Saturday, September 29, 2007

Democracy has Fallen, Can it Get Up?

Gentle reader,

If the USA is a democratic nation and democracy is so great then how come the government of the USA is doing things that its people did NOT ask for? Unless I am mistaken, the citizens of this great country did not ask for the following:

- A war in Iraq
- Their jobs being shipped to India and other countries
- A broken health care system
- Overpriced colleges
- Mostly non-existent public transportation
- Stagnant wages
- Both parents having to work in order to make ends meet
- Suspension of Habeas Corpus
- Half of their tax money being used for war
- Government snooping on their citizens
- The ability of the government to declare ANYONE an "enemy combatant" and send that person away to a concentration camp where they are tortured.
- Executives making insane amounts of money compared to their workers.
- Huge government debt, leading to a falling dollar and higher inflation.
- Social programs that are financially out of control such as medicare and social security.
- A crumbling infrastructure of roads and bridges

Part of the problem is that there really is little true choice in government - you get a bunch of rich guys in the pocket of corporations or another bunch of rich guys in the pocket of mostly the same corporations. A true and fair democracy would allow poor people to become president. When was the last time that happened? The ability to raise vast quantities of cash to pay for TV commercials biases things in favor of the people with deep pockets. The fact that dynasties of presidents occur (Bush, Kennedy, Clinton) is proof of the fact that the playing field is not level.

The system of government in the USA is clearly not working at this point and needs to be changed somehow.

The sad part is that as far as international opinion goes, the citizens of the USA are being tarred with the same brush as their government, even though they do not agree with most of what their government is doing. Most US citizens are as appalled and outraged by the actions of their government as anyone else. I have met precisely ZERO US citizens that are happy about the items mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you are reading this from a country outside the USA I would ask you to respect the fact that most Americans are not willing participants in their country's rapid downward slide into a state that resembles fascism more and more each day. They have been sold down the river by a government that seems to care only about money and power, and not about its own people. When I first came to the USA I was skeptical about the need for citizens to carry guns. Today, I am not so sure it's a bad idea.

Time for today's quote:

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such a twilight that we all must be aware of
change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwilling victims of the darkness.
-Justice William O. Douglas

Until the next time, gentle reader, I remain,

your friend,

Buford Twain

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Find your mate today!

Dear dating web-site owners who make overly optimistic claims about "finding the one":

Please be realistic when posting photos of the "potential mates" in your database. As in most other areas of life, the attractiveness of men and women follows a bell curve and I am going to hazard a guess that if someone has entered themselves into your meat-market database then there is a reasonable chance that the person falls toward the middle or lower half of said bell curve. As a member of the undesired region of the curve (read: somewhat ugly person) I think it is only fair that you set expectations realistically. Moreover, I ask that you not encourage people to think only in terms of visual appeal, at the expense of all other qualities. It is those other qualities such as personality, sense of humor, and honesty which I would argue are far more important in a long-term relationship than looks alone.

If I were looking to join a dating service I would be persuaded more by an honest picture of a real, down-to-earth person even with (heaven forbid) some visual flaws than by the picture of a model.

When marrying, ask yourself this question:
'Do you
believe that you will be able to converse well with
this person into your old age?'
Everything else in
marriage is transitory.

Thanks in advance,

Buford Twain

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is Earth just a big spaceship?

Gentle reader,

When considering space travel one runs into the problem of how to cross enormous distances in order to get to anything interesting. Sure, we can get to the moon, and some of the closer planets in our own solar system. But to get to the closest star (other than the sun) would take over four years, even if travelling at the speed of light. Unfortunately, we can't go anywhere near the speed of light at this point. So even for a modest voyage to the closest star, assuming that we had a speedy spacecraft, there will still be a significant risk of death in the time interval between leaving earth and returning safely with the (hopefully) exciting news of the voyage. For objects that are much further away we have about as much chance as a snowball in hell of surviving the journey.

What's a race to do?

Well, maybe one day we will be smart enough to build a spaceship big enough and sophisticated enough to sustain life for an indefinite period of time. Then, we could launch the spaceship and have it travel on, effectively forever. We'd need to somehow ensure that details of the mission were passed on from generation to generation, using documents or their electronic equivalents. In order to do that we'd need to invent a supply of energy that was essentially "everlasting", that would allow us to survive the long trip. Something nuclear perhaps? We'd also need to take along not just supplies, but renewable food, such as plants that we could grow and harvest.

Come to think of it, doesn't that sound a bit like the planet that we already live on? Earth is heated by an energy source with a very long lifetime, has crops, animals, and intelligent (well...)
people on it. I wonder, is it possible that the solar system itself was created by another, very advanced, civilization, billions of years ago, in order to either travel to distant corners of the universe for exploration, or to survive some catastrophe that was befalling it? And if earth is just a big spaceship, then I wonder - how the hell do we steer it?

Time for today's quote:

In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.
~ Bertrand Russell

Until the next time gentle reader, I remain,

Your friend,

Buford Twain

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Will the 9/11 attacks backfire?

Gentle reader,

America is unlike any other nation on earth. It is a nation made up primarily of people who traveled there relatively recently from other countries (of course, the travelers were not always willing...). The attacks of 9/11, therefore, were in some way an attack on not just America, but on the countries that contributed its people. In other words, in some sense the attacks of 9/11 were attack on just about every country in the world. This is especially true because one of the focal points of the attacks was New York City, the world's biggest melting pot. So without a doubt, one of the accomplishments of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was to deeply wound and anger the citizens not just of the USA but of almost every country in the world.

The other thing that the attacks did was give people a jolt that got them thinking long and hard about religion and in particular about religious extremism. Since the attacks I have noticed that many people are starting to question their religion, and religion in general. It seems that every day I read more and more stories about people abandoning their faith. And in a way this is to be expected. After all, wasn't it absolute faith that led to the 9/11 attacks? If so then faith is worth questioning.

All of this self-reflection about religion is partly being fueled by several recently-published books such as "The God Delusion" by professor Dawkins, "God is Not Great" by the journalist Christopher Hitchens and others. These books do not give faith the customary free pass. They ask some tough questions. Each book develops its own thoughtful (and different) thesis against the wisdom of adopting religion as a moral compass for one's life. At the very least the books are an excellent read. But more than that, I suspect that their popularity signals the beginnings of a change in the zeitgeist.

Unless I am mistaken, there is a new movement afoot - a movement that favors rational thought over blind faith, that turns its back on the dark ages of religion. The catalyst of the movement is anger and the focus of change is religion. Could this be the beginning of a new Age of Enlightenment? I wonder, is it possible that those terrible attacks will result in what must have been the terrorists' worst nightmare - an overall reduction in the popularity of organized religion and an eventual relegation of religion to a curious and rather embarrassing footnote in the annals of human history?

Time for today's quote:

Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything.
They just cry over their condition.
But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

-Malcolm X

Until the next time, gentle reader, I remain as always,

Your friend,

Buford Twain

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Religion and Freedom

Gentle reader,

Religious adherents should distribute according to the laws of thermodynamics. The degree to which they don't is a measure of their lack of freedom.

Let me elaborate.

Given that there is no verifiable proof of the correctness of any religion, one could make the naive assumption that they are equally likely to be true (or false).

If you accept that premise and given the easy spread of information via books, news and now the internet, if all things were equal it is not unreasonable to expect the number of adherents to the 3 major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) to be somewhat equal in any given country. In a truly free country people should be free to switch between one and the other or abandon religion completely. So freedom also would lead to a significant population of atheists.

Again, very naively, you might expect the following (in alphabetical order):

Atheism: 25%
Christianity: 25%
Islam: 25%
Judaism: 25%

Three things that would prevent this process of equalization are:

1) Once you are in a religion, it is unlikely that you will leave it due to being told that it is "bad" to do so. So religion is basically a "land grab" situation, the one that picks up the most adherents ultimately wins. All 3 or the "major" religions have this element to them. In the case of Islam, it seems that this is punishable by death. In the case of Christianity, you are threatened with eternal damnation.

2) People already in a religion tend to try to "convert" others. To not be part of a religion is to be ostracized to some degree. If you don't think this is true, try being an atheist in a small town in the Southern United States.

3) The state sponsors a religion - so there are direct benefits to be derived from adhering to that religion.

All three of these items reduce the influence of free thought on a person's choice of whether or not to follow a particular religion. If a person does not have the mental capacity to question their religious upbringing, does not want to give up the social acceptance and group reinforcement of a religion or is simply coerced by the government of their country, they will remain in a given religion.

The existence of an East-West divide in terms of religion (Christianity/Judaism in the West, Islam in the East) bears witness to the influence of these three thought-stifling factors.

To me, a decrease in the religious polarization and an increase in the number of atheists (such as has happened in the United Kingdom and other Western European countries) is evidence that people in those countries are thinking for themselves and are not being unduly influenced by their government.

However, the fact that the United States and many Arab countries still remain religiously polarized seems, to me, to provide evidence of thought-suppression. The inherent need of a particular religion to be self-continuing has been allowed to take root and not be challenged vigorously. These countries may be guilty, each in in their own way, of providing an environment that does not allow people to make a truly free choice between the religions, or for no religion. The fact that a majority of people in a country believe in a given religion is not evidence that the religion is true. Conversely, it raises a red flag - these countries probably have less freedom than others.

Time for today's quote:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do
because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
-Susan B. Anthony

Until the next time, gentle reader, I remain,

Your friend,

Buford Twain