Archive for June, 2010

Arizona Immigration Reform 60 Days Later

June 30, 2010

Where are we headed and what has it done?

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The Arizona Immigration Reform Law (SB 1070[1]) was signed into law just over sixty days ago by Governor Jan Brewer. The passage of this controversial law has become a line of demarcation for where any politician or group stands on immigration reform. The debate on this issue has been brewing since before passage, and still more than a month away from enactment (July 29, 2010) and enforcement. Republican legislators and executives find themselves pitted between anti-immigration Tea Partiers and Hispanic voters who have helped get them in office.

Campaigns in Texas, Colorado and California have seen Republican candidates who have held leads lose them due to their loss of support in the Latino community.[2] Remember in 2000 George W. Bush received 49 % of the Hispanic vote in Florida – a demographic that traditionally voted heavily Democratic. Controversial Democratic strategist and author Robert Creamer sees a politician’s stance on Arizona SB 1070 as a litmus test for where a candidate stands on immigration – and this directly impacts the Latino voter who feels marginalized by this law. “…Republicans – especially in the West – have awakened a sleeping giant.”[3] The voters who have been disenfranchised are legal Latinos who will vote.

Two exceptionally wealthy leaders of major international conglomerates Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corporation, which owns FOX and many media outlets) and Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg L.P. and mayor of New York City) recently lobbied the government to create a path for legal status for immigrants. The two men brought together corporate leaders from Disney, McDonalds and Hewlett Packard and mayors of major US cities to create a partnership that will lobby on behalf of creating a legal route for immigrants to get legal status in the United States. These people believe that this is needed to sustain growth and to continue our nation’s history of welcoming people to fulfill their own American Dream. Bloomberg expanded by noting that mass deportations are likely impossible and that would greatly harm the economy.[4]

The local economy is already reeling in Arizona and not just from liberal tourists who are staying away and protesters of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club. An article this week in the Arizona Republic discussed the impact of fear on local Latinos, both legal and illegal has had on business. Many families have fled the state out of fear of harassment and ultimately deportation. Landlord Rollie Rankin has lost seven tenants recently – “They have had enough of the crackdown. Back in the old days, it was a wink and a nod; there was tacit approval that they were here. Now, it’s an open attack.”[5] The costs go beyond lost tenants – school districts are losing enrollment (and therefore funding) and the state stands to lose $31 billion in spending from large Latino population.[6] Arizona has a 5.6 % sales tax rate.

Bill sponsor, Arizona Representative John Kavanah (R) believes that ridding the state of illegal immigrants will save the state money in services, incarceration, education and medical costs. He acknowledges that some businesses will fail, but he states “If there are a few pockets of economic activity that will suffer, that is unfortunate, but I am sure that if their business is worth having because there is a demand for it, then they will survive,” Kavanah said. “If their business isn’t worth having because there is no demand for their services, then their business will go away. But that is the way it is supposed to be in an efficient economy.”[7] That sounds rather cold and impractical. University of Arizona’s immigration policy expert Judith Gans believes that the gains the state may make in shipping off illegal immigrants are false. “If we fill all of those jobs with legal, low-skilled, native-born workers, the fiscal burdens don’t change. It’s inherent in the job itself, not in somebody’s immigration status,” she said. “It’s sort of a myth that if these illegal immigrants weren’t here these fiscal burdens would somehow magically change.”[8]

Immigration reform is needed, and I have written this before – but it needs to be sensible and comprehensive and legal. Immigration laws and enforcement are in the purview of the federal government and not the states. The country cannot afford to have 50 states have 50 laws on immigration, trade agreements or international treaties. I fear the Arizona law will lead to racial profiling and though I have been assured by a law enforcement officer that the “bad” cop that would be reckless in enforcing SB 1070 is a rarity I cannot say I am encouraged by what I have read about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The list of charges that have been levied against him is staggering. Amongst the “highlights” is a litany of charges from the Arizona ACLU including use of excessive force, denying medical care to a paraplegic and improper use of stun guns.[9] Recently one of Arpaio’s men was held in contempt of court for going though a defense attorneys files in court.[10] There is a legitimate fear in the citizenry that this type of “Old West” law enforcement is above the law. The law is written to guarantee no racial profiling or abuse but is that a realistic situation when renegade law enforcement is involved in some jurisdictions?

I sympathize to a point with a state that is in effect being held hostage by the federal government’s inaction to provide comprehensive immigration reform. There is too much politics being played by each side to get any real work done. Whether you fall to the right or the left we are all being shortchanged by our elected leaders. This inaction does not give Arizona or any other state the right to enact laws that are outside of their jurisdiction. Many believe that this law will not survive challenges in federal court, or even in the Roberts Supreme Court. Time will tell. As a nation we can hope for the type of comprehensive reform that Bloomberg and Murdoch are calling for – reform that will allow immigrants the chance to give their families their own American Dream – just like many of our forebears were able to do for us. There is no room in the United States for discrimination and the rejection of basic human rights and dignity.

Other articles on this subject you may want to read:

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/racism-education-and-thoughts-on-arthur-m-schlesinger%e2%80%99s-%e2%80%9cthe-disuniting-of-america-reflections-on-a-multicultural-society%e2%80%9d1/

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/what-if-immigration-enforcement-affected-you/

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/the-three-i%e2%80%99s-immigration-illegals-and-irony/

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/what-is-arizona-thinking/


[1] http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/evidence-arizona-immigrat_b_623790.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/24/rupert-murdoch-mayor-bloo_n_623805.html

[5] http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/06/29/20100629arizona-immigration-law-affecting-businesses.html#ixzz0sNt6Y7ri

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/06/29/20100629arizona-immigration-law-affecting-businesses.html#ixzz0sNvauQKM

[8] Ibid.

[9] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/051/1997/en/a7debf26-e9dd-11dd-90b2-a9da8ab8e550/amr510511997en.pdf

[10] http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/04/06/20100406joe-arpaio-deputy-contempt-of-court.html

Atheism Is Not A Choice

June 28, 2010

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NOTE: By choice, I mean that after weighing the evidence and reading and learning – a critically thinking person has to be an atheist, or at the very least agnostic. To remain otherwise would be faith or superstition based and while that may be valid for many it is not a decision that will be arrived at via critical thinking.

One of the biggest rules “they” tell us to live by is not to discuss politics or religion. I of course throw caution to the wind and discuss them all the time; politics because I think it is very important in a quasi-democracy for us to discuss ideas and platforms, and to be informed. If your position is worth anything at all to you it should be worth discussing with the opposition. We did not build this great nation by having our forefathers be constantly worried about being PC or causing a ruckus – they debated, argued and negotiated. This leaves us with the other “not to be spoken about subject,” religion – or more specifically the anti-religion we call atheism. Religious people similarly do not want to engage in debate with atheists – this leads me to wonder just how strong their belief is?

So last Saturday afternoon I find myself with three hours to kill inside the nicely air conditioned train station in Stamford, Connecticut minding my own business. First I finished up an essay I had written earlier in the day on my prior life as a hard drinking man and then I found myself reading a book I had started earlier in the week – John Loftus’ “Why I Became An Atheist.” The book is an interesting look at an ex-preacher and how he grew over time to lose his belief in the supernatural and magical and began to realize that science was a much better route to answers. Interestingly, Loftus seemed to really lose his religion when his flock turned against him at a low time in his life (after he had an affair) when he needed community support and forgiveness the most. Funny how the flock did not follow the teachings of the bible that they deem so important.

When you least expect it…expect it. A very polite security guard who I had spoken with a couple of hours earlier walked by and knowingly asked me what I was reading. He was quickly called away, but soon returned. After seeing the title and assuming correctly that atheism was my position he quickly informed me that Jesus is coming back soon. I politely told him that was not true and he is in for a long wait. He seemed puzzled how I could not share his view. I told him that I would be happy to talk with him but he had to realize that there was no chance he would convince me of his view (I have been very comfortable in my lack of beliefs of over thirty years) and I realized I was unlikely to turn him into a free thinking skeptic – but I was sure going to try.

Willie, my new friend was not willing or able to think about the bible critically, or about god or Jesus (why does this never cease to amaze me?) He looked puzzled that Jesus would speak so clearly to him and yet not talk to me. He could not see how anyone could question the bible, the virgin birth or the resurrection. Of course I could not understand how anyone could understand the magic show that calls itself Christianity. I countered by questioning his ego-maniacal god who demanded total worship and this god’s genocidal, murderous and capricious ways. I pointed out to Willie that he also is an atheist (one of our standard methods) – the only difference between us is that I worship one fewer god. He really did not seem to grasp this at all until I elaborated. Then Willie had no issue with the statement as he does not consider the gods of the Hindus, Muslims, pagans, ancient Greeks, Native Americans ad infinitum to be true gods – yet somehow he thinks his god is a real god and the one. The interesting question of the Jewish god was better received until I pointed out that the Jews think Jesus was a man and not a god. Then he suddenly abandoned the Jewish version as well.

As much as Willie wants the entire world to share in his evangelical bible study groups view of Jesus, god and the bible I am not buying. It is man made material of a pretty low quality and it is not the least bit necessary for anyone to subscribe to the lies it puts forth. I will stick with science, research and the scientific method. It may not be perfect, but it allows for adaptation, correction, testing and retesting. Society has been served much better through scientific research and methods than it has been through god or religion. Some will find the atheistic view to be dogmatic and religion like – but it really is not. Atheism is simply the negation of the belief in a higher power or the supernatural. Everything is here and now in the concrete world – not off somewhere in the ether or the heavens. Like I have always said – “you cannot fake faith.” For me to believe in the lies of religion and the supernatural would require me to lie to myself – and that is something I will not do. Do I think Willie is lying to himself? No – not really. I think he is guilty of not opening his eyes to the world around him and he is certainly guilty of not questioning enough things that demand interrogation. Of course – Willie could turn that back on me and say I am guilty of “not opening my heart to Jesus.” Again – you cannot fake faith – and atheism is not a choice.

Link to a prior article I penned on atheism:

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/atheism-%e2%80%93-savior-of-the-world/

Drink, Drank, Drunk No More

June 26, 2010

Getting From There to Here

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They say no little kid says “I want to be a drunk or an addict when I grow up.” Well, that may be true for toddlers but the pervasiveness of alcohol in our culture can certainly turn the worm at an early age. I am not sure of the exact time I first tasted alcohol, but it was probably at a family Sunday dinner, possibly at my paternal grandparent’s home – and it was absolutely not later than when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. I immediately liked wine – back in those days the Italians were downing a lot of sweet rotgut – Lambrusco, Cold Duck and “Riunite on ice – that’s nice.” The warm feel of the light buzz from my little glass, the sweetness and the “adultness” of it all were very appealing to an 8-year old who always saw himself as an adult.

Through my childhood I always looked forward to the warm sensation provided by alcohol as it traveled through my body – but I never got drunk until my teens, I still enjoyed the feeling at an early age. Whenever the chance arose to have some wine at a family dinner, or split a beer with my father or grandfather I leapt at the opportunity. I would hazard a guess that most of the beer splitting was my idea – not my elders. This early interest in “sauce” would only grow as I headed for my teen years.

I certainly may have liked the idea of looking cool and fitting in, but I needed no prodding from my peers to drink. I wanted to drink. The first couple of times with the guys were camping adventures in the woods near my childhood home – the first one was a few slugs from Seagram’s bottle while the second one was an adventure that led to many tall tales being told back at school.

The second incident took me and my best friend out through the woods to a liquor store on a highway where we were able to get a total stranger to purchase a case of Bud Talls. Minus getting a comb, a magazine and a pack of gum this entire episode was very American Grafitti-esque. Being the consummate organizer and planner I stashed the case of brew into a trash bag I brought along for camouflage purposes and me and my buddy ran about ½ a mile down route 1 and darted back into the woods where our two compatriots were waiting for us. To the best of my recollection I drank my six beers in less than an hour and was vomiting soon after – the story continued after I trekked home the next morning where I continued puking and foolishly thought I convinced my parents that I was sick because I over ate while camping. At some point in my late teens or early 20s I realized that they were probably just humoring me – but they knew. There was probably nothing that they could have done to stop me short of military school at that point in my life.

The events continued – rarely at first – a post-basketball season party; a theater company party; in the parking lot at the Boston Garden before a heavy metal concert or at friends house in the afternoon of an early dismissal school day. Then towards the end of senior year it began to be that the drinking was the event in of and itself. I was not aware of this phenomenon until many years later when I realized I did not want to go to events or gatherings where there would be no alcohol served. This behavior also manifested itself in my “little strategies” of being sure there was alcohol available – like showing up with my own six-pack or the ever sneaky “we really should bring a bottle of wine as a gift.” I also made sure I got the last glass of wine out of any bottle served and one particular low point was when I brought an expensive bottle of Scotch as a gift and I drank the entire fifth alone – some gift. I often used having guests over to our house as an excuse to stock the house – “you know, if Uncle Bill once had a certain type of beer or liquor it would be damn rude to not have any in the house when he comes over.” Yeah, right – who did I think I was kidding?

My twenty-plus adult years as a drinker were full of ups and downs. I was lucky in the sense that I never had a physical addiction and only had things like the shakes once or twice. But that aside, I still used alcohol as a crutch and it certainly had socially and psychologically addictive qualities that affected me. Whenever I took one of those tests to assess my drinking I generally scored in a reasonable way, but I knew the real situations that indicated some level of a problem. Drinking alone; drinking until vomiting; drinking large quantities; never wanting to be the first one to leave; all social situations revolved around drinking (you were not going to a Red Sox game – you were going out to have drinks.) Having a couple of gigantic Scotch on the rocks (6- 8 ounces each) at home while watching television really is not necessary or good.

I used to employ all sorts of crazy rhetoric to support my drinking  – “beer comes in a case for a reason” and “I do not trust people who do not drink” – all part of the vicious game. So what made me throw all of this away you ask? There comes a point in many people’s lives when you ask yourself “what am I doing this for?” That moment happened  while at a professional conference in St. Louis (perhaps the worst, most dangerous city in America) when I found myself staggering around the desolate streets of a dead city at 3 am after drinking myself into a Dewar’s hell all evening at an open bar event. “What the hell am I doing this for?!”

The next day on the convention floor, after the requisite 6 am vomit session was highly cathartic. I was paying for my behavior with a horrid 24-hour hangover. I did a lot of thinking that day – I have a nice family – my two boys were 4 years old and three-months old at the time and I felt they deserved better than this – and I was not doing my body any favors. I was sick and fed up with it all. My level of drinking was heavy, but I was not physically addicted so I never really thought much about seeking help. I tired of my routine and decided to move forward. At first I was casually quitting – I believe I had a glass of wine on my flight home – as I always drank on airplanes. Interestingly – I did not enjoy it at all. Later that summer I got two beers over the course of a long wedding and did not finish either of them – how unusual. Over the next fifteen months I would allow myself to have one beer after finishing a hike in the White Mountains – by the fall of 2007 that had lost any appeal it may have had – I found myself having a sip or two and pouring it out. I was done.

My non-belief in higher powers made me uninterested in Alcoholics Anonymous. I am well aware of the success that program has had for so many people, my friends among them. My feelings have always been that the power to do or not do is within me, but different people have different operating systems. I am very glad a number of my friends have found AA and have had great success with the program. I have subscribed to the idea of talking about my problem with others – that is a very valuable and cathartic experience. I found comfort in reading, viewing and talking. Some of the books and films that meant the most to me during that period are listed below. Reading about others battles and struggles is reassuring. I am glad with my decision not to use alcohol any more in my life and I am very lucky to be someone who does not miss it at all – although I will still joke about it. I feel fortunate that I was not further down the path I was headed on when I made my decision to stop.

Books on the subject that resonated with me:

Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life: A Memoir.

Knapp, Caroline. Drinking: A Love Story.

McGovern, George.

Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism.

Moran, Molly Hurley. Finding Susan.

Some films that show a lot of drinking, the life, the ups and the downs – as someone who did not go to the nth level before quitting I would say that Sideways was the one that resonated the most with me – like Myles, I was certainly visiting the dark side:

Leaving Las Vegas

Sideways

The Barfly

The Days of Wine and Roses

The Lost Weekend

The Verdict

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Sonia Weitz Remembered

June 24, 2010

Holocaust Survivor and Educator 

June 24, 2010 

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Sonia Weitz, co-founder along with Harriet Wacks of the Holocaust Center, Boston North[1] about ten years ago. I was unemployed at the time and was able to assist the center get its website off the ground. Sonia died last night after a battle with cancer[2] – but you could also say she had battled her entire life. As each of us travel through life we encounter various people who teach us and whose knowledge stays with us – Sonia was one of those people for so many. 

Sonia Weitz went through so much more in her childhood than most of us could imagine. Born in Poland in she was a witness to Nazi Germany’s attack on her homeland and she saw the horrors of her mother being taken away to a concentration camp by the Nazis. Sonia lost 80 members of her family to the war and Holocaust and her only other family was her sister who also survived. 

I have often thought how would I have handled such a situation (it is even wishful thinking to suggest one has a choice in how to handle something like the Holocaust) – I think I would be rebellious, but perhaps that is false bravado – and would have likely cost me my life even quicker. A more interesting idea is how do you handle it after it is all over? Are you bitter? Hateful? Resentful? Biased? Well, it certainly would be understandable if you were – but Sonia turned all of the negativity from her youth in to a passion to write, share an educate children and adults. 

Sonia wrote an incredible first-person account of her experiences during the Holocaust I Promised I Would Tell. The book contains some of her original poetry along with her difficult journey through the war and the Holocaust. This book is just part of her gift to all of us. Sonia and Harriet’s work at the Holocaust Center, Boston North has helped to educate thousands of children in the Boston area to the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides throughout history and through our present day. Perhaps Sonia’s biggest legacy will be her work with the Holocaust Legacy Partner program. This program paired a survivor with a person who promised to continue to tell that person’s story after they died. This coupled with an extensive DVD collection of Holocaust survivor’s accounts will be instrumental in continuing to educate future generations. 

A friend of mine, Adam Swift was formerly a journalist in the Peabody area who had many times heard Sonia speak and he was equally moved by her and saddened by her death. I am including some of Adam’s words here as they further convey the effect Sonia Weitz had on all who heard her speak: 

I did not know Sonia Weitz that well, but during my time as a reporter at the Peabody Weekly News I was lucky enough to meet her several times. What I remember most about Sonia was that she was so full of energy and life. To realize what she had gone through as a teenage girl and then to see her decades later, making sure no one ever forgot one of the most horrible and tragic periods in the history of the world was inspirational.

One of the most moving events I covered was an event put on by the Holocaust Center of the North Shore that brought together Holocaust survivors with surviving soldiers who had liberated the concentration camps. In what Sonia was able to do, and her attitude in doing so, was living proof that we must never forget the past, but with a positive attitude that showed that no matter how dark the past was, there was always a hope for the future. 

Adam and I are both fathers of small children – we know the world is a dangerous place and horrible things can happen anywhere and anytime. I feel a bit better knowing that people like Sonia Weitz were in our world and were so giving of their time and were so willing to share their own personal stories and nightmares to help all of us become more enlightened and to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and of genocide.By our remembrance we can hope for a freer and more peaceful future.

Thank you Sonia for sharing your experiences with all of us – you will be missed. 


[1] http://www.holocaustcenterbn.org/

[2] http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/peabody/2010/06/holocaust_survivor_weitz_dies.html

Is Western Society and Thought Doomed?

June 21, 2010

A Look at Paul Berman’s 2003 book Terror and Liberalism.[1]

Note – June 24, 2010 – Some of my thoughtful readers pointed out some unclear wording on my part in this essay – to help clear this up I want to add that the movements I described as totalitarian and fundamentalist are not conservative movements, but rather can at times be viewed as reactions to liberalism, or the fear of liberalism.

June 21, 2010 

Paul Berman penned this important book not long after the 9/11 tragedies. Terror and Liberalism is an incredible look at the history of the 20th century, why all of the horror of totalitarianism occurred and more importantly for all of us residing in the 21st century, why extremism is still a factor in our modern society. 

In order to understand Berman’s book and premise, as well as my discussion of the material we must understand that Berman is using the term liberalism as the overriding principle that guides the western democracies in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. He is not using the term in the sense of the United States politicized context of President Obama is a liberal and President George W. Bush was a conservative. Liberalism is an over-reaching philosophy that dates to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the United States Constitution – nations that respect individual’s rights. Conservatism in this set up is viewed as totalitarianism (i.e. Nazism, Stalinism, Communism, Franco’s Spain, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and not as a conservative view in American politics.

Berman sees a grave error in the thinking of many who consider the “bookends” of the 20th century to be the start of World War I and the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in 1989. He writes of the further atrocities in the 1990s in the Balkans as the Serbs tried to “ethnically cleanse” their land, the wars of Saddam Hussein in Iraq against Kuwait and against ethnic minorities in his own country. The revolts against liberalism that framed many years of the 20th century were by no means dead and gone. There is still fundamentalist totalitarianism in many corners of the globe – particularly in Islamic states like Saudi Arabia.

A large portion of the text is reading I wish I were aware of sooner. Berman proffers a detailed yet concise history of the Islamic fundamentalist movement and one of its intellectual fathers, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) who was a leading Muslim intellectual who spent some time in the United States and was a founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. His many texts include his epic In the Shadow of the Qur’an(Koran) – a polemic on the Muslim life and condition. Shadows is a 30-volume commentary of the Koran where Qutb outlines the issues he sees in modern societies and why Islam will prevail over all others. Berman quotes Qutb at the start of his book with a sentence that sums up a lot of the Islamic view on the clash of cultures: 

Death comes to all, but for him there is no martyrdom. He will proceed to the Garden, while his conquerors go to the fire.  

He views Islam as superior because of its requirement of total commitment – he believes the west will ultimately fail due to its lack of faith and commitment to God. Islam does not meld with liberal western democracies ideas of secularism and the separation of church/faith and state. Beliefs that the Nasser government in Egypt would be Islamic in nature did not pan out and Qutb spent many years in prison. He was eventually hanged for being involved in a plot to assassinate Nasser.

Berman also looks to Albert Camus as a great thinker on the subject of 20th century totalitarianism. A companion quote by Camus was included with the Qutb quote – this one sees the evil and danger from all sides: 

Here, suicide and murder are two sides of the same coin.

 Berman draws great connections from the two sides of the French left during World War II. The Paul-Fauristes wanted peace at any cost and the leftist government of Leon Blum who saw the inherent dangers of appeasing the fascists, and later the communists. Blum was part of a parliamentary minority who voted against giving Marshall Petain’s Vichy governmental powers in collusion with the Nazis. Paul Faure’s “Fauristes” saw the enemies as war and war profiteering – not fascism, totalitarianism and Hitler. Berman sees Blum as wise realist who would not sit back on liberalism and watch fascism destroy his country. 

Berman has a knack for seeing things clearly from outside of the normally accepted views. While many admired the European nations of Sweden and Switzerland and their neutrality in World War II and since, Berman sees a problem in that these nations choose not to engage in hostilities while others like Poland and France fight and die. Berman sees a bit of cowardice and hope that others will take care of their problems. The truth of course is that Sweden and Switzerland were lucky – Hitler’s war machine would not have stopped at their borders had they not been defeated by the Allies. Berman makes a strong case that there is too great a cost and far too much at stake to look the other way from totalitarian regimes. 

So where does all of this leave us in 2010? The popular view may be that the conservative elements of the liberal democracies (i.e. ex-President George W. Bush and centrist British Prime Minister Tony Blair) see the battles as an attempt to strong arm and manipulate governments and despots that differ from us, or who will not bend and cave to western demands. Berman[2] posits that these wars can also be seen as bastions of liberalism and that the west is trying to foster an era of democracies in predominantly Muslim countries and is genuinely concerned in areas like women’s rights.[3] While Bush may have had pragmatic reasons for attacking Iraq post 9/11 (revenge and payback come to mind) there is still an intellectually liberal rationale behind the cause. Controversial scholar and historian Bernard Lewis believes it was possible to make inroads toward liberalism in nations with predominantly Muslim populations – but not in Islamic strongholds such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but rather in places like the new Iraq and possibly in Iran with student movements. Berman mentions as Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban women were happy to lose the burqas and learn to read and men happily lost their mandated beards. 

It may not be a lot to go on, or a lot to pin the hopes of human civilization – but there is a chance for the world to be more accepting and tolerant place – but for this to have any chance at all, large groups will need to subscribe to this idea and want their populations to embrace it.  

If you enjoyed this piece you may want to read another article on atheism and the world:

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/atheism-%e2%80%93-savior-of-the-world/

[1] Berman, Paul. Terror and Liberalism. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003.

[2] Journalist Christopher Hitchens is another prominent liberal who supports “the war on terror” as a great liberal cause. 

[3] Ironically, George W. Bush is viewed as a champion of women’s rights in places like Afghanistan, and as an opponent of the same in his own country.

What the Bleep Do We Know?![1]

June 19, 2010

Well for starters – the difference between science and pseudoscience…

 June 19, 2010 

“If you get to mellow first you ripen, then you rot.” – Woody Allen 

A friend that is aware of my atheism suggested that I watch 2004’s “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” a strange little film that tried desperately to be a cute self-discovery movie and at the same time an intellectually serious documentary. Kudos to the movie part – Marlee Maitlin is as good as ever and she conveys a wide range of human emotion and her character develops and grows over the length of the film. The major issues I have with the film are the attempts to convey an element of scientific proof to its new age mysticism. 

The transformation story of Maitlin’s character is done well enough, but it is completely used to push the agenda of the filmmakers, William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente – all of who are interestingly enough are students of J.Z. Knight – an American huckster  with a charming fake accent who claims to channel a 35,000 year old spirit named Ramtha.[2] Knight’s schools offer programs all over the world in such clever, subjects as Consciousness and Energy, Create Your Day and Analogical Archery. The school charges upwards of $800 for its weekend programs. How spiritual – how profitable.[3] 

Maitlin is Amanda who is at a difficult time in her life – she is bored, having trouble with her photography work, in need of anti-anxiety medications and self-loathing. As she travels thru a few days she learns that not everything is at it appears – which is often true in real life. However, the film makers try so foist the theories of quantum mechanics into all of this in such a ludicrous manner as to make us believe our minds can crystallize water.[4]  Later in the film she is photographing a wedding and sees a couple through blurry glass having sex – she is so sure that it is the groom that she goes ballistic as she recently ended her marriage to a philandering husband. A new friend at the wedding soon shows her that the couple were in fact having sex, but it was not the groom, but a similarly dressed groomsman. There is no connection to this type of “everything is not as it appears” situation to the suggestion that one of the talking heads makes that we could all walk on water if we could only get over our negative thoughts that it is impossible. If this was truly possible wouldn’t the filmmakers have shown this on film to bolster their case? Utter nonsense. 

All of these fallacies aside the infuriating part of this movie is its intellectual dishonesty and its misuse of one of the physicists that agreed to be interviewed for the movie. Columbia physicist David Albert was right to be upset when he learned that the producers edited his answers to their interview questions where he told them there was no connection between quantum physics and spirituality only to find the filmmakers edited his answers to fit their agenda.[5] Other scientists have chimed in to criticize the intellectual inaccuracies and fallacies of this film[6] – I have little problem with the New Agers and their cute little film – but to so utterly distort the answers received in their interviews and to portray this psychic nonsense as real science is a lie and needs to be called out.

If you liked this post, you may want to read this prior article – thanks – Mike

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/atheism-%e2%80%93-savior-of-the-world/


[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399877/

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/may/16/g2.science

[3] http://events.ramtha.com/events/2010/

[4] I love this part of the movie – the so-called “Chi Experiment” – they show beautiful images of crystallized water that was made possible from an “open mind.” The film makers must have forgot to mention that the water was in fact ice, and ice form crystals naturally thru the laws of physics – there is not mind-crystal connection.

[5] http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-10/cult-science

[6] http://scitation.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_59/iss_11/14_1.shtml?bypassSSO=1http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/may/16/g2.sciencehttp://pubs.acs.org/cen/reelscience/reviews/whatthe_bleep/

BP, the Government and BS

June 15, 2010

 June 15, 2010

 As we approach the three-month mark since the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico we still have not seen BP or the United States government contain the spill or adequately clean up the spill and protect our shorelines. BP CEO Tony Hayward is still gainfully employed and it the propaganda flowing from BP’s website would make one believe they have this all taken care of and that they really care. 

Criticism of BP and of the Obama administrations handling of the disaster have been sharply criticized, and for good reason. Barack Obama received nearly $80,000 in donations over the years (not just when running for President) from BP and many speculated that this caused the early feet dragging at the outset.[1] However, it appears that BP donates to everyone – and both parties had many members ready to pounce on the desire to increase offshore drilling to feed the nations lust for oil. The administration has also been criticized for allowing BP to run the show after the accident. The belief is that the federal government is not as well-equipped as BP to handle the disaster. BP is obviously running a public relations campaign of the highest magnitude in order to save its corporate neck –if that is even possible at this point – they make billions in profit annually but that may not be enough to save them from the cost of this disaster. 

A lot of the blame has to fall on BP and the technology that it was using to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. The safeguards were not in place and the system failed in epic proportions. CEO Tony Hayward’s handling of the crisis has been poor at best and inept and incompetent at worse. It is now known that BP has paid Google to redirect the search term “oil spill” away from BP and that Mr. Hayward snapped at a reporter that he wants his life back.[2] Got some news for you Tony – the world wants the Gulf of Mexico back – sans crude oil – and has no patience for the trouble that the company you are responsible for is having “no life” while you deal with it. What are the shareholders paying you for? It could not possibly be for leadership. 

BP has been blaming some of its partners in this project – Halliburton has been mentioned (doesn’t it seem like they are always in the mix?) Whether or not any one company’s part of the project is at fault you have to look to the company that is managing the project – every aspect of this project was signed off of and approved by BP. BP’s partners on the well have been involved in the clean up efforts and at least one of them is profiting from the disaster by charging BP for its “scooping up” efforts.[3] 

The US government claims that all of the hoops had been jumped through and the proper procedures had been followed. Apparently this is not so. Obama’s speech on June 15 from the Oval Office was well intentioned but short on any real news or action plan.[4] He hates that this happened (who doesn’t?) and wants it to go away – but to everyone who is observing the action has been very slow and very fractured. There has been a lack of quality leadership and management from both BP and the government. It may time for everyone to fess up that they are doing the best that they can, but that they really have not great ideas on how to do this – the size and scope of this project is far beyond anything anyone has ever dealt with before. I do not expect President Obama or Tony Hayward to know how to clean this up – but we do have the right to expect them to be able to assemble the team that can. The government and BP need to put someone in charge of this disaster clean up that may at the very least have a clue. 

The nation and the worlds thirst for fossil fuels have to change – we cannot afford these disasters and there are alternate ways to go. If all of the oil dried up tomorrow the planet would move on. Perhaps an alternative would be to encourage oil and energy companies to seriously invest in new fuels and energy sources. Wind, solar, water, nuclear – there are technologies out there and there are huge profits to be made – it does not all have to fall on oil. The citizenry of the world also needs to change – the appetite for oil must be curtailed. We can all do better – some day we will actually have to do better. Governments need to do a better job regulating and monitoring dangerous industries and of creating an economic climate that encourages business development for the future that will improve life, and avoid catastrophes on Earth. Lastly, the government in cases like the BP disaster need to begin seizing assets and protecting the nation against corporate greed and propaganda – BP says it is doing all it can, and it is telling us it will pay out billions – but are we protected if they decide to file bankruptcy?


[1] http://theweek.com/article/index/202679/Do_BPs_big_donations_to_Obama_matter

[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/306996;_ylt=AloB1ZwOO4lzQ38teiLDpgWNe8UF;_ylu=X3oDMTJka2lnZHBxBGFzc2V0A2NzbS8yMDEwMDYwOS8zMDY5OTYEcG9zAzEEc2VjA3luX3BhZ2luYXRlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDYnBidXlzMzlvaWxz

[3] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0615/What-BP-s-partners-are-doing-in-Gulf-oil-spill-cleanup

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/15/obamas-oil-spill-speech-w_n_613642.html

Know your –isms (via Symptom of the Universe)

June 15, 2010

I do not usually repost – but this article has been getting some interest of late…and after seeing a t-shirt in northern NH last weekend of President Obama superimposed over the flag of the USSR I feel the need to repost…share, comment, read – thanks – Mike

Wherever you may fall along the political spectrum you cannot help noticing how everyone loves to use a barrage of political/economic nomenclature in a derogatory manner at their opponents – we are all guilty of it. Some of the usage is ludicrous at best and flat out ignorant at worst. Here I will attempt to clarify the popular systems of political and economic ideology are so we can do a better job of cutting up our opposition. All dictionary en … Read More

via Symptom of the Universe

Racism, Education and Thoughts on Arthur M. Schlesinger’s “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society”[1]

June 13, 2010

 June 13, 2010

 Famed Pulitzer Prize[2] winning historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) was perhaps best known for his work as the historian for the Kennedy administration penned the long essay in 1991 that is the subject of this article. Schlesinger does an admirable job explaining the history of the United States in the terms of how we educate our children in grade school and in colleges. Long known as part of the liberal establishment Schlesinger takes us on a journey in his essay that may surprise many of us in its views on multiculturalism, ethnicity and the importance of forging an American identity for the future. 

Schlesinger shows us how the United States has been built, and has thrived due to its inherent multi-ethnicity – in fact America is by and away the greatest success story ever in this area. Other nations have struggled with retaining their national identity while allowing immigration from other areas. This is not to say that the United States is perfect – we also have a long history of racism, hatred and intolerance that is not so easy to dismiss. The country was built on the idea of freedom and acceptance and over time this idea has become more inclusive. Schlesinger argues that the debates of what to teach on our history classrooms can have a lot to do with how our nation succeeds in the classroom, and that the Left idea of bashing all that is Eurocentric is in fact denying history and our legacy. Teaching multiculturalism is important, but to deny the role of Europe in the development of our collective nations thought is in wrong.

 His argument attacks the idea that all ethnic groups wish to destroy the European traditions of our history in the American classroom. Schlesinger argues that so many universities force students to take classes on culture and history from the Third World while taking no classes on the history and legacy of Europe that has brought our country together and moved it forward. Schlesinger is not denying the existence and importance of diversity and multiculturalism but is questioning how important it is in light of learning about the dominant history and culture that has shaped our nation. In his book he points that right or wrong African-Americans have more connectivity to their history in the United States than they do to their ancient history in Africa. Many who emigrate here, including my own family wanted to assimilate into American life and culture as quickly as possible – in the 1940s many Italian-American families made a point of not speaking Italian in the home and not teaching their children to speak Italian. Statistics used by Schlesinger point to similar trends with Hispanic immigrants in more recent years – the goal is often to assimilate into American society and opportunity as quickly as possible – and learning English is a key component.

So – where are we now – nearly 20 years after the original publication and 12 years after the updated edition of The Disuniting of America? In certain circles there are certainly major improvements – the United States has its first black President in Barack Obama[3] and race is less of an issue to no issue for many Americans. This is a far cry from utopia though as racism is rooted deep in our collective thought and culture. We see racism daily in the methods many are calling for in immigration reform and enforcement. Arizona’s recent law, SB 1070 that was signed by Governor Jan Brewer is giving Arizona law enforcement to arrest and detain illegal immigrants, even though this is an area of law reserved for federal jurisdiction. The very nature of this law forces racism when enforced – police will naturally go after people who look Latino and in effect will be profiling and harassing the millions of legal Arizona citizens who are of Latino or Native American heritage. Well know Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio[4] is breaking the law, abusing his power and using his staff as his own personal vigilante force for his twisted view of what America should be. Daily Arpaio avoids his departments work in investigating real crime and he is using his force to unlawfully detain citizens who disagree with him. Americans should always take the high road – we need reform and solid policy – racial profiling is inherently un-American, the low road and poor policy. 

Schlesinger’s view that all of our varied pasts and cultures are part of what makes this country special and great are valid. Equally valid is his desire for all of us to learn American history and the importance that western values and culture have upon our collected history. Schlesinger points out an interesting idea; the Western nations and cultures are the only ones that have adapted, grown and evolved quickly from their past wrongs. Western culture embraced slavery and ended slavery – he notes that slavery pre-dated the west’s arrival in Africa and survived long after the slave trade to the America’s ended. Western culture bred religious intolerance and also ended it many times – although I fear we may be moving back towards it. Schlesinger sees inclusion and tolerance of groups and education of the citizenry as the keys to a successful America in the future – we need to learn and understand our past if we are to have a collective American identity as we move towards the future.


[1] Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society – Revised and Enlarged edition.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

[2] Schlesinger was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 1946’s book “The Age of Jackson” about former President Andrew Jackson.

[3] The author of this article is a supporter of President Obama and wants to point out that by “improvement” I mean that the nation is improved by the fact that we elected a minority from a diverse background to our highest office, as opposed to his individual policies, which I generally agree with.

[4] At risk of derailing the original intent of this essay, please read here for further detail of the madness that is occurring daily in Arizona: http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/next-arizona-how-about-governor-joe

Atheism – Savior of the World

June 8, 2010

The world is a mess and it is getting worse. People are full of hatred directed at one group or another for a myriad of reasons. The number one reason for this hatred is religious beliefs and practices which are the root of most evil. This evil can show up as self-righteousness, bigotry, racism or plain hatred. In the past few days we have seen anti-Semitism spewing from once respected, now loathed White House correspondent, Helen Thomas[1]; a picture circulating around the web of fundamentalist Christians demonstrating against the evil of dancing (apparently god hates dancing, and it leads to having sex); Israeli forces killing aid workers in international waters many miles from their shoreline; grandchildren of Ku Klux Klan leader Thomas Robb reciting hateful white supremacist rhetoric on Internet radio(and a charming family portrait at a cross burning – the youngest is a ten-year old boy)[2]; humorless Muslims who think their religion is beyond the pale of humorists enraged at any depiction of “their” god (to the point of wanting to kill the creators of the humor); and an ever-growing faction of Christian fundamentalists in the United States that want to bifurcate the country and marginalize any who do not see things their way. The idea that religion and god are here to bring humanity together in love and in peace is as unbelievable as the concept of a supreme, omnipotent and personal god.  

Religion is one of the methods people separate themselves from humankind by creating an “are you with me or not?” situation. By design these groups were created to exclude anyone who was capable of freethinking and did not have a need to be led around like sheep following the flock. Before the modern era most people believed and most people belonged to these groups (religions), or kept very quiet about their true feelings. People who joined the group were at the mercy of the powers of that organization – conform or be cast aside.  

The major pluses of the Enlightenment and the scientific and modern era are that as more and more things have been explained by science people have become less superstitious. This does not apply to everyone – there is a huge backlash of people who will deny logic, science, research and reason and supplant it with ghosts, magic and various and assorted fictions. Atheism is a voice of reason that could be an instrumental tool in bringing all of the people of the world together – as opposed to religion which has a long history of tearing groups and people apart. Atheism is not devil worship, sorcery or an invitation to live a life free of moral constructs – morality came from man long before the popular religions of today existed. Non-believers are the third largest group of “adherents” in the world – only trailing behind Christianity and Islam.[3] Of the 16 % non-believing population less than 2/10ths of one percent are in prison.[4] These figures along with the near daily news of religious people who have fallen from grace show no positive connection between belief and morality.  

Believers will often extol on all of the virtues and beauty of religion and god and look the other way and not see lies and fairy tales. Why not accept the beauty of the world and the concrete existence that we have? We do not need any more, nor do we need the big lies about creation and an afterlife. These tales have caused so much harm in history – from ancient times up to the current day. Poverty, economic control, geographic disputes, political battles and ethnic hatred have emerged from religious belief. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus (to name just a few of the guilty parties) have clashed over all of these issues through the centuries and still do. Nuclear confrontation is a very real possibility in the Koreas (where the cult of Kim Jong-il is basically a state religion) and in the Kashmir region that is disputed daily by India and Pakistan. Religious and ethnic belief systems are largely responsible for these potentially cataclysmic differences – they are not borne out of any logic or concrete rationale. Similar situations occurred with Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, US policy on Native Americans, Iran and Iraq, Uganda and Rwanda, and in a less extreme manner in South Africa under apartheid and in modern Israel’s occupation and repression of Palestinians. Oppression is oppression – and when it is based on religion it is brutal. The saddest part of this is that religion and god are a man-made constructs. If nations were fighting over arable land, water, shipping lanes or military threats the conflicts between nations could make sense. The idea of countries eliminating enemies and rivals over the Tooth Fairy sounds ludicrous – but what is the difference between religion and god and any other fictional character?  

People have asked me “why do you care about religion/atheism? What difference does it make? You will not change anyone? Why waste your energy? No one is stopping you from anything? Etc.” Well, I agree that it is unlikely to change anyone’s deep-rooted beliefs, as I know my views are unchangeable in this area. I use my energy and I care so deeply about this topic because of what has been written above. Without even touching on indefensible topics such as clergy pedophilia scandals, celibacy, televangelists, tax-free status of religion in the United States, the obscene wealth of the Vatican and the corruption of popular religious figures like the Dalai Lama[5] and Mother Teresa[6] it is so clear that religion is a big business that is used to control people’s thoughts and actions. The world will be a much better place when we can rid the Earth of this disease. People need to wake up and treat others with respect and the dignity that all people deserve. Religion was supposed to give that to us but it, and the concept of god has failed mankind and needs to go.  

Think about it – do you really need ten commandments (lower case by design) to know that it is wrong to kill, steal or have sex with your neighbors spouse? If you need that kind of guidance no holy book or ritual is going to save you from yourself. 

 For further reading

 Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith

Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great

 A great Facebook page is Al Stefanelli’s United Atheist Front http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/UnitedAtheistFront?ref=ts which acts as a clearing house of all sorts of articles, videos and images. 

 


 

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/08/helen-thomas-reporter-why-resign 

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/08/helen-thomas-reporter-why-resign 

[3] http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html 

[4] http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm 

[5] http://www.salon.com/news/1998/07/13news.html and http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-33305820080429 

[6] Mother Teresa accepted stolen money from financier Charles Keating and also accepted large sums of cash from Haitian despot “Papa Doc” Duvalier – she also respectfully laid a wreath at the tomb of Albanian despot Enver Hoxha. http://www.versobooks.com/books/ghij/h-titles/hitchens_mother_teresa.shtml