Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kossacks tackle the existence of G*d and other matters

from terry2wa :

""I find Dawkins' works to be solidly scientific and logical, but
like so many of his intellectual mentors from the Post-War era, there is a
profound sense of existential despair lying just below the surface. He is excellent with explanations of process and hypotheses of causality, but he is simply mute on the wonder of it all. His work is intellectually compelling, but spiritually sterile and flat. He's like Camus in a lab coat.

Hitchens is, in my opinion, simply a contrarian who, if he does not actually actively
despise any human interaction which could be deemed altruistic or noble or self-abnegating, is so skeptical of motive as to be little more than a misanthrope. If his aim is to win converts to atheism, then I am fairly certain eventually Evangelicals like Rick Warren will pass out copies of God Is Not Great along with their religious tracts, because after reading Hitchens the usual reaction is, after taking one long and very hot shower and scrubbing off most one's epidermis, to pray devoutly for the existence of a God who can lock Hitchens safely away for eternity in Hell with the other demons who roam the world seeking the ruin of souls.

That said, I find Daniel Dennett's upbeat and almost lyrical atheist credo, as outlined in Breaking The Spell, to be the most compelling and accessible. His personal philosophy has accomplished the almost miraculous feat of combining a rigorous scientifically-grounded agnosticism with the best elements of Humanist thought. Like EO Wilson, his science flows from his curiosity, awe and wonder at the natural world, and he is able to acknowledge that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are the cornerstones of a fulfilling human existence, the foundation of human ethics, and the lynchpins of civilization. One comes away from Dennett's books with the impression that he has enjoyed life, in spite of being godless, and that you are the better for
having made his acquaintance.

Of course, all I've said here should be tempered by the admission that I remain, in spite of everything, a believer. The Apostle's Creed has long since fallen into disuse and disrepair in this jaded soul, but I continue to judge the affairs of Mankind by the standards of the rebel Jesus. And while I no longer cling to the conviction that anything awaits me after death except recycling, my soul refuses to accept the proposition that life, even individual life, is without purpose or meaning. It may be Freud's "illusion", but I'm too damned old now to care.

That said, I have a great deal of respect for an honest disbeliever. Like Paul Tillich, I believe that no faith exists without doubt, and I join many of you in stating my firm conviction that organized religion is the fountainhead of a large portion of this world's temporal suffering.

Still, as I get older and closer to whatever eternity is, I am absolutely certain that the hunger and thirst for justice which those old Dominican nuns drilled into my dense and feral little head all those years back was a good thing, and I am grateful for the part of me which yearns to see every human given his due and holds all people accountable for the gifts received, in the measure they have received them."""

Rather eloquent for a Kossack.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


(from GWFH's Phil of History)

""""“Eh bien,” said Napoleon, “we shall go to mass again, and my good fellows will say: ‘That is the word of command!’” This is the leading feature in the character of these nations – the separation of the religious from the secular interest, i.e., from the special interest of individuality; and the ground of this separation lies in their inmost soul, which has lost its independent entireness of being, its profoundest unity. Catholicism does not claim the essential direction of the Secular; religion remains an indifferent matter on the one side, while the other side of life is dissociated from it, and occupies a sphere exclusively its own. Cultivated Frenchmen therefore feel an antipathy to Protestantism because it seems to them something pedantic, dull, minutely captious in its morality; since it requires that Spirit and Thought should be directly engaged in religion: in attending mass and other ceremonies, on the contrary, no exertion of thought is required, but an imposing sensuous spectacle is presented to the eye, which does not make such a demand on one’s attention as entirely to exclude a little chat, while yet the duties of the occasion are not neglected.""""

O Schweigen KristallNacht. Yo BubbaBot: that's sort of like you, blasting bombastically away on a trumpet. GWFH tho' plays Beethoven (or maybe Wagner), and you, alas, play like "Lil Light of Mine." And GWF knows 4 or 5 languages fluently (Deutsch, Latin, greek, romance tongues, probably a bit of sanskrit, chinese, even arabic--and you can barely manage Anglo-preacher speak), has mastered most of the sciences of the time (quite adept with derivatives and integrals), and knows world history, greek and roman thinkers (Caesar one of his faves) up and down. BubbaRon x 10.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


4:17 Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? 4:18 Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: 4:19 How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth? 4:20 They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it. (from the Book of Job)

The LPOE has been known for centuries. The Book of Job presents the issue in some form; greek and roman scribes alluded to it. Voltaire, pal of Franklin and Hume had some awareness of the issue , as that great surreal graphic novel Candide reveals. (Jefferson kept a bust of Voltaire, Marquis de Arouet in his Monticello study his entire life). Dr. Pangloss, V's parody of that brilliant mystic-windbag Leibniz, insists this is the best of all possible worlds, even in the face of wars, earthquakes and tidal waves killing untold thousands.

Most modern theologians--Dr. Panglosses are still around--would probably uphold Leibniz's rather optimistic view, and claim that, even apres-Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the Bush Administration, their God chose the best of possible worlds (how do they know, without knowing of other worlds??), and at the same time grant that God does allow evil (another problematic normative concept). He does not intervene to stop the suffering of the innocent, say, when by definition He could; and obviously history affords a monumental amount of evidence showing the suffering of innocent (or mostly innocent), via pain, poverty, natural disasters, disease, collateral damage in wars, etc. ("Free will" does not offer the theologian an escape in the above cases).

In short, God's putative Justice, Perfection and Omnipotence are not consistent, or evident or provable in any normal sense of proof, i.e. via axiom, or observation (here is a brief synopsis of the logical problem of evil). The inconsistency of the premises suggests that JHVH (assuming He exists for sake of irritating the pious) is either Omnipotent, but not Just (or "perfect" really), OR he is not Omnipotent (and then not really God), or simply does not exist.

So, God either won't prevent undue suffering, though He could--which seems to suggest an amoral KingGod, sort of a Tamerlane on high---or He can't (which denies his omnipotence, or perhaps suggest a manicheanism, or polydeism, or other oddities), OR since that all seems rather preposterous, we can safely claim He does not exist. However ancient and obscure manicheanism seems, a battle between opposing forces seems a rather more plausible religious model (even somewhat evolutionary) when considering the absurd implications of a monotheist Being. Given a century of brutal wars, genocide, political oppression of all sorts, the conclusion of the LPOE seems rather a fortiori (as do Voltaire's points).

There are other anti-theological tactics of course--such as the Darwinian tactic. Darwin and Lyell did not merely advance biological science: they established the fallibility of the dogma of Old Testament (and all theological texts purporting to account for natural history). Radiocarbon dating disproved the rabbinical and xtian accounts of creation (ie 4000 bc, etc.), and confirmed Darwinian accounts of a very old world, and of common descent with modifications (problems there are with naive Darwinism--McDarwinism--as evidenced by TH Huxley's simplifications. For that matter Darwin himself waffled on the religious question, and at times appears to have agreed with the 'teleological' argument).

The LPOE does something quite different than Darwinism does: the LPOE shows the inconsistencies of the theologians' own assumptions via a fairly obvious set of premises. The correct conclusions drawn from LPOE will not likely phase many biblethumpers, or koranthumpers, most of whom have no problem upholding the code of Credo que Absurdum:theists are generally great romantics. That our elected officials also uphold the Credo q.A. (ie asking fundies to offer invocations and benedictions), however, should concern all Non-Churchians.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dr. Chu

Dolores May, commenting on Obama's appointment of Dr. Chu to Sec. of Energy(HuffPo):

Progressives should be aware that Dr. Chu's energy research is entirely funded by British Petroleum, through a controversial $500 million dollar contract with UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Labs (as well as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). The emphasis at the BP-created initiative is mainly on biofuels. The deal has come under heavy criticism for potentially ensuring that a major oil company will be setting much of the agenda for energy research in the coming century (not to mention setting the agenda for the public universities involved). Not an entirely evil enterprise, perhaps, but hardly free of distortion by economic interests. And Dr. Chu was a major force creating the deal. So not to rain on anyone's parade, but just to add a little perspective. This appointment is very much in the mold of other Obama appointments: Super-smart, super-qualified guy - but no progressive.

Meet the new Energy Czar, same as the old Energy czar. Chu also supports nuclear energy. That said, Chu's scientific credentials appear impressive, and Contingencies does not automatically dismiss the potential viability of nuclear power. (Emo-crats usually do, however--except when Chairman BO assures them it's ok). Obama also has selected former Clintonite EPA boss Carol Browner (Miss Browner's the actual E-Czar--Czarina?) for an eco-bureaucrat position, along with Nancy Sutley, an assistant to Browner: all Clintonites. Hope and Change.

The nerdier DailyKOS sorts approve of Chu for the most part, believing that a real "geek" has taken over the reins of Energy. Chu, however, like most high-powered laboratory scientists, has ties to oil corporations such as BP, as did his predecessors in Bush admin. (BP has in fact greatly profited from the Iraqi war--). The implication seems to be that a pro-nuclear Asian scientist with ties to Big Oil is to be preferred to the pro-nuclear American scientist with ties to Big Oil.

One Counterpuncher, Karl Grossman doesn't seem overly thrilled with the appointment of Dr. Chu: “He’s really big on efficiency and renewables,” says Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, of Chu. But he is “looking at nuclear as well. He and President-elect Obama are not anti-nuclear, and not perhaps as versed on it as they should be.” Mariotte has a major concern that “they will accede to demands to fund nuclear power made by Congress”—awash in contributions from the nuclear power industry and with many members loyal to the national nuclear laboratories in their districts.""

One of the Dept. of Energy's founding members, Admiral Rickover--hardly some tofu-munching, birkenstock'd Greenpeacer--ultimately took a stance against nuclear power, and suggested banning nuclear reactors.


Cockburn on Politix, Chicago-style. When he keeps his VI Lenin fetish under control, Alex Cockburn actually can scribble a bit. Blogging Blago:

""""Top storyline has been the impact of Blagojevich’s indictment on Obama. At the very moment the president-elect proclaims an era of uplift and constitutional propriety, the slimy tentacles of old-style Chicago corruption snake towards his ankles. The chortles of outgoing President George Bush Jr., himself harassed by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in the Scooter Libby affair, must be rich and prolonged.

Blagojevich did Obama the enormous favor of denouncing him on the government’s tapes. “F--- him,” bellowed the governor during a call with top aides and Patti, covertly recorded by the FBI on November 10th, “For nothing? F--- him.” The governor was peeved that Obama’s representatives weren’t offering him any material incentives to nominate Obama’s political associate and Chicago powerhouse, Valerie Jarrett, for the senate seat vacated by Obama. The president elect can thank his stars for the expletive, but potential embarrassments still loom.....""

We suspect Kid Obama's closer--much closer--to this than most of the Emo-crats realize. So BO goes with Emanuel--and thus ratted out his one-time ally Blago. Blago then puts BO's Senatorial position on the block. F--- him, indeed. Alas, facts, historical facts interfere with that gleaming Progressive futurity.

Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.

Engels, Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx

Darwin. Marx. Darwin and/or Marx.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Susan Jacoby on American Unreason:

"""The debasement of the nation's speech is evident in virtually everything, on every subject, broadcast and podcast on radio, television, and the Internet. In this true, all-encompassing public square, homogenized language and homogenized thought reinforce each other in circular fashion. As George Orwell noted in 1946, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts” In this continuous blurring of clarity and intellectual discrimination, political speech is always ahead of the curve—especially because today’s media possess the power to amplify and spread error with an efficiency that might have astonished even Orwell. Consider the near-universal substitution, by the media and politicians, of “troop” and “troops” for “soldier” and “soldiers.” As every dictionary makes plain, the word “troop” is always a collective noun; the “s” is added when referring to a particularly large military force. Yet each night on the television news, correspondents report that “X troops were killed in Iraq today.” This is more than a grammatical error; turning a soldier—an individual with whom one may identify—into an anonymous-sounding troop encourages the public to think about war and its casualties in a more abstract way. Who lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Troop? It is difficult to determine exactly how, why, or when this locution began to enter the common language. Soldiers were almost never described as troops during the Second World War, except when a large military operation (like the Allied landing on D-Day) was being discussed, and the term remained extremely uncommon throughout the Vietnam era. My guess is that some dimwits in the military and the media (perhaps the military media) decided, at some point in the 1980s, that the word “soldier” implied the masculine gender and that all soldiers, out of respect for the growing presence of women in the military, must henceforth be called troops. Like unremitting appeals to folks, the victory of troops over soldiers offers an impressive illustration of the relationship between fuzzy thinking and the debasement of everyday speech."""


Friday, December 05, 2008

Meet the new Madame Hillary; same as the old Madame Hillary

Josh Frank on Madame Hillary:

"""It’s official.

Barack Obama has chosen Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State; a choice that confirms US foreign policy is not about to change significantly under the forthcoming Democratic administration. The US will continue to pander to Israel and the War on Terror will still be the rallying cry for our foreign interventions.

In a letter to her constituents in November 2005, Clinton expressed her belief that the war in Iraq shouldn’t be “open-ended,” but was clear that she would never “pull out of Iraq immediately.” She wrote that she wouldn’t accept any timetable for withdrawal and won’t even embrace a “redeployment” of US troops along the lines of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).""""

Those nasty Demopublicans. The choice of Miss Clinton for the rather crucial position of ReceptionistSecretary of State should not shock. That the "liberal" blogging horde did not raise their voice at Obama's selection of Hillary does not shock either (and GOPers already have said they will confirm): that's how the contemporary political process works at this stage, with American politicians shifting from a phony puritanical pacifism (i.e. Obama a year ago), to hard-boiled RealPolitik in a matter of weeks.

One year ago, Obamaites portrayed Hillary as a neo-con, ally of Lieberman, if not the equivalent of Dick Cheney in terms of foreign policy. The hack satirists of DailyKOS and similar sites had Hillary outfitted in the She-Wolf of the SS gear. Team Obama removed her jackboots, and she's now an experienced asset, carrying on the noble tradition of Condi Rice. That said, Miss Hillary, does possess some spine, and really more of a Truman-style Dem. than most of Obama's cronies. Perhaps she'll send a message of Love across the earth, like along with the aircraft carriers: the USS Jeee-zuss

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Congressman Kevin "Kern Guy" McCarthy,

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