Saturday, December 27, 2008

Founders were Outspoken against Christianity

Evangelical Christians are fond of asserting that this country was founded on Christianity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Founding Fathers all believed in God, but not necessarily the Christian god. Most were deists, believing that God and nature were substantially equivalent and that we humans create our own future and are solely responsible for our past. A minority of the Founding Fathers were Christians, but all believed that whatever your religion, it should be kept completely separate from government.

There is not one single mention of God in the Constitution of the United States. In the date, at the bottom, is written “In the Year of Our Lord,” but that was standard form for the way dates were written on official documents back then. We use the abbreviation A.D. today, which is short for the Latin phrase Anno Domini, which means “in the year of our Lord.”

Looking back at the writings of the men we call the Founding Fathers, we can get a clear understanding of what they actually thought about religion in society. Although it was during a time when few doubted the existence of a supreme being, call it God, Providence, the Creator, or the Almighty, and many respected the lessons of the man named Jesus, few of them would be regarded as what we today call born-again Christians. They worked more to inform the populous about how religion tends to spoil and corrupt government than they worked to spread the gospel.

John Adams stressed the importance of reason over religion when he said, “When philosophic reason is clear and certain by intuition or necessary induction, no subsequent revelation supported by prophecies or miracles can supersede it.”

This was an echo of what Benjamin Franklin had written earlier in Poor Richard’s Almanac. He wrote, “The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of Reason.”

And in a letter to his son, Adams wrote, “Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.”

At a seeming jab at the all-knowing fundamentalists of the day, Adams wrote, “God is an essence that we know nothing of.”

And, in the clearest indication of all that the U.S. was never meant to be a Christian nation, in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli which Adams signed, are printed these words: “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”

Although Franklin often wrote glowingly about religion’s roll in society, he also pulled no punches in his contempt for its dogma. “I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies,” he wrote in his autobiographical piece, “Toward the Mystery.”

Thomas Jefferson was one of our founders who had an utterly cynical view of religion and Christianity. He wrote in his Notes on Virginia, "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” And, "Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies.”

And in a warning against allowing religion too much influence on government, Jefferson wrote, “In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”

Even George Washington was not a religious person. Although he attended church on a regular basis, he did not participate, choosing instead to just sit quietly and listen.

Washington had almost nothing to say about his own religion. He was a deist. He thought religion had a stabilizing influence on society, but he never took communion at his church and was once reprimanded in public by his pastor for not setting a good example in church. He never attended that church again. But, as a deist, he thought government should be inclusive and open to all religions and even atheists.

In a 1794 letter asking for laborers to build his Mount Vernon Estate, he wrote, “If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.”

John Quincy Adams was a big proponent of the separation of church and state. In an 1823 letter to Richard Anderson he wrote, “Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom....”

Thomas Paine had quite a lot to say about religion, most of it negative. In The Age of Reason he wrote, “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Paine also realized that religion can be the perverter of scientific thought and of logical reasoning, saying “There is scarcely any part of science, or anything in nature, which those imposters and blasphemers of science, called priests, as well Christians as Jews, have not, at some time or other, perverted, or sought to pervert to the purpose of superstition and falsehood.”

Yes, I know, there are a multitude of pro-Christian Web sites that list dozens of quotations by various Founding Fathers that seem to support religion and, in particular, Christianity. And, although some of the founders were Christian, none of them had in mind creating a Christian nation when they wrote the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States. To claim otherwise is to lay insult at their feet, for their main goal was to create a nation free of religious entanglement.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Offended by Secularist Rhetoric? Too Bad!

For the past couple of years, humanists, agnostics, and atheists have been standing up for themselves publicly. They are starting to come out of the closet. But their stance may be producing a Christian backlash as mostly fundamentalist Christians have started pushing back.

Evangelical Christians have lost a lot of political punch over the past couple of election cycles. The big blow came this past November when Barack Obama was elected president. Evangelicals like Mike Huckabee were eliminated early in the primary race. And McCain’s choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who is a very conservative Christian, may have cost him the election.

But it won’t take the fundamentalists long to regroup. Their numbers are large and they have a propensity to organize when they feel they have been shut out.

This Christmas season, atheist groups in America and in Britain have been bolstering their position by putting up billboards and placards proclaiming their disbelief. While only a small minority of Americans call themselves atheists, a considerably larger minority say they have no religion. They may call themselves agnostics, humanists, pragmatists, secularists, or even Christians, but they don’t attend church and religion is not a part of their lives.

But the push by the more radical element of this group to make themselves known has caused those like newspaper columnist Tom Sears of The Daily Star in New York to become offended. He asks in his column “What are atheists afraid of?”

In his column, he wrongly accuses atheists of being too lazy to give religion a chance. In fact, many atheists and agnostics have attended church and have read the bible. I am an agnostic and I am also baptized. I was a practicing Christian for many years and I was raised in a family of practicing Christians. So, no, I was never too lazy to learn about and to even practice religion. I simply got over it.

Sears then repeats the same old tired, but utterly incorrect, mantra about this country being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded on religious tolerance and freedom. It was founded by men who purposely left any reference to God out of the Constitution. It was founded by men who were religiously diverse, some of whom professed no religion at all.

Sears asks if atheists are afraid that children might see the nativity scenes and want to learn more about Jesus. Atheists have no problem with anyone learning about the historical figure of Jesus. What we fear is that children will be indoctrinated into a religion that blinds them to the facts of science and the real world, so they will be less likely to cope and more likely to rely on blind faith, thereby becoming disappointed and disillusioned when God doesn’t come through for them in times of need.

It’s the same fear that Sears professes he has about the children of atheists. He claims they won’t be exposed to religion so that they can make their own choices. My children have made their spiritual choices as adults. They did so on their own with no prodding from me. They, as I, attended church and were exposed to all the stories of the bible when they were kids. But they correctly left religion behind when they were old enough to start questioning.

But if Sears is offended by a sign, what about the non-religious folks who are bombarded all the time by signs, placards, billboards, and bumper stickers telling us with absolute certainty that Jesus saves or that His kingdom is coming? Sears claims the placard placed in the Capitol Building in Washington State was offensive because it denigrated his religion. It didn’t; it was merely a statement of belief by the atheist group who put it there.

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told an audience that maybe if atheists have a problem with Christmas they should work that day and take their day off on another day, like maybe April 1. Yes, it was with tongue in cheek, but Sears brought up the same argument, saying atheists should leave Christmas alone and celebrate their own holiday where they can look into the mirror and worship themselves because they profess no belief in a higher being.

First of all, Mr. Sears, not believing in a higher being doesn’t mean that you believe that you are really superior yourself. We are all simply people. More importantly, non-religious folks don’t have a problem with Christmas. It is, after all, just as much a secular holiday as a religious one. Christmas didn’t even become popular in this country until it was given a secular bend.

Christmas was largely shunned in the early days of this nation, even to the point of being outlawed in Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until Clement C. Moore gave Santa Claus a personality and brought in his team of reindeer, and Coca-Cola imbued its magazine ads with an image of the jolly old elf, and Christmas cards became popular that Christmas began to take off. Then, people started trading presents, which meant they had to go out and buy the presents to trade. That’s the Christmas that was made a holiday. For centuries before that, it was just a Christian tradition that many chose to utterly ignore.

But Sears is correct; Christians are a force to be reckoned with in this country. Their numbers are huge. He tried to make that point by comparing two movies: Bill Maher’s Religulous and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. He noted that the former was a flop and the latter was listed among the top grossing films.

Well, sure. There are more Christians than atheists. That doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on the truth. Passion grossed more because it had a bigger core audience and because it was shown on many more screens than Religulous. But according to the votes on the Internet Movie Database, Religulous scored higher than Passion on how much viewers liked the film.

It doesn’t matter anyway. The popularity of a film doesn’t make its premise any better than another. The real test should be how a particular worldview affects humanity and its future. In this, secularism wins hands down.

Throughout history, the most backward, oppressive and imperialist countries have been theocracies or monarchies whose monarchs were supposedly chosen through divine right. Religion has produced the crusades, the modern jihads, the Spanish Inquisition, the corruption of the Church during the Reformation, the suppression of scientific inquiry, and so on ad infinitum.

Today, mostly in America, fundamentalist Christianity is trying in every conceivable way to infiltrate public schools with its view on the creation of the earth and the life upon it. We can’t teach our students about safe sex practices, only about abstinence. Our government refuses to fund birth control programs in third-world nations if there is any counseling about abortion. And let’s not forget that America, even though it is one of the most religious free nations in the world, still has one of the highest violent crime rates. Compare that with countries such as Sweden, Denmark, or Norway that have very low crime rates but whose populations stay away from church in droves.

So maybe it is the Christians who ought to be afraid, not the secularists. Maybe they see the handwriting on the wall. Maybe these last two elections have been just the vanguard of a coming trend away from the all-powerful religious oligarchy. The Bush era will soon be behind us, and not one second too soon. And with him, hopefully, will go the kowtowing to religious zealots that, since the Reagan years, have prevented this country from enjoying the progress it could have had.

In the mean time, we’ll settle for our newly-acquired ability to put up signage on the courthouse lawn proclaiming our doubts about God. And if that offends you, just get over it. Now you know how we feel when confronted with the ubiquitous religious propaganda. Besides, there is no guarantee in our Constitution that gives you the freedom from being offended.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas is for Everybody, not Just Christians

Christmas is the only religious holiday that is also a legal federal holiday. And that’s fitting, I guess, because Christmas is for everybody. It’s especially fruitful for retailers, some of whom do a third of their annual business during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Christmas has a dichotomous nature: There is the secular side which includes Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and the buying and giving of presents. It has a religious side which includes special church services, nativity scenes, and the yearly obligatory chant by some Christians to “put Christ back into Christmas.”

Even the season’s music has multiple personalities. On the secular side there are “Jingle Bells,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and “White Christmas.” On the religious side there are Christmas hymns like “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “O Holy Night.”

Most of the time, the sectarian and secular personalities of Christmas get along just fine. Some people create holiday-themed music CD mixes with both religious and non-religious songs on them. People go through the hustle and bustle of shopping and gift giving and also attend midnight mass.

But sometimes the two themes of Christmas clash. Sometimes those clashes make headlines, as was the case when an atheist organization put up a placard next to a nativity scene in the Washington State Capitol building. The wording was fairly innocuous, extolling everyone to let reason prevail. And most people have let reason prevail. They understand that in a country that is based on certain basic freedoms, two of which are religion and speech, that differing religious viewpoints should be tolerated.

But others haven’t gotten the message. News commentator Bill O’Reilly, for example, has publicly condemned the atheists’ placard. He believes it is inappropriate to put up a sign promoting secular reason next to a Christian display, even if both are on public property. Has he even read the Constitution?

Christians do not own the month of December. For over a century in this country Christians have had carte blanche access to public grounds for the display of their religious symbols. Until quite recently, the nativity scene has been the default decoration, not only in church yards, but at courthouses, in parks, and on the lawns of other public buildings.

And now when people who put reason and logic above magic and mysticism want equal time, those like O’Reilly accuse them of trying to take over the season.

Christmas is for everybody, not just Christians. It is celebrated by Christians as Jesus’ birthday, but that isn’t when Jesus was born. Nobody knows when Jesus was born. Most scholars believe it was in the late spring. We celebrate it on December 25 because the early church appropriated the already-flourishing pagan holiday of Saturnalia back in the fourth century. They even took over some of the original holiday’s customs.

To their credit, most Christians simply don’t react to billboards and placards that proclaim reason over religion. They accept that, in a free country, differing viewpoints should have equal time, or space on courthouse lawns. And, thankfully, people who espouse a worldview of humanity and reason are gaining attention. That attention will eventually lead to acceptance.

And just as homosexuality is now widely accepted, with notable exceptions, as an alternate lifestyle, maybe one day humanism will be not only tolerated, but accepted as equal to the belief that having blind faith in an unseen force will grant you eternal existence.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bush: Bible is Not Literal; Evolution is Factual

Pres. George W. Bush doesn’t take the bible literally and he believes in evolution, saying it has been proven by science. What’s this? Is this the real George W. Bush?

I have long assumed that Pres. Bush is a Christian fundamentalist. Nothing has happened lately to convince me otherwise. But in a recent television interview on ABC’s Nightline, Bush made some statements that caused me to think he might not be quite as far out in right field as I have always thought.

I mean, he’s still far too much of a fundamentalist to be a successful leader. He’s proven to almost everyone that he can’t lead this nation. And one of the most annoying, though not often publicized, aspects of his presidency has been his tendency to substitute his worldview of Christian morality for pragmatic and practical decision making. His censorship of science, even from within his own science advisory team, speaks volumes about his predilection for making policy decisions based on his religious views rather than on the facts.

He has had no qualms about referring to the war in Iraq as a “just” war and that he is carrying out God’s will in trying to spread democracy by any means necessary. He has used his personal moral compunctions to justify withholding federal research grants from institutions to fund embryonic stem cell research, despite the promise it holds to perhaps cure many genetic diseases. And he has no reservations about using federal tax dollars to fund programs run by churches and other religious organizations in faith-based initiatives that stress abstinence over contraception, leading to more proselytizing than pregnancy prevention.

He has come out in the past to support the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design in public science classrooms whenever evolution is taught. He said it would stimulate critical thinking. Well, maybe it would, but the place to incorporate the comparison of worldviews is within a social studies classroom, not in science. Creationism is not science, and every court that has had the opportunity to rule on it, even the most conservative of courts, has reaffirmed that fact.

So I was a bit surprised when Bush came out in the ABC interview and basically called evolution a fact of science. He said he didn’t think the biblical story of the creation was at odds with evolution and that one could believe both.

“I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution,” Bush said.

So Bush admitted publicly that there is scientific proof of evolution, even though he hedged it with the disclaimer that God had something to do with it. He also came right out and said that he doesn’t take the bible literally.

Yet, for someone who believes evolution has been scientifically proven and that the bible cannot be taken too literally, he seems to govern from a position that is just to the right of Pat Robertson.

The point is, it doesn’t matter so much what the president says about his beliefs, at least not at this juncture in his tenure in office. What matters is that he has ignored the beliefs he has recently professed and made policy based on the antiquated notions of the religious fundamentalists, his base.

They elected him in 2000 and re-elected him in 2004. Perhaps if he had come clean about his true beliefs back then, he wouldn’t have been elected. He won by a very narrow popular vote victory in 2004 and he lost in the popular vote back in 2000. So if he had lost just a few conservative Christian votes he would have lost the election.

Kowtowing to the religious right was good political strategy. But as we have seen, it has diminished how this country is perceived by the rest of the world; it has restricted the growth of progress in research and in education, and it has led us to economic ruin. It doesn’t matter what Bush really believes; it matters what he actually did. And most of what he did was to build a policy to embolden the religious zealots.

Now, it’s going to be up to our next president, Barack Obama, to clean up Bush’s mess. It will be quite a chore.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fundamentalism Still Presents a Danger

For many years I’ve been confused as to how otherwise intelligent people can be so passionate about their beliefs in religion. They are somehow able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs so that it does not interfere with the logic and rationality they must use every day in other areas.

Religion, whatever brand, is illogical on so many levels. Its base purpose is to serve as comfort. It raises hope that, not only is there a life beyond death, but that it could be a very comfortable and eternal existence. Maybe there is an afterlife. But if there is, nobody knows about it, including what it’s like.

The fear factor of religion is that the eternal afterlife could be quite torturous. If you’re a Christian, like most Americans claim to be, you probably believe in heaven and hell. Heaven is where you aspire to go; hell is to be avoided. And the way to avoid hell is to follow the dictates of an ancient mythology as described in the bible.

But there are myriad different religious belief systems under the banner of Christianity. Some acknowledge the allegorical nature of the bible and do not attempt to interpret it literally. Others, however, believe that the bible is literal in its meaning. But even these fundamentalists don’t believe that every dictate of the bible must be followed. They pick and choose.

It’s ok to eat shrimp and ham, but it’s a mortal sin to be homosexual, even though all these are offenses punishable by death in the Book of Leviticus.

Still, those who know that they know are unswayable. And many have such a twisted view of religion’s role in society that it’s both funny and dangerous. That point started to sink in a few years ago following a debate I had with a fundamentalist about evolution.

After the debate, I stopped to chat a minute with a group of men who were supporters of my opponent. I didn’t know them, and I don’t know if my opponent in the debate knew them, but they were obviously on the side of creationism.

But the topic quickly turned from evolution and creationism toward a more generalized discussion of religion in America. Their contention was simply that this country was founded on Christianity, so it needs to be brought back into the public schools.

I quickly reminded them that this country was founded not on Christianity, but on religious freedom and tolerance of religious differences.

Then one of the gentlemen claimed that the First Amendment right to freedom of religion simply meant that we were free to choose whichever denomination of Christian church we wanted to attend. I was a little stunned at the frankness of the remark and asked him if he was, indeed, serious. He assured me he was.

I then asked him what about all the Jews or Muslims that reside in this country as citizens. Don’t they have a right to observe their religious preferences? His answer was what really sent my mind reeling.

He told me that they had a right to worship in their way, but that they should move out of the U.S. and back to the countries that have Islam or Judaism as their national religions. He said the United States is a Christian nation and there was no place for other religions here.

I told him his statement smacked of racism. He answered that he was not a racist, and that he had nothing against these people, but that he just didn’t think they should live in this country.

It then dawned on me. Although certainly not all fundamentalists believe this way, some of the most conservative of the religious fundamentalists in this country are much more than a simple annoyance to freethinkers. They may actually be dangerous.

I don’t mean to suggest they are dangerous to individuals, in the since that they might hurt or murder someone. No, the danger applies to society, and is much more insidious.

History has shown that countries who adopt a single religion, especially those who insist that their citizens subscribe to that religion, tend to be oppressive and backward. In this country, fundamentalists have lost in the courts when they tried to force their religious belief into the classroom under the guise of creation science. So they changed tactics and are now trying a backdoor approach.

They are becoming politically active, electing fundamentalist candidates to leadership positions on school boards and in state legislatures. A few years ago, they even succeeded in kicking evolution out of textbooks in Kansas, but more moderate voters replaced the fundamentalists a year later in that state. Fundamentalists are mounting campaigns in many states to infuse the public schools with their backward beliefs. A new law in Texas, for example, mandates that each school offer a course in religion with the bible as the primary source of lessons.

The elections of this year and in 2006 have pushed the fundamentalists’ views to the back burner as we grapple with economic problems, but fundamentalism is still there. And its proponents are already plotting their comeback strategies.

If they succeed, it will be only a matter of time before the U.S. will become a scientifically and technologically second-rate nation. It happened once, in the period following the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of the 1920s. But when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in the late 1950s it was a wake-up call to get our children back on track in the science class.

Now, it is being threatened again – not with a direct push, but with stealth. It is a threat that should not be taken too casually. It’s not simply about evolution; the entire school curriculum is in danger.

Winston Churchill once said, "Some people stumble over the truth, but pick themselves back up and continue on." But others don’t even stumble over it. They simply cannot be bothered with the facts when they have a country to conquer and classrooms to infiltrate.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

No More Black Friday Fiascos for Me

You know those early-bird Black Friday deals that so many retailers have begun offering each year on the morning after Thanksgiving? Well, I contend they are inherently unfair to the consumer.

A couple of years ago, I saw an ad on Walmart’s Website advertising a laptop computer for less than $300. I wanted one. So, even though I don’t like going to bed early and I hate getting up a second before 6:00 AM, I decided to hit the sack before midnight and set my alarm for 4:30.

I got up, splashed some water on, got dressed and headed for Walmart. I got there a couple minutes before the witching hour, but the parking lot was already so packed with cars that I had to park illegally in one of those striped handicapped areas. It wasn’t a true parking space. They always stripe off an area around the actual parking places that is large enough to park a bus, or a couple more cars. So it’s not like I was actually depriving anyone of a space.

Anyway, I braved the throngs and went inside, looking for my deal. It was barely past five in the morning when I was told the computers, all 30 of them, had already been sold. “How can that be?” I asked the clerk. “It hasn’t been five minutes since they went on sale.”

He told me they had started handing out tickets at around 2:00 AM, since Walmart is open all night. So the shoppers who were in the store at that time were the lucky ones who got to take home a new laptop on the cheap.

So that begs the question; if Walmart’s ad said the computers would go on sale at 5:00, then why were they giving out tickets to purchase them at 2:00? It meant, virtually, that everyone who had a ticket prior to five o’clock already had their computer in hand. They had a ticket, so all they had to do was trade it in for a computer at 5:00. It wasn’t fair to those shoppers, like me, who were na├»ve enough the think that a sale starting at five o’clock would actually start at that time.

In desperation, I went to Circuit City. They had also advertised a laptop deal, not quite as good as Walmart’s, but not bad. I knew I didn’t have much of a shot. By the time I got there it was already 5:30. But I was up and out, so I thought I would at least try.

I learned the same story there. Even though the store didn’t actually open until five o’clock, they started handing out tickets to those waiting in line a couple hours early. Again, a 5:00 AM sale had actually become a 3:00 AM sale. I learned my lesson.

The lesson learned was that since all the really good items are gone before the sales start on Black Friday, and the only way to get one of the products you’re shopping for is to get to the store hours early, spend most of the night there, and hope you’re one of the shoppers that get a ticket. I’m not going to play that game. I’ll forego the bargains. What I might have saved in dollars is spent in time and angst.

So, this year, I did a bit of shopping on Black Friday again. But I slept in until almost eight o’clock. I got up; my daughter and I went out for breakfast, and then we proceeded to Walmart where the Black Friday deal on a Blu-Ray disc player was for only $128.

When I got there, there were no more of those items left on the floor, so I asked an associate to check the back room. He said he didn’t think there were any more back there but he would look. I reminded him that the Walmart online site assured me that he did have some in stock.

A few minutes later he came out and said he had found two of the units, hiding on a shelf behind a bunch of carts and boxes. He would have to move a lot of stuff so it would take him a few minutes to dig one out. Oh, and one more thing: The price was no longer $128 since it was after 11:00 and the early-bird special was over. The computer had automatically kicked the price back up to the regular $198.

I told him I had no delusions that I would actually be getting one for the sale price. So I said go ahead and dig one out for me.

I happily walked out of the store with a full-priced Blu-Ray disc player. It was my first one. And although I would have been much happier had I gotten it for the sale price, I wasn’t going to play that early-bird game again, no matter what the savings.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things We No Longer Need

My latest column is about how technology has made some of the everyday items we still use obsolete. To read it, please go to my other blog, Wilstar's SciTech Blog.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Priest: If You Voted for Obama, You're Going to Hell

Did you vote for Barack Obama for president? Well, if so, it’s off to hell for you unless you repent and perform some kind of penance. At least that’s the view of one Catholic priest in South Carolina.

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church told his parishioners that they should not partake of Holy Communion if they voted for Obama unless they confess their grave sin and do penance for it. Seriously folks, a Catholic priest has publicly told his congregation that their eternal souls are in jeopardy of being condemned to hell unless they repent of their evil political ways.

His main problem with Obama seems to be the president-elect’s support for abortion rights laws. He claims that Obama is pro-abortion, which is not true. He is pro-choice. There is a difference.

I am not in favor of using abortion for birth control. But I am in favor of letting the woman decide. It’s her body. I am definitely pro-choice. But I am not necessarily pro-abortion, although I would recommend getting an abortion in the case where a pregnant woman finds out her fetus is severely mentally handicapped.

I mean, let’s face it people. Forget the moral question for just one moment. Look at it from a point of logic and pragmatism. Why bring a deformed baby into the world with no hope of ever being normal and who will almost surely rely on tax dollars for support at some point?

Ok, so you can’t forget the moral question? Fine. Morality cannot and should not be legislated. There is no universal morality. It’s not the bible; it’s not the Koran. Morality is what society decides it is. We don’t need a list of commandments that tell us not to murder or rob our fellow humans. Everyone knew those things were wrong from the beginning.

And so-called pro-lifers insist that abortion is murder. Well, it most certainly is not. Murder is a crime that is coded within our laws of the land. Abortion is legal in every state. That means it is not murder. If you believe it is morally wrong to have an abortion, then don’t have one. Counsel others not to have abortions. Take out ads claiming that abortion is morally wrong, at least in your worldview. But don’t try to prevent someone who does not share your beliefs from exercising their rights by trying to take those rights away.

What if I thought it was morally wrong to allow a baby to be born knowing full well it would be a drain on society because it was discovered to be severely mentally handicapped. What if I lobbied to pass laws against bringing such a burden into society and forcing pregnant mothers to have an abortion if they were carrying such a fetus? Would I be wrong?

Yes, I obviously would be wrong. If you’re pregnant and you know you’re carrying a retarded fetus, you should have the right for yourself to decide if you want to give birth to it. And, by the same token, if another pregnant woman decides that she doesn’t want to give birth to her fetus, she should also be unencumbered by the moral judgments of others that seek to prevent her from exercising her right to terminate her pregnancy. If it’s fair one way, it’s fair the other.

Priests like Newman along with other conservative fundamentalists who believe they hold the key to everyone’s salvation give religion a bad name. They make religion dangerous. Religion is basically useless anyway. There is nothing that can be done with religion that cannot also be done without it. But it becomes far more worthless and even damaging to society as long as there remain those like Newman and Pat Robertson and their entire ilk.

Our country will be much better off when they finally go the way of Jerry Falwell. Unfortunately, there are many zealots-to-be, brainwashed by their parents and church, waiting in the wings to continue their oppression against freedom of choice in this country.

Selling Alcohol on Sunday? Not in My State!

I don’t drink much alcohol. Once in a while I might have a light beer with dinner, because my son and I like to frequent specialty and international restaurants for a variety of fare. We both like to try different types of food. He likes to try different kinds of beer. I usually settle for Miller Lite.

The only mixed drink I care anything about is a margarita. And I admit I like the so-called sissy drinks because I can’t taste the alcohol in them. But I wouldn’t be caught drinking one in public.

As for wine, it has to be the nastiest-tasting beverage I’ve ever put into my mouth. I’ve tried all kinds, and don’t like any of it. I don’t keep any alcoholic beverages in my refrigerator, either. I bought a six-pack of beer once this year. It lasted for months and I shared it with my son.

That said, I think that Indiana’s restriction on the sale of carry-out alcoholic beverages on Sunday is an archaic law that needs to be changed as soon as possible. There is absolutely no good reason for restricting sales of alcohol one day a week.

The law originally grew out of a desire by early Christians to force compliance by the masses on their sense of moral superiority. It was the same reason this country had a Prohibition Era. And it is for the same reason that prostitution is now illegal in most states. It didn’t used to be until the self-righteous protectors of public morality started lobbying back in the early years of the twentieth century. But I digress.

We are now well into the twenty-first century. It is passed time that we base our laws on more practical matters, such as economic issues, interstate commerce, and even what the public at large desires, not just the religious public.

In 2006, according to a poll conducted by the Indianapolis Star, half of Indiana residents were comfortable with a ban or Sunday alcohol sales. This year, the same poll revealed that the percentage of those who want the ban to continue has dropped by five percentage points. The new poll shows the number of people who say they are in favor of Sunday sales of alcohol has now overtaken and surpassed the number who want the ban to continue, if only by a slight margin.

Liquor store owners are generally against the idea of Sunday sales of packaged liquor. That would seem to be counterintuitive. But when you consider that most liquor stores are small, individually-owned establishments, being open on Sunday for only a modest increase in total weekly sales would not be desirable.

But Indiana remains one of only 15 states that prohibit packaged liquor sales on Sunday. That number is down from 19 just two years ago. States are learning that opening Sunday for carry-out liquor sales increases their tax coffers considerably. Indiana could gain $2 million annually. In times of economic distress, states must look to increase revenue wherever it can, as long as it does no harm to the consumer.

Going into the supermarket on a Sunday and buying a 12-pack of beer doesn’t seem like such an evil premise. Yet we can’t do it. Midnight on Saturday is fine, but wait until six o’clock the next morning and it becomes a crime. There is simply no logic in it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

America is Respected Again

Although it is old news who won the election, the continuing news is the dramatic effect Obama’s win is having and will continue to have on not only this country but the world.

I was for Obama from the start, but I could have lived with a McCain presidency. McCain is very knowledgeable about how things work in Washington and he often was a maverick. But his continuing link with the canker sore in office now, coupled with the two major flubs he made during his campaign, cost him the election.

Those two flubs were picking Sarah Palin as his choice for vice-president, and the series of questionable decisions he made in the wake of Wall Street’s meltdown. His seemingly chaotic reaction was not presidential.

Still, I could have managed to support a McCain presidency. At least I would have given him a chance and stood behind him until he started to screw things up. And who’s to say that Obama will, in the end, be an effective president? We’ll know soon enough, but if he runs his administration the same way he ran his campaign then this country is in for years of extraordinarily effective leadership.

The biggest sigh of relief I gave when Obama won was not that a Democrat will soon be in power. I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican; I’m independent. It wasn’t even that I happen to agree with most of Obama’s policy positions. No, the biggest sigh of relief was because, at least for awhile, the faction of the voting public that kept Bush in office in 2004 got a huge national rebuke.

The fundamentalist evangelical conservative right, that albatross of society that has had a chip on its shoulder for the last eight years, has now been put in its place. Oh, the evangelicals are still out there, by the millions. They are at this moment planning and plotting their strategy to retake the government in 2012.

And this is not an anti-religion sentiment. Barack Obama is a professed Christian. The vast majority of Americans have a religion. It is the evangelicals, those who insist that snakes can talk and that people can really survive for three days inside a fish, who are the dangerous ones. It is they who have held the White House for eight years.

That is why those of us who use our human brain power to make decisions instead of relying on ancient mysticism must continue to be vigilant. We must be preemptive. We cannot afford to allow a George W. Bush clone, such as Sarah Palin, to ever ascend to power in this country again. Just look at the mess that was made of this country over the last eight years.

We had become the laughing stock of the modern world. Americans abroad had been shy about revealing their nationality. Some even said they were from Canada. Many who have been living overseas refused to fly the American flag, not because they are not proud of their country, but out of fear of being ridiculed.

From England to China, from Australia to the Middle East, expatriates, vacationers, and business travelers learned that it is best not to reveal that they are Americans. That had been especially true over the last four years.

But not anymore. Being an American is cool again, and not just in America. We are now seen as a society who has come to terms with its mistakes of four and eight years ago and who now is in the mood to make amends. We have elected a cosmopolitan leader who can unite all factions under a single banner. We are no longer a country of blue states and red states, but the United States.

Yes, I know there are still red states on the political map. But don’t look at the Electoral College map, even though it is turning seriously blue. Look at the map that CNN showed a couple of days after the election. It showed that, except for a very narrow strip of the country running roughly from Virginia through Arkansas, every county in every state was considerably bluer than it was four years ago. Nearly the whole country has made a giant shift toward pragmatism.

And that trend, which started in 2006, is a good sign that this country is beginning to leave behind the antediluvian antics of the religious right and is now starting to embrace tolerance, openness, and global citizenship. It’s a good trend.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Watching Movies Isn't like it Used to Be

How do you watch movies?

Prior to 1980, the only answers to that question would have been either “at the movie theater,” or “on television.” If you wanted to watch a recent movie without commercials, your only option was the movie theater. Movies played on broadcast TV, which was the only kind of TV available before HBO came to households in the late ‘70s, were all years old and filled with commercial interruptions. Most of the time, they were heavily edited, too.

When I was a child in the 1960s, I looked forward to seeing the new releases every weekend at the Pixie Theater. For 50 cents, I could sit through a double feature, usually a couple of Disney flicks or maybe a pair of those beach movies with Frankie Avalon or Tony Curtis.

But around 1979, a new option became available. The VCR, or video cassette recorder, had been on the market for a couple of years to record shows from live TV. But it didn’t take long before vendors started to rent theatrical movies on video tape. Rental fees were about five or six bucks per movie back then. And the number of titles was abysmal.

There were no actual video rental stores yet. The Hollywood movie studios were in court trying to get the VCR banned because of their eternal fear of copyright infringement. So the only places to rent movies were at specialty stores. Most had fewer than a dozen titles from which to choose, mostly skin flicks.

But when the Supreme Court ruled against the movie studios, they began to take an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude. They started releasing movies on video cassette by the thousands. So people could now watch movies in the theater, or wait a few months until the film was released on video and watch the same thing at home, commercial free.

There were problems, though. Notably, the VCR is a sequential-access device. If you want to watch a particular scene, you have no choice but to fast forward through everything that comes before it. And then, of course, you have to rewind the tape when the movie is over before you can view it again.

Secondly, video taped movies were almost always edited to fit the square TV screen, meaning parts of every scene were cropped off. And the quality was no better, and often worse, than a regular TV show, not nearly as good as watching the same flick in a theater.

In the 1990s, the DVD came on the scene. It cured the quality problem, allowing movie watchers to enjoy the picture in as high a quality as the old standard-definition TV set would allow. And DVDs are random-access devices, so you don’t have to rewind and you can skip to a scene instantly.

Added to the better picture quality, DVDs were also capable of producing theater-quality surround sound. Coupled with a big-screen TV and a 5.1 surround sound system, you could watch your favorite movies with nearly the same quality as in a theater, minus the sticky floors and strewn popcorn.

Today, however, there are many more ways to watch a movie at home. The DVD still rules, but the new Blu-Ray disc provides high-definition quality to match up with the latest high-definition, wide-screen TV sets.

In addition, you can stream movies from sources such as Netflix to your computer and watch them any time you want. Or you can order them to be shipped by mail, so no more going to the rental store and then having to remember to take your movie back before the late fees kick in.

The very latest way to watch a movie is to stream it from Netflix using the latest version of Xbox due out later this month. That means you can by-pass the computer screen and watch movies directly on your high-definition TV without having to use a DVD or any other physical medium.

Compared to when I was a kid, it sure is much easier to watch a movie these days.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For Some States, Voting Counts Again

I remember the first time I voted for a presidential candidate. It was shortly after the constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age to 18 had taken effect and I wanted to exercise my new power over the government.

I was still in college and, back then at least, most college students were democrats, even at Franklin College. But Nixon, a Republican, was riding a wave of popularity and was about to end the draft and the war in Vietnam. So I was a Nixon supporter.

I even convinced my Aunt Ruby to vote Republican. She had never voted Republican in her life, but she did it for me.

Now, as we all know from history, or because we were there to witness it, Nixon turned out to be the only president ever to resign in disgrace. My first presidential vote turned out to be a big mistake. But my solace came in knowing that a large majority of Americans made the same mistake.

I voted for another winner in 1976, Jimmy Carter. He was a Democrat, so my aunt returned to voting for her own party. I don’t think she ever voted Republican again. But I did. I voted for George H. W. Bush in 1992 because I thought he was a brilliant man who had a hand in winning the Cold War. He was the only leader in the free world who forecast the failure of the political coup in Russia in 1990. He deserved a second term.

But, alas, the economy turned sour during the final months leading up to the election and the saxophone-playing Bill Clinton came away with a landslide and a mandate. Despite a tentative foreign policy and amid some minor scandals, he did manage to fix the economy and kept it strong right up through his second term.

I voted Republican again in 2000, opting for W. over Al Gore. I didn’t do my homework well enough; I just figured he would be just like his dad, whom I still admire. But I was wrong. Unlike the elder Bush, Junior turned out to be a born-again blithering idiot.

His election and reelection were both decided by a single state. It was Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. So blame those people.

Indiana gave up its 11 electoral votes to Bush both times. In fact, it hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president in the last 44 years. Even in the 1992 Clinton landslide, Indiana remained an island of red in a sea of blue.

But there is some hope this year. All the political polls have shown Indiana has been leaning slightly toward McCain. But the most recent polls are showing Obama with a healthy lead. That could change, of course. But if it doesn’t, it will mean that Indiana is actually taking a look at the candidate rather than blindly voting Republican year after year.

My daughter and I have already voted. We went last week and cast our ballots. This was her second time voting for a president and she took it very seriously. She did all the research. We don’t always agree on the issues, but we agreed this vote would be a no-brainer. We went with Obama.

Teens who have recently turned 18 and who have never voted often get exited about the prospect of voting, but then turn timid on Election Day. But whomever you support, my advice is to make sure you find out where to vote and then turn out next Tuesday to help make a difference. Or you can go vote today in most states. States like Indiana and Virginia might actually count this time, but only if we all vote.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Store those Old Memories Digitally

Go look under your bed or behind the closet door, way in the back of the top shelf, or maybe in your attic. Pull out those dusty old boxes of Super8 movie film or those old Ektachrome color slides from Christmases long ago. Then, locate all your old photos hiding away in boxes or binders in the corner of the garage. Dust off the old video tapes of weddings and holidays that are still probably collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.

Everyone who was a child of the ‘40s through the ‘80s has memories stored in boxes somewhere. Dig them out and wax nostalgic about those good old days before it is too late.

All those old home movies, video tapes, and photographs are analog media. They are stored on paper, plastic tape, or celluloid. And what they all have in common is that, over time, they will deteriorate. Photos will become dull, change to yellow, and eventually fade away. Home movies will become brittle and faded. Video tape will break or the picture will start flickering and flagging to the point where it is unwatchable. And that’s even assuming you still have a VCR to watch them on.

The days of analog storage are numbered. Analog media is dying a slow, protracted death. But dying it is. So maybe you should consider preserving all those priceless memories before time has its final say.

The new method of storing media is digitally. Unlike paper that eventually yellows and rots away, unlike film and video tape that eventually lose their images, and unlike an audio tape cassette whose spools become frozen, digital storage is potentially forever. It never fades away, loses its luster, or deteriorates in any way. And it can be copied ad infinitum without any loss of quality.

But there is one thing you can do with pictures printed on paper or movies stored on film that you can’t do with digital media files. You can touch them, feel them, and hold them in your hand. You can pick up that old, faded snapshot of your great-grandfather and know that it was held with the hands of your great-grandmother, your grandmother, and your mother. So if tangibility is important to you, go ahead and hang on to those old photographs and movies, as long as you don’t mind storing them and as long as you realize they will eventually fade to nothing.

In the mean time, what can you do to preserve the memories in a form that won’t fade away? You can digitize them. There are plenty of companies out there that will take your old photos and turn them into a slide show stored on digital disk. You can then copy those files to your computer or cell phone.

I have stored nearly 600 music files and more than 3,000 family photos on my cell phone that I carry everywhere. My entire music collection, well at least all the songs I listen to frequently, I carry with me to listen to whenever and wherever I want. All my treasured memories stored in pictures are always in my pocket.

It still amazes me that all my old 35 millimeter photographs, which probably weigh 25 pounds when stacked in albums in my closet, plus the music from stacks of old vinyl record albums and CDs can all be placed on a digital memory card no larger than my thumbnail and plugged into my cell phone to be taken anywhere.

But I haven’t thrown away my old photos and CDs. I keep them because they are the tangible remains of what I now carry with me. But if I lost them in a fire or if and when they eventually do deteriorate, I know I still have them safely stored on digital media forever.

The only thing that kind of worries me a little is this. What happens if, sometime in the future, we forget how to decode digital images or sound files? I know it’s unlikely, but in the event of a global catastrophe that ends modern civilization as we know it, any old photos and movie film will still be viewable. But if no one is around who knows how to decode strings of binary digits, all our CDs and computer files will be worthless gibberish when our last batteries run down.

But it’s a chance worth taking. Despite the lack of tangibility and the off-chance that humans in the future will forget our digital coding algorithms, to preserve your fondest memories for posterity, you should go ahead and digitize them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hail to the Beauty Queen?

Over the last eight years, and especially the last four, comedians around the country have been blessed with joke manna from heaven because of the presence of our blundering and absurdly clueless president. George W. Bush has spewed forth a treasure trove of priceless verbal gaffs that show not only his incredible lack of command of the English language, but just how out of touch he really is with reality.

So, although it will be a blissful day for the country at large when, next January 20, he is finally replaced in office by the next president, it could be a downer for the comedians and late-night talk show hosts who won’t have Pres. Bush to kick around anymore.

But wait. There might be another Bushite waiting in the wings. If, heaven forbid, McCain wins his bid for the presidency, Sarah Palin will be right there with him. She will undoubtedly supply the comedy industry with the fodder it needs to carry on the Bush legacy as the hapless man in the White House, except that she would only be the vice-president. Well, that didn’t stop the jokesters from having a field day when Dan Quayle was in office.

And who knows, with an aging John McCain as president, it might be only a matter of time before the beauty queen from Alaska gets to sit behind the big desk.

But beyond giving a shot in the arm to comedy, there is not one single other reason to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket next month. If you care more about the economy than late night laughs, if you believe universal health care is of greater national interest than jokes about our leaders, or if you care more about getting us out of the dreaded war in Iraq than giving David Letterman and Jay Leno a bottomless barrel of Palin jokes, then I suggest voting for the Obama-Biden ticket instead.

On the other hand, if your biggest quest in life is to be entertained and if you really want to spend your late nights rolling on the floor in laughter at what a goofball politician had to say, then you might want to consider putting Palin in as VP.

Here is a preview of some coming attractions if she actually makes it to Washington:

“They are also building schools for the Afghan children so that there is hope and opportunity in our neighboring country of Afghanistan.” Did they move Afghanistan to Canada?

Or how about this one? When she was asked how McCain has pushed for more regulations during his terms as senator, Palin replied, “I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.”

When she was mayor, she said, “I'm the mayor, I can do whatever I want until the courts tell me I can't.”

And, of course, Palin harkens back to the Jimmy Carter years with her relentless pronunciation of “nucular” instead of nuclear. At least Carter realized his lack of verbal expertise and eventually corrected himself.

Of course, if she does become vice-president, she’ll have to figure out what to do with her time, at least according to her own understanding of the position. “As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me, What is it exactly that the VP does every day?” she said in an interview.

Even if John McCain were a 45-year-old body builder I would have trouble putting him in office knowing that someone like Palin is next in line for the most important leadership role in the world. But McCain is an elderly man with a history of cancer. Do we really want to risk that he’ll survive for four years?

I cringe at the thought of hearing Hail to the Chief played for Palin, knowing it really should be retitled, Hail to the Queen; beauty queen that is. But at least she would be the first beauty queen in history to actually be in a position of bringing on world peace. Too bad the mix of her religious fundamentalism and a high political position would be more likely to bring on Armageddon. I’m sure that would please her just as much, seeing as how her church prays for the end of the world on a regular basis.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Whatever Your Beliefs, You are Dead Wrong

People who have read my columns and blog entries through the years, or maybe who have just read my archives recently, know that I talk a lot about religion. But if you read some of my earlier posts and compare them with my most recent ones you will think that I vacillate on the subject of religion a bit.

Most of my columns have questioned religion, and more specifically, they have questioned certain belief systems within religion. When religion conflicts with science, for example, I always come out on the side of truth, that is to say, science.

I have often, in the past, called myself a Christian. That’s because in the past, I was one. But looking back, even in the days when I attended church service on a regular basis, I was always lukewarm with regards to my religion.

My beliefs over the years have evolved. Although I’ve always accepted the proofs and evidence of science, I didn’t really question that God existed or that Jesus was a real person who died on the cross for our sins. I didn’t even question that he was resurrected.

Later, I began to question much of what the bible has to say, and not just the Book of Genesis. As my beliefs have evolved, I have come to realize what I should have realized way back in college, that all religion is not only nonsense, it is the most dangerous concept that humankind has ever invented.

I feel embarrassed by the fact that it has taken me 55 years of living to discover what seems so obvious I should have been able to figure it out as a teenager. And that simply proves one of the points I now try to make, that religion is so ingrained in society, so ubiquitous, so pervasive, and so utterly woven into the fabric of modern life, that we don’t even notice how stupid it really is until we unravel it.

People who know that they know annoy me, because I know that they don’t know. How do I know? Because nobody can know. Even those who claim to know will admit that the reason they know is because of faith. You cannot know something by faith; you can only believe it. And as everyone will surely admit, believing is not always the same as knowing.

But here is what I do know: The one thing that all people of faith have in common is that they are all dead wrong. I can make that statement with complete and utter surety. How? Because it is logical.

Take, for example, the number of different religions in the world. There are dozens, and that’s just the main ones. Now take any one of the mainstream religions, like Christianity. It is broken down into myriad different denominations and sects. There are Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox followers. Within the Protestant wing, there are Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and so on. And within most of those denominations, like the Baptists, there are sects, such as the Southern Baptists, Separate Baptists, Independent Baptists, and who knows how many others. And within each of those sects there are individuals who don’t necessarily go along with every single point of every sermon their preachers preach.

So if you amplify the major religions into their many sects and finally down to the individual, there may be millions of different religious beliefs. Still, for the sake of making my point, let’s assume that there is a god and that religion is the road to salvation. Which one? They all pretty much believe that theirs is the road to take. But there are far more possible alternatives to a reality that includes God than there are beliefs about God, even with millions of beliefs. There are, in fact, an infinite number of different possible realities that include God.

One possibility is that God wants us all to be baptized by immersion. Another possibility is that sprinkling will do. A third possibility is that no baptism is just fine. There is a possible reality in which God answers prayers and yet another one in which he doesn’t involve himself with us at all.

So when someone confronts me with the notion that my disbelief might be wrong and that if it is, I will suffer eternal consequences, I tell them that there is no default consequence to being wrong. Because nobody knows which one of the infinite God-centric universes is real.

There are those who say the bible gives us all the answers we need. But again, which bible? There’s a perception that there is only one bible, but in reality there isn’t even that. There are the Protestant bibles such as the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version and so on. There is the Catholic bible. There is the Koran. There is the Torah.

Then there is the possibility that the real universe has no god at all. And if that is the case, it doesn’t matter what one believes, because belief will make no difference to a soul that doesn’t exist.

So getting back to my original point, I don’t know the answer to the god question, but I’m 100 percent certain that nobody of faith knows the answer either. So whatever they believe is wrong. The only real difference is that those who believe as I do, are willing to admit we don’t know. Those who have faith in a religion are not.

So I choose no religion, and the reason is clear. Religion has done nothing but harm society. Yes, some churches help the downtrodden and feed the poor. Some churches have outreach programs that help their communities. Some send money to disaster relief efforts. But all those things can be accomplished without religion. We can have non-sectarian missions to do every one of those things.

Some say religion gives them personal comfort, and that’s fine. But people can achieve personal comfort and deep satisfaction through meditation or by other means that don’t involve invoking the supernatural.

God might very well exist. I don’t have enough knowledge to say conclusively that he doesn’t. But nobody else in the world possesses so much more knowledge than I that they can say conclusively that he does, which means those who say God exists or that their religion is the only one that will get you to heaven are resting their case on faith alone. And we all should know that believing something doesn’t make it so. Neither does wishing for it.

What I can say for sure is that religion has been and will continue to be detrimental to society. It has caused more wars than any other single entity. It has held back the progress of science for centuries and is still doing so today. It has resulted in the deaths of babies by parents who refused to seek medical care because of their beliefs. It has resulted in children in school choosing to ignore the teachings of science. It has resulted in a society that is repressive to women, homosexuals, and even heterosexuals who choose to have sex before they are married. Religion is both repressive and oppressive in almost all of its forms and iterations.

A belief in the tenets of any religion means checking your logical mind at the gate. It means giving in to superstition instead of taking charge of one’s own life and mind. It means ignoring one’s common sense in favor of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.

The bottom line is this. If there is a god, nobody knows what he wants of us, if anything; so why bother trying. If there isn’t a god, it doesn’t matter anyway. So regardless of the existence of God, religion doesn’t matter. And if it doesn’t matter, why participate in something that is so divisive, so silly, and so utterly dangerous to our species when we can live a better life, and one that is equally as moral, by jettisoning the baggage of religion once and for all.

It is past time that we, as modern human beings with great minds, finally slough off the dead weight of religion that has been dragging us down for eons and start to take charge of our lives and our own species. If we don’t we may not have a species left to protect much longer. Religion will have killed us all. And God may not be there to save us. And if he is, why would he want to. We did it to ourselves.

It's the Return of My Favorite Season: Fall

I think most people have their favorite seasons, at least those who live in parts of the country that actually have seasons. Summer is probably the favorite of most because of its many weather-related advantages: no coats, no wind chill, and no snow. Plus there are summer vacations, swimming, picnics, baseball, and boating.

Students and teachers enjoy the summer because they don’t have to go to school. It is generally a time of greater relaxation and fun in the sun.

I like summer, too. But it’s not my favorite season. Until fairly recently, it was my least favorite season. That’s because I deplore the extreme heat and humidity that often accompany the dog days of summer.

My favorite season is the one we just entered, autumn. I also once enjoyed wintertime, but not so much anymore. Winter, once my second favorite season behind fall, is now my least favorite. As I’ve grown older I’ve begun to realize that I can’t stand being cold anymore. I never did actually enjoy being cold, but I could live with it. I liked the snow. And I liked the coziness of winter. But I got over it.

Autumn is a season that most people either love or hate. Those who hate it often relate it to death or dying as the leaves wilt and fall from the trees and the grass turns brown. It’s a sign that winter, most people’s least favorite season, is just around the corner. So fall becomes a harbinger of the cold, dreary days ahead.

For me, though, I find autumn delightful. It is full of vibrant colors. It has one of my childhood’s favorite holidays, Halloween. It’s a time when the hot, humid days of summer are finally behind us and the cool, crisp, clear autumn air fills our days. It is harvest season, a time when we drink apple cider and have pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving is also an autumn holiday. It’s a time of family gatherings and that warm, homey feeling one gets when surrounded by kith and kin.

It reminds me of trips to Brown County when I was a child, with the gorgeous display of nature’s colors against a backdrop of towering hills and deep river valleys. Autumn picnics are the best. You get to take in the beauty of nature while not being bothered by the steamy heat that characterized the summer just past.

Autumn is also a time for seasonal decorations. It starts with the pumpkins, gourds, and jack-o-lanterns of October. Then you move on to the cornucopias and cardboard cutouts of turkeys and pilgrims for November. Most of the Christmas season is still officially in the fall, too.

But then, following the holidays of autumn and early winter come the bleak, cold days of mid-winter. It is then when I start looking forward to spring. Spring was never my favorite season, mainly because it marked the end of my once-beloved wintertime, but also because of the violent weather.

But after many years of realizing that I really didn’t like winter all that much, and that violent weather is always spotty and not often as bad as predicted, I started rethinking my dislike of springtime.

At any rate, it’s fall now. We are near the beginning of my favorite three months of the year, October, November, and December. So, even though my freedom of summer is over, as a schoolteacher, I plan to enjoy the brisk autumn air and take in the scenery as I prepare for that first seasonal tradition of handing out sugary treats to young strangers who come knocking on my door.

Have a cup of hot cider and enjoy the season.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain Shows His True Stripes

I had waited impatiently for the first debate between the two presidential nominees. Then the news came that McCain was backing out, ostensibly to rush back to Washington where he was desperately needed to help fix the looming economic crisis. In addition, McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign until the crisis had been averted.

Obama had called McCain to suggest that they get together to develop a non-partisan united statement on the economic crisis. McCain agreed, but then later in the day unilaterally decided he would forgo the debate and suspend his campaign, inviting Obama to do the same.

Obama rightly responded that Americans needed to hear from their candidates more than ever during this crisis, saying it would be a mistake to cancel or postpone the debate. Public opinion was quick to mount against McCain’s stance. The public doesn’t want their candidates to go into hiding, especially during a crisis.

Criticism of McCain reached an apex after he canceled his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman at the last minute. Letterman spent the first twenty minutes of his show last Wednesday lambasting McCain for backing out of his commitment and for halting his campaign.

After praising McCain as a war hero, Letterman delivered a relentless series of jabs at the Republican presidential nominee, saying that he wasn’t acting like the McCain he knew. Letterman also suggested that maybe McCain could put his vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, on the campaign trail in his place.

To top it off, Letterman caught McCain in a lie when at the very moment McCain was supposed to be taping Letterman’s show he was actually getting makeup applied for an appearance with an interview with Katie Couric. Letterman told his producers to show a live feed of McCain interviewing with Couric. “I’ve got a question for you,” Letterman lampooned. “Ya want a ride to the airport?” He was referring to McCain’s excuse for pulling out as a guest, saying he had to rush back to Washington because of the economic crisis. He not only didn’t rush back that day, he didn’t leave until the following morning.

On Friday, McCain was having second thoughts about pulling out of the debate. He at first said his campaign would be halted, he would not debate, and he wouldn’t even leave Washington until the crisis was over. The crisis was far from being over when McCain changed his mind and decided to debate after all. Maybe he just decided that he had made a strategic error.

When the first debate was over, it was clear to me that McCain was the weaker debater. Although he made some of his points, he didn’t rattle Obama on national security or foreign policy issues. Obama, in fact, seemed to have a better handle on foreign policy matters than McCain. And that is supposed to be McCain’s strong point.

A national poll after the debate indicated that Obama and McCain virtually tied on the foreign policy topic, but Obama was a clear and decisive winner on the home front. He continues to outpace McCain on economic issues. Obama presented a clear view of how he would handle the financial crisis as president while McCain continued to relate anecdotes about things that have happened to him in the past, the distant past.

Although pundits generally agreed that the debate was a tie or a slight Obama victory, the first debate and the McCain fiasco leading up to it should bring into focus who really is better prepared to be the leader of the free world. McCain showed himself to be ill-prepared, a vacillator, and even a liar in the days before the debate. And he failed to redeem himself when he finally did show up to talk.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Churches Sometimes must Apologize for Ignorance

The pilgrims who settled this country in 1620 were a conservative sect of the Church of England. The church’s members are known as Anglicans, and it was the official state religion of England at the time the pilgrims came to America to start their own country.

Religious conservatives in America today lament the notion that we have become a depraved country, where sinful sex is everywhere and has even become socially acceptable. The other view, however, and the one that is more close to reality is that Americans, as a whole, tend to be repressive on matters of sex and science.

There is a commercial currently running on TV where a family visits a beach in Spain, only to find out it is a nude beach. One of the actors places his hand in a strategic location to mask the nude body of a female sunbather while the little girl of the family asks her mom, “Why is everybody naked?”

It is meant to be comical. But it highlights how differently our lives have been influenced by our puritanical history from the way modern Europeans have matured without such conservative influences in their history.

At the same time, whenever the mainstream European-based religions have gotten it wrong in the past, they have often stepped up and admitted their mistakes and even apologized to the great men of science that initially gave the church headaches, even if their apologies have often come centuries late.

The latest example is the Church of England’s apology to Charles Darwin. The Rev. Malcolm Brown, who heads the church’s public affairs department, said that Anglicans owe Darwin an apology for the way they condemned him following the release of his master work of science, On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The Church of England said it agreed with Brown’s position, although it did not constitute an official church apology. That’s probably because the church never officially condemned Darwin, although its leaders of the day did take every opportunity to make fun of him and his theory of Natural Selection.

This is certainly not the first time a major church has had to say oops. In 1992 the Catholic Church made an official apology to Galileo for arresting him and forcing him to recant his ideas that the earth revolved around the sun. The bible clearly implies that all celestial objects revolve around the earth. And Galileo said that the bible, on that account, was clearly wrong. Three hundred years later, the Catholic Church officially agreed.

Other “oops moments” in church history include the 2006 apology by the Anglican Church for its roll in the slave trade and the clarification in 1996 by the Pope of the Catholic Church’s view on evolution. The Pope, at the time, said that the Church did not oppose the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin. The Pope said our species may have evolved, but our spirit was given to us by God.

Over the centuries, great thinkers and progressive men and women of science have had to cower in fear of publishing their ideas because of religious oppression. Johan Kepler, the man who discovered how planets orbit the sun in elliptical paths, is another example. He didn’t publish his discovery until he was on his death bed for fear he would be persecuted by an intransigent church.

Andrew Darwin, Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson said that posthumous church apologies are useless. “When an apology is made after 200 years, it's not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organization making the apology feel better,” he told the Daily Mall newspaper.

He’s right in a way. But I still think some good can come out of it. It shows young people who have been unfortunate enough to be raised in a fundamentalist church environment that religious leaders can, and often do, get it wrong. The moral to this story is that we all need to think for ourselves instead of blindly following what we have been taught all our lives by religious propagandists.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crashing Things Together is Fun and Educational

It’s in our nature. We humans often get a kick out of crashing things into each other. I remember watching Demolition Derby on TV when I was young. It was fascinating to watch drivers crash cars into each other on purpose until only one was left running.

And remember when David Letterman used to throw things off the top of a tall building just to see how they would smash upon impact with the ground.

Imagine shooting two bullets directly at each other from high-powered rifles. What would happen to the bullets when they hit each other in mid-air? The collision would take place so quickly and the bullets are so small, that the actual impact would probably be anticlimactic. But if you placed a high-speed video camera at the impact site, you could slow down the collision and watch in awe as the bullets annihilated each other.

Ordinary matter doesn’t really seem ordinary when looked at up close. I mean really up close. For example, more than 99 percent of the mass of any atom is located in a tightly-packed, tiny center called the nucleus. The two heaviest particles that make up an atom, protons and neutrons, are located there. Electrons are, by contrast, featherweights that whirl around the nucleus. So most of the atom is nothing but space.

If you were to scale up the size of an atom so that its nucleus was the size of a pea, and if you placed that pea in the center of the 50 yard line of a football field, the first ring of electrons would be located out along the uppermost seats in the nosebleed section. Even with binoculars, the closest electrons could not see their own nucleus.

So in our hypothetical rifle bullet collision, despite the fact that the bullets would be deformed beyond recognition and probably fragmented into tiny bits, none of the atomic nuclei in any of the atoms of the lead in those bullets would be affected in the least. The entire reaction would be handled by the outer rings of electrons, far away from the nucleus.

Inside the nucleus of every atom reside one or more tiny particles called protons. They carry a positive electric charge and were thought for many years to be an indivisible building block of the atom. Protons were assumed to be solid particles that could not be broken down into anything else.

But in the 1930s, physicists began shooting atomic nuclei at each other at high speeds just to see what would happen. Amazingly, the protons in them broke apart into new particles. Protons were not indivisible. They were made of other, smaller, particles. Scientists have been playing demolition derby with subatomic particles ever since.

The latest and greatest (and most expensive) atom smashing toy of the nuclear physicists was recently completed in Europe. It is the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. Hadrons are a family of subatomic particles, such as protons and neutrons. It came on line last week.

Within a year, it will be up to full power and scientists will start shooting protons at each other at a speed as close to the speed of light as they can get. The speed of light is the theoretical speed limit of matter. Nothing can go that fast because to do so would require an infinite amount of energy. But the protons in the LHC will be moving pretty close to that speed.

Scientists hope that, by looking at the debris left over when the protons collide, they can find some of the elusive particles that are predicted to exist but haven’t yet been found. At the energies that will be used to crash two protons together in the LHC, the scientists will be recreating the environment that existed within a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. So the LHC is something like a time machine for subatomic particles.

What they discover from these collisions will probably produce more questions than answers. But scientists are fairly certain the results will lead them closer to an understanding of the ultimate question. How was the universe created?

See, crashing things together can be both fun and educational.

Friday, September 05, 2008

God Save Us from Palin

When John McCain picked Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential running mate, I thought he had lost it. It was obviously a desperate attempt to reinvigorate his floundering campaign. Some compared it to a Hail Mary pass in football. The play almost never works, but when it does, it could be a game changer.

Whether or not McCain’s Hail Mary will work still remains to be seen. It has certainly reenergized the Republican base of evangelical Christians, who were always lukewarm to McCain himself. But if he’s hoping to win over women voters who backed Clinton, the ploy may backfire. Clinton supporters are smart enough to see through it.

Regardless of the reasons he picked Palin, the possibility that McCain’s campaign might actually have a shot at victory has me worried. Although vice-presidents typically hold very little power of their own, they at least have the ear of the president. And if something happened to McCain while serving, Palin would actually become the president. That should be enough to make anyone nervous.

This woman is spooky. She scares me half to death, not because she’s a bulldog or because she speaks her mind or because she may be a maverick. Those things I can deal with. It’s her ideology that scares me.

George W. Bush has been the worst president in our history, and that’s not just my opinion, but the opinion of professional historians who know all about American history. But Palin might just be farther to the right than he is. Consider some of the things she has said just since she has been Governor of Alaska.

She told ministry students from a church school that troops were sent to Iraq “on a task that is from God.”

And that’s not all. She claims to be doing God’s will in governing Alaska, particularly in building a natural gas pipeline. “God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” she said.

In talking about building roads and buying new police cars, she invoked the will of God and told people it couldn’t happen unless they prayed for it. “But really all of that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God,” Palin said.

Now, obviously, these words and her sentiment might please the bible thumpers. But they should frighten everyone else, including mainstream Christians. Here we have a woman who wants to be a heartbeat away from an aging president and who believes that her policy decisions on everything from the economy to energy and foreign policy have been mandated by God.

Palin told the ministry students that she would work to implement God’s will from the governor’s office. And God’s will was to build gas pipelines and to send young Americans to fight the war in Iraq. And she called on all Alaskans to pray for God’s will to be implemented. “That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan,” she said.

That brings forth an obvious question. How does she know what God’s will is? And if it really is God’s will, why do we have to pray for it to be implemented? We are in Iraq because of Bush’s perception of what God’s will is. Now Palin wants to carry on God’s will at the side of McCain for the next four years.

Not since the Divine Right of kings back in the Middle Ages has a leader given over governance of a country to his narrow view of what God wants. Bush has done that, and Palin wants to continue his legacy, bringing our country even closer to a theocracy.

Never mind the Constitution or separation of church and state or freedom of religion. Never mind that we are supposed to have freedom of choice in this country. We don’t now and really never did, but we have far less freedom of choice under Bush than we did under previous presidents and we will have even less with McCain and Palin.

Personal freedom is very important to me. We, as Americans, ought to have the private right to do whatever we want, as long as it does not infringe upon others’ rights to do the same thing. But with Bush, and with McCain and Palin, we will have the personal freedoms only to do what they believe is God’s will. Seems we may be coming full circle to the days when the king knew best, because he obtained that knowledge from the Almighty.

May God help us.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are they Really African-Americans?

Is Barack Obama black? Is he African-American? He, himself, has used both those terms interchangeably to characterize is own race. Two-thirds of blacks also label him as African-American. But only slightly more than half of white Americans call him that, preferring instead to refer to Obama as biracial or mixed race.

Unlike the vast majority of blacks in America today, Barack Obama can legitimately call himself an African-American, because his father was Kenyan. Most blacks have never even visited Africa, let alone been born there, or even had parents who were born there.

Here is a case in point. A college professor, on the first day of class, introduced himself and presented a brief biography, as many professors often do. Among other things, this lily-white professor said that he was an African-American.

One of the black students in his class blurted out that he didn’t think that remark was funny and, in fact, was offensive. Was he making fun of African-Americans?

The professor responded with a question: “Have you ever been to Africa?” The student’s answer was no. The professor continued: “Were your parents or grandparents from Africa?” The student responded in the negative. “Can you trace any of your ancestors to Africa?” The student said he didn’t know.

The professor explained that he was born in South Africa and spent his childhood there, so he was, indeed, African. He then immigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. So he is now an American. He can very rightfully refer to himself as being an African-American.

So, he told the young black student, “I am an African-American, but you, sir, are not.”

The term African-American was popularized by Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. It was an attempt by people of color to find a descriptor for themselves, instead of having to rely on the often racially-charged descriptors that had been given to them by white people.

During the early and middle years of the 20th century, blacks were referred to as Negros and colored people. But to use the term black, was offensive. That changed in the 1960s as young, rebellious colored people began to embrace the term black. Their slogan was Black is beautiful. And they used it in defiance in phrases such as black power.

But Jackson wanted to use a descriptor similar to what other ethnic people had been using forever. Americans of obvious German ancestry called themselves German-Americans. There were Dutch-Americans and Italian-American’s too. So Jackson started using the term African-American to refer to his own people. It caught on.

Today, the terms black and African-American are used interchangeably. But if there must be a term at all, it should probably be black. Just like the professor from South Africa is a real African-American and most American blacks are not, what would you call an American with Egyptian ancestry? He is an Egyptian-American but he is also an African-American, since Egypt is in Africa. Other ethnic groups get to use one country to describe their ancestry; blacks get to use a whole continent.

And what about the few native Australians who are now Americans? Just because they are black, are they lumped in with the others and wrongfully referred to as African-Americans even though they have zero ancestors from anywhere in Africa?

The point to all this is that people who were born in America, and whose parents and grandparents were born in America, are Americans. Regardless of their color, they are Americans, not African-Americans.

The newspaper headlines are quick to point out the historic nature of having the first African-American nominated for president, just like they were all over the story about Tony Dungy being the first black NFL coach to win a Super Bowl. It’s historic only in the same sense that it was historic when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to be elected president. It’s worth an asterisk, but not much more.

If we ever want to put racial problems aside in this country, we are going to have to stop using labels to identify different races, except perhaps to identify someone to a police sketch artist.

When a redhead or a blond wins a championship, we don’t refer to them by their hair color. Why do we have to refer to them by their race, even if it is historic?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Labor Day Marks Unofficial End of Summer

Labor Day is the first Monday in September, which means that this year it is on the first, next Monday. Over the years, it has evolved from a purely labor union celebration into a general "last fling of summer" festival.

It grew out of a celebration and parade in honor of the working class by the Knights of Labor in 1882 in New York. In 1884, the Knights held a large parade in New York City celebrating the working class. The parade was held on the first Monday in September. The Knights passed a resolution to hold all future parades on the same day, designated by them as Labor Day.

The Socialist Party held a similar celebration of the working class on May 1. This date eventually became known as May Day, and was celebrated by Socialists and Communists in commemoration of the working man. In the U.S., the first Monday in September was selected to reject any identification with Communism.

In the late 1880s, labor organizations began to lobby various state legislatures for recognition of Labor Day as an official state holiday. The first states to declare it a state holiday in, 1887, were Oregon, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Then, in 1894, Congress passed a law recognizing Labor Day as an official national holiday.

Today, Labor Day is observed not only in the U.S. but also in Canada, and in other industrialized nations. While it is a general holiday in the United States, its roots in the working class remain clearer in European countries.

It has come to be recognized in the U.S. not only as a celebration of the working class, but even more so as the unofficial end of the summer season. In the northern half of the U.S. at least, the summer vacation season begins with Memorial Day and ends with Labor Day.

Many colleges and some secondary and elementary schools begin classes immediately after Labor Day.

State parks, swimming pools, and campgrounds are all quite busy on Labor Day, as vacationers take one last advantage of the waning hot season. September is the month that marks the beginning of autumn. And, because of that, the average daytime maximum temperatures take a plunge during the month in most of the U.S.

In the nineteenth century, laborers began to organize themselves into unions in order to leverage themselves against the greedy companies they worked for, which often made them work for low pay in nearly intolerable conditions. But, for the most part, labor unions are still stuck in the past, favoring an adversarial relationship with management.

In countries like Japan, unions are formed to foster communication between labor and management in order to improve productivity and fairness. That’s the way unions ought to operate in the U.S. as a few already do. Mostly, though, since the 1930s, labor unions have contributed negatively to the U.S. economy, driving prices way up and forcing companies to outsource or move overseas.

Still, they have a place. They do offer protection and backing of individual employees in grievances with management, for example.

Labor Day is as it should be in the U.S., a festivity marking the waning days of summer, not so much a celebration of labor unions, despite the holiday’s origins.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This Year I Vow to be Meaner

To students and teachers, the 75 days or so between May 31 and August 13 mean they have more choices than they do the rest of the year, and more choices than most workers employed in year-round jobs. I spent 16 years of my life as a full-time student. I’ve spent another 16 years as a teacher. That’s 32 years of my life when, during the summer, I had some lovely choices.

I could choose to go back to school during summer to pick up some more college credits or to work on my master’s degree. I made those choices early on, so I no longer need to worry about whether or not to choose taking more classes. I don’t need them so I won’t take them.

I could choose whether or not to get a summer job to supplement my income. Although I really would like to get more money, I still usually choose not to go back to work. I simply enjoy my free time and work would mess with that.

So, during most summers when I’ve been a teacher, I can choose when to take a vacation, what time to get out of bed, when to eat, and how long to stay up at night. I usually eat, sleep, and wake up at about the same time, but if I wanted to change my routine, I could do it. Nobody’s stopping me, not even my boss.

But, alas, summer is over. Or at least my summer break is over. And now, I don’t have much choice anymore. I have to get up at a certain time (early). And that forces me to go to bed at a certain time. It means I can’t eat when I want or take a vacation when I want. I have to follow the school’s schedule and calendar.

Yes, I know, nobody feels sorry for me because I actually have to go to work every Monday through Friday. Because most people don’t get summers off anyway, except for two or three weeks for vacation. But remember, I have only taught for 16 years of my adult life. That leaves 14 years in which I had a regular, year-round job. So I’ve spent almost as much time working in the summer as I have working with summers off. Trust me; it’s better to have summers off.

But it’s not all so bad, going back to school. Our school building was being renovated over that last three years, and it’s virtually finished now. So everybody has nice clean, modern classrooms with air conditioning. Well, that’s the theory. The brand new air conditioning in my room isn’t working.

There is also a chance to start over with a new group of students. It’s an opportunity to fix the things you knew you were doing wrong the year before. It’s tough to change what kind of teacher you are in the middle of the year, because all the students already know. But with a new group, you can fool them into thinking you’re a lot meaner than you really are. The rule often quoted is, don’t even smile until November. I’ve always smiled too early and have gotten burned because of it.

This year, no smiling. It’s tough love from me from now on. I’ve decided to be the traditional mean teacher this year, but very fair. Good students, bad students, girls, or boys, it doesn’t matter. Everyone must follow the rules or be equally treated to after-school detention. And what if they don’t show up? They don’t get to come back to my class until they do. They can sit in the dean’s office instead.

I can justify my new-found meanness with the disclaimer that science class is for learning about science, so no shenanigans. I’ll let you know how it goes by the time Christmas vacation arrives. We’ll see if I’m smiling by then.

At any rate, I can’t wait for Labor Day. Plus there are only 173 more school days until summer break, and counting.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's Pollution that is Often Overlooked: Bad Music

There are some people who do certain things that tend to annoy other people. Most of the time people get annoyed because someone else has encroached upon their senses in a negative manner. For example, if someone who is talking to you has just eaten sardines and onions, that could be annoying.

Each person has his own private space around his body that he does not like other people to enter into unless invited. The size of this private space varies with the person. Most people are annoyed, for example, if someone gets right up into their faces to speak, even without the bad breath.

It also doesn't necessarily have to be the other person's body that invades your space. A non-smoker may feel violated if smoke is blown his way from a smoker several feet away in the same room. The smoke becomes an extension of the smoker.

In the same way, if a person plays his stereo too loudly, the loud sounds may violate another person's space. Just read the police reports each week for a clue as to the number of people who become annoyed at other people's loud music.

I love music, and I play it in my car as well as my home. I even enjoy listening to it with the volume up. But common courtesy dictates that anyone listening to music should keep the volume low enough so as not to disturb the people in the next town.

I felt moved to bring up the subject of noise pollution at this time because I, myself, have been the victim of other people's obsession with loud music. The worst part is, I'm not that fond of the type of music that is generally boomed around the neighborhood.

I like a wide variety of music, from country to classical, but I don’t like all country, not even most of it, and I don’t like all classical. Basically, I believe that music should show some semblance of the intelligence of the lyricist and the composer, which eliminates much of country music and every ounce of rap music that was ever created.

Now, before I offend the country music fans, let me say that a good deal of country music is very pleasant to listen to. I especially enjoy ballads and slow songs, but without that annoying Texas drawl that permeates the genre today. I also enjoy acoustic music, both instrumental and vocal. (If I have offended rap music fans, well, I don't really care!)

But people have different tastes in music, which explains why there are so many different genres of it. That’s fine, though. It’s not so much the type of music I’m talking about here, but the loudness.

Those music lovers who insist on pumping every ounce of wattage they can into giant speakers that sit in the back seats of their cars ought to realize two important things. They are damaging their own hearing; that's a fact. And that only means that they will need to turn up the stuff even louder as time goes by.

Secondly, they are being totally insensitive and rude to everybody who does not care for loud booming noises or rattling windows. Unfortunately, those people guilty of noise crimes (yes, there is an ordinance), and who lack the common courtesy of showing a little respect for others are the same people who probably lack enough intelligence to read a blog, so they probably won't get the message here. Maybe if you know someone like that you could tell them for me!