Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alternative Medicine: What Is It?

What is alternative medicine? It is a phrase that has been tossed around more and more in the media, the bookstores, and increasingly, the doctor's office, but how often does anyone say what alternative medicine is?

Theoretically, alternative medicine is any form of medicine that does not fit with in the scientific framework of western medicine. Once a form of medicine has been proven scientifically effective, and a theory has been determined to explain in the language of western medicine why it is effective, it should no longer be considered alternative

Unfortunately, after the theory comes the politics. In reality, in the United States, alternative medicine is any form of medicine that has not been accepted as scientifically valid by the American Medical Association and the United States Government. In other countries different official bodies will determine what is and is not alternative medicine. In the United States, massage is alternative medicine. In Canada massage is conventional medicine, and as such, highly regulated.

Would you believe that according the US government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vitamins are a complementary or alternative medicine (depending on how they are used) that have not yet been proven to have any greater effect on the human body then a placebo? Personally, I'd like to know if they would like to be treated for scurvy with a placebo. I'll stick with vitamin C. There are theoretical uses for vitamins that have not yet been fully proven, but that does not make the proven effects any less scientifically valid.

At the same time, just because someone claims what they offer is medicine does not make it true. Herbal supplements are not regulated, and may not fully disclose their ingredients. They certainly will not tell you about any dangerous interaction with your heart medication!

Of course, you can ask an expert, but keep in mind that there are many kinds of alternative medicine, an acupuncturist is not necessarily trained in herbs, and your primary care physician probably won't be trained in any of them.

If you are interested in using alternative medicine, either for a specific problem, or simply improve your overall health, it's probably best to first research what kinds of alternative medicine you are interested in, and speak with you doctor about whether or not she will be willing to work with an alternative medicine practitioner. Then find a practitioner who has had training in that specific area of alternative medicine. Most forms of alternative medicine are not licensed in the United States, so ask where they went to school, and how long they have been practicing. Then they can work with your doctor to make sure you get the care you need, without any unexpected side effects.

Some forms of alternative medicine that might be worth looking into are:

Oriental medicine: Oriental medicine is the only form of alternative medicine that is truly comparably to western medicine as a complete system of medicine. Oriental medicine is based on several theories developed thourands of years ago and first elaborated on in the Yellow Emperor's Classic, between three and five thousand years ago. Oriental medicine includes the practices of massage, acupuncture, herbal therapy, qi gong, and several others. Tradition Chinese Medicine is a variant of oriental medicine specific to China. It is the only variant of oriental medicine the can be found with relative ease in the United States. In many parts of Asia, oriental medicine is still considered the standard of medical care and western medicine is 'alternative.'

Herbal therapy: Herbal therapy is probably the most common form of alternative medicine found in the United States, and quite possibly one of the riskiest. While most of the conventional medicines doctors prescribe today were derived from herbs, the herbal supplements commonly on sale have no common dosages, mat contain fillers, and will rarely warn of side effects. While herbs can be used to treat everything that medication can, and possibly quite a bit more, make sure you speak with a trained herbalist before taking any. They can tell you what dosage is safe, what suppliers are worth using, and any potential side effects.

Homeopathy: Homeopathy was developed in the 1800's by two doctors who noticed that quinine, the only medicine capable of treated malaria, caused symptoms of malaria in healthy people who were given it. They theorized that like would cure like, so caffeine which normally causes wakefulness, would be used to help someone who was not sleeping through the night, sleep better. Homeopathy is probably the only alternative medicine that is safe to try without speaking with an expert, because the active substance is so dilute that it is not possible to over dose, or incur side effects on the amounts in the local health food store, never mind the few bottles you would keep in your home. At the same time, it is still best to consult a homeopath to be sure that what your taking will work for what you need.

Massage: Massage is the use of hands or tools to manipulate the muscles and tendons. The two most common uses of massage are to ease aches and pains, and for stress relief. While there are many conditions that massage will obviously not help with (diabetes, for instance), there are many that it is surprisingly effective on, such as eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, almost any muscular injury can be treated with massage to prevent scar build up, speed healing, and increase a restricted range of motion. There are many different forms of massage therapy, including Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Pre-Natal Massage, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Lomi Lomi, Medical Massage, Chair Massage, Aromatherapy Massage and Hot Stone Massage. If you go to a massage therapist for a medical condition, make sure they are trained in Medical Massage. Some states have licensing programs for massage therapists now, as do most European countries. If you live in an area that has licensing, make sure the therapist you go to is licensed.

How Should Alternative Medicine Be Defined

There is still no strict definition on what alternative medicine really is. But presently, it borders on the broadness of description covered by what we know of as conventional or orthodox medicine. However, to define alternative medicine as we believe it to be, it may be a knowledge that is considered as unaccepted, untested and unscientific. All these were true if we are to look some years back. But since alternative medicine has been studied in the later years, employed by numberless institutions (such as spas and the likes) and accepted by many as cure to their ailments (even those that may be resolved through conventional medicine), this definition for alternative medicine may already be considered as obsolete.
On other terms, alternative medicines are practices that may be considered false that sometime go to the extent of quackery. However, this definition is much abused by several authorities that have their own systems of beliefs and other things to support to. Still others would define it as practices that may not be tested, refuse to undergo tests and may continuously fail tests. On other peoples' view, this may be too unfair for those practicing the knowledge that comprise alternative medicine and too sweeping a statement since many have gained healing by means of alternative medicine.
This debate on the authenticity of alternative medicine is further made complicated by the number of practices that are labeled as alternative medicine, which has some truths in them. In actuality, alternative medicine covers procedures involving metaphysical principles, spiritual and religious underpinnings, new sets of healing approaches and non-European medicine practices. These are enough reasons why alternative medicine is much harder to accept in the West rather than in the East where most these practices originated. In addition to these, many proponents of alternative medicine contradict and many individual belief systems may reject others.

Furthermore, critics of alternative medicine may further define it as therapy, treatment and diagnosis that may be performed legally by unlicensed practitioners. Yet, a number of doctors and physicians find good uses of alternative medicine when combined with the conventional medicine when they are trying to hit the balance.
But there are more logical and unbiased definitions that are accepted by most. Many of which deal only on the safety and affectivity of the alternative medicine without the protection on economic interests, political views and turf protection. One such definition is that alternative medicine is a field of healing, therapy and diagnosis that are not based on controlled studies.

There are however some therapies that were once covered by alternative medicine that are now accepted within the medical community since they passed approval over their affectivity. On the opposite, there were medical practices that are now disregarded within the medical circles since there are no profound evidences that prove their efficiency in healing.

In reality, the term alternative medicine is quite misleading. Both critics and advocates of the said practices support this view. Some support the idea that Western medical practices are the alternative medicines since they were preceded by ancient practices, which is somewhat true. Others would claim that the term "alternative medicine" was only devised by advocates of conventional medicine to discredit the natural methods of healing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Racism still exists in America? White people, come get this man.

Yes. I did not think I would have to ask that question but as I continue to study and have conversations with people I find plenty who think racism has disappeared into the night. The prevailing ignorance is centered amongst a number of factors, but I want to focus specifically on one; the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In my interactions with a lot of White people, and experiences imparted to me by a number of Black and White colleagues, the notion of “we have overcome” pops up. What I mean by that is that the election of ONE Black man to the highest political office in this country (and perhaps the world, depending on whom you ask), has brought us out of racism. We finally slayed the beast known as racism and everything is okay. Now we can hold hands, talk about how much we all love Martin Luther King, and maybe play a little Gladys Knight in the background. Sounds silly doesn’t it? The era of post-racial America has emerged (read sarcastically) but the endeavor is wholly short-sighted. The goal should be a post-racist America but I doubt it will ever be achieved.  

The following is brought to you by the letter R. Think Sesame Street.

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, an older, early 50s, White male came in and sat next to me. The television in the waiting area was tuned in to Fox News and this particular gentleman became very chatty. The usual chit chat about what you do professionally, how long you’ve been in Atlanta, etc, are formalities but what has increased is the need to tell me what you think of Obama. The gentleman continues with “I don’t mean this to sound racist, but I don’t like Obama”. “It’s not a Black thing, but I feel like he doesn’t understand my country.” First, do you KNOW the man to say that? Has Obama come to your home and slapped you across the face? Second, YOUR COUNTRY?? Third, what’s up with the qualifiers? Maybe he thought I would beat his ass. I responded with a simple question, “Why?” The man claimed that Obama does not share the correct vision for America. He said Obama does not understand America is built upon individual liberty and ingenuity. The man is correct with respect to ingenuity. America was very clever in enforcing and legislating chattel slavery, specifically with the slave codes of 1793 as one example, to the continued disfranchisement of Black people in the North and South, and even to the segregation of military forces which inspired numerous calls to action by Black leaders in 1940 with regards to treatment, placement in posts, benefits, etc. The individual liberty belief is laughable, historically inaccurate, and flat out bullshit but conservative (and I mean that in the worst way you can imagine) White male historians, and those who wish to present historic fiction, love to push the individual liberty myth. The man went on to opine that he knows a number of Black people, whom he calls friends, who know the REAL truth about America and share his passion for this country. I nodded and thought to myself “this man represents a large number of Americans, and we are fucked.” I did not have time to knock down every single one of his statements but I did leave him with one question; how can you talk about this country being built on individual liberty when slavery was codified into law which dictated public policy?


Recently, an Arkansas representative made some racist ass comments about Black people being better off because of slavery. Benevolent slavery if you will. John Sununu, a senior advisor to the Romney campaign, suggested that Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was done solely because Obama is Black. If that’s true, Powell should have endorsed only half of Obama but let’s not be too technical. Such commentary is meant to undervalue Powell as a man and to render his remarks as complete hogwash. The move is part of a concerted effort which has historical antecedents that aims to devalue Black life. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that some racist ass White dude says some foolish and racist shit about slavery or about Black people. The historical record reflects such attitudes in newspapers, law, public policy, misuse and abuse of science/medicine, literacy tests, etc. If you are shocked by the seemingly upfront and boisterous attitudd by these racist people, I suggest you do some research. Go on over to the Auburn Avenue Research Library here in Atlanta, and you will see exactly what I am talking about. It’s not new and the only thing that has changed is the cast of characters and the technology that is used to present the beliefs. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hell Naw to Alternative Medicine

The following is a reply to a discussion group after a talk about health disparities and alternative/holistic medicines and therapies. 

The alternative medicine talk at the end of class made me want to jump out of my skin. Yes, there are alternative remedies and therapies for ailments which plague us. In the face of crises it is very common to reach for the simplest method to deal with a disease. Economic instability, governmental policy, the lack of access to viable and proven treatments etc all plays a role when an alternative remedy is suggested. Suffering is a part of the human experience and alternative therapies are meant as a response to that suffering. The question is do they really work? Is there a body of evidence which suggests the alternative therapies in question, no matter what they are, mitigate or eliminate the suffering of the individual or group? Many who have tried holistic/alternative remedies report positive results. They report feeling better as a result of those therapies. Upon further review of their medical history, it is often discovered that they have tried proven methods concurrently and/or consecutively with unproven methods. They may not report that aspect, not out of deception, but due to confirmation bias or just misreporting the events.  We have to be very careful to not mistake correlation for causation. Plenty of folks have claimed the ailment they possess just magically stopped. Diseases have life cycles as they are living organisms. We may not always determine why a disease may have stopped mutating but that in no way lends any credibility to any holistic/alternative methods. The person really wants the alternative therapies to be the cause of improving their condition. Wanting the methods to work is much different than showing that the methods have actually worked, and that those are methods useful in explaining the disease, and how it may function in patients in the future.

I understand the mistrust directed at the pharmaceutical, medical, government, and scientific communities. A lot of people have misused powerful positions to promote nonsense, quackery, racism, sexism, patriarchy, and outright bullshit. The Tuskegee Experiment was mentioned in class. Yes, it was a terrible event perpetrated by unscrupulous persons in the medical field and the government. The aftermath of that event brought about the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research which was the first public national body to shape bioethics policy in the United States. On the heels of a tragedy, it took the actions of good people who were willing to demand change, and get it done to prevent such an event from happening again. It is a call to action to be watchdogs and take the message to the global arena.

I can empathize with the frustration a person may feel when dealing with an illness, and seeing a doctor and little to no improvement is achieved over a significant amount of time. But that does not mean we ought to promote alternative methods in lieu of frustration and lack of resources. It means we have to have a serious dialogue and plan of action about how we live, how we allocate resources, talk to medical communities, and learn about diseases. We have to talk to each other and teach one another about our health and the systems which support it. I am advocating for a social transformation instead of alternative remedies. I concede the view may be utopian but I think it’s far better than dealing with homeopathy, chakras, reflexology, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Ouija boards, and every other form of chicanery which makes a ton of claims but when asked for evidence they fail to produce results. It’s not just a disagreement. It’s about the lack of evidence for the claims presented and quite often ignoring evidence which disconfirms the alternative method and promoting therapies which fall outside of the consensus. Not only is that wrong, it is also dangerous. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I no longer say the N word; Musings from a Black Atheist

I struggled with this blog post for a few weeks. I was not sure how I wanted to articulate my thoughts, and feelings about such a destructive word. I know context matters, but in the case of that word, no context can excuse the usage of it. I am disheartened every time I see a Black person use the word, and create all kinds of justifications to excuse current and future usage. When White people use the N word, some Black folks defend White folks and say “it’s just a word”. No it’s not. Recent history tells us just how deep the N word has permeated our society. I cannot walk down the street, go to the grocery store, or walk into an elementary school lunchroom, and not hear the N word. I think it is time for a major change.

In order to change the culture, we must destroy everything with the N word on it. We need to get federal and state funding for programs to situate chronic users and consumers of the N word back into civil society. I would have loved to see President Obama and Mitt Romney talk about this pressing issue. I present this to you because I love my country and my fellow human beings. I want their mental health and physical health to be as sound as possible. Some folks need to be protected from themselves. I thought long and hard about this, plus I did the research. The N word is crushing our economy, our shared humanity, and our sense of self. I propose a federal law to outlaw the N word and harsh punishments ought handed out to states and cities who create safe havens for N word users.

I no longer say the N word. I find the word to be a tool of dehumanization. When uttering the word, I reveal a dark part of my character, and I become uncivil as do all others who use the word. Today is the last day I use the N word. Nutella will be banned from my vocabulary, my twitter feed, and my home. I hope you join me, and do the same. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creationism and the Fraud of the 2 sides mantra.

Check out a real scientist and 2 "creation scientists". Notice how the other 2 do their best to try to poke holes in evolution. The only people who say evolution is unproven or lacking proof/missing links are people who are not in the field, do not understand the explanations/evidence, argue from ignorance/fraudulent appeals among other things. Instead of trying to knockdown evolution, develop a model which co-insides with the evidence to explain observable phenomena and stop trying to make the evidence fit with a personally satisfying conclusion. The other 2 do have Ph.D's and you may want to give them instant credibility because of that, but check out their explanations within the field of evolutionary biology with respect to the people and evidence within that field. Beware of quote mining by the the first guy in the second video. If you forget to ask critical questions, you may begin to worship.

Alternative Narratives: A Quick Breakdown of Conspiratorial Nuttery.

Please check out the article above and the article at the end of this post. I am addressing the 5 sections in the first piece. 

Check out the "us" vs "them" pitch line very early on, the supposed mockery (much of it is deserved) but this person/group is suggesting mockery is all that they and their fellow compatriots receive (untrue), and the appeal that they have already won but have failed to present a compelling case with solid reasons and evidence. 

1. Note the beginning of the narrative with respect to the 3 dimensions listed. 

A. The cosmic dimension, which the author just puts out there like you and I should know what the fuck he is talking about, is not evidence against the "official" story. It operates solely as her/his opinion about why a lot of people are unwilling to adopt the alternate explanation of the events of 9/11 by the truthers.  

B. Social; No evidence is presented towards debunking the official story. Instead the author claims the skeptics of the 9/11 truth movement do not want to be associated with the conspiracy theorists because they do not want to look crazy. It's a damn good concern in my view, but perhaps they do not want to be associated with people who make a ton of claims regarding a catastrophic event but fail to produce evidence for such claims. That's not mockery. It's making sure you do not uncritically accept any explanation for events or phenomena without solid reasons/evidence presented to you. 

C. Death; the narrative is extremely funny to me. Surely the people who put out the official story could find out what this person is posting and come get him and put him to death for exposing them, right? It's particularly stupid for the author to post it but the person gets to act like a hero for doing what other people are afraid to do. No evidence against the official story is presented there either. 

2. Ignorance; Seen any evidence against the official explanation? I have yet to see it. Other than claiming some ominous blackout of the REAL evidence (which itself is a knowledge claim for which he/she needs to produce evidence to warrant acceptance), the author is just bitching. There is also talk of laziness due to the rejection of whatever version of 9/11 truther nonsense he/she accepts. In other words you need to disprove whatever she/he believes and their explanation stands until knocked down. This person has assumed the truth of their conclusion already. If you do not accept their hypothesis, you are ignorant. They need to produce evidence. See the theme? 

3. False Superiority/Knowledge; this part begins with an outright falsehood. Simply because we do not accept what you say because you said it does not mean we are hostile in any way to new information/knowledge. The author makes a comment about the article not judging you. I do not think the person realizes the whole post is just that. It's a judgment against those people who do not accept their hypothesis. Even if it were the case that I or anyone else were hostile to new information or knowledge, that alone is not proof of some grand cover-up by the United States government. The part about accepting new views is self-serving. The author is only open-minded to the extent of which she/he will accept new info/knowledge as long as it supports the desired conclusion. 

4. Brainwashing; In other words since I have yet to get produce a damn thing for what I think happened, there is a systematic campaign to dumb down the masses and cover up the real truth. In order for you to cleanse yourself, you need to step away from what the big evil powers that be are putting in front of you and accept my hypothesis instead. Yea. Okay. 

5. Cover up; I knew this one was coming down the line. Everybody is in on the whole thing including entire governments, media outlets, academia, and even your damn cat or dog. People like to talk. Someone would have snitched by now but if they had the conspiracy theorist would still claim victory. He/She would say "ah ha! I told you". If no one says anything "they are paid to keep quiet and we will never know the truth".

Check out the book plug at the end of the article. Just damn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Black Folk Don't do Atheism? Wrong. I'm Black and I 'do' Atheism

Black folks in the US, if you believe the polling data (Pew, 2008) and Black women in particular report believing in a god/spiritual/creator. Black folks usually claim to attend church services more so than other groups and Black women lead in that category as well. The video does suggest that atheism is lacking in the Black community and I agree. People tend to believe as their parents do as well as their own community. Quite often we uncritically accept the thoughts and musings passed on to us because we trust the messenger and there may be some kind of benefit associated with accepting the message. I do not offer the previous thoughts as a excuse for why Black folks appear to accept Christianity, the god hypothesis generally or any spiritually/supernatural oriented claims, but the words are offered as an explanation for holding such beliefs. I think the explanation could apply to other types of beliefs people hold with respect to psychic predictions, mediums, astrology, homeopathy, etc. When critical inquiry is not encouraged or in some cases discouraged in regards to beliefs in a deity/supernatural claims, people will go on believing those beliefs. I'm not suggesting in any way that the promotion of skeptical inquiry alone would prevent people from believing at all. There are people that want to believe because they want to believe. What I am saying is increased visibility and outspokenness may eventually strike down the whole "Black Folk Don't Do Atheism" theme and some people and organizations are doing something about it. There are many groups, such as Black Non-Believers of Atlanta run by Mandisa Thomas and Black Atheists of America run by Ayanna Watson just to name a few. They are saying "we are here, you can come speak to us, you can help out in whatever way you can" etc. Change does take time. I'm often baffled when some accept the previous sentence with respect to biological evolution but devolve into disappointed idealism when change is not immediately on the horizon within other areas. An example of this kind of chatter I have seen is "why are Black folks are still Christians when the Bible was used to promote slavery". This line is trotted out as though the target will drop the belief within a few seconds and that just does not happen. It took me 5+ years to completely rid myself of Christianity, supernatural claims, the apologetics which went with it and my own attempts to intellectualize the material to present a slightly more sophisticated view than what Toure presented in the video. If you want people to be skeptical of their beliefs, lead by example, allow yourself to be open to discussion and understand you may not see the fruits of your labor. Sounds disconcerting and you may wonder what the damn point is if you do not see the results. I happen to think that is the wrong goal. You are there to plant the seed and to continue the work done by others which does not necessarily entail you standing back in awe of the finished product. I know Black folks will not give up their religious/supernatural beliefs overnight or within my own lifetime (28 years of age now), but I do expect to see more Black atheists and skeptics within the next 20 years. It's why I do this blog and what I spend most of my time tweeting about. If I have gotten 1 person to question her/his beliefs (the irrationally held beliefs or any others), then I have done my job and they do not have to tell me personally in order for me to continue what I do. I want others to think critically in all facets of their lives and to hold beliefs which are rationally justified when it concerns big questions. There are many others like me.  I am Black, and I do Atheism. Proud, unapologetic, outspoken, and I am visible. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Conspiracy Theories; Panel Discussion and Calls

The link below is the audio file of the discussion in which I was invited to participate. You may hear a little background noise but the discussion is well worth your time and I encourage you to listen. I thank Raina Rhoades, @RaiElise, Kim @BlkFreeThinkers, and MC @MCBrooks for offering their words and insight to this topic. I will probably post a follow up blog post with respect to the audio and some additional commentary on conspiracy theories in general. I hope you enjoy the show! If clicking the link does not work, just copy and paste it into your browser. The show will pop up and you can listen from there.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Racing & Skepticism; The Rev's Guide

I love racing. I keep up with all sorts of disciplines ranging from NASCAR, Formula 1, Indycar, NHRA Drag Racing and the Rolex Sports Car Series just to name a few. I love playing racing games and driving high powered go-karts. When I first started playing, I was excited and inexperienced which led to being reckless while on the track. I operated with the misconception that merely by watching racing on television, I would know what I'm doing. Watching racing on television is one thing and actually doing it, even at a lower level and online requires attention to detail, smooth operation with respect to steering, accelerating, corner entry, corner exit and braking. In order for you to be good at it, you need to practice with the best methods available to you, find people who are better at it than you so you can learn their methods and apply them, revise your own technique to limit ill-advised actions, and take care of your equipment. What I have learned by racing online and the little I have raced offline is the skill does not come naturally. Racing, like many other things requires time, revision, good practice, sharpening skills, hanging out with people who are smarter/possess better experience than you, and tossing habits which are not conducive to laying down solid, fast, consistent and smooth lap times. I think the same technique applies to skepticism. In order to be good at it, you must know what it is and understand how the process works, apply that process in the best way you can achieve and know what skepticism is not. The following is a quick guide to how I do things and what I think you ought to avoid.

What is skepticism?

Skepticism is not a process of disbelieving things. It is a process to seek a supported conclusion(based on evidence) and not to bolster a conclusion based on naive intuitions, ignorance, unsophisticated thoughts, or to establish support for a particular conclusion you want/feel to be true. You go where the evidence takes you and you develop a model or an explanation which bears out where the evidence guides you. You do not make the evidence fit or justify a preconceived conclusion. Critical thinking and applying reason when evaluating claims is extremely essential.

Know which battles are worth fighting:

I think part of being a good skeptic and maintaining your sanity is to know when it's time to fight and when it's time to tip your cap and go home. Sometimes your input is not necessary and you can decide to "sit this one out". That does not mean you lack the intellectual veracity to engage. Part of this tactic is to reject invitations to arguments. You are not obligated as a skeptic to fight each time you are invited to participate. You can and should decline some party invites, especially if the topic does not interest you, a discussion may lead to nasty personal barbs, or you have no opinion to share and have no interest in obtaining one. Determine what matters to you, learn about it, talk to others, adopt meaningful and useful methods to facilitate discussion/action and know when to shut the fuck up and have a drink with your friends, enjoy a good book, play a game, sleep, have some awesome sex or whatever.

Experts are useful: 

We defer to experts all of the time. When the issue is our own health, or the health of a loved one, maintenance on our vehicles, recipes etc, we rely on the expertise of 1 or more people in that particular field to help us make sound decisions. As laypersons we can and should examine the work/advice of the expert and compare her/his work with other experts in the same field and see how their work is received by their peers. The thought here is the better the expert, more likely than not, you are going in a solid direction when you accept their advice/direction within that particular field. If their advice/direction is useful in a number of different areas, it may warrant usage there too. The tactic is not fool proof and it is not meant to be but I think it can be useful. There are lousy experts and there are some people who exhibit expertise in a particular field but they absolutely suck when they attempt to venture into other areas.

Denial and cynicism is not skepticism: 

Simply being cynical is not skepticism even though some cynics can use skepticism. Cynics attach ulterior motives to phenomena and events of history which I argue leads to debilitating solipsism and inaction by other people if they adopt and believe the what the cynic is suggesting. Examples of cynicism are claims which suggest the government is necessarily evil and consequently unable to redeem itself, doctors enjoy sickness and they need people to remain sick or they will not have a job, political parties are evil in principle and in action, etc. Denial of the Holocaust, HIV/AIDS, climate change, among others are paraded as acts of skepticism. They are not.

Just Asking Questions:

Posing questions is not necessarily skepticism. The form of the question matters and questions which lead you to a desired conclusion by the petitioner ought to be met with concern. There are misleading questions with erroneous assumptions and naive intuitions which seek to obfuscate, bullshit, and destroy your critical faculties. When I have dealt with 9/11 truthers, Ron Paul supporters and generally anti-structure types, the tactic of just asking questions is normally displayed as skepticism. I find the tactic to be nothing more than a convenient way to spout specious, spurious, and unsupported claims in order to promote alarmism, denialism, potentially inciting others to riot(while you sit on your ass and document the event and wish to lead after the chaos is over), and cynicism. Questions like "how does X function" or "what does this tell us about existing knowledge/phenomena" are far better suited to get your critical wheels rolling than something like "when did you stop beating your wife" or "why is the government still poisoning your food". The last 2 contain accusations which are meant to alarm you.

Could be or possibly:

Both have the potential to be covers to launch absurdity. Could the government or possibly some mysterious entity be poisoning your food without your knowledge? Sure, but where is the evidence which suggests the question merits serious attention? It's possible, but is it probable? It's also possible or could be the case that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim working for the cult of Scientology.

Appeals to Open-mindedness: 

Open-mindedness is not an uncritical acceptance of a claim or a set of claims merely because someone  presents them to you. Being open-minded is the willingness to consider new ideas. Usually when I'm told to be more open-minded, the charge is thrown at me because I did not accept a claim which was presented to me. Either I asked questions which the presenter could not answer, he became frustrated and was unwilling to say "I don't know" or "I will try to get back to you". You may also be told that you lack curiosity or respect for ideas when you demand evidence for the claim brought to you. The fact you take on the idea and apply it to reality and our understanding of existing knowledge shows the charge to be absolutely false. You can reject bad ideas and remain curious and open-minded.

Burden of Proof:

You make the positive claim then it is your job to substantiate that claim with solid evidence. It is not the job of the other person(s) to falsify your claims for you. For example, you say "God exists". I say "show me". You say "well do you have evidence to suggest God does not exist"? I have made no such claim. I am simply asking for verification of your claim. Do your job.


Learn types of fallacies/errors in reasoning. The following is a good list with examples. Try to find some in your local paper/magazine, listen to the news or yourself and even friends/family.

If you want to be good at something you must practice with good tools, revise methods, challenge yourself and ditch bullshit. My racing opening can be easily substituted with whatever you like to do. With the right tools and methods and good practice with good people, you will improve and I think you will be better off because of it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

God's plan: George Zimmerman plays the "God Card"

I did not think George Zimmerman could supply another reason for me to despise his existence but he did last night with his interview with Fox News host, Sean Hannity. I was wrong. Once again he apologized to the Martin family and expressed not having any regrets for his actions the night of the shooting wherein he invoked "God's plan". Someone had an "oh shit" moment and Zimmerman later claimed “I do wish there was something, anything I could have done that would have put me in the position where I didn’t have to take his life. And I do want to tell everyone…that I’m sorry that this happened.” Uh how about not following him in the first place? Or exiting your vehicle? I do not believe Zimmerman nor do I think his apology is sincere. Given the Miami Herald's report which stated Zimmerman lamented over his parents not spelling his name "Jorge" instead of "George" tells me a lot about this man and his character. He only cares about himself, saving his own skin and furthering his hero complex.

Zimmerman and his attorney, Mark O'Mara, who gets a lot of accolades and praise from television legal experts as being "savvy" and "cunning", need more money for Zimmerman's defense fund and playing the God card is a good way to get credulous people to send you money. All you have to do is appear humble, clean cut, speak clearly, talk about your faith, have a softball interview and say the magic words, "God's plan". Believers were called to the battlefield to dismiss Zimmerman from the ranks and to defend "God". The usual "my god does this/that, is loving, caring" popped up all over the internet which was not very surprising. Whatever definition of god you operate with or whatever it does, given the available evidence, that god did not intervene the night Trayvon Martin was killed in such a way to preserve his life. No personal gods intervened, no spiritual truths were revealed, nor was any cosmic consciousness gained. The kid is dead at the hands of an overzealous self serving asshole. Trayvon Martin will never get the chance to lead the kind of life he wanted. He did no wrong and was minding his own damn business. Martin's death has caused pain and suffering in his own family, friends, and other concerned citizens. More people are skeptical (which may aid more cynicism and solipsism regarding appropriate action/involvement) of the police and the justice system. Instead we are subjected to his killer roaming around making nonsensical statements and playing cards of convenience to garner sympathy and money from the public.

Zimmerman is not a victim nor is his wife. They both lied about their finances to the court. I am not easily fooled by clean suits, a shaved face and a calm demeanor. He could have acted in a much different way than the night of the shooting. He is the adult. His sympathizers are misguided and often claim he's being railroaded. Identifying the facts and applying the law justly and fairly is not a railroad job.

Here's a final thought: I wonder what Zimmerman would think of "God's plan" if he were convicted of second degree murder by a jury of his peers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why I don't keep my atheism to myself

Religious/spiritual folks often opine on the frequency of which atheists comment on religious beliefs. Outspoken atheists are branded(in a derogatory way) "militants", "angry", "malcontents", "not having anything better to do with their time", etc. I think of such descriptions as "shut up" tactics deployed by members of religious/spiritual sects who would rather not hear any criticisms of their beliefs. I also think they are ill prepared to account for the reasons why they believe what they believe if they are questioned and bommentary, even when the words are not directed at them breeds a response of resentment, contempt, and anger. Notions such as "live and let live" and "let people believe what they want to believe" are often tossed out as effective quips when one is annoyed or a criticism has hit very close to home. I submit to you that those two statements are thrown in the wrong direction. I cannot keep my atheism to myself precisely because of those statements and many many more. The religious/spiritual folks do not "live and let live". Their theocratic nonsense is pushed into every corner of society. History, the sciences, morality, philosophy, law, medicine, critical thinking, reproduction, parenting, education etc. If you can name it, they intend to be a part of the conversation and they offer their musings with some of the most tasteless and callous remarks you can think.

I could keep my atheism to myself if religious/spiritual people would keep their beliefs out of public policy. If they were not interested in advancing theocratic ideas into public school science classrooms, I'd shut up. Since they cannot provide sufficient evidence for their hypotheses, creationism/intelligent design, they opt for litigation. They distribute pamphlets full of misinformation with the hopes of preying on scientifically illiterate people. Some even want to invade the classroom as teachers which would create a robust response from science advocates to eliminate scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers. If they(professional religious/spiritual folks) were not in the business of advocating for false hope and gleefully taking money from credulous people, I'd mind my own damn business. If religious/spiritual people were not trying to govern over a woman's body and her medical choices/decisions, I'd "live and let live". If they were not out terrorizing women at abortion clinics or creating burdensome hurdles(often with legislation) when she takes responsibility for her actions and decides to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, I'd hush up (there are some atheists who engage in that behavior too). Some think their god belief is the justification for dictating to women what they should wear and even if they can operate a motor vehicle. If she does not obey, she can receive lashes. There are people that willfully strap bombs to themselves, women, and children and march them or themselves into a crowded area, detonate the bomb and kill as many as they can within the blast radius. I have seen pastors advise their members to engage in business deals due to "divine inspiration". The business fails, the owner becomes insolvent, and they go back to the pastor and he says "my son, this was not your time, but God will make another way for you". The reply misses the reality of the situation but keeps the believer coming back to the same poisonous well from which he received the poor advice. There are many religious/spiritual folks who believe their belief in a god, however they semantically encode it, is a social license to demand their direct approval of how two consenting adults fuck each other. They believe their arbitrary rules supersede everything. There are atheists in countries who cannot be outspoken because of retaliation by ignorant fools. 

My outspokenness is partly due because these folks do not mind their own fucking business. I also speak out because I care about other people and I want to see a reduction in harmful ideas which I think affects the actions of those individuals who hold the beliefs. If you keep it to yourself, off my lawn, off my car and out of public policy, we may have no issue. I do think theists are wrong and I do not hold back on that point. Not every believer, whether spiritual or religious in nature behaves as I have described in the above comments but far too many are silent about those that do behave in such horrible ways. I will not keep quiet and I urge you, if you can to speak out as well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Unhealthy Relationships: Black Women & their Sons

Last evening I was in a conversation and someone I really care about made a profound point to me. She made a brief observation regarding the treatment Black women give to their son(s) when the father of her son(s) is no longer in their lives and how the circumstance affects the treatment the mother gives to her daughters, if she has any. The father of the son(s) is usually alive but has no interest in being with the mother and shows very little interest, if any in being actively involved with the child(ren). The father comes around when he needs something and knows he can easily manipulate the mother into giving him what he desires and once he receives what he wants, he's out of the door again. He's playing with the mother's feelings with respect to her wanting to have some kind of meaningful relationship with him. Once the father takes off the focus moves to the son(s). The mother does not want another man to leave her so the son is accepted to take the father's place and no matter what the son does, he will never be the outcast. He can smoke weed and do other drugs, not look for work, do a poor job in school(if he attends), be arrested numerous times, bring home tons of babies, and the mother will accept him more often than not. The "boys will be boys" attitude will take hold and all sorts of apologetics and acrobatics will be used to excuse his behavior/actions.

The daughter(s) are treated by the mother as though they are in competition with her. The mother will find the daughter(s) just to start shit with them about petty nonsense. The mother will not come to the aid of the daughter(s) no matter the circumstance and if the daughter(s) are trying to make something of themselves, the mother takes those acts as personal slights against her and will resort to inactivity, among other things, to make her daughter(s) quest to be as miserable as possible. If the daughter(s) end up pregnant and she's not financially ready(other relevant factors too) to carry the pregnancy to term and the mother finds out, she will not let her forget it. If the daughter(s) have an abortion, it must be done in secret while the son(s) can openly not provide for the child(ren) he helps make. The mother will do everything she can to help him take care of his responsibilities but the daughter(s), no matter what she decides to do with the pregnancy is on her own.

I see this kind of shit in my own family. My father, uncles, cousins are nothing but seed planters. Their interest is only to make babies and not be fathers. They have taken on the roles of their manipulative fathers and extort money, food, cars, etc from their own mother's and the mothers of their children. The daughters in my family and my own younger sisters are continuously bashed and berated by their own mother's, especially if the daughter has one indiscretion. It does not matter if the daughter graduated from college, obtained a solid career, or has her own shit, the mother will always be right there to remind her of the time she fucked up. The son is talked about as if he is the only child that matters despite his actions. My own father, convicted felon & murderer(he denies this but I examined the evidenbe and he's guilty but has the majority of the family convinced he was railroaded. He simply was not.) and the presentation of his actions to me by all of the women in the family, especially his mother. Around age 15 they decided to tell me the "truth". He was presented as this tragic figure who loved his family and would do anything for us. This man, who was on the FBI's most wanted list in the late 1980's broke free from custody(details are very sketchy as to how he got away) went on the run with my mother, myself(age 4) and my 2 sisters(ages 3 and 1). His mother put her career and her life in jeopardy to hide us. She was charged with obstruction of justice. She liquidated her assets out of guilt and shame for her son and she even devised a plan to get all of us out of the country. His actions were paraded around as loving. How the hell is that love? He put all of us in danger but that was overlooked because he "loved" all of us and would do anything for us. The one thing he did not do(and he had enablers) was not be a man and take care of his responsibilities. My father's grandmother blames his mother for his predicament and his mother accepted the blame such that my father can easily gouge her for money.

Black folk don't want to talk about the mistreatment of daughters at the hand of their own mother. Black folk don't want to tell the truth and say a lot of Black men are sorry as hell and do not take responsibility for their actions and there are tons of enablers. Black folk don't want to talk about the mother's who are so afraid of being lonely and they have children that they bring any kind of man they can find around their kids. The man is usually some sorry ass excuse of a human being and is only using the woman as a temporary fix to his current problem. The man mistreats the kids(in some cases killing the kids), smokes around them, improperly nourishes them(if at all), sexually abuses the kids and sometimes the mother knows of the abuse and chooses not to do anything about it because the man will be punished and she will be lonely all over again. We're too busy thinking God is going to handle it and everything will be all right. We're too busy thinking that simply because someone is a parent that they automatically and necessarily deserve respect and is above reproach. We're too busy thinking that we must forgive and allow those people who do considerable harm to remain in our lives because those are the only family we will ever have. Actions matter and a simple biological connection does not mean there should be some kind of blind allegiance.

Some Black women do not recognize the enormous power they have when it comes to picking the father of their child(ren), if they want kids. If you know the dude has no job, no means of support, has kids already but has to have the courts garnish his wages, why the fuck would you want to pro-create with him? He held you around your waist and told you that he wanted you to have his baby? Notice he didn't say I want to be a father and start a family with you. He intends to use you as an incubator and I don't give a damn how much he claims to love you as his Black queen.

If the behavior/actions described above happens in other communities, then it happens. In no way do I want to suggest this kind of thing is exclusive. Nor is this any kind of indictment against those Black folk who take care of what they do, when they do it, at the time they do it. A lot of Black folks behavior needs to change for the better. Repeating the same destructive cycles and accepting the same kind of reckless actions helps no one. Trying to blame everybody else except the person(s) we see looking back at us when we are in front of the mirror does not help us either. Making excuses, having fucked up priorities, and being hostile to personal responsibility is not a good way to handle problems. Simply knowing better does not get the job done well. Plenty of Black folk know better but they have no desire to do better. Being quiet about what I described is no longer acceptable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cynicism, Apathy, Solipsism and Fear Mongering

I tend to get upset when I see or hear bullshit. I don't like seeing perfectly able bodied people with good minds devolve into inactivity. The following is a rant aimed at conspiracy theorists and disappointed idealists.

Attempts to normalize apathy based on specific events is very troubling to me. Playing on peoples fears, whether those fears are justified or not, end up exacerbating those fears and spreading the apathy and the cynicism. There's an overriding delusion which surfaces wherein the apathy, cynicism/paranoia, solipsism and fear mongering is seen as some higher and more useful form of skepticism. They are totally anti-structure at the core and promote fanciful delusions and believe they are "unplugged from the system". It's the Matrix and they have become detached and the rest of us are sheep. Every structure is inherently evil and will  always be that way despite change and they are not willing to change it. Instead they call for a new system whereby the utopia they want to exist will magically cure all ailments and we all will hold hands and sing kumbaya. The yearning for the utopia prevents any meaningful action toward solving the real problems people face. There is some kind of virtue in being anti-establishment, and anti-government/structure and proposing ill-thought out solutions. This Black suburban(every Black surburban is full of government agents who are coming to kill you or at least detain you) phenomena wherein the paranoia is couched in the self centered delusion that someone is "out to get you" feeds stagnation and the fear-mongering. In order to normalize their outcast mentality, they create a tent large enough so they can convince others to accept their paranoia.

They do not vote and they believe it to be a useless exercise or they throw away their vote on a candidate consumed by his own personality and end up receiving a person who is staunchly against what the voter actually wants. Then they complain about the system being broken when they do not participate or participate in such a way that their interests are stymied. There's this love affair with "principle" instead of promoting a solid and good solution. They fail to understand that any kind of change for the better takes time and a concerted effort. Change takes time and some of them accept "change over time" in biological evolution but reject it in other places. Rather than roll up their sleeves and do some work which may benefit a lot of people in the long run, they cling to the desire of immediate benefits and if that desire is not met, they sit on their hands. When they do not get what they want when they demand it, they call for the destruction of other things/policies. They over-represent actual events within government activity and the justice system to make other unsubstantiated claims which can halt the movement of others. They believe the government is comprised of 4-5 people who sit in a dark room with flashlights up to their chin and those people control everything. The weather, plate tectonics, the economy, etc. Those 4-5 people do not eat nor do they sleep because they are always plotting and always looking for ways to "divide us". Every system is automatically corrupt from its inception, no change for the better ever occurs, and the only way to get to the promised land is to pitch anarchy/revolution Society is always at the brink of THE impending doom which will fix everything but do not expect those pushing the fear mongering to be anywhere in sight if anything goes down. They will be in their bomb shelter with the door locked, making a Youtube video to document how they survived, told everyone that it would happen, and will be ready to lead the survivors into a brave new world.

Sounds like fictional characters, right? I wish that were the case but I run into that type of thinking all of the time. It's not just among college grads in their mid-20's who still believe the world to be black/white in terms of coming up with solutions. There are older adults who believe and promote the preceding thoughts.
Some are taken in to those positions due to charismatic personalities. Others are attracted to the vanity of the message without looking at it's implications and how it affects the people in which the message or legislation applies. They cling to unrealistic notions of freedom(i.e. doing whatever they want no matter how it affects others) and that any kind of regulation, law or structure is an abomination. 

When has pushing cynicism ever helped women gain access to safe and affordable health care? When has being completely apathetic about the political process ever brought about substantive change for many people? When has hyping up actual events provided any evidence for unwarranted paranoid claims? 

It's one thing to be skeptical but don't confuse apathy with being skeptical. A lot of it is simply an excuse to be lazy and indifferent which helps no one, including the person pushing it. It is not a pathway to knowledge, skeptical inquiry, and solid/good solutions but it is a damn good road map to inactivity, disappointed idealism, ignorance, and bad solutions. 

As an Atheist, here's what I believe.

I don't believe in any gods. Yea yea, you know that already. Here's a list of some things I "believe" and accept. I know that word[believe/belief] causes some to shutter given how some theists use it to bludgeon others over the head, but that is not my concern here.

1. I believe in myself.
2. I believe in others and their capacity to do good things.
3. I accept evolution, not just in a scientific sense, but also in terms of the political process. Change takes time. It is very easy to become disillusioned if you think you ought to get everything you want when you demand it.
4. Unconditional love is desired but it is fiction. Even claiming to want someone to love you 'unconditionally' denotes a condition.
5. Certain kinds of disagreements among allies and friends, especially in terms of how they happen and how they are expressed with words can destroy relationships. Not just with people you hang out with in person but online too. It's hardly ever "just [insert whatever social network here]".
6. Take care of your own children and do not expect the government to help you do that.
7. The Atlanta Falcons suck.
8. Texas is not a horrible state. There are many good people, institutions and innovations which come from that state so the hyperbole exhibited by some is not helpful. Over-representing bad policy makers with kooky ideas is not a reason to make negative assessments about the inhabitants of the state.
9. Churches ought to be taxed. If you want to be involved in the political process pay up like the rest of us.
10. Cynicism and solipsism are debilitating. Both cause reasonable minds and able bodies to become stagnant.
11. There will never be a utopia unless you want to write fiction.
12. Targeting religion only will not solve social ills. There are plenty of non-theists who promote misogyny, homophobia, colorblindness, and racism. Saying religion is the cause is giving it credit it does not deserve.
13. Being an atheist is not some kind of magic pill with regards to thinking and skeptical inquiry. It's one position that is part of who I am. Nothing more, nothing less.
14. You own everything you do. Take responsibility for what you do.
15. I have no problem with the proper adjudication of 'stand your ground' laws, 'castle doctrines' or 'make my day laws'. If I catch you in my home, which poses danger to me and the people living here, it is not my responsibility to ask you questions and I will shoot you. Improper enforcement does not mean the policy is bad. People who go looking for trouble or cause the trouble does not mean the laws are bad either.
16. Women can make their own medical decisions regarding their bodies and do not need to explain themselves to me or anyone else.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Creflo Dollar made a MISTAKE??? Man PLEASE!!

Creflo Dollar is a megachurch pastor here in Atlanta. He has ministries and offers to provide services around the country and throughout the world. His church, World Changers, boasts about it's large membership and claims to help people. I happen to believe Creflo Dollar is a pimp name and he would have been better off as Bernie Mack's role in the movie, The Players Club. The pastor is in the news today for a domestic violence charge. His teenage daughter called the cops and reported that her father, Creflo Dollar choked her and left a scratch on her neck. The incident happened sometime late Thursday evening and the pastor was booked early Friday morning. He has since posted bond(amount was 5k), he tweeted about being "redeemed" and has since deleted his Twitter account(@CrefloDollar). Fuck me for not taking screen shots. What I'm not surprised about is the apologetics which rolled out in favor of Dollar. 

Some of Dollar's church members(at least that's what they claim to be), as well as other ministers and church goers have coughed up the pathetic excuse of "we are not all perfect and we make mistakes". Some others have chided criticism of Dollar's actions with saying some of us need to mind our own damn business and deal with what's going on in our household/lives. Others have claimed the teenage girl is completely at fault and deserved to be choked(blaming the victim) and that Creflo was correct in his actions. All crazy positions in my opinion but the first one is of particular interest to me. The first excuse attempts to conflate all actions(negative) as mistakes which removes any sense of DEGREE or difference. Surely, I and others have faults but that should not be used to condone or make excuses for an incident in which I or anyone else, choke my child or kill another person(Dollar is not charged with that, it's just an example). The excuse serves as a shield to protect him and those who use the excuse from criticism. Another curious line of defense is "you don't know Creflo". I never claimed I did and I don't have to know him or be there to assess his actions. It's the whole "speck in eye" rhetoric and "you cannot judge" nonsense, both of which are ludicrous. The "pastor" label is very powerful and it's interesting yet disheartening to see the contortion styles of many people as they try to defend Dollar. 

Of course Creflo and his supporters do not represent all Christians. I'm sure at least some of them find his actions deplorable and will never make excuses for him or anybody else. What concerns me is I think if Creflo Dollar or anyone of his religious stature had done something worse, such as continuously choke or beat his child, a lot of Christians would not have a problem with that specific behavior. Many would say "it's his child and he chooses the best way to discipline and in the end Jesus has his back regardless". They'd cite the same excuses and be blinded by the pastor title. How will his church handle the situation? What will his members keep saying? Creflo Dollar is on the public record offering a defense for another megachurch pastor, Eddie L. Long(Atlanta based too), when Long was accused of improper acts with several young men, which Long said he would fight, but ultimately provided a settlement to the parties involved. Creflo Dollar said Eddie Long had a wreck and publicly denounced people that left Long's church and said they should not be in his(Dollar) church if they left Long's church because of the allegations against him(you can see that here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_rIfi2FKaE). 

Some people need to get over this notion that simply because you think a god is on your side, you cannot be judged and that you do not judge others. You can be judged, will be judged BY OTHER PEOPLE, and you do judge. What matters is what you judge and how you do it. No person regardless of title or presumed benevolence is above personal responsibility and accountability. You own everything you do. Creflo Dollar and his supporters would be wise to not make excuses and demand that this "leader" be held accountable. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Creationism is not science and children need to be taught facts.


Take a moment to read the story. The pastor wants evolution to be removed and replaced with the Biblical version of creationism. Why? As you can see, if you read the article, he has a ton of outdated and wrong reasons to be against the theory of evolution. Those reasons help support his terrible idea of getting rid of a strong scientific theory in order to replace it with his creationist story which is most palatable to him. I think when someone calls evolution "bad science", they probably have incorrect views about the theory. They have either by choice(as an adult now) or perhaps due to bad education as a child and subsequent laziness as an adult, not looked at the evidence in favor of evolution and have not kept up with the literature explaining the evidence. The pastor and a lot of other evolution deniers/detractors continue to believe humans are the focus of evolution. We are not. We are but a small portion of the theory. Plants, other animals, bacteria, and viruses are part of the theory too. The pastor and other evolution deniers are attempting to influence science committees, school boards and children across this nation under the guise of "let the parents/children decide". When it comes to facts we should teach what the evidence tells us and not what we want to hear. The idea of a democracy or some kind of voting initiative wherein the parents and children get to "decide" is utterly foolish. Evolution is a fact whether you want to believe it or not. Children need to be armed with the facts and if those facts conflict with long held religious beliefs of pastors, parents or whomever, that does not mean any entity in charge of making sure the kids get the best education with the available facts should go out of their way to appease some peoples specific sensitivities. The pastor and people who think like him on this subject can deny that evolution is a fact but what I have a problem with is that they believe they can and should influence younger minds to be hostile to the theory. If the pastor and others like him do not understand the theory of evolution then they should seek to understand it, rather than call for the complete withdrawal of it from public schools science curricula.

http://www.talkorigins.org/  <<That is a good site where you can read a ton of creationist claims and solid rebuttals to them. Each of the pastor's "concerns" are addressed on this page. Bookmark the site.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hTZ5AYzs8o << This is a link to the NOVA special wherein Intelligent Design was put on trial in Pennsylvania because of the foolish acts of Dover PA's school board. It shows the evolving language of creationist rhetoric and how it was smacked down in federal court. The trial is Kitzmiller vs Dover.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All theists are not stupid: Words Do Matter.

"All theists are stupid". Have you seen/heard that statement before? I hate statements like it and all others of similar makeup. Why? It's just not true. Simply because I as an atheist disagree with theists when it comes to their religious beliefs does not mean they are stupid or that I am smart. There is a major difference between saying "I do not think you are using your critical thinking skills in this area of your life/beliefs, like you do in all the other areas in which I am aware" and "You are religious? You must be stupid"!! I can easily make my criticisms of religion without beginning with name calling or acting as though I have cornered the market on rational thought/discourse. The problem with such generalizations is they are good ways in which to burn bridges with current or potential allies. Sure we may disagree when it comes to particular religious beliefs but we may work well together when it comes to education, transportation, helping others or even having a good beer together. We can have honest discussions about religious beliefs in terms of their applications, the affects those beliefs have on other beliefs, how they affect the action of the individual who holds them as well as the people around them, etc. What we do not have to do is begin with remarks of nastiness and be purposely mean. I do understand some theists fuse together their religious beliefs and who they are such that any criticism of their beliefs is automatically seen as a jab toward them. Even if you explain what you are targeting, the explanation may not reach the intended destination. You may become frustrated and if you do, I know I have, you let the discussion go. You tip your hat and go on with your business. Pick your battles wisely and words do matter. 

In some cases I think it is appropriate to be a dick to someone. I employ the method when someone else either lies, purposely misrepresents me or my words, involves people I care about in order to be nasty to me, or someone I know is trolling just because they can. Those types can be very annoying and quite frankly they are easy pickings when it comes to demonstrating a point. I will be a dick after I have presented my argument or asked questions and the other person decides to be disrespectful to me. I will walk away, block(online), push the keyboard away or call you a motha fucking asshole. Some people can be engaged with conversation and some cannot. 

"All atheists are rational". Yeah, bull shit. No particular group, no matter how large or small has the market of rationality, skepticism or critical thinking all to themselves. If you are an atheist who dares call religious people stupid and yet you have beliefs in the "power" of astrology, homeopathy, believe all sorts of conspiracy theories, hate women and gays, deny science when it highlights the absurdity of your passionate beliefs etc, how do you think you're any better than the label you give them? 

Calling people "sheep", "closed-minded", or "stupid" shows me you do not have or choose not to use better ways to demonstrate your point. If that is your "A" game, it is weak. Those words are automatic kill conversations and quite possibly can ruin any chance you have at building coalitions on shared beliefs/positions. I do not think theists are stupid but I do think they are wrong. If you insist on calling people stupid, you may burn a bridge that can never be rebuilt. No amount of apologizing can fix it. Be strong in your position but do not go out of your way to be an asshole to someone else. 

Side note: Some peoples notion of "respect" is so guarded that any discussion of their beliefs(in anything) is seen as disrespect. Such a notion should not be accepted as good. I once had a Philosophy professor tell me just how shitty a paper was written when I turned it in to him. Was he remarking on my overall personality or my other beliefs, my livelihood or my upbringing? No. He was targeting one specific thing and that thing only. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Atheist; The Red Tape Edition

We all have a story to tell and share. Our backgrounds, socio-economic status, education, geographical region, parents, race, gender and many other factors have a role in determining how we transmit our own narrative. The descriptions we use do not exclude others from hearing, understanding, or sharing the narrative with other people but there are some who are completely unnerved by particular words. I tend to document my days as a former Christian in Black churches because I identify myself as a Black man. The previous sentence is seen by some as an attempt to remove myself from other people and that is simply untrue. If anything the descriptions within the sentence are indicators of my experience, what I think is important and how I plan to let you know about it. The words in no way tell you that I am more special, honest, caring, compassionate, intelligent, etc than those who do not use such words. I encourage you to document your experience in the way you see fit, despite the groaning from privileged folks. Removing race as some move toward a "higher" goal is completely unnecessary and by saying such you may be saying far more than you really want.

Race is a social construction:
That particular truth is used to make the further claim that "race is not needed and can be pushed aside". I disagree with the later and here's why. Simply pushing aside "race" does not change the minds or the actions of those who will still use race to negatively stereotype, mislabel and mistreat others. Doing away with the concept as a whole does not automatically fix the negative usage of the concept. Furthermore, there's a bit of conflation going on with those who wish to ditch the social construct. Negative usages of race is seen as the totality of all usage therefore it should be eradicated. That line of thought is false. Simply because some people go out of their way to misuse the concept for a set of reasons does not mean positive and meaningful usage should hit the road too. The best move is to target the negative usage and do what you can to diminish the power within it. Race is a social construction with real-world affects and implications. Those who want to get rid of the concept because of their conflation problem are generally not affected by race. Since they are not affected negatively, they attempt to police those who are and those who try to use the concept as something meaningful and positive. They think race is overdone, over-used, unimportant and say such things like "I don't see color and I value everyone" or "I see humans and not color". Unless you are actually colorblind, there's no reason to make such statements. If you are pissed off about negative usages of race, then get off your ass and do something about it but do not confuse negative uses with all uses.

Inclusion narratives:
Some people tend to think that using race is some kind of division mechanism which is made to keep us separate from one another and continued usage of the concept will drive us further apart. This is only true if you buy into the idea that using race actually divides people. The only people who are claiming to be divided are those who are privileged enough to not be affected by race. In order for them to be included in the discussion, everyone else MUST BE LIKE THEM, which is why particular descriptions are problematic. The inclusion narrative is not about you, but it's about them. Using certain words means you cannot get inside their bubble. You are making them uncomfortable because they have concocted an idea in their own head that in order for you to connect as human beings, particular words must be excluded. That's why charges of not being "inclusive" and "you are just turning people off and dividing them when you talk about race" are leveled. Notice the general move I made 2 sentences ago...."you to connect as human beings". The line has a substitution, wherein "human beings" actually means ME. Your story is you separating yourself from me. No it's not. Not once have I thought of a White person, a woman, or a homosexual who is telling me about their life and what has shaped them as some sort of enterprise on their part to separate themselves from me. You use the words that are most important to you for a set of reasons. Those words most likely have some kind of historical, social and possibly even political antecedents to them and for me to tell you to not use them is actually telling you to chop off essential features of you and your story.

This is not about whether we value other humans or not. This is totally about the red tape involved when documenting a particular experience with certain words because some people are walking around with erroneous assumptions.  The proposition is not some either or deal. You can easily appreciate a person who uses certain words, like their race, gender or sexuality, and not think they're making some call to exclusivity. The person is simply saying, "this is who I am and these words matter to me". The next time someone tries to tell you what to say or how to say it with regards to your particular experience, ask them why they think their tape is necessary. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to speak on gender and race and all of it's usage and target the bad usage. I hope more people will do the same.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Atheists can be fucking irrational too.

There are some in theist and atheist thought communities who like to think atheists are wholly rational or like to think they are rational simply by maintaining a response to theistic claims. Being an atheist does not necessarily mean you are rational and it is a mistake to ever believe that. The following is a short list of beliefs held by some atheists. Some are funny and some are dangerous.

Beliefs in astrology:
Astrology can be a fun work of fiction. Doing a simple content analysis of an astrology column will show you that the advice given is so general that you can redact the astrological sign for which the advice is intended and the column can apply to any sign. It could be a fun escape from reality just as long as you still remember that it is fiction. I've encountered a number of atheists who believe in the "power" of astrology. I urge them to go back and re-visit those thoughts/beliefs. Some continue to believe(and this is apparent in larger communities too), that signs dictate who you should and should not date, which jobs you will gain, and what you should eat. That line of thinking is very silly. My advice is to gather a number of columns from different cities and compare the content. From there you ought to catch the non-specificity of the column and that it only has meaning because YOU want it to have meaning.

Beliefs in ghosts/spirits:
You can be an atheist and believe in ghosts and spirits but I surmise that you have not thought it through. Shows like "Paranormal Activity" are not evidence for ghosts/spirits. The same kind of skepticism you direct toward theistic claims ought to be applied to those beliefs too. You may very well be justified in your own personal experience(I don't see how), but no one else should believe you until you produce solid evidence which can be verified independently of you.

Beliefs in the inferiority of women:
This comes from the white male privilege wing of the atheist community. They tend to believe women are objects to be possessed, rape jokes are funny(they are not), and beat the drum of "some things are better, so shut up bitch with the complaining". The latter is not professed that demonstrably but that's the tone. Proponents of that bull shit think women are not fully capable of making their own damn decisions, believe they should "know their place" and any time a woman is documenting her experience or demanding respect/change, she's whining. They also believe "feminism" is some kind of dirty word and women's issues are minor problems which do not deserve major exposure. They hold that view because at some point they would have to get off the fucking stage. This belief is very damaging to the atheist community. We need women and their voices.

Beliefs against vaccinations and medical science:
Practicing medicine is not a perfect exercise or science but that's why it is called a practice and not a perfection. Many medicines and shots have side effects and those side effects can vary from person to person but that is not a reason to have wild and crazy views about medicine or vaccines. Unfortunately since a news article was printed in The Lancet about how vaccines cause autism(they do not), much noise has been dedicated towards trashing vaccinations, distrusting doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and health care professionals. Some of the opposition is due the notion of "all bureaucratic institutions or institutions with structure that are connected to the government are sinister". The paranoia there is due to giving a lot of credit toward an institution you think is purposely and sneakily defrauding you or in this specific case, drugging you and your kids up. The peer reviewed journals, the experiments and the evidence in no way suggests some vast conspiracy is being cooked up in order to keep you down. Vaccinations do work. Over-representing cases which are not the norm, or professionals who engage in malicious conduct is unfair to the entire community. Go look at the hard facts and stop thinking everybody and everything is out to get you. You cannot be that important. 

With respect to autism, many are still searching for a "cause". I'm sure it is tough to deal with an autistic child and some people go out of their way to provide what looks like an answer but that "answer" produces medical and scientific stagnation.

Beliefs against "evil pharmaceutical companies":
This is a position which was once professed by Bill Maher. You can probably find it on youtube but it mirrors the same exact paranoid bull shit which I previously discussed.

No single person or group has a monopoly on rational thought. Combing through our own thoughts and their implications to ourselves and others is a tough process but it is not a process we should be shy about doing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Black Atheist? I thought we were all the same.

There's an overriding viewpoint within the atheist community; we are all the same. The notion is true to a point. We are all the same kind of animal but we do have different experiences. Those experiences shape our identity and help frame what we think of ourselves and what we want others to know. I have not been totally forthcoming with the first few words. It's not just "we are all the same, but I am saying this because if you document your individual experience, I may become uncomfortable and I cannot/will not relate to you. I'd much rather you not say it at all". I've seen that view pushed mainly by white male atheists. I'm not suggesting most of them do it but from my own interaction and with conversations with others, I know some of them push the view. Some of them think that by you offering your experience, they must shut up. Some also believe, in a religious sort of way, colorblind(race does not matter, we are all the same) attitudes, gender is a non-issue, etc are ways to move forward to bring about collective cohesion. Those views are totally wrong. Ignoring essential self identifying characteristics is not a necessary or a sufficient condition in order to understand the experience someone is trying to convey. What you have to understand is the person is telling you something very important through a specific lens which they have deemed vital. Ignoring the importance of their lens is ignoring a critical part of them.

The notion of "collective cohesion" comes with a price for those people who do not adhere to the rules. Documenting your story can only be done under a certain set of conditions. You cannot upset the status-quo by attaching race/gender to your journey to "being an atheist". The privileged class will distribute the rules of engagement and attempt to police you if you get out of line. Some words are met with silence, trepidation, anger and frustration. Any word, such as Black, female, or any other word which denotes something very specific about the person offering the words is subjected to questions such as "why must you use that word", "why can't we move beyond gender/race", or "this could be applied to anybody". The latter I take as a subtle "shut up" move. You're not saying it could not happen to anybody. You are saying it happened to YOU.

Gender/race are social constructions with real world implications which shape our experiences. There's a massive difference between saying "I don't see gender/race" and "I don't use gender/race to negatively judge another person. I don't always succeed in that endeavor but I am not willfully acting like they don't exist". We all judge. What matters is the metric by which we judge and what/how we judge. The first statement is the one whih aims at collective cohesion. The second is honest. If certain words bother you when a story is being told, to the point you want to have them eradicated, then you need to confront why that's the case. You're operating with a set of assumptions which may bring you some kind of psychological comfort. Why is that? How do you receive the images of the words you don't want to hear? How do you interact/have you interacted with the people who use those words that make you uncomfortable? Why are you uncomfortable? You need to justify the step you've produced. Some think the step is necessary to achieve cohesion and I call bull shit.

Some of us in the atheist community like to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to certain things. We act like our group does not contain misogynists, racists, or homophobes. Some have willfully tricked themselves into accepting colorblind notions but claim to be well rounded skeptics and freethinkers. Some truly believe the same skepticism applied to religious/spiritual claims is employed in other areas. Do not think that's the case at all. Many do not like to talk about gender/race because it makes them feel left out or uncomfortable. They've created an unnecessary bubble around themselves whereby to be "inclusive", you must fit inside their bubble. You must play by those rules. You do not and you should not. Use the words yyou deem necessary to articulate your individual experience.

There's absolutely no reason to think our shit does not stink. It is our duty to call out bull shit in our own community.

When I'm providing an experience it is not to say the experience is better than another. It in no way is a claim to exclusivity, which is another charge employed because some cannot/will not relate. The words they use to transcribe and transmit their experience means something to them and if you want an ally, it's in your best interest to listen. You don't need to ignore specific facts about me or anyone else to be an ally and a friend. We can embrace our differences, share our stories and work together. No one has to ignore anything for any goal.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bad Drivers; A rant and some tips.

I love to drive and it probably should be my profession. It's the one place I can go and have some adequate level of peace but it's also the very place where I exhibit the most rage. No matter where you live, I think it's safe to say you have encountered another driver and thought "what the fuck is wrong with this asshole"(apologies if you think/thought that about my driving). I have discovered that good music, a nice sounding horn, a sunroof, and 2 fingers help control my rage. I'll list a few types of drivers who really grind my gears.

1. The semi-trailer driver who believes his rig is the size of a Ford Focus; This driver tends to maneuver their rig in traffic as though it's a compact car. He fits his 18 wheeled vehicle in the smallest of spaces, works traffic like a maniac, and appears to forget the relative size and weight of his vehicle relative to all of the traffic around him.

2. The sports car asshole; I'm targeting a specific car here, Ford Mustangs. This guy has to place his newly purchased car in the fast lane but purposely drives 5-10 mph below the speed limit. I don't care about your shiny new toy. Use the horsepower under the hood and get up to speed and get that ass over into another lane. If you want to cruise, we have 5 other lanes for that.

3. The "I have to pull out in front of YOU right now driver; This driver cannot seem to wait until you pass and decides to pull out directly in front of you at the slowest speed possible. Never mind that no one is behind you and that there's a country mile between you and the next car. This driver has to go right now and don't you dare blow your horn. Their hands will go up and they'll act like they did nothing wrong.

4. The all of a sudden super-speeder when you are attempting to pass them; This driver has been occupying the fast lane for a while and refuses to get the fuck over. When you change lanes to complete the past, they put their foot to the floor just to keep you behind them. When I do get in front of this particular asshole, I let off the throttle.

5. The tail-gaiter; This driver tail gaits any and everybody on every kind of street and traffic situation you can imagine. You can't get a piece of paper between your bumper and theirs. I love to test their braking systems. You want to ride that close to me? Well then you must want to pay for my car huh?

6. The impatient and forever changing lanes driver; We're in heavy traffic and one lane moves but then stops and then another lane moves. This driver must always be in the current moving lane or they will have a heart attack and burst in their car. They tend to beat on the steering wheel if you refuse to let them over too. Don't ask me how I know that. I just do.

7. Mr. I drive a Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, or Ford F-150 but I drive it like it's a Micro Machine; Micro machines were these really small toy cars I had as a kid. They're like the semi trailer asshole but just on a smaller scale. They tail gate, swoop in and out of lanes with recklessness and act like they're auditioning for the Indy 500. I refuse to include Toyota Tundras and Honda Ridgelines. Those are not trucks in my opinion.

8. The I must wait until I am less than a quarter mile from my exit to charge across all lanes of traffic twatwaffle; Vehicle type does not matter here. This person has an 'oh shit' moment and must quickly exit, without signaling of course, in such a short time, they spook the rest of the drivers around them. Get that rust bucket over sooner and pay attention to the road signs.

9. Oh fuck, the cops pulled someone over so I must slam on my brakes so they won't come get me too;
You're comfortably rolling down the interstate at 70 mph and a trooper has another person pulled over and the driver in front of you has to check the efficiency of their braking system. This driver seems to think they're next on the list. Perhaps they are but not in that moment. You have to do something pretty stupid to make that cop come off that pull over to come get you. Throw a bag of cocaine out of the window. If you do, I expect you to speed up and the bag of cocaine will be picked up by another driver.

10. The squeezer/bad parker; This driver has to park entirely too close to you. You practically need the jaws of life just so you can enter your vehicle. Or they have this huge vehicle and they try to fit it into the tiniest of spaces. Your Ford F-350 does not belong in a space fit for a fucking Yaris.

11. All Chevrolet Impala drivers suck. They drive too quickly or too slowly. Yes. Fuck you and your Impala. 

12. When it rains, my driving ability just sucks that much more; They're paranoid and scared little fragile people who lose all sense of operating a vehicle upon a drop of precipitation.

13. Prius Owners; Yes you believe you're helping the environment with your car while sipping your latte and listening to Rosie O'donnell. I'd have no problem with you if you moved your pretentious ass out of the way. They're almost as bad as the Ford Mustang owners. Save the fucking environment in the other 5 lanes.

14. Am I in your blind spot? Yes!; this driver has to remain in your blind spot and no matter what you do, they'll stay in it. Slow down, speed up, fuck an Asian woman with a limp, and they'll still be there.

15. The cell phone user; There's always some fuckwad on the phone(I'm assuming it's an unimportant call) who has to be in the wrong lane with cars swerving around them because they've forgotten the most important task at hand; driving the goddamn car. They cause unbelievable bottle necks simply because they have to talk to their ugly ass friends about their shitty lives. Go to a bar or see a therapist and get the fuck off the road.

I'm sure I'm missing a few really bad offenders. You soccer moms who believe it's in the fucking Constitution that when you transport your little crumb snatchers, you get to drive as slowly as possible will have your own post dedicated to you.

Get a sunroof and a decent sounding horn. Why? You don't want the other driver to not notice your fingers. It really does suck when they turn the corner and you did not get your point across to them. Tighten up and buckle up!