Friday, September 28, 2012

The Full Moon

The New Colossus

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. As inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty was written in 1883 and read here by Kristopher Hite along the south bank of the Cache de Poudre River in Fort Collins, CO.

Carolina Fontoura Alzaga

Carolina Fontoura Alzaga takes us with her as she walks a sustainable walk around her Bike Chain Chandelier. Thanks to Ravi Zupa for posting this on his facebook timeline!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Empty Chair Lynchings

This outrageous image sums up the attitude of an angry segment of anti-Obama voters in the United States.  They say they don't like what he is doing with policy but underneath it they are just plain racist.  This deplorable display of utter ignorance is telling. 

Taken in Austin, Texas this week the photo shows an office chair lynched in the front yard of a man named Bud Johnson. When confronted about this blatantly racist gesture he responded with eloquence:
I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a sh*t. If you don't like it, don't come down my street.
There was a second mock-lynching in Virginia this one made it clear it was a reference to Clint Eastwood's version of Obama as invisible man in empty chair. It had a sign reading "Nobama" printed in read letters.

I do not claim that most Republican share this kind of racist rancor, but these displays just drag the whole anti-Obama crowd into a deeper hole from my perspective.

Source Global Grind's Selena Hill

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Mitt Romney choking on his foot yet?

After watching the following video published by Mother Jones on Monday I can't help thinking Mitt Romney just doesn't get it. You can't say one thing to one group of people and something else to another group. In 2012 transparency reigns supreme.

As a side-note check out the map below the video to see where these "moochers" live. Surprise! The most dark red states there are!


A Big Problem.

Paper Bird: Carry On

Friday, September 14, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Grover Norquist - a small man behind a big curtain

Anyone interested in politics in the United States needs to be aware of this man and his vile scheme to control the country. He has effectively prevented any tax increase in the United States without bothering to be elected to any public office. To me the sad part of this whole story behind this smarmy little man is that he has Swedish ancestry. My head sinks at the thought.

What is the worth of Philosophy?

Stephen Hawkin proclaimed "philosophy is dead" on the first page of his recent book The Grand Design. Another popular physicist, Lawrence M. Krauss echoed this sentiment in his book A Universe from Nothing  with this statement, "I think philosophy is already unnecessary."

So what is the value of philosophy?

At least $1,000 according to the editors at 3 Quarks Daily. Their philosophy prize is part of the Top-Quark blogging competition and is being judged this year by Justin E. H. Smith, professor of philosophy at Concordia University in Montréal.

Tom Paine's Ghost has a post in the running, and I want your vote! If you are a fan of this blog - Tom Paine's Ghost - please help me out by voting over at 3 Quarks Daily by September 14th midnight in New York City. You can look over the entries here. And if you happen to find my entry superior please vote for it here. Find the electronic fill-in bubble under  T for "Tom Paine's Ghost" Thanks for your help!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Romney: global warming not our problem

Buzz Aldrin Punches Bible-totin' Moon-landing-denier Smack in the Kisser

Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins

I just stumbled across this today and thought it worth sharing. A significant time investment but worth it in my opinion.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ken Ham Sandwich

Obama and the Young Biologist - Samantha Garvey

During President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention he mentioned several people who give him hope. One was a high school student doing cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology despite the fact that she lived in a homeless shelter while starting it.
“The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter, she gives me hope.”
 Her name is Samantha Garvey and her story gives me hope too.

Ann Druyan delivers rousing tribute to Voyager

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Obama v. Romney: On Science

In my opinion, the most important debate in this presidential election will not be televised but rather is available RIGHT NOW to read in print at this website -

Here is an example question and response from each respective candidate in parallel.

Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

Barack Obama:
Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government. Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last.

Mitt Romney:
I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.
Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response. President Obama has taken the view that if global warming is occurring, the American response must be to slash carbon dioxide emissions by imposing enormous costs on the U.S. economy. First he tried a massive cap-and-trade bill that would have devastated U.S. industry. When that approach was rejected by Congress, he declared his intention to pursue the same course on his own and proceeded through his EPA to impose rules that will bankrupt the coal industry.
Nowhere along the way has the President indicated what actual results his approach would achieve — and with good reason. The reality is that the problem is called Global Warming, not America Warming. China long ago passed America as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Developed world emissions have leveled off while developing world emissions continue to grow rapidly, and developing nations have no interest in accepting economic constraints to change that dynamic. In this context, the primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly. That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.
So I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run. So I believe we should pursue what I call a “No Regrets” policy — steps that will lead to lower emissions, but that will benefit America regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize and regardless of whether other nations take effective action.
For instance, I support robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries. And I believe the federal government must significantly streamline the regulatory framework for the deployment of new energy technologies, including a new wave of investment in nuclear power. These steps will strengthen American industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce the economically-attractive technologies that developing nations must have access to if they are to achieve the reductions in their own emissions that will be necessary to address what is a global issue.

$4.4 million granted to study "free will"

Free will is an imaginary concept made up by religious people to rationalize other imaginary concepts like heaven and hell and good and evil.

There, may I have the money and get back to a question science can address?

What's that? Not so fast, you say? I first need to pay homage to the Christian philosophers that have continually tried to wriggle their way into relevant dialogue with the help of wealthy philanthropists?

One such source is the John Templeton Foundation. There is an article in the Chronicle Review of Higher Education this week that explores some of Templeton's recently funded projects. The topics are disappointing. Free will, immortality, and evil top the list. All of them being studied from the slanted angle of philosophy rather than science.

Here is Nathan Schneider in a piece titled "The Templeton Effect"
In the past few years, Templeton has been stepping up the number of its six- and seven-figure awards for people in the discipline to study what the foundation calls the "Big Questions." These "Big Questions" are the kinds of out-there topics that make philosophy seem bold and exciting to a college freshman but can feel thoroughly desiccated after a few years in graduate school: free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness.

Controversy, though, always follows money, especially when it's Templeton money. Partisans of Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have long despised the foundation, interpreting its interest in dialogue between science and religion as an attempt to buy undeserved credibility for the latter at the cost of the former. Adds Brian Leiter, "It's clearly more of a windfall for philosophers who have some sort of vague religious angle to what they're doing." Yet he also points out that Mele is an exception. His foregoing work on free will expressed scant interest in the religious implications—which makes it all the more noticeable that his Templeton project has a component devoted to theology.
Read the rest of this article here at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

For me, the problem with Templeton funding is where the foundation is choosing to make these grants - Universities.  By distracting wide-eyed college freshman with a false carrot at the end of a never ending tunnel of philosophy Templeton is doing a disservice to institutions of higher learning.  If the foundation wants to give grants for young people to enter the seminary fine, but I'd prefer they keep their money out of the University. 

Philosophers may argue with me and say that Templeton funding is a boon to their field and that I should not rain on their parade. I call bullshit here. Why do you need funding above and beyond your salary? By accepting money for pseudoscience "experiments" you are hurting your field. If you are taking these huge sums and buying nicer armchairs you are no better than the clergy fluffing their nests with church donations. 

I will grant that not all people who have received some money from Templeton have automatically been turned into faith-pushers. Brian Greene and Tracy Day launched one of the most powerful science expositions in history with a starter grant given in part by Templeton - the World Science Festival.  Though there have been some controversial panels at the World Science Festival these should not overshadow the general awesomeness this festival offers. I have volunteered there three years in a row and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Atheist Morality: Ratcheting Forward

By Kristopher Hite 

As a person with no religion and no belief in any gods, it may come as a surprise that I spend considerable time thinking about the best source of moral guidance. Throughout history there have been people who maintain a good reputation, a high quality of life, and provide constant intellectual stimulation to their peers while actively questioning what is right and wrong. Who are these people in present day and what do they have to say?

Dr. Ken Miller is a cell biologist and professor at Brown University. He is famous for defending evolution as a fundamental subject in biology classrooms and has given testimony in several important court cases. The most recent being Kitzmiller v. Dover, PA.  By doing so he has elevated the quality of public education in the United States and helped ensure evolution be taught as a matter of fact.  Through his work he has upheld the establishment clause fo the US constitution and for this I applaud him.

As for moral thought, Dr. Miller has gone on record saying that "science can only take us so far." I was able to ask him to elaborate on this thought last week as part of a Google Hangout On Air moderated by the HuffPostLive host Josh Zepps. I asked him where atheists ought to get their morals and where he gets his. Here was his response.
If, in science, we found an absolute, testable, empirical source of morality then scientists everywhere would agree on all moral questions. The reality is I think our discussions of morality, in other words, what is right and wrong, have to be informed by science. I think we have to be literate in science, even people who are not scientists. But ultimately moral questions require a philosophical point of view in terms of what is the good life? How should we treat each other? What is the value of human life?  Now as a Catholic, I have to confess, I draw a lot of my moral sense from the religious teachings of my faith. But I also would argue that there is a moral sense that is present in everybody. Whether they are a person of faith, whether they are an agnostic, or whether they are an atheist. I completely agree with the idea that one can have an atheistic world-view. And informed by science, and by using logic, and by having a philosophical view on life, you can in fact, develop a moral code which is consistent and which provides the greatest good for the greatest number.
His answers only lead me to more questions. Which philosophical views help provide the greatest good? And what time-scale for good should we choose? If not from science then where do these ideas originate? And how are contemporary atheists doing on developing a moral code?

Fellow blogger, Cara Santa Maria chimed in via the Huffpost discussion informing me that she had recently recorded a pertinent episode of "the Point" a spin-off of the the Young Turks Network. The episode was essentially a panel discussion of exclusively atheists trying to answer the question "where does atheist morality come from?"

As part of the panel discussion, video comments were aired as food-for-thought. To me, the most striking guest was AJ Johnson, Development Director for the American Atheists organization. Here is her comment.


Physicist and blogger Sean Carroll responded to her comment with a plea to  atheists to heed her words and to try harder to actively participate in the process of developing an atheist morality. Here is Sean.
AJ Johnson brings up a really important point when she says secularists should "own" their superior morality. I think that we have been on the defensive for a very long time because traditionally the reason why things were "right and wrong" ultimately flowed from God. God was helping us explain what is good, and what is bad. Of course God does not exist. But we haven't, as secularists, really given a good explanation of where our morality comes from. And partly, it's because we don't know. Figuring out how to act in the world without guidance from outside anywhere is a very difficult problem. We say nice things about equality and liberty and things like that. But we don't agree on the underlying philosophy. We don't have the cheap out of saying "well, here's the holy book where its all been written down." We have to think about things. And I think we need to do a better job.
At this point you may say "we can look to evolution and neurobiology for our moral origins. We can see how justice plays out in animals. We can look to cognitive neuroscientists like Josh Greene who can tell us the average response to moral dilemmas in the fMRI scans of human brains. We can use this scientific data to rationalize a fair system for human society. Right?"  Wrong says Sean Carroll.
You do not want to commit the naturalistic fallacy. You do not want to say that because things happen in nature that they are the right things to have happen. We need explain the fundamental reason for saying that some behavior is good, some behavior is bad. I think that evolution helps us explain why we have the predilections we do. And evolution is certainly going to play a crucial role in an ultimate understanding of morality, but it does not GIVE it to us in any simple way. We should be able to do better than that.
If science can not tell us where morality comes from, then what can? As atheists shouldn't we be skeptical of any idea that can not be explained with the scientific method?  I'll give you my answer.  Yes we should be skeptical of pure moral philosophy but that does not mean we should shut our ears to it.  Much can be learned from living people as they have the highest probability of experiencing the same existential questions you have.  The very term "humanist" implies that we ought embrace our peers and draw our ethics from them.  There are currently very powerful  leaders in the atheist community, like it or not.  Though we do not hold these leaders as infallible vessels of an invisible sky-father there is a large collective of minds tuned-in to their thoughts via the internet. 

PZ Myers is one of these leaders. A professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris PZ writes one of the most widely read blogs on the planet.  Being in the right place at the right time, PZ has the unique position of wielding a mighty horde or electronic followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. When he asks them to do something, they do it en masse. This can be seen any time he asks them to crash some bogus internet poll which they do in throngs.  This kind of klout is not to be taken lightly. Though PZ has been dogged as being odious and even a "shepherd of internet trolls" by thinkers like Sam Harris, in my opinion PZ has made some excellent points lately. I think he has some moral guidance to offer in explaining secular morality more precisely as Sean Carroll has challenged us to do. The following passage penned by PZ  appears in the latest issue of Free Inquiry, titled Atheism’s Third Wave.

Professor and blogger PZ Myer
Science is neutral on moral concerns; it only describes what is, not how it ought to be. And this is true; science is a tool that can be used equally well for curing diseases or building bombs. But scientists are not and should not be morally neutral, nor should scientific organizations or culture be excluded from defining the appropriate uses of science. Science without humanist moral standards leads to Mengele or the Hiroshima bombing or the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.

Similarly, atheism may be value-neutral, but atheists and atheist organizations should not be. Atheism sensu stricto may be a specific assertion about a fact of the universe, but atheism as practiced is a defining idea in a mind and a powerful foundation for a human community. It has meanings and implications that we must heed and use for achieving our goals.

And what should those goals be? Because I’m an atheist and share common cause with every other human being on the planet in desiring to live my one life with equal opportunity, I suggest that atheists ought to fight for equality for all, economic security for all, and universally available health and education services. Peace is the only answer; extinguishing a precious human life ought to be unthinkable in all but the most dire situations of self-defense. Ours should be a movement that welcomes all sexes, races, ages, and abilities and encourages an appreciation of human richness. Atheism ought to be a progressive social movement in addition to being a philosophical and scientific position, because living in a godless universe means something to humanity.
I went to see President Obama speak in Colorado last week. During his speech he echoed this sentiment of equality and inclusiveness. He pointed out that the history of the United States has seen protection under the law and participation in government become more and more inclusive. He described that process as a ratchet in which progress only goes forward. It is my sincere hope that unprecedented personal connectivity can couple to decentralized information and push the ratchet of progress even further. Maybe even so far as to see an open-atheist as a viable candidate for major political office one day.

Thank you for reading. I hope that as a peer you will leave a comment below and tell me where you get your sense of right and wrong so I might share your wisdom.