Author Archive: Michael Fogler

A Pitch to #NormalizeAtheism

Moving to the position of atheism was my gateway to reality-based, data-based, and science-based living. Once I embraced atheism, I quickly saw that atheists, for the most part, based their views (I’m deliberately not using the word “beliefs” here) on science and actual data. Quickly I applied this way toward everything. Within a few years, many ideas I once had, bit the dust.

I can easily see this happening the other way around, too. A person who has a science/data/actual reality way of looking at life would quite naturally adopt atheism. Atheism is totally logical coming from this point of view. If a person considers him or herself to have a science/data/actual reality point of view and such person continues to put any stock in anything religious or “spiritual,” then such a person has a huge hole in their otherwise reality-oriented mode of operation. There are many reasons for a person to hang on to that huge hole (perhaps that’s a topic for another post). Generally, it will be about hanging on to things simply because it feels good.

The stigma

But, there’s a problem. There’s a stigma attached to the word atheism and the label atheist. This started, or perhaps had a huge boost, in the post World War II era of the Cold War. Communism was the enemy, and atheism was associated with communism. In the 1950s, in an anti-communist move, the United States added “In God We Trust” to our money and the words “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance. Those were moves to distinguish ourselves from the evil commies. And, I hasten to add, both of those moves should be reversed as a clear violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s; and I remember absorbing the notion that atheists were evil. As a child I then translated evil to mean and nasty. Those people had no heart and I should never associate myself with them. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an outspoken atheist, might as well have been Joseph Stalin, in the way Americans were conditioned to think about her. Now, as I read back on what she said and did, I see how intelligent and logical she was. She spoke some very well-thought out (perhaps harsh) truths.

Why Normalize Atheism?

Atheism is a logical, consistent position in total alignment with a science and reality-based point of view. There should be nothing negative about it. Religions (and other “spiritual” derivatives) are what should be considered kooky. The anti-atheist conditioning is still with us. It’s faded somewhat, but there is a long way to go. Atheists are still thought of as less desirable in many ways, not the least of which is the atheist label attached to a politician. An openly atheist politician is ranked somewhere in the ballpark with rapists in the opinion of the overall general public. Erasing the stigma attached to atheism would be a great accomplishment for society. For starters, true science and reality-based people could be among our choices for political office!

On this front, I’m grateful for people like David Silverstein (@MrAtheistPants on Twitter), who, as President of American Atheists, is dedicating his life to normalizing atheism. I agree with him. We must proactively use the term while being pleasant, cordial, but consistently science and reality-based people. Science and reality-based orientation needs to be associated with being good and kind. There are plenty of good and kind people who are science/reality-based except for the huge hole of religiosity. Atheists are a good step better: simply more consistent.

Here is an example of something I think goes against normalizing atheism: I listen to a number of good podcasts. One of them was formerly called “Atheistically Speaking.” But it’s now called Serious Inquiries Only. The change of title was ostensibly because many of the topics were not about atheism. But that misses the point! Atheism is inextricably tied to actual reality. The host made a calculated move to attract additional listeners who might be turned off with atheism referred to in the title. This kind of action, however, only serves to keep the stigma going. I would rather see the old title kept. Serious inquiries coming from actual data and reality IS atheistically speaking! The previous title was perfect! The two SHOULD be associated, because they go EXACTLY hand in hand.

Atheism is a consistent, and literally the most reasonable, position. The label needs to be applied WHENEVER possible. Doing so would be a great service for progressing our society.

Instead of “Elections have consequences” we should be saying: “Electoral SYSTEMS have consequences.”

The post-election analysis by those of us who dislike Trump commonly include the line: “Elections have consequences.” This is a chastisement of people who did not vote for Hillary Clinton. You see, if you didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, this is what you get! The most horrible President in US history! (And, after George W. Bush, that’s saying something!) And as I said in a previous post, please understand the logical fallacy called single cause fallacy.

Yes, elections do have consequences. But first, generalizing that all people who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton have caused us to have President Trump is just a shaming tactic that has little evidence, reason, or logic to back it up. A vote is not a vote is not a vote. Not in our “democracy.” It depends on what state you live in. But second, and much more importantly, the real root of the problem is the entire electoral system. The consequences of that are huge. And Donald Trump is just the end result of a system that should be, on the whole, completely unacceptable.

Here are some aspects of the electoral system which have consequences and which, in the case of the 2016 election, resulted in President Donald Trump.

The Money. In our system, the rich and powerful have the best chance to succeed in politics. We have few restraints on the way money has infiltrated our elections. Corporations have rights like a person, and money is considered speech. A person of less than wealthy means and power considering a run for office has a hugely intimidating factor to consider: whether enough money could be raised for a given campaign. Imagine if we had 100% publicly (and equally) funded elections. Surely, there are many, many highly qualified human beings of intelligence and integrity, who now generally avoid politics, and who, if we had 100% publicly funded elections, might consider running. Right off the bat, our choice of even who to vote for is limited in a serious and negative way.

The Binary Choice. See my entire post on this issue. We only have a choice of 2 who have any chance of winning. Just 2. Are there any other things where the choice is only 2? If one party is out of favor, there is nowhere else to turn but to the other party. That’s acceptable? Why should we not have a system with 3 to 5 choices. Is an election just a sporting event where one side defeats the other? Couldn’t there be a discussion with a number of ideas spread out on the table, all of which are given equal attention for all to see and consider? Again, the choice of who to vote for is severely limited.

What the choice of 2 is. From a progressive point of view, the choice is like this: Suppose you were given a choice of 2 things to eat. One was an ordinary, medium decent, kind of basically edible sandwich. And the other was a big stinking pile of shit. Given THAT choice, that sandwich looks pretty darn good. But, that’s what we’re faced with in the typical Democrat/Republican choice. With a few notable exceptions (and many of the exceptions are on the state and local level, not federal level), we have a watered down “progressive” (the ordinary, medium decent, kind of basically edible sandwich) against a Republican (the big stinking pile of shit). Yes, Donald Trump is horrible, but look who might have been the Republican nominee had Trump not won. Ted Cruz? Marco Rubio?Jeb Bush? Carly Fiorina? All of them had horrible ideas and each would have made a very bad President. So, let’s have our eyes wide open about this undisputed fact: About 50% of the time, in our system, the Republican is going to win. And, therefore, 50% of the time the winner will be a big stinking pile of shit. The main difference this time is that the big stinking pile of shit is also mentally deranged with an extroverted jackass personality. Very unpleasant, indeed. But it’s just another variation of the big stinking pile of shit theme.

The Electoral College and Winner-Take-All principle. What will it take for us to realize that winner-take-all is undemocratic? There are other, better ways of democratic processes that are demonstrated in other countries around the world. I live in a red state (Kentucky) which votes for the Republican presidential candidate by one of the highest margins in the country. In 2016 a vote in Kentucky for any candidate other than Trump – including a vote for Hillary Clinton – counted for nothing! There are proportional representation systems and ranked choice voting systems which are much more fair and democratic and individual voter empowering than what we have.

Elections have consequences. But stopping there is looking at the situation through the very narrow, myopic lens of not questioning the way we go about elections. The consequences of THE SYSTEM are the root of the problem. Those consequences greatly narrow and diminish the choice and quality of who we can vote for. They greatly narrow the number of ideas that can be evaluated and possibly adopted. They disempower voters all over the place with a bad and unpleasant choice and little, if any, effectiveness with our voting. And at the end of the day, we’re either going to get something somewhat decently edible or a big stinking pile of shit. Each of those results over the long haul will win 50% of the time. We’re now experiencing an unusually unpleasant version of the more smelly 50% possibility.

To change the system we’d have to have people who have succeeded in this system to be willing to change it. So, we’re fucked. And Donald Trump is merely a symptomatic tip of the iceberg.

 

#Election2016 – The Elephant in the Living Room: The (Winner-Take-All) Binary Choice

There has been much analysis of the unfortunate election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. There’s the white, rural, poor working class, the racism, the sexism, the Electoral College, the “third party” candidates, and more.

Right away I want to say that there is such a thing as single cause fallacy. This is particularly used (and I think not fairly used) in blaming Ralph Nader or Jill Stein as costing the Democrats elections. There are clearly multiple factors in any election, and any number of perhaps dozens of factors plays a role. I want to discuss a large factor that seems to be ignored.

For the point of this post, take a look at this:

Dates Party Presidents # of years
1953-1960 Republican Eisenhower 8
1961-1968 Democrat Kennedy/Johnson 8
1969-1976 Republican Nixon/Ford 8
1977-1980 Democrat Carter 4
1981-1992 Republican Reagan/Bush Sr 12
1993-2000 Democrat Clinton 8
2001-2008 Republican Bush Jr 8
2009-2016 Democrat Obama 8
2017-? Republican Trump ?

This is a table of presidential tenures during my lifetime. What we see here is an alternation between Republican and Democratic administrations. In the 6 decades shown here, only once did any party reign for more than 8 years consecutively, and only once did one party get denied the second 4-year term, keeping it at 4 years. It appears that, in general, the elections have produced a pattern of alternating 8-year reigns for each major party.

Why is this? Enter The Binary Choice. As people chastising third party voters always say: one of the major two will win. Therefore, the thinking is, the only reasonable vote is to vote for one of the major two. And there is further implication on the left that the moderate, watered down Democrat is far preferable to the horrible choice in the Republican. This year, with the brash, openly racist/bigoted personality of Donald Trump, it was particularly distasteful to elect the Republican.

But look at the pattern, and then look at the dilemma. People who criticize whoever is/was the current President have/had ONLY ONE PLACE TO GO! Turn around and face the other direction. No one else has a chance. We have a system where only 2 parties have to represent the political ideas of an entire nation. One will win a given election and take everything.

Take 2016 as an example. There are different ways to look at the Obama legacy. One is that in almost every measurable way, things have improved over what Obama inherited from George W. Bush. This is factual. On the other hand, for progressives, centrist Democrats leave a lot to be desired. Conservatives and others in the middle can also see that big problems still exist. One can look at this and say: look at all these problems, let’s get rid of this one and put in the other one. Never mind that going back in the Republican direction is demonstrably and historically factually worse. People don’t seem to vote on data. It’s only: I don’t like this, so let’s go to the other. Then the other gets in for awhile, and problems will absolutely, inevitably happen, so then let’s go to the other. Alternating on and on and on and on.

So, the Democrats will be back. Donald Trump’s government will cause huge problems which will in turn have the election go back to the (watered down, centrist) Democrats.

But, even so, what about this Binary Choice? How is that working for us?

I think it totally sucks. It keeps the choice narrow and hold-your-nose uncomfortable. Candidates outside the major two, some of which have as a major part of their platform advocating much needed electoral reforms, are treated like flies at a picnic. Just go away and stop crashing the party. You’re outside of our traditional bounds, and we’ll blame you if we lose.

I wonder if the countries who have things like single payer universal healthcare, much lower military spending, higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, free public education through university level, and other policies and programs which factually produce better results than we in the US get, have these things because they have a different way of doing democracy. They don’t have The Binary Choice. They have multiple parties and ideas on the table. They have proportional representation. If 25% of the people vote for a party, then 25% of the legislature is composed of that party. (Not 0% like we would have.)

Do we have to live in this binary world? And how can we ever get out of it?

 

#Election2016: It’s the same ol’ same ol’ – just worse. Here’s why.

In this post, I’d like to comment on commonly heard statements about the US election. Buckle your seatbelt. Here goes.

Donald Trump is the worst presidential candidate ever. Agreed! He truly is. There’s no substance to his candidacy, AND he’s a lying, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic jackass. But… DT is merely the worst example of what we’ve had over and over again. Even this year, there were equally (or even more) horrifying candidates such as Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio etc. Every presidential election I find myself with the choice of a moderate, okay person who has some substance but falls way short of my ideal, OR someone who is truly horrifying. I was also extremely horrified in 2000 about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as I am now about Donald Trump. And there was John McCain in 2008 who chose Sarah Palin – Sarah Palin! – as his running mate. What kind of judgment is that? In 2012 there was the combination of Mitt Romney (as a practitioner of perhaps the most whacko religion on the planet) and Paul Ryan (whose famous budget would have screwed up the country big time). Donald Trump is merely another example of the same horrifying shit, just in an extra-despicable package.

Hillary Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate ever. Maybe. I’ll grant she has a great résumé. But we’ve used holding high elected and appointed office as the yardstick for being “qualified” for a long time. How’s that working for us? I wouldn’t say it’s working very well. Hillary Clinton was not into civil rights early on (like Bernie Sanders was), was not in favor of marriage equality early on (like Bernie Sanders was), has been and still is highly militaristic and hawkish (unlike Bernie Sanders), and certainly has a cozier relationship with Wall Street than I would like. There are many reasons to think we could have someone with better judgment than she has. Sure she evolves, and I’m glad for that. But wouldn’t there be brilliant minds, e.g. scholars/experts in political science, history, sociology, economics, etc who, without ever holding office, might be great presidents? Surely. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, has been a governor, one of the main résumé items we’ve been considering as “qualifications” to be president; and he was unable to tell a reporter what Allepo was. I live in a state, Kentucky, where the governor by the name of Matt Bevin would be a horrible president. Indeed, George W. Bush who has been a governor of a large state and actually president for 8 years (how much more résumé for president can you get than that?) and if he were constitutionally eligible, he would still make for a horrible president. I’m not that impressed with these kinds of résumés – especially in our messed up, corrupt electoral system. So, other than her being a woman, and her not being a jackass, I’m not that excited about Hillary Clinton’s qualities, no matter what her “qualifications” are. And, yes Donald Trump is the worst presidential candidate ever. See above.

A vote for any third party candidate is a vote for Trump. I’ve actually heard this a lot. I can see some logic that a vote for Jill Stein in some states helps Trump get elected. I don’t see how a vote for Gary Johnson helps Trump get elected. Lumping all third party candidates together in this way is just pure fear mongering bullshit. And in our ridiculous undemocratic archaic Electoral College setup, everything depends on what state you’re talking about. Making a statement like the above as a blanket statement is utter nonesense. Yes, DT is the worst presidential candidate ever, but everyone can look at their own situation. There are different actions in different states possible that are not voting for HC, but still wouldn’t contribute to the election of DT.

Jill Stein isn’t qualified to be president. Donald Trump is one of the “major” party candidates and people can say that? I don’t think so. Most of the reasoning for a statement like this is that she has not been elected to anything. See the discussion about the flaws of such a notion as this above. Jill Stein has done her homework (unlike Donald Trump and Gary Johnson), and she overall articulates nuanced and thoughtful policy positions.

Jill Stein has said some wacky things. Kind of. Let me unpack some things. There are three items in this category that I know of. One is some remarks she made about being concerned about how much time children spend staring at electronic screens and being around wifi. Okay, that is a bit wacky. I don’t know why she would say such a thing, or what audience she was talking to. But this is hardly an issue that would take up any time of a president. A second instance was that she followed up her statement on being pro-vaccines with a statement that we should keep an eye on corporations who profit in the healthcare business (i.e. she’s in favor of regulations, and more than that she’s in favor of public, universal, single payer healthcare). And she mentioned wanting the FDA to have no ties to corporations in the for-profit healthcare industry. The latter is actually a good sentiment, if perhaps a bit utopian. I really wish, when she was asked about vaccines, she would have said I’m for them and I believe in them. And then said nothing more. Because she truly is pro-vaccines. The third thing involved her policy position on GMOs. Her position is that there should be a moratorium on them until they are proven safe. She’s dead wrong on this because they’ve already been proven safe! See my blog posts here and here. I’m still baffled by progressive, educated people who go with the scientific consensus on vaccines and climate change, but don’t go with the scientific consensus on the safety and value of biotechnology in agriculture. Okay…so here’s my bottom line. We have one thing that is a little wacky, one thing that really isn’t, and one thing where she’s dead wrong (GMOs) which ironically is in agreement with the mistaken point of view of Bernie Sanders and millions of people who are going to vote for Hillary Clinton. But all three of these items are relatively small potatoes compared to the bulk of her platform. Because overwhelmingly what Jill Stein is proposing is much of what almost all other successful advanced developed nations do that the US doesn’t. I’m talking about universal single payer healthcare, much less military and use of military, higher minimum wages, free public education through college level, higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, ending the so-called war on drugs and the private for-profit prison industry. Those things aren’t wacky at all. They are proven with actual data to produce better results and even happier people than what we’re doing now  – and it would produce better results than what Democrats and Hillary Clinton propose.

And…I’m a realist. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be our next president. As I said in my previous post, in order for a true, progressive revolution to happen, we’ve been putting the cart before the horse. Real and very significant electoral reforms will have to happen first. Until then, all we can do is spin the wheels of futility. On November 8 we will hopefully breathe a big sigh of relief that Donald Trump did not make it. And even though that means we will have elected the first woman president (a good, symbolic achievement that I’m all for), real progress will not have budged much, if at all.

Join me in boycotting the presidential debates – here’s why

I have no intention to watch any of the presidential debates. I encourage everyone to boycott them. These are my reasons:

#1 They exclude candidates. Heaven forbid we should hear more and different ideas. The media ignore the “third party” candidates, so then they don’t get the amount of support in the polls which satisfies the arbitrary rule of 15%, which then means they can’t get any significant exposure. Can you say Catch-22? This is an injustice and is undemocratic.

#2 Donald Trump is a buffoon, a total jerk, and an embarrassment for our country as a presidential candidate of one of our “major” political parties. He does not deserve any attention from the people. There’s no reason to dignify him in any way by watching and listening to anything he might have to say. 

#3 Hillary Clinton is very good at saying things that sound good, and we’ve already heard the content of her scripts ad infinitum and ad nauseum. She’s damn lucky that her “major” opponent is as horrible as he is, and the opponents that at least have some human decency and intelligence are not allowed on the same stage with her.

These debates are but one aspect of an electoral system that is sorely needing reforms (see my previous post). The whole thing is not worth it. I have much better things to do with my life’s moments. It would be great to see huge percentages of the public ignore these shows. We need to find more ways to send the message that our entire process of electing a president is unacceptable. Let’s start with ignoring the debates. 

The Bernie Revolution will never happen until we reform the electoral process 

The kind of progressive change as exemplified by the Bernie Sanders campaign will never happen as long as we still have the current electoral system. Bernie decided to run as a Democrat, and that resulted in his getting much more attention than he would have received as an Independent. But it was doomed from the start. It seems clear that the whole system was not going to allow him to succeed.

It seems like maybe there’s some hope in the air. Bernie got his message out quite a bit. And now that he’s out of the running, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President, is getter much more attention, support, and money. But make no mistake, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the next President. And when that happens, we’re back to where we were. And four years from now, assuming the Republican candidate isn’t the crass, bigoted jackass we have this time, the amount of attention for Bernie Sanders/Jill Stein type of ideas could easily shrink back.

We need to reform our process, and then and only then will the Revolution get any real traction. We need to get all private money out of campaigns. And I mean all of it. Not only the money from big corporations and PACs and super wealthy individuals, but also the smaller and medium size donations from individuals. Just give each candidate an equal amount of money (with regulations on how it’s spent) from the public coffers. That way nobody has any money advantage. It’s about the candidates and their ideas, not who has the most money.

We need to open things up to all parties. Two parties cannot, have not, and will not ever reflect all of the political ideas of a nation. It’s not enough. We need multi-sided discussions, not dual boxing match contests.

We need to get rid of the entire primary system. Stop stringing them out over months with unmerited attention given to small population states and votes translating into delegates. Have a national primary on one or more consecutive days. Just vote. All together. The highest vote getters in each of several parties become the candidates. Then have the election without the ridiculous Electoral College and its winner take all nonsense. With, say, 4 or 5 candidates, all in the debates, we could then have the election with ranked choice voting. All votes will truly count equally, people can vote for the candidate they like the best, and the final winner will truly be the will of the people. Right now if you think differently than most other people in your state, your vote literally doesn’t count. I don’t understand how that’s acceptable.

Until and unless we have reforms like what I have described, our progress will be much slower than what it could be. Yes, there has been some progress — look at LGBT rights for example — but there’s a lot of other mess still around.

We’ve been putting the cart before the horse. Having a Bernie Sanders run as a Democrat and having so-called “third parties” desperately trying to get attention in our current system is not going to work. The current system is very good at dooming such efforts to failure. All who want a real progressive revolution should drop everything and work to change the electoral system. THEN we’ll have an environment which will allow the revolution to happen.

Words for which I no longer have any use

Quite often I say that words do matter. Language is for the purpose of communicating; and the clearer the communications are, the better. With this in mind, the following is a list of words which I no longer use. I no longer use them because they do not serve well the desire of clear communication.

Spirit/Spiritual/Spirituality

I wrote an entire blog post on this topic some time ago. To read it, go here. In short, there is no evidence that we humans have a spirit or anything supernatural that survives death. Therefore, there is nothing that can be spiritual (spirit-ual), and there is no such thing as the subject of spirituality. It literally doesn’t exist. If you are awed by something – fine! But it’s not spiritual. I am not a spirit, there is nothing that is best described as spiritual, and there is no such thing as spirituality.

Passed Away

This is related to the above. When a person dies, the person is gone. The person no longer exists. The person has not passed away to anything else. The atoms in the body are recirculated back into the universe (with a lower case “u” please). But the person who once was no longer exists and has not transitioned into anything else. I’ve even heard atheists use the term passed away. No, the person has died. The person lives on only in the memories of those that knew him/her. It’s death, not any sort of passing.

Natural

What does natural mean? Something that is derived from nature (i.e. the Earth)? Where else would it come from? How can anything be un-natural? Even so-called synthetic substances are created with things from nature. Again, where else would they come from? Mars? Oh, so maybe natural is something that is only as it is found in nature. Ah, so that means unless you are strictly a forager, whatever you are having for dinner is not in its “natural” state. You have to change the way it was found by cooking it and adding spices and combining it with other things that were not on it in the first place. The bottom line is that everything is “natural” and therefore the word is useless.

Agnostic

Who knows absolutely 100% that there is a god or that there is not a god? The answer is no one. Therefore everyone on Earth is agnostic. Therefore the word is useless. I’m an atheist, which means that I have not seen sufficient evidence about the existence of a god; and because of that, I have come to the conclusion that it is overwhelmingly highly probable that a god does not exist. The term agnostic is useless. The term atheist comes with a clear explanation of my position.

Toxic Substance/Chemical

The scientific principle states: the dose makes the poison. Everything in our world is a chemical. And every chemical has a level below which it is not toxic to humans, and above which, it is. There are chemicals which are beneficial – even essential – to the life of a human that, at a certain level, become harmful. The level at which a substance can be harmful to humans varies greatly from one chemical to another. But no matter what reputation a chemical has for toxicity, there is a level that famously “toxic” substances are not harmful, and there is a level that famously “good” substances become harmful. Therefore, there is no such thing as a toxic substance/chemical.

Consciousness

I don’t understand why we even need this word. Do we have “consciousness”? If by that we mean something beyond the functioning brain in our bodies, I would say no. That’s it. We have a body with a brain. Through evolution, the brain has developed into something that can think and reason to a higher degree than has been observed in the history of the earth. Fine. But that doesn’t mean that there is anything else to be said. The word consciousness seems to imply something beyond the body with a brain, for which there is no evidence. Even some atheists use the word consciousness. But it’s a misleading word at best. I think what is referred to as “consciousness” is merely the human brain, which for each of us stops at some point and we are no longer.

I may come up with other words to add to this list in the future. So, stay tuned!

The Failure of Prayer (#Atheism makes the most sense)

It never ceases to amaze me how much praying is called for in our culture. The New Agers call it “sending energy” – but it’s the same thing.

Someone is having an operation and asks for prayers. Why? If prayers worked, then there would be no need for the operation. Or even any medical treatment. One could pray and prevent anything bad from happening.

We all know that’s simply not the reality. Bad shit does happen. And no one escapes this at some point (or even numerous points) during a lifetime. Sure, there are instances when prayers are done and someone gets better. That’s pure coincidence. There are just as many incidences when prayers are done and the person does not get better. It’s literally just flipping a coin. Either the person gets better or they don’t, prayers totally notwithstanding.

The great scientist Richard Feynman once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself; and you are the easiest person to fool.” I know I have many embarrassing things about which I have fooled myself over the years.

When a person is hurting or having a medical crisis, what they really want is emotional support and love. Those things have nothing to do with prayer. One can give emotional support and love without saying that you’re praying for them or that you’re sending them energy.

I say things like: That really sucks. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I love and care about you. Is there anything I can do to help? (And maybe offer suggestions.) This kind of response gives the person going through a difficult situation what they really want. Prayer, which has been scientifically proven through controlled, double-blind studies to have no better results than placebos and coin-flipping, is literally useless.

Prayer, like all things supernatural, is a prime example of fooling ourselves. Another reason I keep going back to atheism. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali said so well: “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism.”

18 Facts about agriculture which are contrary to what I used to believe. Can you relate to these? #Agriculture #Organic #GMO

Here they are. I’m being very strict about sticking to facts, not opinions.

  1. Organic agriculture uses pesticides.
  2. Organic agriculture has lower yields than conventional, which means it takes more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional.
  3. There are no-till conventional/GMO crops which offer environmental benefits of greatly reduced fossil fuel use and less runoff and greater diversity maintained in the soil.
  4. There is scientific consensus that GMOs are safe. It’s the same level of scientific consensus that there is human activity caused climate change.
  5. Monsanto sells organic seeds and non-GMO conventional seeds in addition to GMO seeds.
  6. Monsanto is only one of several GMO seed companies and does not sell a majority of GMOs in the world.
  7. There are zero court cases where Monsanto sued farmers for accidental contamination of seeds.
  8. Patenting seeds pre-dates genetic engineering.
  9. Organic and other non-GMO seeds are also patented.
  10. Most farmers buy patented seeds, including organic, conventional, and GMO.
  11. Seed patents, like any patents, can and do expire.
  12. The patent for glyphosate expired in the year 2000.
  13. There are genetic engineering projects which are not patented and are freely in the public domain.
  14. A meta-analysis of the impact of GMO crops found: “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.”
  15. Traditional breeding (crossing plants and selecting offspring) and mutagenesis (exposing plants to chemicals or radiation) are done with organic and non-GMO conventional breeding. These breeding techniques affect thousands to even hundreds of thousands of genes in an organism. No safety testing is required or done.
  16. RNA interference and transgenic breeding (both are types of GMOs) affect 1 to 4 genes in an organism. Safety testing is required and done.
  17. Glyphosate has been determined by chemists to be far less toxic in both the short and long term and much safer than the pesticides it has replaced, which were the ones used in growing the foods I ate growing up.
  18. The use of glyphosate and all other pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, organic and conventional), are regulated for the amount allowed to be used per acre of crop.

Labeling is getting out of hand and it’s dumbing us down #MAMyths #SayNoToBullshit

Walk through a grocery store – especially a health food store – and you’ll see all kinds of labeling which is mostly about marketing. A label appeals to people so that they will buy the product. Fine. A company wants to sell its products. I get that. But what’s going on now is creating misinformation and flat-out ignorance of actual reality. False ideas and impressions are created and magnified. And as a society, we are stupider for it. Here are my top three examples.

GMOs

Somehow some people thought it was really creepy to change the genes of an organism in a laboratory, and that practice was so not “natural” that the result would be a dangerous open Pandora’s box. Frankenfood!! That point of view spread like a virus especially among liberal environmental activists (of which I have a history). Turns out, after decades of producing GMOs and studying the results, the world’s scientific community has a strong consensus that GMOs are as safe as anything else we could eat. See here for example.

Yet people are freaking out, thinking that eating GMOs will make us all get allergies, get sick, kill us, and it’s all a plot from Monsanto who has bought and paid for the US government, and on and on. That’s complete conspiracy theory rubbish for which there is no evidence. Check this out for example. Some countries, fueled by well-intentioned liberal environmentalists (like me), have banned GMOs. And most everywhere in the world, there is a movement to label them, in spite of excellent reasons not to (see this).

So, along comes the Non-GMO Verified Project. What a pain in the butt this well-intentioned, but totally misinformed organization is turning out to be. They’re slapping their label on everything possible and everything imaginable. What many people don’t realize is that to date only a few crops have been genetically engineered. Those include cotton, papaya, corn, soy, zucchini, alfalfa, canola, sugar beets. So the Non-GMO Verified Project will slap their label on peanut butter and coconut oil and lots of products that literally have no GE versions on the entire planet.

Given that there is no GMO peanut anywhere on Earth, why does a jar of peanut butter need the Non-GMO Verified Project seal of approval on it? Answer: The whole point of labeling GMOs is to jack up the fear so high in the minds of the public, that GMOs will get banned everywhere. Fear is jacked up by implying the false impression that there is a GE version of every single food on Earth (and since they are dangerous, those are to be avoided). That’s why a product with no GE version is labeled non-GMO. False impressions abound; and that’s nothing but ignorance. And it’s ignorance that keeps the fear hype jacked up.

The labeling activity of the Non-GMO Verified Project is downright irresponsible. It’s fueling a movement against a technology which has scientific support on par with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and greatly contributed to by humans. If you go into a health food store, it’s hard to find anything – even foods that are not organic – that don’t have the Non-GMO Verified Project label on it. This is pseudoscience, fear-mongering, and ignorance creating bullshit.

Gluten Free Foods

The second worse labeling craze that is getting out of hand is the gluten free movement. Yes, there is a tiny percentage of the population with a very real condition called celiac’s disease. Yet millions of people are avoiding gluten when there is no reason to do so. And, gluten is only found in grains such as wheat (including spelt, kamut, triticale), barley, and rye.

So, here comes the labeling. You can walk into a grocery store and see gluten free marked on dairy products! And there’s gluten free potato chips! By labeling everything possible that is gluten free as gluten free, there is a false impression created that gluten is something to avoid. For the overwhelming vast majority of people, avoiding gluten will make you feel better no more so than any sort of placebo.

If pasta is typically made with wheat, then fine, label pasta made with rice or quinoa as gluten free. But please, don’t label a can of pinto beans or a tub of sour cream as gluten free. Could we have some education please?

Organic Foods

Just what does it mean if a food has the organic label on it? Lots of people will say that the food was produced without pesticides. Wrong. Start here with the Wikipedia article. Organic farming uses “natural” pesticides rather than synthetic pesticides. “Natural” is not necessarily less toxic. Here and here are articles about organic pesticide use. Scientists looking into this have found that the natural pesticides are often less effective than the synthetic ones, and then they have to be used in greater amounts. Shockingly – and I’ve been a consumer of organic food for decades – it’s not even clear that organic foods are healthier, tastier, or better for the environment. Here is a myth busting article. I, for one among millions, have been under the impression that an organic label means pesticide free, more nutritious, and better for the environment than conventional food. With more education, I now say: not necessarily.

I don’t even mean to bash organic here. Organic farming has some good attributes, e.g. crop rotations and other practices (which actually could be done by any farmer). But because of what the public believes about organic (which is full of false impressions), the label therefore will do nothing more than perpetuate the false impressions. Everything organic does isn’t necessarily the best, and some things organic isn’t allowed to do could very well be better environmentally.

Concluding Thoughts

All of us want healthy, tasty food that was produced with the lowest environmental impact possible. Let’s educate ourselves about how our food is produced and where it comes from. The job of feeding 7+ billion people in a world (projected to be 9 billion by 2050) with climate change will not be done without pesticides. Period. And the best way to do something will vary by the geographic location and the crop. ALL of our available tools need to be used – organic, conventional, GMO – depending on the crop and the place and the conditions. Tools could and perhaps should be combined for a particular situation.

There’s no reason that organic couldn’t include using GMOs. Conventional farmers could use some organic practices but use a more benign synthetic pesticide. GMOs have actually reduced land use and reduced pesticide use among other benefits according to this meta-analysis. This is an achievement.

Food production is a very complex thing. It is not served by black-and-white, overly simplistic, and (intentionally or unintentionally) misleading tactics, chief among which is labeling. Check out what the people who really know what they’re talking about – scientists and farmers – have to say. Putting organic up on an underserved pedestal and trashing GMOs are not helping the cause of being responsible planetary citizens.