Heed them.

July 31, 2011

The Atheism That Isn't There

 Pictured above: We can only hope.

You can make any political argument you want to, but be sure your argument starts with:

"See that thing over there?"

And then you can go on to state your case.  You can pick anything. Something like poverty, industry, civil rights, or anything else- as long as it's a real thing. Religion is a special case, because all arguments from a religious perspective start with-

"You know that thing you can't see?"

No, I really don't, and not in a wishy-washy gnostic way. I mean if I haven't seen it, it's not there, particularly if it poses a direct influence on the politics of my country. You'll notice that the most regressive and anti-charitable political positions in this country are argued this way:

"God intended..."

The thing is, when they aren't speaking up, Atheists are just as invisible as the judeo-christian-islamic god. Atheists are the least trusted minority group in the United States- but they can just keep quiet and play along. It's not too dramatic to refer to these passive Atheists as in the closet, because when you think of it, Gays are the only similar minority; in that no one can identify them by sight and they can just choose to endure a life of disinherited sullen oppression.

Because of that I'm tempted to draw parallels between the gay rights movement and the recently vocal segment of non-religious people. The oft-cited(and probably wrong) 10% of the population figure is given for both. The big difference is that in cultures where Homosexuality is condoned, it never spreads to a majority of the population; no matter what your local clergymen or Michele Bachmann might say. On the other hand, in a religiously free and relatively prosperous society, Atheism spreads like hell-fire.

Some scientists have been studying how rapidly ideas can spread. It's in it's infancy, but preliminary findings suggest that once a 10% of a population hold an idea to be true, it spreads exponentially. Look at the younger generations of Americans. Some surveys report a 30% or higher rate of no-religion. Already.

I'm sure many will gift this demographic shift to blustering biologists asking atheists to self identify as 'brights'(never will I ever), alcoholic british-americans working through the 'jew-run' media, or our 'liberal colleges' and their influence. That's an error. The growing non-religious youth population is a testament to the power of coming out of the closet. I think militant atheism, while entertaining(and true), doesn't get as many converts as people at parties getting sauced-up and saying how they really feel about religion.

It's not a matter of confronting every mention of church or religion with "IM AN ATHIEST!1," it's simply a matter of telling the truth about what you think, if you're asked.

This non-believing demographic shift begs the question -where is the representation? There is currently one openly-gay member of congress; Barney Frank. And one openly-Atheist member of the house; Pete Stark.  Another parallel; but seeing that both of them came out after being elected, it's really just an accident of demographics.

 I wonder if there will be some iconic Atheist politicians on the horizon. One can only hope. Intuitively Atheists would make the best politicians- tons of freed-up time and freed-up head-space not spent on church gobbledygook, a direct focus on the here-and-now, and disbelief that a god will sort this all out at the end. I'm guessing that if any politicians can reverse the trend of our becoming a war-mongering toll-booth banana republic it'll be Atheist progressives.

Plus, when a fundamentalist like George W. Bush or Michele Bachmann says-

"God told me..."

...there would be an official voice that could speak up and say-

"No he didn't"

 ...besides the one in my own head. The elephant that's been in the room for way too long makes me think I should get involved with politics more directly each and every day. It's just a thought, but If I did it I'd do it the right way; Bullheaded, symbolic; producing tons of controversy. That's how real hope and change starts.

Maybe that's why many states, including Maryland, have laws against Atheists holding office.

Out of the closet and into the streets!

July 28, 2011

Real Bullshit: Penn Jillette's Silent Partner

Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! series on Showtime ended last year, and not a moment too soon. At first glance the show is unconventional. It’s stated purpose is to follow in the footsteps of Houdini and James Randi by debunking cultural myths and supernatural claims.

 The series starts that way- with episodes Talking to the Dead and Alternative Medicine. If the show had gone on like that, taking down modern-day confidence men and snake oil peddlers such as medical magnet salesmen and mormons, I would’ve gladly bought a Showtime subscription or downloaded the episodes illegally for the entire 8 seasons.

By the end of the first season, in 2003, the episode Environmental Hysteria was aired. It was controversial. The episode was highly critical of environmentalism, leftwing politics, and the existence of global climate change. It attempted to disprove the existence of global climate change, and in an act of public cognitive dissonance, downplay the importance of its ‘non’-existence.

In that episode Penn Jillette, as the sole voice of the show, carelessly mentions the (booger)sugar-daddies who're running his show- The CATO institute. When introducing members of CATO, he proudly announces, “Jerry Taylor, a member of the libertarian think tank CATO...” as if that lends credibility to the person.

 A Think Tank sounds like it’d be a great institution, but think tanks are always a front group, to push the agenda and at the same time obscure the agenda of billionaires.  In the case of CATO, the agenda that’s pushed and obscured, is that of  Charles and David Koch. I imagine the average fan of Bullshit! is an Atheist, Skeptic, or admirer of empiricism. Those guys must be gullible.

There’s a disproportionate presence of CATO members on Bullshit! because Penn and Teller are both fellows at CATO. Penn has authored articles that are still on record to help their ‘cause.’ The first is an anti-TSA piece he wrote in 2002 before his bullshit went on the air-

“...some people are fighting against the airport police state. And the weird thing is that, as far as I can tell, those fighters mostly are comedians.”

He goes on to compare the past fight against censorship and obscenity laws by the likes of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin with the joke-of-the-week fight against the TSA by low-rent modern-day (at the time) comedians. Which suggests that anyone who interferes with the TSA’s job is a boundary-pushing pro-freedom anti-censorship pioneer.

And Jillette counts himself among them. He published his own experience with the TSA, shortly after the agencies inception,  in which he calls local police on a TSA agent for assault . That’s how long this bullshit has been going on.

On Bullshit!, libertarian propaganda was easier to sneak under the radar, so to speak.

Shortly after Environmental Hysteria aired, it was debunked point-by-point by Logical Science. Though,despite self-describing as cheerleaders for science, Penn and Teller don’t really care about science. Jillette doesn’t put his money where his mouth is; he puts his mouth where his money is.

Self-describing as a skeptic is like self-describing as a scientist- you’re up for peer review. At The Amazing Meeting, a convention of scientists, magicians, skeptics, atheists and freethinkers organized by James Randi, Jillette was asked whether or not he still believed that climate change was bullshit. His answer was that he hated Al Gore, and since Al Gore has been trying to raise awareness for climate change, it must not be true.

Afterwards, clearly emotionally affected by this opposition and challenge in the skeptic community, Jillette wrote an article for the Los Angeles times in which he said:

Is there no ignorance allowed on this one subject? ...There's a lot of evidence, but global warming encompasses a lot of complicated points: Is it happening? Did we cause it? Is it bad? Can we fix it? Is government-forced conservation the only way to fix it?

But the climate of the whole world is more complicated. I'm not a scientist, and I haven't spent my life studying weather. I'm trying to learn what I can, and while I'm working on it, isn't it OK to say "I don't know”?

This is obvious misdirection of the kind Jillette has been performing his whole life, and this was in 2008, 5 whole years after the Environmental Hysteria episode had aired. His plea of Isn’t it okay to say I don’t know? is pathetic. This is a person whose built his career on taking sides and taking the ‘right’ side, objectively. Why would the fact of global climate change be the one that the makers of a TV show called Bullshit! could never make up their minds about?

Penn and Teller and staff have jumped at the opportunity  to accept the scientific consensus on anything except global climate change. There’s a reason for that- they’re paid by their oil-baron sugar daddies for services rendered.

P. Jillette: “We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists—I’m not sure. And we haven’t tacked Islam because we have families.”

Interviewer: “Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back …” 

P. Jillette: “Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific.”

So, Penn and Teller are not only willing to let the money of their sugar daddies at Koch Industries influence their ‘opinion,’ they’re willing to let anyone’s money and the threat of litigation influence their opinion. How libertarian of them. And forget Islam. Even though they’re self-described hardcore Atheists; real religious belief that leads to violence is too scary!

Jillette is just insecure teetotaling carnival trash, and since he’s joined up with the billionaire-bankrolled idiot-tanks, it won’t surprise you to know he’s an Ayn Rand fan. He publicly adheres to Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Watch here at 5:00.

There you see it. Penn Jillette appearing on a teetotaling Mormon’s cancelled show, supporting the astroturfed tea-baggers efforts by gushing about Ayn Rand and how she,

...laid this all out in Atlas Shrugged.
He’s made a few more cringe-worthy appearances on Glenn Beck’s show. And he’s continued to gush about Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Rand Paul, and defend Glenn Beck on his own third-rate v-logging youtube channel. In his defense of Glenn Beck, he mentions that he wouldn’t have gone to his rally. Yet appearing by satellite for moral support is just A-Ok.

I suspect that after Bullshit! was done shilling out it’s anti-environmental hysteria and deregulation dogma, CATO wondered what further use Penn Jillette could be to them. And isn’t it obvious?

Atheists, as the least trusted,  and fastest growing group in the United States, are likely upset by their lack of representation in the government, and in society. What better giant talking head could lead all these unrepresented people to the false revolution of Libertarianism than Penn Jillette?

That’s why Penn Jillette makes me embarrassed to be an Atheist.  Intuitively the non-religious belong, and have historically been a part of,  the leftwing of politics. Because, if there is no god, then it’s up to individuals and governments to show compassion for other people in their society. By contrast, strong religionists are always part of the rightwing. They literally trust in god to do all the compassionate stuff, or they’re neo-Calvinists, and don’t really care.

I suspect that nowadays the billionaire mafia and social-darwinist banksters are trying to attract naturally gullible ‘freethinking’  atheists to their ‘cause,’ dubbing the followers as revolutionaries, rather than boot-lickers. It’s in their best interest to conflate and confuse Atheism with social darwinism. Ayn Rand’s bankrupt Objectivist philosophy and  Penn Jillette’s blustering presence are their best weapons.

Never trust a magician. Or a Russian woman.

July 23, 2011

The Dock Of The Bay

Amy Winehouse died, and I learned that from hateful facebook status updates. I was inclined to join in the hate. After all, who doesn't love dancing on a grave?

I wasn't familiar with her music or life, but I remembered her song Rehab, of course. It wasn't half bad, and for all I remember, It might have even been half good. So I looked it up on Youtube.

It was pretty good- about as good as modern mainstream pop music can be. An interesting voice and personality backed by neo-soul and jazz instrumentation. Not bad. Then I decided to read the Youtube comments. What a mistake.

The comments were coming in so quickly in the wake of her death that they were moving like in a chat room. It was everything you might expect. Mostly RIP AMY in various forms. Then every 10 comments, give-or-take a couple- IRONY FOR THE WIN(These are the people I hate the most). And every 15 comments there'd be a comment that mentioned that Amy Winehouse is now part of the 27 Club.

Many musicians died from misadventure or suicide when they were 27. Someone noticed this when Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died within the same 365 days. Since then, everyone's noticed a shit ton of musicians die at 27(instead of noticing they all had J's in their names). When I was reminded of Janis Joplin, I drew a connection between Amy Winehouse and her. [The drunk white female soul singer, soon to be a stock character] Then I thought to look up some of Joplin's performances.

I read the comments underneath the Janis Joplin videos and was delighted to see that some other people had made the same connection. Many comments suggested both Winehouse and Joplin were cut from the same cloth, and that both of them ought to rest in peace. Then, of course, I saw the reactionaries.

Looking up old things on Youtube is an awesome way to live in the past. You can watch an interview with Joseph Heller or Jimi Hendrix and wish you were there. Tons of people have taken this practice to extremes and simply hate everything modern. There's a huge segment of commenters on Youtube who wish that time had never moved forward. On every video of a great 20th century musician there's an up-voted comment saying something like Good lord, give us back Jim Morrison and take Justin Bieber! Or something like I was totally born in the wrong decade.

So on the live performance of Janis Joplin I was watching, in reaction to the RIP AMY comments there were reactionary snobs saying something like How can you even compare Janis and Amy Winehouse? I hate everything that's new and shiny and different and brightly lit!

Time will never stand still. Sure, I wish I could've seen a live performance by some of those greats, but I would be embarrassed later on if I didn't recognize greatness as I live right now. So I'm not saying that Amy Winehouse is great, but I am saying that Otis Redding died at 26. He's the sole member of the 26 club, and he performed with Hendrix and Joplin at the Monterey pop festival to a standing ovation, only becoming famous after his death in a plane crash with the song Sittin on the dock of the bay.

So is Otis Redding more a part of the 27 club because he was around in the same time period, or is Amy Winehouse, because she died at an arbitrary age? The answer is that neither, or any of them, is any less a part of music history than any of the others. Musicians die all the time for all kinds of reasons and it's always a terrible waste of talent and life. Or as The most important composer to come out of modern popular music put it:

"Music is good. It's the only religion that delivers the goods. And anyone who wants to hear any kind of music is entitled to because it's good for you. It makes you feel good. If you like it, go for it, just because I don't like it doesn't mean anything. It's a matter of personal taste." -Frank Zappa.

July 17, 2011

The War on Bath Salts

The War on Drugs is at it's most absurd point. And It's hard to believe it could get more absurd than it is now, but I trust that it will. There exists a gray-market website to buy 'common drugs'(you know, grass, orange sunshine, cocaine, all that hippy shit) that accepts anonymous electronic currency to bid in eBay like auctions. Of course, the DEA is trying to shut 'em down.

Meanwhile, there's been a post 2000 BCE influx of Research Chemicals. Previously called Designer drugs; the most mainstreamed of which is MDMA, or Esctacy. It started with one guy, Alexander Shulgin, who simultaneously worked with the DEA(and recieved a Schedule I license out of the deal), and spent the rest of his life creating and writing books about and using analogs of Schedule I and II drugs(mostly psychedelics, the typical choice of the scientist), and then got raided by the DEA for it. He was fined, but not imprisoned, and still retains his license. He's 86 today.

They're called Research Chemicals, and not Designer Drugs, because every bag of powder you can buy legally online from a European lab is marked Not for human consumption. That's all it takes to skirt the law there. The Research Chemical gray-market operated relatively under-the-radar from 2000-2008 when mostly cannabis-analogs and psychedelics were being offered online and through 'smoking blends' in head shops. Then-

Stimulant users ruined everything like usual.

My interest in this issue peaked when a drug analog I was interested in appeared. I was ready to attempt to buy this research chemical, which was not fit for human consumption, when I had one of those bad-trip 'Is this what it's come to?' moments. I thought- Just because I'm too much of a coward to drive down to Mexico and buy Ketamine from a Veterinarian, I'm considering buying a brand-new drug over the internet from what may or not be a European Laboratory?

This Research Chemical absurdity ought to illustrate the obvious failure of drug prohibition to the powers that be. Since new drug analogs can be and are being synthesized and distributed all the time; any idiot can realize that a game of whack-a-mole is starting up. First they schedule 'the love drug', then 'bath salts',and then what's next? There's no end in sight to the drugs that can be created, distributed, and outlawed. And yet Australia has already jumped the gun and banned all drug analogs of illegal drugs- even ones that haven't been made yet.

I see a future in which synthetic drugs are illegal until they're made legal. A world in which a well meaning scientist and an underground chemist and a senior-citizen psychonaut could accidentally or purposefully produce a 'drug analog' and be locked up for doing so, before anyone knows the effects, benefits, or possible medical use of the substance.

That's bad. Every thinking person knows the war on drugs is futile. I, for one, never expected it would interfere with science like it's threatening to do now.

July 09, 2011

Spaced Out

The Obama administration has cut funding for the Constellation program. That means no more flights into space for the United States. This is representitive of everything Obama's about. What is Obama about, no one asked for 3 years? Obama, as a former lawyer, seems to be about agreement; and the worst of all things- Bipartisanship.

That's right, that thing all the talking heads blather on about every election season, 'bipartisanship'. You guys wanted it, right? Compromise? Well Republicans and Democrats are more than willing to compromise when it comes to something that screws you and doesn't effect them. And Obama seems perfectly willing to concede anything to beat a 'deadline'.

They're getting a lot done in D.C. these days. Everyone in the capital agrees our national debt is the only issue to be concerned about. It's not as if we could just leave the middle east, tax the super rich and go back to watching the ball game. No, this is a serious crisis. So serious that anything that Americans like(except war) is on the chopping block(except war). Like Social Security and the Space Shuttle program(but not war).

Truth be told I thought the Space Shuttle program was kind of stupid and useless. So did many other simple-minded unpatriotic Americans- who thought  that the extraordinary cost of exploring space could be better spent on domestic matters. Of course, that's making the foolish assumption that the government is going to spend it's capital on bettering the lives of Americans. Ha!

 Obama is the first president with the nerve to stop regular flights into space. I wouldn't do it, would you? To have no more Space Shuttle flights is saying in effect:

"It was a good run, America, but we're not a superpower anymore, we're just like some enormous shitty European country with way more Christians."

Okay, we all know that to be true, but you don't point it out! We're supposed to keep pretending America ended Nazism, Fascism and Jihad and keep flying into space and hope that the next generation finally makes the United States as awesome as it should be.

It's difficult to HOPE when our president cuts the funding of our legacy.

July 06, 2011

Little Brother And The Cringeocracy

Internet and cellular phones are the biggest game-changer in the last 40 years by far. They are so intuitively useful, particularly together, that nowadays they are taken for granted. It occurred to me recently that kids growing up today never lived without these things. Sociologists have of course beaten me to the punch and named these people digital natives.

I  doubt there's going to be much difference between these people and me or slightly older people. Despite what some reactionary sociologist might say- social people will always be social. They'll just use new technology to help them be social.

There is a difference, however, in the nature of the technology. Every cellphone in a developed or devoloping country is armed with a camera and internet access. I say armed because there is real power in having documentation and communication technology in your pocket. Much was made about the 'cellphone revolutionaries' in Egypt's recent unrest and regime change. I believe it had less to do with the social-networking technology to organize protests and more to do with the cringe factor of what can be recorded with cellphone cameras.

There's a lot more cringing in the cellphone era. This video of the vicious beating of a transgender woman in a Baltimore McDonalds caused a lot of cringing. (Warning: not really worth watching if you read the title.) Of course, a bunch of reactionary idiots complained that 'everyone stood idly by, and some laughed'.The implication is that before internet and cellphone culture everyone intervened to stop crime all of the time.

That's the thing- taking a video of a spectacle, no matter what the intent, and posting it online is intervention. It then enters the court of public opinion. Because of that video, the viciousness of the attack is known for sure; it's not just a blurb in the alternative weekly's crime section. [oh that's right, baltimore is so riddled with murder we only have a murder section] Imagine this being reported on before the advent of the cellphone camera:

"Transgender woman, 22, beaten in local area McDonalds by 2 African American Females, one 18, one a juvenile."

You'd read that and think, 'hmm, that's too bad', but since it was filmed by a wage-slave [who was then promptly fired, but no one gives a shit about 'the help'], rallies were held, worldwide outrage weighed in, and hate crime legislation in Maryland may be expanded to include transgendered people. I really doubt this change would have occurred without that cellphone camera video and wide access to the internet.

George Orwell was right in predicting the importance of surveillance in 1984. But he couldn't have imagined that it's not only Big Brother, but Little Brother, who's watching. And Little Brother is a curious guy who knows when he's being entertained or shocked. Since Little Brother's always had a cellphone, his first instinct is to film the event, and share it with the world. Imagine the implications!

World War 1 passed without a hitch (except a bunch of labor activists who campaigned against it, but they're fucking commies, amirite?), World War 2 was passed over as the just war, but the first massive public opposition to a war and the draft in the United States was with Vietnam. Why? Video Cameras. It was the only American war that had been documented and was being broadcast right on television.

They're more careful about that kind of thing now. War is censored by the mainstream media. But I know that Little Brother is watching everywhere, ready to film injustice, and share it with the entire world.

The pen is mightier than the sword. I wonder if the cellphone camera could be mightier than the gun.

July 04, 2011

Cowardly New World

"It doesn't guarantee salvation or it's not sufficient and it's not necessary to salvation but if it can be collaborated with and used in an intelligent way it can be an immense help to people. This sense that in spite of everything ... in spite of pain, in spite of death, in spite of horror, the universe in some mysterious sense is all right, capital A, capital R."
-Aldous Huxley, describing the therapeutic effects of an LSD experience.

When I read Brave New World by Huxley, I was pretty blown away by how on-the-money he predicted psychiatric drug use. In the book everyone is always taking pills. Everyone takes them daily just to 'feel good' and even death is managed entirely through pharmaceuticals- everyone takes the same pills to induce a quick, painless decline and death. Pretty astute, right?

Predictably, the books plot centers around a guy who stops taking the feel-good pills and sees the horror of society, or some such nonsense. A swing and a miss.

What Huxley couldn't have predicted(or didn't, anyway) is that the world 2.0, the information age, is a wild mess. While it's true that the pharmaceutical industry produces tons of feel-good pills, and that the United States is the most prescribed-to nation on earth(followed up by every other developed country), the government still isn't issuing us pills yet.

I'm tempted to say something like 'Well with big pharma and all the advertisement and lobbying, it's not too far off...' but that's not true. Psychiatric drugs are a product just like cigarettes- you can get a lot of people to start with enough billboards, and people will get hooked, but there was never a time when everyone smoked. There will never be a time when everyone is on Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety meds. But goddamn, a lot of people are on them.

I've never had the nerve to think I was depressed. Even after tragedy and crisis I can only own up to feeling 'really bummed out'. Every thinking person - I should think- has these periods of being really bummed out. That is a distinct phenomenon from major depression. Since the beginning of western thought, certain individuals have been noticed as being extremely bummed out. The kind of bummed out that starves itself to death. The distinction is made in modern psychiatry between those 2, but medication is suggested for both. Even if you have 'low mood, but it's not that bad,' you might have one of many atypical depressions. And still there's medication for it.

If someone believes they're depressed, seeks help, a doctor suggests medication, they take it, and a pharmaceutical rep gets a huge kickback, I really can't fault anyone. They're entitled to try medication, and no one made them.

People are only as good as what they know. Many people don't know pet ownership lowers lifetime depression rates, exercise shows about as good efficacy as medication, tons of weird drugs have antidepressant effects and no effect on serotonin receptors (like Scopolamine and Ketamine), and happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway. The link between depression and suicide is shaky- Only 60% of suicides in the U.S. were confirmed depressed people, and currently popular medication has a negligible or negative effect on suicide risk.

I have the sneaking suspicion that there will never be a universal happy pill. Not only is the working theory of depression wrong; it could never be right, and there could never be one that's right. The diversity of neurobiological condition, psychiatric condition, and the wide range of effects of all drugs in humans makes 'the pill that fixes everything' impossible, forever. The psychiatric pharmaceutical industry isn't making medicine. They just have a monopoly on available drugs.

The anti-psychiatry movement in the 1970's famously campaigned that 'there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance'. They were wrong. Everyone is chemically imbalanced. Just try to get along with yourself. Getting drunk or high might help.