Class Warfare Blog

May 3, 2018

First Civilizations—Religion

Filed under: Entertainment,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:56 am
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PBS is airing two new series, one called “Civilizations (BBC created)” and the other “First Civilizations (PBS & BBC created).” I saw fragments of both and programmed my DVR to record episodes. Last night I started viewing an episode of “First Civilizations” with the episode title of “Religion.”  I settled in with a bucket of popcorn looking to become enlightened … which lasted all of ten minutes. I will finish the episode, I guess, but here is some of what I saw in just the first ten minutes.

In the intro they said “When people share beliefs they are more likely to be cohesive … which allows a civilization to form.” This is basically true but is said in such a passive way. It could have been put ‘When people are forced to believe the same things, they are more likely to be able to be controlled … which allows a civilization to form.” Their verbiage makes it sound as if people spontaneously got together and said “Hey, gang let’s share beliefs so we can make a civilization.”

Then they ask a rhetorical question, a rather good one: Religion is the glue that binds us together (they slipped in “religion” to take the place of “shared beliefs”) … but how did people come to this conclusion? Again, this is on the right track but it makes it sound as if “the people,” as in “We, the people, …” were the actors, the deciders here. I think not. I think people are told what to believe and are usually threatened with negative consequences if they do not.

They began their answer to that rhetorical question above with the claim that by and large we were animists for the vast bulk of our existence, that gods and spirits were all around us. This was short but, I think, fairly accurate. They went on to say, “Switching to herding changed the viewpoints of animists. They started building sacred spaces. (Their example is rock jumble in Egypt that predates Stonehenge by a couple of millennia.) By building them, they were saying that the gods were to worshipped in these spaces and only there. They went on to point out that a number of these rocks weighed over one ton, so cooperation was needed to move them into place. They concluded that the stones must have some spiritual significance (emphasis added).

Click. (That’s me changing channels.)

There are more than a few problems with their claims. For one, if there were gods or spirits everywhere, how would anyone be convinced that they could only be accessed in one place? That the stones were moved into place apparently has been established and the conclusion that cooperation of a lot of people was required is valid, but ask yourself, what reason would people have to drop the productive labors they were engaged in (herding, cooking, weaving, etc.) and enter into nonproductive labors, strenuous labors (moving rocks)? The creators of this program are selling these actions as “spiritually motivated,” but in reality this doesn’t play out this way. All religions are based upon threats. That may sound harsh but bear me out. Imagine some shaman of one of the herding clans telling the herders they have to leave their flocks and move some really heavy stones around the desert. Most of the herders would respond with the equivalent of “WTF?” Would the shaman plead or just ask? Would the shaman argue how much better things would be with the rocks moved? I don’t think so, the shaman is in a position of power. To keep it he needs to exercise that power. He would threaten the tribe, as he always had, with the terrible things that would happen if they didn’t do his bidding. Since terrible things happen with some frequency, everyone has these things in mind and the idea of placating the gods for these terrible things has already been established. The shaman has “protected” the tribe in the past and “knows” which gods need to be placated. I am sure this is the variant of the “Elephant Repellent Spray” con. (There are no elephants around here! See, it works.)

So the tribe’s members are threatened with repercussions if they do not do as the shaman asks. The more “religious,” aka the more fearful, help coerce the less fearful and there you are. The labor was not spiritually inspired, it was coerced through threats of retaliation from gods or spirits.

Another problem is: where would the idea of a scared space come from? These are animists, the gods are all around. Lift up a rock and there is a god there. If the gods are everywhere, you do not need special places. (This same question could be asked of Christians who go to their churches to light a candle and pray, while at the same time arguing their god is everywhere and can hear their voice no matter where they are.)

What might motivate the creation of “sacred spaces?” Here is a counter narrative: when we became pastoral, which is not a sedentary lifestyle like agriculture creates, even so we become somewhat restricted in our movements. Like the skateboarding kid taking selfies, it seems as it he is stationary with the rest of the frame moving (because he is stationary relative to the camera), if you want to find a herder, look for the herd. The herd keeps moving (to find forage) but the herders are always next to the herd, so they are unlike hunter-gatherers in that their movement is more restricted. And herders follow patterns: there is winter pasturage and summer pasturage and the routes in between. They don’t migrate into unknown lands too much, who know what dangers might be there, so they make loops. By the time they get back to a spot they previously inhabited, the grass has had time to grow back, etc.

These pastoralists were not isolated from one another. Groups traded with one another, stole cattle, stole brides, arranged for marriages, etc. There were spaces where these groups met for such transactions and these spaces became “truce” spaces where it became bad juju to pull any fast ones. The shamans in each of these tribes would quickly learn in these trading spaces that they had “competitors” in the form of other shamans. Each shaman, not knowing what bullshit was being purveyed in the next group, was inclined to disparage the other shamans as weak or false. But what if another shaman’s message gets overheard by members of your tribe and they like it better than your spiel, what then? I’ll tell you: trouble in River City.

At some point, as a power ploy, one of the shamans has what he thinks is a good idea, the idea to create “a sacred space.” None of the others would have one of these. But he needs to get his tribe to build one. He does this and other tribes take notice. What is going on over there? Why are they dragging rocks around uselessly. When their own shamans can’t answer the question, the entrepreneurial shaman gains prestige.

Interestingly, the Stonehenge-esque site in Egypt shows a large number of small rings of stones scattered in a much larger circle. Could it have been that when the first tribe built their sacred space, the next tribe built a bigger one? (Sound familiar?) Soon you have a half dozen of the damned things surrounding the former “safe trading space.” The shamans, realizing that if they stay in conflict with one another there will be winners and losers, come to a tacit agreement over what the sacred spaces mean.

Now, I cannot “prove” my narrative, not do I want to try, but which narrative do you think is more likely? The one powered by spiritual feelings of “the people” or the one coerced by shamans seeking power? (In a court of law you can win a case not by proving the other side is wrong but simply by supplying a more likely narrative.)

These programs, at least the ones produced most recently by the BBC, have a reputation for sucking up to the religious. So, they start from “religion is a good thing” and “religions wouldn’t use fear and ambition to shape humanity’s future,” and well, I am sure you get it. So things are framed to cut religion a lot of slack, a whole lot of slack.

In reality, the religions we know are all based upon fear and threats. The Abrahamic religions have a god who says straight out that “I am a vengeful god.” Isaiah 45:7 in the King James Version reads, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” This god is then described as being “all-good” and above criticism.

Believers are to be rewarded, nonbelievers get horribly punished. If you don’t want to be punished, you had better do as you are told. Threats. Many such threats permeate the Bible. (They do not care if you truly believe and will accept you if you fake it. If you think this is harsh just read the stories of people who lost their faith. They lose their faith but nobody notices, as long as they act as they always have. You will see this over and over. Then, if they don’t just run away, if they actually tell their fellow parishioners that they have lost their faith, the threats and punishments begin.)

The role of religion in the creation of civilization is simple. Religions are organized systems of coercion to get the masses to behave so that they serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Mostly this is in the form of coerced labor. Coerced labor that accomplishes nothing of value to the religious (making circles of standing stones) is a display of power: “See what I can make them do? They placed all of these rocks in a circle at my behest.” It is no mystery that the first three civilizations in the “Cradle of Civilization” that is Mesopotamia, were ruled by religious elite cadres. So were Egypt’s. The earliest story ever recorded is that of Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh was originally ruled over by religious elites.

Fear and threats … coercion … what do you want to bet that these topics are not touched upon in the other 50 minutes of that program?


April 9, 2018

Patrick Reed: Master’s Champion … From a Broken Home … WTF?

A professional golfer by the name of Patrick Reed won the prestigious Masters Golf Tournament yesterday, a major breakthrough in his career. To celebrate this achievement a number of “news” sources decided to run stories about how Mr. Reed is estranged from his immediate family. Apparently he and his wife and wife’s family are quite at odds with Mr. Reed’s family.

And I have to ask: what the fuck does that have to do with Reed winning the most important golf tournament of his professional career? None of these stories was looking for the motivation that drives Patrick Reed to professional excellence. In fact neither of the stories explained the rift in his family. This is a huge invasion of privacy. What if there was a family betrayal of Mr. Reed? Would anyone be served by making that public? What if Mr. Reed is an atheist and has been disowned by his Christian family (or vice versa)? Is anyone one served by such a revelation?

One article even brought up allegations of him cheating while playing college golf, of course none of these allegations were proved.

What are these articles but cheap gossip, possibly published to tar Mr. Reed’s accomplishment. As I read these pieces with a growing sense of outrage, I kept looking for the point of these articles, something other than an interest in the salacious details of someone’s private life. I found none.

Just because someone is celebrated for athletic achievements, doesn’t mean we are allowed access to their private lives. This does not come under the public’s right to know that is so bandied about. This might have been different if Mr. Reed took some sort of political stance involving family values or its ilk, but I have seen no evidence of that.

I think hit pieces run like this need right next to the “Like” button a “Fuck You, Asshole, Mind Your Own Business” button.

March 8, 2018

I Am So Tired of Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Filed under: Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
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It seems that eight out of every ten science fiction and fantasy books being published is of the apocalyptic sort. Granted that many of the “new” authors are self-publishing and often try to mimic successful writing, especially through choice of topic, but still.

I have enjoyed a few such works, but really just a few. Somne of the things I have enjoyed about science fiction and fantasy is the experience of different cultures (even if fictional), how contact with completely alien species illuminates our own, the sheer adventure of traveling the stars, the technical conundrums that ensue from such risky explorations, the impact on the future of our species based upon exposure to the environmental and cultural forces of alien places, and so on.

Apocalyptic novels and stories exploit these same issues but from a standpoint that we failed massively as a species and have either nearly wiped ourselves out or are close to doing so. The protagonists are no less heroic, but the setting is depressing.

As a teacher I warned students, often, that if they look closely they will find that their best efforts as students, to date, were in digging themselves out of holes they themselves dug. I encouraged them to consider what would result if they skipped the step of digging the hole in the first place and learned to marshal those best efforts to get above where they were, rather than back to the level they started at.

Heroic actions in war-torn landscapes to me are not as interesting because the fighting is to get back to where we once were. I am more drawn to stories that extend from where we are not to where we might get. That is more inspiring to me.

Sadly, those works are being swamped by zombie and alien and human apocalypses and then people scrambling around trying to recover some of the better pieces. <sigh>

Your Friendly Neighborhood Pollyanna

September 29, 2017

Major College Basketball Scandal Adds to Previous One

There is currently an ongoing FBI investigation into payola in college basketball which is going to result in a number of firings (already begun) and people going to jail (coming soon). In the FBI’s investigation, a shoe company and sports agents illegally funneled money to athletes and athlete’s families in the hopes of reaping a reward later.

Asked to comment, Hall of Fame NBA player and now commenter, Charles Barkley said amongst other things “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” as part of his criticism of the players involved. I happen to like “Sir Charles” because you never have to wonder what he is thinking; he will tell you. In this specific case, though, I disagree. You see the college education he speaks of isn’t “free.”

Basketball players receive “scholarships,” with the NCAA (one of the college sports governing bodies in the U.S.) limiting the number of scholarships to 13 in Division 1 teams (the most competitive). The scholarships often cover tuition, and room and board, and a miniscule per deum, which is what Charles thinks is undervalued by the athletes who took money on top of that. The “scholarship” is really in exchange for the athlete’s services. I had friends who were in college on scholarship, who then had an accident and couldn’t play and voila, they no longer had a scholarship. The scholarship is contingent on the performance. Get cut from the squad and often there goes your scholarship. So, it is not free, in fact it is quite expensive. I played Division II basketball in college at a school which did not offer scholarships. During the season (roughly half the year) I spent three to four hours a day practicing. (Today that is minimal as there are weight and flexibility programs and team meetings, etc. added in.) This is equivalent to working a full-time job for about four months. So, an “opportunity cost” is that one cannot use that time to otherwise gain wages. (Over four years that is a years wages, plus.)

Consider the University of Kentucky basketball program, which in 2014 grossed $40 million and made a $24 million “profit.” (This is just the most obvious program I could find numbers for. Smaller programs don’t make anywhere near this much money, but …) NBA teams pay out half of their gross as salaries to players. UK pays none of this as salaries. I don’t know whether the program reimburses the university for the tuition of the players, I think “not” but it doesn’t matter, as the $24 million in “profits” goes into the university coffers. If, as in the NBA, UK were to pay its players half of what the program grossed, they would be paying the 13 players $20 million dollars in total or $1,538,000 each (note they could afford that).

If one estimates tuition at UK at $25,000 per annum and living expenses at another $25,000, then the cost of the college educations for the entire team would be $1,300,000 or $238,000 less than each player made for the university that year! Each player made enough to fund the entire team’s college educations!

This is why generalities like “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” are not helpful, because the players aren’t spending $50,000 for their education, they are spending $1,538,000 each for their educations. How is that undervaluing the cost of their educations?

Note that the program still had $16,000,000 to cover expenses, including grotesque overpayment for the coach, and would have had a $4,000,000 profit anyway were they to have done this.

Now, some of you will surely say, but Steve, those “profits” go to support the university’s other teams, the ones, unlike football and basketball, which do not make a profit. So, you are saying that exploiting the football and basketball players is acceptable because it supports minor sports? Is that what you are saying?

I mentioned I played NCAA Division II basketball. One of my years, the team made it to what was then called the Small College “Final Four,” so it had some success. We played our home games in a gym that would house about 800 spectators and students got in for free with an ID card. We often only drew 300 for a game. None of the college’s sports offered scholarships and none of the sports made a profit. None of the games were shown on TV (the source of the bulk of the monies made by college programs). The college offered these programs as part of its educational programs (plus it was good marketing as it placed the college’s name in the newspapers). The uniforms were the same one’s the team used last year. The shoes we bought ourselves. The coach taught the team as part (not all) of his teaching load with a bit extra for the extra hours involved. When we traveled we had team blazers to wear in public, the same ones that had been worn for decades. I am not saying this to show the nobility of the effort, I learned a lot and had a great deal of fun while sweating a lot and bleeding a little. The only reason the “major” colleges spend so much on their programs is because of the TV money. They are competing for the TV money because it is so lucrative. The money “earned” off of the players sweat can be used to support all of the other programs, thereby relieving the university from having to pay for them. The way I played was the way it was in the early days of college athletics. Now, TV money has made universities greedy, to the point that the highest paid public employee in every state of the U.S. is now likely to be a major college football coach. The coaches cash in, but the players, well, they shouldn’t be corrupted into thinking their participation is a job, even though other students toil away on campus, doing jobs that need doing and they get paid. And the difference is?

Hey, if the program can’t afford it, then it can’t afford it, but for the major college programs which can, well this is the big scandal. If those kids, often Black kids from very poor families, got paid a small fraction of what they made for their schools, then there would be no incentive to take payola from shoe companies and shady sports agencies.

They work. They make money for their employer (virtually the definition of economic work) and they are woefully underpaid. Pay them.


September 27, 2017

Just Sayin’

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 1:44 pm
Tags: ,

I finished watching the movie Wonder Woman last night and realized I really, really enjoy movies in which women kick serious ass. I have enjoyed recently Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” and “Lucy” and also “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and so on.

But I also notice that none of the lead actors (I am old enough to have typed “actresses” first) is less than stunningly beautiful, none has bulging muscles, or bad teeth, or looks like the Incredible Hulk. At least in the kung fu movies the women sweat, but in many of the others you don’t see a drop of perspiration. Of course, the skills deployed are based upon drug reactions (Lucy), god-granted powers (Wonder Women), and android bodies (Ghost in the Shell), the Force (Star Wars) because of course women are weak and couldn’t possibly accomplish anything without augmentation.

There are exceptions (“Lara Craft, Tomb Raider,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” etc.) but mostly women need to be augmented to star in an action-adventure movie. This happens in male-led movies, too (Superman, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, etc.) so maybe I am just being sensitive. But this is another reason I greatly like the kung-fu movies as the skills exhibited are earned rather than granted.

I guess I should just sit back and enjoy gifted women kicking villainous male asses. Keep ‘em coming Hollywood.



September 23, 2017

And I Can’t Stands No More!

Okay, this is getting seriously out of whack. The Ancient Aliens crew have been selling snake oil for years now and have created a great deal of content that is a lark. They fast cut from topic to topic spinning a narrative that aliens have visited us and are responsible for, well, most of human evolution, according to them.

Last night I viewed an episode that went way too far. Here is their website’s blurb for the episode:
The Science Wars
Nearly every year archaeologists and anthropologists make discoveries that require revisions to our history books. But there are numerous artifacts that are outright ignored because they don’t fit into the accepted scientific paradigm. Could clues about our extraterrestrial origins be hidden in these discarded pieces of our past? Shocking evidence has recently been revealed that challenges the accepted dating of the Great Pyramid. An ancient hammer found in Texas that dates back 140 million years is ignored by mainstream archaeologists. And unexplainable elongated skulls have been found on nearly every continent of the world that science refuses to test. Could we be on the brink of scientific discoveries that the academic community cannot deny? Evidence that reveals the truth of where we really came from, why we are here and if we are alone in the Universe?

At the end of this episode they hammer away at science, at how it is broken, at how science resists their findings, and how science jumps to conclusions before all of the evidence is in. The drum gets beaten very, very hard here. And, this is just at a time when science denial is ascending.

In the episode, an AA host takes a Brazilian skull of some antiquity and has it CAT scanned and its DNA analyzed. The CAT scans show some items missing from what normal Homo sapiens skulls exhibit. The researcher states that they have never seen anything quite like it before. The DNA analysis only found mitochondrial DNA, so it could only assess the lineage of the female ancestor of the skull’s original owner, and found it to be like someone of Scottish ancestry.

So, these anomalous findings, all of which warrant further study, are used as a basis for their position that science jumps to conclusions and is resistant to their narratives and findings. And just where did these researches take place? At a London university research complex, about as mainstream as you can get!

And right after hearing that further research is warranted in the minds of the experts they consulted, and vigorously claiming that science jumps to conclusions too quickly (excluding their hypotheses, etc.), the host comes to the conclusion that the skull represents the results of an alien mating with a human female. WTF? How about a disease that no longer exists that results in deformations of bones in babies? How about a single mutation that chanced to survive for a generation or two? How about testing all of the other skulls in that collection to see if the results are consistent? Nope, we go straight to fucking aliens, literally!

The “resistance” they bemoan is called “skepticism.” Basically, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and large qualities of it if you want to challenge established science. Yes, scientists often have problem changing their minds. Some scientists go to their graves clinging to ideas that have been discredited. Scientists are, after, people. But, science itself moves on. Look at how much Darwin’s theory of evolution was resisted by scientists. The theory of plate tectonics was mightily resisted. This is not a bug, it is a feature. Scientists, after all, have seen a great deal of evidence that fits into their current paradigms. They are going to have to see a great deal more to accept a new paradigm.

In the AA episode, the show points out any number of the limitations of carbon-14 dating of objects. These limitations are corroborated by mainstream academics, to whom they are well-known. (I am sure they were a surprise to a the AA producers.) But the show is just casting shade. One of the key limitations on carbon-14 dating is if a sample has been exposed to an enriched source of carbon-14, it will appear younger than it really is in that test. Some examples were provided that had dating results that showed the samples were from the future! (the concentration of carbon-14 was higher than baseline, not lower as would be expected.) Scientists look at this kind of anomalous result and assume that there is something wrong with the test and they repeat the test. Getting the same result, they assume the test is not working in this case. Reasons for the extra carbon-14 can be anything from contact with a meteor, exposure of the sample to volcanism, or an intense radiation sources, such as an atom bomb. Of course, the show goes off on the atom bomb diversion like a starving dog spotting a sausage.

In chemistry we had a set of “Standard Methods” for measuring quantities of chemicals in various substances (carbon in steel, strontium-90 in milk, residual lye in soap, etc.). At the end of each and every procedure was a section that listed know interferences with the test, not only acknowledging that there were things that could throw the test results off, but also that these were just the ones that were known and unknown interferences may also be involved because they are yet to be discovered. Every … single … damned … test had known limitations. This is something that scientists are quite comfortable with, including the need to get independent results from other tests to corroborate one’s findings.

Scientists are aware of the limitations of single tests, so they perform multiple tests. They are leery of the results of a single kind of test, so they look for evidence that is of an entirely different kind to corroborate findings.  Archaeologists and anthropologists use radiochemical dating procedures, and written records, and pottery patterns, and analysis of food wastes, and pollen identifications, and, and, … all trying to get a consistent picture of “when” and “what.”

Scientists are skeptical of their own findings (and especially of those who are their competitors). Scientists are also leery of jumping to conclusions. Even the producers of Ancient Aliens are. They have a formula for asking the leading questions that punctuate the episodes: they use the word “could” as in “could it not be the case that …” and then they always answer “ancient alien theorists say yes.” What they are asking is always “is such a thing possible.” They never ask is it probable.

Scientists are never certain, but this AA script kept hammering away with the phrase that “scientists crave certainty,” which is a strange way of saying scientists are skeptical of things they cannot support. Anyone who craves certainty is going to be miserable if they choose science as a career. All scientific finds are provisional. All “conclusions” may later be proven to be false, which is why all scientific conclusions are tentative. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is absolutely certain in science. Only in religion can you find absolute certainty … well, and in Ancient Aliens scripts.

I think they have turned the corner and are doing real damage to the public as they ramp up their anti-mainstream science rhetoric.

August 25, 2017

Aliens … and Dinosaurs!

Having covered all of the ground possible … and a lot more, the Ancient Aliens TV show has hit a new high, or low, depending on your point of view. They kept many of the same people on staff, introduced some new folks, and they kept their normal whirlwind pace, one that doesn’t allow much time for consideration of the fabulous things they propose, such as aliens being the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs.

The main thrust of this episode is indeed that it might just be possible, maybe coulda been, that aliens eliminated the dinosaurs so we could thrive. I won’t comment on the “evidence” they present but there was one point at which the idiocy achieved new heights. They were developing a line of argument challenging the facts that humans are 2-3 million years old at best but “all” of the dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago, in what was considered an extinction level even involving a rather large meteor, landing in Mexico, but clearly dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another … well, and aliens, too, of course.

They trotted out the éminence grise of this generation of unbridled thinkers, Erich von Daniken, to ask the question: If this was an event large enough to kill “all” of the dinosaurs, why did it kill off just the dinosaurs? (Apparently enquiring minds want to know.) Well, the event in question is called the Cretaceous-Paleocene mass extinction event and it resulted in about 75% of all species on the planet being wiped out, not “just” the dinos. And, it didn’t even kill off all of the dinosaurs! Many of the smaller theropods (what most of us think of when we think of dinosaurs), that is those under 25 kg/55 lb in mass, survived. Of course, the big beasties died.

The show then went on it’s merry way establishing that dinosaurs and human beings could possibly have lived together (mighta coulda). They didn’t mention Alley Oop in their arguments but they did throw in the Loch Ness monster and coelacanths. Right in the middle of this a talking head I didn’t bother to identify started bad mouthing radiocarbon dating, saying things like it was based on the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere by cosmic rays (true) and that the rate of production may have been different millions of years ago (also true) and that these things could affect the dates on early human and dinosaurs remains (uh, not so much). If you want to know why I was puzzled, Dear Reader, read on.

Carbon-14 Dating: A Primer
All radioactivity-based dating methods are based upon a factoid of radioactive isotopes (kinds of elements): they all decay in a pattern involving a half-life. A half-life is an amount of time in which a radioactive sample loses half of its radioactivity. Interestingly, the next halving of that sample’s radioactivity takes the same amount of time, as does the next even though there is less and less to lose. This creates a situation that is summarized in a rule of thumb: a radioactive isotope can be used to date object as much as 10 half-lives back in time. The amount of radioactivity in a living animal cannot be very high in the first place. Comic books aside, radioactivity in high doses is typically lethal. So, all living plants and animals start out with only tiny amounts of radioactive elements in their bodies. Then after one half life, half of it is gone (unless it is replaced which in the case of carbon-14 happens because we eat carbon atoms in all of our food and plants absorb carbon dioxide—this, of course, stops when the plant or animal dies). After two half lives, only a quarter remains because half is lost in the first period and half of what is left was gone after the second. After the third half-life one eighth is left, after the fourth, one sixteenth is left, etc. After ten half-lives 1/210 is left. As a percent that is a little less than 0.1%. Since very little was started with, at this point close to zero is left, so there is basically nothing to measure.

So, what is the half-life of carbon-14 you ask? (You’d better!) It is 5730 years. Ten times this number is 57,300 years. This is the time span that radiocarbon dating can be used. That won’t get you back before Homo sapiens begins (200,000-300,000 years) let alone back to the large theropods getting killed off 66 million years ago. This is a classic smokescreen tactic, used often in this show. Throw anything you got against the wall and see if it sticks.

The Problem With All of This
As you are probably aware, Americans are not the most scientifically-literate people on the planet. As more and more of this bushwah is passed off as some sort of legitimate argumentation (It is not!), people are going to more easily believe the bullshit our governments peddle us. Global warming? That’s a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists looking for grants. Dumping mine wastes laced with toxic heavy metals, not a problem. The Earth cleans itself. Lead in drinking water? A little bit is okay; go ahead and drink it.

The Exxon Corporation has released documents showing that 80% of the studies they undertook or analyzed showed that global warming/climate change was real and had real negative consequences. At the same time, 80% of its marketing budgets on the topic went to casting shade on the topic (for decades). Their problem is that one of the greatest sources of the climate change problem is the burning of petroleum products, which is what Exxon is in business for.


April 18, 2017

I Am Completely Gobsmacked (An Easter Special!)

I do not understand why the major Churches are not protesting the Finding Jesus series on CNN. The only reasons I could come up with is they do not know it exists or they are corrupt to their core. I can’t imagine they believe the things being said on that show.

In the latest episode of this travesty of a series we are treated to the story of Lazarus. This is described as “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission” by one of the usual talking heads. There are relics in the episode, of course, to submit to testing. In this case, we are told that a church in Cyprus has in its possession some of the very bones of said Lazarus. To utilize the “latest scientific techniques” these relics are to be tested. Since you, by now, know that the pattern of this show is to use any scientific results as a tease to keep you watching, they do not announce the results until minute 58 of the one-hour show. The test was a C-14 determination of the age of some wooden shards that were found in the sarcophagus along with what they believe are Lazarus’s bones. The relics, of course, were not made available for testing. We are told that the wood, shown being handled by naked skin over and over (an absolute no-no for things to be dated by C-14 as this will add modern carbon to the sample), is juniper wood, native to Cyprus and known to be used for coffins and the like. So, blah, blah, blah, tease, tease, tease and the date? The wood was harvested in the last 200-300 years, so it is “modern.”

Jesus was a stud, don’t you know. Lazarus was, too. They were best bros!

Every episode I have seen so far has a similar pattern. And if you compare this pattern with how scientists communicate, you will find a complete contrast. First of all a scientist will not report negative findings, unless it is part of a larger investigation. First they will tell you what their findings were, they will tell you how they obtained them (in enough detail you could verify their work), and then they would go on to discussing what they might mean once everyone is in possession of the facts. In this series, the discussion takes place ad nauseum and the facts are dropped in when you aren’t paying attention, usually at the very end.

So, where to start? The revivification of Lazarus is “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission”? Well, that is interesting because there was no mention of it in the Gospel of Mark. No mention in it in the Gospel of Matthew. No mention of it in the Gospel of Luke. Only in the Gospel of John are we treated to this powerful story. (To their credit, they mention this.) The Gospel of John is put anywhere from roughly 100 CE to 125 CE by most scholars. This puts it almost 100 years after the events being described and at least 25-50 years after Mark was in circulation and 10-35 years after Matthew and Luke. Some argue John came first; others much later; I don’t want to get into that. While there is a great deal in common between the other three gospels (some of it because of direct copying) there is little in John that is common with the other three. This is explained away by many as “The Johannine narrative is indebted to oral and possibly written traditions that were transmitted from earlier decades.” The person who wrote that sentence had no idea, he was only speculating, wishfully speculating at that.

So, resurrecting Lazarus was “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission” but failed to even be mentioned until two to three generations have passed from this most impactful of events. One wonders how such a story survives in the oral tradition and is neglected by the written tradition.

Please also consider that there are three pillars of Christianity: one is the scriptures, the other is prophecies, and the third is the miracles. It is said that were any of these three to fail, the whole edifice would crumble. So, this is a big fucking deal. But was the Lazarus miracle all made up? Was it a forgery? Good question. Don’t look at this for answers.

Throughout this debacle of a TV show, the talking heads make the most astounding claims and statements. When Jesus is told that Lazarus, his “best friend” according to the story (they basically declared them to be He-bros.), Jesus dawdles and doesn’t come running. The talking heads ask “Why was Jesus delaying?” “Was it hesitation …?” Hello? All of the Christian religions believe that Jesus was God (and declared it a heresy that he received the holy spirit when he was baptized so he has been god for a long time). many claim Jesus was 100% man and 1005 god. If he was God, would he not know all that had happened and what would happen? One of the talking heads jumps in and offers “I think Jesus had mixed emotions. He seems to be waiting for word from on high.” From “on high”? From himself? My incredulous meter just cracked. No one seemed to mention the obvious: Jesus can’t do a big resurrection miracle if somebody isn’t dead.

So, as the story goes, Jesus finally winds his way to Lazarus’s place and is confronted by Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus takes center stage and tells Martha the now famous speech “ I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they died and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” The talking heads gush about what all this means! I would like to point out that this show is, in part, about Lazarus’s bones. You see … he lived and then died and then he lived … and then he died for good. And according to John, nobody loved Lazarus more than Jesus. So, if that is how he treats his friends …

In the re-enactment Jesus cries when he approaches the tomb of Lazarus. And then … and then … the Announcer, using his best “voice of god voice” says “ Jesus has shown his humanity, now he will show his divinity.” WTF? Where in scripture does it say that? This is stated as a fact, pure and simple! The re-enactors then re-animate Lazarus, but that was a fairly easy task as they did not kill the actor playing Lazarus.

And they are not done. After Jesus raises Lazarus, the announcer or one of the talking heads says that this action “would identify Jesus as the Messiah.” Nowhere in Jewish scripture is the Messiah identified as a miracle worker; the messiah is a military man, a political leader, a deliverer of the people from oppression by outsiders. This is why the Roman occupation produced so many messiahs. They were needed for the Israelites to be saved from the Romans. To prove that Jesus was the messiah, all he had to do is point his finger to the sky and curse all of the Roman soldiers living in that region and have them fall dead. Those are the credentials that will convince every Jew that Jesus was the Messiah. (If you are nor a fan of death and destruction and would want Jesus to earn his title as the Prince of Peace, he could cause all of them to lose their memories, to forget they were Roman soldiers. That would do the trick.) Get caught and being executed as a petty criminal is not how one establishes oneself as a messiah.

Of course, they have to whip through the rest of the Jesus story in short order to complete the context for the Lazarus story. And in doing that they make the statement “Jesus is betrayed by Judas …” Hello? Jesus wasn’t betrayed by Judas, Judas was proving himself to be at least Jesus’ second best friend (after Lazarus, I am sure now). If Jesus isn’t taken by the Romans and crucified so he can be resurrected, there is no Christianity. (Can you imagine Jesus wheezing his last breath as an old man say “But I am the Son of God, I tell you …”?) Judas is doing this task at the behest of Jesus, knowing he will incur the wrath of the ignorant fisher-folk who are the core of Jesus’ followers.

Of course, there is no such thing as an ultimate absurdity in these shows. We are treated to a talking head who says “I think it is wrong to only find value in a story if we can trace it back to some historical events … this story (of Lazarus) tells us about the willingness to lay down your life for a friend.” WTF? My incredulous meter just healed itself and then cracked even worse. Since it is a good story, nothing else matters? What? <sputter, sputter> … not when you are using that story as evidence for the existence of your god; it is not good enough and never will be. Plus who laid down his life for a friend? I wonder if she read the story?

Why, oh, why is this word hash of a Christian abomination not being protested by the major churches? Blasphemy right and left. Idiocy right and left. Over and over these people make the mistake historians are taught never to make: the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past (presentism). They are taking conclusions from far after the period and applying them to first century Judea and Israel. At this point, stoning, which I suggested in my last post, is too good for these people. They need to be condemned to some vile and hideous torture. Maybe being forced to get all of their news through Fox, something awful like that.

The series is “Finding Jesus,” the subtitle is “Faith, Fact, Forgery” but they never seem to use the word forgery.

April 11, 2017

Find Jesus … or Not

This series is propaganda and little more. (I should write this a dozen more times but I don’t want to waste my time typing or your time reading.) This series claims to be an investigation, but they only seem to find out what they already knew. (I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked!) The series states “Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.” So, in this episode (Doubting Thomas) the singular scientific attempt to gain new information is the testing of a relic thought to be an arm bone of the disciple Thomas. The interesting thing is that it was found in India. Oh, and I have yet to observe a new insight, fascinating or not, but that is just my humble opinion.

As with all of the past episodes I have seen the first half hour of this show is a restatement of the scriptural account of the characters under examination. Of course there are re-enactments. I really have sympathy for the actor chosen to play Jesus because, try as he might he does come across as smarmy from time to time. Tough role to play. (I am not a god, but I play one on TV.)

The talking heads offer such gems as “Christianity came to India … why not by St. Thomas?” I don’t know, why not Howard the Duck?

They get the sciencey question out immediately, namely will C-14 dating of a relic support the Christian tradition of St. Thomas going to India, there to create churches and baptize many Indians? This is, of course, a tease as they will not answer this question until the very end of the show.

Since the New Testament drops the disciples of Jesus like a hot rock after the resurrection narrative, the show calls upon just snippets from the Gospel of John, you know the one written a hundred years after the actual events and many decades after the first three had been in circulation. (The author of “John” had axes to grind and grind them he did.) In addition they call on the Acts of the Apostles which, if you have read it, doesn’t say much at all about the apostles/disciples unless you consider Paul to have been one. (You know Paul, the “apostle” who only met Jesus in his fevered mind.) But not to worry, just because the normal sources have little to nothing to say about the disciple Thomas, we are rescued by The Acts of Thomas, written at least two hundred years after the supposed events of the gospels. This document was in circulation in the 4th C. CE and has been dated to the 3rd C. The surviving Syriac manuscripts, however, have been edited to purge them of the most unorthodox overtly gnostic passages, so that the Greek versions reflect the earlier tradition. I take note that such documents are considered apocryphal (translation: of doubtful authenticity, spurious) by official sources, at least until they are needed to support Christian arguments and then they become “Christian traditions.”

So, we are treated to re-enactments of events described in The Acts of Thomas as if it were holy scripture. Hey, its a good story, so what the heck.

We get breathlessly interrupted with breaking news that we now have evidence that a king who was mentioned in the Acts of Thomas, but who was thought to be mythical, seems to have been a real person. The source was the discover in the 19th C of coins with his name and likeness on them. So much for the latest scientific techniques. The coins were dated to about 60 CE.

But we are told about the Christians in southern India who have been there since the 3rd C. CE and possibly could have been there as early as the 2nd C CE and, oh, what the heck, could possibly even date back to the 1st C CE. Realize that to these people a possibility is a wide-open thing. One of the talking heads chipped in with “Since many people went to India, Thomas could have, too.” Brilliant!

It turns out that the spice trade had already established a healthy degree of contact between southern India and the west. (This is common knowledge.) There was even a community of Jews in place about that time, presumably mostly merchants.

Let ’em take a moment and establish a few time markers. The gospels do not list the ages of the disciples, but since these were all working members of the local communities of the area, we assume they were not children. This would be especially true since if the disciples were to be of any use, they had to have some standing in the community. So, as a rough guess, they would be around Jesus age. This would make Thomas roughly 60 years old in 60 CE, then.

Okay, gang, back to the show!

So, according to Indian traditions, Thomas did his missionary work establishing churches and baptizing folks right and left, but because he was converting many high cast people, he started receiving some negative attention. When he converted the local king’s wife and son, the king had enough and sent a troop of men to hunt down Thomas and pierce him with spears. He was supposedly buried in 72 CE. At that time, he would have been around 70 years old, but the enactment had him still a rigorous middle aged man. Maybe he has some of Methuselah’s blood in him or maybe they did a lousy (aka dishonest) job of re-enacting the scene.

They took the time to repeat the tease again, asking whether testing of the holy relic, said to be the arm bone of St. Thomas, would lend credence to this story?

Along the way they describe how the Indian Christians claim that Thomas was their source of knowledge and that they had two songs that mention his teaching, etc. and how they preserve the practice of the time of segregating women and men in the church. Apparently they hadn’t read Acts of the Apostles because the Jerusalem church was in all kinds of hot water with the Jews for allowing women and men to mix in must public endeavors. These people had preserved the Jewish tradition, not a Christian one. (Details, details.)

If only, more of the documents from the time of Thomas were available, but … hold on moment, I have to stop laughing … okay, wait … in 1599 the Thomas Christians in India were declared heretics by the Pope and the Portuguese came around and burned all of their documents! But the irrepressible commentators responded with, well, in the absence of documents, you just have to have take the events on faith! (Okay, just breathe, slowly, catching my breath.) No sense of irony was detected.

Along the way, they pointed out that the songs of the Indian Thomas Christians had been preserved for 1800 years and that many of the traditions in the region were in almost complete agreement, something that occurred almost nowhere else. This was delivered as if it were some kind of miracle, rather than, since it was so unusual, it was probably an example of contamination. Again, no irony was detected.

They also toss out the “fact” that Thomas, upon arriving in India was given an audience with the king. This is clearly made up as there were all kinds of Jews already in residence and Thomas was not even a merchant with something to sell. he was, in fact, a nobody who didn’t even speak the local language. Why would the king want to meet with him. The document doesn’t say, so this was inserted just to establish that everyone thought that Thomas was an important person. (Realize this is just a few months after the events of the death of Jesus and Christianity didn’t take off for many, many decades, so there is no way the king would have heard of Thomas or Jesus and been curious.

They also glibly tossed out that in those pre-literate times, there were bards (I doubt the Indians called them “bards”) whose task it was to memorize and preserve the songs, so that explained why those Indian songs about Thomas had come down to us, unchanged over 1800 years. Uh, no. Studies of bards have shown a very wide range of versions of stories being told by the same bards! The gist of the stories stayed the same, but the length  and details varied a great deal. Just like musicians who know how a tune goes, will improvise it different one nigh differently from the previous, bards seem to do the same, so I doubt very much that these songs are the “same songs” created regarding Thomas in India 1800 years ago. Hell we had a debate about the lyrics of Louie, Louie that wasn’t resolved when the song was till on the radio. YouTube currently has a video up entitled “The True Lyrics of Louie, Louie.”)

They also had the audacity to claim the snippet from the Gospel of John in which the resurrected Jesus presents himself to Thomas in which Thomas greets him with the words “my lord my god” as the only time in the New Testament in which Jesus is recognized as god. In a pig’s eye. John has Jesus referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three entities within just a few pages. So, the utterance, if real could very well have been “My Lord, my God (has delivered you back to us). I am sure you can come up with myriad other insertions that would make sense. Realize that this was a community of Jews. If Thomas had claimed some man was really Yahweh, he would have been torn apart by a mob for the vilest kind of blasphemy. I can’t imagine that Jesus, even if he were god, would want anyone saying it out loud (and getting torn apart) and I am equally sure that Thomas would have swallowed his tongue before he said such a thing.

Shameless, utterly shameless.

Oh, and when Thomas is finally executed for pissing off the local king, we are treated to the usual “that’s just the cost of following Jesus” BS. But, how about arrogance, the chutzpah, the idiocy. Convert the King’s wife and son to a foreign religion? I can imagine there were warnings given, which were of course ignored, because to hell with anyone else’s sensitivities, he was on a holy mission from God! (Cue the soundtrack of The Blues Brothers.)

Oh, the C-14 testing of the arm bone of Thomas relic, remember that? The date? It came out 130-330 CE. I have to wonder if any of these supposed holy relics can pass even a basic test of authenticity. Are they all fakes?

Oh, the capper! What do you expect the researcher said upon delivering the news of the failed test? Are you sitting down? He said “Not Thomas … but it is really old, one of the oldest” (relics ever dated). “Wow, that’s great!”

Shameless, utterly shameless.

If I were a Christian, I would want these people taken out in a field and stoned.

April 10, 2017

Running on Fumes

If you were expecting another Finding Jesus review this morning, I confess to running out of gas … but don’t worry, I recorded last night’s episode. The reason I ran out of gas is I binged on two History Channel programs, one called “God vs. Satan” and the other “Jesus: The Last 40 Days.” Apparently CNN and the History Channel are in a competition as to which channel can make Christians feel the best about their religious choice. This seems to be the early rounds of the world championships of religious pandering. (The History Channel has long since transformed itself into The Fake History Channel, so its place in this contest is earned.)

In “God vs. Satan” we are treated to a long, very long actually, diatribe on the epic battle that is shaping up between God and Satan. WTF? I must say straight off, that there are more than a few problems involved here … and they, of course, add many more. God is described as “all-powerful” or “omnipotent,” no? Can two supernatural entities share this title? Could there be another entity that was also all-powerful? In a word, no. If there is a tie in the World’s Strongest Man contest, then each is one of the world’s strongest men, but not the WSM. To be the WSM you must be stronger than all of the other competitors. To be all-powerful, you must be Number 1, not Number 1A. If there were another all-powerful entity, then there would be more than one god and there would be no monotheism, so this is not a trivial point.

So, how does one then handicap a contest between God and Satan. This one is simple, this is a little like predicting the outcome of a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Rodney Allen Rippy. We are talking no contest here. Let me take just one instance: the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden is identified in this show and by others as being Satan. There is, of course, no evidence for this; it is just wishful thinking, not at all unusual for these shows. Now in the Genesis story the “serpent” royally screws up God’s plans (we are guessing here, the serpent could have been doing exactly what God wanted, we do not know) and because of that God strips his legs off, with a thought, and requires him to slither along the ground for the rest of all time. So, if this is Satan, he seems not to be able to lay a glove on God.

Also, uh, who created Satan? God did. Could God uncreate Satan? Yes, he is “all-powerful” which means there is nothing He cannot do. Then why will there be a final battle on a field outside Jerusalem between armies to determine the who will rule going forward God or Satan? If I were God, I would wait for Satan and his army to show up and detonate a thermonuclear device on his head, end of war.

Here are some of the breathless comments made during this “show:”
“The battle between good and evil has long intrigued scholars.”
“The epic battle between light and dark is upon us.”
“The cataclysmic end of the battle is just over the horizon.”
“Who will emerge the winner and what will it mean for the world?”
There’s more but, sheesh, these guys could give lessons in fear mongering to Republicans. Of course, they hired an narrator who has a voice of god in his repertoire, Avery Brooks (from Deep Space 9 to Armageddon!).

To their credit, they spilled the beans fairly early (they didn’t want a contradiction late in the program that could cancel out all of that expensive fear mongering). They pointed out what few people know, that the Hebrews were not monotheists at the beginning of the Bible accounts. The establishment of Yahweh as the sole and only God takes some time and quite a few books. (If this is news to you, go read the First Commandment. That commandment would be entirely unnecessary were there no other gods being worshiped. And to list something first is kind of a statement as to its importance, no?) But, as the show points out, if there is only One God, then He is responsible for all of the good in world and all of the bad. They state that “most people were a little uncomfortable with that.” God is supposed to be “all good,” so how can He even imagine something bad or … <drum roll> evil. So, Satan was invented and because any angel, fallen or otherwise, would be squashed like a bug in a confrontation with God, they had to pump up his resume. Over time, he just gets more and more powerful, until they reach a point that there will be a final battle between the two gods and the outcome is in doubt! (Pant, pant, pant….)

Now, if you, like me, find this quite silly, please realize that there are people taking political actions today that are based on this scenario being true. Much of the interest of American Protestants, say, in Jerusalem has less to do with the past than with what its role in the future will be. These people are investing time, effort, and a great deal of money trying to make this battle happen.

Of course, they also bring up the Book of Job, the book in which God and Satan are co-conspirators to ruin Job’s life. According to this show, “Satan is portrayed as an increasingly bold player in human affairs.” Right. Hello? Satan is a messenger boy, coming and going at God’s will in this book. Satan has to get God’s permission to do anything to Job and God proves himself a total asshat for not simply stating “I am all-knowing and I know Job’s heart and there is no doubt in Job, so Satan, go and take out the garbage, do something useful.”

They also do not point out that The Book of Job is last book in the Hebrew Bible (the OT books are re-ordered in Christian Bibles to create the illusion that the OT leads to the NT). The Book of Job being the last book of the Hebrew Bible basically tells Jews, they are on their own now, don’t expect any “hands on” help from God any more. Not a message that Christians want to hear.

Of course, they couldn’t address the End of Days without bringing in the Book of Revelations. This is the book written by John the Divine, consumer of hallucinogens/magic mushrooms/ergotamine, whatever. They get comments from: a Professor of Christian Bible, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies, the author of “Antichrist Rising,” a Professor of Religion, and an Imam from the Islamic Center of America along the way. These learned people talk about how the forty days in the wilderness so weakened Jesus that Satan could tempt him. So, Jesus was weakened by hunger? Not much of a god, being apparently the only one who needs to eat. And all Satan could do was “tempt” him? (Want some candy, little girl?) How about sticking a knife between his ribs, Satan? Be a mensch. But according to the narrative of this show “By taking on Jesus and therefore God, Satan had intensified their fight.” Really, Satan “took on” Jesus? with some high school taunting? And Jesus and God are not one? They are separate entities, is that what their narrative preaches? I think they had better watch out.

They wrap up this diatribe with comments like “Humanity prays for an end to evil.” Of course, believing in “good and evil” in the first place leads down silly paths like this, futile ones. But they end on a hopeful note with “For the true believer, there is comfort that it is all God’s plan.” WTF? Jesus riding a horse to battle at Har-Mageddon (aka Armageddon, yes, it is a place not an event), a battle with an uncertain outcome between good and evil, light and dark? One in which if Satan wins may result in demons eating the flesh off of our bones while we are still alive?  Sounds like the authors of the Bible got a little too close to Zoroastrianism and the mystery religions before they picked up their pens. If I were Jesus, I would ask for an F-16 at least.

The Pentagon has better plans than this one. And if these shows prove anything is that all of these “stories” including all of the “characters” in them, are creations of men. Any modern person expecting a final battle to involve gods riding horses … on the ground, for Pete’s sake, is more than a little deluded.

Oh, the show “Jesus: The Last 40 Days” was worse, far worse.

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