Friday, December 9, 2011

9/11 NYC Memorial...to Paranoia and the Security State


I recently had a chance to visit New York city and the 9/11 memorial.  It was a very interesting experience for a couple reasons. 

The first thing you have to do is to get a ticket that will get you in for 60 minute time slot, although it is free.  I suppose they do this so that they can manage the demand and spread out the number of visitors on busy weekends. 

When you get to the site, you are informed that you will have to go through seven checkpoints where you will be required to show your pass.  Although it felt like more like a dozen people along the way asked to see my pass.

The other thing that was glaringly clear, and which is what struck me the most, was how determined they are to 'secure' the queue to get in. This manifests itself in several different ways:

  1. Security guards or cops ever 10 yards or so
  2. NYPD security cameras every 10 yards or so
  3. An airport-like security checkpoint.  Once you go past several dozen security cameras, you get to this checkpoint where you go inside and put your coat, belt, and any electronics into bins to be x-rayed (though not your shoes).  Like the airport you go through the metal detector and collect your belongings.  I was able to get a picture of the scene from outside the building, though once inside you see signs telling you not to take pictures.  









[Aside: As a result of the increasingly evident security state that we live in, I've decided not to post the pics of the airport-like checkpoint even though they were taken from outside the building and before I ever saw any signs prohibiting pictures of the area.  In my view, when one feels the need  to self-censor such innocuous details as the operation of what anyone who has ever flown already knows, it is a strong signal that the government's interpretation of free speech is soley for furthering its own purposes.

When protestors in foreign countries gain enough momentum, the Administration seems happy to support the protection of those protestors, even when it had previously supported its tyrannical leaders, yet peaceful domestic protestors are beaten, sprayed with a nerve agent, and forcibly removed from public spaces, the government's respect for dissent cannot be taken seriously or even expected.  Hilary Clinton recently told the Conference on Internet Freedom held at the Hague that "The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online, and we also need to protect the internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics" when meanwhile "the State Department seek[s] to block access to and discussion of evidence of their own wrongdoing and to punish as criminals those who reported it."  When this is contrasted with the fact that the NSA intercepts, without warrant, 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, and other communications, it is glaringly clear that the government complete transparency...of you, and complete opacity of them.]

If I left the memorial at this point, I would have considered the experience to be perfectly appropriate symbol of how our country has responded to the 9/11 attacks: endless security and paranoia.

I'm really curious as to why all this security is needed, the memorials themselves are quite striking, but they really don't seem to warrant the excessive security leading up to them.  It seems to me that the purpose of such security should be to protect human life or valuable assets.  In this respect, the memorials don't pose a potential threat to human life any greater than any other part of the city [would it be so surprising to start seeing checkpoints throughout the city in the not-too-distant-future? Does it take anything but the gradual conditioning to the erosion of civil liberties?], and while I'm sure the memorials cost a good amount of money, there are certainly just as many valuable assets in other parts of the city that don't have this level of security.  For example, the Guggenheim had precisely zero security.  No guards, no metal detectors, no paranoia.  Yet the building itself, as a historic landmark alone, I'm sure is quite valuable.  But there it is right on the corner of 5th and E88th for anyone to walk up to.

But to have this ridiculous display of security for a memorial, some part of which is to tell ourselves that we refuse to let the Terrorists win, is an admission of defeat to the Terrorists.  The sad part is that this is completely unintentional and yet is a perfectly accurate representation of the extent to which we have sold out to be infinitely secure. 

I think if they were really serious about combating terrorism, they would go the full distance and require a one-on-one appointment with an police officer armed with a semi-automatic weapon to escort you through the memorial while your hands are tied to prevent any shenanigans.

******

But we haven't even got to the memorial yet!  Anyway, the memorial itself is quite striking.  In the footprint of each the two towers are water-falls that cascade from ground level down about 50 feet.  At the center of the lower pool is another square falls about 30ft on each side, the bottom of which you can't see.  Along the edge of the ground level siding are the engraved names of all of the victims of the attacks, which is quite powerful.

Like the security to enter the memorial, the symbolism of the memorial nearly knocked me off my feet at how unintentionally apt it is in representing the nation's reaction to 9/11.  To me this represents the endless sacrifice of human life and national resources (money) to combat something that has no end.







I'm sure the designers of the memorial had something else in mind, but to me it could not be any more clear that our adventures in the middle east, and really anywhere that can be possibly justified, are a bottomless pit that will drain the country.  And perhaps that is where my interpretation breaks down. Eventually the human life/money that the country can/will sacrifice in the name of the Security State will dry up.  The memorial shows no signs of drying up.

*****

After looking at the memorial's website, a couple questions are answered.
Regarding accessibility:

Located at street level to allow for its integration into the fabric of the city, the plaza encourages the use of this space by New Yorkers on a daily basis. The memorial grounds will not be isolated from the rest of the city; they will be a living part of it.

Since the memorial less than two months ago, perhaps all this security is temporary.  Call me skeptical.

On the design of the memorial and its symbolism:

At its core, this memorial is anchored deeply in the actual events it commemorates-connecting us to the towers' destruction, and more important, to all the lives lost on that day…. While the footprints remain empty, however, the surrounding plaza's design has evolved to include beautiful groves of trees, traditional affirmations of life and rebirth.

Fair enough. Though I still contend that it is, though unwittingly, symbolic of our futile and failed foreign (and domestic, for that matter) policy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Santa Aint Real. Get Over It.

No presents this year. Tough economy.  Sorry kids.
What happens when someone points out the actual non-existance of a mythical being on TV?  Outrage at the callous insensitivity toward the misguided beliefs of others, of course.  Such plainly stated facts ruin the magic and wonder of blissful self-delusion.

You could be forgiven if you assumed I was talking about god.  Indeed, the paragraph above would be perfectly suited for a discussion of god.  However, the real subject of today's story is Santa Claus.

A Chicago news anchor surprised some parents and potentially confused some children when she announced during a nightly newscast that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
What I find most amusing is that the article characterizes this as being 'announced'.  I don't think something that we all know to be true is really an announcement.

Though if kids that still believed in Santa were watching I suppose it would be an announcement to them.

Anyway, exposure to the Santa myth isn't necessarily a bad thing for kids.  In fact, it seems that it could serve as a useful lesson on critical thinking by asking questions about how your kid knows Santa exists and gently prompting them to really examine why they believe before finally accepting the fact that there is no evidence for a being that drops off gifts to billions of kids in one night using a flying sleigh powered by flying reindeer.  Not to mention the plausibility of such a situation being miniscule.

Instead of using this 'announcement' to examine with their kids the evidential basis for Santa, parents are outraged and flooded the station with complaints and demands for an apology.  Which the news anchor provided.

Not only that but people seem to be upset that this is even being reported on.  One comment on the yahoo! story said:
Why even mention this on line and increase the story. Don't you thoink [sic] kids of early age use the computer?
This kind of imposed ignorance on children seems to me to be very counter productive.  Growth and maturation involves confronting potentially dis-comfirming evidence on one's beliefs or biases.  Its going to happen.  Instead of shielding their kids from reality, parents should embrace the opportunity to help their children grow and mature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day: Romans ...and Ephesians

Paul liked to write letters to people
Let's spin the wheel of fun random Bible verses and see what comes up today!

Deep doop doop deep deep doop...doop......deep......doop

And today's winner is: Romans 6:22 (and because I'm a nice guy, I'll throw in verse 23 as well)

Ok so this isn't really a very interesting verse since it is just pure babble.  But let's not allow that to stop us!
But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God.  Your gain is a life fully dedicated to him, and the result is eternal life.  For sin pays its wage - death; but God's free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.
 What can you even say to that?  Yay! You're still a slave, but now instead of doing whatever makes you happy, you're now a slave to serve your master's happiness!

Can't you feel the joy?

Let's play again.  Maybe our luck will be better this time.

Deep doop doop deep deep doop...doop......deep......doop.....Ephesians 6:5-8!!!

As I flipped through my Bible to find this verse, I stopped at the beginning of the book where my Bible gives a little background on who wrote the book and for what purpose.  I found the description for Ephesians rather amusing (emphasis mine):
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is concerned first of all with "God's plan...to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head" (1.10).  It is also an appeal to God's people to live out the meaning of this great plan for the unity of mankind through oneness with Jesus Christ.
So is God not really omnipotent?  He needs a third part to appeal to the masses to get them to do what he wants?

I'm sure the theologians would say that this is a reflection of free will that god has bestowed on humanity, but if the consequence of not following god's "great plan" is eternal torture, then is that really free will?   And if fire and brimstone isn't really the consequence, then the "great plan" isn't really that important if there's the distinct possibility that it won't be fulfilled, is it?  Or does god just smite you for an afternoon so that you'll get with the program?

But let's move on to the actual verse:
Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling [oh goddamit, this is supposed to be the enlightened New Testament that espouses progressive values]; and do it witha  sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ.  Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants [funny how everyone seems to have a different interpretation of what their god wants], as slaves of Christ.  Do your work as slaves cheerfully, and as though you served the Lord, and not merely men.  Remember that the Lord will reward everyone, whether slave or free, for the good work he does.
It is quite clear that the message is that slaves are to remain slaves for the good of the aristocracy.  No upward mobility should be attempted since this would be a violation of their commitment to their human lords.  Its really reads as if god put the slaves there deliberately and any attempt at freedom would amount to attempted contravention of his will.  Nice guy.

The New Testament is pissing me off now; is it really any better than the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Legends and Leaders: Not at Penn State

Former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with sexually assaulting 8 young boys from 1994 through 2009.  According to the grand jury report [pdf], Sandusky engaged in sexual touching to fondling, to oral and anal sex. To make the situation even worse, if even possible, all eight victims were part of the non-profit foundation to help troubled youths, the Second Mile, which Sandusky founded.

Reading the grand jury report is enough to make one physically ill and is very depressing.  If the allegations are true, Sandusky is a pathological rapist who used his position of influence within the university and as founder of the Second Mile to prey on the very kids he was ostensibly helping.

But the story doesn't end there: Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley, and Vice President, Gary Schultz, have been indicted for perjury and withholding material testimony from the grand jury.

[At the bottom of this post is my summary of the key events from the grand jury report - pdf]

While Paterno and University President Graham Spanier have not been charged, their moral compasses appear to be completely fucked.  Paterno apparently didn't think to ask the obvious questions that could have prevented further child rape, and Spanier failed to report an incident that he knew of to the police - instead opting to tell Sandusky to just not rape kids on his campus.

Both Paterno and Spanier should be fired.

It is truly astonishing that McQueary, Paterno, Schultz, Curley, and Spanier never thought to involve the police in a case of child rape or to investigate further to determine the true extent of the incident.  It is as if they were all intent to remain willfully ignorant and negligent of the specifics of the situation.  

The attorney general has indicated that Paterno is not a targets of investigation, currently, as he fulfilled his legal duty to report the incident to his supervisor, Curley.  While that may satisfy the law, that should not satisfy the Penn State community or society.  

It is utterly incomprehensible how Paterno could learn of what he described as "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy" and not demand that McQueary tell him everything he knew about a situation so serious and which implicated a man with whom Paterno had spent decades.   I would like to know what possibility I am not considering:
  1. Paterno truly did not know or inquire as to the specifics of what McQueary saw.  In this case, Paterno is willfully ignorant and negligent
  2. Paterno knew through McQueary, Curley or Shultz the true extent of the incident.  In this case, he is complicit in covering up the actions of a child rapist
Even having fulfilled his legal obligation to report the incident to his supervisor, he failed his moral duty to ensure the sexual assault was properly reported to the police.  Passing the buck where "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy" is at issue is not acceptable.  It is not acceptable for McQueary, Paterno, Curley, Schultz or anyone else that had this information.

Spanier, for his part, never reported the 2002 incident to the police, according to the grand jury report "in contravention of Pennsylvania law."   Instead, Curley, with Spanier's approval, informed The Second Mile Executive Director that Snadusky was prohibited from bringing any youths onto Penn State campus from that point forward, which Curley testified was unenforceable.

Spanier's approval of Curley's solution to essentially say 'keep your child rape off my lawn' is outrageous and infuriating.

Whether Spanier violated Pennsylvania law is for others to decide, but he should absolutely be held responsible by the university for such a callously ineffectual handling of a serious situation involving a grown man in a shower with a ten year old 'horsing around'.  

Yet, you will sill find staunch pockets of support for Paterno:
Joe Paterno, 84 years old and inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame, who is revered as a Leader and a Legend, is not a hapless underling.  We have rightly come to expect that a man of his stature and reputation is someone that will do the right thing.  Passing responsibility is not acceptable, regardless of how many football games have been won.

Meanwhile Graham Spanier has pledged his "unconditional support" for Curley and Schultz.  What happens if Curley and Schultz are, in fact, convicted? Would Spanier still support them?  Cause that's what 'unconditional' means.

At this point I don't understand how anyone can support (much less 'unconditionally') Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz, or McQueary.  None of them lived up to the purported ideals of Penn State.

In this author's opinion, Penn State cannot move on until everyone associated with this scandal has been purged, starting with Paterno and Spanier.  If you are similarly outraged, please take the following actions:
********************************************
Here's the 'short' version of the key events:

  • A victim 6's mother reported that Sandusky had showered with her son to university police in 1998 which led to police eavesdropping (with the mother's cooperation) on a conversation between the mother and Sandusky where she confronted him and he admitted to the incident.  When asked by the mother if his private parts touched Victim 6, Sandusky replied "I don' think so...maybe"
  • This incident led to a police investigation where Sandusky admitted to showering with the victim and "Detective Schreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with any child again and Sandusky said he would not"
  • In 2002, a 'graduate assistant', purported to be Mike McQueary, walked into the football team's locker room and upon hearing "rhythmic, slapping sounds" coming from the showers, "[h]e saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky."
  • The next morning McQueary reported the incident to Paterno.  The report characterizes Paterno's characterization of McQueary's description of the incident as "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy".  It is not clear exactly how detailed McQueary's report to Paterno was
  • Paterno notified Curley, called a meeting with Schultz and McQueary.  Paterno did not attend.  McQueary's testimony, which the grand jury found to be highly credible, included the details of anal intercourse by Sandusky.  
  • "Curley specifically denied that the graduate assistant reported anal sex or anything of a sexual nature whatsoever and termed the conduct as merely "horsing around""
  • "Schultz testified that the allegations were "not that serious" and that he and Curley "had no indication that a crime had occurred""
  • And this is particularly outrageous:
    • "Although Schultz oversaw the University Police as part of his position, he never reported the 2002 incident to the University Police or other police agency, never sought or reviewed a police report on the 1998 incident and never attempted to identify the child in the shower in 2002.  No one from the university did so.  Schultz did not ask the graduate assistant for specifics.  No on ever did.  Schultz expressed surprise upon learning that the 1998 investigation by University Police produced a lengthy police report.  Schultz said there was never any discussion between himself and Curley about turning the 2002 incident over to any police agency.   
  • President Graham Spanier testified that Curley and Schultz came to him in 2002 describing it as "Jerry Sandusky in the football building locker area in the shower with a young child and they were horsing around in the shower"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - James

The book of James is, I guess
you could say... "shocking"
James is a short and to-the-point Book: it is basically a set of what are supposed to be timeless instructions on how to be a good person.  It is clear that it aspires to be, for non-fundamentalist Christians, what they can point to in order to show how much more progressive they are than those un-sophisticated fundamentalists.


Indeed, it has a couple verses that I would consider good advice:
(James 1:19) ...Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.
(James 2:1) My brothers, as a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.
(James 2: 15-16) Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough to eat.  What good is there in your saying to them, "God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!" -- if you don't' give them the necessities of life?
Show restraint, be tolerant of others, help those less fortunate.  These are all good lessons.  Of course, the Bible's lack of divinity doesn't rule out the espousal of values that actually foster a desirable society.  The Bible isn't completely worthless; so it has that going for it, which is nice.


Don't be fooled though, James isn't a complete liberal hippy doofus. He does have a little fire and brimstone in his loins:

Oh don't grovel! One thing I can't
stand is people groveling!
(James 4:8-10) Come near to God, and he will come near to you.  Wash your hand, you sinners!  Purify your hearts, you hypocrites!  Be sorrowful, cry, and weep; change your laughter into crying, your joy into gloom!  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Well, this 'God' fellow sounds like a guy I'd like to hang out with.
(James 1:5) But if any of you  lacks wisdom, he should pray to God, who will give it to him; because God gives generously and graciously to all.  But when you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all.  Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and blown about by the wind.

This is kind of ironic from an atheist's point of view.  Prayer has been shown to be ineffective, so lacking any additional wisdom, the believer might assume their intellectual stasis is due to some underlying doubt, thus causing them to further convince himself of his faith in God.  But if he ever came to realize that prayer is ineffective, would he attribute it to wisdom imparted by God in reward for his lack of doubt?  


But the point is that doubt is bad; don't think too hard.  That only leads to atheism.
(James 4:11)  Do not criticize one another, my brothers.  Whoever citiizes a Christian brother or judges him, criticizes the Law and judges it.  If you judge the Law, then you are no longer one who obeys the Law, but one who judges it.
I think this theme is coming through loud and clear.  This must be where Christians (especially the politicians they elect) get their sense of entitlement to do whatever the fuck they want with impunity.  If its  God's will then, it must be done, of course.  And who better to determine God's will than a Christian!





Friday, November 4, 2011

Are Science and Religion Compatible: The Debate

Haught pwns self with uncontrollable hand-waving
A couple days ago, I posed on Jerry Coyne's debate with Georgetown theologian John Haught on the question -"Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?"  After watching the video of the debate, I would say it is quite clear that Coyne absolutely demolished Haught.

I don't just say this as a fellow atheist (though I acknowledge my bias), rather I say this more as a commentary on the ability to aptly communicate their respective ideas.  Haught's arguments, on one hand, were muddled, incoherent, tortured, and opaque: typical accomodationist rhetoric that is really all just a bunch of bullshit.

I've had these kinds of professors in some of my business courses.  A good tip-off is when you see powerpoint slides with some elaborate or contrived schematic that really has no inherrent meaning.  But confused academics seem to gravitate toward these aggrandized diagrams perhaps to 'baffle with bullshit'.  Here are a couple slides from Haught's presentation (click the link for the .ppt):







See what I mean?  Its like there's a pathological need to over-complicate his thoughts (or perhaps a deliberate attempt to show how ostensibly complex his ideas are).
Anyway, compare that to Coyne's slides.  The distinction is quite representative of their ability to express themselves.

But presentation style aside, what did they have to say?  Getting through Haught's presentation was brutal, but there were a couple times where all I could do is face-palm.

Here are some of Haught's all-star moments:

We're so tied up with the universe, as we know today from science, that if we judge it to be pointless, doesn't that say something about the meaning, the significance of our own lives?
NO!  The universe does not require importance handed from above.  The universe owes us nothing.  And that meaninglessness of the universe does not have anything to do with the meaning of our own lives.  Our lives don't have any cosmic meaning; there is no grand plan.  But our lives do have meaning to us.  We give our lives meaning through our interests, goals, and aspirations.
The Hierarchical Principle maintains that a higher level in this heirarchy can encompass and comprehend the lower, but the lower cannot encompass, or get itself around, the higher.  That's the way the universe works in the classical theological schemes. [JLB: I find it annoying that he doesn't just come out and say 'this is the principle that I find most valid'.  Instead, it is simply presented as an academic exercise. Take a stand, Haught!] And that would mean, therefore, that understanding a lower level or gaining cognitional competence at one of the lower levels, does not qualify you to talk about the higher levels or to say anything deep about them...If there is an ultimate meaning or purpose to things, it would by definition, lie beyond human comprehension.
Doesn't this invalidate the entire enterprise of theology?  Or at least make it unnecessary, at least with respect to its efforts to "explore the nature of divinity without reference to any specific tradition"?

This also seems so typical of religious thinking - don't even try to critically examine 'the higher'.  Listen to your elders, they know better than you.

Winnowing down the bullshit is tough since it just keeps coming:
However, the traditional theological schemes allowed that it is possible to have an awareness of being grasped by the higher level.  And the name that theologians give to that awareness of being grasped by the higher level, by ultimate reality is faith.  So there is a kind of evidence for faith, but its not a controlling scientific sort of evidence.  Its the evidence from the experience of being carried away by something very large, very important, of ultimate value.
 More BS.  A simpler, and more plausible, explanation than one that people who experience being 'grasped by a higher level' is that the experience is a product of their brain's psychology in response to their environment and personal life.  Just because someone has strong feelings about transcendence doesn't mean that any metaphysical transcendence is actually occurring.  But Haught openly acknowledges that he isn't interested in actually determining if there is something non-natural [read: supernatural] going on as he said in the quote above, "It is the evidence from the experience".  That's it!  You have an experience, ergo it must be just as you interpret it.  I wonder what he has to say about out-of-body-experiences, especially since we know they are caused by the suppression of certain parts of the brain (and can be artificially induced in the lab): your eyes/mind/whatever don't actually leave your body and report back on stuff they saw.  You mind makes it up.

Before science came a long, and after religions became literate, they often used the metaphor of a book to talk about the universe.  But just as a regular book can be read at many different levels of meaning, so also can the universe be read at many different levels of meaning.  ...Take an adolescent who looks into a great classic and usually remains content, at least for a while, with the literal meaning of it and doesn't see what lies beneath the surface.  Is the adolescent wrong? No, there is a plain sense to literature.  And then take an adult, somebody whose been seasoned by life whose undergone a transformation process simply by the process of living and looks into the same book, I'm sure many of you have had the same experience, and will see it in a whole new way as an expression of timeless wisdom.
If the word of god is so damned important, why would it not make it accessible to everyone instead of those who have undergone this 'personal transformation' (of becoming self-deluded)?

If they were here today, representatives of these traditions, these pre-scientific traditions, wold be skeptical whether science, what we call modern scientific method, is wired to detect any deeper meaning, such as cosmic purpose, as they perceived in things.
The operative word is perceivedOf course, Haught glosses over the premise of whether there is any purpose to be detected.  And who f-ing cares what the pre-scientific 'representatives' of religion have to say about reality in the first place?  In what way are they qualified, especially given how much we have learned about the world, through the very process that Haught is denigrating (science), to comment on the nature of the wold?  The answer is easy: they aren't.  But Haught prefers to wear his rosy-colored glasses when speaking about the founders of religion as if they had some deep insights.  They didn't, and religion was their way of controlling others for political and monetary gain.

Don't talk about some designer or some magician who performs design tricks or intervenes magically into the process.  Start with a Christian understanding of God and what is that.
So he rejects intelligent design, which is good.  But I fail to understand how one can identify as a "Christian" while rejecting the notion that there is any intervention into the natural world.  So he rejects the literal creation story of Adam and Eve.  But what about the virgin birth and the resurrection?  Those are key tenets of the Christian faith.  And doesn't the belief that Jesus was the actual Son of God (while also being God) require that God intervenes in the natural world?

Like I said, theologians obfuscate to the point of incoherence.

Here's a quote that exemplifies this incoherence.  I would love to know what the hell he is talking about:

Revelation is not primarily Biblical texts or doctrinal propositions.  Revelation is primarily the self communication of the infinite to the finite world.  And by anybody's mathematics, since the finite world cannot contain the fullness of the infinite in any instant, but has to undergo a restless process, if you want to use a Darwinian term, adapting to its ultimate environment of this infinite self-giving love, then it would not be surprising that the finite world undergo a process of self-transcendence.  Matter would transcend itself into the coming of life; life would transcend itself into consciousness; consciousness into ethical and religious aspirations, and so forth.
 So if I have this straight revelation = evolution?
Just adjust the religious furniture in your mind a little bit.  Think of God, not so much as pushing creation from behind, but as inviting the universe into a new future.
And he ends with this doozie:
 Faith is the way in which we can guarantee that the evolution of the cosmos will continue into the indefinite future.
What can you say to that except, 'the emperor has no clothes'? [Of course: The Courtiers Reply]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Expressing Yourself is Important: An Example

The short version:

  • New Atheist and Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne, recently debated Catholic theologian John Haught on the question "Are science and religion compatible"
  • Prior to the debate, both Coyne and Haught agreed to have the proceedings video taped
  • Subsequent to the debate, Haught requested that the video not be released publicly and Dr. Robert Rabel, head of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, which sponsored the debate decided to honor Haught's request despite his prior agreement to have the debate filmed (which for all practical purposes is equivalent to agreeing to it being publicly posted.  If you don't want it posted, why film?)
  • Coyne, very upset, as he thought he got the best of the debate, recounted this sequence of events on his blog website
  • The intertubez revolted and send both Haught and Rabel tons of email calling them out for their cowardice and complicity in supressing what had previously been agreed to be publicly disseminated
  • Haught, under pressure from from the blogosphere and emailers, finally relents and gives his consent to post the video
  • The video is posted!
I haven't watched the video yet, but I'm looking forward to evaluating the contenders' respective arguments for and against the compatibility of science and religion.

But that aside, I think this is a great example of how effective such activism can be.  When I hear people cynically dismiss others' activism as futile and a waste of time, it frustrates me to no end.  If you aren't willing to put any effort into affecting change, your cynicism becomes self-fulfilling.  But its probably worse than that.  And that is because if you are not advocating for what you believe in, there is surely someone advocating for what you oppose.

This brings up an interesting point though: if there is surely someone advocating that which you oppose, then it is just as likely that someone is advocating for what you support.  So then, a cynic might argue, you don't need to do anything anyway.  

This is essentially the volunteer' dilemma (from wikipedia): 
Because the volunteer receives no benefit, there is a greater incentive for freeriding than to sacrifice one’s self for the group. If no one volunteers, everyone loses. The social phenomena of the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility heavily relate to the volunteer’s dilemma.
Of course in the case of activism, the volunteer isn't sacrificing herself, per se, but time and energy.  Actually, I would slightly modify the wikipedia description thusly to reflect the "activists' dilemma":
Because the volunteer accrues all the benefits and marginally more costs by volunteering than  one who doesn't volunteer, there is a greater incentive for free riding than to sacrifice one's time and energy for the group.  If no one volunteers, everyone loses...etc.   
 So the point is, if you feel strongly about a particular issue, do something about it!  Don't be a free rider, and don't assume that those advocating for the position you support don't need your help.  And doing something about it doesn't have to be overly cumbersome - one person could never put 100% effort into all of their positions - a simple public declaration (i.e. via Facebook) for your position (and rationale) is a good start.  Or call/write/email your representative thanking them for their support on an issue or trying to persuade them for a particular position.


Just do something.


Now go watch the Coyne/Haught debate - Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - 2 Kings

Nebuchadnezzar ponder how to
  turn GOD against Judah by p0wn-ing them!
So this one is a bit weird, even by the Bible's standards...or not; you decide.  I randomly flipped to a page, put my finger down and looked where it landed.  It happened to be 2 Kings 24:15.  But this happened to be in the middle of the passage about "King Jehoiachin of Judah" (verse 8).  So I read that short story.

We learn in the first couple verses that Jehoiachin had "sinned against the LORD".  Interested to know what he did that pissed off the "LORD", I read on to the next verse, which says "It was during his reign that the Babylonian army, commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar's officers, marched against Jerusalem and besieged it." Followed by the detail of the siege.  So I guess the big "sin" was to let Jerusalem be, well, besieged.

Doesn't seem like much of a sin if you ask me.  Frankly, it makes you wonder, why, if Jerusalem was so damn important to the ALL-POWERFUL LORDTM, god didn't just send a plague or something masterfully devastating to kill Nebuchadnezzar's army?

But apparently, this "sin" has a history among Jerusalem's Kings:
(2 Kings 23: 32-33):   Following in the example of his ancestors, [King Joahaz] sinned against the LORD.  His reign ended when King Neco of Egypt took him prisoner in Riblah, in the land of Hamath, and made Judah pay 7,500 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold as a tribute.
(2 Kings 23 34): King Neco made Josiah' son eliakim king of Judah as successor to Josia, and changed his name to Jehoiakim... 37Following the example of his ancestors, Jehoiakim sinned against the LORD.  24 While Jehoiakim was king, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah, and for three years Jehoiakim was forced to subbmit to his rule; then he rebelled.
(2 Kings 24: 9-10): Following the example of his father, Jehoiachin sinned against the LORD.  It was during his reign that the Babylonian army, commanded by King Nebuchadnezzars' officers besieged it.
 (2 Kings 24:19-20): King Zedekiah sinned against the LORD, just as King Jehoiakim had done. The LORD became so angry with the people of Jerusalem and Judah that he banished them from his sight.
So basically, as far as I can tell, four generations of Kings of Judah, aged 18 - 23 "sinned" against the "LORD" by allowing the holy city of Jerusalem to be invaded and plundered.  How rude and disrespectful of them!

Its bad enough to have to pay to be invaded and tortured and killed, but to be branded as a "sinner" against THE LORD, well that's just salt on the wound.

But as with, I'm sure, many passages in the Bible, it doesn't really add up.  Let's flash back to King Jehoiachin's reign when he sinned against the LORD by allowing Nebuchadnezzar to invade Judah:
(2 Kings 24:2): The LORD sent armed bands of Babylonians, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites against Jehoiakim to destroy Judah, as the LORD had said through his servants the prophets that he would do. 
So Jehoiakim sinned against the LORD by letting Nebuchadnezzar invade him which was commanded by GOD HIMSELF?  Seriously, this guy can't win! WTF?

Yet another random example of why the Bible is stupid and I learned nothing from it (except that it espouses a fucked up morality).

Can't wait for tomorrow's random verse!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is Your Pastor an Atheist?

As a former Christian of a fairly moderate/liberal denomination that didn't actively preach against homosexuality, women's rights, or the evils of science, my memory of what was actually taught was along the lines being thankful for what you have, helping others, and other such ideals that, quite frankly require no supernatural parental figure.


And while I went to Sunday school for the first 16 years of my life, I couldn't say that I was ever really made aware in a meaningful way of what the Bible actually had to say about morality.  The most greusome and what I now consider disgusting parts of the Bible were either not presented or were couched in apologetics.


But one of the things that began my liberating journey to godlessness was a re-reading of the Bible without any assumption of divine infallibility.  I wish I could say I've read the whole thing, but with the internet, it is quite easy to find extensive critiques of it.


I think, as others have also observed, that the more one reads the Bible, the more likely they are to lose their faith.  Consider these particularly despicable passages:
1 Samuel 15:3 - This is what the Lord Almighty says... ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. 
Psalm 137:9 - Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
1 Peter 2:18 - Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.
Ephesians 5:22 - Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Genesis 22:2 - Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.
The more you read, the more you realize that whoever wrote these words was a complete asshole by today's standards.  Clearly the standards of two thousand years ago were much lower.  If anything positive can be concluded from this fact, its that humanity seems to have come, however slowly, to value equality and peace more as civilization has advanced  (which I would contend is a result of a greater understanding of the natural world to develop modern medicine and economic stability - but that is another posting).


Certainly for an average churchgoing Christain who had only read small portions of the Bible uncritically, one can easily see how the hateful, mysoginistic, vengeful teachings of the Bible could escape scrutiny.  I imagine that for many casually religious people the continued identity as a Christian is merely a function of habit rather than any deep conviction.


But what about those that have professed such a deep conviction to their faith that they have dedicated their life and career to it?  Imagine all the study of the Bible and the philosophies that have sprung out of it and the history of the influence it has had on civilization; imagine what a seminary student goes through.


The reason I bring this up is because Tufts Philosopher and New Atheist, Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola published an essay of Preachers Who are Not Believers [pdf].  The essay seeks to answer the question of if there are clergy who don't believe in god.  And not just if there are former clergy - but currently practicing clergy. 


The essay presents five anonymous (for obvious reasons) currently practicing pastors who identify as 'non-believers'.  Based on the interviews presented in this essay, these non-believing pastors seem to believe that they are just the tip of the iceberg.  Of course, with only five data points it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the prevalence of non-believers in the pastoral ranks.  But  the Clergy Project, which launched in March 2011, has as of October 2011, nearly 100 members (after screening to ensure authenticity and by invitation only) of active and former clergy.  You can read interviews with the members here, which are quite fascinating.


One can only imaging the internal turmoil of having given your life to your faith only to find that you don't have faith.  And not only do you not have faith, but outside of profession your false faith, you have no marketable skills in the workforce.  Yet you have a wife and two kids to care for.  How can you possibly reconcile your profession of faith where perhaps hundreds of people look to you as a person of faith with your personal lack of faith?


From the essay:
Wes, age 42, has been the pastor of a liberal Methodist church in the Northwest for 10 years. He has a 10 year old son and is married to a schoolteacher who shares his views about religion. Wes and his wife are raising their son to recognize that Bible stories are not factual:
And so when we talk to him about Bible stories, we remind him constantly that these are just stories. These are stories; think about them in no different way than you would any other stories.
 Here's another interesting excerpt:
Darryl is a 36 year old Presbyterian minister with a church outside of Baltimore. He is married and has three young children. After an initial phone conversation about the study, he sent an email further explaining his desire to participate. In it, he wrote: 
We are not “un-believers” in our own minds – but would not withstand a strict “litmus test” should we be subjected to one. I want to see this new movement within the church given validity in some way. 
I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone. 
"Jack" the Baptist minister is very straightforward in his assessment of Christianity -"...Christianity, for me, is just a bunch of bunk."
About 10 years ago, he decided to read through the Bible very carefully. He did this completely on his own, as a way to get closer to his faith. However, his study has had the opposite effect:
The pursuit of Christianity brought me to the point of not believing in God. Not that somebody did something mean to me. Let me tell you; ain’t nothing anybody did in a church can compare to what my parents did to me, OK?

I didn’t plan to become an atheist. I didn’t even want to become an atheist. It’s just that I had no choice. If I’m being honest with myself. 
I’ve just this autumn, started saying to myself, out loud, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” It’s not like, I don’t want to believe in God. I don’t believe in God. And it’s because of all my pursuits of Christianity. I want to understand Christianity, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. And I’ve wanted to be a Christian. I’ve tried to be a Christian, and all the ways they say to do it. It just didn’t add up.
The love stuff is good. And you can still believe in that, and live a life like that. But the whole grand scheme of Christianity, for me, is just a bunch of bunk. 
This part is classic - Jack again:
Well, I think most Christians have to be in a state of denial to read the Bible and believe it. Because there are so many contradicting stories. You’re encouraged to be violent on one page, and you’re encouraged to give sacrificial love on another page. You’re encouraged to bash a baby’s head on one page, and there’s other pages that say, you know, give your brother your fair share of everything you have if they ask for it.
But if God was going to reveal himself to us, don’t you think it would be in a way that we wouldn’t question?... I mean, if I was wanting to have ... people teach about the Bible ... I would probably make sure they knew I existed.... I mean, I wouldn’t send them mysterious notes, encrypted in a way that it took a linguist to figure out. 
Earlier I mentioned the difficulties of going through seminary and learning the historical implications of Christianity and how the Bible was actually assembled and who wrote the various disparate chapters.  The essay explains [emphasis added]
A gulf opened up between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary.  
Every Christian minister, not just those in our little study, has to confront this awkwardness, and no doubt there are many more ways of responding to it than our small sample illustrates. How widespread is this phenomenon? When we asked one of the other pastors we talked with initially if he thought clergy with his views were rare in the church, he responded, “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!” Surely an overstatement, but a telling one. As Wes put it:
...there are a lot of clergy out there who --- if you were to ask them --- if you were to list the five things that you think may be the most central beliefs of Christianity, they would reject every one of them.   
What a tragic state of affairs that one, with all the best intentions, could commit themselves to years of scholarship only to learn that the underlying assumption of the divinity of the Bible - indeed of god's very existence - is shown to be completely false.  And that others had come to this same conclusion but could not, out of concern for their own livelihood, give young aspiring pastors a warning that they are on a dead-end road.


When a belief system is dependent on unquestioning belief and lack of critical thought, there is no correcting mechanism.   In contrast the central and perhaps most important aspect of science, a process which has been unparalleled in its success in bringing new insights civilization, is that it thrives on critical examination by peers to dispose of failed ideas and to explore promising ones - as determined by evidence and replication.  This is the tragic lesson of religion and faith - without critical examination of its claims it cannot progress on its own.  I would argue that the progress that has been brought about in religion has been the result of non-religious forces.  But by lacking any room for questions, religion creates a trap for those who want to leave but are financially dependent on perpetuating its myths.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - Lamentations

This verse is a bit different from what I might have naively expected from the Bible.   I must say, in my unsophisticated taste for poetry, this is quite nice prose.  I find the imagery vibrant and engaging.  Though I find the plot a bit weird and contradictory rather than clever that in the end reflects the basest of human tendencies so often shown in the Bible.  This one is a bit long, but not a hard to comprehend so let's read some Lamentations - Chapter 3.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
   in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
   again and again, all day long.
 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
   and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
   with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
   like those long dead.
This passage obviously is written from a human perspective, yet it sets out to enumerate the way that the author's lord has caused grief.  Given god's Old Testament temper, this isn't too surprising, but the way it is presented, from a seemingly bitter individual, is interesting.  But, as the author concludes his airing of grievances, she seems to have a change of heart:

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
   while he is young.
 28 Let him sit alone in silence,
   for the LORD has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
   there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
   and let him be filled with disgrace.
 31 For no one is cast off
   by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to anyone.
 This portion of the verse seems to be fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies.  First we are told that the lord rewards those who seek him which is immediately followed by the assertion one should wait for the lord...so which is it!

Then we have the notion that the young must endure grief in order to be free from despair, which is attributed to the work of god.  ...And immediately followed by the claim that god couldn't help it.  So much for omnipotence!
52 Those who were my enemies without cause
   hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
   and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
   and I thought I was about to perish.
 55 I called on your name, LORD,
   from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
   to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
   and you said, “Do not fear.”
And now we have the twist of the story - it really wasn't god's fault that he had to inflict such suffering on the author.  Instead it was the author's enemies that made god do bad things to the author.  But god took a power nap and is ready to kick some ass!
64 Pay them back what they deserve, LORD,
   for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
   and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
   from under the heavens of the LORD.
And now you understand what happens when you believe an all powerful being communicates with you and has chosen you as his own - you will suffer, then rationalize that suffering as part of god's plan, then blame your suffering on your 'enemies', and then seek righteous revenge in the name of THE LORD YOUR GOD.

You will be wiser and realize that inflicting human suffering to avenge human suffering is a fulfilling and effective strategy that will ensure more human suffering thereby clearing your way to eternal bliss and bloodshed. </sarcasm>

*****
As I said at the beginning, I find the prose well done even if the plot perpetuates some futile ethics.  But I was curious as to what this chapter was actually talking about.  From Wikipedia:
the Book of Lamentations was written by one or more authors in Judah, shortly after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE;[8] and was penned as a response to Babylonian Exile, the intense suffering of the people of Judah, and the complete and utter destruction of Jerusalem
Well that makes a lot of sense and explains the non-supernatural source of the suffering described.
The Book of Lamentations reflects the theological and biblical view that what happened to Jerusalem was a deserved punishment; and its destruction was instigated by their god for the communal sins of the people.
This is an unfortunate feature of religion that it has a tendency to ascribe greater meaning to an event than is necessary. 

Surely there is a more parsimonious explanation for an adverse event than just "we made god upset". Yet we see this faulty thinking even today. Just turn on the news after a natural or man-induced disaster and you will inevitably hear someone attributing the carnage to god's wrath brought on by humans or thanking god for sparing them of the destruction.

One would hope that society would have moved past such faulty attribution of random events.  I suppose there is more work to be done.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day

Holy Bible: A bunch of random shit
So I think I'm going to periodically post a random Bible verse.  There really won't be any filter so it could be some reasonable insight or some disgusting parable of misogyny or something just plain weird along with some commentary. 

So without further ado, here is today's Random Bible Verse - Psalm 128:

 1 Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
   who walk in obedience to him. [he does sound like a bully, so this might be good advice for the weaklings that don't like confrontation]
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
   blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
   within your house; [you really don't have to look far for that old fashioned misogyny]
your children will be like olive shoots
   around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
   for the man who fears the LORD.
 5 May the LORD bless you from Zion;
   may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem [screw the rest of Creation!]
   all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children—
   peace be on Israel. [how's that been working out for ya?]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What Would Yahweh Do?

Just a quick post today for some lulz.  From NonStamCollector comes an instant classic


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy This! You Lazy, Pot-Smoking, Hippie, Communists!

Hippie Communist hides face in shame
As the Occupy Wall St movement has spread to other cities across the nation it has begun generating discussion about the financial and political systems that dictate heavily influence the country's policies and the appropriate relationship between business and government.  Indeed, there is a lot of discussion to be had; despite the vague calls for smaller government by the wingnuts, private industry is deeply dependent on government contracts and payments.  In 2012 the federal government is projected to spend more than half a trillion dollars [pdf] on contracts and payments going to private industry.

Another point of discussion, and perhaps the one that is the focus of the "Occupy" movement, is the growing inequality between the top 1% of earners and everyone else.  Salon reported on some interesting statistics.  Among them is this one, which poignantly illustrates how far behind the 'average worker' is falling:
The Rich get richer and fuck everyone else!
But don't construe the lament of this growing disparity as the grumblings of disgruntled do-nothings that simply haven't earned the success that CEOs have.  I would argue that CEOs as individuals have a right to earn whatever they can negotiate (and that sword swings both ways - front line workers have the right to earn whatever they can negotiate - whether collectively or individually).  Certainly executive compensation should be a reflection of the success of the company.

But this is often not the case - it is not uncommon for CEOs whose companies fail to meet earnings expectations to not only receive exorbitant compensation but truly mind-numbing bonuses.  And when the entire financial industry has been pulled back from the brink of epic collapse and failure by its own doing (by the very entity - the government - which many of those critical of the Occupy movement wish to shrink or eliminate) financial industry executives still received staggeringly absurd bonuses.

Consider Thomas Montag from Merrill Lynch who was paid $39m in bonuses in 2008, the year of the financial meltdown.  Now, perhaps we should not rush to judge - it is possible that Montag was able to successfully navigate the perilous environment.  Maybe he actually deserved that $39m.
As head of global sales and trading, Montag ran the Merrill unit that piled up the brunt of the company’s $15.31 billion net loss in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Right - I think that speaks for itself.

But hey, if that's how Merrill Lynch wants to run their operations, that's their prerogative in a free-market capitalist society, right?

Fortunately for Merrill Lynch, the government stepped in and bought their toxic assets for 22 cents on the dollar, so at least then it was the government's problem and not Merrill's.
That unexpectedly large loss forced taxpayers to shell out an additional $20 billion to Bank of America to make sure its $50 billion acquisition of Merrill closed in January 2009.
So in the end, Montag fucked up to the tune of $15 billion, got a bonus that could otherwise support 1000 American families, and the US taxpayers got to foot the bill plus another $20 billion.  Now that is true America economic justice.

What I take away from the Occupy movement is that the system is broken.  That to an increasing degree, politicians are creating policy that specifically benefits corporations and those whose financial security has already been secured at the expense of the interests 99% of Americans who work one or more full time job(s) while trying to raise a family.

One example of this broken system is a news item that gained mainstream media attention in the spring of 2011.  I am referring to the fact that General Electric (GE) earned $14 billion in profits, yet did not pay federal taxes in 2010.

You would expect that a company that is doing so well financially to be hiring personnel to expand its business.  Or at the very least to maintain a steady workforce.  Or if you're a cynic (and perhaps a realist) you might expect GE to lay off tens of thousands of workers.  Well, the verdict is in and the cynics have it.  In 2009 not only didn't pay federal taxes, but actually received a $2 billion tax credit on $11 billion in profit, GE laid off 18,000 of its own employees.

Meanwhile, GE CEO Jeffery Immelt (who, in a clear illustration of the need to examine the public/private relationship, Obama appointed as chairman of his Council on Jobs and Competitivenes) saw his compensation rise to $15 million in 2010.

When the loopholes in the federal tax code are such that a hugely profitable multi-national corporation can pay no taxes, contributing nothing financially to the very society upon which its success rests, while laying off tens of thousands of workers, it should be a glaringly obvious indication that the system is broken.

And the fact is that GE isn't the only large corporation not paying taxes.  The Washington Times gives us a Top-10 list of notable corporations not paying taxes in 2010.  Here are just four of them:

 1. Bank of America took $336 billion in bailouts in 2009, but in 2010, flush with $4.4 billion in profits, it paid no taxes. Even Forbes magazine asked, how is that possible? Probably thanks to their 115 offshore tax havens.
2. Boeing just received $35 billion from our government to build 179 airborne tankers, but despite nearly $10 billion in profits from 2008 to 2010, it too paid no taxes, again thanks to foreign tax havens.
3. Citicorp took $476 billion from the bailout and then made monster profits in 2010, yet it paid no taxes, thanks to 427 subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong.
4. Exxon/Mobil, received huge oil subsidies from the government and earned $45 billion in 2009 but paid no taxes, again thanks to stashing profits in places like the Bahamas and Singapore.
Go read the rest.

One Facebook friend commented
 
There's a lot to comment on here, but I'll just focus on two things:

1) Your hand is tipped of willful ignorance or simple laziness when you have the internet at your fingertips, yet you are incapable or unwilling to do the research necessary to answer a question on which has been widely reported.  The implication here is that because this person doesn't know what the purpose of the movement is, then it must not have a purpose or that its purpose is somehow not valid.

2) And then we have the victim-blaming as if it somehow the fault of the unemployed that despite 80% of the Dow Jones components beating Wall Street's Earnings per Share estimates, companies continue to lay off workers by tens of thousands out of concern of economic conditions (in which they continue to be profitable and beat estimates).  That these protestors have realized that the system is rigged against them and are voicing that frustration through peaceful demonstration should not be ridiculed as "pointing fingers".

Instead, those of us that actually care about how public policy is (or, rather, isn't) in the interest of 99% of its constituents, should support the Occupy movement in finding its voice and bringing about change that narrows the disparity of the have's and the rest of us.