Sunday, March 1, 2015

10 Anti Vaccination Contradictions That Baffle Me.

I've been having a lot of conversations and reading a lot of people's viewpoints when it comes to this new anti-vaccination movement in the US.   The same arguments seem to come up each time and I am beginning to get confused by what I am supposed to accept.

Here are some of the contradictions that I keep coming across.  I really don't know what to make of them as I try my best to understand this movement and what the logic of it all is.  I present them for consideration and further conversation:


A) There is a very low chance of getting a deadly or damaging diseases in the US without vaccinations. It is an acceptable risk.

B) There is a very low chance of vaccination causing harm.  It is an unacceptable risk.


A) Unnatural preventions for disease are bad because they don't help you build up natural immunities.

B) The reason we have less diseases in the US is because we prevented it with better sanitation and hygiene.  Not like those disease ridden third world countries who leave it all to natural immunities.


A) Don't give me links to the CDC, The World Health Organization and articles by Doctors. They cannot be trusted because they have ulterior motives and it is all about making money.

B) Let me give you these links to articles by anti vaccine websites sponsored by advertising.  Let me show you this video of a Doctor giving an anti vaccine lecture as a paid speaking engagement.  Have you seen this video by a guy selling an anti vaccine book?


A) It has never been proven with studies that vaccination programs have prevented diseases.

B) I don't believe in vaccinations because I have some anecdotes and some vague numbers I found about harm it causes.


A) We can't trust the data from the CDC about reducing disease.   We can't trust the CDC about what procedures we should follow to lower our risk.

B) Let me show you some data from the CDC that shows that the risk of getting diseases today is lower than the risk of being harmed by vaccination.  I'm telling you it was actually the better sanitation and hygiene standards (the CDC created) that lowered disease.


A) Look at this article showing that Andrew Wakefield was exonerated.

B) I don't care that the same article admits that Wakefield's study never claimed that vaccines lead to autism.


A) The chances of getting a disease in America are very low so I don't need vaccinations.

B) There is no proof that 100 years of vaccination programs in America did anything to make me safer.


A) I'm not putting my family at risk with vaccines.  That would make me a terrible person.

B) If my family puts your family at risk with a contagious disease, don't worry.   It's a natural vaccine.


A) My doctor says that I should vaccinate my kids to prevent diseases but I don't believe him

B) My doctor says gluten may be causing problems and I totally believe him.  My family is now gluten free.


A)   I believe vaccines are bad and nothing you say and no information you provide me is going to make me change my mind.

B) You really need to change your mind about the safety of vaccines.  You are being really stubborn by arguing with me on all 10 of my anti vax Facebook posts.  You are not open minded.  You are no longer my Facebook friend.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Are We Modern or Are We Old Fashioned? Who Decides?

I recently saw a post going around Facebook.  I imagine a lot of people might "like" it as they browsed their Facebook feed:

"10 Old Fashioned Habits We Should Make Cool Again

1) Coming to the door to pick someone up

2) Trying to dress really nice for a date

3) Bringing flowers or other tokens of affection to the first date.

4) Going dancing that's not grinding on a grimy club floor.

5) Straightforwardly asking someone out and not calling it "hanging out"

6) Additionally, being clear about when you're "going steady".

7) Romantic gestures like writing poems.

8) Turning electronics off and just being with one another. 

9)  The general concept of asking permission for things.

10) Not assuming sex is to be had at any point in time."

The first thing I wondered how old fashion it could really be if electronics and grimy clubs with grinding are involved. . .    Then I wondered why only the habits that look like old fashioned dating rituals seemed to matter. . .  Then I got a little worked up about old fashioned dating rituals.  Some of those aren't listed here but they are all very well known rituals, for sure, and I understand the sentiment.  I can even see a few things in that list that should be considered common politeness among all people.  I am all for that.   I just worry that there is a clear historical bias here we should examine.  Despite leaving out the "he" and "she" in that list, there is no mistaking that we are looking at the old fashion expectations of a "gentlemen" which is a term for an old fashioned man who follows old fashioned etiquette.   There were also "ladies" who followed their own old fashioned etiquette that men expected but most of those expectations are not mentioned in the above list.  I'll cover some of those later.

All in all, I think these expectations would be considered relatively harmless by most people.  Fair enough in the small scale.  Lists like this make me wonder about the big picture, though.  Where are we really with "equality" and the "image of women" in society?  It is very common to hear talk about the social damage resulting from the sexualizing of women as objects.  In 1963 Betty Friedan also talked about the danger of "socializing women" as objects.   In her book "The Femanine Mistique" she presented what she believed was a false and damaging premise many women embrace as part of their self identity.  Despite many great strides in our attitudes about women, we don't hear as much about the feminine mystique these days.  It is as if that got put on "the back burner".  What I see today is two very mixed social messages:.  

The first message is that, in public life, women should be seen as equal and independent individuals.  Katy Perry says:  "You're gonna hear me roar!"  There is a very sensible position at the heart of this that modern society we are all intellectual equals and nobody should be special just because of their sex.  Men who wish to be modern and progressive embrace this and they have no fear of women who have ambitions and goals outside of the traditional roles.

The second message however is that, in their personal lives at least, many women seem to expect the opposite.  Modern stories, pop music and lists of "old fashioned habits we should make cool again", suggest it is just good manners to treat women as special, delicate, creatures that deserve treats and gifts and extra efforts from men who want their attention.  Women, in this image,  are fragile pieces of decorative art with delicate sensibilities that cannot possibly handle less than pleasant, pampering surroundings and properly dressed people.  Compare this to the standards men or women have when "hanging out" with members of the same sex (which they don't mind calling it).   There is also a very clear attitude that a man must earn the respect of a woman by making special efforts and demonstrating expendable wealth he might offer as a possible provider.   

Beyonce says: "If you want it then you should have put a ring on it."  This is a very, very, old fashioned social standard of using sex as a bartering tool for marriage.  In it's day it was not the lady bartering it, however.  That period also included all of the standards of behavior that "civilized ladies" must commit to before and after the ring was "on it".  These were things like staying a virgin till the ring arrived, having the ring bearer chosen for them, not voting, being a house wife, allowing the man to lead the dance, allowing the man to drive, being quiet when the man tells them to be quiet, not going out in public without a man, wearing certain clothing and makeup to enhance the man's image in public, etc.   Beyonce doesn't mention those but those are also the expectations that an "old fashion man" would have to go along with all of his other old fashion habits that people say we should "make cool again".  

The progressive man is very confused by this second attitude because he is busy trying to follow ideas of equality, not the belief that one of them is special and the other must defer to it.   To the progressive man, discussions of sex with a woman would be more like the frank discussions I have heard described to me between two gay men.  In those cases there is not a silent bartering arrangement where one person is offering the chance of sex under the right circumstances but they don't admit to offering it and another is trying to earn a sexual relationship that, at the same time, they must also not speak about or expect.

It seems like the old fashioned values that are expected today are clearly one sided and I admit this is still progress.  Many of the social and legal attitudes when it came to women were downright invasive and unfair.    So where did all of this come from?   Lets consider, first, the top 10 list of REALLY old fashioned dating habits.

10 REALLY Old Fashioned Habits We Should Remember Happening

1) He takes the girl he want's because he is stronger than her.  She fights back if she can but there is not much to be done.

2) After  taking her, he must be strong enough and smart enough to hold her and protect her from all other men trying to take her. 

3) He must be strong enough to fight off all men who target him personally because they want her.  

4) He must also help protect his sister from men trying to take her.

5) He must protect his daughter from men trying to take her.

6) He must go out in a war party to take back the women that were stolen from other men in the village.   He must fight other men, getting hurt and sometimes dying to get them back.

7) He may occasionally be asked to be the "best man" at a wedding so that, when the other village war party comes to get the bride back, he can help protect the groom and help him escape with her.

8) He must either go out in a hunting or fishing party to catch dinner for the whole village or stay on watch to protect the women and children from thieves and meat eaters.

9) He just bled protecting her multiple times and it took him 8 hours to hunt down dinner and now she just finished eating some of the best parts of the meat.   Now the man wants sex and it's probably not very easy to say no because nobody decided that there was something called rape yet.  In the hostile primitive world, with no laws to protect women from sexual assault, the man they are with is protection from something that might be worse.    Choice is relative.

10) He knows she is less likely to run away if she is happy.  He starts doing things and bringing things for her.  He gives her a special status among his family and friends, he does everything he can to help her forget that she was kidnapped in the first place.  Or, at least, to help her feel better about it.

This was the social order for a million years or so of early humanity as proper civilizations began to form.  Physical strength was the original currency of life.  Men chose women who were less strong so that they could take the one they wanted without getting their butts kicked.  Women, in turn, understood that the stronger the man was, the more secure her life could be if she stuck with him.   

The coveting and protecting of woman by men, in an incredibly harsh and bloody world, led to the attitude that women simply could not survive on their own.  That led to laws and beliefs defining women and children as dependents that must be protected just like any other property.   This is fully on display in the familiar age that fairytales are set in.  Life was very hard and bloody in the age of castles and kingdoms.  There were men with armor and swords fighting for power and land.  There were highborn ladies who stayed within the protective walls of castles.   This was the age of extreme rituals and manners around everything as a way of maintaining the social order between men and women and the higher and lower classes.   Women were seen in ridiculously fancy and restrictive clothes that they could barely breath in, let alone do anything in the world.   They sat on cushions and wore jewels and lived in a world of finery and comfort like a pretty white cat.  The ladies were made very comfortable indeed during this time but they were still trapped in high towers and citadels.   They were still captured, like the women kidnapped by the cave men.

This rigid, "pampered prisoner", life is more commonly known as being a "princess".  We only see one side of the princess these days: the fawning, the fabulous clothes, elaborate parties and the castles.   It works great for a Disney princess movie or a fairytale.   It also works great for selling luxuries to women.  As a matter of historical fact, however, the princess lifestyle was something intended to reinforced the perception of women as something completely different from a person.  They were special objects that passed on family lines with childbirth.   They must be sheltered and managed.  We hear words like "pet" or "creature" and even "property" used openly to describe women in these times.   The social strategy buried women in comforts, baubles and luxury while also creating a self image of complete helplessness; and even a feeling of entitlement to the helplessness.   It was an intellectual prison put together over time as a way to entrap a man's property in a velvet glove and regulate access to it, not to cater to the comfort interests of women.

This created precisely the desired effect in the psyche of women.  Considering the alternatives, it didn't seem like a big tradeoff, to many women, that in exchange for the pampering and protection,  they were the property of their fathers and then their husbands .  Their virginity and who they had sex with was regulated and protected like a piece of livestock so that the men in the world could barter family relations and strike political alliances through marriage and children.    Women treated like princess had no more say in society or their sexual lives than women living in caves before them did.  However, like with the caves, it was precisely the pampering and treatment that captured woman's minds and made them feel less confident about resisting it or running away from it.  In fact, many were happy to embrace it, defend it and demand it.

From this, so called, fairytale age all the way up to women's suffrage and the woman's liberation movement, all of the customs and rituals about women were still based on these old values of a velvet cage and golden chains.  Women were no longer dragged to caves or bartered away to castles but they were still chained to the role of serving a man at home and having children as their fundamental reason for existing.  Meanwhile, in the industrial age, they could all be princesses!!  They were pampered by hair salons and manacures and tempted by a whole range of clothing and cosmetics that were still designed to be restrictive, even if they lived in a more free society.  

The men, meanwhile, were no longer kidnapping or bartering for their wives but they still followed the strategy they had always been taught:  that women are a special needs type of human.   They must be "seduced" into the relationship by catering to, and then continuing to provide, what I call: "the perks of helplessness".  Woman were quite active in supporting this, even if they didn't realize it.  It was common knowledge, and still is, that the man who provides the most comforts and privileges and does the most catering to female helplessness has the better selection of women.

The men of the industrial age designed all of the luxuries and clothing women came to enjoy.  They opened doors for women, pulled out their chairs for them, stood on the street side of the sidewalk when walking together, they removed their hats in the presence of ladies and gave them their coats when they were cold.  The customs and rituals that burned female helplessness, and the male provider into our society are so ancient and powerful in many people's psyche that most people see it as just the way humans are when living together.

So here we are in the modern world.   The jig is up for the men.  Time to move aside and let women share power and decisions.   Here here!!  Women are constantly reminding us that the old fashion views about ruling men and helpless women in society were wrong and they must be cast off.    I agree but I think if we really want to make a difference we can't use half measures.  The jig should also be up for the culture of female prerogatives that was designed to cage them in.  The perks of helplessness are not a fair exchange between two equal individuals.  If a woman expects that basic politeness means to have a door held for her, for flowers to be presented to her, or for the man to order the wine and pay for dinner, she is certainly desiring treatment than any of us would want.  Unfortunately, in the big picture, she is honoring and reinforcing all the old fashioned social rituals that were designed to make her feel like she is something different, helpless, fragile and dependent on men.  She is also nonverbally communicating an agreement with her helplessness to the men opening the door.  

So I would like to ask the women among us:   I am now a father raising two daughters.  What should I teach them?  Are we modern or are we old fashioned?  Who decides?  Can we really be both without just reversing the discrimination onto men?  If we are all equals in the modern world, then why aren't we all equals in the modern world?  I, as a progressive man, will gladly stand up for equal rights of women, equal pay for women, the right to reproductive choice, the right to fly jets and drive police cars and be in control of her fate.   I don't feel very comfortable, however, working hard to support this kind of equality while also being expected to hold onto all of the old fashioned perks of helplessness that make women more special and dependent on men on a person to person level.   I do not always see as much effort from women to be equal on these terms.   Picking and choosing when to be equal and independent and when to demand the perks of helplessness is regressive not progressive.  It also leaves men trying to do the right thing confronted with a double standard of purging their discrimination against women while tolerating obvious discrimination against themselves.    

I would like to think that the "10 Old Fashioned Habits That We Should Make Cool Again",  could truly be modernized and followed by both sexes equally.  I think what I get hung up on is that, in a free and equal system, nobody should feel pressure to spend money or hold doors or write poetry as "manners" or as a basic cost of entry when forming a meaningful relationship with someone else.  Men have never done this when relating to each other.  Neither have women when relating to women.

In a truly fair and equal society, where we are all striving to see others as no different than ourselves, the woman, like any man, only gets met at the door, given gifts and had dinner paid for if she has earned respect or affection first.  Special treatment, gifts, paying for things; these are done for real reasons, when a person is inspired to show affection and respect for another person.  These things do not arrive at her feet just because she is a woman.  That is what equality means.

Why is it that we find it acceptable that only a man can be told he didn't get the second date because he didn't bring flowers, buy dinner, write poetry. . .  or because he expected that maybe sex would be involved at some point as a result of dating?  Why is it that only a man is told that he may be required to make a $150 investment in showing a woman a good time and she can just take it all and say "sorry this didn't work for me" with no further obligations?  Men do not have such transactions among themselves when treating each other as equals.  Neither do women.   No other personal transactions in the world have that sort of prerogative.   In fact, it is usually considered theft.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

We Are All a Den of Thieves (especially Shakespeare)

I would like to tell a tale about novelists, play-writes, poets, musicians, actors and all of those other dreamers living at the bottom of society with nothing but the clothes on their backs, big ideas. . . and minds full of other people's property!   

My tale begins with one of the greatest dreamers in history, an author named William Shakespeare.  We can skip the details of his life.    What's important here is that Shakespeare died in 1616, 398 years ago from the year 2014.    By then he had written many plays and poems and scholars, educators and classical artists have marveled over his work for all of those centuries.    There is one very special story, however.    A story so huge, it has grabbed the entire world by the gut and made it sob: Romeo and Juliet.   

Shakespeare created this play in a time where there was no such thing as the word "intellectual property" or the so called "copyright laws" that protect it.    Things were written down and printed, but there was also a much  more free and democratic  flow of ideas because the ability to make copies was much more naturally limited.  In those days, hearing or reading ideas and then repeating them was no different than hearing something from your friend and then repeating it to the neighbors.  Everyone has their own way of filtering the same story.   Some people tell it better than others.  Famous works that borrowed were not just making an exact copy, they were adding their own personality, or finding some new way of presenting them that was innovative.   This can be seen very clearly even in the modern day.   Walt Disney is a great example.  He used the existing stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. to showcase a very special kind of animation. He was not a plot weaver or a composer.  He was an innovative, but poorly financed,  graphic artist.  He needed easy, cheap, access to well known story material and music in order to help sell people on the idea of animation as proper art form. 

The story about the earliest copyright laws is a long one.  The short story is this:  Copyright law was a reaction to the technology of making copies and passing them around, not an attempt to put limits the free and democratic exchange of artistic ideas.  The most natural way of protecting people's artistic work was to call it "property".    This was a legal construct, the same way todays corporation is a legal "person" in order to make it fit in with the existing legal system of bank accounts and land ownership.     Most recognize that ideas are a very special kind of property, however.  They don't view it as exactly the same thing as real property any more than corporations are exactly the same as living people.   Intellectual property rights were designed to deal with situations that normal property laws do not, such as allowing educators and scholars "fair use" of the property without paying.   Nobody get's fair use of our cars, or houses.   The copyright laws changed a lot over time but there has always been a deliberate balance between protection and access because both are seen as equally important to the future of art and society.  The protection part creates a generous window of time for artists and their descendants to exploit and control the work.  The "access" part of this balance is to limit the size of that window so that future artists will eventually gain unrestricted access to any art that is old enough.  This is called the "public domain".   The public domain is what allowed Disney to use Snow White without any restrictions and it is what has allowed us all to freely use Shakespeare's work for over 300 years.

There are those who disagree with this attempt at balance.   Some over the years (usually people with lots of valuable intellectual property "in the bank") have argued that their work should be protected longer, even forever.  Their argument is that "property is property" and forcing expressions into the public domain is little more than state sponsored property theft.    In that view, the Shakespeare family should have always been protected and anyone who wants to do anything with Shakespeare's works should need to pay a fee, and/or get permission from someone like, for example: Shakespeare's great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson's, nephew's ex wife. . . who is very unreasonable for unknown reasons.  

There is a big elephant in the room with this view however.     If the "property is property" believers are to be consistent with their own arguments, then all the ideas before the time of Shakespeare should have also be protected.  If that is the case,  then the first thing that happens is that William Shakespeare decides not to write Romeo and Juliet, because someone else wants money and creative control before they will give him the rights.  There was a family in that day that could truthfully claim that their dead relative had expressed the plot, the setting, the families and even the title of Romeo and Juliet in a poem, before Shakespeare ever wrote his play.    Shakespeare was an idea thief!  A big one.  Even under todays limited protections let alone the permanent protection some people dream of.   In fact, if property is property, there is a whole legacy of thieves around Romeo and Juliet to consider.

A long long time ago in a land far, far away there lived a Greek named Xenophon.  Xenophon wrote a novel in the year 200 AD.  It was called "Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes"  The story involved two lovers who could not stay together because of their circumstances and they decided to commit suicide.    In the year 1530 we know for certain that a thieving man named Luigi Da Porta is caught red handed stealing this idea.  "Luigi the Thief",  as I shall call him,  was a two time thief!    Luigi's story had the suicide lovers as part of two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, in the city of Verona.    He stole those ideas from a guy named Massusccio Salemitano.     "Sal", as I shall call him, wrote a poem titled "Cinquante Novelle" in 1476.  It was that poem that contained the original idea of the two feuding families and the city they lived in.  Luigi liked the poem so he took the place and people from the poem, the murder suicide from the Greek novel,  and put them together into his own idea of the story.  He didn't even change the names and places.  

Not long after,  a man named Arthur Brook also wrote a poem inspired by that story.    He called it: “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet”   Brook's poem had all the details about a city known as Verona, and two feuding families, Capulets and Monagues and the tragic day that their hate for each other lead to the suicide of two of their children "Romeus and Juliet" who had fallen in love.   What a strangely familiar idea. . .   Brook never gained much fame or fortune from his poem.   It floated around for a while until a man named William Painter turned it from a poem, back into a story in 1567.     That is when the man we all know and love, William Shakespeare, shows up.   Shakespeare was not always a big original plot weaver in his work.  Many times he used existing powerful stories in order to sell people on his special style of stage plays. He got ahold of these other men's poems and stories sometime between 1591 and 1595 and used them as the plot and characters for a play which he called "Romeo and Juliet".  The play was about. . . well. . . everything and everyone I just mentioned, plus the things he added from his own brilliance.  If property is property forever, then William Shakespeare, or Billy The Kid, as I shall then call him. . was a thief in a line of thieves because he stole property from Painter. . . who stole from Brook, who stole from  Luigi, who stole from Sal, and Xenophon.   

"Romeo and Juliet" as we know it was published in 1597.    Fortunately for all of us, Shakespeare wasn't faced with as situation something like: Brook's widow and Painter's son insisting on getting the writing credits Luigi and Sal insisting on creative control and Xenophon's family insisting on credit for the original idea.  Then at the bottom of the poster in small print it could say  "Adapted for Stage by William Shakespeare".    What would that play look like?  Would it ever get off the ground if it needed the green light from 5 other people who never wrote a play?

What about the period after Shakespeare's death?   Expressions of Romeo and Juliet have launched many careers.   Millions have benefited from this play from pure entertainment, to scholarship, directing skills, acting skills, technical skills to adaptations into operas, books, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures,  on and on.   A famous example:  Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Burnstein wrote a musical stage play called "West Side Story" in 1957,  which was based on Romeo and Juliet.  Fortunately they didn't face the Shakespeare family ex-wife's grandson insisting on creative control.    My father earned his name as a theater director partly by directing West Side Story.  I personally got my very first job in the movie business on a low budget movie that was doing a comedy knock off of Romeo and Juliet.  Angelina Jolie starred in that movie as the Juliet character.   It was the very first feature film of her career.   At least 57 other movies have also used Romeo and Juliet either by performing it word for word or by putting the story into a new situation with different characters and places.  

Beyond just this play, there are over 400 movies or TV shows and countless stage performances that use Shakespeare's work in one way or another.  Who could count all of the people that this has entrained or the careers it has built or launched?  The "property is property" lawyers would have quickly destroyed us all if they had a time machine because they would have found plenty of cease and desist opportunities in all of Shakspeare's work.  The idea for King Lear was taken from a previous play "The true Chronicles of King Lier and his 3 daughters" written in 1605 by a currently unknown playwright.  The idea for Macbeth was taken from Holinsheds Chronicals "Macbeth".   Holinshed based his story on "Scrotorum Historiae" written in 1527 by Hector Boece.  Shakespeare took from others and In turn, we have all taken from Shakespeare.   It is the circle of life.   If not through Shakespeare then any of a thousand other artists and artworks.  If Shakespeare was a thief, then so are most of the great artists of the past present and future.

So the question stands before us:  How much good in the world of art did all the free exchange around this story of two lovers who committed suicide do?   Was it more important to allow the descendants of Xenophon or Salamintano to cling tightly to their little pieces so that they could never be used or changed without their control?   How important was Shakespeare?  Should he have been motivated and inspired by free access to those other works?  Would his work have been the same if it had restrictions and boundaries, or plots he always had to write up from scratch?  What about those who later used Shakespeare's work in their own art?  Was it good for their growth and development to be released from all restrictions and boundaries?  Did they then benefit us all?  Would we really go back in a time machine and stop all of that in order to allow the Shakespeare descendants, who never created the art, maintain permanent control over it's uses?  If not, then why should we move the time machine forward and do it from now on?

Like my my father, my brother and my sister before me, I am an artist and a creator of intellectual property.   My work involves written, musical and motion picture expressions.    I have worked on stages, film sets and in theaters all my life.    I believe in my right to own and control my original ideas and pass them to my descendants for a limited time.   I want us all to make money off our work if we deserve it.   What I do not want is this dystopian vision where property is property forever. That is nothing but a short sighted pathway to the creative apocalypse; a world where artists are afraid of creating new works  and the ones who are brave enough will often abandon brilliant ideas because of licensing issues with relatives over a 300 year old or 1000 year old property.  The idea of extreme long term or permanent ownership of intellectual property is not something I can't just "agree to disagree" over.    It is outright offensive and repugnant to me as an artist who knows what launched me and cares about launching future artists and art.   I, literally, cannot stop myself from pushing back against it.  There are always people who will harbor bad beliefs if they are not pushed and pushed into finally understanding the consequences of their beliefs.  I can only hope that there will be enough people who come to understand those consequences as people like me plead for them to listen.

Ask the fans of Shakespeare or Sondheim/Burnstean, or Disney if it's worth it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Cosmic God is Scientifically Possible or, at Least, Logical

I like to call myself an Agnostic that likes to speculate, and today I want to share something that seemed pretty profound when the idea struck me.  It occurred to me, when pondering the modern, scientific, view of the universe, that someone could make a pretty good argument for the possibility of God (or at least a God concept) that is based on logical deduction and scientific ideas.  I really haven't seen this done to any degree of satisfaction, so I figured I would offer it up as my own contemplation.  To me, it is a thought experiment for those, like me, who demand better than your standard faith based explanations. . but also don't mind allowing for some reasonable speculation and maybe even a little imagination.
There are three important scientific concepts we will need to achieve this:
1) The infinite universe.  Scientists say that an infinite universe is very possible and there are some popular theories which express this.  One is called the "multiverse" theory which describes an infinite amount of "bubbles" each containing their own time/space universe. Another one is the oscillating universe theory which describes our universe as going through an infinite cycle of birth, age, decay, and rebirth in various ways all within the same "bubble" of time/space.  
2) Immortality.  Science suggests that immortality may be possible in the future.  One area this is possible is in medicine.  There are predictions that within the next 100 years or so medicine will be able to slow or halt the aging process.  Another field suggesting immortality is computer science and artificial intelligence.  Even now we are approaching the memory and processing power to handle the thought process of the human brain.  This has led to the prediction that the mind may eventually be something that can be translated into software and "uploaded" into an artificial brain which can extend both the human life and the processing power of thought indefinitely.

3) Evolution.  This is the theory that the universe is moving from the simplicity of the hydrogen atom to the complexity of stars, planets, galaxies, human life and beyond.  This evolution is thought to be driven, by random events, happy accidents, natural selection, and lots of time for it to happen.  We can even look at our own intellectual development of civilization, philosophy, sciences and technology as a sort of intellectual evolution which began when our brains were advanced enough.  This will continue to evolve.  A trillion years from now, it will still be evolving.  We truly do not know where the limits might be.
So, if we believe in even the most remote possibility of these things, then we have a very basic thought experiment to consider:   Multiply an immortal intelligence, in an evolutionary universe by infinity.   The result may not be the Biblical God of Earth, but it is certainly something that could resemble a cosmic God.
So the formula is: 
God equals Intelligence multiplied by Infinity.  This is what I would call the "Infinite Intelligence"  or the "Cosmic God" formula, which I present as logic rather than actual math.   This formula describes the logical outcome of evolution, as we know it, when it has an infinite amount of time.  It is a similar principle as the one used by scientists when they try to explain our own existence as a series of accidents and coincidences happening over vast amounts of time.  The answer to unlikely random events is always time, lots and lots of time.
There is a cliche thought experiment of an immortal monkey sitting at an unbreakable typewriter randomly poking keys.  It is said that this monkey, given enough time, will eventually type the works of Shakespeare out of pure random action.  A staggering amount of time is needed for this to happen.  Last I heard the estimate was something like a million times the estimated lifespan of the universe before we finally got Shakespeare.  . but the possibility was never 0%.  In infinity, however, this vast amount of time may as well be a single second.  The odds of getting Shakespeare from the monkey in infinity are 100%.  In infinity, the chances of every possible interaction of atoms in the universe happening are 100%.  In fact, the chances are 100% that it will happen over and over, an infinite number of times, as the chances come around again and again, infinitely.
There is another peculiar characteristic of infinity on a timeline.  The past and future are sort of the same.  The past extends so far back that all the same possible events we can conceive in the future also present themselves as history.  In the infinite past the monkey has already typed Shakespeare, the universe has already created life and pushed it to it's final destiny and the intellect and self awareness we know to exist, as ourselves. .  has already reached it's full potential.  It has already overcome all limitations that are possible to overcome and mastered everything that can be mastered.

In infinity, the past is particularly mystical.   In the infinite past, there would be no time before these events described above had happened.  There is no finding a moment before something in an infinite past.   There would always have been plenty of time for the same thing to happen even earlier, and then earlier than that. .  and so on.  While we could imagine a sequence of events leading to the evolution of an intelligence into God, it is literally true that there could never be a beginning moment for that to happen in the infinite past.  What comes from the infinity behind us, has no beginning, it simply IS.  And so, in the infinite past, the monkey doesn't just type Shakespeare by chance, it has always been.  God does not evolve, God has always been.  The universe did not evolve into perfection, it has always been something that evolved into perfection.  There was no time "before" any of this in infinity.  This is a bit of a paradox, but it is only so because we cannot properly comprehend infinity in the first place.  Our minds are linear.  If we attempt to look outside this linear perception, however, the implications of this are huge. It suggests that the current state of non perfection we observe in ourselves and the universe must be a deliberate and strategic state, not a randomly occuring one.  Randomness is in direct conflict with the implications of the infinite past that tells us that the universe already achieved evolutionary perfection. .  or as I said. . . the universe has always been something that achieved perfection. .  
So, ironically, the question of the cosmic God really rests more on faith in science than faith in religion.  Do you believe science when they say that infinity is possible in the cosmos?  Do you believe in the process of evolution naturally pushing the universe into more and more complexity?  In the infinite past, the odds are 100% that life in some past universe made itself immortal and evolved into an ultimate intelligence with mastery of all matter. . .which then started a new universe of it's own.  If it is even remotely possible, it has already happened.   In fact, as I said, there would be no time when this hadn't happened.  Evolution and linear time are just concepts we must embrace in order for our minds to try understanding how it could happen. 
So this is a very heavy question to ponder.  It took the universe, 13 billion years to evolve into you, who now sit here and wonder about it.  That is 0% of infinity.   What could it evolve out of someone like you if it had an infinity more of evolution to work with?   What we could call God does not only appear possible in an infinite universe, the proof that we ourselves exist makes it very likely to be inevitable as an inherent part of the past and future.  We are the proof.  The rest is just adding time to us. 
There are a lot of details to ponder in this.  How could a past universe of intelligent beings evolve into a single cosmic personality?  Why would a cosmic God fracture a perfect universe and make it "dumb" again?  Why would a cosmic God make itself invisible to the creation?  What is this infinite intelligence trying to accomplish?   This, of course, goes even further into speculation and I am focused only on the raw logic of the "God premise" for now.  I've actually thought a lot of these out already and I have ideas that build upon this basic premise.  Maybe I will sit down and write all those down at a later time.

So, do I think I have proven God's existence?  Well, certainly not in a very testable way. .  I have an untestable premise built on untestable theories.   I'm sure plenty of skeptics will still be unsatisfied.   My real goal here, however,  has not been scientific proof as much as scientific speculation.  I wanted to create a scenario that makes sense based on things we know and can relate to.   It is not testable as much as it is a sensible deduction about admittedly untestable things.   Astronomers do this all the time when trying to explain the universe.   In fact, I would say that my form of agnostic speculation is in the tradition of cosmology rather than religion.

There are many theories and proposals in cosmology that are ultimately untestable, but not totally written off unless better answers present themselves.  The "multiverse" mentioned in the beginning with endless "bubbles" each their own universe with it's own physics, is just one of them.  There is also scientific speculation from the string theory crowd about multiple dimensions, speculation from the dark matter/energy crowd that there is some particle in the universe that makes up the majority of all substance,  but it's totally undetectable. . or that gravity may actually behave very differently in places where we can't measure it.  There is even speculation from the quantum mechanics crowd that matter is somehow influenced by thought, or that the whole universe is dominated by a "cosmic consciousness" which is more dominant than matter.   These theories have critics but somehow we are still allowed to speculate about them without being shut down or shut out of the conversation.  I think it might be useful to do a similar thing with our God concept.. .   so that faith alone is not the only quality needed to start speculating about the possibilities. . and criticism needs to start talking about something besides the well established premise that faith alone is illogical. . .  and not enough for some people.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chuck Todd Get's Slammed For Not Understanding His Job

I will admit that I have been an advocate of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare).  Fair enough.  However, I think this speaks to something deeper than one issue or another.  Republicans who believe the entire media establishment is out messaging them and their positions should also pay attention.

Interesting article HERE that sums up the whole fight:

On Wednesday morning’s Morning Joe, Todd attracted the attention of liberal critics when, as TPM puts it, he suggested that It’s Not Media’s Job To Correct GOP’s Obamacare Falsehoods. But is that a fair reading of what Chuck said? Not according to him. In response to the criticism, Chuck tweeted“Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn’t expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA."

The problem to me is pretty straight forward but nobody chooses to talk about it very clearly.  Chuck Todd is part of a media culture that has been living in the "sexy" part of political journalism for too long. His head is so full of talk about selling and messaging that he doesn't even recognize that he's become the announcer for a sports game with no referees. 

Referees are much less popular because people get mad at them. They also need to pay very careful attention and blow the whistle on the whole game when someone fouls or breaks the rules.   It could have been the best play in the world but it won't count and everyone from that fouled side goes "BOOOOOOO!!"

The problem with the culture of political journalism these days is that nobody wants to be the referee who gets booed, especially when they are all on a quest to show they are "balanced".  Everyone thinks someone else is doing the referee work and they give three cheers to that. . . but, personally, they all seem to love the game too much to interrupt it with a whistle themselves.  They leave that to people with less important things to loose.   They are like honorary Referees who sit at a special table next to the game and talk about it.   They have completely abdicated their job to the point that they don't even recognize it as something they themselves need to be part of anymore.

To me this explains why Chuck Todd seems far more focused on the way the game is being played by the teams, rather than wondering what he could do better as a referee.  He doesn't even see a Referee problem in the equation.  I'll wager several political journalists don't.  The fact that the fans are confused about the score in the game is the failure of one team to play the game well enough in their view.  To clarify the score and enforce the rules would be to "do the White House's Job re: ACA."  It is painfully clear where Chuck Todd's head was both at the time he made the statement and the way he defended himself after. . . but it's not just a Chuck Todd problem.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The 7 Woes to Christians - A Modern Take on Matthew 23

This is a modern interpretation of Matthew 23, written as if someone were speaking to people in the Christian churches rather than "Teachers of the law and Pharasees" at the time of Jesus.  It is intended as an intellectual exercise which helps compare the problems with old and modern religious authorities.  No disrespect is intended to the original Bible verses or any specific Christians and, while keeping in the general spirit of the verses was the intention, no claim is made that this modern interpretation is accurate.  The reader can find their own meaning or lack of meaning.   It is just an exercise in comparison to inspire thought and conversation:

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

"The teachers of the Bible and leaders of the Church have great power. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you if you don't want to be singled out. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their Crucifixes big and their outfits shiny; they love the place of honor at political events and the most important seats at the dinners and charity events; they love to be greeted with respect in the streets and to be called "Reverend" or "Father" by others."

“But you are not to be called ‘Reverend,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Spirit of the lord who helps you see the truth justice and mercy in all things. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

The 7 Woes

“Woe to you, bible thumpers, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, Pushy Evangelical Christians, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone wishes to help the poor and sick through the government, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by church charity is righteous’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the charity, or the intentions that make the charity sacred?  You would slow down good works in the world just so you can have private monopoly over them?

You also say, ‘If anyone lives their life like Jesus, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the church dogma and bible is bound by it.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the institution and the book, or the spirit led life that makes the institution and book sacred? Therefore, anyone who sincerely strives to walk the path of Jesus IS the Church and the Bible and the spirit is their reverend. Anyone who swears by the Church only swears by the man with with a Bible who dwells in it, not the spirit that founded it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

“Woe to you, worshippers of the Bible, you hypocrites! You quote chapter and verse like fetish to condemn your neighbors and cast judgement on them because you are "good Christians."  But you have neglected the more important matters of Christianity: justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“Woe to you, Bible thumping capitalist Christians, hypocrites! They clean their language and they wear their best clothes and they say "bless me bless you", but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Christian! First clean the poison from your mind, and only then will your outside also be clean.

“Woe to you, authorities of the Bible and bureaucrats of the church empire, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness and lust.

“Woe to you, Rich American Christians, you hypocrites! You build fancy kingdoms, massive performance stages with state of the art equipment, TV networks and ornate palaces to worship and live inside of.  You say it is all "for God" but the only effect is luxury for certain humans over others. You mourn the savior. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the savior.’ yet if he came again to challenge your flawed ideas you would crucify him all over again.  With no access to him, you crucify his gospels instead by turning them them into a twisted version of human law to be used as a tool of political gain, judgement and condemnation. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Jesus has sent you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you burned and crucified; others you flogged and burned in your church courtyards and pursued from town to town.  Others still you condemn and harass this very day.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

“Christianity, Christianity, you who kill and condemn the righteous when they disagree with your dogma,  you who burn or bury those sent to put you on a better path and turn a blind eye as children are molested, how often Jesus has longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Jesus again until you say, 'Blessed is he who lives the name of the Lord rather than talking about it.  For the rest, that cross around their next will be a weight that pulls them beneath the water not the wings that take them to heaven'"

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Second Amendment Can CREATE Gun Control

The problem with gun control activists is that they are beating their heads against the wrong part of the Second Amendment.   The Supreme Court in "DC Vs Heller" has ruled that the need for a militia is exactly why individual gun rights are preserved.   By deciding on the individual right to own a gun, the Supreme Court has created the absolute standard that the US is intended to have a militia and it is protected by the Second Amendment.  Their ruling tells us that, essentially, "the militia" and "the people" are legally one and the same. . . and guns are a common right they share.  This is all as it should be legally, and anyone who pretends otherwise is trying to create a "legal fiction" out of the intents of the Second Amendment.

In my view, the gun regulation community should be attacking an existing and very old legal fiction rather than trying to create another new one.  That fiction, in my view, is the current legal definition of "Militia" in the US militia code.    If the militia is such a critical thing, protected by an absolute right to the tools of life and death, then it would probably be important to know how it is legally defined wouldn't it?  It would be important to know if that definition was corrupted somewhere along the lines wouldn't it?  Would you want an unconstitutional, rogue, branch of the military running around on American soil?  How about a barely legal rogue branch that is wreaking havoc on society?  Would you want it changed?

The militia the Second Amendment spoke of is very easily found in the original Uniform Militia Act of 1792 and other militia codes of the day.  It was ALL able bodied males from 18-45.  The "well regulated militia" was the entire population of gun holders.  This was not an option.  Even those who didn't want to own guns were forced to buy one for their militia duty.  There was one and only one category of armed citizens, "well regulated militia."   So, lets use the Supreme Courts own standards to look at the Second Amendment backwards.  Individual gun rights are protected because "The individual" and "the militia" serve the same protected purpose in the eyes of the Court.   So why, then, is "the individual" not "well regulated" today as he was then?  The question is not:  "does the citizen have no rights to a gun because he's not militia."  The legal question should be: "does the citizen have the right NOT to be in a regulated militia while holding militia gun rights?"

The facts, as I see it, are that the majority of the American people were, basically, lax about their personal stake in the nation's defense at the turn of the 20th century.  It was easier to let others do the marching and take the risks.  Mandatory militia duty set up by our founders was basically viewed like jury duty with marching and pushups.  There were also some important flaws in the militia system which needed to be addressed.  This created the political will for change.  In 1903, over 100 years after the Second Amendment, a new militia code was passed.  That code created the National Guard which is what most of us think of as the modern militia today.  It was also the birth of a whole new branch of the military most have never heard of.  Because the people still loved their gun rights and it was very hard to change the Second Amendment, "The Unorganized Militia" was created.  That group is defined as "All Males 17-45 who are not in the National Guard. . ."  

This was, essentially, a legal but imaginary "class" of the militia that had nothing but gun rights.  It was a fiction, and an experiment but it was considered necessary to keep gun rights and militia in harmony with the Second Amendment.  When they created this class of militia, our early 20th century leaders unleashed a branch of the military on America that had millions of members, no commander, no orders, no discipline, no regulations, no code of conduct, no duties to anyone but themselves and full legal rights to light weapons.  Today we my want to ask ourselves what they were thinking. . . or at least we should ask if the experiment worked.  Would a responsible leader today think they had a right to do this in the name of domestic security?  Would it be legal for them to do this at all today considering the standards our leaders must meet to defend us?  Has anyone asked that yet?

If gun control advocates want to tackle this problem in a meaningful way, they need to challenge the legal definition of militia, and the legality of getting rid of mandatory duty.  They should force mandatory militia service back on Americans as a tactic to make us choose between our militia duty and our guns.  Then, maybe we will do the correct thing, which is to modify the Second Amendment to count us out if we want to get out of our duty. . . rather than making up an imaginary militia for ourselves in the military code.  

I would gladly sign up and get an official militia card that didn't really require much of me as an unarmed member if that's what it took to put stronger regulations on the decision and behavior of the people who choose to be the armed.  There should be NO armed militia in the US that is not well regulated.  The Unorganized Militia doesn't meet any of the standards in the constitution which describe something that can be given orders and sent places by the President or Governors.  If you qualify, do you know who you report to as a militia member?  Then how could you really be considered a member of anything?

I see two possible ways to force a decision between mandatory militia duty and changing the Second Amendment on the American people:

1) A challenge to the legal right to create the unorganized militia under the constitution in the first place.  No use of the militia in the constitution speaks of the states right to unleash an unregulated freelance group of armed citizens onto society in the name of domestic order or defense.  It is not military code, it is military chaos.  There should be no such class of people in our military.

2) A Presidential order calling up all classes of militia to service.  I dealt with this in another post.  Believe it or not, ALL males today from 17-45 are legally militia. They don't even need to be drafted with an act of congress.  In order to keep gun rights, our ancestors essentially agreed that they and all future generations were automatically part of this legal but "unorganized" military branch just by being born in America and turning 17.  I'm no military legal scholar, but as far as I can tell, the President could command the "unorganized militia" to become regulated with the stroke of his pen just by claiming a large enough national crisis and refusing to see a distinction between them and the National Guard.   Paying for it might be trickier. .  but that military budget is already pretty damn big.  Rob Peter to pay Paul and all that.   Either way, the point is to force the decision people must make between being legally obligated to the President's regulation, or having an absolute right to a gun.  

If these approaches both seem too extreme there is one more to consider.   Since all gun owners technically have their rights as militia. Maybe the approach is to insist that gun control is not a matter of civil law.  It should be considered a military code issued as orders to all members of the US militia, organized and unorganized.  Would the Supreme Court really support the individual right not to follow orders by the President to the Militia?