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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Faster Than The Speed Of Thought

We Are Pavlov's Dog
Ivan Pavlov is most famous for something known as conditioned reflex and the term Pavlov's Dog. The story has it that Pavlov rang a bell just before feeding his dogs causing them to eventually associate the bell with food and to begin salivating at the bell in anticipation of receiving food. The truth is Pavlov probably seldom, if ever, used a bell. He used other things though, metronomes, tuning forks and electric shock. He was a Russian monster posing as a psychologist and physiologist who abandoned a religious career and decided to pursue a career in the sciences performing bizarre and groundbreaking experiments on dogs' digestive tracts by shuffling and re-dealing their organs and observing the results. He also made some uncomfortable modifications so that he could collect saliva. It's thought that he also performed some of these Frankensteinian experiments on children. Lovely guy. He won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

One of Pavlov's modified dogs, preserved at The Pavlov Museum, Ryazan, Russia
Not creepy at all

We are Pavlov's Dog. We, as a society, have become so conditioned to reacting a certain way to certain stimuli that we have stopped thinking for ourselves. We are led around by our noses and told what to think, how to act, how to vote, how to dress, how to talk...we are Pavlov's Dog. Where do conservatives come from? Where do liberals come from? Why do they all act and think so similarly? You can go from one area of the country to another and engage in conversation with different people and have the same conversations with them almost verbatim. It's like a hive mentality, group-think. Mention capitalism, ending social programs, lowering taxes or gun owner's rights and conservatives will fall into lock-step and start a pep-rally. Mention social programs, green planets, women's rights, gay rights, more gun control and liberals swoon. It's not even really the issues that get the ball rolling, it's the catch-phrases: Legitimate rape, illegal aliens, assault weapons, sequester, 2nd Amendment, Constitutional rights, Fiscal Cliff, False Flag, Military Industrial Complex, Red State, Blue State, and so on. Mention one of those or any of the dozens of others and you are lighting a fuse.

Where do these notions come from? I would say 20% from news media and 80% from word of mouth via conversations but mostly from social media like Facebook or Twitter. These avenues are rife with disinformation and barely formed ideas that get snapped up by rabid sycophants and shared and copied and pasted. They do this without fact checking or, apparently, giving it much thought at all as long as the blog, meme or article is one that agrees with their ideologies. They feed each others fears and paranoia through cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theories and they join in the boorish bullying and stereotyping of the other guys using terms like ignorant southerners, commie liberals, gun-nuts, Muslim sympathizers, they display the worst of human nature.

Cranial Friction Burns
Information, news, entertainment, gossip, weather, global crises, all day every day. How fast can you process information? How fast can you discern what is relevant? Do you still have the ability? According to Mitchell Stephens' book A History of News, in 1481 a letter reporting the death of a Turkish sultan took two years to reach England and in 1841 it took three months and twenty days for Los Angeles to learn of President William Henry Harrison's death in the east. Now, we can get instant updates on the Kardashians and Lindsay Lohan in real time, split-screen, crawler along the bottom of the screen telling us about the middle-east, stock ticker in place, the latest from Capitol Hill, C-Span, Weather Channel. No time to think. We are being conditioned to respond to hyper fast information with knee-jerk reactions. Anything less and we're dealing with yesterday's news. No one has the time to digest what is being fed to them any more. By the time you hear of such-and-such law being passed or this scandal or that crisis it is already beginning to go stale. The so-called news media is in such a rush to be the first to get stories out they fail to fact-check or verify. They are all obsessed with live on-the-spot news coverage that they put out pictures and stories sometimes so full of mistakes and disinformation that the record is forever muddied and never corrected. Ron Nessen, President Gerald Ford's Press Secretary, said, “Some stories, you don't want to spend too much time checking because you don't want to find out you're wrong.” That is how so much false bullshit gets so much mileage. People don't want to learn facts that may weaken their position. They'd rather trot out some half-assed report or chart that bolsters their opinions than learn something that may contradict what they believe.
Then, there are the conspiracies. Sometimes, when the news media tries to do damage control and update information as it comes to them and try to correct things after the fact, it gets picked up and becomes part of the big conspiracy, the cover-ups, the black-ops that are being perpetrated on America by its government. It's out there, right or wrong, it's out there. Once it is seen it cannot be unseen. If they show a video or a picture of someone who happens to be near the scene of a “happening” they can become part of it. Later, when they edit them out or issue a retraction, it is conspiracy. Who was the umbrella man at Dealy Plaza the day Kennedy was shot? Who was the man wearing camouflage running through the woods at Sandy Hook? Who was the naked man arrested in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing? Was Trayvon an innocent, smiling kid or a dangerous thug? Is Zimmerman a racist child-murderer or a citizen who's only guilty of killing a person in self-defense? Does the gun kill the people or does it just facilitate the means? We may never know any truth any more because of the way things are presented to us and how skewed it is.

I get my news unfiltered from CNN
Our 24-hour-a-day news channels are not news, that's right, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC are not news. They are news entertainment, the same way that wrestling is not sports, it's sports entertainment. The programming on these networks is geared toward further polarizing people. Ram-feeding propaganda to a starving fan-base, they pander to the hot-button issues that feed the suspicions and emotions of already biased people pushing the left further left and the right further right, obliterating the middle, the place where, in my mind, rational discourse lives. They ring the bell, we salivate. We are Pavlov's dog.

Vast eye candy

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Southern Baptist Convention and Mayor Fletcher of Vero Beach

Well folks, here I go again, making noise about the separation of church and state. It seems that some people just can't get enough of that tasty mélange that is religious political power. It is an irresistible temptation to get out there and schmooze your way into having a little stroke down at city hall and then using it to try to force everyone else to bow to your belief system, no matter how unlikely or fantastic it may be. Take, for example, the latest news on the Southern Baptist Convention. It appears to have come as some sort of epiphany to them that they don't have the political clout that they had ten years ago under President Bush.

"[The Southern Baptist Convention] has less influence in government and a growing diversity that may be diminishing its role as a partisan political player. And some Southern Baptists are beginning to cry foul at what they see as discrimination by gays and liberals that violates their religious liberty."

Now, that's rich, “discrimination by gays and liberals”. Please tell me I'm not the only one to see the irony in this statement. How some people can be so myopic baffles the hell out of me. Here's a group of people whose history is rife with injustice to groups who don't meet their lofty standards crying because they feel set upon, not because they have lost any of their liberties but because they have lost the ability to legislate, by proxy, their doctrine.

Religious intolerance

"For 100 years the Southern Baptists have been the dominating religious entity of the South," said David W. Key Sr., director of Baptist Studies at Emory University's Candler School of Theology and a Southern Baptist. "Now they are starting to feel religious victimhood. ... In many ways, Baptists introduced pluralism to America. Now they are feeling like victims of that pluralism."

The above excerpts are from an AP news story found here.

In a spasm of progressive thinking, the SBC have even elected a person of color as their president and found themselves in the uncomfortable position of not knowing how he voted in the last United States presidential election. Apparently, he didn't subscribe to the time-honored tradition of religious leaders by telling them how he was going to vote and, by rote, how they should vote as well. Now there are gays in the military, gays in the Boy Scouts, states are legalizing gay marriage, where will it end? The following is from the same article.

[Russell Moore, the incoming president of the Nashville-based SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said,] "The government is overstepping its bounds in breathtaking ways," Moore said in an interview. "The audacity of state challenges to religious freedom would have been unbelievable just a few years ago. A warning about some of these threats would have been dismissed as slippery-slope scare tactics."

Yes, indeed, and who would be better qualified to recognize “slippery-slope scare tactics than those who threaten everlasting torment in hell to those who don't believe as they do? They are getting their knickers in a twist because the loss of this power feels, to them, like persecution. What? We're not allowed to tell other people what to do anymore? Why, that's outright religious persecution!

More religious intolerance
Meanwhile, in Vero Beach, FL last week, the mayor tried to squash a request by The Humanists of the Treasure Coast who were asking them to proclaim June 16-23, 2013 as “Humanist Recognition Week.” They were calling for “compassion guided by reason” and other inflammatory and dangerous activities like the Hug An Atheist movement. From his statements you'd have thought they were asking for permission to sacrifice goats on the village green. Mayor Craig Fletcher said that he wanted to remove the item about the proclamation entirely. When asked why, Fletcher said, “I refuse to support an organization that does not believe in Jesus Christ. I’ll have nothing to do with it. If you want to outvote me, that’s fine.” He was outvoted but the situation turned nasty anyway. Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll had to look up Humanist on Wikipedia to find out that one of the definitions had something to do with atheism. Once she found this out, she backed Mayor Fletcher. Council members Jay Kramer, Pilar Turner and Dick Winger all voted to approve the proclamation passing it by the narrow margin of 3-2. Jay Kramer read the proclamation because Fletcher decided not to.

Fun with religious intolerance
Now, a week later after conferring with his wife and pastor (and a PR shit-storm), Mayor Fletcher has issued an apology. In the apology he says that his previous statements were “way out of line”. Now, before any of you faithful out there start climbing up on soapboxes remember that it's not just atheists who were shut down here, it was anyone not affiliated with Christian beliefs. Temple Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Michael Birnholz said he and much of his congregation are upset and hurt by the mayor’s statement. Yeah, Jewish folks were included in that off-the-cuff statement and anyone else who doesn't believe what Fletcher believes. So, yeah, if you're going to run for political office and represent the people in your community, county, state, country, whatever, you need to be able to leave your religion out of it. Everyone does not follow the same religion and some don't follow any religion at all and the numbers are growing and they are beginning to be heard.

So, yes, the religious lobbyists are witnessing the loss of their power in political circles for the same reason the Republican Party found itself on the outside looking in. They have failed to grow with the more youthful and enlightened culture that is the prevalent moving power at the moment. This is the kind of thing that set the late Barry Goldwater off. In a speech to the Senate on September 16, 1981 he said, “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?” I guess Mr. Goldwater was just ahead of his time. People who have grown into voting age in the past decade are more sympathetic to human rights than the old guard, religion-based, ultraconservatives and the newbies are making themselves the polls. The only thing they need to watch out for is the conservative backlash from the highly unpopular programs that President Obama has hatched and the coming-to-light of the IRS misdeeds and the fact that the NSA is data-mining our phones and internet activity in the interest of National Security. That could be a mighty big pendulum swing if it gains the momentum and weight that some media outlets want to give it. That's not saying that it doesn't deserve a fair amount of weight. What the IRS and NSA are up to is wrong. Non-partisan, across party lines, I don't give a damn who did it, wrong...but that is for another blog post.

For more of my opinion about the separation of church and state go here.

For the articles about Vero Beach go here.