A Web of Literature

Where I started off on my last entry, I was addressing the degree to which we are influenced by experiences including such things as what we read. That thought began while reading a book. In this book, the author referred to another book which I had recently read. This, ultimately, comes around to the point I was hoping to make. Every single book I have read in the past couple of months has referred to another book I had recently read. This really gives me an appreciation for what some call “the echo chamber.” I read books on science and reality. What if I instead had read the outpouring of right-wing nuttery made available by the Fox “News” juggernaut or the dozens of right-wing publishers? Would a lack of ability in science have made me into the sort of right-wing loon I now despise? Would an unwillingness to question authority or ask for evidence have left me in the grips of the religiosity on which the plutocrats so greatly depend? Would I be vulnerable to nearly continuous steam of propaganda that has proven so effective against seemingly sane people? The unfortunate answer is yes.

Liberal Brainwashing

In the same manner that you were once told, “You are what you eat,” you are what you experience.

I wonder of the degree to which each book I read alters me. A colleague recently mentioned a conversation he had had with a parent at his child’s Christian school. For a little bit of background, this school requires that the parents of applicants sign a document including a statement paraphrased below:

“I accept the Bible as the absolute and unerring Word of God.”

Apparently one of the children had been accepted with a full scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in the country. The parent with whom my colleague was conversing was fearful of such places. She was afraid that her child would be literally “brainwashed” by the “liberals.”

While it’s easy to dismiss such laughably absurd statements, I think it is worth thinking about more. Here is something I wrote some time ago:

Those who rail against the teaching of evolution and modern cosmology in public schools are 100% correct. Granted, they shouldn’t have much say, as they are usually homeschooling little Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Jedediah, Obadiah, Hezekiah, Trixie, Dixie, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. Nevertheless, it is entirely disingenuous for the science-minded community to contradict their major point. If they allow their children to learn the sorts of things we are teaching, their children will not be good Christians. It’s true. Certainly we all know intelligent and educated people for whom religion and science represent little or no inherent contradiction. But let’s look at this from the vantage point of a religious fundamentalist: The Good Book is true or the Good Book is not true. There are no gray areas. And anyone with the slightest inkling of scientific thought processes will say that the Christian bible is not literally true. No legitimate scientist in the world will even address the question as to whether the age of the universe is:

a) 6,000 years

or

b) 13,500,000,000 years.

The unfortunately obvious fact here is that if you think a) is true, then you are probably beyond hope. You may be able to function in the real world, but your only contribution will be in aiding the continuance of the ignorance that is holding us back.

but I digress…

We, the free thinkers of America, should acknowledge that acceptance of science (not just the trappings of science, which the anti-science lobby enjoy so much) will ultimately lead to atheism. It’s scary to certain people, but unlike “teh Gay” that they seem to fear so much, freethinking is actually contagious. If you accept one single flaw in the bible, you deny its inerrancy and will burn in some ridiculous fairytale hell. Or you can believe that your god chose Pat Robertson, Pope Benny the Rat, senior sci-fi soothsayer David Miscavige, or Mullah Omar as prophet (or for Mormons, Thomas S. Monson as profit [sic]).

That would probably be my reply.

Shortly before being burned at the stake, no doubt…

The Second Amendment

Over the years, my ear had deadened to the high pitched screech of gun nuts ensuring all who will listen (and those who would prefer not to as well) about the imminence of “jackbooted thugs” kicking in doors to round up all firearms.

While it’s often fun to dismiss ridiculous conspiracy theories with the derision they deserve, I would point out some of the more interesting facets of the entire question.

First, the wording as it appears in the consider this more in line with organizing something like a militia. Until the last decade or so, the National Guard was supposed to fill a position similar to that of a Colonial-era militia. It has since, of course, become very nearly a slightly-less-often-on-active-duty version of the Regular Army (or Air Force). But states do still have unpaid state militias. These are theoretically to fulfill the duties of the National Guard in the event it is deployed elsewhere. But this Jefferson quote from a November 13th 1787 letter to William Stephens Smith seems to plainly state otherwise,

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

So fine. Muskets all around. Why not muskets? That’s certainly the firearm in question. Well, looking at the intention, it would seem that the implication is for firearms of military value. Certainly a musket would be of little use on a modern battlefield. What, then, would? A rifle is the only answer. While submachine guns, pistols, shotguns, and other such devices are in military inventories today, they are not particularly useful. The submachine gun is best used for terrorism. It may be able to kill, but if you have ever shot one, you will have noticed it has an embarrassing grouping. It is designed to throw bullets in a general direction to keep heads down, or to kill randomly when fired into crowds. Pistols are again useful only at short ranges. Technically, they are necessary. Paradoxically, they are needed by law enforcement to counter the millions of pistols out there. The primary use of the pistol is in crime. Like submachine guns, shotguns are generally used compensate for poor marksmanship (or for shooting birds and vermin).

If only rifles were legal, gun crimes would require a much greater commitment of effort. Those who profit from gun-nuttery have been able to pull the strings of the gun nuts in effecting massive proliferation of handguns and assault weapons. The result is that even if such weapons were ever outlawed in this country, enforcement would be impossible. This has worked out very well for those benefiting from lawlessness in Iraq, Mexico, and Afghanistan.

What bothers me the most, though, is that the overwhelming majority of gun nuts are racist assholes. Do you doubt this is the case? Read the comments on any Trayvon Martin article online.

Note: I do not hate guns. I happen to have some firearms, including pistols. I do not harbor any delusions about any of them being militarily useful.

Things that Happen in New Mexico

While I was filling my car, some guy walked up and began speaking to me in Spanish. He was rapidly rattling off the story of how he had been visiting family up in Albuquerque and needed to get back to Juarez, but he only has pesos and the gas station (oddly) only took dollars. Despite my half of the conversation being rather terse, he never seemed to have caught on that I’m not really a Spanish speaker. So I traded him some greenbacks for Mexican pesos. According to the current exchange rate, I came out ahead by about $3. Of course, for all I know the portrait on the front could be one of the Mexican Three Stooges.

If only there were some way I could spend pesos around here…

It’s always been a little strange for me that in this part of the country people occasionally begin conversations with me in Spanish. But when I think about, I have been more or less similar in the past. I had been in Beijing for about a month and was at a bar. Most of the non-Chinese visitors to that city were from elsewhere in Asia, Oceania, or Europe. I saw a black man and went over to talk to him, as my colleagues were the only Americans I had seen in a while. When I started talking to him in English, he answered back in Portuguese. I assumed as most Americans probably do, that all black people are from the U.S. Interestingly, I found that I could converse on some level with a Portuguese speaker with only my poor Spanish language skills. I hope to see how well that works with Italian if I ever get to that part of the world.

Pregnancy Redefined in Arizona

Via this Balloon Juice item, I found this Daily Beast article:

Life starts earliest in Arizona, which now defines gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman’s last period, rather than at fertilization. In practice, that means the state has banned abortions after about 18 weeks (20 weeks from the last menstruation) except in the case of medical emergencies.

Keep on moving those goalposts. Just 20 more weeks, and we’ll have those sluts back where they belong. If they didn’t want to get raped, they ought to have dressed more appropriately.

Appropriate attire