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Debunking New Agey feel good pseudoscience.

In previous posts, I’ve written about pseudoscientific positions that many people have on food and agricultural topics like organic food and GMOs. On this post, I’d like to take on commonly held beliefs that so many people have, beliefs that are more in the “spiritual” realm. People hold these beliefs, I think, because they feel good. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not pseudoscientific nonsense. Because they are. Here are some of the most prevalent.

When one door closes, another door opens.

Sure, there are metaphorical “doors” opening and closing all the time. But that doesn’t mean that a closed door and an opened door are connected at all, implying that some kind of Cosmic Coordination is happening. For example, you could say when something you’ve been trying for doesn’t work out, but soon after that another opportunity comes around: aha! “The Universe” said you don’t get the first thing, but in exchange for not succeeding in that, here’s another shot at something else. What utter nonsense. For every story of one thing failing followed by something else that might or did succeed, there are probably 1,000 other stories in which another “door” did not open.

The truth is: it all happens. People succeed in what they try for sometimes right away, and sometimes it’s more “doors” down the line. And sometimes people don’t ever get what they’re trying for. Sometimes a person has to look hard to find something else to strive for, as no new doors seem to appear. And sometimes, something just falls in your lap without even going after it. It all happens. If it looks like an open door has the appearance that it is directly following a closed door, it’s just one of many, many possibilities. If that does happen, great! But don’t think it’s the Coordinating Universe doing its thing. You’re making up an explanation that only — after the fact — coincidentally fits, while thousands of other scenarios can and do happen all the time.

It was (or was not) meant to be.

This is related to the above. Anything and everything can and does happen. There is no Cosmic Justice Decider (or Cosmic Determiner about what is the “highest good”). Things can happen that, after the fact, appear to be proper justice. But that’s merely post-event interpretation. If you strive for something, and it doesn’t happen, there’s no reason to say it was not meant to be. It just didn’t work out, usually due to many factors beyond your control. You can accept what happens, and move on (usually a good thing to do), but saying something was meant to be or not meant to be is nonsense. Every minute millions of different outcomes happen.

You can achieve anything you put your mind to.

No you can’t. You might, or you might not. You can make efforts toward anything you want, and put your mind to it as hard as you can. But you may or may not get it. If it does work out that something you tried very hard to achieve succeeds, it’s easy to proclaim, see: let this be a lesson, that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything. Utter nonsense. For every feel good story of someone triumphantly getting something they worked really hard for, there are lots of stories where someone worked just as hard — and deserved it just as much — but didn’t get it. It all happens. But it’s completely delusional to think that all you have to do is try hard enough and it will happen. There are way too many factors beyond a person’s control and countless different outcomes possible in any given situation.

Everything happens for a reason.

No it doesn’t. Unless you count physics combined with lucky or unlucky coincidence as the reason. Again, what happens here is: a story unfolds, and then after the fact a person constructs a “reason” that fits the outcome of the story. It’s pure made up, post-outcome interpretation. You can choose to derive a learning from an experience, but don’t mush that into “The Universe” issuing a “reason” for what happened. No such thing is happening. You get into a car wreck because of physics and human actions and imperfections coinciding. Just stop there.

Anything astrology, and effects of the full moon.

Astrology is total pseudoscience. It’s been around for thousands of years, and has not evolved past its state from the time of Ptolemy about 2,000 years ago. At that time, the accepted understanding was geocentrism (Earth as the center of the universe). Astrology says that the position of the planets and stars at the moment of one’s birth dictates personality and behavior. It divides the year into 12 zodiacs, looking at which star constellation the sun rises in during a given time of year. Trouble is, due to a wobble of planet Earth, that’s changed since 2,000 years ago by something like 23 degrees. Yet, astrology, and the attributes of human behavior in a given sign, have not changed. If astrology were true, these behaviors and personality attributes would change also. This is just another indication that astrology isn’t real science.

No properly done scientific investigation has ever shown any accuracy about astrology. People can be fooled on this quite easily. A person posing as an astrologer can give a group of people the same “information” and each person typically thinks it’s uniquely accurate, even though everyone is reading the same stuff. (There are a number of YouTube videos out there that do just that.) Go ahead and laugh and be entertained if you want. But don’t think there’s anything scientifically legitimate about it. It’s all nonsense.

It’s the same with full moons. Many people think there are more births, more accidents, more crazy behavior, and more difficult situations occurring during full moons. Just one problem: there is no objective evidence for this at all. If that’s what you think, and if a crazy day is perceived during a full moon, then the typical human response is to connect the full moon with the craziness. But everytime we have actually carefully examined real data, we have found no connection between full moons and crazy human behaviors or events. Craziness, it turns out, is evenly distributed among all of the phases of the moon. The full moon is only a geometric effect of reflective sunlight. The moon, by the way, has an elliptical (not perfectly circular) orbit around the Earth, and the full moons only occasionally coincide with the point where the moon is closest to the Earth (called a “supermoon”). The moon affects tides and it looks pretty. But that’s it.

Summary thoughts.

Personal annecdotes are not data! Whatever your personal experience is about something, or whatever you think your personal experience is about something, that has nothing to do with how humankind has determined what is actually true and correct. The only way that is done is through the scientific method, with proper setup, sample sizes, controls, replication, peer review, etc.

Correlation is not causation! Coincidences are not data! Just because an explanation of an outcome makes sense to you or appeals to you or “feels right” to you or happens at the same time as something else, that doesn’t mean your explanation is correct. Chances are it probably isn’t. Making things up after an event that seem to fit the situation is not anything grounded in objective data. You’re making it up!

The rational and responsible thing to do is to assume an explanation or idea is not true until there is good, thorough, proper scientific evidence reducing uncertainty to almost nothing. Otherwise, you’re spreading around falsehoods!

“The easiest person to fool is yourself.” — Richard Feynman, renowned physicist

“No matter how smart or how well-educated you are, you can be deceived.” — James Randi, renowned magician and paranormal investigator

Is the truth pessimistic? A profound film conversation inspires me to claim no #atheism #religion #filmreview

Some time ago, I watched a movie called The Sunset Limited based on a play written by Cormac McCarthy. There were 2 characters, one a religious person, and one not. The nonreligious person (played by Tommy Lee Jones) had been saved from a suicide attempt by the religious man (played by Samuel L. Jackson). The 2 men then went to the home of the man who attempted suicide and began to converse.

The entire movie was their conversation. It was a clash of world views, one based on tradition, hope, and feelings, and the other based on looking at life strictly based on hard evidence. They treated each other with respect and both alternated sincerely listening with rebuttals back and forth.

On the surface, one seemed more like an optimist and the other like a pessimist. But allowing a conversation to develop for that long, after awhile I could see both optimism and pessimism on both sides.

Toward the end, there was a remark by the character played by Jones that could be thought of as the most pessimistic thing in the movie (aside from the fact that he had just attempted suicide). He said that life was basically a series of doors closing, until a final door is shut and a life completely ends. This is, of course, from the character who believes only in the single, one time only life for each of us.

One could say that view of life sounds rather morbid. However, I’m now old enough (and nonreligious enough) where that closed doors metaphor really clicked. And somehow it doesn’t seem pessimistic. A strictly realistic point of view actually seems far more appropriate and sensible for someone with much fewer days in front of me than behind me. Actually, it seems sensible for anybody of any age old enough to grasp the concept. I truly wish I had discovered this way of viewing life long ago.

I look back on transitions in my life, some of which have been long and gradual, some long but ending suddenly, and some short with either tapered or sudden endings. I’ve watched things slowly dissolve and I’ve seen where a phone call or an email suddenly and out of the blue quickly slams a door shut. In all those cases, a door closes.

I see now that viewing life as a series of doors closing until a final, permanent door closes is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It just is the way it is. School ends. Someone leaves a group I’m in. Someone moves away. Someone dies. All kinds of things about situations change, sometimes with forewarning, sometimes not. Or, I leave something or move away and ultimately (who knows when?) I die, closing doors on others.

This brings about a keen awareness that whatever “room” I’m in at the moment, and whomever is with me in that “room,” at some point, in some way, I will be shut out of that situation. It’s totally and absolutely inevitable, even without often knowing when, or how.

The moral of the story for me, then, is this: I enjoyably soak up every possible thing I can, with particular attention to caring for people who are around me while I’m in whatever “room” I’m in at any given moment. Each moment will never be exactly repeated again. And each unique moment, once it’s passed, is completely gone forever.

In other words, there are actually doors closing every single moment. Some door closings may seem gentle and some not so gentle. But they’re all doors that close.

How precious are the moments before each door closes! I’m paying very close attention. One moment, who knows when down the road, will be my final moment; and at that time, my last door will shut.

Better to accept death as death – not any sort of “transition” #Atheism

The year 2017 has been difficult in some respects for me. I’ve had six friends in my age group (60s) die this year. Death, in my view as an atheist, means absolute death, permanently the end.

To me, this is what all religion, and all religiosity such as New Agey-ness and any other sorts of “spiritual” beliefs are trying to escape from. They’re all trying to escape the fact that death is death. We you’re dead, you’re gone. Forever.

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” – James Baldwin

Death is a permanent end. To me, that is in all probability the most accurate statement. How? My answer is astrophysics and evolutionary biology.

These are generally accepted understandings from the world of science:

  1. Our universe began around 13.8 billion years ago in an event we call The Big Bang.
  2. The Big Bang sent out an explosion of chemistry which over all these billions of years has made the approximately 100 billion galaxies, each with billions of stars.
  3. The Big Bang is still happening! The expansion out continues at an accelerating pace! New stars are still being born.
  4. Earth is one planet of one star of one galaxy, in which all the conditions are such that microbial life began at some point after our planet formed some 4.5 billion years ago.
  5. Since microbial life began on Earth, the process of evolution by natural selection has been taking place, creating complex “branches” of ever varying species.
  6. Evolution is still happening! This moment in time is not the end of evolution, it’s just this moment in time – one snapshot.
  7. More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth have become extinct.
  8. The human species is about 200,000 years old. In cosmological/geological terms, that’s a tiny amount of time.
  9. The human species gradually evolved from earlier species and it is gradually evolving to something else. Again, this is only one snapshot in time. A human life is too short to truly grasp cosmological time and processes that take thousands or millions or billions of years.
  10. At this point we are not aware of other intelligent life in the universe, and certainly not within thousands or perhaps millions of light years from Earth. If there is life that is farther out than that, the prospect of our species learning about it, given that sort of distance, is extremely remote and difficult. And, if there is life somewhere else in the universe, it would very likely be different from what we see on Earth because of its astrophysical and biological unique conditions and history.
  11. Events in the history of Earth indicate that the evolutionary snapshot we see today could easily have been something else. For example, the asteroid that hit the Earth around 65 million years ago wiped out many species including the dinosaurs. If that hadn’t happened, our species might not have happened. The same could be said for different weather events or Ice Ages or other things, which, had they been different, the evolutionary process, with all of its different “branches” could have taken many different turns.
  12. We humans have a brain which totally controls the life we have. We know that when the brain dies, the body dies. We know that when the part of the brain which controls X no longer functions, then that person can no longer do X. It’s that simple. If dementia sets in, that person changes in their abilities and even in their personality. A part of the brain corresponds to an ability. This is direct and indisputable. What’s really special and fortunate, is that the brain of humans has evolved to the extent that we now have figured out what I have outlined here.

Those twelve items above collectively paint a picture. No one knows how The Big Bang happened. But since that moment, we have a pretty good idea about how we arrived at this moment in these conditions. And the picture that this paints is one of chance, accident, coincidence, uniqueness, and fragility.

Indeed, there is one major principle in the universe which I discussed in this post. And that principle is: every thing that exists – living or not 1) pops into existence, 2) exists, and then 3) dies (or ends). This is what we observe for literally everything, including stars and planets and all things, living and non-living, on Earth. Begin, exist, end. It’s the fundamental principle of this universe.

So let’s review: we’re one species riding along a complex, continuing evolutionary process that might not have happened in the way it did, on one planet that might not have had the right conditions for life taking hold (and we certainly know of thousands of planets which don’t have the right conditions) and which will one day no longer exist, in one solar system among billions in our galaxy in which the star (our sun) will at one point die, in one galaxy among billions (which at one point will collide with another galaxy, the ramifications of which are unknowable right now).

Given all of the above, how is it at all reasonable or logical to think there is anything permanent about a human being like a soul or a spirit? Somehow, there are eternal spirits who waited all these billions of years and are going inside the bodies of this freak-accident species for this minuscule cosmological moment in this one little tiny, remote corner of an incomprehensibly vast universe to have some fun like it’s some kind of cosmic Halloween party?

I don’t think so. Death is death. Each of us is a lucky blip for an insignificant spec of time living on an insignificant “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam” [Carl Sagan] It’s great that our brains have evolved enough to think about how this all happened and figure out so much. But it seems pure folly and nonsensical to think that we’re anything but temporary and insignificant. We have not observed a single thing in the whole universe that is not temporary. Not one single thing. I see no reasonable argument for an exception to this observation. This may not feel good to you, but wasting a lot of your temporary, one-shot, finite existence on a delusion is a high price to pay for a highly questionable shot at feeling better. Personally, I feel much better embracing actual reality.

Of course, in our own little world, my life is significant to me. And yours is to you. And my friends’ and loved ones’ lives are significant to me. And yours are to you. This is why, in my opinion, when someone we love dies, we are sad. I think even people with supernatural beliefs, somewhere deep inside their thoughts, have a sense that the end really is the end.

So, pay attention! This is it! There is nothing each of us will continue as, and we’re damn lucky to have this opportunity at all! And if you are reasonably able and healthy, that’s even more fortunate!

Every conscious moment that passes, is one less in your life that remains. Use your moments  wisely, for they’re all you got.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!