New neighbors

It’s funny – a few weeks ago I had something like four or five ideas about posts, all having to do with religion, and no other topics coming to mind, nor was any other blog providing inspiration. I try to rotate and break up topics so I don’t appear obsessively obsessive, so I struggled with splitting them up and finding other things to insert between. Now, I have four nature-themed posts that I could put up right now. Where were these when I needed them? If this isn’t proof that there’s no god, I don’t know what is.

Yes, I called this pic "Tits n' ass" - wouldn't you?

In that time before when I needed other subjects, I had been observing the antics of a tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor,) only it was a pair of them so it’s titmice. There are those who will disagree – they’re wrong. Language is not governed by rules, by the way, it’s a method of communication. All words are made up. While titmouse has nothing to do with mouse, every other usage of mouse is pluralized mice, and everyone knows exactly what I mean when I say titmice, so there’s no point in actually trying to figure out whether there is some other form of “proper” plural. If this is the way one has to display their higher intelligence, they have issues all their own. Save this post to link them to if you like. Or ask them what they’re doing about global warming – that works too.

[No, I’m not paid by the word] Titmice tend to be very subtle, not drawing attention to themselves with song and ostentatious displays (unlike Carolina wrens for instance,) but I did notice that they were interested in a hollow of the hickory tree in the yard. I’d peeked in there a few times when they weren’t around, but saw nothing of interest – I guess I wasn’t looking close enough. Just a few days ago, another peek revealed significant changes.

There are four in there – you can just see the corner of the fourth beak at lower left – and they keep mom and dad busy, going back and forth with insects. The young had remained silent at first, but in the past couple of days they have taken to cheeping when they feel food is imminent, and can frequently be heard any time I’m in the yard. The parents have a fairly set pattern of behavior, arriving nearby and scouting the area for danger before going into the nest cavity, and they have distinctive patterns.

The male will often perch on a branch in plain sight, and if the female is around, may chatter excitedly, though he is much quieter when alone. He often works towards the nest in stages, checking the area for danger so he doesn’t lead predators towards the nest. The female, on the other hand, stops on different branches, often in another tree, and remains deeper in the foliage, trying to stay hidden, and will disappear into the nest faster. The male often peeks out to check the environment, as seen below, but the female sticks right to the feeding business and thus spends about half as much time in the nest. Both will grab the drops of poop, that the young produce in huge quantities at this stage, and carry them out of the nest to deposit elsewhere – this is very common behavior among birds, and the neonates’ feces tends to be encapsulated in gelatinous “saliva” for just this purpose. Otherwise, they would be at the top of a mountain by the time they grow out their flight feathers…

I have been hampered in photographing them by three factors. The first is, the nest cavity is small and narrow, and while conveniently close to the ground, it’s hard to even aim the lens into. Second, the cavity remains in deep shade nearly all day long, dropping the light levels significantly even on a sunny day. And finally, titmice very active birds, constantly in motion, and this doesn’t combine with low light very well – to get a decent exposure, the shutter has to be slower, and this results in blurring if there’s the slightest movement from the bird at the time I trip the shutter.

However, I’m experimenting with several techniques, and will be back with followups, especially when the young fledge. I have been sitting nearby with the camera several times now, and the parents are fine with this as long as I’m a certain distance and remain relatively still. I have also augmented my light with both camera flash (only good for short distances) and a studio strobe, which works pretty well. The studio strobe can be triggered in slave function, which means it goes off when it detects the flash from another source, such as an on-camera unit, so I don’t need PC cords or radio syncs. Being in the backyard means I can power the strobe with an extension cord. I may even try to mount the camera higher in the tree, aiming downward into the nest cavity, and trigger it by remote cable or even infrared, both of which I use on occasion. I have to hand it to Canon – most of their cameras have inexpensive IR remote units, providing the ability to trigger the camera from moderate distances, provided you have a line-of-sight towards the front of the camera. I have also modified the wired releases, which are electronic, to utilize common stereo headphone extension cables available for only a few dollars. So as time goes on, I may feature both the birds and the successful techniques in photographing them. This is what’s known as a teaser, to keep you coming back to the blog – I’m not above such blatant manipulation. Worse, though, is I’m doing it for free, for some reason. Possibly because it doesn’t pay anyway – that might be it.

Rewriting history

Ah, Ronald Reagan! The guy that ended the Cold War, that brought the Iranian hostages home, that brought America back to world respect, that…

Wait a second… who?!

From someone who came of voting age during his administration, I’ve been dumbfounded at the accolades that Reagan receives nowadays. It was abundantly clear, right from the moment an aircraft carrier was named after him, that someone seems to be trying to create a legacy that never existed. And because most Americans get their history knowledge from sound bites and opinions it seems, it’s working to some extent.

Continue reading “Rewriting history”

Just pics



Nothing elaborate to say (for once,) just some pics from yesterday. I really liked the effect above – just the right light levels, I think. When I was a tiny little blogger, I used to be scared of jumping spiders, because of their menacing hairy appearance, near total fearlessness, and my mistaken belief that they were black widows (children get to hear the stories of horrendous reputations long before they get the facts, much less the photos.) Now, I happen to like them more than any other spider genus, for almost the exact same reasons. People that don’t like spiders get to watch me coax them onto my hand – I do have my fun sometimes.

At right, a very young praying mantis, no more than 15mm long, poses on my salvia plant. I was hoping it would decide to stay there, since it would be nice to watch it grow larger and it should be able to obtain plenty of food, but since this photo I haven’t seen it again. This isn’t much of a loss, since the nearby pampas grass usually hosts one or two each year.

And below, a snail makes its hazardous way between leaves, ignoring the precipitous drop beneath promising certain death – well, probably not; maybe certain bounce. It occurs to me that I have no way of identifying an anxious snail, except for “withdrawn.” But that could just mean it’s tired…

Boo!

I’m of mixed feelings about this. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is now featuring a page where you can create your own “billboard,” much like the ones going up in various locations around the country espousing secularism. Upload your own pic and include your own sentiment to get your own billboard/banner, and who knows? You might even get chosen to be featured on a real billboard someplace! I went ahead and made mine, though nearby Raleigh already has a selection, I’m happy to say.

If you want to make your own, just go here – it’s quite simple. And to view those that have already been made, click here. Which I’d recommend, because I’m going to talk about them a little bit ;-)

The reason I say I’m of mixed feelings is mostly because I was never “in the closet” in the first place. No, I have no issues with the parallel with homosexuality – I couldn’t care less who thinks I might be gay, and the people that count know me well enough already. But once I came down firmly on the aspect of atheism, I was never really concerned who knew it. I am, perhaps, more open about it on the blog here than in “real” life, because this is where I examine thoughts – I don’t hunt people down on the street and accost them, or parade around in my atheist or Darwin T-shirt – I don’t even own any. It’s a personal decision, and I’m more proud of it than, say, liking Duran Duran, but I don’t need recognition for it.

That’s not really the point, though. What’s intended with this is to remove the stigma of atheism in the first place, making it just another facet of life, rather than some kind of perversion (as many religious folk make it out to be.) Errruummmuuuhhh, yeah, okay, I’m cool with the idea that anyone should be accepted for who they are, and if it takes special effort to make people comfortable with this, sure. Alternately, I draw the line at turning it into a “fad” or encouraging it because that’s what other people do, you know what I mean? If it works for you, good! If it doesn’t, no problem!

My issues with religion, aside from the fact that it’s simply evidence of rotten decision-making, are that it spends much more of its time dictating how everyone should be, rather than simply providing something to the individual. It’s not a matter of “Hey, check this out, you might like it” – it’s far more, “Be this way or you’ll face retribution!” Not to mention the arrogant attempts to instill such lovely processes in schools and government where it really isn’t needed, and to repress science because nature doesn’t support mythologies.

That’s what I want people to notice. Take a look at the sentiments displayed on those billboards. Tell me how often you see any variation of “Join us,” “You’re right if you’re this way,” or “You’ll be sorry you didn’t listen.” Hemant Mehta’s is about the worst I’ve seen, and if you want to take that seriously, fine – it’s not much of a threat, and some of us have a sense of humor.

That’s one of the more interesting distinctions, I think. Appeals to religion, while certainly including some pleasant and friendly aspects, are never free of the threats or compulsions, some of which are quite open (one of my favorites being “Don’t make me come down there” signed by “god” on billboards I saw in Florida.) Many of the campaign billboards, my own included, might be viewed as smug if someone is so inclined, but compare this to the idea of someone claiming that they’re “saved.” It’s really hard to think that “I started thinking rationally,” is equivalent in any way to “I’m going to paradise and you aren’t.” Even the simple statement, “I’ll pray for you” has considerable undertones of condescension, caste, and hubris. Wow, gee thanks! I’m glad I have someone with clout acting on my behalf! That is, of course, if you’re not just doing it to win points for your own salvation…

After such incredibly manipulative and horrendous practices like classifying people as ultimately “good” or “bad” and promising eternal torment and such if they don’t kowtow properly (this is usually called “extortion”), many religious people then have the temerity to whine that they’re being persecuted when their belief system is criticized and logically dismantled. We’re already seeing plenty of it with the billboards that are on public display now. Oh deary me, another opinion! Right out here in the open where children can see it on their way to indoctrination! I’m not being respected!

There’s a difference between someone being attacked, even verbally, and their views being examined critically. It’s relatively easy to disagree with someone and not think this makes them bad or degenerate – at least, it is for most people. But there are those who follow their religion, not because it makes sense, not because it fulfills some “spiritual void” (you gotta love new age blather,) but because it simply means “good” and they hasten to stand on that side of the line. Question it, and you’re taking away their coin-toss mentality, blurring the very line they chose, and they’ll be damned if that’s going to happen. (Are you paying attention when I rip off these little zingers? Because I’m proud of them, but I don’t want them wasted…)

It’s worth remembering that, just because someone complains, doesn’t mean they have a legitimate reason to – the Republican party in this country is ample evidence of that. Some people are incapable of dealing with the details of any matter, and when that’s the case, the grownup table isn’t for them. It’s still possible to engage them, and let’s face it, they still have adult responsibilities like voting and pressuring school boards, so it can be worth it. But it requires a certain approach, and the recognition that it’s called for.

In part, that’s one of the useful aspects of efforts like this billboard campaign. It stirs up the status quo and highlights those who aren’t very good at thinking critically, where such can now be addressed. And yes, sometimes that will be with derision. Very few people really have an issue with derision or tone, in all honesty – they just feel it should be applied in different directions (like in calling atheism “immoral” and homosexuality a “sin”). But you’ll notice, one of the most prevalent themes on those billboards is how nothing is free from skepticism or examination. It’s hard to rationally argue against that.

The lucky ones


Through both Ophelia Benson and Jerry Coyne this morning, I found out that the mother eagle we’ve been watching raise her brood on the EagleCam at Norfolk Botanical Garden, collided with a plane and was killed yesterday morning. The father is still around, but three is a large brood for eagles, and usually both parents are kept busy cycling the food to the rapidly growing youngsters.

In light of this, wildlife biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and the US Department of Fish & Wildlife elected to remove the young from the nest and transport them to the Wildlife Center of Virginia to be raised by wildlife rehabilitators for later release. If left alone, the likelihood of the single parent keeping adequate food flowing would be very low, and developmental problems, including fratricide among the siblings, becomes very likely. So this morning, they removed the eaglets from the nest, and I captured several clips from the webcam with screen-capture software and put them up on YouTube:

[Note that when I originally edited the video, I thought the mother had been killed the same morning as the removal, but this was incorrect; it was the previous morning.]

I’ve been to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, and it’s a great place, very progressive and exceptionally organized, unlike some wildlife efforts I’ve seen (and very unlike the one I was employed by.) They have a sophisticated hospital, and instruct veterinarians and local rehabilitators in the practice of effective wildlife rehabilitation – it’s one of the few places with a teaching hospital. Were it not four hours away, I’d be aiming to do more work with them.

I titled this “The lucky ones” because most nests that suffer from the loss of a parent simply would not survive, and this happens constantly where we remain unaware of it. Because of the webcam, as well as the accessibility of the nest, these young eagles got another chance – the vast majority (within any species) would not have. The transportation is traumatic, no doubt, and there are still chances for developmental problems and illnesses, but these guys are much better off no matter how you look at it. Accidents happen, and indeed, this particular female lost a previous mate to another aircraft collision a few years ago. Life is a struggle, but sometimes we can help out a bit, too.

Most wildlife rehabilitation efforts throughout the US are non-profit organizations or individuals, not financed in the slightest by local, state, or federal funds. They can always use your help, so take a moment to drop a donation to the center nearest you, and help raise awareness of wildlife issues at the same time. We’re a big species, we can spare some moola and time.

Denihilism

Humans are a really odd species – there’s just no getting around this. Maybe it’s a credit to us that we’re actually starting to recognize this, or maybe it’s a symptom of our condition that it’s taking us so long. It’s really easy to devolve into some kind of internal philosophical debate over that, but it’s pretty pointless.

What makes me say this, though, are the peculiar traits we have assigned to ourselves, and our irrational way of looking at things. We have an obvious view of ourselves as a higher species, and even those people that routinely study animal behavior and relative intelligence (however you want to define that) agree with this assessment. We use tools, far apart from any other species; we deal with abstracts, far apart from what we suspect of any other species; we alter our environment and culture, far apart from any other species. I was careful to choose the word “apart from” there, instead of something like “above,” because I’m not really sure we can consider these as traits that will distinguish us in a positive manner. While most species are remarkably efficient about the whole survival aspect, we wander away from that into realms that we rarely see from any others, and that seem none too useful. We’re more concerned with entertainment than survival, which is a pretty peculiar trait to assign to a “higher” organism. How many species can you name where individuals kill themselves off while thrillseeking, showing off, or overreaching the limits of their endurance, much less playing with their cellular toys while driving?

Even more interesting, however, are our thought processes. I commented earlier about the aspect of philosophical thought that has us believing that our minds can transcend our mere bodies in puzzling out the nature of the universe – we will figure things out, whether by logical debate or by empirical observation. And while this seems to be a great drive and is responsible for most of what we consider “advances” (at least the empirical part – the logical debate part is still up for grabs,) try applying such an attitude to any other species. The rabbit possesses the ability to fathom the nature of the universe, or perhaps the elephant does. Right away, we scoff at such ideas – neither can even figure out astronomy or oceanography, medicine or electricity. Nice measuring sticks, perhaps, but only from our own perspective, and it seems rather presumptuous to make any claim that humans leap infinitely ahead of such intellects and are not limited by senses or brain complexity. Can we really say that we’re that different?

More frightening, however, is a trait I can only despise and loathe: wishful thinking. And by this I mean, believing that our reality is made up only of those things that we prefer, that emotionally satisfy us. I am fond of saying that I hate the term “truth,” because it is abused beyond all reason and most often best defined as, “that which pleases me.” If you doubt this, pay close attention to the circumstances in which it is used, and most especially when someone claims to be in search of it. It is almost never a case where someone seeks supportable facts, things that work the same for everyone regardless of perspective (such as gravity, thermodynamics, inertia, and so on.) Instead, it is an emotional concept – “truth” is something that validates them as an individual, more than mere facts or demonstrable reality.

You will never find someone arguing that Ultimate Truth™ is a universe defined only by laws of physics, or that the true nature of life is a curious collection of chemical processes – even though both of these are the only thing that we really have evidence of. Instead, we have “souls” that are much, much better than our icky weak bodies, making us exist beyond the frumpy physical realm. We have consciousness which can often go visiting other places and occasionally connect with other metaphysical concepts. And we have spirituality, a connection and/or communication with other realms of existence that cannot be defined or encountered with our silly little mortal senses, yet exist only “the right attitude” away.

In fact, scientists frequently get into trouble when they cannot support these marvelous states of being; treated with derision and condescension when they find no evidence of things that people know must exist. Meticulous tests and years of study are no match for hunches and intuition, often from someone who believes they can read souls through eyes and such. It is frightening, and quite frankly disappointing, that so many of our decisions are made more on the basis of emotional appeal than rational examination of evidence. It’s very hard to call this “higher intellect.”

Look at the peculiar elevation of terms like “belief” and “faith,” and not just in terms of religion. Both of them are remarkably corrupt arguments, especially when “belief” is defined as different from things we can demonstrate – “I believe in love at first sight.” We gamble and buy lottery tickets, often based on some concept that we can “feel” the payoff, that we can detect a confluence of factors which will result in a winning situation, even though it’s obvious that we just really want a lot more money. We have “lucky” items, usually pocketable (very helpful set of conditions, that – imagine a “lucky tree”), and engage in rituals to ensure benefit, like wearing sports logos. We worry about “jinxing” ourselves by vocalizing wishes for good luck, so much so that we have alternate cultural phrases to thwart the superstitions, such as, “break a leg.”

I am perhaps being too hard on us. Some of these things come from evolved traits: we seek patterns, because they help us not only recognize danger, but also puzzle out useful things like plant growth and animal habits, very basic survival instincts. We have a sense of community, maintaining cohesion to reap the benefits of group efforts. Even intuition is often our subconscious impinging on our decision-making, picking up subtle cues about another’s behavior that potentially spell trouble. These things are all useful, and almost certainly evolved into us over time because they worked well (this is a very difficult thing to prove right now, at least until we identify the brain structures that influence behavior.)

At the same time, we also have the rational portions of our thought processes, the part where we can compare factors and weigh probabilities, arriving at actions or decisions that provide the most benefit. That’s an evolved trait too, and usually the very part that we consider the key difference in humans, what sets us apart from other, more instinctual species.

Both of these have their own benefits, but they must work together – relying solely on either one is less advantageous than the combination. It must be recognized that what evolution produces isn’t necessarily the best organism for any particular goal or concept, but only a selection of the traits that work best from what’s available at hand, dictated by genetic mutation and combination, guided by environmental demands. This means that the traits possessed by any species, humans included, might be very good, but are probably far from ideal. You can build a car from parts in a junkyard and it may function quite acceptably, but you would achieve better results if you machined each part according to function. Nature doesn’t have this option. So what we have, what every species has, is a collection of used, modified parts that function acceptably, but not ideally. And our brains are one of those parts.

We may want something to be true very badly. We may really like it if something that we imagine were actually a reality. These emotions are very good to have when they encourage us to work towards a goal, such as improving medicine or education. But allowing such emotions to take precedent over rational consideration ruins the combined functions that make us what we are. And it’s weak, pathetic really – “I want this to be true, therefore I’m simply going to believe that it’s true, in the face of evidence.” In some circumstances, we consider this delusion and denial, but in reality, we fall for this all of the time. How many people do you know that fell in love, not over the traits their partner possessed, but over the traits they wanted their partner to possess? Do we elect politicians based on their records, or on their rhetoric and personalities, or even on their party affiliations? Is there any reason whatsoever to believe that crystals channel powers, or that we’ll arrive at our destinations later if we use the “slow lane” until we actually need to pass someone?

Then we have the hedging, the people who recognize that denying reality is a bad thing, but still want their Happyland. So they try to find ways to dodge around the facts, and create special circumstances, a “reality” that we haven’t discovered yet (but that they, somehow, know exists.) The various gods changed in nature as we progressed in our knowledge, going from living on islands and mountaintops, dueling with mortals on a regular basis, to existing in a realm both undefined and permeating our known dimensions, having to always remain just beyond our reach. Homeopathy relies on the “memory” of water molecules, activated by shaking (no, seriously,) blithely dodging the fact that we’ve been using the same water molecules for billions of years – I guess they forget after a while. Visiting aliens have to overcome countless obstacles in physics just to get here, but then have to abduct living beings to find out how we work (you’d think abducting an anatomy textbook might be a bit easier.)

If you want to see great examples, an article at New Statesman asked several prominent figures about their religious beliefs. You’ll notice that evidence is not exactly running high on the list, and the rational explanations, while present in some cases, still rely on unsupported assumptions. But note how many variations of, “because I like the idea of religion” there are (Jerry Coyne has a nice review of this article at Why Evolution is True, if you want to see how it all breaks down.) Isn’t it funny how the “reasoning” for religious belief is different for anyone you ask? Can you imagine how confusing school would be if biology were explained so variably, or inertia was different things to different people?

Bringing up things like this makes people very defensive. One may get accused of “taking away the magic” and destroying something that people wanted or needed, and that “wasn’t doing any harm.” But elevating a personal desire to the level of fact is incredibly indulgent, and yes, it does indeed do harm. We have a tremendous amount of difficulty in this country right now from the idea that evolution, supported by thousands of facts and 150 years of research, expansion, and refinement, is treated less seriously than the scriptural idea of all animals being created in their present form (originally all herbivores in a garden of paradise, yet.) Hundreds of thousands of people believe that vaccinations cause autism, and are willing to openly ignore the studies, scientists, and doctors that tell them that this is nonsense (moreover, that the original study that raised the very idea in the first place is a well-known, and long-discredited, scam.) Millions of dollars each year are spent on miracle cures, herbal remedies, and performance enhancements such as rubber bands. Hell, millions of people believe that they’re resistant to alcohol (which begs the question of why they even consume it in the first place.) When people decry the loss of the “magic,” do they ever realize that they must never have had it in the first place? That the “loss” is only of their ignorance and delusion? How can someone destroy “magic” with words?

When someone complains that the testable, evidence-based view of life and our universe has no “meaning,” this is telling in itself. As I pointed out before, finding no god or mysticism when we examine the universe doesn’t suddenly make them stop existing; it means they never did – even when someone was perfectly happy with their “meaning” before they found out. The loss is only of their attitude, which is ludicrous – life was somehow better when they were naïve? But that’s the childish message that comes out. Even worse, many people will still deny the weight of evidence, presumably with the idea that they can vote for the reality they prefer. Isn’t that special?

The natural, scientific, empirical world is not empty and devoid of meaning or wonder – it’s actually brimming with those, full of fascinating aspects that we are constantly in the process of discovering. Science magazines have more “news” than all other types of publication, which tend to have the same stories of people doing stupid things over and over again. When someone whines about the loss of their magic, they’re really whimpering that their emotional desires are not being indulged – but that’s life. And in fact, the scientific method that we use to such great benefit recognizes this very concept of emotional desire and how damaging it is; double-blind tests, comparison controls, and peer-review are all processes to reduce the bias that can be introduced from wanting to see a particular result. Researchers are human too.

Wanting things is fine. But convincing ourselves that such desires actually affect reality is not only delusional and irrational, it corrupts the very benefits that desire provides, because we stop seeking it if we convince ourselves that we already have it. Selecting a worldview based on desire instead of reality is both pathetic and frightening, not exactly something to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the future of the human race. Our minds are great things, but only when used effectively – we can be fooled too easily, most especially by ourselves. The idea that we can fathom the True Nature of things with just philosophy fell flat when faced with subjects like microorganisms, relativity, electromagnetism – really, a hell of a lot of things that we now use routinely. We needed to observe carefully to puzzle these out, experimenting and actually throwing failure scenarios in the path, backing up our ideas with physical, measurable evidence. Our minds worked to figure these out only when we stopped trusting in the mind to be infallible and majestic. We have flaws, and the prime step in dealing with them is recognizing them in the first place.

If we find the real world to be disappointing, that’s our failure, not reality’s. We’re the only species that seems to have the faintest issue with this at all. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Easter quiz!

It’s okay, you’re not being graded on how well you’ve been paying attention. Just give this a shot, then pass it along to your christian friends who spent this morning in church.

8. When/Where did Jesus ascend back to heaven?

a. Jesus returns to heaven on the same day he arose, right after dinner, from a room in Jerusalem.
b. We don’t know exactly, but it’s at least 8 days after the resurrection, when the despondent apostles have gone back to being fishermen on the sea of Tiberias.
c. After his resurrection, Jesus spends at least 40 days of teaching his disciples in Jerusalem before ascending to heaven from the Mt. of Olives.
d. Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven; he met his disciples in the mountains of Galilee and told them he would be with them always.
e. We don’t really know; Luke is the only gospel writer who actually mentions the ascension.

Thanks to David Fitzgerald for the quiz, Phil Ferguson at SkepticMoney for hosting it, and Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist for the linkage.

Happy birthday Earth!

Isn’t that what “Earth Day” means? Nobody seems to know exactly what year we’re celebrating (some say 4,542,368,926, some say 4,542,368,933 – I mean, c’mon, scientists!) and I’ve always wondered how they figured out what day the Earth was formed anyway. It coalesced out of the accretion disk, a cloud of dust and rocky debris, so when is it “done”?


But anyway, I’ll just make this brief post to urge you to go outside for at least a little while today, and pay attention to the non-concrete-and-asphalt bits around you. Sure, you should make the effort to be green, and that’s fine, but this isn’t about scolding – it’s simply about recognizing the interesting functions of the world that go on without our intervention or influence. We can be awfully self-centered as a species, so much so that it takes extra effort to see what else is going on – silly but true. So go out, and listen to the birdsong, and try to figure out what function it’s performing. Look at the leaves and flowers and see how they unfold from the base where the nutrients come from, or how they capture water. Watch an insect run right smack into a wall and realize that they treat flight differently than other species.

And if you miss your chance today, then do it tomorrow instead – it’s not like there’s only one day a year where this is allowed or encouraged. I’ll be back with any interesting things that I’ve captured or observed, later on.

My apologies, again

If you’ve been trying to access the blog in the past few hours and were running into issues, it’s all my doing. I’ve been trying to get through a list of upgrades, and it means lots of trials, shutting things off and back on, and so on.

The up side is, there’s a few more options available, some of which I’ve implemented. The down side is, I’m not done yet, but this is probably as far as I go tonight.

While I like the Atahualpa WordPress theme, the initial install was an old version that didn’t upgrade to the latest without major errors, so I left it alone for a while. I finally walked it through several versions tonight, but it’s stalled again at 3.6+; there are known issues, but so far the remedies haven’t worked for me.

Anyway, it’s better, but not current. I apologize for any issues you may have had.

Full of sound and fury

In these times when banks demonstrated that they couldn’t be trusted with the enormous responsibility that they were given, leading to economic horror stories and an unstable job market, it’s refreshing to see our administration putting a lot of effort into actions that can only improve our situation.

I’m talking, of course, about Ten Commandments Weekend and the push to have plaques with the commandments installed on courthouse or state capitol properties across the nation. And here, I thought a national day of prayer couldn’t possibly be topped for positive action.

Oh, no, you’re thinking. Here’s goes another atheist off on a rant about some benign christian activities. But you’re wrong – I actually approve of the actions. You see, if anyone is brain-damaged enough to think that this is functional in some way, and if the populace is childish enough to vote for anyone like that, these things are good to know. It’s like when they put “Student Driver” on the backs of cars – it’s just that extra little bit of warning, you know?

The idea behind this, or so it’s claimed, is that the ten commandments are the cornerstone of our laws and morals, and so we need to be, um, reminded of what they are, I guess, because a knowledge of the specific laws (that everyone manages just fine) isn’t enough. We need to know just where they came from, so we thank christians (or is it jews?) for their input in making us safe. I think.

To be honest, I really don’t know why this is being promoted, because it sends a very distinct message that people are total fucking morons. A quick perusal of the ten commandments (any version you prefer because, as has been noted countless times now, there are several versions in the same damn collection of scripture) will show that their usefulness is about on a par with looking both ways before you cross the street and not swimming for an hour after eating. Some of them are useful (don’t kill, don’t steal) but do we really need to be reminded of these? It seems kind of ignorant to think that we needed these to create laws when chimpanzees and wolves have much the same social structure, you know? And then others are simply superfluous. “Honor they father and mother” – do we actually have any laws based on this? Are there laws that specifically denote “father” and “mother” in any kind of special way, so that you’re in violation if you’re not honoring them? And what exactly constitutes “honor”?

[A quick note: you did notice that “Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t specify humans, didn’t you? That leaves rocks and dirt for food, provided you carefully sweep off the microorganisms first. Just a reminder.]

George Carlin pointed out long ago that coveting your neighbor’s wife or property is not exactly enforceable, since they’re “thought crimes” and if you find that your neighbor’s wife is hot (husbands are not mentioned, because gender bias is something god approves of,) a plaque in the courthouse foyer isn’t going to correct that in any way – unless, perhaps, she works in the courthouse. You’d think god would have figured this one out. But worse, coveting property is what actually motivates us to improve; we pay for houses, cars, and so on by working harder and earning more money. They’re the neighbor’s possessions until we pay for them, aren’t they? And in most cases we actually need them, even if we don’t need them to be as elaborate as they might be. These are just vague and misdirected commandments, really.

The first few are the most amusing, however. “I am god,” yeah, fine, too bad you always manage to speak through proxies, mister omnipotent. “Don’t pay attention to those other gods” – wait, what other gods? Am I the only one to notice that this says either that there are more than just the one, or that it’s really easy to mistake something else for a god? Again, you’d think telling a real god apart should be rather easy, but I guess not, so I suppose we should always ask for ID. And let’s not forget, “Don’t take my name in vain.” Now, as far as I’m concerned, you can do any damn thing you want with my name, because seriously, that’s playground shit. But it seems there’s an issue about this when you’re omnipotent. Anyway, it serves the cornerstone of our laws – you can look up the very laws that were influenced by these anytime. Just like keeping the sabbath holy – we need these laws! If people were to work on Sundays (or maybe Saturdays – moses was jewish after all) and cuss, there’d be total chaos! People! Take a stand for morality! And if you lop your hand off on the weekend, just wait for Monday when the hospitals reopen. Ice is cheap for that very reason.

Yes, it’s a damn good thing our representatives and congressmen are fighting to maintain such wonderful standards! We need to know the history of the laws themselves! History is a good thing – we can relive mistakes if we fail to understand the important lessons of history. You know, like theocratic states and allowing religion to dictate government. Oh, wait, I didn’t just remind everyone that government itself isn’t religious (there’s this little thing about taking oaths to that very effect as they assume office) and that we’re supposed to be open to any and all religions as part of the guaranteed freedoms – did I?

So, yeah, I’m very much in favor of any representative, congressman, senator, mayor, or ombudsman who parades their abject ignorance so publicly. It makes it much easier to tell them apart come election time. I even pay attention to how much public support such things have, because it’s far easier than trying to administer IQ tests to the populace, and less time-consuming than putting a box of rocks in front of them and seeing if they can outsmart it.

But maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Perhaps those nice upstanding politicians recognize that religion is waning in this country, and are taking steps to counteract this. We all know that, a few hundred years ago when religion was omnipresent and many countries were governed by holy authority, there was no crime at all. Thing were much better then, especially when you could burn the witches and ward off demonic possession with blessings and holy water. When the churches helped most people through the eye of the needle and into heaven by relieving them of their filthy riches, taking the onus of damnation on themselves by hoarding the wealth of the populace. Ah, good times!

Unlike today, when things are so shitty and armageddon is coming… soon. Any day now, really. It says so right here in the scripture, if you can figure the rebus out. A church on every corner, godly slogans on currency and pledges, illness-survivors and sports figures crediting god for their triumphs, these just aren’t enough to hold back the atheist horde; the US needs plaques! Atheists can’t stand plaques – we can’t cross running water either. This country will get back on a fine moral footing with plaques.

Anyway, it’s not like the members of our government are being funded by the taxpayers to provide specific functions or anything, so who cares what they get up to?

I can imagine someone saying that it’s really all just a ploy by politicians to appear pious and moral and trustworthy, but seriously, can you really buy that? The premise requires people, especially religious people, to be weak-minded enough to find these actions worthwhile and a higher priority than, say, politicians simply doing their jobs. That they believe those particular politicians firmly follow the commandments against lying, stealing, and adultery. There aren’t that many criminally naïve chuckleheads out there, are there?

Naaaah.