Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Sound Of Freethinking: #5 Silent World

I know I just did one of these the other day, but I happened to be listening to some music and found a song that I thought would be quite interesting to do for this series. For this one, I would like to put up the video and lyrics before discussing it. So I give you Destroid with Silent World.

I have lost my faith a long time ago
I never thought I would realize
These visions of man seems still blurry to me
I want to be somebody else

I have lost my faith a long time ago
These faces are memory of the lost
This silence grows deep into my world
It faints and turns to dust

I have lost my faith a long time ago
Dreaming was all I ever wanted
But god put me into silent sleep
So I overcomed this life unborn

These sweet melodies
Sound bitter to me
Gentle for your ears
They will never set me free

These sweet melodies
Sound bitter to me
Gentle for your ears
They will put me right back into chains

The first and most obvious thing of this song is that it is sung by someone who has lost their faith. But more than that, it is by someone who is still coming to terms with it. It is someone who has realized that everything they once knew not only was untrue but was the very thing keeping them from truly living.

It is someone who still thinks back upon his old life and all those he once knew and has presumably lost, even though both they and his old self are beginning to fade with time.

It is someone who only wanted to live but found that his belief in a god was keeping him sedated and numb. That only through losing his faith was he able to awaken and start his life.

Someone who know, upon hearing the faithful talk of the beauty they know, hear only the sound of those still asleep and dreamless. He only hears a call to be put back into the mental slavery he had escaped.

From my own experience, I know quite well what it is Daniel Myer sings about. I know the feeling of being lost when you are surrounded by those who are still chained by faith. The questions as to whether you have wasted your life up to that point. The feeling of betrayal as you find that for so much of your existence you have been denied the life that you had always desired. The life you had been promised that a faith in god would give. The way others will still try and drag you back by their exaltations when all you hear are bitter distortions of reality. The feeling that despite how they all seem to feel so content, you see only shackles waiting to bind you again.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Sound Of Freethinking: #4 White Wine In The Sun

For the holidays, here is a song by the ever brilliant Tim Minchin with White Wine In The Sun. It is humorous, poignant, and heart-felt. So pour yourself a glass and raise it to the truly important part of this holiday, those you love and cherish. Happy Holidays Everyone.

I really like Christmas
It's sentimental, I know, but I just really like it
I am hardly religious
I'd rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest

And yes, I have all of the usual objections
To consumerism, he commercialisation of an ancient religion
To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
But I still really like it

I'm looking forward to Christmas
Though I'm not expecting a visit from Jesus

I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don't go in for ancient wisdom
I don't believe just 'cos ideas are tenacious it means they are worthy
I get freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are spooky

And yes I have all of the usual objections
To the miseducation of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,
Are taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong
But I quite like the songs

I'm not expecting big presents
The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate is just fine by me

Cos I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you, my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You'll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school
And you won't understand
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people who'll make you feel safe in this world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if, my baby girl
When you're twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You'll know what ever comes
Your brother and sisters and me and your Mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
Whenever you come
Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Darling, when Christmas comes
We'll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun
Waiting for you...

I really like Christmas
It's sentimental, I know...
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

New human relative found

Thanks to the understanding granted to us by the fields of geneomics and evolutionary anthropology, it is becoming common knowledge that our ancestors interbred with Homo sapiens neanderthalis. Well it seems that our fore-bearers were getting it on with more then just the Neanderthals.

In Southern Siberia, at a site inside Denisova Cave, a fossil finger and tooth have given us more insight then was once thought possible. In years past, the finding of such paltry remains would garner little interest outside of the anthropological community. The fossils would be compared to others, categorized and stored. In this case, the tooth resembled those of possibly either Homo habilis or Homo erectus. There might be some light debate as to which of the two species the fossils belonged to but even this intrigue would eventually quiet.

Thankfully, we live in a time where researchers do not stop at morphology. Using techniques to extract, first mitochondrial DNA, then nuclear DNA from the finger (and later the tooth as well), Svante Pääbo, Richard Green and an international team of researchers were able to sequence the ancient nucleotides. Their results were entirely unexpected.

The DNA of these remains belonged to a new and distinct group of hominids named "Denisovans", after the cave in which the remains were unearthed. This new group of hominids were genetically and morphologically distinct from both Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalis. This new data alone is impressive, but when the Denisovan DNA was compared to that of modern humans, yet another revelation was in store for the research team.

Upon comparison, bits of DNA similar to that of the Denisovan's were shown to be present in some modern day Melanesians. Certain Melanesians,the ethnic group now native to the island region spanning from New Guinea to Fiji and New Caledonia, were found to have as much as 4-6% of their genome in common with the Denisovan samples. Which is far more drastic than the 1-4% that modern non-Africans share with Neanderthals.

This begs the question, could their be more hitherto unknown hominid groups that our early ancestors interacted with and even interbred with? Could the stories from the Naga people of Flores, Indonesia about the Ebu Gogo be in reference to the last remaining Homo floresiensis? That their stories of generations past hunting down and killing the last of the Ebu Gogo have some precedence? But these are questions for another post...



Reich, D. et al. Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 2010
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Site redesign

As I'm sure you can tell, I have recently taken the time to reformat my blog a bit. While the old design was nice, I believe I have greatly improved it in both aesthetics and functionality.

The first most obvious change has to do with the new title image. I would like to thank the ever so talented Misa Akane for providing her talent in creating this new header for me. She is also quite the brilliant writer. Her primary blog can be found at The Last Lemurisian and her poetry blog (which is quite amazing) is located at Exhibit Number One. So please stop by and give her a read as I'm sure many of you will love her writings as much as I do.

I have also changed the layout to fix a previous annoyance I have been fighting with. I had noticed that if photos and videos were not formatted correctly, they would end up having part of their right side cut off. This was quite agitating, but thankfully is something that has been entirely resolved making both the appearance more pleasing as well as making things far more easy on me when I go to incorporate such media items.

On the right hand side I have added a few more items. I have added a search tool that will allow anyone to make a query for any post or subject that I have written about. I have also decided to sign up with Adsense to hopefully get a bit back financially from the time I put into this blog (each time someone clicks on the ad I receive a small amount of money, so click away readers). In further hopes to make this blog a bit more self sustaining, I have added a Donation tool (AKA the begging button) for anyone who wishes to support me in my endeavors to remain alive (as I generally find this to be a rather agreeable state). I have also included a "Blogs I Follow" list. Look through here for guaranteed intelligence and thought provocation. A bit further down is my 'Gifts and Treasures' section. Here I display items that have been made for and given to me that have some sentimental value. It gives me a place to proudly display those things that others have taken the time to create or give to me.

As I'm sure those who are familiar with the site will also note that I have been devoting far more time to my blog and have been updating far more frequently then ever before. I hope to keep this up as I truly do love writing and having a place to publish my ideas and thoughts. I hope this will also help to increase the number of comments as I do love the feedback.

In addition to the comments I have added some Reactions buttons. These are easy to click responses to what you the readers think about the post. For many, I understand it takes too much time to comment on every decent article or post that you read from day to day. So it is my hopes that my inclusion of the Reactions buttons will make people more likely to give feedback. As the more feedback I receive, the better my understanding will be for what you, the readers, truly enjoy taking your time to read through.

Finally, I have taken advantage of a program known as AddMe which is a free service that helps to promote sites and distribute links to a wide variety of search engines. I hope this shall increase traffic a bit and is something I recommend to any fellow bloggers who wish to increase their traffic and reader base.

If any of my readers have any suggestions or critiques, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Thank you for taking your time to read me, I greatly appreciate it and hope to continue this blog for as long as I am able. Which,
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Difference in Islam

With the state of the world as it is, more and more people are realizing that yes, it is important to understand the beliefs of other peoples. Now to any sane or rational individual this is something so obvious as to make one feel a bit of a fool for even bringing it up. But there are so many out there who do not grasp this basic concept. As such it is becoming more obvious that someone should educate the masses.

One of the greatest threats to diplomatic stability and governance is the issue of religion. Especially any disparity found within a religion. Most of us are familiar with the differences between the Catholic, Protestant and various sub denominations when it comes to Christianity. As we are living in a culture surrounded by Christianity, this is the norm (at least for the majority of my reader base). But when it comes to international affairs, far too many individuals are left lacking in their understanding of the internal strife of other religions.

How many times have we heard the terms Shia and Sunni Islam tossed around only to realize we do not know one from the other. In fact I would be surprised if most of those behind the major news stations could give a good explanation as to the difference between these sects and why it is something that causes so much hatred and bloodshed.

So what is the real difference between a Shia and a Sunni and why does it matter? For why it matters I can say this. Look at Northern Ireland where there is a long history of people killing each other over whether they are Protestant or Catholic. To an outsider of this religion it would seem to be based upon little more than semantics. Though from the point of view of those who enact such violence, it is certainly more then just differing views. To those who have marked the trenches and boundary lines it is something irrefutable and solid that stands between the two cultures. Even if those very people were once comrades, it is far too often that such differences cause a rift that leads to violence and bitter hatreds.

So what was it that split Islam into its two prime factions? Each seeing the other as the traitor to their own beliefs. It comes down to what is in all essence, two different understandings of how best to to practice the religion. But to understand what drives this difference we must first look to a time before such a split existed

On June 8, 632, in Medina, Muhammad died at age 63 after spending several days seriously ill. In the years preceding his death, Muhammad had finally succeeded in uniting the long waring Arab tribes into a single Arab Muslim religious polity (a polity being a unified government or organizational). Before his death, Muhammad had made it clear that one of his dying wishes was for the now unified Arab forces to rally against the Byzantines in retaliation for a previous defeat.

Upon Muhammad's death, a successor had to be named. Here, the first signs of dissent amongst Muhammad's followers can be seen. Umar ibn al-Khattab, a friend of Muhammad's for eighteen years and one of his Sahabah (a term for his companions), nominated Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was one of Muhammad's father-in-laws and a fellow Sahabah. Abu Bakr was especially trusted by Muhammad as can be seen by the fact that he often refered to him as Al-Siddiq, meaning 'the truthful'.

While the majority were in favor of Abu Bakr taking power, there were some who were greatly opposed to his nomination. They believed that Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib (or simply Ali as he is often referenced) was the rightful heir to Muhammad. The reason for this comes from varied accounts which claim that Muhammad himself stated that he wished for Ali to take his place upon his death. There were other reasons to claim Ali's place as the Prophets heir. Such things indcluded the fact that, despite Ali's parents being Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib (his father) and Fatima bint Asad (his mother), he was raised within Muhammad's house by the Prophet's uncle, Abu Talib. This made Ali a member of Ahl al-Bayt, or 'the household of Muhammad', which under the Qur'an and especially under certain Hadiths, was viewed as giving one a rightly high place within the hierarchy. The third and final piece of evidence used to argue for Ali as Muhammad's successor is that after the Prophet received what has become known as his divine revelation, Ali was the first male to accept his message and to dedicate his life to the cause of Islam.

Ultimantly, Abu Bakr was named the first Caliph after deliberation and a formal election. Between the time of his election and Muhammad's death, there was the beginnings of much internal strife amongst the previously unified Arab tribes. Many of which talked about breaking away with a few even founding their own separate leadership. But once Abu Bakr was elected, the majority of these dissenting tribes rejoined the whole. That is, except for those who had been in support of Ali as Muhammad's successor.

To further fuel the dissent between those who supported Abu Bakr as the first Caliph and those who saw Ali as the Prophet's rightful heir was the fact that Abu Bakr left Muhammad's funeral when he heard about those gathering to elect a successor. Along with Umar, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah (both Sahabahs) and a few others, they were able to convince those gathered to elect Abu Bakr. The followers of Ali saw this as a grave insult to the Prophet and evidence that Abu Bakr cared more for political power then for the wishes of Muhammad. This led to a view amongst the Alids (the followers of Ali) that Abu Bakr was part of a political coup against them.

Abu Bakr's succession led to a period of time known as the Al-Rashidun (or the Rightly Guided Caliphs). This was a period marked by the first four Caliphs. A Caliph being the head of the Caliphate, which was the term for the first system of government established under Islam that maintained a political unity over the Ummah (or collective states of Islam). The Caliphate was, in theory at least, a constitutional republic with the Caliphs being elected by the Shura, the tribal leaders who were themselves elected by the people of each individual tribe and/or state. The Al-Rashidun saw the worlds first major welfare-state and began the rise to prosperity seen by the early Islamic world as well as its philosophical, scientific and mathematical developments. Much of this came from the fact that that the goverment was grounded in much more a political system rather than a religious one. Granted much of the system was taken from religious texts, but the government itself attempted to rule primarily through political maneuverings instead of religious ones.

The Al-Rashidun began with the rule of Abu Bakr who nominated Umar Ibn Khattab (who, as was previously stated, was also a Sahabah). Abu Bakr's choice had consensus with the Shura and Umar was elected. However before Umar could nominate his own successor, he was killed by one of his servants.

This led to obvious unrest and a Majlis (or political gathering similar. A Majlis can be a temporary formation or a more permanent assembly as is the case in some Arabic states where it acts as a formal legislature) was formed to elect the third Caliph. They chose Uthman Ibn Affan (also a Sahabah). This decision was later questioned as the years progressed and Uthman began to rule as more of a self appointed king then an elected Caliph. Unrest became particularly apparent in Egypt where an uprising succeeded in making the four regions of Egypt independent states for a time. Egypt then sent armed forces to march on Medina, the site of Uthman's house. There they were able to assassinate Uthman and end his reign.

This created enough political unrest throughout the Islamic states, the Ummah, for Ali seize power, after being nominated by the Sahaba, but never fully recognized the all of the Ummah. His supporters, the Alids, never truly recognized the three previous Caliphs. In fact the Hadiths preferred by his supporters never authorized for Abu Bakr and his successors to be elected in the first place. This is only found in what is now part of the Sunni Hadiths. What is now the Shia Hadiths claimed that only members of Muhammads family, the Ahl al-Bayt, could reign. This marked the official split between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Those who were to later be known as Sunni refered to Ali as the fourth Caliph and final member of the Al-Rashidun dynasty. To those who would later be remembered as the Shia, Ali was given the title of the first Imam (or rightful Caliph).

The unrest that marred the final years of Uthman's reign carried over to Ali's reign. He faced two major rebellions and was assassinated after reigning for only five years. The entire time of from Uthman's assassination, through Ali's rule and eventual assassination to the election of the fifth Caliph (Muawiyah) is also known as the First Fitna. This period is known as Islam's first civil war and the true end of Arab unity.

Those who are now known as Sunni continued on to recognize a series of Caliphs until the practice was abolished by the first president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk under the Republics new constitution. Discussions to revive the practice have occurred but have yet to lead to any action. Under the Sunni school of thought, it is believed that any person who is accepted as such by his peers may become a true successor to Muhammad. Currently, Sunni is by far the larger of the two denominations. While the exact numbers are disputed, only around 10% of today's Muslims are Shia while the remainder are primarily Sunni.

Those who are now know as the Shia do not recognize the Caliphs, but instead those known as Imams as the true successors to Muhammad. The Shia believe that humanity requires spiritual guidance by certain enlightened individuals known as the Imam. They further believe that only those who can trace direct ancestry to Muhammad (members of the Ahl al-Bayt) can claim to be an Imam. The number of Imams to have existed differed depending on the sect of Shia Islam followed. The largest, the Twelvers, recognize only twelve. Where as the Ismailis recognize only eight and the Zaidiyya recognize either five or twelve depending on which sub-sect is followed.

Further differneces can be seen in the Hadiths that each group recognizes. As has been previously mentioned, it is the differences in the Hadiths recognized that has allowed for the derision in acknowledgment between the two groups in who is to lead them. To further complicate matters, which of the many Hadiths varies even within both Sunni and Shia Islam.

These differences and more have led to the two factions to become notorious enemies in many locations. The Shia, being the minority, are often repressed by their Sunni counterparts. This has led to a seemingly endless state of unrest that often leads to bloodshed. In many states the Shia are both culturally and politically repressed. This has often caused many Shia groups to hide themselves and fight against their oppressors. This has led to further derision where many within the Sunni community see the Shia as the aggressors who seek to destabilize the state and community. This near constant state of Shia oppression (and often times outright genocide) and the resulting Shia counter attacks as well their own assaults against otherwise peaceful Sunni communities based entirely upon their differing belief systems and interpretations has lead to furthering religious extremism in both groups.

In fact, this resulting extremism is the reason for the fall of the Islamic world as a capital of scientific, philosophical and mathematical thought. As the religious extremists gained more power as the two denominations became increasingly hostile towards one another, they passed more edicts against such schools of thought which they saw as competition. This drove an increasingly fundamentalist public to rise against, banish and even execute those in favor of progressive and reasoned thinking. This, along with a near constant state of striff between the Shia and Sunni communities has led to a virtual stagnation in the development of the Islamic world. As such, essentially all of the backwards thinking, bigotry, poverty and other cultural and political woes facing the modern Islamic states can be traced to the disparity between the Sunni and Shia.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Perfection is sought so often by us. But, perfection itself, is by its very nature, imperfect. For the moment one achieves perfection, one must remain eternally still, as the slightest movement will jar some piece out of alignment and thus, destroying the overall pristine state.

This is why imperfection is, in fact, more desirable then any perfection could ever hope to be. As perfection is static and frail. Where as imperfection, or as I prefer to look at it, individualism, seeks not a finite state that must be forever maintained. Instead, it strives for a dynamic system where difference and originality is rewarded. Where plasticity is seen as the noblest of traits.

Unfortunately the culture we live in does not seem to agree with nature and myself. It, instead of striving for the organic variations that make existence so thrilling, seeks to press everyone into one perfect form. A creation that must freeze itself in time and wash away any sign of character. Thus our society envisions perfection to be the existence of the mannequin. Ever perfectly poised and never a hint of expression nor ever a glow from our inner spark that grants us our uniqueness.

This is the reality so many of us are finding ourselves in. Trapped in an ever collapsing cage that seeks to hold us firm and still. So that others may look upon us and hope to one day feel the living rigor mortis that is perfection.

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The Sound Of Freethinking: #3 Coming Up For Air

This piece deals with that moment that many atheists, including myself, have had. The moment when, after clawing through religion for so long you finally take that first breath of fresh air. That first inhalation of reason. Where you hold yourself and wonder if this will answer your questions or just poison you like everything else that has filled your lungs.

It is the realization that what you have been told throughout your life is a lie. It is finding that the ever present fear of Satan or any other such evil has been falsely raised up as almost an equal to God in order to control you and in the next moment you realize the whole idea is nothing more than an animal. That this animal is nothing more than our primal urges that we all struggle with and can even, in time tame.

It is the sudden understanding that the iconography that fills the religion has been torn from other dying religions in order to feed itself. It is knowing that you can let every blasphemy you have ever heard or thought wash over you and you will be left unmarked.

It is the feeling of vitality coursing through you. Of air inflating your lungs as you spew out the last remnants of every lie that has been shoved down your throat.

This is Leather Strip, Coming Up For Air.

Running out of time
Running out of life
This is no competition
Jesus was a man
Jesus was a lie
Beautiful crucifixion
Deep down in your soul
Fighting emotional breakdown
Coming up for air
Beating up a man
Fucking with your pride
Violence is religion
Satan is a god
Satan is a dog
Beautiful execution
I wanna walk through the
valley of death
I wanna see the misery
expose the symbols of
love and hate
I wanna hear the blasphemy
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And things get even worse

I just wrote about the recent Facebook scam. Where some company that took the images of Emma Jones, who, after her ex boyfriend posted revealing photos of her on facebook, drank cleaning fluid to kill herself, and used them to promote their survey. I thought that was vile enough, but it turns out there is more to the story than just this.

Whoever is behind this scam decided to also pull up photos of someone who had committed suicide after being bullied on Myspace. This individual is Megan Meier, she hung herself three weeks before her fourteenth birthday because of the vile hatred other people had posted on her Myspace. I want to take a moment to explain this situation. Megan Meier was clinically depressed and was going through the the trials and tribulations that is middle school and everything that comes with it. She already had self image problems. Then one day she meets someone called Josh Evans. Being a young girl who had social problems, the idea of having some attractive male talking to her was quite uplifting. In fact her entire family noticed the change in her behavior. They were able to see their daughter as the happy youth that everyone hoped she could be.

But things began to spiral downward quickly. Suddenly this caring Josh started sending Megan negative messages. Communiques that tore apart Megan's self esteem. It eventually culminated in this final message:
I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends.
Everybody in O'Fallon knows who you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a bad rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you

She only replied with this:
You’re the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over.

Megan Meier was found twenty minutes later, hanging in her bedroom closet.

It was later revealed that there never was a Josh Evans. The Myspace account was being used by Lori Drew. Her and her daughter, as well as Ashley Grills used the account to seek revenge. According to Drew's daughter, Megan had spread some gossip that was unfavorable towards Drew's daughter. So they got together and decided to try and ruin her life. After all, she had passed along gossip that might have tarnished Drew's daughters' name, so it was all in far game. At least that is what these vile pathetic humans thought. They never took into account the implications of their actions and how it could possibly destroy someones sense of self worth.

This alone shows humanity as nothing more then vile and vengeful entities, preying upon one another. I could stop here and it would be something to write about all in of itself. But I have to go deeper as humans are always finding new trenches to be filled with travesty and remorse. As I said, the Facebook scam used the images of the late Emma Jones. But it has come to my attention that they have also pulled photos from another incident. The same scammers also pulled photos from Megan Meier's life to use in this wretched con. Another life lost, yet being used as a publicity stunt.

Here is the image on the Facebook scam:

As you can see, it is the same exact photo. I really have very little else to say except that, if this is what the future of marketing really is, then I doubt there is much hope to retain any dignity or even a sense of humanity. I cannot understand why anyone would do this. My disgust knows no words, no sound, for it is far too deep to ever be heard. I can only hope that there are some out there that are not feasting at the corpse of what was once our proud humane self. Our embodiment of humanism, ethics, morality, and empathy. If this is what we are to become I want nothing of it. But I shall strive to rectify what I can. To rebuild our pillars of hope and humanity. I only hope it is not too late.
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Oh look, another heartless facebook scam

Internet scams have already become a commonality amongst the current web faring generation. They come in so many varieties. You have your Nigerian Princes, your international lotto winners, the poor starving people who inexplicably still have regular access too computers and a myriad of others. One can even make a game out of it to pass the time by creating a perverse form of bingo (but if you ever find yourself doing this you are required to include alcohol in some way. Why? Because you are someone who is sad and alone, searching through the detritus of the internet in hopes of amusing yourself. You really cannot get much lower then this and you know it. As such, you need something to dull that aching sense of worthlessness that has overcome your very existence). But recently I have encountered one that tries for a whole new low.

You might be asking yourself, is this really possible? Can humanity produce a scam so depraved that its very creation forms a whole new level of loathing for our species? If you have to ask yourself this, you obviously have not been paying much attention to what your fellow bipeds are capable of.

So to break you of your hope and naivete, I present you with the following. A new scam that has been spreading around the site Facebook. It looks a little something like this:

I encountered this lovely little bit of despondency when I noticed it as a linked status from one of my contacts. My curiosity got the best of me and I clicked on the link. I was then shown the above image and when I went to click the "read the full story" link (because I, for some inexplicable reason, have an irresistible urge to have every last bit of hope for my species to be painfully carved out of my ever hallowing sense of being) I was prompted to allow this article to pull my information from Facebook. Now my sense of self deprecation can only go so far before the reason centers of my brain send out an over ride to keep me from being a complete idiot.

I knew that if this story was legitimate, it would be passed around via word of mouth and not some application that you must subscribe to. After all, most legitimate articles do not require your to sign over what equates to your electronic soul just to read them. So I, being a relatively rational human, decided to do a search on the above article.

It did not take me long to find out that my rational self was right to be wary of this article. As it turns out, it is actually a Trojan hijacker. On top of assaulting your browser with the might of so many tiny Grecian warriors it also brings you to one of everyone's favorite source of wretchedness, the corporate survey.

Yes, someone out there is so inhumane as to have had what I can only conceive of as having this thought, "I wonder if there is any way I can use humanities sense of guilt and distress towards the suffering of our youth at the hands of manipulative monsters as a way to get a lot of people to fill out my companies senseless survey". The fact that after having this idea, the individual did not choke on his or her own vomit or was not beaten to death with a stapler by the first person who read his or her proposal tells me that in the corporate world, being a vile and loathsome toad is actually an admirable trait and something that will get you promoted.

The very idea that such people can come home and instead of crying themselves to sleep for being the very embodiment of evil that they have always feared they would become, that instead, they probably go around boasting about their horrid new idea to all their repellent friends who go about their lives thinking of equally repugnant ideas to con to the masses. This makes my inner child who had at one time, had hopes of redeeming humanity and finding actual goodness amongst our species. But is now left with only wanting to find some possible escape from these abominable creatures.

So it is all just a scam right? Everything was made up on the spot and it includes nothing from reality. Thus we can thankfully wash our hands from it and never speak of it again. Except for the fact that whoever it was that thought of this most noxious idea actually used the photos of someone who had committed suicide after her ex boyfriend posted naked pictures of her on Facebook. Yes, to try and make their scam seem more plausible, someone dug up the photos of someone who killed themselves over revealing photos on Facebook. Here is the original article as evidence as well as a photo used in that piece just to show you that it is, indeed, the same person.

Now you may take your time to yell, scream, vomit or whatever else gets the feeling of disgust out of you. This is people profiting off of someones suffering. Not only are they profiting, but they are re-animating a person who has already been laid to rest, dragging up all the old wounds and sorrows surrounding the event just so they can try and scam some people into filling out their survey. I do not think there are proper words for this kind of vile disrespect.

So congratulations humanity, you have just found a new way to make me revile you.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A hypothesis as to why idiots are the loudest members of society

Granted this is only a tenative hypothesis, but thus far the logic behind it is sound. I believe I may have found an explanatory mechanism behind the trend of the loudest members of our species frequently being the most moronic.

I believe it is becaus of thus: the louder member of our species are the ones who are more naturaly inclined to be idiots. Therefore they are more likely to put their foot in their mouth. Each time they do this they stretch ouh their mouth by a small but noticable margin.

Each time they stretch out their mouths, they increases the resonance capability of their mouth, thus making them slightly louder. The louder they get the more people they can effect with their idiocy. Thus further increasing the number of times they are able to shove their feet into their mouths, further stretching it and further increaseing the size of the mouth as a resonating chamber.

We quickly find that such individuals create a vicious circle for themselves, thus quickly making such persons the most vocal and, much to the chagrin of the rest of the populace, most aggitating members of our species. I believe the only way to resolve this self perpetuating cycle is through the long duration administration of education to lessen the individuals foolhearty behavior which would hopefuly begin to slow down and/or end the cycle. If the treatment is delivered soon enough, the symptoms may even be reversable. Although in seveare cases, such methods may be offered too late in the patients illness to provide any noticable effect. In such cases it is my advisment that the only way to prevent such further behavior (as well as lessening the ambient noise level around them) is to fit the patient with a proper fitting muzzle and/or gag. The usage of behavior correcting tools such as shock collars may also be necessary.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Is it wrong that I want one?

If I ever find myself suddenly lacking a bit of one of my arms (for as we all know, it is quite easy to misplace those things), I am so getting one of these. Kaylene Kau, an Industrial Design student at the University of Washington created this as a novel approach for fore limb prosthetics.

This makes so much sense, as it would allow for most of what a person needs without the complexity of trying to articulate individual fingers. It does not look human at all, but that isn't a problem. It is designed to look artificial, so we are not forced to visit the uncanny valley. It will be able to be used in most ways that an appendage is needed in every day life. Plus it looks bloody awesome. We can finally start looking like the cyborgs we envisioned when we were children instead of the more human looking ones we are constantly being shown in reality.

The only complaint I have about this design is that it is manually controlled. If some future model were to come equipped with full sensorimotor integration then I would be all for it. As I wouldn't want to have use my other hand to control my new robotentacle. Though, as a prototype, which this is, it gets the idea across wonderfully. I would not expect such a prototype designed for a class to have such a complex system as neural integration.

My next question is why I never got to build my own cybernetic dream machines when I was in class, I feel kind of deprived. Perhaps one day when I have my own laboratory and workshop I can begin to create such toys. I already have the maniacal laugh down perfectly.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yet another person from the state I reside makes me ashamed to live here...

I am, once again, ashamed of my state. To understand why I must feel such shame, watch this video. It is a clip from everyone's favorite pretend news network, Fox.

For those of you who do not wish to watch the video or cannot due to there location, here is an article by ThinkProgress describing what is occurring on the video.

Now that you have had a chance to fill yourself in on the facts, let me give you my impression on Senator Jim Inhofe's reaction to the change in the name of the parade. It probably will not surprise you to find that I think Inhofe is being a whiny child who is doing nothing more then throwing a hissy fit when he does not get his way. Now granted, he could have done a lot more then he has to make himself look like a fool, but the fact that he has done this alone is more then enough to warrant being called out for his actions.

Inhofe claims to have taken part in this parade for the past thirty years and it is only when the word Christmas was replaced with Holiday that he has decided to not partake in the parade. As for some reason, he cannot bear to be in the "Holiday Parade of Lights" because it no longer uses the word Christmas. Now I have no problem with Senator Inhofe sitting this one out. Personally I wouldn't mind if he would remove himself from a lot more functions. For me, personally, Inhofe is an embarrassment to Oklahoma and is a walking stereotype of everything that is wrong with this state. He also proudly proclaims his backwards thinking that my state is notorious for. It is because of people like him that I have to reassure those I talk with from different states or countries that I'm not a backwards, bigoted and all around ignorant hick.

To make matters worse, Senator Inhofe says
Last time I checked, Gretchen, Christmas meant the birth of Jesus Christ and that's what we're celebrating and that's what I'm celebrating and that's what my twenty kids and grand-kids are celebrating."

Oh really? Apparently Inhofe believes that Christmas was the sole property of Christians and to suggest otherwise is wrong. Which is quite interesting as he contradicts himself right after by agreeing to something Gretchen Carlson says. He even goes on to elaborate upon it himself. Now here is what Gretchen Carlson prompts Inhofe with
So what you are saying is, its not like you are not tolerant of other religions, like Hanukkah and Quanza and whatever else may be celebrated in December. What you're saying is what a lot of people are saying in our society right now which is, we are supposed to be tolerant of all these other religions which every person pretty much accepts. Why does it always seem Christianity is the one to take the boot

This is followed by Inhofe's reply of
They're the ones to take the hit and you know your good friend, who has been on your program many times, Lanny Davis, I was on a program with him last week and he's Jewish, he's uh, very liberal, he's from the Clinton White House and he agrees with me.

Notice the contradiction? First he said that Christmas is entirely about the birth of Jesus Christ, therefore making it a Christian holiday and only a Christian holiday. Then with the support of Gretchen Carlson, he agrees that it is a holiday that everyone can have and that he never does anything to disrupt what others believe. So how can it be only a Christian holiday, but also be supportive of other beliefs?

I think it comes down to this. Had Gretchen Carlson not prompted Senator Inhofe with the part about being tolerant of other religions, Inhofe would not have contradicted himself, though he would still be a bigot. What I believe happened here is Gretchen Carlson noticed what the Senator had said and proceeded to prompt him in an effort to save the integrity he would have lost otherwise. Though I'm not entirely sure that Senator Inhofe was aware of all of this entirely. It would not surprise me that, had Gretchen Carlson not prompted him at that moment and at some future date some journalist asked Inhofe if that means he was less intolerant of other religions, he would say something that alludes to him not being tolerant of other religions and wanting Christianity to be the one everyone sees in public. I cannot say if this is accurate or not, but based upon what he has said here and previously, it would fit with his mode of thinking.

I also find it pathetic that he brings up the ever present idea of Christianity's martyrdom. That all the other religions are tolerated just fine but it is only the poor innocent Christians who have to take the beating. As any sane and non-biased individual can tell you, in the United States, and especially in the more conservative states such as Oklahoma, Christianity is in charge and often does all it can to keep it that way. Even if it means he has to squash the rights of others. For him to turn around and say ask "why is everyone picking on poor Christian me" while going about his office supporting bills to the Oklahoma Constitution that makes it illegal for same sex marriages to take place. Thus ensuring that his Christian doctrine is kept safe. As well as supporting such frivolous resolutions as the one banning those who think differently on the case of evolution from speaking (this is in reference to the proposition to ban Richard Dawkins from Oklahoma. His vote can be found under Resolution 1015). So it is clear by his actions that he feels like he and his fellow Christians are in charge. Yet he still pulls the martyr in an attempt to get his way. This kind of counter intuitive thought is one of the prime reasons why religion has no place in politics.

So I once again, apologize on behalf of every free thinking and rational person living in the state of Oklahoma. Not everyone in this state is a backwards thinking moron. We, sadly, just have enough of those underdeveloped individuals in our state to get people like Inhofe elected.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ripples through the universe...

Many people wonder why so many events, good or bad, are happening to them. Why does it seem that, far too often all the bad occurs at one time. We might even look around and see someone much more deserving of what we are suffering through, yet they are surrounded by good fortune. Why is this? Well, to be honest, it is all just an illusion of the universe.

To begin to understand the truth of the matter we must first realize a few core truths. The universe is and we are simply a part of it. It may throw hardships or pain our way but we must remember that when they occur, it not because the universe hates us or has singled us out, but because we are part of its inner workings. And like the inner workings of any complex system, things are bound to go wrong from time to time. In fact things must go wrong from time to time as that is the Entropic Rule.

We must remember that we are perceiving things but from a single vantage point. While it is true that from our perspective, it may very well look like the universe it throwing more things at us then at others. That those who are less deserving are receiving more than they should. That those who are innocent are forced to suffer and those who are repugnant wallow in excess.

From our fixed vantage point it looks like patterns and trends, but this is all an illusion. For if we step aside and look at it from another perspective, we truly begin to see things as they are, a series of causes and effects. Like the ripples from a handful of pebbles tossed into a calm pool, we see patterns and direction. We see one part that is more turbulent despite having few stones near them. Whereas another part has many stones, yet their myriad ripples may cancel one another out, leaving the surface with an unexpected calm. These ripples reinforce or cancel one another out, creating complex patterns that seen to be purposeful, but we know full well that they are not. That any purpose is seen only in retrospect and that any pattern that forms does so out of pure randomness.

We can think of each of our lives as one of these pebbles and the ripples to be the events that sculpt our lives. While it may very well seem that we have our unfair share of ripples around us, while those who create the most commotion may find themselves to have the fewest ripples to deal with. It is not because the pond intended for us to have more ripples, but because of chance and random occurrence.

The same can be said for our lives. It may seem like the universe hurtles at us an unfair amount of turmoil and pain. But it is not because the universe has a vendetta against us or enjoys seeing our suffering. Rather, it is because of the random nature of the cosmos that things seem to pile up now and again. We forget that in randomness, there must be those who experience repetition, be it good or bad. For if they did not, then the system, as a whole, would not be random at all, but designed and laid out.

So do not take such events as an omen that one is marked. Instead realize that it is simply part of existence and that, in time, new ripples will form.
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Monday, November 29, 2010


Lets look at the statement FML or "Fuck My Life", just a bit deeper, shall we? One can take it at face value and assume it means that one's life is beyond reconciliation and should thus, simply be fucked, metaphorically, and be done with it.

Or one can look at it in a another way way. If we take the fucking to be literal, that is coitus with our existence, then that means one must physically engage in sexual union with our very being.

Now as we all know, there is good sex and bad sex. If it is bad sex, then all we gain from it is to be left feeling hot and sweaty and not much else, something no one finds very appealing. I'm sure this is what most would think the phrase means, if taken literally.

However there is another literal possibility. In this instance, instead of horrible sex, one has truly great sex. The kind of sex where afterward, your mind is left reeling in a storm of endorphins. Where the body and mind float upon utter ecstasy. Now if this is true, then not only would the physical you be left having one hell of an orgasm, but so would your existence. Since your existence is you, just the you over an extended period of time, one is left to assume that if one's existence achieves climax then you as a person must also do so but over the duration of said existence.

In other words, if done right, to "fuck my life" could very well mean to be left in a state of boundless writhing pleasure. If this is truly the case then I say we should all go about fucking our lives as often as humanly possible.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

A walk through the park

We have a city park, it really isn't much but I like to walk through it from time to time, as I often do some of my best thinking when I'm just walking and experiencing.

Each year, the city puts up all kinds of lights throughout the park for Christmas and at night, it really is kind of lovely to walk through. I remember always wanting to walk through it when I was younger but my family didn't think it was worth it "you can see all the lights from the streets as we drive by, can't you?" they would say. they didn't understand the value of just walking through and watching.

Part of it is the people, as it is the one time when the park actually has a steady stream of people walking through it. For most of the rest of the year, it is usually just overlooked. But most of all, I love looking around and seeing just how diverse the iconography around me actually is.

Most would never realize it, but the images I saw were truly global. There was Inuit, Mesopotamian, Celtic/Norse, Victorian England, and Czarist Russia. I know most will never realize the vast collection of images that surround them nor will most of them ever grasp their meanings.

But I know them, I know their histories and their origins. Seeing it all around me...it makes me happy. I see the culmination of so many peoples, so many diverse thoughts and cultures, all brought into one single amalgamate.

Most will never see this, but I do, each and every time I walk through that park, and it warms me. I only wish more people would be interested in it and realize what exactly it all means. For it gives me hope. In spite of all our hatreds and bigotries and wars that we humans rage against one another, here is one time when the diversity of humanity is made as one. Here is hope for a future of my species.
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Conservation of Momentum

Hurtling through the imperfect vacuum of interstellar space, an aged and beaten colony ship finds itself nearing the halfway point of its immense journey. Upon the command deck an equally tired and worn captain stands vigilant. Amongst the familiar background whines and hums of her ship, the captain picks out the sound of another’s approach. A beleaguered astrophysicist grimly relays his latest findings…

“Captain, as you know the upgrades to the navigational core were completed earlier this duty cycle.” Turning to acknowledge her trusted adviser the captain asks, “And how are our new systems functioning?” Replying with a calm yet subtly strained tone, the astrophysics replies, “Better then expected, this new system has reanalyzed our course in record time. There have already been a few minor corrections in our vector.” Vaguely intrigued the captain asks “And what might those refinements be exactly?” “Only a slight course correction to make better use of some of the outer planets of our destination. With these adjustments it seems we will be able to shed most of the necessary momentum as we pass by the gas giants in the system.” Nodding in approval the captain turns her attention to her adviser’s seemingly ill fitting tone of word, “Yet despite these refinements, you sound as if there is something amiss.”

Taking a moment to find the right words, the astrophysicist replies, “You are as observant as always," He says with a sigh, "yes, there is a slight problem. According to the latest telemetry, even with the improved momentum burn calculated by the new navigational system, we will still be moving at too great a speed to safely achieve a stable orbit around our destination. We will, instead slow down just long enough to get a good look at our destination before careening past it. As you know, this vessel was designed with efficiency in mind, as such, we do not have the reserve fuel to slow us or even make an attempt at a second rendezvous.” Realizing just how dire the situation is, the captain asks, "By what margin will we miss our destination?"

Taking a long pause before responding, the astrophysicist replies “Approximately one minute, yes we will reach the point of orbital entry one minute ahead of the planet.” The signs of worry emboldened in her features the captain turns to look forward and softly begins to say, “So after all these years of journey, are we really going to lose it all to such a minute fraction of time? After so long a voyage, after so many generations inside this isolated hull, are we to find that all we lack, all that keeps us our race from salvation is a single, last minute?”

As the captains words echo through the silence that that befallen the deck, the soft murmur of a suppressed laughter. The two stern individuals turn towards the ill timed sound. The captain asks in an irate tone, “What exactly do you find so humorous in this? What comedy could you find in the dashed hopes of our collective civilization?” After a bit more stiffed laughter comes a reply “Well, I guess its true what they say, without the last minute nothing does ever gets done...”

In shocked silence the two look at each other for a moment before a wry smile begins to form on the astrophysicist. Knowing that look before from their various conversations throughout the years the captain worryingly asks “What is it, exactly, that you have thought of just now, as I know that look and I know that very few things come from it that I don’t later regret.” After a bit of a dramatic pause comes the reply “While I will need to confirm it with the navigational core, I have just realized that from our current distance to cut off that last crucial minute, all we must lose is the mass of roughly one individual.” Finding the dangerous smile to be infectious the captain replies with a mocking laugh “And I believe we already have our volunteer.”
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion's Pool

We are born into a gloomy bay. Blind and knowing only what we are shown. Those ahead, their hands are grasping for anything, but return only slime. Knowing not what they seek, they relish the feeling. Larger hands guide us away, towards reed pools filled with spines and pearls. Around these we gather, thrusting our virgin hands into the abyss, with a hope beyond precious hope that a pearl will be unveiled as we open our hands, only to find bristles and stones.

We wade prostrate our fingers feeling for any flotsam that might come our way. By chance we find the reaching hands of another passer by. Entangled we float, collecting each other. Each grasping and searching yet never finding. We form whole drifts, each unique in our writhing. Every part a chance to reach for more. Yet none are grasping that precious peal.

We stumble and fall, a misplaced foot upon a slippery stone. Diving in we see nothing, hear nothing and wonder, is this what we were searching for? Hands around us pulling us free. Air refills our lungs, our flailing hands grasp for all we can. Rocks and thistles are all we find.

Angered and blind we thrash but held fast. We are told to search more gently, to keep our calm. We will find what we need in time, just as those of old. So we seek the thing we do not know. Our fingers grasp and pull occasionally a heavy stone.

In time we learn to use the stone. A point of haven, a refuge from the spurs. But another stone has been found. Theirs is like ours but somehow greater they declare. We try and find if this stone is a mirror of ours. All the same, save for a few bits of life dangling below. In this do we find our treasure? But no, the stone falls away again, pushed by stronger hands. Why not stay together? Greater hands twist and split, push away, we all are told to push away.

Alone again wandering, why? Our hands feel through the grime finding nothing more then more tines. We sputter and sink, wondering what lies beneath. A last final claw before we open our maw. No hands to save us as we drown.

But could it be, my last grasp has it all? My fingers pull away from my palm revealing my last found. I dare not see it for if I were to drown, then all would be gone nothing would ever be found.

I feel for the shape, perfectly round. It is what they have lost, now I have found. I look upon its form as I drown. It is nothing, nothing to be found? My mind reals looking for something sound. Now I find, the lost gem was never there, it was always them.

I tear for the surface, finding my air. My eyes open and all around, I see nothing but the lost, hoping to be found. I step toward the only shore I see. Upon reason, I am finally free.
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A bit of atheist Comedy

The secret to great comedy is thus, tell the truth, don't let your internal critic censor yourself, and pay attention to the chaotic world around you. Using these simple rules, anyone can create great comedy. But what differentiates the stand-up from everyone else is confidence. Confidence allows the day laborer to get out in front of a crowd and say the things everyone is thinking, but no one has the guts to say aloud. Far too much of our society has become pent up and repressed. People worry about offending this person or that. But the comedian cuts through all of this. The comedian expresses what people want to say but are afraid that if they say it, they will be shunned. Through comedy we not only have get a release for all these pent up thoughts, but a chance to change things for ourselves. Instead of keeping that bit in let it out, take a chance. If someone is offended, that is their choice. And that is what we often forget, that to be offended is a choice, not a reaction. It is easy to brush off even the most hateful of words with a laugh and perhaps a bit of sharp wit thrown back at the assailant.

We all need comedy to survive the experience that is life. It renews us, comforts us, and even chastises us for our own short comings. It is something that should be found in daily life. And when we are weary and tired, what better feeling is there then to hear your own thoughts pronounced aloud, yet twisted just right so that we can laugh and forget whatever it was that was bothering us.

While I was up helping my dear friend that I mentioned in an earlier post, she was supposed to meet a friend to go to an event. The friend never showed, eventually calling at the last minute stating that he had a gig with his band the following day and could not make it. So my friend asked me if I wanted to join her for it, as she had two tickets already bought and there was no sense in wasting it. What I didn't realize is that the tickets were for front row seats to see Cheech and Chong for their "get it legal" tour. The two of us laughed harder than either of us had in quite some time. It was therapeutic, just like all great comedy should be.

For those of you reading this, here is something to sooth you as well. A bit of comedy from the talent of Jim Jefferies, enjoy.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Sound Of Freethinking: #2 God Thinks

As a quick follow up to the first "Sound of Freethinking" comes one of my favorite musical satirists. For those within the subculture, the name Voltaire is well known, outside, it is also well known but for a different individual. Yes, a musical satirist decided to name his project after one of the greatest literary satirists, and I have to say, it is rather fitting. But this modern Voltaire is much more then just a musician, he is also an artist and writer, all of which has a nice satirical edge to it, often even mocking the very subculture that he thrives within. After all, we all need a bit of humility and self deprecation now and then. He goes about his music in a sort of dark cabaret style and it fits him very well.

In This particular song, entitled God Thinks, Voltaire starts off with the kind of lyrics that are designed to offend the listener. But if you are willing to listen further, you will find that what seems horrendously bigoted remarks are actually part of the satire itself. So without further adieu, here is Voltaire telling us what God Thinks.

And for the videophobic...

God thinks all blacks are obsolete farm equipment
God thinks the Jews killed his son and must be punished
God thinks the white man is Satan
God, they know what God thinks

God thinks we should all convert to Judaism
God thinks we must all be Christians and
God thinks we should all embrace Islam
God thinks the only true religion is Hinduism

And I
I know what God thinks
God thinks you're a waste of flesh
God prefers an Atheist

God God
God thinks all people like you are hateful
God thinks all people like you are an embarrassment to creation
self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw a stone
and using His name for your own protection

God thinks the sun revolves around the Earth
God thinks there was something very wrong with Copernicus
God thinks abortion is murder and
God thinks everything that science gave us is wrong
God thinks women deserve it
God thinks AIDS is a form of punishment

I hate people who blame the Devil for their own shortcomings and
I hate people who thank God when things go right

And I
I know what God thinks
God thinks you're an idiot
God prefers a heretic

God God
God thinks all people like you are hateful
God thinks all people like you are an embarrassment to creation
self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw the stone
and using His name for your own agenda

God is a liberal
God is a democrat
God wants you to vote republican
never trust a man who puts his words in the mouth of god
and says it's absolute truth
its lies and it smells like death
its all in a day's work taking money from the poor
Why do you think that God would need your dirty money
if He wants to start a holy war?

self-righteous, judgmental, first to throw a stone
and using His name for your own protection

God thinks puppies need to die and
God thinks babies need to drown
'cause God is neither good nor bad
God is you and me
God is Everything

To be entirely honest, there is little I can say that Voltaire has not said in this song. I am sure most atheists and agnostics will agree that they have argued something similar to what Voltaire has sung here. It is a culmination of all religions stupidity rolled into one nice song. Some may argue that this isn't an atheist song as it ends with a more pantheistic verse. But if someone were to argue that, then they must not have a very good grasp on what pantheism truly is. In fact there are many who could argue that there is very little difference in the thinking of an agnosto-atheist and a pantheist. But either way, the message of this song is still the same and I think it is one that many in the atheist community would relish if only they knew it existed in the first place. Which, of course, is the whole purpose of this segment of this blog.
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The Sound Of Freethinking: #1 Arabian Knights

I would first like to thank Infidel753 whose comment sparked the idea for a re-occurring post. In the comment Infidel753 referenced a song by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Song is Arabian Knights.

For those of you who wish to just read the lyrics...

The jewel, the prize
Looking into your eyes
Cool pools drown your mind
What else will you find?

I hear a rumor
It was just a rumor

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?

Myriad lights
They said, I'd be impressed
Arabian Knights
At your primitive best

A tourist oasis
Reflects in seedy sunshades
A monstrous oil tanker
It's wound bleeding in seas

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?

Veiled behind screens
Kept as your baby machine
Whilst you conquer more orifices
Of boys, goats and things
Ripped out sheeps eyes
No forks or knives

Myriad lights
They said, "I'd be impressed"
Arabian Knights
At your primitive best

I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor

I think it is rather clear what Siouxsie Sioux is singing here. Even back in the 80's it was clear that Islam had become little more then an expansionist religion that views females as little more than, as Siouxsie put it "baby machines" and its oil reserves as a tool to spread its own influence. This song was produced back in 1981, close to thirty years later and things still have not changed, other then the amount of territory claimed under Islamic rule.

I hope to continue this series with various other songs from the subculture that have something to say about religion. If any of the readers have any other ideas for songs, please let me know, I'm always open for suggestion.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Goth and Atheism

This post is one I have wanted to write for quite a long time now. It has to do, partially, with the name I chose for this blog. I have had a lot of people who have read the title and said to me "wait, isn't that a contradiction? How can a Goth be an atheist? Isn't Goth some kind of religion?". Whenever I hear this, I cannot help myself from the cliché of doing a literal face palm.

For those who might be reading this and may have thought something similar or remember hearing someone saying something close to it at one point in your life, I would like to answer this question once and for all. Furthermore, I want to explain why I see the Gothic sub-culture as not only being accepting of atheism, but proving to the readers that the majority of the sub culture would self describe as either atheist or agnostic (or Agnosto-Atheist such as myself, as you will soon discover, such attention to detail and fact is something of a cornerstone in the sub-culture).

So to begin I shall, without any question, state that whatever the goth subculture (or any of its many sub-subcultures...we will get to that later in the post) are absolutely not a religion and have never been even remotely close to one.

The best way to go about stating what the subculture is would be to tell a bit about its history first. What eventually became what we all now know as 'Goth' started in 1980's England. At this point, the term for the subculture was not even known. It started as part of the Punk subculture where some of the more introspective members of the culture started making music that was just a bit different. Instead of being about extroversion and being angry at all the idiocies of the world around us, which was a noble thought to begin with; the music became more introspective. While Punk was raging at the world, these new music artists looked at themselves and thought "what is actually going on and what does it mean to me as an individual". These first proto-goth bands went on to become some of the best remembered "post-punk" artists of all time. Groups such as The Velvet Underground, Nico (who started as a member of The Velvet Underground but then went solo), Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Iggy Pop, The Birthday Party, and Killing Joke. It was the media who first used the term goth and it was used to describe some of these band, in fact the first usage was to describe the singer of The Velvet Underground, Nico, in 1971.

The term goth was brought up again by independent parts of the media to describe various bands from then on. Martin Hannett, of Joy Division described their music as "dancing music with Gothic overtones". Where as the part owner and manager of Factory Recods, Tony Wilson, Described Joy Division as "Gothic" on the television show "Something Else". The term goth was later thrown around as a derogatory remark by the media to describe the bands Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But it was not until the music critic, Simon Reynolds used the term goth as a "positive identity, a tribal rallying cry" that the still nameless subculture took on that name.

Now that the subculture had a name, had something to call their own, it started to feel itself out. Whether a band called themselves goth or not, these new bands started shaping the subculture. Bands such as Bauhaus, Joy Division, Specimen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, The Cure, The Birthday Party, Southern Death Cult, Ausgang, Sex Gang Children, The March Violets, 45 Grave, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Kommunity FK, Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death, Gloria Mundi, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Mittageisen, Killing joke and even early Adam and the Ants.
Thus began what is now looked back upon as Goth Rock, or as it had been termed within the Punk subculture, Death Rock.

Goth as an individual entity exploded from what had been lain down by previous bands. It was now the 1980's. Some said that Punk was dead, and that music was left in a post-punk world trying to find itself. Others knew that Punk just did what it had previously done, before all the fame; it went back underground and pushed forward. The newly formed goth subculture could now start to step forward and claim individuality. Not just a nebulous out-growth of Punk, but a branch that became an entirely new and individual tree of music and culture. Bands such as Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission (or The Mission UK as they became known in the states), and Clan of Xymox took the mantel of goth further.

It was now the time of 4AD Records, a record company that signed bands that defined the subculture and those that drifted towards it as well. Names such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Modern English, The Pixies, Tones On Tail, This Mortal Coil, The Wolfgang Press, Xmal Deutschland, and Camera Obscura. 4AD still lives and in 2008, the owner of the label, known as the Beggars Group finally realized that 4AD was their most prestigious and successful label so they merged them under one name. Originally all of the sub-labels of the Beggars Group were under the label Beggars Banquet, but even the core label knew that 4AD surpassed all the others and decided to rename the entire label as 4AD.

Gothic music continued to branch and unfold in new ways. It soon began to run alongside another subculture spawned by the Punk culture. The Industrial movement paralleled and in many ways has fused with Goth. While there are still those who see Industrial as a subculture all its own, it is generally accepted that it has become part of the Goth subculture. Other branches formed or became intertwined with Goth, such as Ethereal, Heavenly Voices, Neo-Medieval, Darkwave, Synthpop, Futurepop, Shoegazer, Psychobilly and others.

The subculture has grown to encompass so much that where 'goth' stops and another genre starts has become nothing more then shades of gray. It wasn't that goth had overpowered or pushed into these other territories, but what was goth grew to become more. Which brings me to the core of what Goth is. It isn't just a set of music styles, or a group of like minded people, but a mindset. Just as the music that spurred the formation of the subculture was introspective, so is the subculture itself. It developed into something much more then music but about freedom of expression. About art for arts sake. About passion, love and everything that made a person.

Goth was now something entirely more. With the free thinking of its Punk roots and its introspectiveness of its first bands and individuals it became an almost thought process. One where Individuality is key, where knowing oneself and others became habits. Where knowledge was valued alongside music and aesthetics. It is within the gothic subculture that, if one is truly a member, one must be well read, believe that fact must come before belief, put what is true before what is desired and through it all an inner beauty will form of understanding. And through this understanding and knowledge comes even more beauty, for only those that can know something so intimately could truly say they understand.

So it is only now, with this understanding of what goth is, can we answer the question that started this post in the first place. What is the link between atheism and goth? As many probably have discerned they both share many key features. While atheism can only be said as the belief that without substantial evidence there is no reason to form a belief in a deity, one must admit that those who are drawn to it, those who pull themselves from religion, or strive against it often have something in common. It is a sense of individuality and understanding for the sake of understanding. The same key features that make up the gothic subculture.

And these features are what I see as tying the two together, both are individuals, both stand up for knowledge and have a deep seated respect for the person next to them, especially so if they too are experiencing themselves as an individual. As such those reading may find this statistic on the beliefs of goths quite interesting. In fact, here is what religioustolerance.org says about the gothic subculture. While I wish I could give an actual poll on the percentages of 'goths' and their religion, this is quite difficult. For one the idea of self identifying as goth is a bit counter to what goth is. Yes one can say one has gothic tendencies, but one never is goth, for if someone was, then they would be the stereotype and thus would defeat the very purpose of goth. Though for the most part, within the gothic subculture, agnosticism and atheism is the majority, with a bit of pagan, deist, christian and others. But if one is part of the subculture, one of the key ideas is to accept those beside you for who they are. Yes, you will often find a group of 'goths' arguing about the philosophies and logistics behind theism or non-theism. But the end result is just the same as for an amicable atheist and deist, they will both put their points forth and in the end, agree to disagree. They will then go and thank each other for their thoughts and the chance to think in those ways. It is this similarity that I see as connecting the gothic subculture and the atheist 'movement' or whatever the freethinking body wishes to be called. They both respect, they both seek knowledge; they both are open to debate. While there will always be those within the cultures that cause problems for the whole. Stupid kids who think dressing in black and blaring angry music while letting out hate speech against another is trendy. Or the atheist who thinks that yelling out in a church is the best way to be heard. Both are outliers, both are individuals who are making wrong decisions under the guise of the names of us all. Neither represents the whole at all yet both are accepted as the stereotype. Yet another way the two are similar.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

A potentially amazing idea.

I have been reading the book "Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life" by Carl Zimmer. Already it has been an amazing read, I recommend it to anyone who wishes to garner a greater understanding of microbiology, micro-ecology, and molecular evolution. In one of the sections, Carl Zimmer explains the cycle of evolution that E. coli go through in certain situations. This is displayed rather dramatically when different strains of E. coli compete amongst one another for survival.

Each strain will often grow together as such communal behavior allows for greater survival of a strain. When a bacteria begins to act as a group instead of free roving individuals, they form what is known as a biofilm. Within this biofilm different individuals of the same strain might take over different roles. This is all done by chance, the random turning on and off of genes that occur naturally throughout a microbes life cycle. When a biofilm is threatened by a competing strain of E. coli, there is a chance for certain individuals in the group to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the colony. They do this by producing a protein known as colicins. Colicins destroy bacteria in many ways. Some doe so by essentially destabilizing the cellular membrane so that all that is contained within can seep out, effectively shutting down the microbe. Others block protein formation while still others target the victims DNA While there are multiple forms of colicin, there is only one way to deliver the them in large numbers. Colicins are rather large by protein standards, as such when an individual E. coli begins to fill up with them, there is no easy way for them to escape. Normally they are produced in small numbers and are pushed out of the cell through certain channel proteins. But with such a large number of colicins, the bacterium gets far too full and lyses (explodes). The act of lyseing is not done by the pressure of the internal environment but by a specific suicide function of the bacterium.

Now you may be asking yourself, why don't the colicins released by the lysing E. coli also effect the neighboring members of the same strain and biofilm? The reason for this is that colicins are naturaly produced in small quantities by all E. coli in biofilms to begin with. To counteract this, they also produce an antitoxin that destroys the colicins before they do any damage. It also has to do with the fact that due to slight genetic differences within strains, the colicin proteins will be shaped slightly different. Each strain produces an antitoxin that is most effective against its own strain's colicins. But other strain's antitoxins won't be as efficient at disabling a sudden burst of foreign colicins and some will slip through the defenses to destroy the competitors.

Now when a certain biofilm is faced with such an attack, random mutations will cause a select few to produce more effective antitoxins. These random survivors will then propagate and begin to out compete the attacking colony. As evolution causes yet another shift of power and the attacking colony begins to shrink due to limited resources, there will often be a chance for a mutation for a yet more potent colicin.

This cycle would seem to be endless, but evolution favors the bold. At some point a random mutation may arise that causes a certain strain to only produce the currently strongest antitoxin, but none of the colicin. While this would, at first seem like an absurd tactic, it is one that works quite well over the long duration. The reason for this goes back to the size of colicins. Remember that colicins are naturlly large proteins to begin with. Any stronger variants of the colicin will be even larger still. It takes a lot of energy and resources to produce all that colicin as well as the antitoxin to protect against it. I'm sure you can now see why the seemingly useless mutation would actually be successful in such an environment. While its competitors are busy wasting all their energy on expensive colicins and antitoxins, this new strain can focus only on producing the strongest antitoxin and reproducing. Over time, it begins to out compete the strong colicin producers entirely.

But it doesn't end here, now that all the colicin producers have been killed off, the area is left clean for the original strain of E. coli to move in. The original strain isn't going about wasting any energy on excess colicins or antitoxins and it can quickly out compete the previous victors of the arms race. This leaves us back where we started. This cycle takes place consistently all the time. What started out as an arms race became a game of rock, paper scissors. Eventually, the cycle will continue on through another rotation.

Now that I have put forth all the background information, I would like to share an insight I had while reading this book. The idea of an evolutionary rock, paper, scissors game led me to a thought that left me rather excited. What if we apply this very same rule of evolution to our current problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria?

Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance work in quite the same way as the colicin antitoxin cycle work. Bacteria produce specific proteins that destroy or deactivate the antibiotics (which are often proteins in their own right). The only thing differentiating a resistant strain from a non-resistant strain is that the resistant strain is constantly pumping out these defensive proteins.

They evolved in much the same way as the antitoxin producing E. coli I mentioned earlier. They began as a normal strain that happened to have a random mutation that allowed for the production of the defensive protein. Over time, these resistant strains came up against more and more types of antibiotics. Each time, the arms race I mentioned earlier takes another step forward.

My idea is this, instead of fighting an arms race with these antibiotic resistant strains, why don't we simply use their own strategies against them? Just as the super antitoxin producers from earlier could out compete the strong colicin and antitoxin producers, so would a common strain out compete an antibacterial resistant strain. But we can do one better then blind evolution. If we were to introduce a strain that was not producing the antibiotic defense proteins but instead devoted all of its energy to reproduction, it would quickly out compete the resistant strain.

All one would have to do in the case of infection of an antibiotic resistant strain is to introduce a group of quickly dividing non-resistant bacterians to the site of the infection and soon the new strain will begin eating up all the resources that the slower resistant bacterians were using until there is nothing left but the non-resistant strain and possibly some mutations within the resistant strain which will have given up some of its defense protein production in favor of faster reproduction. Either way, within a few days you are left with an individual who is not a whole lot more ill then they began but now they are ill with bacterians that would respond to antibiotic treatments.

This kind of treatment would of course be a last resort, but it could very well be the answer to one of the most serious medical problems of our day. This concept would need thorough testing before it could ever be tried in a human patient, but with all that we are uncovering, I would not be surprised if this is the answer that so many have sought for.

Now because this solution is so elegantly simple, it is quite possible that I am not the first to stumble upon it, in fact I would be quite surprised if I was. If anyone has heard of such research, I would love to hear about it in the comments.



Carl Zimmer. (2008) Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life. New York, United States: Pantheon Books.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The failing of a legacy and a bit of neuroscience

One of my sources of income involves me working as the projectionist for the local Air Force base theatre. Before the start of many films geared towards younger audiences there often tend to be various shorts. The film company Pixar has become quite notable for the creativity they put into these shorts. However the short I saw just the other day was not done by them and did not have anything remotely similar to creativity. In fact I would go so far as to say it was the very opposite of creative and nothing more then a cookie-cutter style cartoon.

Now generally I would not have much to say about such a forgettable animation. But this was different, as when it started I was actually a bit excited to watch what I was sure to be an enjoyable cartoon. Why was I so sure of this at the start and thus, left with such a feeling of emptiness upon its conclusion? I was so sure because it was a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.

I remember especially loving these cartoons when I was younger. I knew they were absurd and filled with gratuitous violence. And I also knew what to expect when I watched each one. But this is not why I have always loved them. What drew me to them was the fact that they were the perfect juxtaposition of Goldbergian and Murphian philosophies. It was the fusion of the ideas of "anything worth doing is worth over doing" and "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". The two concepts play off one another so perfectly that each episode of the original cartoon offered a new example of engineering absurdity failing in the most spectacular fashion possible.

But the cartoon that I watched was nothing more then repetitive slapstick. There was no variation, no build up as we watched a ludicrous series of contraptions failing or working too well, just the Coyote jumping off a bridge with a bungee cord to grab the roadrunner who was feasting on a strategically placed pile of bird seed. The series of events were nothing more then just a play of the same theme over and over, Coyote jumps off the bridge, when he reaches his nadir he is struck by an on coming truck and flung away. In successive attempts, he is volleyed between trucks or is stretched and then released. There are no other apparatuses or contrived schemes. Just the same concept done over in differing ways. It lacked the finesse of the original cartoons and left me with a feeling of hollowness.

Must all cartoons be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator like this? What happened to playing to the intellectual audience while still giving the child the laughs they sought? Do the producers think so little of the current generation or have they lost that spark of creativity and now only create to make a pay check? Is comedy that requires a bit of thought to appreciate really too much to ask of an audience?

Now some have criticized these cartoons as being overly violent and conditioning children to laugh at the pain of others. While I will agree that one does get a hearty serving of Schadenfreude with every episode, I would not say this is inherently a bad thing. We as humans are naturally conditioned to laugh at the pain of others. This is not because we enjoy inflicting harm upon others. But because we are an empathic species.

Our brains are loaded with mirror neurons, a genius innovation by evolution that fires whenever we see someone doing something or experiencing something. These mirror neurons and mirror neural pathways allow us to learn by proxy. This is why we can see something done and put ourselves in the place of the person doing the action. It is also why our hands flinch when we see another persons hand injured or wince when someone else is harmed. They are both a wonderful learning tool as well as an invaluable capability for empathic bonding and interpersonal understanding. In fact, the evolutionary trait of having such unprecedented levels of mirror neurons is what contributed to the development of our social system and intrinsic moral compass.

As a side effect of having all these mirror neuron complexes is the problem of dealing with the emotional strain of feeling the pain of others so often. If we did not have an outlet for this, the emotional turmoil we would suffer from seeing others injured would tear us apart. So an outlet did form, our natural reaction to laugh when we know there is nothing that can be done to help the person and that the injury is not life threatening. When such injuries occur we often cannot help ourselves but laugh, this is because when the mirror neuron systems fire and our brain recognizes the situation as one that is not life or limb threatening and one we cannot do anything to assuage the pain of the other, our limbic system kicks in and releases endorphins and various parts of the brain that involve emotional and pain responce such as the amygdala, hippocampus, periaquductal gray and hypocampus all start firing sending us into Gelotoleptic fits, otherwise known as laughter. This whole series of events is an emotional survival mechanism, one that if we lacked, we would soon all become so emotionally frail that seeing the slightest injury inflicted upon another would send us into extreme duress.
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