Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Kanzi, the Talking Bonobo?

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Well, an acquaintance showed me some exciting video the other day. It was of Kanzi, a Bonobo that has learned to communicate with humans by pointing at symbols. Kanzi knows thousands of symbols, and videos of him are all over youtube. It’s pretty impressive stuff. Kanzi can give and understand a vast array of commands, and interacts with his handlers regularly using the symbols. To primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has been studying Kanzi all Kanzi’s life, Kanzi exhibits “advanced linguistic aptitude.” Kanzi has even been interviewed on TV, heck, how many people can say that? Is the Kanzi the breakthrough primatologists have been striving for for decades, have humans and an animal learned to communicate? Well, yes. The more important question though is this, is Kanzi the the holy grail of animal communication research, has Kanzi learned to speak?

Alas, while there is a lot to be learned from Kanzi research, don’t place any pre-orders for handy Bonobo house servants. Let’s start from the beginning. In 1969 a chimpanzee named Washoe rocked the scientific world, the first chimp to learn sign language. Washoe was a media sensation, and launched a whole raft of primate sign language research. People everywhere loved the idea that chimps could talk. Sure, their vocal cords can’t pronounce human words, but with sign language, that barrier was broken! Unfortunately, upon closer examination, Washoe well, washed out. Her handlers had been wildly optimistic about their interpretations of many of her hand movements. Even one of her most famous examples of “speech,” her making the signs for water and bird upon seeing a swan, isn’t particularly amazing. A swan is a bird, and it was on water, all it really showed was that Washoe knew the signs for water and bird. Science moved on, and while a few researchers went forward, other than in the popular perception, signing chimps were a dead end.

Then, along came Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi. No messing around with ambiguous hand movements, by learning actual symbols, his communications were clear. Kanzi learned thousands of symbols, and could use them to signal his wants and even to some extent communicate his internal states. Watching the videos of him is pretty amazing, at least on a  superficial level. Kanzi can hear complex commands and act on them, surely that means he is using language similar to how humans do. Had Sue Savage-Rumbaugh done it, was Kanzi the first animal to speak with a human?

Alas, no. There’s a number of problems with the “Kanzi is speaking” scenario. The first is how he acquired language. When human babies start learning words, they almost immediately begin constructing sentences out of them. And as they learn more words, their sentences get longer and more complex. When Kanzi (or other “talking” chimps) start to learn words, they pretty much don’t make sentences out of them. And as they learn ever more words, their sentence construction remains at their initial very modest levels. Kanzi’s average sentence length is … 1.15 words. In other words, Kanzi for the most part uses exactly one symbol to express himself. And while Kanzi’s understanding of symbols might seem impressive, it’s more substance than real. Yes, Kanzi seemingly can understand commands involving several words, but that is not necessarily language. IE if one tells Kanzi to “put the doll in the bucket in the other room” all Kanzi really has to know is that he is expected to manipulate the doll, the bucket, and the room. That’s not language.

More accurately, Kanzi does not appear to understand grammar at all. Grammar is how words strung together modify each other, the essence of language. IE take these two sentences, “Man bites dog.” and “Dog bites man.” A human child can understand the clear distinction between these two sentences almost as soon as they start learning to speak. Kanzi can’t, when carefully tested with simple sentence pairs like this, his “understanding” doesn’t rise above chance levels. Despite learning language for decades, Kanzi is 26, he doesn’t understand grammar at all. As one primatologist puts it, no ape has ever asked a question or expressed an opinion.

Will humans ever communicate with animals? Not looking good, human’s facility with language most definitely is something that no animal, no matter how clever, has ever demonstrated. Is there a lesson here? Of course, I’m always illustrating some point or other. The main point being how people’s public perception of science is often at odds with reality. Most people one talks to about signing and symbol using chimps are absolutely convinced that indeed, these animals are “speaking.” I suspect this is a combination of wishful thinking; both on the part of the public, the media, and on the part of the very sincere researchers involved. Sadly, just because a handful of researchers and the public thinks that something is a scientific reality, doesn’t actually make it so.

Lastly, Kanzi is a curious example of borderline research. Nothing is ever black and white, the boundaries between science and nonsense aren’t as clear cut as many would believe. Talking apes aren’t pseudoscience, actual scientists are working in the field. And they sincerely believe they are onto something. I suspect the amount of research devoted to this will decline over time, that’s usually the case with unproductive lines of research. Still, all this talking chimp research has at least cleared up one thing: Chimps can’t be taught to talk.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I got it from this fine site, which presumably holds the credit and copyright. And yes, I have been ill. I have returned and am blogging again. That’s good or bad depending on one’s perspective I suppose.)

Written by unitedcats

December 18, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Posted in History, Science

And the Winner of this Year’s Most Tasteless 9/11 Commemorative Message is: ALIPAC

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“The illegals are trying to hijack the cockpit of America’s government! Let’s roll! —William Gheen and The ALIPAC Team”

Isn’t that just lovely? Let’s use the most terrible crime in American history to compare immigrants to mass murderers.  Yes that’s the message of the anti-immigrant group ALIPAC. Lovely, just lovely. It’s bad enough that 9/11 has been used to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, strip us of our rights, support overseas wars, and the creation of a vast mind-numbingly wasteful and counterproductive police and security state … now it’s being used to foment racism in the USA! Merika!

Sigh. This is an example of why I’m having trouble blogging lately. The Religious Right in the USA is going further off the rails every day. If you aren’t a white, Evangelical Christian, heterosexual, male American … you aren’t really an American. That’s the platform of the Religious Right now, it scares me, it should scare any decent person. I’d write more posts about it, but it would just upset me more. People who want to keep up on the brain-dead antics of this formerly fringe movement should follow Right Wing Watch. A lot of it is the usual crap, trying to get religious teachings back into school, etc. Some of it is a lot worse. Tell gay couples to die on their wedding day, gays wear special rings to infect non-gays with HIV, Obamacare is designed to kill conservatives. The sort of stuff that used to be limited to flyers stuck under windshields is now mainstream fare. Jesus wept.

What does this have to do with 9/11? A lot, 9/11 really seems to have pushed a lot of right wingers over the edge. A friend of mine was calling for the USA to blanket Afghanistan with neutron bombs after 9/11. He came back and later admitted it’s a good thing he wasn’t in charge of the country that day. Many kept right on going as evidenced by the Religious Right’s every widening gap between themselves and reality. The rest of the country is trying to move forward to an America with justice and fairness for all Americans, the Right wants to return to a day (that never existed) when American was synonymous with white Evangelical Christian. And I am most definitely talking about Republicans and the Tea Party, though there are plenty of conservatives who think it’s gone too far. They are being purged from the Republican party from what I can tell. This is the legacy of 9/11, Republicans have turned into a party of hatred and divisiveness.

Then there’s the whole war monger thing. Sigh. 9/11 was indeed blow-back from our murderous foreign policy, but few if Americans know that. The propaganda that 9/11 was purely caused by America hating religious nuts who only understand violence and can’t be negotiated with is pretty much stock-in-trade for most Americans. With the full and enthusiastic cooperation of most of America’s atheists too. Sigh. Again. Yes, 9/11 was a terrible thing. And we’ve used it to justify endless 9/11s against Muslim lands. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as we set our military loose to “protect” America by murdering foreigners. And we wonder why foreigners hate our foreign policy, if “kill as you please” can even be described as a foreign policy.

The there’s the other 9/11, one that I didn’t even realize was a 9/11 event until recently. Yes, 40 years ago today with the full backing and aid of the CIA and USA government the democratically elected government of Chile was overthrown by a military coup, ushering in nearly two decades of repressive military dictatorship. I guess it’s only fitting that we used our own 9/11 to strip Americans of their rights and energize our efforts to overthrow governments overseas. It’s an American tradition now, like football, mom, and apple pie. And now due to Obama’s beneficent influence, even the Democrats are the party of foreign wars!

To me this is the greatest sadness and shame of 9/11. A terrible event that could have triggered a national debate and reflection on the role America plays in the world was hijacked by war mongers, war profiteers, and haters from the beginning; and we now have a country that wages war constantly abroad and spies on and restricts its citizens at home. We could have followed the Prince of Peace, instead we pledged our souls to Satan. To commemorate the loss of loved ones by killing foreigners and stripping Americans of their rights isn’t commemoration, it’s sick. America lost its way in 2001and went enthusiastically down the dark path Bin Laden wanted us to follow. Maybe someday we will wake up from the dystopian police state nightmare that has been evolving in the USA since then, but I’m not seeing many bright spots on the horizon.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image, and it is the best image I could find to illustrate my feelings about 9/11. I have no idea who to attribute it too. “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” —John Lennon)

Written by unitedcats

September 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

Syria, War and Lies All Over Again

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Well, Washington and Obama are making noise about attacking Syria. Quelle surprise. Kerry was saying today that the evidence of a Syrian chemical attack was “undeniable.” Please, spare me. Washington has been lying about this sort of stuff since the Mexican War in 1848, and it’s hard to find a 20th century war they didn’t lie through their teeth about. Our economy and political system is based on war forever, Syria is just more of the same. The main reason we know this is a lie is simple. Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons would trigger US intervention. Why in the name of God would Syria do the exact thing that would trigger US attacks? They wouldn’t of course, no one is that stupid, especially considering that chemical weapons are essentially useless on the battlefield unless your enemies are using World War One style human wave attacks. So Syria has no conceivable reason to use chemical weapons, and excellent reason not to use them.  Kerry’s claim should be taken for what it most likely is, a lie.

So if the Syrian government didn’t launch an attack, who might have? Well, let’s see, who has to gain from US intervention? Bingo in the Elf Lounge. The rebels. Yes, a chemical weapons attack was launched by the Syrian government conveniently near a UN inspection team even! How lucky was that? And snipers even tried to slow the team down as it approached the stage of the purported chemical weapons attack. Stage as in staged. It’s more than likely the rebels faked an attack of some sort, it wouldn’t take much. For all practical purposes Obama asked them to stage an attack, who can blame them? Even the public evidence is suspect. There are photographed bodies of claimed sarin gas victims. Assuming these are real pics (yes, the rebels have tried crude fakes before) it’s been pointed out that if these people really did die from sarin gas, the people wandering around the bodies without protective gear would also quickly be succumbing to the intensely lethal substance on the bodies. They aren’t.

Sadly the truth doesn’t really matter. The USA attacks whomever it pleases whenever it pleases, and manufactures whatever justification is needed. Most Americans don’t want another war, but their opinion hardly counts anymore. Even Congress isn’t even trying these days, this time they might not even bother to pass a resolution supporting the attack. What will be the results of the attack, aside from more profits for the military industrial complex? Who knows, it often takes years for the blow-back from this sort of nonsense to fully realize itself. It stands a good chance of bringing down the Assad regime, one of the only remaining secular regimes in the region, and replacing it with a Islamic fundamentalist government aligned with Al-Qaeda. How would that help the USA or Syria? Damned if I know.

What I do know is that there is nothing “humanitarian” about an American attack on Syria. Yes, that’s part and parcel of the endless propaganda flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, we’re all concerned about the plight of woman and minorities and democracy. Yes, unlike every other empire in history, the USA’s motives are pure! Spare me. Anyone who believes that may have pure motives themselves, God bless em, but the facts on the ground consistently belie the idea that we are trying to make the world a better place. US intervention almost invariably makes things worse for the people in a  region, especially the ones we kill and maim with our “well intentioned” bombs and missiles. It does however prevent the rise of modern secular nation states, which would be far less pliable to American influence and meddling. They might even have radically dangerous ideas like those pursued by Saddam for example … he thought that the profits from the sale of Middle Eastern oil should be invested in the Middle East! One can see why he had to go.

So many lies, when it’s all just about western militarism and colonialism. European armies have been marching through the Middle East since Alexander the Great. The excuses change but the end result is the same. Death and destruction for the locals. That’s what wars do on the receiving end. Our current Alexander in Chief hasn’t shown any qualms about that before. And of course wealth and profits for the west. Follow the money as they say.

Lastly, a point about chemical weapons. They are not WMDs. They in fact aren’t anything special, just another one of the myriad evil ways humans have devised to kill each other. Like nuclear weapons, they have few real military applications and are more a political and propaganda weapon than anything else. And to make the hypocrisy complete, not only does the US cheer on such weapons when they approve of the regime using them, the USA has utterly no qualms about using them itself. So the idea that Syria has crossed some sort of moral boundary by using (purportedly) chemical weapons doesn’t pass the laugh test.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Its a photograph entitled “Viktor Bulla’s Pioneers in Defense Drill, Leningrad (1937)” It appears on page 79 of a book of photographs called “Propaganda and Dreams” by Leah Bendavid-Val. While a lovely ghoulish photo by modern standards, it was very much meant as a propaganda picture showing how prepared the Soviet Union was for self defence.)

Written by unitedcats

August 27, 2013 at 7:59 am

The Monster Within Us

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“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

The Hannah Anderson kidnapping. Some weird shit, eh? For those who weren’t following, a family friend kidnapped a 16 year old girl, torture-killing her mother and brother in the process, and fled to the Idaho wilderness. The FBI tracked him down and rescued the girl, the perpetrator dying in the shootout. (And while I am often a harsh critic of law enforcement killings, in this case, good going guys. A murderous monster with a hostage was killed, sometimes the good guys are the good guys.) So, sick fuck dead, is there more to this story? Yes, yes there is. Here on Doug’s Darkworld we thrive on sick stuff, and this unpleasantness has some curious aspects.

So, the authorities are still mystified as to the perpetrator’s motive. Ah, the wonders of living in a puritan country. It’s not all that mysterious, he wanted to fuck her. And he likely did, although I haven’t found that anywhere in the news yet. Of course rape would be the operative word, she was a victim in every sense of the word. So what causes a man to kill his best friend’s wife and son, and kidnap the daughter? Was DiMaggio insane? In some senses, almost certainly. It was a crime with essentially zero chance of “success,” so clearly he wasn’t thinking rationally. He might have had a brain tumour or other organic problem that destroyed his judgment and impulse control. Maybe he was always a sociopath, but until then had never encountered a situation that brought it to the surface so to speak. Whatever the trigger for the crime was, it did develop over time, as there are reports he was acting strangely towards the girl long before the kidnapping. At the very least the man had a troubled past that more than likely contributed in some ways to his crime.

However, it’s easy to say some guy was “crazy” and let it go at that. Alas, nothing occurs in a  vacuum. So one can at least speculate about what influences might have led to this tragedy. The first thing that comes to my mind is rape culture and the objectification of women. Men are programmed from an early age by innumerable societal forces to think of women as “prizes” that they can obtain somehow. Hell, there’s a whole genre of popular “asshole gets the girl” movies.  Don’t even get me started on the bible and fundamentalist religion. Then there’s advertising. Basically this guy looked at the girl as a sex object despite overwhelming factors that should have dissuaded him. Or think of it this way, if the victim hadn’t been a classically cute blonde girl, would the crime even have happened?

In a more general sense, men kidnapping girls to be their brides has a long history. It was widely practised throughout the world throughout history, and continues to be practised to this day in some parts of the world. It’s fair enough to say that this was a normal part of human mating for much of the specie’s history. This of course doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it may explain the urge on an atavistic level. IE there was likely an evolutionary advantage to stealing brides from neighbouring tribes, so the behaviour may be at least someone instinctual. Any atavistic behaviour might be, and one has to speculate how many men might engage in the behaviour if the circumstances encourage it? Sadly the evidence is that many people are easily enough induced to do bad things.

As a codicil, Stockholm Syndrome. This is where a prisoner or a hostage comes to identify so much with their captor that they may even defend him. It was named after a bank hostage case where it was discovered that two of the three women taken hostage in a  bank robbery for several days had subsequently married their now jailed captors! About a quarter of people taken hostage appear to show at least some Stockholm Syndrome symptoms. And there is very much scientific speculation that the syndrome is an evolutionary adaptation to women being routinely kidnapped by other tribes. The women who acquiesced to enslavement were far more likely to survive and have children. Curiously, there seems to be little research on my hypothesis, that men may be evolutionary prone to bride kidnapping. Not sure if it means anything, especially in my shallow level of analysis, but it is interesting.

Many kidnap victims don’t exhibit the Stockholm Syndrome. Hannah Anderson, the victim in our case, was back on a social network within days of her release! And she had no sympathy whatsoever for her captor, saying being shot to death was exactly what he deserved. And it’s an interesting footnote to this case, the victim using a social network to share publicly her experience! The mass media played a role in her rescue, and it now plays a role in her recovery. The implications there alone are fascinating, it’s a brave new world.

(The above image was taken in Central Asia in 1871 -72, so it is safely in the Public Domain under US copyright law. It may show a traditional bridal “kidnapping” in progress, the women gesturing with the whip is facing her four “abductors.” I use parenthesis because as cultures evolved, the distinction between bridal kidnapping and arranged marriage gets fuzzy. In this case the Kidnapping appears to be more symbolic than real, one can speculate all they want about what is going on in the photo. Which it is why it made such a great photo for this very much speculative blog post. I am trying to provoke thought, not reach conclusions.)

What’s up with Putin and his persecution of gays?

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Russia’s leader, Putin, has begun a major persecution of gays. While being gay in and of itself has not been re-criminalized, pretty much any mention of the topic in public is illegal. Basically any sort of LGTB activism is now illegal in Russia. And of course this rising tide of anti-gay sentiment has encouraged all sorts of people to persecute gays on their own initiative. It’s an ugly situation that has caused some to call for a boycott of the upcoming Russian Olympics, and generated criticism from many international quarters, including Obama himself. On the flip side, many of America’s religious leaders are praising and encouraging Putin’s anti-gay stance! Yes, Putin is now more popular than Obama in some US demographics, go figure.

So, what the hell is going on here? In no particular order, my snarky didactic take on the situation. For starters, I don’t think this is completely random, Putin is a clever man, and he must have decided this was a good time for this. And from a  domestic sense, it can only solidify his position. It gets him more in bed with the Russian orthodox church, the military, and just conservative religious Russians in general. So he’s got a domestic win politically. Secondly, this is going to allow him to identify and persecute internal opposition to his rule. These laws will very much be a threat to political activists of all stripes. So just in general this will help keep the lid on secular democratic and human rights dissent. These are pretty big gains for the cost of forcing gays back into the closet.

Then there’s the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics coming up.  If one is an authoritarian regime hosting an Olympic game, democratic dissent during the run up to such games is a threat. Pro-democracy advocates brought down the South Korean military dictatorship in 1988 by taking to the streets before the Olympics. Granted Putin doesn’t face the kind of general pro-democracy dissent that the South Korean generals faced, but he’s not a man to take chances when he can avoid them. Internationally it gets even more complicated. The whole issue of LBGT rights is really big in the west, especially the USA, right now. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Basically Putin is setting it up so that almost any sort of “problem” around the Olympics will strengthen his hand domestically.

So what’s the west to do? There has been a lot of talk, but nothing concrete. A few boycotts have been launched, but there doesn’t appear to be any chance now that the west will boycott the Olympics. Which puts a lot of western leaders, including Obama in a  position where they have no really good realpolitik options. Actually boycotting the Olympics would get Obama a lot of cred in some quarters, but hurt his cred in others. Others with big money. Putin was likely betting that Obama and the west simply wouldn’t calculate that gay rights was an issue they wanted to get into a tiff with Russia about. It would be bad for business. So far Putin seems to have calculated correctly.

Domestically the US religious right is going nuts over this, falling all over themselves praising Putin’s “moral” stand. Granted they were already foaming at the mouth over Obama, but this just gives them more venom to stir up trouble with. Yes, by persecuting Russia’s gays Putin is encouraging even more divisive politics in the USA, and maybe even encouraging extremists to commit anti-gay terrorism. As a codicil to this, at the very least, Putin knows that American intelligence and security assets will be occupied dealing with the fallout from this. Anything that complicates and divides your enemies is a good thing.

Lastly, since resources will be devoted to this situation in the west, one has to wonder if Putin’s anti-gay crackdown is a distraction of some sort. Is Putin planning something he wants to divert attention away from? Many in the west have forgotten, but in 2008 Georgia tried to use the Olympics to cover up a fait accompli military re-annexation of a breakaway province. An ill advised action that resulted in a swift and brutal war with Russia and a confrontation between Russia and the USA. Putin hasn’t forgotten this by any means, and even if he’s not planning something, someone else might be. The world is not exactly a stable place right now.

(The above image is all over Facebook so I am claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. And it is the joke I usually hide in the copyright notice.)

Written by unitedcats

August 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Trayvon Martin and Institutionalized Racism

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The Trayvon Martin shooting. And the George Zimmerman trial. I’m at an impasse on racism and oppression and injustice. Some people see it, some people don’t. Some people were outraged by this shooting, some by the verdict. It was a case that revealed where people stood on issues such as racism and class, a case that really highlighted how people perceive the world.  Anyone who was using confirmation bias to reinforce their world view … had their world view reinforced by this case. That’s pretty much most of us. This is why is was such a  media and cultural sensation, it spoke to everyone. It was a mirror. A mirror into our souls. Our dark souls.

It would be easy to write a post that spoke to those outraged by both the shooting and the verdict. So I won’t go there. I could try to reach those who are overtly prejudiced, and think of Zimmerman as a hero. No point, people have to find their own way out of that conundrum. If anything, I am speaking to those who call themselves progressive, and think that justice was done as it was a fair trial. The liberal sheep as I refer to them as. Privately of course, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. To me this was one of the saddest aspects of this case, that a lot of people who think of themselves as just and progressive buy into the layers of  PC crap that conceals the horrid racist nature of this case. With this in mind, and in no particular order, a few impressions.

Of course this is about race. That is one of the more absurd claims made about this case, that it’s not about race. Of course it’s about race, because it is about how blacks are perceived in public. Blacks already live in a  world where the police are not their friends, things like stand your ground laws mean they also live in a world where any white man with a gun is a potential threat. (Don’t even try to tell me that Zimmerman wasn’t “white.” He was a rootin-tootin gun-toting self appointed armed vigilante “defending” a white community against black intruders. Hell, the NRA gave Zimmerman their endorsement, how white is that?) Or look at it this way, almost every black person in America knows a teenager who goes to the store and buys junk food. Even if it wasn’t about race, it was when the media got into it. People who think this wasn’t about race are probably the same people in the habit of saying “I’m not  a racist, but … “

It was not about the trial. A lot of liberals are talking about how, well, they really didn’t prove their case. Well, duh. They weren’t trying to prove their case, they were putting on a show trial in the face of enormous public pressure. If the local authorities had had their way, Trayvon would just be another statistic. From the very beginning the local police and authorities didn’t pursue due diligence in this case, Zimmerman wasn’t even tested for drugs for god’s sake. When the defense and the prosecution want an acquittal, it isn’t a fair trial. White people regularly claim self-defense and get away with shooting someone, black people almost never do. The same fellow who prosecuted Zimmerman got a black woman 20 years for firing a warning shot at her husband.

We’re not living in a post racial society. More blacks are in prison now than were enslaved in 1850. And largely imprisoned by draconian drug laws that send people to prison for possession, laws carefully written to punish blacks far more harshly for the types of drugs they use than the punishments for whites using the same drug in a different form. And the Supreme Court dutifully ruled that such laws aren’t racist, because they don’t single out race on an individual level. Right. And stand your ground laws are far more likely to benefit a white shooter than a black one. Nope, no racism there. Trayvon was followed by a  vigilante because he was a black male wearing a hoodie, if Zimmerman had followed and killed a white girl in the same circumstances, he’d be on Florida’s death row now.

If one understands that there are still oppressed peoples in the world, even in America, the Trayvon Martin case is an example of same. If for whatever reason someone doesn’t understand that, they’ve got the white thing down pat. White isn’t a race by the way, but that’s for another day. RIP Trayvon.

(The above image was used with permission of the author.)

Written by unitedcats

July 26, 2013 at 6:47 am

Those Crazy Atheists

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Ah, another lovely atheist meme lifted from Facebook. I see a lot of stuff like this. It bothers me for a number of reasons. It’s a wonderful example of how convincing false arguments can be, since I’m pretty sure most atheists have no problem with this image at all. That’s how false arguments work, they sound very convincing if one already agrees with them. That’s how Rush Limbaugh and his ilk cash in, they just endlessly regurgitate strings of false arguments that reinforce the prejudices and misconceptions of their target audience, and they’re golden. It works the same with all belief systems as far as I can tell, atheism among them.

OK, let’s get started deconstructing this mess. “Radical Muslims fly planes into buildings.” Well, appeal to emotion for one thing. One should always be suspicious of arguments that start off by pushing emotional buttons. This is also a propaganda button, since the idea that 9/11 was because they were crazy Muslims has been the central plank of US propaganda since 9/11.  Um, yes, the 9/11 plotters were Muslims, but their reasons for attacking the USA were largely secular and completely in response to US actions in the Middle East. Actions that killed vastly more innocents than died on 9/11. In other words, this first statement isn’t really true, and it’s completely without context. It’s a great way to demonize all Muslims though, even though the vast majority of them are as appalled by 9/11 as anyone else.

On to number two, abortion doctor killers. How many of them have there been, three? To say this is a cherry picked example is being generous. Thousands of murders are committed in the USA every year, most of them with motives as messed up as the abortion doctor killers. One could find examples of murders by any sort of person one likes and then hold it up as an example of how some radical world view poisons people. An argument that can be used to support any position isn’t much of an argument.

And what about radical Christians and Muslims that do good things? How come they don’t get mentioned? Small numbers of radical Christians helped their neighbours avoid the holocaust. Radical Muslims built a holocaust museum on the West Bank and surround churches in Egypt to protect their Christian neighbours. Wow, what monsters these radical religious people must be! In other words, radical religious people do terrible things because when a terrible thing was committed by a religious person, it must have been because of his religion. What?

Lastly, and the most transcendentally absurd considering that the meme is apparently trying to make the case that somehow atheism is a voice for peace, is the idea that radical atheists are just harmless authors. Well, first off, even the radical atheists they are alluding to, Hitchens and Dawkins I am assuming, have been some of the biggest cheerleaders for America’s violent foreign policy in the Middle East and Asia. Um, promoting war against Muslims isn’t about peace, it’s warmongering. It gets even worse. Stalin and Mao were both atheists and they both wrote books. And they were definitely antithetic to religion, which would seem to make them pretty radical. They also did far more than write books, they killed tens of millions of people. In fact they make al-Qaeda and abortion doctor shooters look like amateurs when it comes to mass murder. Why not mention them in the company of radical atheists?

In the real world the reasons for human violence are complex and deeply rooted in history, personality, culture, and politics. And while religion is most definitely used to inspire people in violent endeavours, it’s rarely the seminal cause of those endeavours. Sophomoric tropes blaming violence on religion are just atheist propaganda, and about as helpful as blaming Jews or Muslims or Christians for the world’s  violence. It’s easy to blame the world’s problems on people who are different than you. This is what radical atheists are doing with this meme, it’s just a way for atheists to pretend they have the answer. Kinda like what so many religions do.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

(The above image appears to have its own attribution, and since they must have released it on Facebook, it must be public domain. In any event it’s not being used for profit and is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I could have also mentioned that a certain famous German atheist wrote a book called Mein Kampf that’s not exactly a handbook for peace. However his atheism is debatable, Mao and Stalin’s isn’t.)

Written by unitedcats

June 19, 2013 at 10:29 am