Saturday, January 16, 2021

Can America Really Recover from the Trump Era?

As a result of four years of Trumpism culminating in an attempt  by President Trump and his followers to viciously  overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election,  American democracy has been grievously wounded. Considering the following two articles I wonder whether even a new and Democratic administration can repair the damage that  Trump did to the country--or whether the millions of  Americans--who after all  elected him in 2016 in the first place embody a national character  flaw that's too deeply rooted to be cured and will continue to drag down the U.S. 

Most Americans reject the attack on the Capitol — but millions empathize with the mob

Police departments across the U.S. open probes into whether their own members took part in the Capitol riot

But what's particularly disturbing is that the deadly violence against the American people, government property, and the political system  which Trump and his  domestic terrorists followers have committed may not be over. Some say that  impeachment efforts against Trump will only fan the flames of violence by these people. I disagree. I think that they will go forward with their plans of destruction either way.

As Inauguration Nears, Concern Of More Violence Grows

These are grim times, and they are complicated by the COVID pandemic which continues to infect and kill Americans in record number daily, in relation to which, the national  deployment of vaccines is going more slowly than planned.

So, Biden's intended efforts to rebuild the country notwithstanding, I believe that the difficult era the U.S. is experiencing will likely be upon us for a long time to come. And the plague of diehard Trump  loyalists amongst real Americans is surely not going to make recovery any easier. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Forgive Trumpsters? Forget It

Now that Joe Biden has won  the 2020 presidential election, I've been hearing a lot from various sources including the president-elect himself about the need for the American people to reunite and let bygones be bygones between the Dems and the Republicans. On one level, I understand--almost sympathize--with Biden in his desire to lead a country in which as he put it there are no red states or blue states,  just the United States.

However, four years of Trump's evil and cruelty which were supported by his bigoted followers and were climaxed by his vicious bid for re-election can't be that readily forgiven and forgotten, which might be the case in the matter of opposing philosophies  between, say, Mitt Romney and former President Obama.  Instead, Trump and his administration's social-economic-political  mindset were products of a twisted a narcissistic sociopath, and his fan base loved every minute of it .

To put it another way, this is not just a case of conservatives vs. liberals.  Many Trump supporters especially those who attended his "red only"rallies and other mass gatherings such as Sturgis are responsible for  the spread of COVID-19 to innocent people, thanks to their callous refusal to observe simple protocols such as masking up. Besides Trump himself, other officials in his administration  are likewise unconcerned for the health and welfare of others. Recall the infamous White House coronavirus sesuperspreader event.  In  a word Trumpsters are dangerous.

During the Trump years  racism and antisemitism have increased significantly in the U.S. thanks  to  his dog whistled  messages signaling encouragement of  violence and hatred  to his followers against minorities.

Then there is the far right and violent Qanon conspiracy theory a belief in which takes a certain kind of gullibility  and outright bigotry to fall for this outlandish delusion . Not surprisingly, it has a large following among Trumpsters, including recently elected Republican members of Congress.  

And  keep in mind the former are not about to give up their beliefs and ideology  even though their Dear Leader lost the election; In fact, the latter itself is a reality which  many of them refuse to accept. just as Trump himself is in denial of that outcome through now. In short,  considering the foregoing, how can there be any reasonable basis for reconciliation between  Trump supporters and real Americans?

 If anything it's the Trumpsters who should make the first move towards reconciliation by waiving the white flag and reaching out for forgiveness. But of course that hasn't happened. And until it does,  they should be shunned accordingly, which BTW is the very least that they  and Trump would likely do to their opponents if he had won.  

I only hope that President Biden doesn't continue  charging at this windmill and instead focuses on rebuilding the country from the socioeconomic and pandemic destruction that Trump and his people have left behind. That's what it will take to  truly make America great again.


 



Friday, October 23, 2020

Why Attacks by China on God-Centered Religions Should Not Be Blamed on Atheists

The disinclination to believe that there is a supreme being can take various forms. The two that I will consider here are atheism and antitheism.  I understand atheism to be simply the absence of the belief that a god or gods exists, or that there is a lack of lack of evidence for such an entity.  On the other hand, I understand antitheism to be a doctrine which not only rejects a supreme being's existence but also actively opposes theistic religions. 

This is not to say that atheism stakes its position in the spectrum of irreligion and passively lets it go at that.  In fact, atheists who simply demand the right not to be persecuted for their non-belief and to be granted socio-political equality with theists are considered by some as "militant". But obviously, such freedom is of vital importance, especially in societies where the god-believers and their culture predominate, as in the U.S.  

Antitheism, however, takes an antagonistic stance in dealing with religious beliefs. Its adherents who hold political power may even go so far as to try to abolish them altogether. An example is the Communist regime in China in its attacks on that country's religious communities, especially the imprisonment of the latter’s' members in "reeducation camps" in attempts to rid them of their theistic mindsets.  Antitheism was likewise a pillar of the culture of the former Soviet Union. Under both the old USSR and modern China, the purported purpose of eradicating religion has supposedly been to replace the old superstitious ways that impede mankind's progress.

Towards this end, communist ideology (in which antitheism plays a vital role) claims to be a revolutionary movement, one which promises to create an advanced type of humankind who in turn would build a glorious new world. But the more likely reason is that religion is seen as a source of competition for the hearts and minds of the people.  (This struggle is discussed in depth in “The Battle for China’s Spirit” by Sarah Cook).   So In short, suppression of religion in China is simply a means of heading off a power struggle.

Personally, as an atheist, I’m put off by antitheism. I support people's entitlement to personal beliefs to the extent that those who hold them do not try to impose their creeds on others. Unfortunately, however, that ideal is not the kind of world we live in.  Consider the existence of religious fundamentalism as enforced in such countries as Iran on hand and extremist antitheism as practiced in places like China on the other.  That said, I must acknowledge that I don’t consider the boundaries between atheism and antitheism as absolute. There is no bright orange line separating them.  For example, inasmuch as I don't believe in the existence of God, I think that the field of theology, which dictionaries define as “the study of the nature of God and religious beliefs”,  is a waste of time, resources, and intellectual effort and therefore should not be offered as a separate course of study in secular universities over what is basically a myth.  Instead, it should be included under mythology along with the study of other god legends of the world.  So, with this point of view, does this mean that I have morphed into an antitheist?  I’d like to think not. For one thing, I'm not proposing to scrap theology entirely, just to downgrade its undeserved status as an academic discipline and to place it under a more appropriate field of inquiry.

Finally, but significantly, there is the matter of the consequences of the inability to distinguish atheism from antitheism as it applies to god-believers who, because of this misunderstanding, tar both groups with the same brush. Obviously, they feel threatened by those who they see are unjustifiably attacking their beliefs.  Yet for many theists, especially the religious fundamentalists, the very phenomenon of non-belief itself is considered a threat to their culture, so they lash out at all unbelievers indiscriminately.  I don’t know whether explaining the difference to theists would make a difference in their understanding and tolerance of non-belief as a whole. But if by utilizing this approach, we can get at least a few of them to realize that not all of us godless folks are their enemies, it would be a start. And as I see it, that’s worth the effort.

 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

An Atheist's Perspective In Dealing With COVID-19

I certainly can't  claim to  speak  for all other atheists. But in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  my guess is that in trying to make sense of its existence and the worldwide havoc that it has wrought ,most of us who don't believe in a god are having an easier  time doing so than those who do.

This is because we  are  not needlessly wasting time and energy by  trying to reconcile  this illness with the tenets of religious faith, one practice of which is the obviously futile belief that prayer will ward off the pandemic. Related to that approach is the turning to scripture in seeking an understanding this disaster in terms of  God's will, with some believers going so far as to interpret it as divine punishment.

But all this perplexity and consternation is so unnecessary because  the real facts about the coronavirus as with any such natural phenomenon are based on well-founded scientific research and reasoning, not some unproven supernatural being. And you can bet that  if science does find a cure, many (most?) of these same people will instead credit and  thank  God for such a devlopment. But by that same logic doesn't if  follow that they should rather call him to account for creating the disease in the first place and allowing  it to ravage the world? Their answer to that would probably be the cliche about God working in mysterious ways, which is really not an answer at all, just a cop-out to end the discussion .  

To be clear, I am not  attempting to dismiss the well founded fear itself of contracting this illness. I'm just as concerned as anyone about that possibility. In fact inasmuch  as I am a  senior, if that were to happen to me, I know that would be a double  whammy.  But I also know that the cause of such infections  is microbiological, not theological.

In short a reality and science based approach in dealing with this virus,  one that dispenses with religion in coming to grips with this menace to humankind, is the only way that we can get through this nightmare.and return the world to any semblance of normality.  

Along that line, the severe  economic, political,  and social repercussions of this pandemic are also an opportunity for humankind to  shift our priorities, change our ways and create a more humane social order.  But frankly, I doubt that will happen, Most likely, after the immediate crisis has passed, people will just revert to their old ways, and once again it will be business and complacency as usual.

Until the next time. 






Saturday, February 15, 2020

Who's In Charge Here?

Like many other people, I have lived in places and taken  jobs that I wound up hating.  Yet with some exceptions, such as my childhood location of  residence about which of course I had no choice in the matter, as an adult I was the one responsible for deciding where to live and where to apply for work. But once I was in, it was not easy to leave the former when I had a lease or a mortgage, or the latter in difficult economic times in which jobs were scarce or I was experiencing ''job lock'' due dependence on an employer's low cost health insurance that would have otherwise been unaffordable. Under those circumstances  I felt that I had lost control  and was no longer in charge of those vital areas of my life, and so I was very unhappy. Eventually, though, circumstances changed in my favor, including a timely retirement and expatriation.  And of course that made a major difference in my outlook. 

I think it's that very sense of ownership—or lack thereof—over our lives even more so than wealth which drives  our sense of satisfaction and happiness. When we allow others  to decide our fate thereby usurping our independence and personal sovereignty,  no matter how much we may gain materially in return, we can't help but feel hopeless and depressed.  There's a song "Silver Threads And Golden Needles" which captures this sentiment very nicely.

Similarly, as an atheist, one thing that I don't have to concern myself with  is the thought that my destiny is controlled by  an alleged supreme being. This is in contrast to  theists who are convinced that a god who's an all-powerful father figure, runs their lives. Having once been a believer myself l know  how restrictive that kind of a mindset can be. It means surrendering your personal autonomy  which is a vital part of one's being to a so-called higher power whose existence is not even proven.  And without that sense of wholeness, how can  people feel complete when they believe in a force that manipulates them like puppets on a string? 

A common reply by believers is  that "God has a plan" for them. But such  blind faith  just reinforces this sense of personal helplessness. In turn,  it's  that powerlessness which leads to despair. Note that America has a very high rate of god-belief and is in fact "the most devout of all the rich Western democracies"  However,  U.S also has one of the world's highest rates of depression.  Of course, correlation is not causation, but the the fact that both of these phenomena co-exist and in such high numbers at that can't help but give one pause.   

In short, a sense  of personal control over one's life doesn't necessarily guarantee happiness, but it goes a long way towards that end. On the other hand, a perceived lack of such ownership will almost certainly result in a life constricted by a sense of powerlessness and unfulfillment.



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Why Is This Major Source of Global Warming Being Ignored?

Global warming is not a burning issue (no pun intended.) for me. This is not because I don't believe that anthropogenic climate change is a menace to humankind. It certainly is. But for one  thing as an old man, I don't think that I will live long enough to see its dire consequences.  However,  before you dismiss me as an unfeeling geezer, there's more to the story.

From the time that I became an adult over 50 years ago, I, have been conservation-minded, and  would like to think that compared to many other people, I,  along with my wife, have left a relatively small carbon footprint, simply by living a modest life style. All the vehicles that we ever owned had only four cylinders, and we commuted to work public transportation, years at a time, when it was feasible to do so. We've been responsible consumers of both material goods  and energy, such as by practicing  recycling and  setting our thermostat high in the summer and low in the winter.  In short, like others who care about the environment,  we've done our best to  walk the talk.

The proportion of climate researchers who support the theory that global  warming is caused by humans stands at 95%.  Accordingly, various movements have sprung up in an attempt to put the brakes on this man-made climate change. However, there is a serious issue that as far as I'm concerned makes their efforts ring hollow: the failure  to address the matter of overpopulation.

In fact in recent  years  the very topic of population control seems to have become unfit for discussion in polite company.   Yet some experts say not to worry about such growth  because overall the world's fertility rate is dropping, and further that the main problem is not too many people but overconsumption.  However, even in a report that takes this position, there's disagreement. on which way the trend of fewer children per family worldwide is really heading, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, another report reflects the tie in between population growth, resulting energy consumption, greenhouse gases,  and  warming as intrinsically linked throughout the world.

But for the sake of argument, assume that our planet could sustain continuing population growth beyond the almost 8 billion people who are already here. What about the environmental havoc that such numbers of people will further wreak on the world?  Consider the ecological fallout from the recent fires that were deliberately set in the Amazon rain forest, or the trash that has been found in such contrasting points as the Mariana Trench  and on Mount Everest, and in the bellies of sea life.  . That reflects how little regard humankind has for what has been rightly called our only home. And yet we still want to crank out the  2 billion more inhabitants of this planet that are expected by 2050? It's true that the worldwide fertility rate is falling, but not fast enough to reduce the strain that already exists on our natural and man-made resources.

With that increase in mind, those who have remained child-free  as my wife and I have done, are well within our rights  to be especially critical of widespread irresponsible human reproduction in which people have children ''because it is God's will'' or just plain for ego, gratification, but for whom they cannot or will not adequately provide and nurture. It is such willful blindness that has greatly contributed to the population problem that the world now faces.

So how can we slow the population growth rate? One way is to change to the tax code in counties like the U.S. At present the IRS there rewards taxpayers for having large broods by offering  them a child tax credit child for every baby they pop out. That law should be revised such that people who have more than two children are penalized for every additional child that they bring into this world. Further, there  would be no tax penalty but no credit either for the maximum number of two children people wish to  have.

Another solution is for the Catholic Church to end its ban on contraceptives. This is especially vital in poor and overpopulated countries where the Church holds sway such as the Philippines. This is why it's absolutely ridiculous for  Pope Francis to profess concern about humankind's roll in climate change in light of his opposition to the utilization of this effective method in birth control and family planning.

Even if the need to reign in the world's burgeoning population is recognized, it's going to take will and determination on  a national and on an international level to carry it out. That won't be easy, but using that prospect as an excuse for inaction or continuing to pretend that there is no overpopulation problem will only spell doom for other efforts to control global warning and in all likelihood for humankind itself.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Special Anniversary

The following is a sligthtly revised version of my response to the "Atheist Revolution" blog post "Why Can't You Keep Your Atheism to Yourself?"


Aug. 27 marks my 14th year of living as a retired American expat in the Philippines which is probably the most devout Roman Catholic country in the world. Yet I'm still more comfortable as an openly Jewish atheist here than I was while living in California in the bright red Inland Empire and working in Orange Country at a company where evidently I was the only Jew and likely the only atheist among over 100 employees, many of whom were Christian fundies.

Not once since I've been here have I been seriously challenged about my ethnicity or godlessness, even by my wife's family who are almost all devoted Catholics and who I'm sure have seen my posts in Facebook stating my opposition to religious belief. My wife BTW is also an atheist but not as outspoken about it as I am.


However, even if I were rejected for my what and  who I am, that wouldn't be a reason to change my beliefs or even pretend to do so for the sake of appearance. But being accepted certainly makes life a lot easier.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ruthlessness And Religion

A few nights ago, my wife Lydia and I went out to dinner at a restaurant down the street from  our residence.  About halfway through the meal Lydia got a small piece of shrimp shell stuck in her throat. She wasn't  choking, but it was painful and hard for her to swallow  The nearby clinics that could have taken care of her were  already closr the evening, so that left only one alternative--a trip to a hospital ER, the closest of which is about 5km (3 miles) from our area.

Just our luck it was a rainy evening, and taxis were hard to come by, but we finally got one. However, due to the cab scarcity, the driver  took  advantage of  our situation and demanded a high flat rate  instead of running the meter. Under the under the circumstances we had no choice but to accept.
 
Just as we got in and the driver was about to  pull into traffic, he crossed himself, which is a common  gesture here in the Philippines among devout Catholics beseeching God's protection at the start of a journey. 
.
A couple of blocks into the trip, Lydia suddenly coughed, which dislodged the shell, so no  need for the  ER after all. Even  the driver said something to the effect that  God is good. So we turned around and went home. However,  traffic was so heavy that the metered fare wouldn't have been much more than the driver's demanded amount anyway. So we paid it. And all things considered, we were just so glad that Lydia was okay that the fare wasn't worth arguing about. But the point is if the cabbie was so pious, he had a strange way of showing it by exploiting an urgent matter to squeeze extra money from his passengers. I can't help but wonder how much more he would have socked it to us if our need had been really dire.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Can Atheists Work Together with God-believers for a Common Cause?




The following originally appeared as a response to a post in "Atheist Revolution" on a different subject but I slightly revised it to discuss the following related issue..

In theory, atheists and god-believers should be able to  work together for a cause in which they both have a stake, such as promoting  a political candidate who equally recognizes both groups. Such was  the case with President Obama.  In his 2009 inaugural address  he stated "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers...".

But this is a rare occurrence. What's more common are scenarios in which liberal atheists who support the Democrats had to put up with the likes of Hillary Clinton,  who during  the  2016 election campaign continually  harped on her Methodist faith, ("Why do Democrats keep snubbing atheists? We help drive the party")  In all fairness maybe she did that to win over the ''god and  guns'' demographics, but it obviously didn't work and it turned off a lot of atheists, including me. I can't imagine that it was much better for conservative non-believers who  were confronted with Trump's' and Christian evangelists  hijacking of the  Republican party.

And as likely as not, when working with Christian organizations, atheists will be marginalized, just based on their numbers which will likely be much smaller than that of their religious counterparts. The majority mentality of the latter may well extend to such procedural matters as insistence on starting meetings with a prayer, notwithstanding the awkward position such rituals place the non-believers in attendance. This is a common occurrence even in the public domain, such as city council public sessions, and for which, unfortunately the U.S.Supreme Court has already given the green light.

So atheists who want to join forces with theists need to go into such  alliances with eyes wide open and be prepared for a range  of  responses extending from initial acceptance to outright  rejection, with the latter a more likely eventual outcome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An Atheist's Perspective on Accepting Reality

As is likely the case with many other seniors, I often consider (but don't dwell on) my mortality.  I know that there's a chance that I could live into my 90's as did my maternal grandfather. But the odds that will happen are slim, and of course there's the matter of possible / probable deterioration in the quality of life itself, as my physical and mental health may fail even if I remain ''alive''.  That's the real world.

But most other elderly people whom I know are theists and are convinced that when they die, they will go to heaven and be with God and their loved ones for eternity. How sad that they can achieve peace of mind only from illusions like this.

I have to admit that it's a bit daunting to contemplate the probable reality that the life we're now living is the only one we'll ever have and that when we die, it's lights out forever. Yet, it's that same likelihood of complete ''finis'' that makes me realize that the good things that I have here and now should be appreciated and enjoyed.while I'm still able to do so.

This post originally appeared  as a comment in response  to the Dec. 26, 2018 "Atheist Revolution" blog  post "Welcome to the Real World''.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Would the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life Clash with God-Belief?


A friend of mine commented that if the space object Oumuamua now whizzing through our solar system were proven to be a probe from a civilization in another star system as had at one point been speculated, that discovery could be the impetus for humanity  to unite in world peace-- "Or else" (sic).

I don't think that such unity would happen even if the object had been proven to be sent from another world. Here's why. If life, especially  more intelligent forms than we humans, in fact exists on other planets, this would (rightfully) cast widespread doubt on theism's view of man as the highest form of life, ("created in God's image") and perhaps cast doubt on the very existence of a supreme being itself as well. However, ultra-religious God-believers might then  become ultra-defensive and resistant to these findings to the point of claiming that they are a conspiracy against the very core of their beliefs and doctrines. This desperation in turn may cause them to riot and wreak havoc throughout the civilized world.

Maybe that sounds far fetched, but consider this:  When world peace and the brotherhood of man were first idealized after WWII, the major obstacles to such harmony were political and economic in nature, e.g. the struggle  between the communist and the non communist countries (basically East vs. West).  At that time, religious  extremism which now exists on an almost global scale was not even a blip on the radar, let alone the force that has since expanded into a source of hatred and disunity  within and among various nations of the world.

Well, the cold war ended, but due to religion-based intolerance, world peace and unification are more elusive than ever.  A  confirmation of extraterrestrial life may indeed be necessary for humanity to start considering the implications for our future and for the meaning of life itself as we've come to understand it, inasmuch as our illusion that we are the sole inhabitants in the universe would be shattered.

And as for the actual  likelihood itself of life on other worlds,. consider that astronomers  had long predicted existence of other solar systems before that theory was finally confirmed in the 1990's when the first exoplanet was discovered. Since then, thousands more have been detected, and and as telescopes continue to improve beyond what was once thought to be their performance limit only a few decades ago, still thousands more such worlds will likely be found. So the stage for the actual discovery of life beyond Earth  has been set.

But as long as god-belief  remains a dominant force in so many parts of the world, then proof of extraterrestrial life alone will likely not be sufficient for man to achieve a positive reordering of our existential priorities. And as one of the many prospective ''or else'' deterrents  to our advancement, the hindrance of theism may well be a daunting barrier against the realization of the  significance of finding life beyond Earth  and of its potential to  write the next chapter in the story of  humankind.




Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Why "God" Is Irrelevant to Our Understanding of the Universe

An argument for the existence of God is that life on Earth--and matter itself--could not possibly have come into being unless the universe were structured  just right.This belief is based on the "Goldilocks'' or fine-tuned universe proposition. In addition, Earth had to be just the right distance from the sun which itself had to have certain properties, as does the solar system itself as a whole. Further, our planet itself once created had to develop in a certain way for life come into existence and flourish. And without the the hand of God that made all these pieces of the puzzle fall into place, none of us would be here today.

However, consider this: If there were an all-powerful supreme being, he could have made the laws of the universe come out any which way he wanted for matter and life to exist. So with that in mind, the universe in which we live and the set of rules by which it operates are just one of the infinite number of possibilities of the way that he could have caused his creation  to turn out. And what makes us  humans think we're so special anyway?  Maybe there are other strains of life elsewhere in  the universe that are unimaginably different from Earth's carbon based creatures. As Star Trek's Spock would say to Captain  Kirk, ''It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.''

But we do know that there are likely millions of planets just in our own which itself is just one of countless worlds.   Who knows how many of them may host life?  Even if only a minuscule percentage  do, some of them may be home to sentient beingsCome  to  think of it, there are many forms of life right here in our own world that exist in extremely ''un-Earth-like'' conditions.. Two random examples are bacteria living in the gastric acid of our gut, and sea life creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench which has a thousand times the atmospheric pressure bearing down on it than (and hence pushing outward from their innards)  than at sea level.

Alternatively,  deists believe that a supreme being created the universe and then it left alone to unfold on its own. Now  if one maintains that there is God but that the universe had to develop the way it did for life to have come into existence, then how can God be considered all powerful--or perhaps the universe and God are one and the same  in which case, so are  deism and pantheism.

Speaking of deism, an organization called the the World Union of Deists,  sees  the creation of the universe as the'' Word of God''  and hence a miracle but supposedly not in the biblical sense  but rather as ''This Deistic idea of a miracle, one in which a miracle is an act of The Supreme Intelligence/God, is based on reason and not on faith."

The universe is an amazing place all right, and since there's no scientific evidence for the existence of  a supreme being within the framework  of  natural law, offering a "God'', deistic or otherwise as an explanation for the the complexity of the cosmos just muddies the waters. Occam's razor  states that the simplest explanation of a phenomena is usually the correct one. In this case, that would eliminate a God from the equation. The simplest explanation in this case is that our universe with its own set of laws may be part of a multiverse in which other such universes have their own ''Goldilocks'' physical laws. In that case, then isn't it possible that a supreme being could have created the multiverse as well? Not really. If there's no evidence of that our own universe was created by a supreme being, why would other universes be any different?

Then  of course there are those who say that there has to be a supreme being because the Big Bang  couldn't have caused itself or just come out of nowhere (actually the latter may have been possible.  See  A universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss.)  Yet that leads to the question, if  God created the universe / multiverse, then  who created God? Believers will always fall back on First Cause and that God is eternal. But that's not an answer. it's a paradox that can only be resolved with a self-creating supreme being, which makes even less sense. And to muck things up even further it's debatable that time even existed before the Big Bang.

However, there is a future for the universe, and it's not pretty. Over  the next several trillion to the almost nth power years, the universe will either continue to expand, and eventually  the stars will die out, the galaxies will come undone and the cosmos will become a cold, dead entity, or on the other hand if gravity prevails, the universe will collapse back in on itself  in a Big Crunch. In either case, of course life will cease to exist. That leads  to the question: why would an eternal supreme being create a universe with a ''use by'' date  in  the first place?* 

Finally, the day well may come when humans make contact with beings from other worlds who are superior to our kind. The day may also come when biological sciences can create life in a test tube, and from there human beings (we're already part way there with rudimentary cloning) and other forms of life as yet undreamed of.  What will humanity's relationship  with these beings, both those that are extraterrestrial and those that  we have artificially created? And  What will be  the response of  those who claim that the ''hand (or word) of God'' is the only source of life--when man has also become an originator of living beings? And if human-created life evolves separately from mankind, will its descendants in some  distant future speculate on how their own seemingly anthropic universe came into being just as we do today in ours?

*See also ''The Universe Is Disappearing, And There’s Nothing We Can Do To Stop It" and ''How Will the Universe End? | Space Time'', two  excellent articles that I  discovered after I published this post.


  

Monday, July 16, 2018

Her Bias Is Showing

As per the title of this blog site, my posts are usually oriented towards matters regarding the U.S.and Judaism. However, I'm taking a side trip here to review an opinion column from  a newspaper in the Philippines, as  the topic is a problem that Americans face as well .

As a supporter of gender equality , I find it disturbing when feminists hijack issues that affect both women and men and in doing so, paint women as almost exclusive sufferers of such concerns as though males who experience the same hardships don't exist.

An example is  Columnist Rina Jimenez-David of the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" who resorts to this distortion to try to justify her perspective about the status of woman as victim. In her June 20 Opinion piece ''Standing without permission'' which discusses the Philippone government  crackdown against loiterers (known in the Philippines as tambays, (which is Tagalog term  adapted from the English phrase ''stand by''), she said that this action is anti--woman just because a relatively few number of people caught up in the controversial police sweep of suspected loiterers  were female prostitutes. But in fact the overwhelming majority of those arrested as tambays were men.

Then in her July 03 column  ''Gender factor in suicide'' Jimenez-David relates the phenomenon of the worldwide  increase in suicides among young women ages 15-19. However, the source that she references, the World Health Organization, also reports that the global suicide rate for teens overall is rising.  Presumably that includes males as well. But Jimenez-David  focuses only the greater percentage of adolescent and young adult females who take their own lives as though that statistic makes them more ''victim-worthy'' than their male counterparts. Yet, why must the tragedy rightfully associated with  suicide be framed according to gender?  Let's say for the sake of argument that the suicide rate is 3 females for every 1 male.  Just because fewer males die this way, does that mean that males who killed themselves are worth only 1/3 of the consideration that their female counterparts are entitled to receive?

And consider that perhaps the rate of suicide for young males is less because ''big boys don't cry''. Almost universally, males by their very sex are expected to just suck up their pain and get over it, ''and (they are told) anyway suicide  is for the ''weak'''' . But of course they can't get over it. Instead they may redirect their psychological suffering outward in forms of violence against others. That in itself may be a partial explanation for the high crime rate among adolescent and young adult males. But that's just speculation on my part.  However, "Philippine Star'' columnist Boo Chanco has some interesting thoughts about,  ''Depression and suicide'' along  with machismo, especially as how they are regarded in the Philippines.

But if we follow Jimenez-David's preference of focusing  on afflictions based on gender, then shouldn't, say, alcoholism be treated as a male disease since overall, especially in countries like the Philippines, the percentage of men who are alcoholics is greater than that of women? Of course not.  To the extent that this scourge negatively impacts society in general and individuals and families in particular, again not just in the Philippines but in many other parts of the world as well, it's everyone's problem.

The same is true for suicide. Accordingly then, it's pointless and one-sided for Jimenez-David to play the gender card whether it's regarding social injustice or social calamity  in order to satisfy her personal  agenda.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Atheism and Gratitude

There's a false impression among many (most?) god-believers that atheists can't feel the emotion of gratitude because we don't consider  a supreme being as a source for the ''gift of life'', ''blessings'', and the favorable outcomes that we experience. However, as I see it, it's  not an imaginary deity who gave me life. My parents did that. But no matter how I--or any of us  for that matter--view how we came into existence,  how would we know the difference if we hadn't?  There's a quotation attributed to Mark Twain in which he supposedly said “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” That reflects my sentiments exactly.

Also  I didn't  receive the memo that says I can't feel gratitude towards the people, most of all to my wife Lydia,  who have been there for me on the journey to my present stage of life.

Still another  perspective to my particular sense of gratitude is an awareness of that for all my problems, my situation could be a lot worse.

I also have a strong appreciation and sense of awe for the grandeur of the natural world which is awesome for its beauty and web of interconnectedness that ranges from smallest  the sub-atomic particle to the  greatest supercluster of galaxies in the universe.

So I have a many things in my life for which I am grateful, and  a realization that such good fortune should not be taken for granted. That may be the most important awareness about gratitude of all . 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Jewish Alt- Right Sympathizers, Trump, and Charlottesville

It  should come as no surprise that President Trump had to be dragged into finally criticizing the white nationalist violence that broke out at the Aug. 12 Charlottesville rally. But he then muddied the waters  with his retweeting a message from a right wing conspiracy theorist and then with his assertion that both sides in the melee were at fault.. However, what's almost certain is  that Trump doesn't want to alienate certain segments of  his support base, one of  which is  discussed below, which he has been egging on to such physical confrontations since his campaign for the presidency  began,  and his opponents should know that by now.  

It so happens that I got into an online shouting match on Facebook a few months ago with a couple of Jewish Trump supporters who strongly supported the alt-right Proud Boys in a campus clash at Berkeley  with the far Left AntiFa earlier this year and then at Charlottesville. Now personally I also have no use for AnfiFa, which is a radical left organization; but for Jews to  actually applaud a group at the other extreme that has ties to white nationalism and worse as the Charlottesville events confirmed is lunacy, especially in view of the fact that some of the participants  there were chanting antisemitic slogans!

As might be expected, the response by the Jewish sympathizers of the Proud Boys to my original  criticism of both them and that organization was at that time a salvo of ad hominems against me and  of non-sequitur attacks on Hillary Clinton  and former President Obama.  But if  after Charlottesville  they can still stand by their advocacy of such a hateful ideology along with its proponents, that says a lot more about them than it does about white nationalism--and Trump.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mess Mutual

Whether you reside overseas or in the U.S. if you have a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account, upon reaching age 70 1/2 you may have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account on an annual basis for which, if you're an American citizen,  you will  receive  from your account administrator a 1099-R form at the end of the year to include with your tax filing  If you're a foreigner, you will receive a 1042-S form instead.

The administrator of my 401(k)   is Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, aka Mass Mutual.  This is a multi billion dollar insurance and investment company,  but their customer service is of wretchedly low quality. For example, last year Mass Mutual made an error regarding my 2015 1099-R which I went to great lengths to correct. Well, not only did I have the same problem again for 2016 but MM made an additional blunder as well.

It all began when it occurred to me in February that I had not yet received my 1099-R for 2016. When I called Mass Mutual customer service about this delay, the representative stated that the form had not been generated because MM had no  record of my taking an RMD for that year, when in fact I had definitely done so. Fortunately, I had kept a confirmation record from which I furnished the information for Mass Mutual to dig deeper. In doing so they finally found the file for the transaction.

When  I then inquired how soon my 1099-R would now be forthcoming, the CS rep stated that I would not receive that form after all because of my foreign address. Instead Mass Mutual would issue me a 1042-S which is for foreigners who have accounts in the U.S.  subject to withholding. Well here we go again I thought. This is the same problem that I had with MM for my 2015 RMD.  I explained this time just as I did before that I'm an American citizen and no matter where I live, I should receive a 1099-R, not a 1042-S. The representative continued to argue the matter, but I stuck to my guns and even gave a change from my Philippines address on file there to my mail forwarding address in the U.S.so that this issue wouldn't keep cropping up each year.  I finally prevailed and received my 1099-R for 2016 which enabled me to proceed with my IRS filing.

The other day I received correspondence from Mass Mutual: a second  1099 and under separate cover another document. Each communication still reflected my Philippines address. So I called MM and confirmed my suspicions that the change of address that I had previously ordered had never been processed.but I was assured  that it would be done immediately.

While I was editing this post,  I tried to pull up my 401(k) account on line to see if that correction had finally been, but instead I received an error message''We cannot process your request at this time. Please try again later.''

Oh, BTW. the other document that I received was a 1042-S form, about which the rep said ''not to  worry about it'', except now my name may be on file with the IRS as a foreigner, as one copy of that form is automatically also sent to Uncle Sam.

Finally,  I would like to add that the amount in my 401(k)  is chump change as is my required minimum distribution compared to most accounts that Mass Mutual deals with every day. If they can't keep proper track of simple accounts and basic transactions like mine, what kind of errors might they making on major accounts? If you do business with that company, that's something to think about.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Ill Fortune Befalls an Atheist

Like Many other atheists, I'm been told by theists that in a crisis, I will turn to God  (or in my case ''return'' as I was also once a God-believer) and beg him for help. This  assertion reminds me of the adage that ''there are no atheists in foxholes'', because in the extreme danger of combat, all soldiers fear for their lives and supposedly pray to  God for deliverance. That assumption is wrong.  There are indeed atheists in foxholes. In fact there is an it organization comprised of  such non-believers: Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

This unwavering resoluteness obtains with their civilian counterparts as well.. In my own situation, namely three cancer operations plus the removal of a kidney all within one year, I can attest that not once during that time did I ever consider renouncing my unbelief for the simple reason that I find no evidence for the existence of a supernatural being.  In other words, just because of difficult or  even life threatening health circumstances, why  should I abandon reason in favor of superstition? Any hope that I had for recovery  was based on my trust in the skill of the surgeons and the other members of the medical team who were involved with my case. And they are the ones who deserve the credit for the favorable outcome of my surgeries, not some imaginary sky-daddy.

But what about atheists whose family members or friends are stricken with a serious condition? It's one thing for the patient him / herself to refute the existence of a supreme being, but many (most?) theists think that the wish for the victim's well-being is enough to cause these loved ones to re-evaluate their own non-belief and instead resort to prayer for a successful outcome.  On that  they couldn't be more wrong.  My wife who's also an atheist and  who lovingly saw me through this critical period confirmed that all the while she remained steadfast in her non-belief for the same reason I did.

At this writing, I'm fortunate enough to be in remission. However,  that status can change any time, and I know that no beseeching of an imaginary supreme being can make that reality go away.  To put it another way, when there is a genuine commitment to critical thinking in the face of adversity, God-belief doesn't have a prayer.