of dragging myself into church makes me lazy. But again, if I wanted to play the easy card, I could've just pretended to still be a Catholic. You know that type. The type of Catholics that don't ever go to church except for maybe Christmas or Easter. It seems that this isn't very uncommon among many generic Christians as well. Oh, they don't go to church, but they aren't labeled as lazy since they still believe... So let me get this straight. An atheist that doesn't go to church = lazy, but a believer that doesn't go to church = a-okay?

Another area where it is clear that being an atheist is not the easy road or lazy mans choice, is those of us that really look into and research things. I'm one of those people who loves facts. The more I know, that happier I am. But knowledge does not come easy. When you really sink your teeth into figuring something out, trying to understand it, or simply trying to understand yourself, it can take dedication and a very real investment of your time. Reading books, thinking about things, discussing with others, maybe taking classes. These are not the actions of someone being lazy or looking for the easy way out.

Actually, I'd wager that religion offers the easy way out, and a way that leaves you plenty of opportunity to be lazy. Why bother with all the hard work of trying to learn about something, or to understand something when all you have to do it 'have faith'? Don't research a question, simply pick a side and stick with it on faith alone. No need to back up your stance with facts or research... it's just your faith, and who am I to question it? And what of prayer? Surely, that's the easiest excuse in the world to be lazy. What's that? Your cat got out and need help finding her? Do I get my coat, walk the neighborhood looking for kitty, or do I just hold my hands together and talk to myself for a minute or two? Which one sounds lazy to you? The person who helps put up posters, or the one holding a conversation with the ceiling?

The late president John F Kennedy once said:
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
 We don't do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard... I think that can be said of many atheists. No we don't broadcast our non-belief to purposely make ourselves magnets for
potential hardship. But we do ask ourselves the hard questions. What do I really believe and why? What is the truth, and do I want to know what it is no matter what? I feel that asking that second question is a hard thing for some people to do. And I thing it takes a brave person to answer that same question in the affirmative. I am an example of such a person. It would be all too easy to just accept the stories I was told and never question them. It would be easy to assume that the warm fuzzy tales of eternal life, forgiveness and Heaven are not just stories, but actual unquestioned truths.

Yes, cheating death does sound like an attractive proposition. But it's the easy way out, and I'd wager, not intellectually honest. Instead I choose to know the truth for what it is, no matter what it is. I'd rather know the uncomfortable truth for what it is, than to live a happy lie. While the truth may not promise me never-ending bliss, it does give me understanding and mountains of appreciation. It wasn't the easy path, but knowing what I know, it would be an easy choice to make if I had it all to do again. I cast aside the manufactured assurances and false security in favor of something better... the truth. It may not all be happy, and it may not always be pretty, but it is mine, it is yours, it belongs to all of us.

Understanding our lives, what they could be, what they might be, and that we will eventually cease allows me to live my life to the full. Doing what I feel needs to be done, putting nothing off that I would later regret, trying to make change in this world here and now. No waiting around just waiting for the supposed 'next life' to get here. No, I don't think the search for easy street or laziness are inherently atheistic. In fact, my experience has shown that the inverse is often true. So keep asking those hard questions, continue making a difference, continue helping out, and maybe, just maybe this silly fable of the lazy atheist will go the way of the Dodo.

-Brain Hulk

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sore losers?

The election is just over a week behind us now. Luckily most of the election signs have gone away... most, but not all. Sure, there are two houses in my area that are still displaying the signs of those who won. But most I still see up are for the failed ballot measures. There are a couple for question 7, which was the gambling question on the ballot that passed. But the majority of signs that are still on display are those that were in opposition to question 6. This was the question that passed to allow same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland. Obviously this is an issue that people are passionate about, but you lost, it's time to get used to it and get over it. I see these signs remaining up as a form of silent protest. Do these people secretly want a re-vote? Or perhaps they just want it to be know that they didn't vote for question 6 and are proud of that fact. Okay great, you're proud to stand in the way of equality and fairness... It will be interesting to see how long these signs will remain erect. Will they reduce in numbers as the days pass? Will they stay up until marriage equality goes into effect? Time will tell. I can tell you that they should have pulled their signs in about a week ago. At least within a few days after the election. I had a sign up in favor of question 6, and even though it passed, I took it down after the polls closed on election day.

It's not just signs though. Just one day after the election... cue a local pastor. That's right, no sooner than same-sex marriage was approved, a local pastor went on record for a local paper saying that the passage of question 6 would bring 'God's judgement' on the state... Seriously? Yup, he was serious. He claimed that this result would bring Maryland more earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards. First of all, these are all natural events that are understood, not the magical smiting of a ever present divine big brother. Earthquakes are actually pretty rare in Maryland. Hurricanes are usually the remnants of these storms rather than a direct hit. Blizzards... Some years we have a good bit of snow, and others we hardly have any at all. Way to step out on a limb with that one. But lets play his game for a moment. Lets pretend that these natural events are actually a god dishing out punishment. If that is so, then lets look at the 'Bible belt'. Curiously, the coastal areas in the 'Bible belt' are more likely to get hit by hurricanes than we are. The southern and western states in this block are also hit with more drought and tornadoes than the rest of the country. But if these natural disasters are truly the acts of a angry god, shouldn't the 'Bible belt' be the most disaster free area in the country? Of course this isn't what we see. So not only do the local pastor's comments appear laughable on their face, but they fail even more when you look at the fact closer.

Finally, I heard something funny yesterday. They reminded us that the Bible says that if a man lies with a man they must be stoned. But then Washington state went and legalized same sex marriage and marijuana use to show us that churches have been interpreting it wrong all along.

-BH

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election results!

Well, the election results are in, and as we all know, President Obama has been re-elected 332 - 206. Quite a dramatic difference from the unreadable race that most outlets were desperate to invent. They said we probably wouldn't know the result for days, and instead we knew the victor prior to midnight. Personally, I'm pleased with the result. Not because I was an outright Obama supporter... there's plenty I disagree with the president on. But Romney was just that much worse, and in my opinion a Romney presidency would have been a disaster. I am pleased with the outcome, although the candidate I voted for didn't even come close to winning. I voted for Rocky Anderson because I agreed with his platform so much more than the others. Luckily I live in Maryland, so I had the luxury of voting per my opinion rather than the lesser of two evils. Had I lived in a swing state, I would have begrudgingly voted for Obama just to make sure Romney got one less vote. Luckily I got to vote my mind though.

The district I live in also unseated long time representative Bartlett. The election map was redrawn, and that surly played a role. Even though I can't say I agree with the new map 100%, I can say that it feels good to know that Roscoe has been showed the door.

Ballot measures... I'm happy to say that They did very well in my state. Question 7 was approved to expand gambling in Maryland and build a resort casino. This is great because it will mean more money for the Maryland budget (possibly more for education), jobs for Marylanders, pull money back to Maryland from out of state casinos, and will also drive a positive economic benefit to the surrounding community where the new casino is to be built. The other big one was Question 6. Despite being well outspent by the opposition, Maryland took a stand for marriage equality. Now same sex couple is Maryland will be able to marry the person they love, just like I married my wonderful wife. Furthermore, three other states also voted in support of marriage equality.

There were other local races, and they all went wonderfully as well. All-in-all, this election went about as well as I could have hoped. Obviously, in a perfect world I would have loved a Rocky Anderson presidency. But that was never going to happen. So I'm happy, and it looks like things may be going in the right direction. Lets hope it is.

-BH

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election eve observations.

Tomorrow is election day here in the United States. Political adds and phone calls have been never ending. But as bad as they have been, the political signs are getting out of hand as well. Private citizens posting 18" x 24" signs in their front yards is fine. But this year, I've seen people putting 48" x 96" signs in their yards this year. I feel that's a bit excessive, but at the end of the day I'm fine with people and businesses displaying who they support so long as it's on their own property. The biggest problem I've seen has been signs at busy intersections and on state land. In the past few days, some candidates have been blanketing areas with their signs. This morning I came across a stretch that was about a mile of busy highway. One candidate had placed signs approaching each intersection at a spacing of about every ten or so feet. All told, there had to be at least one hundred signs in that one mile stretch. Then there are the busiest corners that are filled with every manner of political sign imaginable. Not only does it look like a sign farm, but it makes the area look like a mess and can often cause visibility problems for motorists. I'm all for people advertising who they are voting for, but I feel it should be confined to your own property or business. I wish that the states would disallow posting these sings along the road on state property, and would just remove all these signs no matter who they are for. It would certainly make the roadways look a whole lot nicer during election season.

Another thing I can't stand is when people that you get along with year round, suddenly turn on you due to a differing of political opinion. This happened to me just the other day. There is someone I'm close to that I get along with all the time. But I knew that we wouldn't see eye-to-eye on some of the issues, so I've been avoiding politics in general when I spoke with them. Well, yesterday we spoke and they kept pressing and asking about politics. I had no choice but to tell them my stance on the issues. The main issues we ended up talking about were questions 4, 6, and 7 of the Maryland state ballot. On question 4, they thought that one small aspect of the law was the whole law since literature provided by one candidate only talked about that one part of the proposition. After a while we finally got that one sorted and moved on to question 7. I talked about that one previously. They claimed that there is no proof the money would go to education and said it would be going to 'pet projects'. I mentioned that there was no proof that the money would go to education, but that there was also no proof to back up the claim that it would go to these mysterious 'pet projects' either. More money in the state budget is a good thing, and it means education should be able to keep their money (which would act like a budget increase), as well as fund other areas. The big one we got into was question 6. To anyone who read my series of posts on 'gay marriage' will have read every tired , empty and false argument that was issued in our exchange. I tried to set the record straight (when I could get a word in), and in the end the only reasons they were left offering were "because" and "it's not right". Obviously very compelling and well thought out arguments... The sad part is that I know that this person is smarter than this, yet they get caught up in the partisan politics that have become far too common. The get a list in the mail telling them how to vote, and they do. It's sad really, and I wish more did like me, and looked at all the issues and came to a conclusion that truly reflected who we are and what we think. I fear it will be a while, but I hope to see a day when people cast political loyalties aside and vote on the issues and nothing but the issues.

-BH

Monday, October 29, 2012

Noah's Warming?

We all heard the debate between the climate change deniers, and those that accept the science (otherwise known as the ones that are correcty). But there is one group that really takes the cake. I'm speaking of those that claim that global warming, and thusly polar ice cap melting causing a rise sea levels is outright false because of one story in the Bible. That's right, the story of Noah's ark. You know how it goes, the Abrahamic god is pissed at his creation for being so sinful, so he selects one family to build a boat, charges them with stocking it with two of every animal and seven pairs of every 'clean' animal, forty days and nights of rain flood the Earth past it's highest peak, all on the ark are safe on a year long zoo cruise until the waters subside and all are safe. But after the flood comes
this.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

-Genesis 8:8-11
Yup, God promised not to send another global flood to destroy the Earth. Then some believers take that quote and shout that this verse proves that global warming is a hoax. Obviously there are problems with this.  First, they just ignore the evidence that clearly suggests that human activity is playing a role toward warming the planet. Secondly, climate change does predict rising sea levels, but it's coastal flooding not a worldwide flood that is predicted. Obviously these people are ill informed and simply ignore the facts. Which is obvious when we consider the fact that... 3) The global flood of Noah never happened!

•There isn't enough water on or around Earth.
•The rate of rainfall would have to be a constant wall of water (far greater and long lasting than any tropical downpours).
•The ark wouldn't be structurally sound for the load it was supposed to carry.
•It was way too small to carry even a fraction of the animals that have existed, let alone food for all.
•The mixing of salt and fresh water would have been lethal to most aquatic life (whales and fish on the ark?).
•If the water truly crested above Mt. Everest, the cold temperatures would have killed many of the species aboard.
•Additionally, the prolonged exposure to the thin air at that elevation would also be lethal.
•There's the problem of how animals from throughout the world converged on one location, and then found their way from one location to the farthest corners of the globe again.
•Had the Earth been covered with water, there would be no plant life remaining.
•Even if the ark also had a store of seeds, the soil would be far too waterlogged to grow anything for quite some time.
•Repopulating the Earth would have to occur through incest (again), which wouldn't allow for the genetic diversity we see today.
•And most obviously, the Egyptians kept written records before and though the time the flood was said to of happened. Odd that the good people of Egypt wouldn't realize they were all drowned under a global flood.

The conclusion is obvious, and that's that the flood of Noah never happened. Yet there are those that believe that this story literally took place, and feel justified denying global warming because of a promise in a fairytale. Global climate change is a very real issue, that all should come together on. Rather, we are faced with the unfortunate problem of people denying climate change for reasons as silly as this. Hopefully we can turn the tide before things get too out of hand.

-Brain Hulk

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fate

Fate, destiny, the idea that the future has been predetermined and that we are just along for the ride. This is one idea , to which, I certainly don't prescribe. This idea is common in religions. The notion that their god has a plan all laid out for them.The funny thing is that some also feel they have free will and that their deity is omniscient, and planned their lives. These are things in direct conflict with one another... but I touched on this in an earlier posting.

This idea is also prevalent in astrology. The absurd idea that the view of the stars in the sky somehow not only decides out futures, but also defines the very person that we are. I feel that these ideas do a disservice to the reality of life. The idea that your future is predetermined shortchanges the very real decisions we make, and the work we do on a daily basis. If my future truly was 'written in the stars', than what's the point in working hard? What's the point in trying to make good decisions? And what's the point of trying to live a good life? If the premise of fate is correct, no matter what I do, my life will turn out the same. This is obviously not the case.

Another area where I don't agree with 'destiny' is the idea of a soul mate. Some say that it's a romantic idea, but I wager that the alternative is much more romantic. The idea of a soul mate presupposes that there is one perfect person out there for you. And a deity created this person exclusively for you. They are your perfect match, you will meet and fall in love, no ifs, ands, or buts.Think about that. You have a match that is crafted just for you. You are to meet no matter what. And you are to fall in love no matter what.

The alternative is that there are no soul mates. That no one was created especially for you, and there is no guarantee of finding love. So, when you do find that very special kind of love, doesn't that make it all the more special? You didn't have to meet, you didn't have to fall in love, but you did! Look at the number of people in the world and the size of this globe. The chances of meeting that specific special someone, when you did, how you did, be lucky enough to court them, get to know them better than anyone and possibly marry them are so small. Change one thing at some point in your life and you may have never meet at all. But even in the face of those great odds, you met, fell in love, and
grow a connection stronger than can be properly expressed. None of it had to happen... but it did!

To me, finding that special connection in the face of those far odds is far more meaningful and special than a relationship that was going to happen, like it or not. Just like the person that bets the long shot and wins is filled with unbridled excitement, I feel that the long shot of seemingly perfect love is amazingly exciting. Those of us that live the long odds of life and are lucky enough to find someone in this sea of people that we can love this much, and feel the need to spend our life with is something that is also amazingly exciting, lucky and, to me, outstandingly meaningful.

-Brain Hulk

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