Monday, February 25, 2013

Education is not 'OK' in OK.

The Flintstones are property of Hanna Barbera

It seems that Oklahoma has had enough of their horrid science and math ranking. In 2011, Oklahoma ranked 42nd out of fifty states in science and math education. Well all signs point to Oklahoma not being satisfied with 42nd place. By my calculations, their shooting for 50th place! On Feb. 19th, Oklahoma actually passed a bill (HB1874) that makes it illegal to fail a student that argues that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Yes, I said that the state of Oklahoma is protecting the grades of students that view The Flintstones as if it was a documentary! Here's what the bill says:

Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of
course materials, but no student in any public school or institution
shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a
particular position on scientific theories.

So let me get this straight... If a kid holds to belief in a geocentric solar system, can they be docked points if they answer that the Sun orbits the Earth on a test? What if they think the Earth is flat? What it they contend that rotting meat produces maggots as was once thought?   Well, according to this excerpt, they can't be penalized. So if they get the answer wrong, they can't have marked wrong because they don't personally think it's wrong? If only real life was that easy!  But as with most laws, it's not very clear, because it goes on to say:
Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning,
understanding and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state
and local education standards
 Okay... so they CAN'T be penalized, but it also ISN'T an exemption from the curriculum... Contradiction much? Ah, but then you have to look at the fact that the bill also grants teachers the ability to teach the strengths and weaknesses of any 'controversial' scientific theories such as (but not restricted to) evolution, global warming, and cloning. Considering that there are NO weaknesses to the theory of evolution and you soon realize that this is yet another anti-science bill being masqueraded as an 'Academic Freedom Act'. This bill basically allows the teaching and entertainment of whatever the teacher and kids personally believe. Sorry, but protecting scientific illiteracy is no protecting academic freedom. If you don't think evolution happened, then you are quite simply wrong, and in all likelihood, willfully ignorant as well. If state on a science test that you think humans and dinosaurs coexisted, they enjoy zero points on that question. I don't care if you think that's what happened any more than if you think the CSA won the American Civil War, or if you believe that Germany won WWII. You are laughably wrong and deserve no credit in that question. Now, I don't think a student should be failed outright just for their beliefs. But if their beliefs are scientifically wrong, and the answer in kind, their scores will quickly catch up with them.

All I see here is another blatant attempt by the religious right to try to indirectly fight evolution education once more. Sorry, but if you believe in a literal account of the creation story in Genesis, then you are believing something that is bat shit crazy. Sorry, my apologies... In the interest of 'Biblical correctness' that should be 'bird shit crazy', since the Bible (in all it's infinite 'wisdom') tells us that bats are in 'fact' birds... Yeah... That's a guide book I want to use for better scientific understanding. Maybe after we learn about the strange 'birds' called bats, and how the entire universe was specially created in just six days, we can also learn about four legged insects (Leviticus), four legged birds(Leviticus), that the stars are just little lights hung in the sky that can fall to Earth (Revelations) and other wonderfully 'educational' tidbits...  If you are putting your faith in the Bible for any educational information or scientific facts, then you are looking in the wrong place. And it makes me sick that elected officials continue to propagate the widespread ignorance toward science that exists in this country. Our STEM ranking is abysmal when compared to the rest of the world (17th in science and 25th in math among 34 countries). It's high time we stop pandering to the misinformed masses and start correcting these ill conceived notions and promote the teaching of cold hard scientific fact is science classes so that our county actually has a chance to improve. But continue down the road that Oklahoma is pressing down, and you can say goodbye to innovation and scientific leadership, and hello to being the laughing stock of the educated world... And that's a future I desperately want us to avoid.


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Friday, February 22, 2013

One fish, two fish, Pope fish, nope fish

It's that time of year again. Time to hear commercial after commercial about how every fast food restaurant is featuring their (sub-par) fish offerings, and finer restaurants advertise theirs as well. You guessed it... It's Lent. Can't you just hear Christians of various sects acting all smug because they gave up KitKat's for forty days and substitute other meats for fish on Fridays?

As a nonbeliever, I do not bother with the practice of 'fasting' for Lent. Yes pig out the day before, give something trivial up for a few weeks and don't forget to turn up the self righteousness when you go to Long John Silver's or Red Lobster for lunch and announce to your friends that you've decided to abstain from deep-fried Twinkies. Obviously, not all observers of Lent act this way, but I find it humorous when those that do, act like they are paragons of will-power and self control when Lent has been revised through the years to make it as easy as possible. Lets take a moment to look at how the practice of Lent has changed through the years...

•From 325CE:  Forty days of fasting, with only one late evening meal allowed. No meat, fish or animal derived foods allowed. Sunday's were feast days.

•800's CE: Evening meal allowed as early as 3pm.

•1400's CE: Evening meal  allowed as early as noon.

•Fish was eventually allowed.

•1966CE: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now the only two 'fast' days. But no meat on Fridays.

As you can see, today's practitioners of Lent have it very easy indeed!

As for giving up things for Lent... I find the whole practice juvenile. I know the official purpose of Lent is a symbolic (dietary) sacrifice to echo the sacrifice said to be made by Jesus. But some pastors also say that that the purpose is to show self restraint and reduce dependance on 'things' so that they can further rely on God. Also, there is a turning from temptation, and realize that they are not as strong as they thought, thus showing their true need of God's guidance. And of course, there are those that think dropping their Tim Tam habit for a few weeks will simply impress God beyond belief. Silly, isn't it? Almost as silly as when I am now asked what I've given up for Lent, and I reply that I've given up religion!

While we are on the topic of Biblical dietary restraints, what about the prohibition placed on pork and shellfish?
Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.

-Leviticus 11:3

Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

-Leviticus 11:4


And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.

-Leviticus 11:7
 Okay, so no bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc are allowed.
These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat.

-Leviticus 11:9

But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.

-Leviticus 11:10
 So no shrimp, crab, lobster, crayfish, oysters, etc allowed either! How many Christians do you know that won't eat pork or shellfish. 

But take heart! You can eat crickets and grasshoppers next time you have a craving for a pulled pork sandwich.
There are, however, some winged insects you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. You may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.

-Leviticus 11:21-22
 How odd is it that many of the Christians that ignore these verses will be the first to quote this verse whenever homosexuality is brought up...
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

-Leviticus 20:13
 Yup, you saw that right. The go to verse about being gay is in the same book as the ignored verses about eating insects and not eating pork or shellfish. With such blatant cherry-picking of which verses serve their agenda over those that they don't personally care for, is it any surprise that some act like they just won the self control Olympics by not super-sizing their McDonald's for a few weeks? To this day, I see Lent as a silly tradition with it's credit put in all the wrong places. People giving up something bad for them, and then thanking God for will-power they had all along. Sadly, if they were doing it for themselves, rather than a deity they just might kick that smoking habit for good, instead of temporarily. Perhaps that is asking a bit much for this day and age. But I can hope that this tradition will one day go by the wayside in favor and true and meaningful self reflection.

-Brain Hulk

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Heaven's broken promise

Heaven... The land of eternal paradise that so many believers see as their everlasting future. It's description will vary from person to person and sect to sect. But one one aspect that remains constant is one of paradise. It is supposed to be this wonderfully perfect place where you will be eternally happy forever and ever. Is this a realistic claim?

Each person may have a different picture of perfection. Some people may live for animals, yet many sects claim that animals are sans sole, thus there would be none in Heaven. Can those people be truly happy there? Another common claim is that you will be surrounded by your entire family once more. Sort of like a celestial family reunion. For many, that might be a wonderful thought. But I'm sure we've all been to family gatherings that are fun at first, but wear on you as time passes. Is this proposed never ending reunion really so attractive? What if that uncle who always teased you is there too, and is up to his old tricks?  What would masochist Heaven be like?

We are supposed to find Heaven to be this place that brings infinite joy, yet are told that if you don't get into Heaven, that you will be cast into the pit of eternal fiery torture known as Hell. Now I don't know about you, but if I was in Heaven and was aware of the fact that people are being endlessly tortured (often for ridiculously silly 'crimes') I would not be able to feel infinitely happy, as is advertised. Worse yet, if you know someone... perhaps a friend is feeling eternal burning torment while you are free of pain, I feel like that knowledge would cause Heaven to be it's own kind of torment, rather than a paradise.

Another problem with the concept of Heaven is it's permanence. When you think of it fleetingly, eternal life sounds like a great thing. But is it really? Lets think about eternity for a second... After ten year you'll still be in Heaven. In 50 years you're still there. In 100 years you'll still be there.... 1,000 years... 10,000 years... 500,000 years... 1 million years... 36 billion years... 9 trillion years.... On and on and on without end, you will be a Heaven. I find this to be a sobering thought, and think that such great expanses of time would be enough to drive anyone mad. Think about it. How many times have you found yourself to feel bored? Maybe just one lazy day, maybe every now and then on the weekend, maybe  your trip to the beach gets rained out one of the days you're there. How often when, and why isn't the important bit. But the fact the that one can easily get bored is our busy yet finite lifetimes, it isn't hard to imagine for bored one could become in an existence the literally never ends. Even if you try to stave of boredom, you will eventually do everything there is to do and still have an eternity to live. Personally, I don't find the concept of a never ending eternity of existence to be an attractive prospect at all.

While we're on the topic of the afterlife, there is one format that I would find personally attractive. The one and only afterlife that I find appealing is the concept of reincarnation. Whether that means reincarnation as an animal, or a person is really of no import to me. Reincarnation as an animal would bring brand new experiences. Reincarnation as another person would allow you to live and experience those 'firsts' that we all look forward to. First dates, first kiss, first love, etc, etc. Now, it's important for me to mention that even though I like the idea of reincarnation, I still don't believe it to be reality for the same reason I don't believe in Heaven or Hell... And that's a total lack of evidence. I would love reincarnation to be true, but it wouldn't be honest of me to posit it as reality simply due to personal desire.

Finally, we must realize that the amazing desire and longing that some have for Heaven does a disservice to this one short life that we know we have. Some treat this mortal life like it is a dress rehearsal for the after-life. This saddens me because this life is the only one we know we get, and all signs point to this life being our ONLY life. So when people take this life for granted and act like the important life is yet to come, it makes me feel sorry for those people. Life is a beautiful thing that should never be compromised, even for the promise of riches or another life eternal. Furthermore, given how the concept of Heaven fails on it's proposed promises, I feel that this life should be cherished all the more.


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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Atheist marriage

I am an atheist, and I am also married. Oddly enough, this simple combination of those two facts results in some people becoming confused and sometimes even at odds. Perhaps I'll start with a theological picture of my marriage. As I stated already, I am an atheist. At the time of our marriage, my wife considered herself a Wiccan. As time went by her beliefs have wandered somewhere between atheism and her Wiccan beliefs. As of now I'd say that she's somewhat more Wiccan still than anything else. Now that you have a basic picture of our union, let's press on to the reactions and questions that sometimes come up...

How can you be married to someone with differing beliefs?

Is this really so hard to understand? People very rarely share every single belief and opinion that their spouse holds, so why should we expect theology to hold a special place where both sides must see eye-to-eye 100%? To be quite honest, the answer is quite simple. Mutual respect. She respects my beliefs, and I respect hers. We do not try to convert one another, or belittle the others theological stance. And when you actually get to know what someone believes you may sometimes find that there really is a lot that you may both actually agree on, even if the label of your favored theology may be different.

If one or both parties are concerning themselves with proselytizing to the other, then there will be conflict in the relationship. However, we have no such conflict. Actually, we can talk about the subject matter for hours. Perhaps it is because we are both former Catholics. Or maybe it's because we both find theology fascinating. But we can sit and talk about the silly things that people believe, the logical problems, the beauty of the natural world and how it doesn't get the respect it deserves, and find that the time has flown past swiftly without our even noticing. So to those wondering if a marriage between those of differing theological opinions can work, yes... yes it can. But only if you respect one another and their beliefs.

How does one get married without religion?

Quite simply, actually. And often much cheaper than a church wedding. If you don't want to get married in a church to appease family, there is always the option of getting married at the courthouse. But if you are looking to still have a gathering of family and friends, you can do what we did and hire an officiant. If you do your homework, you can find someone to help you craft a wedding of your design. We wanted a wedding void of the Christianity to which we no longer subscribed. He agreed and also felt the the ceremony should be about us, and not anyone else. So we crafted a ceremony that was largely secular, but also included some nods to my wife's Pagan leanings. We rented a hall to hold the the wedding and reception in.

To start, we exchanged rings at the back of the hall at the beginning of the ceremony as per an old medieval tradition. We had readings of poetry rather than scripture. We wrote our on vows (in which I reference nuclear fusion, in an arguably romantic way), we chose our own music for the start and finish of the ceremony, and we concluded the vows with a handfasting ceremony in place of the ring exchange. In the end you were left with a beautiful ceremony that family and friends could enjoy, was 100% legal, and god-free. And to be honest, I don't think anyone that didn't know that was our plan beforehand even noticed our omissions. So one can very easily get married and still make it a beautiful and meaningful event without the need to bow down to the template and requirements of the church. Oh, and no premarital counseling required!

Why get married if you're not religious? / Marriage is all about religion.

Why get married? The simple answer is love and commitment. That was true in our case anyway, but this answer may vary slightly from couple to couple. But let me start out by saying that I actually don't think that marriage is necessary for a couple to have a long-term committed relationship. In fact, some atheist's choose not to get married just because so many falsely believe that marriage is inherently religious. Let's be honest with ourselves... marriage isn't for everyone. But in our case, it's what we wanted. It is a symbol of our love and commitment, and also a symbolic marker of this new chapter in the story of our life and relationship.

We had no worries that our marriage had to be 'blessed' by a priest or deity in order to last. After all, it is the individuals in a relationship that control it's health and vitality. Not to mention that if a deity is 'blessing' marriages, he's doing a pretty bad job since religious marriages have a slightly hire divorce rate than non-religions ones. The reasons to get married if you're not religious are honest and emotional. I personally favor this vision of marriage, rather than one that also includes conforming to what the church expects you to do.

Should you rush into a marriage just because you find out you are pregnant? Or isn't it better to determine if the relationship is strong enough to fulfill the commitment you'd be entering into? If the long term bond isn't there, I feel that the marriage would be irresponsible, even though it may be what your church demands in order to align with expectations. But I contend an unhappy marriage and divorce would be worse for the child than two separate parents doing what they can outside of a marriage. As I said before, marriage isn't for everyone, and the reasons people get married can vary greatly. But I feel content and comforted that our marriage was about our mutual love, and nothing more.

As for the second statement that 'marriage is all about religion'... That's just downright false! I've heard it before (but luckily less that the other questions), "Aren't you being a hypocrite if you are getting married as an atheist? Marriage is a religious institution!" Quite often a bit of all the previous questions is mixed into their flawed 'reasoning', but the simple fact is that while marriage can be religious, it isn't inherently so. Some like to think that the church owns and invented marriage, but this couldn't be further from the case.

Christianity invented marriage about as much as they invented the Christmas traditions we all enjoy. In short, they didn't! Marriage is much older than Christianity, just as Christmas is. And like the way Christianity 'borrowed' Pagan traditions and claimed them as their own, they also try to do the same with marriage. Sure there are some parts of Christian marriage that are unique to Christian marriage, but you can also say the same for Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Norse, Shinto, and all other religions takes on marriage. But that does not change the fact that marriage is much older than the religions that may try to claim sole ownership of the institution. Marriage actually predates written history, and at it's earliest known point seems to have centered around mating exclusivity. It wasn't until much later that religions started weaving themselves into marriage.

I'm hoping that I have shown you that marriage is not inherently religious, and that marriage involving the nonreligious it a very meaningful, and understandable institution, despite what those blinded by their faith may try to tell you.

-Brain Hulk

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Prosecute the Pope!

Well, with the news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation today, it shouldn't be much of a surprise what today's entry is going to be about. Ratzinger has only been Pope since 2005, and has only given the church about three-weeks notice until he steps down at the end of the month. The reasons cited for his resignation are his health and age... Odd, considering that most Pope's stay in office until their death. Personally, I have to wonder if the official reason is the whole truth, but more on that later. But when all is said and done, Ratzinger will be the first Pope to step down since 1415, and the first to do so willingly since 1294. I am happy to see Ratzinger go, but there are two things I will miss... 1) The ease of pointing out the absurdity that they elected a former member of the Hitler Youth. 2) The fact that he looks almost exactly like the evil Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. That comparison was always quite fitting, actually.

Next month, the Catholic church will start the process of selecting a new Pope. One can only hope that Ratzinger's successor is less conservative than he's been. Let's face it, even by Catholic standards, Ratzinger has been a Conservative among Conservatives.

Just this past Christmas, Ratzinger took time in his Christmas speech to oppose same sex couples and marriage equality. He referred to homosexuality as a choice (it's not), called homosexuals 'intrinsically disordered' (nice job loving thy neighbor), and called gay marriage a threat to world peace! Seriously? A threat to world peace? How exactly do you figure that allowing two willing people that love one another to get married is a threat to world peace? He similarly, also called abortion and euthanasia threats to world peace. Again... How?! Okay, if someone is against abortion on all cases, that is their right. But how is abortion a threat to world peace? Furthermore, how does euthanasia threaten world peace? Does he not realize that euthanasia concerns the personal like of the individual only? It's a choice to die with dignity, and at the time of your choosing. So please tell me, how does that humane option threaten world piece? Perhaps he doesn't understand what it actually is. Maybe like some talk show hosts he also thinks euthanasia permits governments the select who lives and who dies. If that's the case, he's both wrong and gullible.

Ratzinger also continued the opposition of allowing women to be ordained as priests. While such a stance is actually Biblically sound, it is also quite out of place in a day and age where woman are finally supposed to be equal to men. His opposition to stem cell research was also relentless. Yes, yield-less  opposition to one of the most promising fields of study of our day. Experimental uses of stem cells have cleared up HIV and leukemia. Stem cell use has given a person that was blind in one eye much of their sight back, and has also been used to treat progressive blindness. Stem cells have treated spinal cord injuries, diabetes, grow a replacement trachea, repair damaged heart tissue, etc, etc. I find it odd that the leader of the church who is supposed to be compassionate for his fellow man, wishes to curb these amazing treatments and the the even greater possibilities for the future. True, embryonic stem cells aren't the only type of stem cells. Actually, the replacement trachea was grown from that little boy's own stem cells. But while adult stem cells can do amazing things, embryonic stem cells can do more, and usually with better success. But whee do they come from? The simple fact is, that most come from fertility clinics. Quite often there are too many samples left over that end up being kept for a while and then just disposed of. So why the uproar over cells that can save untold lives that were due for disposal anyway? I recently saw a nice poster that asked "What if the cure for cancer lies in a person who can't afford to go to collage." A very nice thought, as I feel that education is paramount, and that we should do what we can to be sure that people get the education they need. But I similarly ask, "What if the cure for cancer is in a fertility clinic test tube that the Pope deems is off limits?" I can not respect a man that feels that these collections of cells that will never be humans, trump the rights and well-being of real people going through real suffering. One area that Ratzinger finally came around a little was on the issue of condoms, especially in Africa. The long time stance has been that condom use was not permissible or useful against the spread of AIDS. In 2010 he finally revised his position somewhat. He oddly stated that condom use was permissible in some situations, but not for the prevention of spreading HIV/AIDS. Just a year earlier, Ratzinger actually claimed that condom use would promote the spread of AIDS rather than hinder it. Such an absurd statement is hard to take seriously. It was unclear what uses e was now okay with, but it's sad that it took him ten years in the papacy to revise his antiquated stance as little as he did. But contrary to his belief, condom use would help reduce the AIDS problem in Africa. By demonizing condoms and promoting abstinence above all else, you are creating a recipe for careless unprotected sex that in may cases in Africa, leads to the further spread of HIV/AIDS. How he can sleep at night is beyond me.

Finally, we reach the elephant in the room. That's right, the Catholic child abuse scandal. As ugly as the acts perpetrated were, there is yet one more ugly fact... Ratzinger was complacent in the child sex abuse scandal! In 1979, Archbishop Ratzinger suggested only therapy for a cleric known guilty of child rape. Then Cardinal Ratzinger ignored letters of concern about ongoing abuses and simply moved offending priests from parish to parish to try and cover up their doings. In 2001, Ratzinger was now in charge of the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith". This was the department in charge of the chile abuse scandal. Ratzinger's chief action was to send out a letter reminding all of the extreme consequences of the crime of  reporting the rape and torture of children at the hands of priests. The punishment for those who did not remain silent? Excommunication! But the punishment for those who actually did these evil deeds was to be moved to a new church. Can you see where the priorities are all miked up? Protecting the offender at the price of the victim or those that would do the right thing and come forward. Simply sickening! To go on, Ratzinger wrote a statute of limitations for internal investigation. This started at 18 years of age and ended ten years latter. If the victim is now too old, the church says 'tough luck for you'. Of course, they drafted this as they did, as it automatically exempted some of the oldest abuses from even being investigated. So as we have seen plainly, Ratzinger was very much aware of the problems taking place within the church, and was even personally involved. So what did he do once he was in power as Pope and had the ability to do something about it. Absolutely nothing! In my opinion, covering up child rape and protecting the rapists is just as bad as commuting the rape yourself. Morally superior, my ass! There was actually a small movement to Britain to take changes up against the Pope during a visit, however, since he is technically a head of state, the only charge that could be levied was 'crimes against humanity', and no lawyer was willing to file the charge. But now may be the chance. Once Ratzinger is no longer the Pope, he will no longer be protected by the law at he once was. It is my hope that justice will be done, and that this disgusting excuse for a human being will spend the last of his days in prison, rather than a very nice retirement home as planned. Earlier I eluded to the true reason for Ratzinger's resignation. I would be lying if I told you it wasn't a shock to just about everyone. He hadn't really given any signs that he was due to resign, then we have the news today. Given his corrupt history of the child abuse scandal, part of me has to wonder if this resignation was tactical. Perhaps he was even more involved than we know thus far? Perhaps the shit is about to hit the fan, and he wanted to be out of office on his own accord before he was forced out. The coming weeks may start to paint that picture. But let's get one thing clear... Even if no further involvement come to light, Ratzinger is a vile human being that deserves nothing more than to be prosected to the furthest extent of the law.


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Friday, February 8, 2013

Confession of Ben Stein: He's a dunce

I received an email today by the title of "Remarks on CBS on Sunday morning". The content was a supposed commentary by Ben Stein. Before I dissect the content of the email, let me just mention that I am aware that parts of it were said by Stein years ago, and have been wandering around the internet for a while now. This newest email recycles those parts and has other content appended to it to make it more current. I am unaware if the additions are Stein's words as well, but I shall respond as if they are...

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat...
It doesn't take long for the absurdity to start. Right off the bat, we are faced with a hell of a doozy. Christians being pushed around for being Christians? That's a new one to me. Last I checked 78.4% of Americans are Christians. If there is any mass movement of pushing Christians around, it must be both inept and top secret because I'm failing to think of a single example. As for Jew's being pushed around... I'd say that antisemitism is far more prevalent, but even that isn't as far reaching as Stein makes his claims to sound. Furthermore, who ever claimed that America was an explicitly atheist country. Again, I've never heard such a claim made. It would be a silly claim anyway, since atheists only make up to somewhere around 4+% of the US population. But I have a feeling I know where you're coming from. Since Christianity is not allowed to be the de facto religion forced on all, you jump to the absurdly exaggerated conclusion that if the Judeo-Christian worldview can't be forced on all that means that the lack of religion shall be forced. Wrong! This is an absurd exaggeration and overreaction. Funny you should mention the Constitution, because it states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... This is Jefferson's famous 'wall of separation between church and state'. As you see, the US is not and can not be an 'explicitly atheist country', just as it can't be an 'explicitly Jewish country', or an 'explicitly Christian country'. To be as such would violate the constitution. Again, not being explicitly Judeo-Christian doesn't even come close to 'explicitly atheist'. The Constitution actually guarantees that the US is a country of all faiths, and lack thereof. So Mr. Stein, you might want to take a look, because you're persecution complex is showing.
Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went .
Okay, I will admit that some people are way to obsessed with celebrities... Maybe it's because technology has us so much better connected. That's not the 'interesting' part of this excerpt though... You claim that people are 'not allowed to worship God'?! You have to be joking! Remember those 78% of American's that are Christian? Well, 83.1% of Americans are one type of theist or another. For 'not being allowed to worship', there sure is a lot of it going around. I know I haven't seen any police breaking down the doors of churches and dragging the congregations away to prison. And remember the First Amendment. Let me remind you again that is guarantees the right to worship and practice the religion of your choosing. Lets press forward and see if we can find something somewhat less absurd...
In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.
In light of recent events... terrorists attacks, school shootings, etc.. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school... The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Sorry Mr. Stein, but you are spinning half truths here to spin your own agenda. Contrary to what you and others claim, prayer wasn't fully eradicated in schools. Remember the free exercise clause? Because of that, students are free to pray to whichever being they worship (so long as they aren't disrupting class). Prayer was 'removed' in the sense related to the establishment clause. The form of prayer not allowed is prayer that is lead by the staff of the school. Forcing the students to partake in a lead prayer from the administration is a clear violation of the Constitution and was rightly disallowed. We have a similar situation with the Bible. It is true that the Bible can not be taught as a historical text, as it would again violate the establishment clause. However, the Bible can be used as an example of literature in an English class. As for what the Bible says... yes, it does say not to kill and to love you're neighbor. But it contradicts itself so often that it also says to hate your mother, father, spouse, children and siblings (Luke 14:26), as well as to tear open pregnant women and dash their children on rocks (Hoesea 13:16). Should we also read that in the Bible and say 'OK' Mr. Stein? How about we just try to not be deceptive about reporting the facts like you have thus far, and also take responsibility into our own hands rather than deferring to an old dusty book.
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about.. And we said okay..

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'
Finally, something somewhat rational! I will wholeheartedly agree that kids get away with far to much these days. When I was young and did something I knew I wasn't supposed to do, I would get a spanking. I can tell you that I learned my lesson and never committed the same transgression twice. That said, we do have to draw a line between discipline and abuse. A simple spanking is not abuse in my opinion. However if you are spanking so hard that you leave a bruise, or are using a leather belt, that would cross the line into abuse for me. I don't thing this lax discipline is the only factor as you claim though. In fact, I think that less and less involved parenting is a greater factor. A third would be this absurd 'no losers' mentality that is set up for kids.
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that people tend to believe what the newspaper says because it is current and can be verified fairly easily. Personally, I take a good part of the news with a grain of salt as well, but what about the Bible? Well, the Bible is all to easy to criticize. So much of it is outdated, unverifiable, wrong, and shockingly ghastly. Sure, there's good bits... but one could also argue that Hitler was a good painter. As for the proportion of religious emails to joke emails... My inbox actually gets far more religious emails sent to it than joke emails. But what should it be a surprise if funny emails are sent more than overtly religious ones? Joke emails are more widely enjoyed by all, so it's easy to send them to everyone you know. You likely know their sense of humor or think they'd enjoy it. But with religious emails, you might not send them to people you know wouldn't want them, or you may not know a friends feeling of religion or how strongly religious they are, so to avoid potential conflict, you only send it to those you know will like it... Though that doesn't stop people I know from assuming I'm deeply Christian and sending them to me anyway.
Spoiler alert... I'm not Christian at all. Not sending the email around is not necessarily worrying about what people think about us, buy it more akin to being polite. Does anyone like it when the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or Baptists come knocking on your door way too early on a Saturday morning? Think of the email the same way. Unless you think the person is interested, don't pass it on to them and let them be. And why would you worry about what God will think of you for not sending along an email? If anything, you should worry what he thinks if you do send it along. After all, Matthew 6:6 says "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." And one final reason not to send this email in particular... It was commposed entirely in the font call Papyrus! Papyrus should never be used as body copy, and seeing that font used in that way made by eyes want to bleed! But lets finish up by talking about public discussion about being suppressed in school and the workplace... First of all, it's not suppressed in school. Staff can't preach to students, but students can talk religion all they want before school, after school, between classes and at lunch. As for religion at the office... well, that really depends on the office. In some, religion is spoken about freely. But in your everyday office a lot of topics are 'taboo'. Religion, politics, sensitive subjects... These are off limits to avoid possible arguments and to promote productivity, not to oppress those that believe in whichever god they believe in.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein
Merit? Don't make me laugh! If you've read this far, you are aware that Mr. Stein has remained dishonest, ignorant, disingenuous throughout this statement attributed to him. So rather than sending this along, I am replying to set the facts straight. He said his message was to make you think. Well, I hope that this reply will make you (and him) think, and also learn.


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Monday, February 4, 2013

Patriotism vs Nationalism

Every now and then I find myself in a discussion where I am being accused of being anti-American, or unpatriotic. I'd wager that these accusations are false, and rather speak of the accuser's Nationalism more than it speaks of anyone's Patriotism. I will openly admit that I am fond of both the United Kingdom and Japan, but is that really a problem? For one guy I know it is. To him everything has to start, stop and live USA. Somehow, being fond of the architecture, history and culture of another country becomes a problem... Newsflash! I can like things about the UK and also still like things about the US. Shocking, I know. According to him, liking something that is 'non-American' or criticizing something about America is unpatriotic. But is it really? He also refuses to but things not made in the USA if he can help it, only because they are US made. Personally, I don't see how buying a different product is a problem if I perceive it to be the better option or a better value. If I were to buy a product for the express reason that it was NOT made in the USA, then I wouldn't have a problem with an accusation of being unpatriotic. But what if you buy a product because it's made in the USA, fully aware of a product that may better suit your needs? What if you don't buy other products only because they are not US made? I'd wager that some reasons would point toward Nationalism, rather than Patriotism. A recent accusation came up when a study found that among other industrialized nations, US schools placed 27th among math and science schools. At this point I opined that these scores weren't anywhere good enough and that something needed to be done to get these scores up. I started comparing the US public school system to those of other countries that did much better than us and suggested that their system could be used as an example to improve ours. Somehow that innocent critique was taken as a scathing criticism of America. The same has happened when I compared Japan's crime rate with ours and when I have criticized some US policy. But again, how is any of this unpatriotic? This person paints a picture of always standing in step with the US no matter what. The US does something, and it's right only because the US did it. The government says something is wrong, and it magically becomes wrong. Another company does better in science testing but he'll claim that the US system is still better because it's the US system. This sort of thinking is not patriotic, it is nationalistic. Though it is funny when it comes up that I like tea and not coffee, or the I don't care for American football but do like soccer. Suddenly it "coffee is America's drink!", or "Football is America's game!", and it is insinuated that if I'm not a football loving, coffee drinking, apple oie eating, beer swilling rebalrouser, that I'm not a 'true American'. Yup, the arrgument basiclly sounds like, "Coffee, because 'Merica!!!". But enough of that tangent... Sure, I may point out areas where the US is currently coming up short, but that isn't unpatriotic. I see a country that used to be great at education, but see it slowly falling behind. Is a suggestion to try and return it to it's days of success an bad thing? On the contrary, I feel that calling for the nation to return to the glory it once held as quite patriotic. Same will the passing of the DNAA. I opposed it's passing a still do, due to it's allowance for the government of the United States to indefinitely detain US citizens with no due process. That is something that I feel is inherently American. Sure, I may be standing against the US in that ruling, but in this case opposing the DNAA is the patriotic thing to do. Sometimes disagreeing with the country or feeling we can learn from others is inherently patriotic. That is because patriotism is not standing with the country, because is it your country. Nay, patriotism means believing in the country and what it stands for... or it's founding principles. The US has a long history of denouncing torture, so when the military decides to torture anyway, then the denouncing of the country's actions becomes the patriotic thing to do. That is because it is violation of what makes America, America. Same with falling test scores. Admitting that we're coming up short where we once excelled and looking for inspiration elsewhere for the good of the future of America is in the country's best interest. So, standing with America can be patriotic. But if you take it too far it can become nationalistic. However, patriotism can sometimes ask you to stand against your country's actions or ask for it to do better. Doing so to stand up to the country's founding priciples and return it to former glory may not be the easiest course of action, but it is certainly the honest and proud thing to do.


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Friday, February 1, 2013

All claim, no gain

Apparently there's some big football game this Sunday, so the topic of performance enhancers came up on a radio show I was listening to. Different kinds of water, bracelets, etc. Sadly, the people on the show were actually entertaining the claims of the manufacturers. Quite sad really, since most of the products are obvious frauds when it comes to the claims they make. So lets take a look at a few...

Oxygenated Water

Sellers of oxygenated water claim that it increases oxygen levels in the blood. This increase of oxygen means more energy and better health. They also claim that it will increase your immune system, reduce your risk of developing cancer, regulate body temperature, moisten tissues, and protect organs. But it any of that true? Well, lets look at what water is... At the molecular level, it is two hydrogen molecules fused with one oxygen molecule (H2O). Yet here we have this product called 'oxygenated water' which is supposed to be water, but with more oxygen. But how does this work? If we take our H2O and add a second oxygen molecule. What we are left with is H2O2.  H2O2 is actually none other than hydrogen peroxide! Now that doesn't seem very appetizing now does it. Unless you dilute it quite a bit, consuming hydrogen peroxide can cause vommiting and mild burning of your throat and stomach. But 'oxygenated water' isn't hydrogen peroxide, of course. They simply inject oxygen into the water like a child blowing bubbles in their drink with a straw. Any oxygen added is not chemically bonded, and simply bubbles to the surface and escapes into the air. But if there is any extra oxygen in a bottle of water, that means more air and less water. Considering the increased cost of oxygenated water, you are actually paying more for less. Some of their claims are actually true, but it's not because it's oxygenated water, but because it is water (which is something important). 


Ionized/Alkaline/Negatively Charged Water

Another 'miracle' water is alkaline water.  This water undergoes electrolysis to separate the source water into acidic and alkaline streams. The claims of this non-acidic water are that it promotes stomach health, healthier bones, lower blood pressure, and enhance antioxidant levels. That sounds pretty good, but is this true? First we must realize that any water fit to drink is actually too unconductive to to undergo meaningful electrolysis. So even if you can ionize the water, it won't be much different from the base water, and any water that can create very very alkaline water isn't any water that I'd want to drink. If it's pure water, you can't improve on it anyway. But even if you do happen to ionize your water so that it is mildly alkaline, remember where it is going to go. It will wind up in your highly acidic stomach, where any alkaline levels will be quickly nullified. What more, the ionizing machines are quite expensive. So why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on an unnecessary machine, when you could just drink the water yo have and get all the heath benefits of water on the cheap. Oh, and they also claim that it 'sticks to cells like a magnet, and hydrates amazingly well'. Well it's water! Of course it's going to hydrate for crying out loud!

Kinesio Tape

This bright colored tape was all the rage at the recent London Olympics. Athletes of all types were wearing this tape in all manner of pattern and color. The manufacturer claims that the tape lifts the skin to help reduce pain and improve blood flow and enhance muscle performance. It can also be used to restrict motion to an injured area. While it can be used to keep one from further injuring a joint by restricting motion, the claims of blood flow and improved performance are in question. At this stage, scientific testing has found no evidence that supports the blood flow and performance claims, so it appears to be more of a fashion accessory than anything else. 

Magnetic Bracelet/Magnetic Therapy

This product is exactly what it says it is... a bracelet with magnets in it. But why put magnets in a bracelet. The claim goes like this. Our blood has iron in it, so you wear the bracelet on your wrist where it will excite to iron in the blood stream. This will attract the iron causing improved blood flow, more oxygen in the blood, better nutrition and improved healing. Some even claim that they cure all diseases! But as we've asked with the others, do they work? No, no they don't. Scientific testing hasn't found any evidence they they work either. But it should also be noted that the magnets are nowhere near powerful enough to reach or effect the iron in the blood. The only things these magnets are attracting, are the gullible.

Power Balance Wristbands

These are nothing more than a silicone wristband with a hologram sticker on them. It doesn't look like anything special at first glance, but let's hear what their manufacturer has to say about them. They claim(ed) that the wristbands use 'holographic technology' to affect and balance the 'energy field' of the wearers body in order to enhance athletic performance. If that sounds like a lot of meaningless BS, that's because it is. We could go on and on about the  meaningless terms 'holographic technology' and 'energy field', but lets focus on the basics instead, like the fact that their claims were so widely discredited that they actually came out and admitted that their product doesn't actually do anything. That's not surprising since the holograms on my old visa or master card didn't make me into a sports all star. Nor did the stacks of hologram stickers I had as a kid promote me to Olympic ability. But back to 'holographic technology'... This is just an attempt to make a printing process sound fancier than it really is. Holograms are for sports cards, parking permits, credit cards and other specialty printing needs, NOT medical uses. As for the body's 'energy field'... If they are talking in the aura type sense, then they are just talking about something that does not exist again. So holograms can't effect anything. If they could, there's no energy field to effect. And even if there was a field, how would an external field changes ever translate to internal sporting performance? None of those questions matter though, because they don't do anything other than use high paid endorsements in order to make even more on the unsuspecting.

So if all of these products are scams, exaggerations and too good to be true, what about the people that swear by them? the answer to this is pretty simple... the placebo effect. The brain is an amazing and powerful thing. If you take or use them whilst expecting results, you can often trick yourself into thinking that it really is working. Some are just fads and gimmicks that look cool and trendy. Others use buzz words to confuse and make simple things sound more complicated than they are. The waters have health benefits because they are water, and not because they are some sort of mythical 'better water'. But it really is saddening that so many shell out much of their hard earned money for false promises and basic products being sold for multiple more under some fancy label. Many of there products should be known fakes by common sense alone. Unfortunately that is not the came, and the masses still hang on every word of each 'miracle product' that rolls around. It truly is saddening that so many fall for this tripe.