Friday, March 29, 2013

Bill Hicks Last Performance

I always like to post this on "Good" Friday.

Friday Link Dump 3/29/13



This may come as a shock to you, but we are media addicts here at LH.  So when something as historic as two Supreme Court hearings about same sex marriage hits the internet we tend to read an unhealthy amount of articles.  Here’s just a few from our culturally biased, although morally justifiable perspective.  Followed by the fearful reactions of those opposing SSM.


SSM
-Marriage Equality
When Activism Meets Internet: The 21 Best Marriage Equality Symbols If you plan to change your online avatar in support of SSM, College Humor recommends these memes as a way to stand out while following the cultural wave.
-The Sky is Falling
Mike Huckabee Threatens GOP: Support Marriage Equality And Evangelicals Will Form Third Party This is the best thing that could ever happen to the Republican Party.  Not having to cater to the religious fundamentalists and far-right wingnuts might just make room for that elusive political creature on the verge of extinction:  The moderate republican.

LH

LH Podcast Episode Episode 16: Everybody Loves Leftovers As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at lefthemispheres@gmail.com. Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres

Atheism
Boxes sealed with ATHEIST tape lost by USPS 10X more often than controls  I remember the kickstarter for this company.  Good to see they haven’t lost their sense of humor in the face of adversity.  

Society/Culture
Guns don't offer protection – whatever the National Rifle Associatio​n says Antagonistic title -but read it anyway.  It makes some good points about the psychology of the gun owner.
Popular science blog is run by a woman – to the surprise of some on Facebook I don’t actually think this is news.  I’m posting it ironically.

Science
BeerSci: The Art And Science Of Beer Brewing, On Video





Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Redefining Definitions

Wouldn’t it be great if there were only one dictionary?  You could make it available online and everybody could agree on the definitions of words.  Sure, new things are invented every now and then but the advertising agencies of the world can just use the words we have with literal meanings for their products.  Honestly, do we need to call a book reading machine a Kindle?

kin·dle

1 /ˈkɪndl/ Show Spelled [kin-dl] Show IPA verb, kin·dled, kin·dling.
verb (used with object)
1. to start (a fire); cause (a flame, blaze, etc.) to begin burning.
2. to set fire to or ignite (fuel or any combustible matter).
3. to excite; stir up or set going; animate; rouse; inflame: He kindled their hopes of victory.
4. to light up, illuminate, or make bright: Happiness kindled her eyes.

I see no valid reason for people to have to endure the redefinition of the word kindle just to please a minority of the population who don’t want to read books written on paper.  What is wrong with the traditional meaning of the word?  Now, when I want to start a fire I have to use a different word or people wont know that I am starting a fire in the traditional sense.  How am I supposed to teach my children the subtle art of igniting combustible matter now that I have to explain that other people use the terminology for their own sinister ends.

This is an over-elaborate point but I feel the need to make it because the “re-definition of marriage” is the singular secular argument against same-sex marriage that is not rooted in religious ideology or erroneous (if not blatantly falsifiable) scientific research.

This is the only argument that an intellectually honest group or individual can make to entreat a secular government to make a decision based on the civil rights of its own citizens.
I understand that the majority of religious people believe that marriage is a contract before God and their families that they have chosen one person with whom to spend the rest of their life.  I don’t need to believe in a God to understand that.  But the Supreme Court is not making a decision about God, they are making a decision about law.  Marriage has always been a social contract.  It evolved into a legal contract and remains so in every culture that has legal contracts.  I was married in on the beach in Mexico ten years ago.  Actually, I was married in Quintano Roo in a little office when I signed the contract in front of the official.  A priest performed our ceremony later that day.  Steve was there, warding off Europeans in Speedos (thanks bro).  The priest did not seem to care that it was an interracial marriage but we would not have forced him to perform the ceremony if he objected, citing the Curse of Ham.

I have not read every article on the subject, but I have never heard of an LGBT couple expressing a desire to force a church to officiate their wedding.  I can’t imagine gaining any satisfaction from having the happiest day of your life officiated by someone who is about to vomit all over your “sinful union.”  This is not about the religious liberties of the majority.  This is about the human and civil rights of a minority.  Freedom does not mean that your offense is my responsibility.  It does not permit one group to have ultimate authority over the lexicon.  The definition of a word has nothing to do with the civil rights of two adults who wish to have the same legal rights as everyone else.  And by “civil rights” I mean:

civil rights

plural noun ( often initial capital letters  )
1.
rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. constitution and certain Congressional acts, especially as applied to an individual or a minority group.

We don’t need to re-define those words.  Does it really matter if we change another definition?  In 2006 we changed the meaning of the word “planet” and western civilization has continued, unfazed.  What we are really redefining is the ability of a few vocal groups of people to site their religious beliefs and their personal sexual preferences as the basis of law for the whole country.

The Supreme Court may not make same-sex marriage legal this year.  But they will eventually, and America will look the same the next day.  God will be as silent on this issue as he is on every other.  This vote is about people in modern society.  Modern culture.  Modern families.  This vote will be the pride or the embarrassment of our children. This will validate the families of millions of children who are already being raised by same sex parents.  This will validate the parenting of millions of “traditional families” who are raising their children to live without hate.  The true majority of Americans are in favor of same sex marriage, but that is not what makes it the moral choice.  The morality is inherent in the word “equality.”  Look it up.

On Frans de Waal and "Militant Atheism"



The following essay is in response to an article entitled “Has militant atheism become a religion?” on Salon.com. The article is actually an excerpt from Frans de Waal’s upcoming book “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates;” which—truth be told—I was looking forward to reading until I realized this was an excerpt from it. I should point out that de Waal may or may not have anything to do with the title of the excerpt. That could have been Salon’s doing, but it really doesn’t matter due to the content.*

Look, I have said it before and I will probably always have to say it: Not everyone needs to be the activist type. It’s unrealistic, unsustainable and frankly, it would probably be counter-productive.  Having said that; I really cannot stand people who carelessly and unintelligently bandy about terms like “militant atheism” and “atheism is a religion.” I have to believe that de Waal knows better and that is what really pisses me off. If this article were written by Bill O’Reilly I would simply ignore it. It’s one thing if de Waal wanted to counter the antitheism (not atheism) he sees as too harsh, too abrasive, and maybe even a little too “dogmatic” at times, but he discredits himself instantly by using these buzzwords that reinforce false stereotypes.

Much of this excerpt (I imagine it’s a chapter) is superfluous to the point he is making so I am just going to hit the high notes here. As always, I encourage you to read the original in the link above.

“I consider dogmatism a far greater threat than religion per se. I am particularly curious why anyone would drop religion while retaining the blinkers sometimes associated with it. Why are the “neo-atheists” of today so obsessed with God’s nonexistence that they go on media rampages, wear T-shirts proclaiming their absence of belief, or call for a militant atheism? What does atheism have to offer that’s worth fighting for?

As one philosopher put it, being a militant atheist is like “sleeping furiously.”

This is the thesis of de Waal’s chapter/excerpt.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep. 16-Everybody Loves Leftovers

Jack is out of town so this week is our first ever Left Hemispheres Podcast clip show! This episode is full of some of our favorite segments from previous shows, as well as a whole slew of unaired gaffs, guffaws, one liners, and outtakes.
As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at lefthemispheres@gmail.com. Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres.

Check out this episode!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Ocean "Ptolemy Was Wrong"



Friday Link Dump 3/22/13

LH

Science
Society and Culture
Videos

If you read the post "Ten Years Later...", then you know why this is here.












Thursday, March 21, 2013

Guest Post: Dawkins at the Philomathean Society Annual Oration

John Murray is a moderator for the Pittsburgh Atheists group on Facebook, and active in a number of regional and national freethought, skeptic, and atheist organizations.

I made the trip to Philly to see Dr. Dawkins because: 1) I managed to a get a free ticket, 2) It was SUPPOSED to be the "Philomathean Society Annual Oration 2013: Dr. Richard Dawkins - "Proof, Science, and Skepticism: The Magic of Reality" lecture. 3) I managed to get my life-long friends to make the road trip, and 4) I may never have the chance to see Dr. Dawkins again, since I rarely travel.

So. I had a wonderful road trip, was treated,—at best— almost satisfactorily by the auditorium staff, met Dr. Dawkins, and enjoyed the lecture. The event was a book tour that was interrupted by a speaking engagement. I would think that getting an award that had only been given to three people before—in the TWO HUNDRED YEARS of the Society— would have been an event that Dr. Dawkins' handlers would have had on their calendar. I surmise that I could be wrong. In effect, Dr. Dawkins adapted his "book-tour lecture" to appease the audience. It was fine, just not what I expected.

"Founded in 1813, Philo is the oldest student group at the University and the oldest continually existing collegiate literary society in the United States. Throughout its nearly two hundred years of existence, the Society has pursued its mission of learning outside the classroom in whatever ways struck its membership best; a common answer to the question “what is Philo” is “whatever Philos want it to be.”  http://www.philomathean.org/about/ 

Our host, Paul Mitchell the Oration Director, introduced Dr. Dawkins, he was VERY helpful to me. I thank him. Please click here to check out the Society's History.  





My thoughts on the lecture:

"For the 2013 Bicentennial Philomathean Annual Oration, Dr. Dawkins will address the audience on the necessary role of science and skepticism in the modern world."  That is what was SUPPOSED to happen. I was a bit disappointed that the lecture was the 200th Anniversary of the Philomathean Society's Annual Oration (the oldest in the United States) and that Dr. Dawkins was given an award that has only been given to 3 others in the past 200 years.

Don't get me wrong; it was a sound lecture that addressed science, skepticism and reality. However, I felt that it should have been a lecture about "the necessary role of science and skepticism in the modern world";  not a book-tour lecture. Dr. Dawkins made no mention of what the original lecture was supposed to be; though later remarked that he had been asked to speak about "proof". He admits that he changed the book chapter that he usually refers to and went on to speak on "Why Bad Things Happen" - a different chapter from "The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True".  

Dr. Dawkins made very good points about disease, original sin, Sod's Law, and lucky charms. I liked what followed about the "universe is not out to get you" and the "arms race" between predators and prey (those of you familiar with his writing will recognize this approach). He then reminded us of the importance of parasites and vaccinations. That was followed by a refresher on our immune systems and the fight against cancers. He posed the idea that a human's auto-immune diseases may be the body's evolutionary "arms race" against cancers. Just maybe, the immune system is ahead of the curve?

He then spoke about "Mitochondrial Eve", "Y Chromosome Adam", and "our most recent common ancestor". I agree, that there "had" to be one of each of those. I also agreed with his reasoning: that there is a mass of empirical evidence to back such scientific claims or as he put it - we never have to leave the armchair to prove any of those things.

Finally, he went back to the book-tour lecture and discussed why supernatural "miracles" are nonsense. Science MUST keep looking for answers to things that we have yet to grasp. Instead of pointing to the miraculous, we must admit that, "this is something we don't yet understand."

"Science has its own magic: the magic of reality." A fitting end to a very informative, however, not-what-I-expected lecture.

The Q&A was a bit of philosophical nonsense and a bit of confrontational sarcasm. The second questioner was quite a bit over the top.

Over all, I very much enjoyed seeing Dr. Dawkins in person. When I met him afterward, he was cordial, though obviously had had a long day. I told him that reading "The Ancestor's Tale" had enabled me to teach my mom about common ancestors and the like.

I look forward to eventually seeing him in person again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Did the Chief of NASA Say We Need to Pray To God?

No. No he did not.

The headline on msn.com regarding humanity’s ability to detect and defend earth from asteroids was: NASA chief says only God can defend Earth against asteroid attack. This is an example (just one) of the idiocy of the American media and the death of journalism. At no time did Charles Bolden, the chief of NASA, say anything about “god.”  What he did say concerned a hypothetical threat and NASA’s ability to detect it in time. Bolden stated: 
“From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it's coming in three weeks, pray."
In the original Reuters article, which—by the way—is the source that msn.com cites, Bolden makes no mention of god (meaning msn.com just made it up). Whether he meant pray as in “pray to your specific deity” or just as a sarcastic comment that we may as well "pray" because we would be screwed, I can’t answer. What he did not say was only “God could defend the Earth.” He didn’t even say anything remotely like that. It may seem a minor point, but it is shoddy journalism and it distorts the original quote and concept.

Two other aspects of this I think are important enough to mention:

1) Examples like this are why we need to be careful in how we speak and what terms and phrases we say. I have no idea if Bolden believes in the Abrahamic god, a “pagan” god, or none. I also don’t care. However, by using a religious terms such as “pray” he just inserted a separate concept and answer into a serious conversation therefore muddying the waters. It would have been better to say: 
“From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it's coming in three weeks, you may as well kiss your ass goodbye."
Ok maybe not that exact turn of phrase, but if I had to put myself in his shoes I bet that is what he meant by “pray.” He was trying to drive home the point that we have absolutely no defense against something discovered that will impact in the short term. I doubt he meant, whether he is a believer or not, that prayer is the answer. Again, not knowing his intention I cannot say what he really thought or meant. My point here is that atheists and agnostics (or however you define yourself) need to purge certain phrases and language from our speech because what we are doing is propagating a concept that we do not accept. Using terms and phrases like “pray”, “faith”, “Thank God!”, Jesus Christ!”, etc. only make their use ubiquitous and the majority (believers) feel even more in the majority. That may be true for now, but given the current trend it won’t be in the future. There is no time like the present to make that known. The religionists that like to push their brand of religion onto others almost always say something to the effect that “most people believe in X, so you should shut up.”  By using these terms and phrases we only reinforce that perception.

For example, go back to the msn.com article and read the comments or you can watch a reactionary video from a “theologian” after the jump below. This is what happens when we inadvertently use religious language in everyday speech. It bolsters their confirmation bias that everyone thinks like they do, that prayer and god are the only solutions to life’s problems, and that even the godless (or what they perceive as godless) ultimately secretly believe.

2) The assumption of "God" on msn.com’s part implies the Abrahamic god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As the original quote makes no mention of god, the writer for MSN inserted their own god or an assumed god of the majority. It could be any of the other thousands of gods that are and have been worshiped, some for just as long if not longer than what most Americans believe in. I could sarcastically say "Maybe it's Zeus," and Jews, Christians and Muslims will snicker (or call for my head) however Zeus was worshiped by the fore bearers of Western culture for thousands of years just like their special biblical guy. The assumption that one god is true over others is nothing more than cultural dominance and indoctrination.

Ten Years Later, a Look Back At War and Religion

I've written before about my time in the military, specifically about my experiences dealing with the very religious environment while I served.  I didn't go into any great detail about my feelings on the war in Iraq, but now I will.  Ten years ago today, I crossed the border from Kuwait to Iraq.  Some days it has felt as if I never came back.

I was scheduled to go on a second CAX (Combined Arms eXercise) in 29 Palms, California; we all knew in the Fall of 2002 that it wasn't going to happen.  We all knew we were going to Iraq.

9/11 had occurred at the end of my first CAX.  We (the 2D Radio Bn detachment) were one of the last units left in the middle of that miserable hell one hour northeast of Palm Springs, CA.  We slept in, turning on the radio around 8am Pacific to hear news that we had been attacked.  The towers were already down.  We knew that we were going to war.  I wasn't involved in that war.  Friends of mine were.  That was a war that I could at least accept the reasons for.  Not much more than a year later I knew I was going to be sent to a war that had no acceptable reasons.

I had never sought the council of a chaplain before.  I had had no reason to.  I'm not religious.  I had messed around with some non-Abrahamic religions while I was in, but faith was always lacking. The problem is, in the military you have two options: you can see a chaplain, or you can see the wizard.  The wizard is a psychologist or psychiatrist.  Seeing the wizard carries a stigma, and a potentially career ending one if, like me, you have a top secret clearance.  Seeing the chaplain does not carry such a stigma.  So I went to see the Man.  I explained my concerns, that there was no link between 9/11 and Iraq, and that it didn't seem legal. I was told, "We just have to trust that God is working through the President."

"I don't believe in God," I say.

Blank stare and silence. I leave.

After forty days dealing with exploding toilets, boredom, and 3,500 other Marines and sailors miserable from the smallpox vaccine aboard the USS Saipan, I finally landed via LCU on a beach in Kuwait on February 18th, 2003. Trucked north in a sandstorm, I arrived in a tent city.  I occupied my time cleaning the baby powder-fine sand from my weapon, reacting to gas drills, and taking cover from yet another sandstorm.  It was amazing to me, years later watching "Jarhead", how little things had changed in the twelve years between  Swofford's experience and mine.

On the 19th of March we convoyed to the berm.  We sat for hours in our unarmored HMMWV, sandbags beneath our feet.  We received warning order after warning order.  Nobody seemed to know what was actually going on.  In the wee hours of the night(or was it morning?) we received the order to move out.  I switched on my CD player.  "Rammstein" by the band of the same name.  I had no idea how apropos it was.  It was a long and winding path through the debris of that former war.  The Iraqi armor fought among the burned-out hulls of the vehicles left by their fathers in an attempt to slow us down.  For naught.

Jalibah Airfield.  Patriots firing.

Villages and towns.  Nasiriyah.

We were told that a deal had been made.  The Iraqi commanders were going to have their troops lay down arms and go home.  That's not at all what happened.  Regulars and Fedayeen Saddam swarmed all over the city.  They knew our technology gave us an advantage at night, so they attacked at dusk. Friendly fire resulted in casualties in the dozens.  2/8 Marines and LAR attacking each other, with Fedayeen in the middle.  "Blue on blue!" was yelled out, and a cease fire given.  It wouldn't be the last.  The next day I saw the aftermath of a Marine Amtrac  hit by an Air Force A-10.  I still don't understand why the Air Force is allowed to use a ground support aircraft.

It was hard to stand on the banks of the Euphrates and not see my place in the long procession of history.   I was yet another soldier, in yet another army, that had marched out of the dawn to conquer Mesopotamia.  It was a feeling of both completeness and total loss.

I remember quite distinctly moving into a neighborhood in An Nasiriyah. The grunts had swept the area moments before us, pushing the inhabitants out.  When my team moved into the house that we were to stay in for a few days , I saw the dead goslings.  The goose was still alive, honking at at us that we weren't supposed to be there, while her children lay dead around the courtyard; crushed by boots moments before our arrival.  We searched the house, finding wads of worthless Iraqi dinari and replacing them with American dollars out of pity.  We stayed there several days, and had meetings with the local leaders.  After two days or so, during one of these meetings, one of the Iraqis said, "We have been talking these days, and now I sit with you, and I forget that you are Americans."  It was a moment that changed my life.  It solidified my view of humanity as a whole.  I saw that circumstance was trivial, and mutual experience was resounding.  These Iraqis had forgotten not only that they were Arabs and Iraqis, but Muslims as well.  Just so, we had forgotten our role as Americans and invaders.  On that day I was called brother in a language I did not understand.  It was on that day that I gained my humanity.  It was on that day that I truly became an atheist.  No god described by anyone has been able to explain that moment of connectivity I felt.  Not with the Iraqis, nor the goose lamenting her goslings.  Call this an appeal to emotion if you want, but remember this, in my time serving in an unjust war, in a foreign land, I connected with people I had never met as one human to another. There was no shared faith, but a shared understanding of sorrow and strife, and of the joys we discussed as we drank our tea and ate our bread.  It was the daily struggle that we all make as denizens of this planet that allowed us to see each other for what we really are...companions swirling about each other in the endless game that we can only hope will end with all of us as winners.

As I continued through my time in Iraq, I saw the greetings for the liberators turn to the scorn for the conquerors.  This, along with my experiences in Latin America fighting another war of evasive morals, led to a fundamental change in my outlook on how we have built our societies.  It has led me to carry a banner, not of my own making, but made by the tireless cries of the oppressed.

"No Gods.  No Masters."

Adelante.




Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Link Dump ~ 3/15/13

Seriously, what were you expecting?

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep 15: I want to work with you, Mr. Bonaparte


Religion

New Pope, Same Old Homophobia
'Status quo' leader: Same-sex marriage, abortion unlikely under Pope Francis
Popeology 101: How to Interpret the Sistine Chapel Results
Debunking Christiani​ty: History Channel's "The Bible," Produced by Mark Burnett, is Pure Propaganda
Faith-base​d prison programs: New study suggests religion may help criminals justify their crimes
Faith Healers by Cienna Madrid “Fucking hell this is frightening.”
US Catholic Church a $170 billion business
Petition Interdicti​on: Tenn. Legislator Seeks To Make It A Crime To Protest Church-Sta​te Violations


Science

Bebionic Prosthetic Hand Continues To Amaze In Latest Video
New Spy Database? Great! Too Bad You're In It
What's The Half-Life Of DNA?
Amplified greenhouse effect shaping North into South
The father of all men is 340,000 years old
Look at This: Map of Future Arctic Shipping Routes
Timing was everything when Darwin's bombshell exploded
Mars impact: The red planet may get hit by a comet in October 2014
Disputed finds put humans in South America 22,000 years ago
Confirmed! Newfound Particle Is the Higgs
Theory Explains How Star Clusters Form and Evolve
Wirelessly Charged Lithium Battery Can Be Stretched, Folded, and Twisted
Google Reader Is Shutting Down; Here Are the Best Alternatives



SILVER & LIGHT from Ian Ruhter : Alchemist on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep 15: I want to work with you, Mr. Bonaparte

As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at lefthemispheres@gmail.com. Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres.
Please subscribe to the podcast via iTunes and consider rating us or check us out on Libsyn.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Link Dump 3/8/13

LH
Religion and Non
Science
Videos









And in case you'd thought I'd forgotten about the Catholic Church and it's current headless state.....