Thursday, June 30, 2005

Apostasy and envy.

I think I've finally completed the process of apostasy.

I grew up in a pretty religious household. One parent was Methodist, the other Lutheran , and I shifted between them. Back then I didn't know a single thing about doctrinal differences and couldn't tell you why one was a Methodist and the other was Lutheran, other than the fact that the Lutheran church followed a more traditional liturgy, used real wine in communion, and had fewer old people. The only thing that I knew was that Jesus was always with me and that the universe was a place that was fundamentally just and would deliver all who suffered or were wronged.

There was a strange duality to the flavor of my religion. I was taught a rather liberal theology that made room for tolerance of others, the scientific method, and the notion that the Bible, rather than being literally divine, was divinely inspired and written by fallible mortals. This was how I was able to believe in things like evolution and rationalize Biblical passages about sexuality and dietary constraints that made no sense to me.

However, there was a darker side to my religion. Although I was always taught that god's message was one of love, there was always the subtle violence between the lines about satan and hell. I probably didn't learn this so much from church as I learned it from pop culture: cartoons, movies, and Halloween costumes. My mom had a Catholic friend who described hell as having your face pressed to a range top on high for eternity, but most of the official messages weren't' so horrible.

Even so, I was always terrified that I was going to end up in the hell that I saw in the Sunday comics. Maybe it was tied into the same reasons that I always felt like I was going to get in trouble at school or with my parents, but this fear is one of the first genuine emotions I can remember feeling and, to be honest, it's never really gone away. Even when my confirmation pastor convincingly argued that our contemporary notions of hell are based on a garbage dump outside Jerusalem called Gehenna, rather than a metaphysically existent place, and that hell was a state of disconnection from god, rather than a state of torment, the fear never faded. Even when I eventually stopped believing in satan or hell, period, and practiced the loosest version of Christianity under the sun, the fear wouldn't go away. The slight doubt in the back of my mind that something as silly as what I believed would guarantee me an eternity of torture was still there.

But eventually my faith disappeared. I went from strict Christian, to liberal Christian, to pseudo-Unitarian, to believing that all religions were part of the same truth, to believing in an unknowable infinity that I couldn't comprehend, to being an agnostic. Eventually, I couldn't believe that ancient myths about something of which I had no evidence were a meaningful picture of the universe. I didn't want to go down that road. I fought it as hard as I could because I was scared, but I couldn't help it. The real turning point was when I realized that no loving deity could possible punish people for something as silly as belief. Different people have different situations that are often determined by somewhat random forces that are beyond our control. How is it fair to punish someone who ended up in a situation in which they couldn't believe in something because they had no rational basis for doing so?

Now I'm finally at the point where I suspect that there really isn't any deity running the world. Everything around us is a freak accident in an enormous abyss that we can't possibly comprehend. To think that we're somehow a meaningful entity in that staggering space is ridiculous. We're a mere blink in a vast expanse of space-time that, in itself, is probably just a single brane that was spawned by an improbable reversal in entropy in an even more unthinkably large multiverse. Forgive me if I have a feeling that no creative entity behind this mess gives a shit about whether we lead difficult lives, struggle with why we exist, or praise one ancient idol over another. This is kind of depressing in that it means that there's no salvation for the meek or the oppressed. But it's also kind of nice to know that innocent people aren't going to have their faces burned off forever because they happened to be born on the wrong continent. I'm not sure if I could even utter the words "I am an atheist" because I'm so used to feeling knee-jerk revulsion towards that concept, but it's probably the truth.

I'm struggling with this. Every night I still have dreams about dying and the last thing I think before it's supposed to happen, I wonder if my consciousness is going to get snuffed out or whether I'm going to discover a new world of pain. I know that the rational answer is that my neurons stop firing and I probably experience the same thing that I did before I was born (nothing), but the old fears are still there and I can't extinguish them.

I also miss a lot of the things that religion brought me. Not only an belief in justice, but also the kinds of discipline and optimism that religion used to bring me. The meditative ritual and the knowledge that a transcendental entity really cared about me used to be a wonderful feeling. No matter how bad things were, there was always something else to strive for (yeah, I realize what Nietzsche would say about this). Now, I don't have that. I watched some Muslims on television tonight describing their faith and I felt a pang to experience that feeling again. Religious people certainly believe a lot of really fucked up shit, but they had a belief that I envy. Even if I don't believe in it, I wish I could feel that just for the personal effect that it has, the feeling of certainty and belongingness in the world. Things may have really sucked when I was in junior high, but, despite what you would expect, it was the happiest time in my life.

But I don't think I'll ever feel that again. It would be fake because I know, deep down, that there's nothing there. Just the random flux of quantum states while our arrogant minds continue to assume that there's some deeper meaning to all of it.

I'm sure that this is all bullshit and that in the morning I'm going to realize how happy I am to not be religious anymore. I'm going to realize the huge range of possibilities in front of me and will continue to believe that I have some sort of free will, regardless of whether I do or not, and will latch onto some rationalization for living in a materialistic world, like eternal recurrence, to hold the placehold for religion like I always have. But tonight you could say that I'm kind of jealous.

edit: Now that I think about it, the real problem is that I'm probably afraid to belief in myself. Like a codependent, I need someone or something else to rationalize my life since I'm scared of doing it for myself. This way, I can shovel all of my problems off onto a stupid religious problem, when the real issue is that I just need to take matters into my own hands and live the way I want to. I don't need religion to have discipline and to get the things done that I want to. I just need to suck it up, get over the bullshit self-pity, and do it. No unlikely entity is going to write a book, develop healthy interpersonal relationships, get a JD, or be in good shape for me. Even if free will isn't real, it's probably a more useful fiction than a god or an afterlife.

Glad I snapped out of that.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Chemtrails

Reading about chemtrails.

You really have to hand it to some of these people. At least this stuff is kind of creative, even if it's a bit out of wack.

My favorite part is where the author uses the increased incidence of worldwide drought over the last few years as evidence that chemtrails are being used for nefarious purposes:
Generally, spraying increases as clouds build. Chemtrails may be the reason that over half the world and over half the U.S. have been experiencing drought for the past 2 years. Witnesses have reported watching chemtrails fall through cumulus clouds, leaving the real clouds "skinny" and within a few minutes totally gone. Typically, storm clouds build and mix with the chem ingredients, resulting in a grey, uniform "mucky" sky which doesn t rain. The real clouds disappear, leaving behind the chem formations which were on top of the storm system.
But if you look at the previous paragraph, you may find an off hand reference to a somewhat more likely and evidenced explanation:
Edward Teller's (inventor of the hydrogen bomb) proposal to reduce global warming to the U.S. involves spraying minute aluminum particles to deflect the sun s harmful ultraviolet rays but still allow the Earth s heat to rise through them. This seems to be supported by rainwater tests after heavy spraying in Espanola, Canada which contained 7 times the allowable limit of aluminum. In this instance, the areas with the least ultraviolet protection, as in the Southwest, would be the heaviest sprayed. Most often, this does not seem to be the case.
Anthropogenic climate change? Don't be silly. It's much more likely that there's a planetary conspiracy encompassing hundreds of thousands of scientists, politicians, and aviators.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Disco's bad rap

I don't know why disco has such a terrible reputation. Sure, a lot of it is pretty superficial and has associations with the excesses of late 70's American culture; but disco music was never supposed to be deep and introspective. It's about forgetting about your problems for a little while and having fun. That may come off as an attempt to drug the public into accepting the status quo, but no one can be angry and revolutionary all the time. Sometimes you have to play video games while nodding your head to the infectious "bass kick - high hat - clap - high hat" pea soup pulse of the digital cable disco station to clear out your head.

Yeah, it's stupid, but it's supposed to be. It's a nice check on the uber-pretentious and depressing seriousness of what we have to deal with on a daily basis. You may need to turn in an assignment or do some important work tomorrow, but tonight you can jam out to Junior's 1982 classic, "Mama Used to Say."

I'm not saying that music can be separated from its political context, but rather, that an appropriation needs to be judged based on its specific merits. Dismissing all dance music as being in the service of the cult of consumerism, absent how its applied in a particular context, rubs me the wrong way when that energy can be used for productive ends. It's like when Zizek warns about the knee jerk tendency to label a given activity as being perverse, absent how it's actually inscribed into the subject's symbolic universe. The same activity can be perverse or neurotic depending on how enjoyment actually occurs. Similarly, enjoying something as apparently stupid as house or disco music can occur in a number of different ways and dismissing it on face as being reactionary strikes me as useless. Our politics needs to be one of joy, not despair, if we are to do anything that's really meaningful to humn relationships and social organization.

I'll spare you the Emma Goldman quote.

Friday, June 24, 2005

How much more can we take?

I wonder how much more these people will get away with.

Italy judge orders arrest of 13 CIA agents who kidnapped people with the intent of shipping them off to Egypt where they could be tortured.

US acknowledges that tortue occurred at Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan

This is sick and no one cares. As long as we're a little better than Nazis, it's okay. And people who make such hyperbolic claims are also doing a disservice by allowing pundits to play their bullshit equivalency game. Why can't we agree that the people funded by our taxes should be above this kind of atrocity. Yeah, it's certainly not as bad as anything Stalin did, but, for some strange reason, I expect us to be better than one of the most evil dictators of the twentieth century. My bad.

Faith-based Climate Science

There is a really good post up at RealClimate responding to a pretty shoddy Wall Street Journal editorial. WSJ is a pretty good newspaper, but sometimes their opinion pieces are absurd. It's another good example of pre-conceptual science in which the conclusion is arrived at first based on one's political or religious ideology, and then evidence is sought to confirm that position. Any contrary evidence is dismissed out of hand. RealClimate does a really good job of debunking the Creationist... er, I mean climate skeptics' claims.

But it is amazing how similar people who don't believe in evolution are to people who don't believe in global warming. The same tired myths get propagated again and again and people continue to believe them because we're not doing a very good job of having a national discussion about these issues at the popular level. Whether it's UFOs, images of Mary in jars of mustard, or these kinds of hot topics, lots of people enjoy believing in positions that are extremely reactionary, short-sighted, and removed from reality.

Attacking Mann, as if his personality embodied the totality of empirical research corroborating global warming hypotheses, is a page straight out of the creationists' playbook (e.g., laughable claims about Darwin being wrong or the Piltdown man scam). How someone can scoff at creationists while denying global warming is the height of hypocrisy.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Strange highs and strange lows.

I'm reading a report by the Nuclear War Effects Project Advisory panel, headed up by David S. Saxon, titled "The Effects of Nuclear War" from May 1979 and, in the middle of descriptions of the health ramifications of radiation sickness, burns, asphyxiation, cancer, and shock waves killing people by throwing them out of windows or into flying buildings, I find the following:
Not all changes, however, would be for the worse. Some new patterns of living would promote public health. There would be fewer auto, aircraft, and boating accidents. More people would walk or bicycle, increasing exercise.
I may be vaporized because I live within the lethal radius of a bunch of important US missile silos, but at least there will be fewer boat crashes and more granola eating hippies who listen to horrible jam bands like Phish and dedicate their lives to weaving hemp jewelry. I don't think you even realize how reassuring that is.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I hate to say "I told you so" but...

What a surprise. Terri Schiavo's autopsy revealed that not only had she not been abused, but that there was zero hope of her recovering, that she had no cognitively meaningful brain function, and that she was blind, something that reveals how fraudulent that tape of her tracking a balloon really was. The very fact that Congress attempted an egregious breach of the separation of powers based on evidence that has repeatedly been shown to be bullshit is a travesty. At least the right side won this time.

Yet somehow, I doubt that Frist and the rest of his perverse culture of life will be ready to join the rest of us in the Reality Based Community. I'm sure they'll dismiss this as being more secular, liberal humanist "science." In much the same manner as Creationists or global warming skeptics, they'll ignore existing evidence in the pursuit of their self-righteous delusions. I'm sure they actually believe that there's a grand conspiracy to cover up Schiavo's murder, encompassing all qualified medical personel and courts in the state of Florida. Why everyone would work so hard to kill someone as insignificant as Terri Schiavo is still kind of a mystery, but it's not often that the ridiculous nature of a stupid conspiracy theory does much to convince its believers of how asanine it is. All of the idiots on talk radio will continue to believe that she was murdered, no matter how much evidence contradicts that position because they're not interested in what really happened. We all know that.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Hotel Rwanda.

Just finished watching Hotel Rwanda.

What a grueling and horrifying thing to watch. I fucking hate humanity. I don't understand how people can want to bring children into a world that produces shit like genocide and war. Between that and my readings about what happens in the periphery of nuclear detonations, I feel hopeless. I don't know what I, as a person, can do to change shit like this.

Good job, colonial Europe. Way to set different peoples against each other, draw artificial borders, and then turn your head the other way when it results in instability and mass slaughter.

And guess what's going on the world right now? More fucked up genocide. But does anyone in power care? It took us a long time to even refer to it as genocide and we sure as shit don't care about doing anything to stop it. We're too concerned with getting back at what Hussein did twenty years ago to do anything about atrocities that are happening right now.

We looked the other way when Hussein actually gassed the Kurds. We opposed doing anything about the Rwandan genocide. Most of the people with power and money in America just don't give a fuck. So long as we can get the newest X-Box game, stare at American Idol, and stress out about Michael Jackson, we're comfortable and we can pretend that bullshit like this doesn't happen. And I fucking do that too, which really bothers me.

I need a drink.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Acceptable collateral damage.

I'm not sure what's more depressing when researching the ramifications of nuclear conflict: passages like the following from Robert Batcher's "The Consequences of an Indo-Pakistani Nuclear War" in a 2004 issue of International Studies Review:
Casualties from 50 KT weapon attacks on individual Indian and Pakistani cities range from hundreds of thousands to well over two million. The combined attack on all cities results in 18 million casualties (37 percent of which are fatalities) against Indian cities and 13 million casualties (42 percent of which are fatalities) against Pakistani cities. Casualties for 1 MTweapons are significantly higher, reaching 12.6 million in Kolkatta (Calcutta). The combined attack on all cities with 1 MTweapons results in 64 million casualties (57 percent of which are fatalities) against Indian cities and 34 million casualties (67 percent of which are fatalities) against Pakistani cities.
or the knowledge that these numbers aren't good enough for what I need. No matter how horrific a limited nuclear conflict would be, it doesn't have a magnitude of global extinction, so it doesn't matter. Racist malthusian asshats will still say that the loss of millions of lives on the Indian subcontinent are acceptable so as to maintain their comfortable lifestyle.

I need to read about string theory and goto sleep. This is putting me in a bad mood.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Outrage fatigue.

I need to take a break from posting about politics. From the administration's shocking attempt to dismiss accusations of torture, to recent news about Bolton's malicious ousting of chemical weapons inspector, to the new Abu Ghraib photos, to a Utah official who wants to prohibit the teaching of evolution because he's never seen a "dat", this crap probably isn't good for my health. I'm going to have a heart attack if I keep doing this.

Maybe I'll spend more time thinking and writing about literature or something that I'm entirely unqualified to speak of, like physics.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Going after Deep Throat

Surprise, surprise. The usual assholes are trying to smear Deep Throat, now that he's been revealed.

G. Gordon Liddy and the actual Watergate burglars accusing Felt of having "no honor" just destroyed my irony meter. I'm still shocked that someone like Liddy gets to routinely appear on mainstream cable news.

Brit Hume has been on for half an hour and still can't stop mentioning how Felt was an employee of J. Edgar Hoover. How are these ad homs relevant at all, if not to distract us from the real issue of how Nixon fucked up to a criminal degree and got caught? It's been decades and the Nixon administration has repeatedly been shown to be one of the sketchiest ones in recent memory and these assholes still can't come to grips with that. Yes, Felt is a human being who is imperfect; however, you can't use the complexities of his personality to condemn his actions, in totality. This is like if we were talking about the civil rights movement and news anchors kept adding, "By the way, it should be noted that Martin Luther King Jr. also cheated on his wife and had communist sympathies." Irrelevant bullshit designed to cover up official corruption.

It's no wonder that they're going after him, given the current GOP majority's consistent record of secrecy and shady deals. Watergate helped investigative journalism to blossom. That kind of reporting, that actually forces policymakers to justify themselves and answer to someone is antithetical to the Bush administration. Bush and his advisors have done everything possible to limit the power of the press, whether it's in carefully controlling who gets to ask what questions, determining in what circumstances Bush will answer questions, manipulative spinning of information (most notably with the Iraq weapons of mass destruction debacle), planting fake journalists, getting administration press releases put out verbatim as if they were news copy, and on and on ad nauseum.

Whistleblowers like Felt are this group's worst nightmare, so it's not so surprising that they're smearing him like this. They need to fight like hell to silence people who would reveal corruption in the way that he did. The press corps' recent tendency to act like lapdogs is exactly what Bush et al want. Being held accountable is the last thing that they want to face. They don't want an independent press... they want a free PR firm.