Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A hero of mine

I would like to talk a bit about a personal hero of mine. For most of my life, I have not found another with a mind that worked even remotely similar to my own. I have lived, for far to long, in an area where deep though and inquiry have been mostly shunned or seen as a distant dream at best. When I would talk about my passion for understanding, how it allowed me to feel connected to the ideas I was learning about, I never once came across another who felt this way or truly understood what this feeling was like. Many were interested, yes. They were intrigued by my passion and almost in awe of my understanding and how I could break down the complex and seemingly unattainable into something they could grasp and know for themselves. But I could not find another mind that saw the universe as I did.

When I come across something new, I examine it, I pick it up in my mind and roll it around a bit. I see how it looks from all sides and how it might connect with what I already know. A good example is when, many years ago, I first learned about probability waves. The idea that a particle does not exist at any point, but has a probability of existing. That this probability might be highest around a point but it also flows out around it, spreading to infinity, always at a non-zero chance of being here or there. When I first learned of this, things became so clear for me. Suddenly I understood how electrons could exist in specific energy levels around an atomic nucleus while also forming a 'cloud'. I understood how a photon could be a particle, a single quanta of electromagnetic energy while also being a wave. I was able to apply this concept to things I had leaned before, such as the famous light slit experiment that proved the particle wave duality of light as well as how, if left untouched, a photon will go through two slits equally. Before, the idea of one thing going through two places at once seemed wrong. I knew it was true, but I couldn't fully comprehend it, I couldn't make it my own. But as soon as I learned about probability waves, it all fit. It was a cascade of connections in my mind.

When this happens, it is almost euphoric. The concept I am understanding and myself are no longer separate entities but become intertwined. I experience the idea not as a thought but as if it is a part of me. This connection is, well, spiritual. I use that word reluctantly as I know it has quite a bit of baggage attached to it. That many see it within the domain of religion and myth. But here, I mean it as an experience where you develop as a being, where you connect with something on a fundamental level, almost becoming that thing. There isn't another word in the English language that fits well enough other then spirituality.

For the longest time I could not find another who thought like this. I heard about people who had done so or did so. But I never met them, they were just distant stories. For so long I felt truly alone. That there was not another who felt as I did, who saw the universe as I saw it. Who loved the world as I love it.

But then I read a book. A book written by a man I already greatly respected and wished I had a chance to meet. The book was A Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. When I read the opening pages, I suddenly found the mind I had sought for so long. I read his words, his explanation of how he saw the world and I saw my own views, I saw what could have been my very own words. I read about how he was in love with science, how he wanted to share this love with the world and how his heart ached with joy at the understanding science granted him. And for the first time in my life, I felt as if I was no longer alone. I read on, seeing more of my inner thoughts written out by someone else, as if they had seen into my mind and pulled the thoughts out to use for their own.

From that day on, I no longer felt alone. But I also knew that the mind I had finally found that was similar to my own, was gone. That Carl Sagan had died many years ago and that the book I had read was published only two years before he left us. Part of me grieved. I had never met Carl Sagan, but I felt I knew him better then most ever could have, because I felt our minds were so alike.

Part of me felt cheated. That I did not known more about Carl Sagan when he was alive. That if only someone had shown me some of his non-fiction writing I could have at least reached out to him while he was alive and thanked him. That I wouldn't have spent so much time feeling alone. That I could have told him how much it meant to me to know that another feels the same as I do. But I will never get that chance.

One of Carl Sagan's life long ambitions was to spread knowledge as far as he could. To reach out and share his love of the universe with others. To make others fall in love as he had. And he did this well. He touched so many lives. He inspired an entire generation of scientists. There are few people who have done more to change the world, to help sculpt future minds and societal views. To leave humanity, as a whole, in a better state then when he first entered it.

Carl Sagan accomplished much in his life time. In my own life, I have created a few purposes. One of the most important ones is to spread what knowledge I have. I came to this conclusion on my own, long before I read about Carl Sagan's views. I would like to think, if he were to be able to read this, that he would have preferred that. That I was able to come to this realization on my own. As he was always for letting people understand and develop. I do not hope to emulate Carl Sagan, I could not do that if I tried. He was a great person, one of the greatest our species has ever known. But what I do hope to do is continue his legacy. To spread forth his ideals and his wisdom. To take it in and make it a part of me, just as I have with everything else I have learned. In this manner, I hope to honor his memory. And while I know you will never be able to read this, thank you, Carl Sagan, for helping me understand and be happy with who I am.
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Monday, June 21, 2010

Mosque at Ground Zero

This is going to difficult to write. There is already so much argument about this topic, but I had to say something. After much deliberation, a vote was taken. 29 for, 1 against. This vote allows for the go ahead to build an Islamic mosque on a spot that is mere feet from where two Boeing 767s were flown into the World Trade Center buildings 1 & 2. A site, where 2,995 people died. A site that, the very mention of brings sadness into ones heart.

Just like everyone else, I can remember so much of that day. Of hearing what occurred...of being in utter shock. I was in high school then. I couldn't focus on my work, people died, lives were destroyed. I did not know a single person who died there, but each and every death cut into my heart. This atrocity that man inflicted on itself, it was too much. I watched, I felt hallow, I cried. It did not matter to me that I did not know a single person there, what mattered was there were people, my fellow humans, burning, crying, jumping, collapsing. So many lives were lost, I sat there on the floor, wanting to do something, anything to help someone. I wanted so badly to be able to get into a vehicle and drive up there and do something, anything, I could do to help. But I could do nothing at the time. Like so many others, I felt utterly helpless.

I learned that those who hijacked the 767s that flew into the buildings, they believed what they were doing was just and deserved. That their god had commanded them to attack the infidel. That they should lay down their lives and force others to do the same in the name of their deity. That they were Islamic zealots, set loose upon us to rain down destruction and terror and blood in the name of their most holy prophet and god. I heard the messages left by the hijackers, how strongly they believed in their 'mission'. I saw, that day, a religion celebrate the deaths of the innocent, the unknowing, the people just going about their daily lives only to find themselves thrust into hell. I saw people exulting the acts of those who brought death to so many. I heard the praising of Allah for allowing that day to happen.

And now, nine years later, I hear about the plans to build a mosque near that site where so much tragedy occurred. I hear that it is a sign of the good will of Islam, to honor the dead. Yet I look to their holy book and their beliefs and I wonder whom of the fallen they intend to honor with such a building.

I learned that the project is named Córdoba. I think of that word, knowing I've heard it before. I think and search and find that there is another Córdoba. This other Cordoba is much older and it is located in Spain. It too is a mosque. It was once a church of the Christian Visigoths, but when Islam spread to that region, it was bought, then work started. It was reworked over two centuries into the Great Mosque of Córdoba. It is a common religious act, not just Islamic but Christian as well, to build a center of worship upon conquered lands. To show the local inhabitants that, while they may retain their churches or synagogues (as was the practice then if the land was acquired peacefully), it was now to be known as Islamic territory. The mosque at Córdoba was such a monument. It told the world that Spain was now under the rule of Islam. Times and powers changed, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain retook the site. They placed Santiago de Compostela’s captured cathedral bells atop Córdoba and re-christened it a Christian Chapel.

Like the Spanish Córdoba, the new proposed mosque, if built at this site, will be a sign of conquered lands. The politicians, afraid of being called bigots or racists or Islamaphobes, allow for the mosque to be built. Do they know the symbolism of such a structure? Perhaps, I'm sure one of their aids could bring them the information if they asked for it. But they know if they vote against it, it will be bad PR for them, less votes later on.

Am I saying that no mosques should be built? No, though I wouldn't mind if another were not constructed, just as I wouldn't mind not seeing another church or temple or synagogue being raised. As I see all of them belonging to false beliefs. What I am saying is that to build a mosque a few feet from the very site that Islam was used to massacre so many is not a way to honor the victims. It is a monument exclaiming that Islam will be spread no matter the cost in innocent lives.

I am sure there will be some that will claim that I am simply being intolerant of someone else's culture, just as those politicians would have been accused had they voted against this structure. But I am not against a culture. I am against the idea that religion should get a free ride from society. I am against seeing a monument that would resound with the very ideology that caused so much bloodshed, so many tears, so many broken lives. I cannot, in good conscious, support the building of the very symbol that twisted so many minds into a hatred against innocent lives. A hatred that drove people to kill, all for a god who will not answer their prayers or save their lives or bring them peace. This cannot be done.
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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Wicked Witch of the Preschool. A Parousia

The comments on the previous post about child witches brought up how the situation relies on certain biblical text. While I agree with this observation I would like to look deeper into it. I believe that, in this situation, the bible is not the source of the atrocities, but just a tool used by missionaries. That it is more an accelerant tossed on an already burning fire and the people who are throwing around this incendiary are doing so for their own gain and know full well what they are doing and why.

While I certainly agree that the bible has had quite a large influence on the most recent trend of child witch accusations we are seeing and is being used as a prime tool by these con artists to gain money in any way they can. I think that this issue goes much deeper then just the bible. The concept of child witches and other superstitions is nothing new to most African cultures. There has been evidence of this fear in most regions in even the oldest legends and tribal stories.

Had such African tribal lore not contained such a plethora of stories of witchcraft and, more specifically, the power of child witches, then the missionaries would have simply latched on to another fear inducing myth that just happened to bear a slight resemblance to some Christian belief or story.

But African myth does hold numerous stories and beliefs of child witchcraft. The common theme amongst these various legends and myths is that a child has quite a lot of power as their mind is new, open and free to be used. Used by, in many myths, any god or demon or spirit that wishes to attach itself to such a mind. Such legends include the belief that twins have immense power and if they remain together they can do much good, or great evil. That the relatively common birth abnormality of syndactyly, or webbed toes, is interpreted as the child having killed its twin in the womb and stole its power. Another persistent myth is that child witches can be 'penis snatchers', that is, they are said to shrink or steal the penis from a man in the night to gain its power, as, in many cultures, the phallus is seen as a thing of power. In fact, it has not been uncommon for a man, if he finds himself unable to 'perform' sexually for whatever reason, to blame it on a penis snatcher. When this accusation is made, it is not uncommon for there to be a literal witch hunt to find a child to be used as a scapegoat for the man's incontinence.

What we are seeing now is just Christian missionaries seeing a local legend and claiming that it also falls under the doctrine of their religion. This way, the regions inhabitants will easily buy into what the missionaries are selling, as they are already familiar with it and have grown up believing it. The people who espouse this disgusting concept are doing so only to profit for themselves. The more flagrant the stories and sermons, the more people will listen and the more money they will bring. There are so many different missionaries that it has become competitive to see who can get the largest congregation. And they've found the best way is by stirring up the most hatred and fear. It is just another example of Christians using any means possible to win over 'souls' and gain money and glory for their deity. Of the ends justifying the means.

This recent influx of missionaries into Africa and the using of old myths has just been a potential launching ground to spread their tendrils of hatred and greed into fresh minds and is in not a new tactic in the least. It is no different then how Christianity adopted whatever the local culture had to offer in any other situation that it wanted to spread into, such as its take over of the 'pagan' festivals of Easter and what would be come known as Christmas and symbols like the Celtic Cross. Fear is quite the motivating factor to get people to your side, especially if it is an old fear that everyone in a society already has known about in one fashion or another.

That these people who claim to represent a just and loving god are actively seeking to use fear, hatred, blood, and tears for their own personal gain and satisfaction is one of the more disdainful and reprehensible parts of the whole situation.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Wicked Witch of the Preschool

There has been much written recently about the lunacy that is the accusations of child witches throughout Africa (well much written by the atheosphere at least). Recently one of these 'witch hunters' came back to the US to talk to American church congregations. Her name is Helen Ukpabio and at a Houston church she talked about the 'good' she was doing. In Nigeria, her home country, she has been going around telling people of the dangers of child witches. She espouses such idiocy as "if a child under the age of 2 screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan." Wait...so if a young child is sick and in pain...that means they have the devil in them? Unless I'm mistaken, wasn't there some talk a while back about this germ theory of disease?

What is sad is that people over here in America are just eating it up as if she is doing some good. After all, there have been many missionaries from the states to parts of Africa who have fueled other such child witch hunts. I just have to ask how deluded does a person have to be to think that convincing families to abandon, torture and kill their own children and then get all the neighbors in on it is a good thing. When people do stand up to her and call her out on the atrocities she is enacting, she waves the criticism of by saying that it simply doesn't happen. Despite the fact that people have video and photo documentation of these events and recorded statements by the families who have abused or killed or allowed for the abuse or killing of their own children. When pushed to answer for this she simply answers that the reason she knows that it doesn't happen is "because I am an African!" and "family ties are too strong to have a child on the street.” Thankfully because of international outrage at such events, the Nigerian government has enacted laws against anything that fuels the hunt for child witches. What might be Helen Ukpabio response to these laws? Well, she has decided to sue the government for infringing on her freedom of religion. I'll wait now for the the readers to finish with the requisite facepalm.

Thankfully more and more people are seeing Ukpabio's actions for what they are, money scams. Religion is big money in Africa. Even though the continent is wracked by poverty, people will put what little money they have at the feet of people promising salvation and religious answers to their problems. The populous is already used to accepting superstition as is seen in any region with a low education rate. So the spread of religious superstition is only natural. Missionaries have found that the more they grandstand, the more horrible and aggressive their message, the larger their congregation will be. With larger congregations comes more money. It is all about competition for the most money in an environment where churches and roving preachers are popping at every turn. Fear sells and in the game of religion the most terrifying talk and proselytisations are the most successful social parasites. This is exactly what they are, parasites, draining the poor of what little funds they have and only doing harm in return. There is no mutualism in this relationship, it is strictly about who can take the most.

But as long as religion is given a special place and people flock to it out of fear and ignorance, such atrocities as burning children alive, burying the beaten but still breathing, the maiming with knifes and acid, or just the simple abandonment of children onto the uncaring streets will continue to be commonplace. Only when enough people, freethinkers and theists alike, stand up to the voices of unreason and fear mongering can we even begin to hope to live in a world where such vile people as Helen Ukpabio are not only ignored by the masses but receive a retaliatory volley in response to their venomous lies.
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Friday, June 4, 2010

The Dragon is in orbit

19:30 UT: Space X successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket with the qualifying version of their Dragon capsule (which, in the real version, will be manned). Not only was Space X the first independent company to design their own solid state rocket without a government contract and successfully launch it, they are no...w the first independent company to have a proven rocket system for manned space flight. Welcome to the beginning of independent space exploration and competitive development. For too long we have turned our gaze away from the stars. Now it is time to take hold of our evolutionary future and step into the great void that has overseen our birth, our trials, our falls, our triumphs. It is time to take our next great step out into this glorious universe of ours.
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