Saturday, August 30, 2008

Imagine No Religion

Many years ago when I got my first decent computer, a Gateway 486 with Windows 3.11 and a 14.4 telephone modem (about a thousand times slower than my present DSL connection), I just automatically knew that the most important thing I could do on line was work towards the eradication of religion.

After a couple of years, people started quitting AOL and going on the real Internet, and I downloaded a cool thing called a Web browser, and that was it. I quickly learned how to make Web pages, and the first pages I made dealt with meditation, the philosophy of Alan Watts, and the insanity of religion. I’ve written many essays about religion. Then, in 2007, I discovered Sam Harris and his The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. This young neurophysicist was doing the same thing I was doing, but so much better! 

However, even though his books were New York Times Bestsellers, I don’t even think he’s made a measurable dent in the number of people in the world victim to the computing virus of the human brain known as fundamentalist religion.

I wonder how Sam Harris would feel about the new crop of 15-year-old gamers trying to horn in on his anti-religion territory. As I was humbled by his work, I wonder if he’d be humbled by theirs.

Let’s do a comparison. After careful reading of his two books, I think that this one from The End of Faith is one of the most powerful paragraphs Harris has written: 

"How is it that the absurdity of this idea [that certain books were written by God] does not bring us, hourly, to our knees? It is safe to say that few of us would have thought so many people could believe such a thing, if they didn't ACTUALLY believe it. Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain FILMS were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything--ANYTHING--be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in."

Now compare it to this graphic put together by a 15-year-old gamer:

Very scary, masochistic God

Ok, here’s another great Sam Harris quote, again from The End of Faith:

"Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept--rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: "respect" for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error, or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes--REALLY believes--that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one."

How do you think it stands up to the following explanation of the Bible by a 16-year-old gamer. Note that to understand the gamer lingo used in this explanation--"cheat codes," "b&," and a few other gamer slang words and acronyms--you may need to refer to my little vocabulary key below the graphic. Cheat codes, for example, are keyboard shortcuts you can type into a computer game to give you special powers in that game. I once learned how to type a complicated 6-key shortcut to activate the God code on Doom, so I could kill the horrible aliens with total impunity, completely invulnerable to their attacks. After months of being beaten back by them, this was the only way I could see what the higher levels in the game looked like. So anyway, check this out:

Bible Analysis by Gamer

troll: person who purposely taunts for negative replies on Web forums

GTFO: get the fuck out

showing tits: The 4chan.org forum motto is “tits or GTFO”

b&: banned from a forum. "perma b&" means permanently banned.

trollbait: someone who falls victim (gets sucked into a prohibited negative conversation) to the troll

pwning: extreme beating (owning) of an opponent in an online game

LOL: laugh out loud

emo: emotional, sometimes gothic kids

fap: masturbate

rcon: remote control

CP: processing power

ska punk: somebody into reggae/punk fusion music

I’m really afraid of religious people because they are, by definition, irrational and illogical. Also, it’s interesting that while all religions are perfectly analogous to computer viruses, just as some computer viruses are relatively harmless--merely a nuisance--some viruses can have catastrophic impact on your hard drive, for example deleting all your data or even corrupting all data on a whole network. So it is with Christianity compared to Islam. Islam seems far more dangerous.

However, Christianity as we practice it in America, is quite dangerous as well. Eight out of ten faith-based voters voted for George W. Bush in 2004, according to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, despite the fact that this poster boy for the Devil had already murdered tens of thousands of Iraqis and basically destroyed the whole country of Iraq. But a huge difference between Christianity and Islam is that I can be very critical of Christianity and probably get away with it (although posting this blog entry definitely scares me--it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a Christian, in the name of the loving Jesus, knocking on my door and throwing acid in my face or in the face of my little daughter).

Think about the graphics these two bright teenagers have put together and then think about how crazy and hurt a person would have to be to actually be a fundamentalist! How can you trust such a person?

My niece Lisa watched in horror as a crazy man in San Francisco pounded his own face to a pulp against a cement garbage container. This is the physical equivalent to believing in a fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist book-idolizing religion is intellectual suicide. And, in Alan Watts' words, "it is positive un-faith since it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness--an act of trust in the unknown."

Can you imagine no religion? John Lennon could. Listen to this amazing Lennon song. Do you remember it?

This sculpture (I don't know who did it or even its location) is the world "Christian" McCain voters are going to choose this November 4th. 

Not one real Christian will vote for McCain. 

This is the world McCain voters want.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Your Software Is a Virus

I've enjoyed the debate between Mr. Fluorescent (Robbie) and German Psycho. Robbie, I really enjoyed your first comment to my "McCain and Obama--Bad Software" post, and it gives me an opportunity to make myself even more clear (if that's possible) than I already have. I also enjoy your writing style, and I learned a lot about Obama that I didn't know, or, actually, that I kind of did know it, but hadn't let it all gel yet. You are as good at dissing Obama as I am at dissing Bush.

When it comes to Obama's shortcomings, I admit I've kept my head in the sand a bit. I agree with almost every word you write about Obama and I agree wholeheartedly that it is sickening to always have to vote for the "least worst." But I want you to realize something: Months ago when Congressman Dennis Kucinich was still in the running, I hosted Kucinich house parties, bought lawn signs and bumper stickers, and made phone calls. Our two-party system is completely unworkable. I've been registered Green before, and I don't call myself a Democrat.

There was a chance that a large movement to elect Kucinich could have congealed and grown, even snowballed. It's always at least theoretically possible that some charismatic leader could come onto the national stage and speak the truth in such a way that people would actually listen and follow that person. But now, less than two and a half months away from the election, given the software and operating system we have to work with, it is too late. It's a fact, Robbie, verifiable by statistically valid polling, that because of our incredibly obsolete, broken operating system (the operating system is the the American people, 60 percent of whom still believe that the creator of the Universe wrote a book), only certain software will run on this machine.

At this late date, and with the candidates we have, and with the level of ignorance still prevalent in our society, it is impossible for a mass movement to start behind any of the alternative candidates. I repeat, this is proveable by statistically valid polls. Cynthia McKinney is not suddenly going to become super popular, and people aren't going to suddenly be excited by angry old Ralph Nader! It aint gonna happen, Robbie. True, something out of the ordinary could happen--an assassination, a candidate's plane crash, a visit from aliens. But barring something extremely out of the ordinary, we're going to go to our polling places on November 4 and pulling the lever for either Obama or McCain.

You might want a rockin' kick-ass computer like I have . . .

Jeff's Cool Computer, you wish you had but don't. Jeff rules!
but right now, this is the computer that you have:

Robbie's pathetic computer. How sad!
A skilled user can do a lot with an old computer. But if it's crippled with viruses, it becomes junk, and then the user is out of business. There is only one password on this computer in its present configuration that will stop the McCain virus, and that's "Obama."

A Carter is not a Nixon, and a Gore is not a Bush. Eisenhower was not a Bush. There are huge differences. Do you think Eisenhower would have let people die in the streets of New Orleans and babies go several days without water after Katrina?

The reason that Obama initially got so much young and progressive support--the amazing "Yes We Can" video put together by Will-I-Am and featuring Scarlet Johansson, the huge rallies, the incredible amount of money Obama raised from small donations--was that he made great speeches that talk to the good in us. The other candidates only make speeches that sound, to most educated people, no matter what their political stripe, like blatant propaganda tilted towards the interests of billionaires. Obama is married to a real black woman, not a golden Beyonce-type wanna-be-white woman with blonde straightened hair. And they have two little daughters who will have to breathe the mercury in the air and drink radioactive water if things don't turn around.

It sickens me the compromises he's made, but those are the software workarounds necessary on this broken operating system! Just take one minute and watch this amazing Obama Smackdown video and listen to the speech Barack Obama made in 2002 about the war. It's juxtaposed with a speech by Johnny Edwards, made at the same time, in which Edwards uses his super-lawyer skills and sells the hell out of Bush's coming attack on a sovereign non-belligerent nation.

There are not two sides to the truth.

German Psycho and you are both more knowledgeable than I about some of the specifics of our occupation of Afghanistan. (Although your friend's experience about drug eradication there is giving you a skewed idea of what the war is really about. Opium growing has increased exponentially during our occupation, and American soldiers in many areas walk through opium fields without a care. My views on this "war" fall somewhere in the middle between you two. But Robbie, just because you may be smarter than I am about Afghanistan and better able to use English than German Psycho doesn't mean you're right in voting for McCain, which is what you'll be doing when you pull the lever for McKenney.

You must be young, so you can't really wrap your mind around what it's like to worry about McCain privatizing your Social Security (think Enron). You're probably healthy and can't really feel empathy for the 55 million Americans who can't afford health care, who let their kids walk around with cavaties in their teeth and ear infections, who get a second job to pay off jacked-up medical expenses. For you, voting is an intellectual exercise. It's a fact, barring something bizarre happening in the next two months, that "McKenney" is a simple keyboard shotcut to start up the McCain virus. It's simply immoral. You're educated and knowledgeable, but that doesn't mean you're logical. Spock and Data from Star Trek need to pay you a visit and slap you on the side of your head! Of maybe Spock should teach you how to do a mind meld with some of the people who will soon be dead or suffering if McCain gets to be your Commander in Chief.

I just wanted to make it clear to you and to everybody enjoying this conversation that if your third party candidate fails to build up a head of steam after a certain point in time, then it's time to abort that installation until later. A skilled user can use even flawed software to write better software! But you can't do shit if your software is a virus!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McCain and Obama--Bad Software

Someone posting as "fluorescent" took strong exception to my train analogy, especially the part where I say:

“It is incredibly bourgeois, decadent, arrogant, and selfish to sacrifice the lives of literally millions of foreigners so you can make your little progressive or libertarian point at the ballot box!”

Fluorescent writes, "Wow how intellectually dishonest and scraping the bottom of the barrel of you. You not only imply that because i want to vote for Cynthia Mckinney i have blood on my hands but you also put it in red font?"

OK, "fluorescent" or Lord Farquaad, or whatever your name is, I can dig that you don't like my tone, but you seem to have missed the most important point of my essay. I think you honestly don't realize how simple and binary our present situation is. My words in "Stop the Train or Just Slow It Down?" are perfectly true, and as provable as a simple math equation.

Having worked for many years as a network administrator, I find myself often dealing with situations in life that seem exactly analogous to situations with computers. Right now America is like a computer with two crappy programs on it, and if you type in a certain password, the Obama program will run, and if you type in several other possible passwords, the McCain program will run. This is something I'm right about. It's as basic and absolute as hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete to restart your computer or typing your own password to access your credit card on line. It is immoral and stupid to let McCain drive a bus with our children aboard for even a minute! But if you type in the password "Nader," "Paul," "Barr," or "McKenney," or if you type in the password "McCain," it's a fact that this dangerous McCain software virus will run.

However, if you and all the other wavering progressives type in the password "Obama," it's highly likely that we will have someone at the wheel who hasn't yet murdered, someone who spoke out strongly and very clearly against the invasion of Iraq and tried to stop it. You sound like a very spoiled, self-absorbed individual who thinks her/his vote is so important and meaningful that she/he is actually going to type in the code that starts McCain. I wish it weren't that simple, but it is. We are dealing with a fucked up computer and two fucked up pieces of software, but that's what we've got to deal with right now.

I admitted that I think McKenney is the best (although in light of my train analogy, I'm scratching my head wondering about her motives, and I'm hoping she'll endorse Obama at the last minute). And I even hinted that of all the candidates, Jesus would probably choose McKenney. So I'm not putting her down. I'm just saying that her name is one of the passwords that will start up the McCain program.

If you really research Obama, he might turn out to be almost as slimy as McCain and Hillary, but at least he's competent to drive the bus. McCain and Hillary, by their support of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, have already run over a bunch (a million!) of innocent pedestrians, so they're clearly not fit to drive!

"You remind me of someone you probably hate . . . Fox News," "Fluorescent" writes.
 
The difference between Fox News and myself is that they put out lies and propaganda, while I tell the simple truth. There may be some style similarities, however. I'd like to think that I'm fighting fire with fire.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Stop the Train or Just Slow It Down?

I recently went to an impeach-Bush event at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland with my 9-year-old daughter Eileen, and I was immediately saddened to see that all the people there (including me and except for Eileen) had gray hair, and that less than half of the seats were filled. Eileen was privileged that night to see two of the most famous living American patriots, Daniel Ellsberg and Cindy Sheehan, speaking passionately and eloquently for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Before the speeches started, I got into an argument with a trim older gentleman over voting for Barack Obama vs. voting for Ralph Nader. His analogy was that we're all riding on a train headed for disaster, and that the Democrats look out the left window and want to head towards the sea, while the Republicans look out the right window and want to head towards the mountains. "But no matter who gets to drive," he said, "it's the same train on the same track, and there's a 'Bridge Out!' sign up ahead. It is time to stop selling our political souls, to stop voting for the 'best worst' [as Ralph Nader puts it]. It's time to vote for what we believe, for what is right!" And for him, the ONLY viable choice, if we are to have any hope of stopping the train and putting down new track, is independent candidate Ralph Nader.

I argued that the result of millions of us progressives voting our consciences for Nader in the 2000 election was that Gore got considerably less of the popular vote, and that had we voted for Gore, the two major crimes of the election, the theft of many thousands of black votes by computer database purges spearheaded by Jeb Bush in Florida and the treasonous appointment of Bush to the presidency by the Supreme Court, would have seemed more blatant and more criminal. I mentioned that for a few days, Nader had held the power to choose the next president of the United States. He could have given his votes to Gore at the last minute like Ross Perot gave his votes to Bill Clinton, and a million Iraqis who are now dead would almost certainly be alive, drinking tea, going to classes, watching TV, walking around right this minute. Bush "won" Florida by only 537 votes, I added.

I admitted that Obama is no great Savior and that he would probably continue making compromises and selling us out. But you must admit, I said, that Engineer Obama would slow the train down, relative to the speed it would continue going if John McCain became the next Engineer. Electing Obama would result in a substantial saving of human lives!

A substantial saving of human lives, maybe millions! I don't know what it is about most Americans that makes them so cavalier about the sacrifice of the lives of non-Americans, especially ones with brownish skin. I sometimes ask people how many DICPT's their car gets (Dead Iraqi Children Per Tank). When Americans, even some progressive ones, talk about casualties in other countries, they do it with the emotionality of someone mentioning ants killed at a picnic.

Further, I argued, since it's a given that most of the passengers on the train are very ignorant, and since it’s a given that the train is literally mowing down millions of Third World people every year as it rushes down the tracks, we can't afford to be so pure and self-righteous when we vote, when our "protest vote" results in horrible injuries and deaths for real people--both Third World people and American people--plus imposes a huge national debt on our own children and grandchildren, basically enslaving them by selling their future labor against their will!

After Obama is elected, I told him, it won't be the end of our political lives. That will be when things just start to get interesting. "If you and I continue to apply our activist energy," I said, "we can push Obama to do the right things to save our country, and if that fails, we can make sure that the next candidate will be even more progressive."

I sympathized with this man's strong urge to vote for Nader, whom he respects and admires. Cynthia McKenney is running for president now as well, as the Green Party candidate, and I think she is perfect for the job. But I wouldn't dare campaign or vote for her because the ignorance of the American people is a given, just like icebergs in the path of an ocean liner, and the ignorant are mentally disabled in such a way that they cannot see her merits. Therefore if she were to start to gain some traction, she would only take votes away from Barack Obama, the only candidate who, in the world as we presently find it, can defeat McCain in November.

It is incredibly bourgeois, decadent, arrogant, and selfish to sacrifice the lives of literally millions of foreigners so you can make your little progressive or libertarian point at the ballot box! As the despicable little Lord Farquaad says in the animated movie Shrek, "Many of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."

McKenney doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell, or an Oreo's chance in milk, or whatever you say about radical black ladies. The same goes for Nader and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, although they both have much to recommend them. The only way to stop McCain is to vote for Obama, and the only way Obama is going to win is if the people get behind him. If the election were held today, when you include vote stealing and polling-station-intimidation tactics, McCain would probably win.

I didn't mention this to the man at the impeachment event, but one weakness of my argument is that the ignorant, complacent, dim-witted passengers on the train, stirred to just enough awareness by a glimpse of the "Bridge Out!" sign to elect Obama as Engineer, would become complacent again soon after Obama took over the controls of the train and things started to get better. Then, once again, because of their ignorance, they would be susceptible to manipulation by the psychopaths who make money by extracting resources and wealth from Third World people as they mow them down, using the labor and battlefield sacrifices of brave Americans as lubrication for the gears of the train's engine. These selfish psychopaths vaguely realize that the end destination of the train is not good, but the trip to get there is set up perfectly for them to make a killing, pun intended. The title of a recent Noam Chomsky book sums up their attitude nicely: Hegemony or Survival. They have opted for temporary hegemony now instead of long-term survival into the future.

Anybody over 45 has seen this whole cycle play out before. Americans learned nothing from the Vietnam War, even though it had resulted in the needless, immoral, insane killing of 3 million Vietnamese, 1 million Cambodians, and 1 million Laotians, plus over 50,000 American soldiers. Actually, we did learn for a few minutes. After Nixon and Ford, we elected pro-environmental, relatively peaceful Jimmy Carter. But after Carter we relapsed into our intellectual coma and elected the first neocon, Reagan, followed by neocon foot soldiers Bush 1 and Bush 2, and doomed ourselves to repeat the Vietnam War. Now we've added another million deaths in Iraq to our list, and the murder of another 5,000 of our bravest citizens.

So, perhaps I'm arguing not so much for making things better forever as for pulsing them from bad to better and then back to bad again every decade or so! Perhaps voting for Nader, McKenney, or Barr, even if it does hasten World War 3*, is, looking at it from the God's-eye view, the best. Like I've heard many a Republican say, "Nuke 'em all and let God sort 'em out!" Maybe a global thermonuclear war wiping out most or all of humanity is better than a progressive century in which America regains its economic greatness and its reputation for being a beacon of freedom and the most innovative country in the history of humanity. Call me a chicken, but I don't think so!

Maybe we're just screwed, period, like the dinosaurs were.

But at leaast they have good strong liquor on this train, and since I'm riding in one of the nicer, higher cars, I can barely hear the crunching of children's bodies under the wheels or see them splatting against the windows.

It's a fact that most of the passengers on this American train put their hands over their ears whenever you try to talk sense to them, and like children, they loudly chant, "La, la, la, la, la!" until you stop talking. The moment you start reasoning with them again, they cover their ears and start jabbering. We also know from experience how much time it takes to teach even one of these imbeciles to start thinking independently and analytically. Slowing the train down is crucial, because it gives us more time. And time is clearly of the essence!

Ideally, the majority of our people would somehow see the rightness of voting for Nader, McKenney or even the fundamentalist Libertarian Barr (like Marxism and like many religions, Libertarianism would work if human nature were perfect). Then the murderous train could be stopped, new track laid down, and everybody would live happily ever after. The murder of Third World people by Americans would stop, and our treasury would no longer be raided to support a war machine that only enriches billionaires. No longer would our children be plucked off the train to serve in our military, to help clear the way for the billionaires' train to mow down more people and take their stuff.

But I doubt that even Jesus could convince the people to listen, change, and vote for McKenney, Nader, Barr, or the brave Congressman Dennis Kucinich. In order to impress generations of people who have grown up watching amazing special effects in the movies, his miracles would have to be far better this time around.

An announcer began introducing the night's speakers. Ellsberg and Sheehan were taking their places at a long table on the Grand Lake Theater's stage, and I had to end my conversation with the stubborn Nader supporter (pardon my redundancy--the word "stubborn" is not necessary when talking about Libertarians and Nader supporters). I told him, "Don't get me wrong, I do understand how you feel about voting for a man you don't even really believe in. I was ready to campaign full time for Obama, but now that he's bending so far to the right of center and contorting himself a la Gore and Kerry, it's hard for me to even lift a finger to help get him elected. 

But I keep reminding myself that if McCain wins, the quality of my children's lives will almost certainly be diminished for the rest of their lives. Their very lifespans will likely be shortened, and possibly, if McCain gets World War 3 going, shortened down to a very few years! It is certain that McCain would continue to ravage our environment and waste our national treasure. Those are two of his campaign promises.

The speeches by Ellsberg, Sheehan, and others that night were truly great, but I doubt they'll ever show up in history books. As usual with progressive events, we were preaching to the choir. So I'm trying to spread their message where it's not yet being heard. I stand outside of supermarkets and register voters. I give away expensive Obama lawn signs and bumper stickers that I buy at the "Obama Store" on his Web site. And I write e-mails to hundreds of people on my list, providing powerful glimpses of truth via brilliant YouTube videos and short on-line articles by the likes of Naomi Klein, Katha Pollitt, and Robert Scheer. Every bit of buzz we can create through a simple conversation at work or with a prominently placed bumper sticker is worth it. People are very lost right now--there is a vacuum in their minds that needs to be filled--and if people start perceiving Obama as a happening, a lot of them will jump on the bandwagon and vote for him.

If we don't bring younger people into our political process, America is pretty much doomed. Looking across the audience at the Grand Lake Theater impeachment event, I couldn't help wondering who would take over once us graybeards and graymanes bite the dust. You don't need a degree in psychology to realize that McCain isn't going to activate young voters, except maybe to make them feel like smoking more pot or dropping more Ecstasy to blot out the whole mess.

Let me leave you with this thought, and forgive me for repeating myself: It is incredibly bourgeois and decadent to spend the lives of literally millions of foreigners so you can make your little progressive or libertarian point at the ballot box. 

The Real McCain 2
___________
*We might as well start using Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals. People are going to have have trouble with the Roman numerals when we get up to World War IV, V, IX, etc.