Monday, March 24, 2008

The RIAA Can Suck on This! (UPDATED!)

I know, it's really been over a year since my last post (PunkVoter updates more frequently than I do, for fuck's sake). There's a lot of shit I could bitch about -- the Democratic congress (I'm as disappointed as everyone else, though not surprised), the presidential elections -- but I'll just assume you've been reading Time magazine and that I have nothing really unique to offer to these conversations.

Something that has been on my mind, however, and that I may have some unique insight about is the current discussion of file sharing, digital downloads, piracy and copy protection. The RIAA are a bunch of prehistoric fuckers, kicking and screaming against progress.

See, while Epitaph is releasing Pennywise's new album in Europe, here in the US MySpace Records is handling it. But this isn't Pennywise selling out a'la Anti-Flag -- it's kinda the contrary. MySpace Records will offer up the album as a free digital download via a Textango promotion. Anyone who adds Textango's profile as a friend on MySpace will get access to the songs. This is Pennywise's way of experimenting with a free digital distribution model, similar to what Tim Armstrong, Radiohead, Saul Williams and Nine Inch Nails have done.

I have especially respected Trent Reznor's ethics over the years. In a transitional couple of decades where most artists have been like Metallica (resist digital music altogether) or Gene Simmons (sue pirates' faces off) and have taken a lazy, marketing-oriented attitude to music in new media (video games, online), Reznor has respected and participated constructively in the transition. Composing original music for video games and experimenting with contract structures and digital distribution schemes that don't fuck the user should be commended. He's one of the very few artists who aren't acting out of self preservation, recognize the need of an inevitable new paradigm and are actively trying to find one. The most feasible of these new paradigms don't involve labels at all -- they involve 21st century web-boosted-productivity making the self-production, self-promotion and self-distrobution of music hyper-accessible.

The future will bring the near-mechanization of our everyday activities (ATMs and self-checkout stands are only the beginning), and all music production, promotion and distribution will probably fall upon the artist. Music will be free and unrestricted to the user and at least partially ad-supported depending on the context, much like most forms of media we enjoy. Touring could play a much bigger role, refocusing on actual talent over marketability.

Not too long ago, a girl busted my balls at work about music piracy. Guaranteed she worked in the music industry. Guaran-fucking-teed. When I wrote for SLUG Magazine I interacted with the hipster fucks who are fighting against piracy, and contrary to a certain NOFX song, they don't all work for the Big 5. They try and say that piracy hurts indies too, but that's bullshit -- it hurts indie labels because it hurts labels, period. It doesn't hurt indie artists because piracy doesn't hurt artists -- it hurts labels. I've never met an anti-piracy person who wasn't acting 100% out of self-interest, or hadn't been scared shitless by the RIAA and MPAA's propaganda and lawsuits.

We're a generation that feels as entitled to music as any of our other ad-supported forms of free media, such as the internet and television. And Audacity, MySpace and YouTube have really made labels obsolete for production, promotion and distribution.

(UPDATES: I finally got around to reading this great BusinessWeek article about a single mom who not only got her bullshit RIAA suit thrown out, but is now counter-suing them. Not a long article, definitely worth a read.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Web 2.0" and the Future of American Politics

The 2006 elections were the first since the "Web 2.0" phenomenon really arrived and "new media" reached maturity. The rise of blogs, wikis, social networking sites and online games also had an indelible effect on these midterm elections, not only in the type of candidates that ran but also the new approaches to campaigning they took. This new approach to modern campaigning could be a potential paradigm shift for the entire political process.

One area in which this could occur is the appeal to young people, who are typically apathetic towards and uninvolved in the political process, but who make up the majority of Web 2.0 users. Since the Democratic demographic skews younger, this could emerge as a Democratic counterpart to the Republicans' previously highly successful get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. This would certainly explain the fact that the majority of politicians (both professional and aspiring) who have taken advantage of new media are left wing.

But is it working? Even trying to harness the power of the Web 2.0 phenomenon may not be enough to motivate that most stubbornly indifferent of constituencies, the youth voters. Just ask Bob Brister, a Green Party candidate for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, who extensively campaigned using new media, including creating a profile on the popular social networking site, MySpace. But despite this and a public endorsement from the controversial-yet-popular Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Brister only managed to get 1.43 percent of the vote on election day.

Much more successful was Pete Ashdown, local internet guru and defeated Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate representing Utah, who had a respectable showing against a deeply entrenched and perceived-out-of-touch incumbent. Ashdown also has a MySpace profile, used to DJ raves, and used a collaborative wiki for his campaign. One contribution to that wiki formed a cornerstone of his platform: that the Iraqi people should vote through a referendum on whether U.S. troops should stay in their country. Nevertheless, despite such progressive, tech-savvy, youth-oriented campaigning strategies, going for the youth/techie vote may have let him down, as he only mustered 31 percent to Orrin Hatch's 62 percent.

"Right now in Congress -– and especially Senator Hatch -- is grappling with the last 30 years and trying to understand it," Ashdown told Wired in October, just days before the election. "Dennis Hastert comes out and says, 'Well, we don't understand how to monitor instant messaging.' It's ridiculous. We need people there that have the expertise, ability and knowledge to push this country forward on technology because it's such an important part of our lives." When asked by Wired about the wiki version of his campaign platform, Ashdown said, "It's worked very well –- I've received some great input and taken some of it on the road with me on the campaign trail, talking to people . . . It's an extremely powerful way to collaborate with the American people, and of course I'll use it after I am elected into office."

Of course, that didn't happen, but during the same interview Ashdown said, "I considered forming a [political action committee] after this race and actually I was thinking about doing a technology PAC. I'd really like to see some of these open-source advocates get out there and form their own PAC and be more active in the political process."

Before that, last May, Ashdown told Wired it was a matter of transparency in politics. "In regards to the broader question of how MySpace and being open and transparent have benefited me in this campaign, people are finding it refreshing. People are finding it remarkable that a candidate is taking this kind of approach and advocating this in government because it's so rarely seen. On the drawbacks, I really haven't seen a lot. You know, they may come later when the opposition tries to attack me, but I really feel that in my own business being transparent has been my policy and providing internet service in that we document the good along with the bad."

High-tech entrepreneur, former Virginia Governor and potential Democratic Presidential Candidate Mark Warner hopped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon in a different way –- by making a virtual town hall appearance in the online virtual gaming world, Second Life. On August 31, Warner appeared as a Mark Warner avatar sitting on a stage and taking questions from a number of other avatars that were attending the virtual world event. It is the first known use of an online virtual gaming world by a political figure. Ted Leonsis of AOL is advising him on Web 2.0 and he seems to be getting it. Warner plans to make additional Second Life appearances as he continues to campaign for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

And as of October 16, there will be a Second Life-based major news bureau there to cover it –- that's the day that Reuters opened its first all-digital bureau, a building in the virtual Second Life world modeled on its New York and London offices. Almost immediately, news agencies around the world noticed the story, intrigued by the fact that one of the oldest existing news outlets would choose to station a full-time reporter in a virtual environment. For its part, Reuters is using the bureau to disseminate its real-world news feeds to Second Life residents, hoping in the process to find a new audience. Reuters is not the only news outlet to set up shop in Second Life; CNET had previously opened a bureau there and has been using the virtual space as a venue for interviewing luminaries from the technology community. Still, the fact that Reuters –- which is better known for financial and business reporting than for culture coverage –- decided to participate in Second Life is noteworthy.

Ashdown perhaps best summed up the position of American politics and emergent technologies in an interview last March, "I get it, as far as the internet goes. I have been on the internet since 1987 and I realize the power that it has, in not only news reporting and social aspects, but I realize the power that it can bring to government. And that's my mission: to knock down the walls of government, make it interactive with the people in a two-way sense rather than in a one-way sense, and make our democracy democratic." This is indeed the future direction of politics, but that future, its ramifications for candidates, constituents and voters may still be far off yet.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Could Make a Privileged Idealist Take Up Arms?

I don't like the me I can become sometimes, the hyper-passionate, extremist, militant, scary me, the monstrous me I've shamefully let some see all too often before; yet a part of me I can't deny and sometimes even embrace; the part of me that could drive me to do those ominous things I've suggested before. This is the me who considers and investigates such things as revolutionary tactics and explores leaderless resistance movements, who entertains the very real possibility of dropping out of/getting expelled from college and becoming a militant activist/agitator/"terrorist" just like those bourgeois al-Qaida militants. Perhaps, as Gore Vidal said of that racist, indiscriminate, insane fucker Timothy McVeigh, I also need "a self-consuming cause to define" myself.

I can't deny any of this, but there is a crucial difference between me (even the me I just spoke of) and those terrorists such as al-Qaida and McVeigh, and it is imperative that anyone who knows me and is put off by my apparent militant extremism recognize and understand the difference absolutely. It has to do with motivations, outcomes and context. It is empathy and the raised moral bar before which the ends can justify the means in my eyes. I understand that riot cop could just as easily be someone like my father, or yours; that soldier could just as easily be numerous buddies of mine, or either of my grandfathers; but whatever human back-story they have ceases to exist, as does mine, the moment we associate ourselves with ideals; when we clash in an absolutely justified, valid battle of incompatible ideologies. We cease to be human first and beliefs second and become representatives of our ideologies, and when the stakes are high enough and the battle is justified enough, sometimes conflict is the only option. When all other legitimate avenues have been exhausted, when moderation and diplomacy fail AND when the cause is just, violence in socio-political affairs is justified.

I realize this could be construed as undermining my opposition of our invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It doesn't. It could also be construed as supportive of the insurgency. You have to examine every scenario on a case-by-case basis (this is where the contextual part comes in). I would support the American Revolution. I would support the Russian Revolution. In certain situations, confronted with certain things, with certain motivations behind me, I would absolutely fight. I wouldn't murder, maim or rape innocents or children in the name of any cause, as Winston reluctantly agrees to do in Orwell's 1984 (a hypocritical betrayal of the very objective morality and humanism he wants to fight for, which eventually undermines and helps destroy him), but I would absolutely travel to Catalonia as Orwell did to take up arms against fascists in the Spanish Civil War. And, for perhaps the first time since WWII, I believe we are facing such a grave, justified cause: Pax Americana.

But with the one-party rule that's mutilated our country for the past four years looking set to collapse in a mere 19 days, maybe I shouldn't get so worked up.

Go vote, fuckers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where I Stand

Hello again everyone. I am back for yet another blog, this one entirely of my own thinking and not merely a commentary on another authors' writings. The issue this time is religion, specifically addressing what many atheists have been accused of by religious moderates and fundamentalists alike. This accusation, intended to put atheists on the defensive is that as an atheist, I wish religion had never existed. It is worthy to note that this charge also comes from atheists who do, in fact, agree with the charge and hold a certain contempt for atheists such as myself who disagree entirely. So this is basically a defense of my disgust for religion, hopefully a pretty in depth look at it.

Well we might as well start with the beginning right? Now I am going to make a somewhat fair assumption here that everyone knows about the story of Christianity from Jesus' birth to his death and resurrection. You're all Christian right so you should now this. If you don't feel free to go educate yourself; you will be needing it for this blog. Now then, picking up where Jesus left off, we have the time period known to many as "the gap." Jesus dies around 30-33 AD and then there is not really much record of his teachings and life and whatnot until somewhere around 70 AD at the earliest, which comes in the form of the gospels. For more information regarding that little problem, consult the documentary "The God That Wasn't There." OK so what I want to talk about is the manner through which Christianity spread. The most common conception of this is that Paul and Peter took care of the spreading of these teachings. So let's go ahead and focus on exactly who Paul was and what he preached. Paul was originally named Saul and persecuted Christians with a fiery vengeance. In fact, just to show how much he hated these bastards, on what would be his final journey or this sort, he set off towards Damascus to arrest any Christians, chain them and bring them back to be imprisoned and/or executed in Jerusalem. No wonder atheists decry Christianity as one of the most violent atrocities to come to this earth. Anyway on the way to Damascus Saul has a vision where he sees Jesus, and is converted in an instant to Paul of Tarsus. Now, I'll be nice and ignore the ridiculous improbability that a man who had devoted his life to the persecution of Christians became one over a hallucination in the desert. So anyway Paul becomes chief proselytizer of Jesus and his teachings, proclaiming faith in God as the way to go. Nothing to remarkable yet I suppose, but here is where it gets interesting. The manner in which Paul spreads these teachings is, to be honest, wholly non-Christ-like, while at the same time the very definition of Christianity. Paul instilled a fear within the uneducated with his threats of hellfire and damnation and claims of original sin. He speaks of a violent, malevolent God and denounces those skeptical of the resurrection as fools. In reading Romans and Acts and Epistels and Corinthians, etc, I can't recall a single time in which Paul acknowledges the right to independent belief and thought. Humanity as a whole is a sinful bunch and must repent to God, or else face his wrath, and by the way, this is THE way to think, as there is no other way about it. The state of Israel? Merely misguided peoples yet to understand the truth. Am I the only one who questions what the fuck was Up with Paul's decision to put Christianity at odds with every other past present and future religion and belief system? And people say that religions are mutually exclusive...my ass they aren't. In conclusion, Christianity didn't spread via genuine love for thy neighbor, or for an inherent belief in the good of others, or even based on any peaceful pretenses.

Now I'm not too biased, so I will go ahead and express my volition of Islam. So as far as the history of Islam goes, I am not going to explain the resident beliefs on it's origins in detail. You should already know that, and if you don't, go educate yourself then come back. What you really need to know is Muhammad, the last in the line of prophets of God, at the age of around forty staring receiving visions from the angel Gabriel in a cave on a mountain outside Mecca known as Hira. Gabriel tells him to "recite!" and so he does and what he recites over the many years this occurs becomes what we all know as the Qur'an. Anyway, the manner in which Muhammad spread this word of God was in an almost identical manner which Paul had used half a century earlier; with proclamations about the Day of Judgement, strict monotheism and condescending attitudes on his belief to perfect the flawed systems of belief that were Judaism and Christianity.but Meccans didn't take too kindly to this asshole telling them they are fools, so they exiled his ass to Medina. Then they got really mad and attacked Medina, but strangely enough Muhammad and his Muslim followers were able to fend them off, eventually marching on Mecca and conquering that city, supposedly in a bloodless battle. Anyway the Muslims remove the idols from the Kabba in Mecca and thus Islam becomes an established ideology in the history of the world...through subjugation of powers; awesome. So here we have the Muslim religion expanding in much the same way as Christianity, though with arguably more war and bloodshed.

Now getting back to my point of this blog, how is it possible that as an atheist I don't despise the creation of religion, even after the condescending remarks I have made in the previous paragraphs? Simple. Religion was a bounty of scientific knowledge. Yeah I said it. Do a double take, laugh, cry, whatever you need to do after reading that....OK so now we're back and it's time for me to justify that. Let me be the first to say that religion as we know it today is one of the most tremendous abominations in opposition to science that exists. But is religion as we know it today the same as in the past? Let's compare some proponents of religion from each time period. Present day, we have Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Christian fundamentalists that most people will agree are bat-shit crazy. They hate gays, they hate atheists, they hate liberals, they hate terrorists, they hate abortion, they hate most things other than that which brings humanity closer to the Day of judgment, which means nuclear holocaust. In short they take the Bible in its most literal sense. But what about philosophers of early Christian theology, like Origen. he was essentially a Platonistic idealist, who advocated seeing the scriptures in a symbolic and metaphorical way. Sure he still believed in God and such, and never said much without adding a scriptural sub note, but did he think in any way like Robertson and Falwell? Not even in the slightest. Yet Origen wasn't the only Christian theologian to think in this manner. His predecessor Clement believed in a similar manner; Justin Martyr held a view largely influenced by Pagan ideas. There were of course those that believed somewhat in the way Robertson surely does, such as Tertullian, but the number who believed along his lines were scarce.

Let's examine Islam in this same manner shall we? It's often stated that Muslim's brought a vast amount of knowledge and advancement to society in its early days. And that's largely true. Take, for instance, Avicenna, or often known as Ibn Sina. He wrote of philosophy, alchemy, mathematics, physiology, physics, ethics, theology, etc. However his greatest achievements were in the field of medicine. He was centuries ahead of his time in his physical and psychological analysis of the human senses, which he classified as the Human Soul. he used organization and classification methods similar to that of Aristotle, primarily because he, like many other Islamic philosophers, writers and theologians, agreed largely in the necessity of free will and knowldege/reason, much as ancient Greek philosophy had emphasized. Even though this often went against the teachings of the Qur'an, many of them reconciled their persistence with either claims to allegorical interpretation of the Qur'an, or as in the case of Averroes, tried their best to justify the Qur'an as encouraging free will, stating that none of this which I have mentioned was at all contradictory to the Qur'an. Again, there were those that denounced them as well as their admiration of Greek philosophy, such as Al-Ghazali. But as with Christian philosophy, the majority lay on the side of loose interpretation.

So what are we to conclude from all of this? The fact is that ancient religion was a manner far different from what we call religion in present times. Now, am I suggesting reverting to that ancient style of religious interpretation? Still, the answer is no. Religion was a handy tool that sparked human curiosity and ingenuity. Religion was, in a sense, the base argument of civilization, both literally (religious theocracy) as well as figuratively (ideological study and examination). But its grown useless. The reason I say this is because in early AD, much of the world was undiscovered. There were few proven theories and laws which concerned themselves with the nature of our world. So today, in a world where evolution has extensively been shown to be biological fact, why must we feign ignorance and say God had a hand in it all by studying the pseudoscience known as Intelligent Design? Why is it necessary to say God was the first cause when physicists have gone to great lengths in their study of Big Bang Theory to show it as factual information? As a society we are not in the dark. We have examined issues of science and mathematics which ancient theologians themselves examined and we have found solutions to them.

The world is indeed "shades of gray" in many respects; however, that said, there are those things which are indeed set fact, and we can prove that. Religion today is a hindrance to our humanity. With reactionary, ignorant bullshit, for instance the disinformation campaign on AIDS pursued by the Catholic church, it is no wonder so many people are starting to move to the "moderate" stance of religion. People are waking up to the reality that is the irrationality of faith. They want to pick and choose from their respective religious text what they believe in and create some wonderful personal thing. As great as that may be, the problem lies in the fact that there are radicals who still follow the violent, bigoted, racist doctrines located within these same texts. So the situation becomes this; I, being a rational, reasonable person, decide to call bullshit on the Religious Right ass hats in America. The most effective way to do this is tear from them what little ground they have to stand on, in this case, the Bible. So I verbally assault the Bible, but now here it comes; I will be receiving a backlash of shit from those damned moderates who still love portions of the Bible. They claim it's wrong for me to paint them with the same brush and to harp on their beliefs. Thus making it impossible for someone such as myself to mount a credible offense against radical religious faith. And the truly horrifying aspect of this is the unnecessary need for the biblical "positives" people selectively cling to. Generally those in this position agree with the moral ideology perpetuated in the bible. For example, they applaud the love thy neighbor, don't murder, etc. However, is love for the rest of humanity really something you need to be told to do? Were we to be without these religious texts, would society devolve into an anarchistic state, following tribal methods of social interaction? Granted, some really do believe we would devolve into this state (Thomas Aquinas and any others who believe in original sin and the inherent evil of man, I am looking in all your directions). However, the brute fact here is that there are societies throughout the world which are for the most part godless. Japan, for instance, is around 65% atheist/agnostic/nonbeliever in God, has one of the most advanced technological markets in he world. Literacy is 99% and infrastructure is well established. Japan has about 1.3 robberies per 100,000 people, as well as only 1.1 murders per 100,000 people. Now if you don't see that as low, compare it to the United States pathetic figures, 233 robberies per 100,000 people and 8.7 murders per 100,000 people. Now I spent little time finding and researching this, but the numbers can't be too far off. Basically we see low crime, and a solid economy in so called "godless" countries such as Japan. Again I ask then, where does this leave us? The argument that without religion civilization crumbles into anarchy and loses all basic moral structure is flat out false and data can prove it.

So that, good people, is why I don't think organized religion should never have existed. It was a fountain of progress for the first thousand years or so, however today that fountain has dried up. It's time to rid ourselves as a people of faith-based ignorance. We are humanity; no need to be ashamed of it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Good Friend Liberalism, Where Have You Gone?

It's been a while since my last blog that was worthwhile, so I'll try to make this one good. The issue at hand is religion mixed with a little bit of political perspective. I received the inspiration for this blog after having read one of Sam Harris's latest articles. Oh and one last thing, I'll most likely be following up this blog with another which will regard religion from a historical perspective and some distinctions within atheist belief. Anyway let's get down to business on Sam Harris.

The Sam Harris article I read was entitled "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals," which is basically his critique of liberalism specifically in America going astray when it comes to dealing with terrorism and the future of our world. Now, considering that I consider myself a liberal, just as I consider Mr. Harris a liberal, I was to say the least taken aback by such an article. In a way, I was exactly the kind of liberal Harris was addressing. After stewing over the article an examining some of it's finer points I've come to realize that Harris is, for the most part, speaking truth. He condemns liberals for their lack of understanding the "war on terror" as really being a war with extremist Muslims. This is in fact an accurate if not precise description of what our supposed "war on terror" really is. I take this not as an attack of Arab peoples, but as an attack on the religious culture, which is exactly what it is. What exactly are we fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps soon to be Iran. Are we fighting these countries because of their ethnicity? Of course we aren't considering there is nothing inherently violent or "bad" based upon race; to say otherwise is ridiculous. Are we fighting in order to instill democratic rule and thereby bring peace these people? If we were all about democratic rule we would have allowed Hamas to stay in power after they were elected democratically, rather than refusing to acknowledge them. Speaking of violence and peace in the Middle East, why does it even exist? Perhaps because of a political disagreement? I've seen no evidence to support that, though if you have evidence to prove me wrong let me know. No, it's not over some political ideology; it's over their fucking religions. The "insurgents," for the most part serve under radical clerics and other tribal religious extremists. So yes, this is in fact a war on radical Islam.

The next point Harris raises is where this Muslim extremism is coming from. The traditional stance of liberals is that it's from lack of both economic opportunity and education. I staunchly disagreed with this until I started looking into it; examining studies regarding it. The fact is that many of the Muslim terrorists are young, enthusiastic, upwardly mobile, with a science and engineering background, as well as cohesive families, this according to a 1980 study on Islamists in Egyptian jails. However, on that same note I understand that there has been a sudden surge in radical Islam, which can't really be explained without some factor other than the Qur'an. As Robert Scheer mentioned in a recent interview, these people didn't all of a sudden start reading their Qur'an and deicide Jihad was the proper way to go about things. But if that isn't the case, there must be something else. Perhaps in our current day, poverty does play a larger role. Maybe American militarism is part of the problem. For me, I don't really know for sure and to Sam Harris's discredit he offers absolutely no insight on this matter. However, while I think this is an important issue that should be further examined, after all, getting at the root of the problem is perhaps the best way to go about solving it, at the same time I feel this is moot. The fact that these "terrorists" ride under the banner of religious extremism is enough for me to condemn the religion in its entirety. Those Muslim's not associated with the Islamist factions attain no benefit which is unattainable otherwise, without religion as a crutch.

Moving on, the real and only issue Harris raises that I flat out disagree with has got to be this topic of morality, which he examines based on a nation to nation basis. In his article, Sam brings to light the issue of Palestinian organization's use of human shields, willingness to kill non combatants and genocidal dialogue regarding their political discourse, eventually stating that, "Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah." All of the United States and Israeli political bullying, de facto murder of noncombatant's, failure of precision missiles to strike their proper targets, use of torture, use of cluster bombs indiscriminately in Lebanese neighborhoods, all of it justified upon the supposed moral high ground according to Harris. I'm not going to get into throwing appraise, much of which is deserved, onto Hezbollah and Hamas simply because there is no moral high ground here. I acknowledge that suicide bombing is hardly morally superior to any of the things which I mentioned regarding the US and Israel, but I refuse to get into a battle of better of two evils. As far as I'm concerned, there is no moral high ground on this issue, so don't even try to use it to justify anything you say, Mr. Harris. There is ample ground for you to stand on and still make your case without using morality in a war that has, to say the least, blurred morality.

So the basic concept of what Harris is getting at still stands. Liberalism has gone awry, meandering straight down the middle of the road, trying its best not to piss off anyone in particular, while at the same time offering little in response to the grievances aimed at the current state of affairs in Washington.

So concludes my second blog on anything of importance. I would appreciate any comments you have not only in regard to the ideas presented here, but also, perhaps as a side note, your evaluation of the structure, mechanics, etc of this blog. Hopefully that will let me prepare a better blog when I do my next one on religion within the next week. Admittedly, I was less pleased with this blog than I had hoped to be, but I hope you still enjoyed it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Part 2 (UPDATED!)

Some have called my previous blog "intolerant." I know it is. A couple of blogs ago, I told everyone to check the Wikipedia entry for Sam Harris, as he epitomizes the beliefs of myself and many other up-and-coming hardcore atheists. Like him, I am openly advocating a form of intolerance, where we take religion off its pedestal and expose it to the same logical scrutiny we use in our everyday argumentation and decision-making. Religion is not an ethnicity, race, gender or class (though it may be the cause/effect of these things) -- it's a set of beliefs, and should not be sacred or beyond reproach, as moderates would have us believe. Islam is a fundamentally violent, hateful religion, as is Christianity. The fundamentalists of all religions have it essentially right (hence the title "fundamentalists"), but are allowed to operate because of moderates and the demands of "tolerance" which they hide behind. Check Harris' Wikipedia entry; it's fascinatingly refreshing.

I therefore stand by my assertion that anyone with a beating heart and a functioning brain eventually embraces atheism, no matter how many friends it costs me.

Next I would like to point everyone to my buddy Micah's blog page -- my two previous blog entries were born from comments I left there (please excuse the redundancy). It began as an expose on the papyri which the LDS church's Book of Abraham were based on (and, upon their re-discovery 40 years ago, disproved Joseph Smith as a prophet of God), but has since devolved to address the moral relativist justification for religion (which is essentially what all religious discourse eventually boils down to because it's the only leg theists have to stand on and they know it). It's good readin' with pictures and everything!

Other than that it's been kind of a slow summer (other than the Middle East spiraling into all-out war in the region and the Bush Administration's blatantly opportunistic stall tactics), so here's some of my favorite news pieces of the last few months:

Hate groups are infiltrating the military and using it as training/practice for their coming race war. Dumb, sick fucks.

The White House has changed its mind about the Gitmo detainees' access to Geneva protections. And two years ago they called us flip-floppers!

The URL is self-explanatory: abunchofgreedyrightwingliarswhoworkforwalmart.com. On a related note, working for Costco rules -- any company whose praises are sung by Mother Jones magazine has to be fucking cool!

The Feds have been giving The Hope Line some noise about privacy issues and taxes, eventually setting up a competing service and cutting off their funding. 1-800-SUICIDE will be turned off Saturday. It's a little late to make a difference now, but check their site and MySpace page anyway; add them as a friend, sign their petition, give them money and flood your Senators with irate letters about this extremely fucked-up situation. I promise it'll make you feel better about yourself.

Midterm elections are coming up! I'll skip the requisite "get registered and vote you apathetic bastards" routine and get right to the fun shit: here's a post about how to hack a Diebold Voting Machine -- you know, those electronic ones Utah and many other states will be rolling out this election! Get ready all you impoverished, non-white folks -- your votes are about to be rendered truly meaningless!

And San Francisco has added yet another (mostly symbolic) reason why I want to move to their fair city.

Lastly, can I get a "fuck yeah" from everybody who loves video games and doesn't support the war in Iraq for Joe Lieberman's defeat in Connecticut's Democratic primary? Finally! I've been sick of that asshole's dozen-year crusade against video game violence (and by extension, parental responsibility) since I was in fucking elementary school -- he was the first senator's name I learned! The witch is dead, bitch! On a slightly more relevant note, could his defeat mean that liberals in this country have finally grown some fucking spine, become proud of their leftist beliefs and sick of right-leaning Republi-crats? Could Hillary Clinton be the next to fall before the phoenix-like wrath of the new, unapologetic left? Let's fucking hope so!

(UPDATES: I fixed a few broken/dead links, Micah's blog among them -- Micah has deleted his MySpace account, but information on the Book of Abraham [sans Micah's caustic-yet-informative commentary] is not hard to find -- Wikipedia is a good place to start. Also, The Hope Line has earned $10,000 in donations and will be able to keep 1-800-SUICIDE open for two more weeks. They still need donations to stay open but at least the immediate pressure has been lifted.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Justification for Being an Ostentatious Asshole

This began as a blog comment, but it spiraled out of control into essentially a personal manifesto concerning just why I deride religion oh-so-much.

When confronted with any anti-religious stance (no matter how much evidence one has to back it up) the near-universal reaction from theists is "why attack religion," "to each his own," "it offers so much good," "who cares if it's based on falsehoods," etc. -- followed by charges of intolerance, faithism and so on. There is a simple answer to all these points -- it's no exaggeration to say that religion is either directly or indirectly responsible for every atrocity in human history. Show me an abomination and I'll show you the religious tie. The crusades. The inquisition. The holocaust. The war on drugs. The war on terror. Show me a place people are being oppressed and/or have limited access to rights, power and/or resources and I'll show you a religious motivation (though many times masquerading as an ethnic/governmental one). It also retards progress and is not only the root but the primary purveyor of every single one of what sociologists refer to as the "-isms." This is universally acknowledged, but the difference of opinion comes when people try to either minimize the impact of some of the "-isms" (primarily heterosexism) and/or justify religion on the grounds of all the good it supposedly does socially and offers personally.

This is where a key difference between religion and governments comes into play. Like governments and regimes, religion is institutionalized and systematized, but unlike those things, religion is also personal and individualistic, albeit masquerading as spirituality or beliefs. Because of this, religion, like governments and regimes, can not only be the perpetrator of grand atrocities, but can also be the motive behind them, even when they're committed by said governments or regimes. And because of this, religion, unlike governments and regimes, can also be the cause and perpetrator of thousands of smaller, more personal and painful injustices, such as the alienation, abuse, marginalization and derision suffered by atheists, women, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people and any other misfits whose ideas and personalities didn't jive with the dominant pseudo-theocracy.

Happiness and purpose are wonderful things -- but, like charity and morality, they are objective and not derived from or reliant upon religion. Because of this, in a hypothetical, completely atheist world, these things would still exist for all the same people, just from different places and for different reasons.

So religion offers nothing that is both good and unique, and is inherently destructive, detrimental and limiting. So there had better be a damn good reason to justify it's very existence -- and this is why it's such a big deal whether or not there's any truth to religion. To back bold claims and assertions requires bold evidence, and religion has none.

There are plenty of writings by people a lot smarter than me attempting to reconcile the inconsistencies, inadequacies and imperfections inherent in faith and religion. And there are plenty of writings by people a lot smarter than them calling their answers what they are -- argumentative jokes (those by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and the U.'s own Deen K. Chatterjee are my favorites). The theists argue from emotion and personal experience rather than keeping all arguments within the realm of logic and philosophy, where meaningful religious discussion must occur.

Some believe its fine to have religion, just not one that is wrong. When argued within the realm of argumentative logic, religion -- all religion -- is shown to be wrong. And for those that think that God is as impossible to conclusively disprove as he is to prove, you're wrong. The burden of proof lay with the faithful, and God (or any omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity) and faith essentially cannot be proven or defended without using faith to do so, thus begging the question (the writings of David Hume illustrate this beautifully).

To the faithful, the religion which supposedly derives their shallow happiness, outmoded morality and their precious "purpose" is something they think about perhaps a few times a day, but Utah's Amendment 3, which they voted for on essentially religious grounds, is a crushing weight on someone else which they feel constantly. One's right to worship foolishness stops as soon as it interferes with another's rights.

You see, unlike The Da Vinci Code, what's at stake here isn't something as abstract as "the truth" -- it isn't whether people are mass-believing a lie. What's at stake are very tangible things such as gay rights, reproductive rights, women's health rights, class struggle, minority and ethnic rights, civil liberties and Democracy itself, for it is reliant upon secularism. Atheists aren't trying to be vindictive to institutions that have trampled them all their lives -- we merely understand what's at stake here and realize that the root of it all is religion, which has hid behind false claims, faulty logic, moderation, charity, ignorance, indoctrination and "tolerance" for far too long. It is not intolerant to be intolerant of intolerance (wordy, I know, but no less true). Hating stupid people is not the same as hating a specific race -- the fact that one could even compare the intolerance of ignorance with racism is ridiculous. Ignorance, religion and all the "-isms" have a very symbiotic relationship, and together they constitute a systemic threat which must be confronted and dealt with by the very mindset we militant atheists and secularists are espousing. It wouldn't be out of the question to call us revolutionaries, for this is merely the foremost frontier in the ongoing struggle for human rights and progressivism.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy 22nd, T.S.S.

Ironically, this year Memorial Day happens to fall on Tyler Steven Sheehy's birthday. He would've been 22.

Happy birthday buddy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Down and Out in Salt Lake City

Today a whole lot of laws go into effect here in good ol' Utah, including the one banning smoking in private bars and clubs and another requiring parental consent for an abortion -- even in cases of rape, incest and/or abuse. Hooray for Utah.

Over the past few months, the Executive branch has bypassed more laws, acted like it's above the law and in many cases asserted the authority under the Constitution to do almost any activity, frequently trampling over Congress to do so. Recently, even Republican Senator Arlen Specter got in on the Bush-bashing, asking, "Where's the outrage?" A similar situation arose when Hitler pushed through several acts allowing the top position to gain broad powers of enforcement and rule making powers, i.e. the Enabling Act. The Executive branch is claiming the same powers and implementing several key elements to achieve the same goal as Germany. Please, join Senator Specter and I in our outrage.

Halliburton has received a contract to build prison camps on U.S. soil with enough space to hold 3 million people. This ain't just another crazy anti-Bush conspiracy theory -- read the press release on Halliburton's own website.

Go here to read about how the Pentagon plans to resume nuclear testing, only without the nukes (they just plan to use comparable tonnage of TNT to simulate nuclear explosive power).

Go here to join West Point graduates protesting the war.

Go here to read about my new hero, Sam Harris. With the exception of his personal accomplishments and quotes, you can replace "Sam Harris" with "Tony Noble" in this article and get a spot-on depiction of me.

Go here for some hilarious/frightening satire directly comparing our current global socio-political climate with Orwell's dystopic 1984.

Finally, it appears the Bush Administration and Fox News have made their merger official. This together with the fact that Cheney requires all televisions to be set to Fox News wherever he stays should shut up any morons who still try to spit that "fair and balanced" bullshit.

Here is, by far, my favorite discovery this week: I finally got around to doing the research about how much of the Mormon church's money goes to charity, so now I can tell all the Christian motherfuckers around me to eat a dick when they start getting all defensive about the blessings of tithing and the inherent goodness of religion. Turns out my suspicions were true all along -- the LDS church is worse than any other religion on the planet when it comes to charity. Oddly enough, they're the only religion who doesn't release their financial statements (as well as the only one whose tithe is a compulsory 10% income tax), so finding information on their financial wheelings and dealings takes a little digging; my sources were a 1994 issue of Esquire, a 1997 issue of Time (which the Church cooperated so well with, they even buried the article on their website) and a 1999 financial report by an independent third party. In 1997 Time deduced their assets to total a minimum of $30 billion, with an estimated $5.9 billion gross annual income ($5.2 billion of which came from tithing). Were they a corporation, that income would place them about midway through the Fortune 500, ahead of both Nike and Gap. They spend less than any other religion and instead invest about $11 billion annually (so more than they receive from tithing) directly in church-owned, for-profit ventures, including but not limited to agribusiness, retail, travel and real estate. The Mormon church owns the world's largest beef ranch, America's largest producer of nuts, the country's 14th largest TV and radio chain, and is building a massive hotel complex on Hawaii's north shore. And of course there are more multi-million-dollar temples on the way, aggressively continuing the long-standing Christian tradition of neo-colonialism and proselytizing in third-world and developing nations. In that bigass silo at Welfare Square they have 19 million pounds of wheat, enough to feed Salt Lake City for a few months, but it's off limits until the Second Coming. Only fast offerings really go to charitable causes. Bottom line: after all has been said about the church's bounty of riches and industriousness, they reported humanitarian aid expenditures of only $30.7 million in total from 1984 to 1997! Churches with similarly sized memberships spend about half that per year! Some Mormon leaders past and present actually cite the historical persecution of their people to justify these numbers, essentially saying Mormons don't owe the rest of the world shit! I don't know whether to laugh or puke.

Keep it real people. Until next time, peace.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

April Showers Bring Exposure of Hypocrisy and Lies

What a fuckin' wonderful month! Bush's approval rating hit an all-time low while oil prices hit an all-time high (for my thoughts on that, refer to a previous blog entry of mine). But first, that crook Tom DeLay resigned because he's under investigation for receiving illegal funds. What's he got to say? "I'm in God's hands now." Hahaha! Then the next fucking day the Bush Administration is found to have a pedophile in their midst! Then came "Scooter" Libby's testimony (before a federal jury no less!) that his orders to out CIA agent Valerie Plame came from Cheney and Bush themselves! Jackpot!

Let's pause on that last one for a second and take a look at the picture that's being painted here: in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote a few op-ed pieces calling bullshit on the Bush Administration's "rationale" for war. As we now know (thanks to the smoking gun the American press loves to ignore, the Downing Street Memo), Wilson was right and the Bush Administration was lying -- not misled, not exaggerating, but fucking lying. So Bush basically then gave Cheney (who then gave Libby) permission to disclose classified information to dissuade his political enemies (Wilson), so Libby went ahead and outed Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a undercover CIA agent to GOP lapdog Judy Miller, thus endangering national security and both Wilson and Plame's lives. Nice.

I cannot stress enough what a dangerous prick our "president" is: in addition to the uplifting tale above, there is ample evidence he used the plot from the movie Black Sheep to rig not one, but two elections, and with his recent admission of authorization of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, he became the first president in history to admit to breaking the law in office. Under him, we arrest and detain suspected terrorists indefinitely, without being charged with anything, without access to lawyers, without outside contact from anyone and without access to any legal recourse, then fly said suspects over international airspace to secret CIA-run gulags on foreign soil, torturing them all the way. There is a laundry list of international treaties and domestic acts he has repealed and rejected, with potentially disastrous impact on our international relations, environment and economy. The wage gap in our country is now wider than the Grand-fucking-Canyon. American cultural, economic and military imperialism is gradually increasing around the world, while Executive power and one-party rule are vastly expanding here at home. Please understand, it really is that bad.

But back to the good news: April 10th was the "National Day Of Action For Immigrant Justice" and it was a massive success which stunned the nation, especially here in Salt Lake City, where between 20,000 and 40,000 turned out to march from Washington Square to the Capitol Building on April 9th alone. Check out the website for highlights. By the way, most "undocumented" immigrants pay taxes, via a tax ID number issued by the IRS (who's policy it is to not communicate with the FBI, INS and/or Homeland Security). If there's taxable income out there, you better believe the IRS is gonna be all over that shit. Most also have legitimate jobs with taxes deducted from their paychecks (meaning they're paying into Social Security, though they'll never see any return from it). Many have U.S. high school diplomas and many young male "illegals" are in the Selective Service program due to financial aid programs, which automatically enroll you in the draft (and make you eligible for jury duty).

Anyway, last Tuesday NOFX released their new full-length, Wolves in Wolves' Clothing! These motherfuckers just get better with age! Fewer songs about Bush, more songs about Jesus, and all of it fucking awesome!

Speaking of Jesus, I'll leave you with something to really turn your fucking stomach: Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (who nearly became pope last year) has taken the outlandish position of saying that it might be okay to use a condom -- but only with your spouse, only if your spouse has AIDS and only if you haven't caught the disease yet. Note that the Cardinal's comments are in no way representative of the Vatican's official stance that rubbers NEVER be used; in fact, the Church is so furiously anti-prophylactic that it runs a global disinformation campaign to try to convince people that condoms offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Also note that the Catholic Church has a well-documented reputation of full-on fabricating shit, such as its rule that priests be celibate and "over" any homosexual "urges," and that Mary Magdalene, Bride of Christ and Apostle to the Apostles, was actually a prostitute. Can I get an "amen" for misogyny and heterosexism as forms of control?