Archive for the 'Oh, my lack of gods!' Category

Some Thoughts on the New Cosmos

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I’ve heard a fair amount of disappointment with the new Cosmos from fans of the original Cosmos.

I’ve been a fan of the original Cosmos since it first aired. I have the 20th Anniversary DVD set, and I watch them periodically, even today. I don’t watch the original Cosmos now to learn new things, or even to refresh things I’ve already learned. I watch it because it has a visceral, emotional draw. The music, the imagery, the way the ideas are presented.. the shape, the texture… I find the original Cosmos to be a beautifully produced piece of media, especially given the resources available. The WAY the story is told is at least as important as the story. I enjoy the story of the original Cosmos, but I also enjoy the way the story is told, and that contributes to its “rewatch value”.

Many of the complaints I’ve heard about the new Cosmos center on the use of animation to present historical events and hypothetical events of human pre-history. I’m not a huge fan of the artistic style of the animation… the broad lines, the sharp angles, and so on… but I certainly see that animation has a place in the Cosmos framework. It did in the original, and it does today. The difference is that in 1980, Cosmos portrayed things like the troubles of Kepler and the triumphs of Huygens in live action, where the re-imagining of Cosmos tells those stories in animation.

I can certainly see the benefit of animation over live-action… first, it’s WAY cheaper to produce than, say, a live-action seventeenth-century vatican scene, followed by a live-action burning at the stake. Second, animations like those in the new Cosmos are part of the modern media landscape. Twenty years from now, they may date the Cosmos we’re watching today, but the same can be said for Sagan’s turtleneck, and the styles of animation on offer in 1980. …and, yes, the original Cosmos was fraught with animations and miniatures photography which would be handled in CGI today. If you don’t believe me, watch it again.

I really think this new Cosmos is fighting far more of an uphill battle than its predecessor. In 1980, the Apollo program was still fairly fresh in the modern consciousness, and science was a more respected field of endeavor in the United States. Today, fundamentalist Christianity has gained a sizable plurality in the political arena, and its adherents are extremely vocal and unduly indignant. They have reshaped America’s intellectual landscape to a point where 40% of American adults claim to believe that the Biblical creation story is more or less factually true, and discount biological evolution out of hand. Cosmos faces a far more hostile audience with a far weaker grounding in fundamental scientific ideas than the original did.

For me, if the modern Cosmos team can grab and hold an audience, and not pass along false information, then I call that a win. I am in no position to cast stones. The new Cosmos is polished, clean, consistent, engaging, and, I think, not at all condescending.

…also, I think the animations provide a certain, “This is allegorical and/or hypothetical… it may contain factual truths, but don’t take the whole of this as literal fact.” cue. This is one place where a great many of the new Cosmos’ contemporaries fall flat. Other science shows use inflated language, Hans Zimmer-esque music, and overblown imagery, and leave the viewer, I think, with a distorted view of what’s actually happening in the universe.

There’s another thing that separates Cosmos from practically all other popular science-oriented media… Cosmos is aimed at the individual. The intent is to engage the individual audience member on a personal level, rather than shooting over her or his head with endless facts, or blinding them with over-the top flashy CGI and hyperbolic narrative. At every step along the way Cosmos says, “This matters to you because…”

And, to the folks who are disappointed that the new Cosmos hasn’t brought up this or that… the latest complaint I’ve heard is that Hubble was not mentioned in the episode centered on light… I think you’re making a mistake in denigrating the completeness of the new Cosmos without having seen it in its entirety. The writers may have decided Hubble matters more in another context. We’re only 5 episodes into a 13 episode series. Please cut them a little slack.

All in all, I think this re-imagining of Cosmos stands firmly on its own, while being respectful to the Cosmos “brand” so many of us know and love. I keep in mind, however, that this is a re-imagining, and not a shot-for-shot remake. I also remember that I am not the target audience. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is made for people very much unlike me. People who don’t get gravity and light and simple chemistry and biology… People who may have been told, for all of their brief lives, by people they trust implicitly, that they were put here by an invisible superfriend with a special purpose, as part of a perfect plan. I ask my fellow Sagan (and Tyson) fans to do the same.

Six Types of Atheists?

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

This CNN article posits there are 6 types of atheists. The article cites a study wherein 59 interviews revealed the 6 types. 59 interviews. What the hell kind of a sample is that?!

Anyway, the article was uninspiring, and I replied with this:

These are distinctions without much of a difference. It seems to me there are theists (people who believe positively that there is a god; that is to say, when asked if they believe in a god, they say, “Yes”) and atheists (everyone else). Similarly, there are people who are intellectually curious (or not), and people who are intellectually honest (or not). It seems to me that if one is both intellectually curious and intellectually honest, both without fail, then one cannot help but adopt, sooner or later, a skeptical attitude toward claims, a method similar to The Scientific Method for investigating claims, and a reliance, primarily, on objectively verifiable evidence, rather than “faith” or “intuition” as the arbiter of what is real. I am obligated to respect your right to believe in accordance with your conscience, as you are obligated to respect my right to believe in accordance with my conscience. Neither of us is under any obligation to respect the beliefs themselves.

As far as the activist/anti-theist/non-theist thing goes… that’s just window dressing. Most people I know who are atheists are shoulder-shrugging atheists.. Do you believe in a god? No. Why not? *Shrug* …and that’s fine… these are people who would be persuaded if there was a compelling reason to believe a god existed. How rigorous their investigation of the evidence on offer would be is open to discussion.

The atheists that worry me are the “devout” atheists. I haven’t met too many of them. They’re the ones who say with real conviction that nothing will change their minds regarding their non-belief… Jehovah could appear right in front of them, and they’d still withhold belief. That’s just dumb. If the evidence is there, and it’s incontrovertible, and irrefutable, then you have to give in to the evidence. Challenge the evidence, yes; confirm its validity, of course; but accept it, if only provisionally, once it’s been validated.

To believe something without evidence, or worse, contrary to the available evidence, is to engage in faith, and that is not intellectually honest.

Go, Johnny, GO!! (NU1327-WJN1)

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Yes, of course. Miracle.

Pope John Paul the second, who, in case you hadn’t heard is dead, is already reported to have performed a second miracle, fulfilling the requirement to be turned into a saint.

That was quick, especially considering the shape he was in when he died!

Immediately prior to his death, Pope John Paul the second was carried around on a sedan chair, rarely spoke coherently, and appeared to have trouble swallowing and staying awake.

Now, if that’s the character working miracles, that, itself, is pretty miraculous… and if it’s him at the height of his prowess, then he’s the guy discouraging the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV, and covering up the rape of children by Catholic clergy.

Really, I could do without miracles from that guy.

See the full episode here:

Sound Continues To Escape From Pat Robertson (NU1325-WJN1)

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Originally appeared in NewsUndies episode NU1325, released June 28, 2013

Pat Robertson made a claim of godly threats following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Important fact: The only story about Pat Robertson worth reporting would be “Pat Robertson has been silenced by God, who reports, really, I was just tired of his bullshit.”

That’s right.

I don’t even want to know if he died of natural causes, or EVEN if he was murdered.

I Just. Don’t. Care.

His silence and the silence about him would be sufficient.

See the full NewsUndies episode here:

NewsUndies - 20130215 (NU1306)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The latest NewsUndies! All the news that shouldn’t be news, including:

  • HEADLINES
  • Mardi Gras! Carnivale!
  • Gotta Go Some Time

Watch! Share! Enjoy!

The Stupid in Rhode Island Has Hit Redline

Monday, January 16th, 2012

And here, I thought Rhode Island was this little pocket of rational liberalism… Oh, my lack of gods!

RI State Representative Peter G. Palumbo (Democrat- District 16, Cranston) on WPRO-AM’s John DePetro Show made some remarks regarding Jessica Ahlquist. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Jessica is the Junior at Cranston High School West in his district who, with the help of the ACLU brought a lawsuit against the school district to have a “prayer banner” which has hung for decades in the school taken down. She won.

Since then, oh boy. The fecal matter has struck the rotary atmospheric circulation inducer.

For the time being, you can listen to selected clips from the show here: http://630wpro.com/Article.asp?id=2371375&spid=18074, and download the full show here: http://630wpro.com/getpodcast.aspx?sid=18074&lid=6651&id=2371375&source=2&url=http://dl.dropbox.com/u/38015555/JAN%202012/01-12-12/011212PALUMBOFULL.mp3

I will try to keep the links current, but no guarantees.

I will make quotations from the conversation on this obscene program, and here is the required attribution: Quotations that follow are taken from the THE JOHN DEPETRO SHOW ON NEWSTALK 630 WPRO AND 99.7 FM which originally aired January 12, 2012.

Representative Palumbo remarked about Ahquist, “What an evil little thing….”, then said, “I think she’s being coerced by evil people. … she’s a pawn.”

Really Representative Palumbo? You also, apparently, think there’s an invisible man who’s been dead for 2,000 years who listens to you when you lose your car keys, and helps Tim Tebow make touchdowns. Clearly, you need some help with “thinking”.

…and just because it’s been there for 50 years… does that make it valid? …or right? …or sensible? People were convinced for thousands of years that enslaving “different” people was valid, that the “flat Earth” hypothesis was right, and that it was sensible to stone someone to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Modern, advanced societies no longer cling to these archaic and demonstrably faulty positions. The time has more than arrived to let this one go, too. The time has arrived, rented an apartment, dated, married, raised a small family, bought a home, sent all its kids through college, and is now considering a reverse mortgage.

Mr. DePetro, you are not free from blame in this situation either. Your mockery of the discomfort and unease Ahlquist reportedly felt is equivalent to mocking a paralyzed veteran for his or her disability. You know nothing of how they got there. You know nothing of how they live. You know nothing of what they endure, and you have the nerve, the gall, the inexcusable conceit to remark, “She’s been traumatized by this whole thing. Imagine she had to go to a school where they had the word God posted in. Do you have any idea what that must have been like? Do you have any idea the torment of having to be in a building that contained a prayer? I don’t think you understand the torment that goes with that. (laughter)”

Neither of these men understand what is going on here. Either that, or they feign ignorance to enhance their own public profiles. Either way, for one to be in a position to be a representative of others in government, and the other to be put forward as a “voice to be heard” is appalling.

Representative Palumbo went on, at DePetro’s urging, to read the prayer, prefacing it by saying, “…it’s such a positive prayer.” It is no such thing. The prayer reads:

    Our Heavenly Father.

    Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
    To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
    To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
    To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
    Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
    Teach us the value of true friendship.
    Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
    Amen.
    —School Prayer, Cranston High School West

In effect this states that we are incapable of growth, honesty, helpfulness, honesty, and so on WITHOUT the aid of a “heavenly father”, to whom we must grovel for these abilities.

I’m with Jessica on this one. I can desire to do my best, to grow, and be helpful, and kind and value friendship and all the rest WITHOUT begging a “heavenly father” for permission, and so can all of you. As a skeptic and freethinker, I abhor the implication smuggled in by this ostensibly harmless “prayer”. it subverts free will and personal responsibility, and is in no way appropriate to have every day before the eyes of impressionable children you hope will become responsible, self-sufficient, decent adults.

Of course, the unspoken convenience of the “school prayer” is that you can still be a jackass in school, and just say, “Despite my fervent, repeated requests, our heavenly father didn’t grant me the desire to do my best, or to be kind and helpful. Not my fault. Blame our heavenly father.”

If you want to put up a “school pledge” that is actually secular, and doesn’t use taxpayer funds to promote an establishment of religion, you could put up something like this:

    I pledge:
    to to do my best,
    to grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
    to be kind and helpful to my classmates and teachers,
    to be honest with myself as well as with others,
    to be a good sport and smile when I lose as well as when I win,
    to value true friendship,
    to conduct myself so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
    —School Pledge, Cranston High School West

It’s secular, and as an added bonus, it becomes a verbal contract, committing the speaker to decent behavior, rather than referring blame upward to a non-existent heavenly father.

Soul-Winning. Wow.

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Alright… So, it should be no secret by now that I’m an atheist. If you were previously unaware… Ta-da!!!

So I’m staggering around YouTube, and happen upon a video…

…Judging by the way the music sorta swells at the end, and is abruptly cut off, I’m guessing it’s part of something else, and I’m not sure if, in the bigger picture, it’s pro-Mormon or not… but BornAgainstMormons seems to be presenting it as a pro-Mormon message (as in, don’t give up when you try to proselytize). At first I thought BornAgainstMormons might be a poe, but looking at other videos on the channel, that seems less likely to me.

Fine.

I hopped around a little more, related videos and so on… and found this little gem:

So this is how to win a soul for Jesus, eh? Seems to me the soul of the poor sap in the house was already “won”. Seems to me all Pastor Douchenozzle did was say, ” …[ eight and a half minutes of Bible quotes ]… I see you have a Crown Vic in your driveway. At my church you have to drive a Grand Marquis, but I’ll tell what… I’ll just peel all the name plates off the outside, and put on the right ones… and voila! It’ll only waste ten minutes of your time, and make no difference at all, except I’ll be less afraid of your car.”

Defecting from the Catholic Church….?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Well, this is interesting…

As some of you may have heard, I gave up the “god thing” nearly 35 years ago, and prior to that I was being raised Catholic.

Now, on the one hand, I recognize the importance of accurate numbers.

I’m normally rabid about not buying computers with a Microsoft operating system pre-installed, because I’m just going to blow it away, and install Linux… I’m paying for it, and it counts as a sale for them, but it’s never even booted under my ownership.

It never really occurred to me that I might be on a baptismal roll somewhere, and, as such, counted among the billion-or-so Catholics. It’s certainly something to seriously consider. I don’t know what diocese I was baptized in, and I don’t know if I’m committed enough to the idea to find out.

I suppose if I have nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday… instead of going to church ;)

Morality. Har, har.

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A wonderful video from The Thinking Atheist:

The Supposed “War On Christmas”

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Is it just me, or does the Christian Right in this country just seem to go further and further out into the weeds with their “Oh, we’re so oppressed!” chicken dance? It really is sickening. With all the deference Christians get in this country, and it’s not enough? Christians already get their two biggest holidays as Federal holidays. Do the Jews? No. Is Kwanzaa a Federal Holiday? No.

Let’s look at the supposed battlefield, shall we?

Fans of such weed-eaters as Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson are out there complaining about how businesses and other people, who may or may not be Christian, wish people “Happy Holidays” in stead of “Merry Christmas”. Is that fair? While, statistically, you stand a better chance that the person you’re passing your season’s greetings to is Christian, as opposed to anything else, that margin of certainty is shrinking. Unless you know someone is a Christian, isn’t it sensible to refrain from assuming he or she is Christian, just because it’s the majority position?

If we’re going to “put the Christ back in Christmas”, shouldn’t we also put the “Democrat” back in “Democracy”? If you’re a Democrat, why not just automatically assume everyone else is a Democrat, and make some blanket statement about how cool it is to be a Democrat to everyone you meet around election time, as if they’re part of your club, and then gasp and recoil in horror, when they say that just because the White House, Senate and House of Representatives all have Democratic leadership doesn’t mean we’re all Democrats.

If Wal*Mart wants to alienate followers of other religions and the unaffiliated (over 20% of Americans, according to a Pew poll) that’s their choice. If you as a Christian (assuming you are one) choose to assume I’m a Christian (a big mistake, and you’ll hear about it, long form, in short order) that’s your business. It’s not the job of the US Government to proselytize for any faith. If the Federal Government of the United States of America is to offer any greetings making reference to religiously significant observances (and I think even that is going too far), it is Constitutionally bound to show no preference to any one religion. “Happy Holidays” and/or “Season’s Greetings” is as far as the US Government can go. For a Congressman or Senator to attempt to legislate anything else is an obvious breach of their Oath of Office, and, I think, grounds for impeachment and removal from office.

As far as what an individual says to another, I think it’s a matter of personal choice. If you are a Christian, It’s up to you whether you want to take the one in five chance of alienating a stranger by wishing them a Merry Christmas. If you’re not a Christian, it seems patently hypocritical to wish someone else Merry Christmas.

This group-offense-taking, which seems to have started in earnest with the Danish Mohammad cartoon lunacy is reaching new heights of idiocy. This “War on Christmas” thing has taken a totalitarian turn, with the notion that the Christians are entitled to force me to think a certain way about their religious observances, and, as a consequence, feel (or at least ape) reverence for their faith above others.

If then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney could tell US Senator from Vermont Patrick J. Leahy on the floor of the US Senate to “fuck himself” without any official retribution, reprisal, or censure, that response is obviously acceptable for use in civilized discourse among decent respectable people. As such, I offer it to these “War on Christmas” crybabies who insist that I, and you, and everyone else, use the phrase “Merry Christmas” as a greeting, irrespective of audience.

I think what I’m going to do from here on out is simply reject the notion that December is any more significant than, say, June, and just greet everyone with a, “Hi,” or, “Hello.”, leave them with a “See ya,” or “Fare well,” and reply to offerings of “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or “Season’s Greetings” with a firm, but polite, “No, Thanks.”