Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 29th

Today, May 29th, is my birthday (hence the title). It's a birthday I share with several famous people. Patrick Henry, for example, was born on May 29th. He's significant to me because he coined the phrase "Give me liberty, or give me death!!", which is celebrated often by Libertarians and people who believe in the Constitution (oddly enough, Henry opposed the Constitution). The great comedian Bob Hope also shares a birthday with me (or I share one with him...he did come first).

But the list isn't all heroes and sunshine. John Hinckley, Jr. was also born on May 29th. On the Wikipedia page of today's birthdays it lists Hinckley, then a comma and the phrase "American attempted assassin". Not only a creep for attempting to assassinate Reagan, but a failure to boot. Biologist Paul Ehrlich has been beating his "bat-shit crazy" environmental drum since the late 1960's. He's made more failed "doomsday" predictions than Harold Camping, and his fear mongering is a major reason that we can't have a rational debate about climate change to this day. Many people mention John F. Kennedy on the short list of great presidents in our country's history. I'm not one of those people (I covered some of my disliking of Kennedy and his "great" speech in a previous blog entry here).

There are some other cool people that I share a birthday with. Daniel Tosh (of Tosh.0 fame), Al Unser, Sr. (race car driver), John Archer (the magician who fooled Penn and Teller on their "Fool Us" show in England), LaToya Jackson (crazy person) and Stacy Keach (actor) are on the list. I used to hope that sharing a birthday with Eric Davis (one of my favorite baseball players ever) meant that I could one day be a Major League baseball player. But the truth is that all I share in common with any of the people on this list is parents who were horny in August the year before we were born. It doesn't mean anything, but it is a fun way to look at history.

To celebrate today, I'm gonna eat some South Park themed cupcakes and take a trip with my wife and son to The Stoogeum (Three Stooges Museum) and eat lunch at the Jon's Bar & Grill in Philadelphia (which is also the birthplace of Larry from the Three Stooges). Maybe it's not as significant as the Space Shuttle Discovery docking with the International Space Station in 1999 (the first ever by a shuttle with the ISS, took place on May 29th), but it will be to me.

And for everyone who says Happy Birthday to me today (thank you by the way), I want to leave you with this story that Penn Jillette told that involves the phrase. See if your idea of "Happy Birthday" doesn't change after this:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Government We Trust?

I enjoy participating in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. One of the reasons is there just aren't that many atheists who live in my neck of the woods (if they do, they keep quiet about it). These sites make it possible to be a part of an "atheist community". And community can be important. For a long time I've felt that the main advantage believers had over non-believers was the "Pancake Breakfast" that most churches offer...who doesn't love pancakes!!

There was no local atheist community to be a part of when I was younger. Until the first time I saw Penn & Teller's: Bullshit, I had never seen another atheist on TV, let alone actually met one in real life. It was an opportunity for me to say, "Hey, maybe I'm not that weird after all." When I discovered Penn's radio show, it was an opportunity to not only hear another atheist speak about what he believed, but to hear him talk about it EVERYDAY. These things made me feel more comfortable sharing my beliefs with others (feeling like you don't have to lie is a big deal). I consider Penn Jillette a hero of mine for many reasons, but no more important than being the first person I ever heard saying the things I was feeling and thinking (to myself of course) for so long.

If there is one thing that I have noticed from my increased exposure to other atheists, it's that an overwhelming majority of them are liberals. I must confess that I too was once a liberal...hell, I think I would have to say that I was a socialist. (Ralph Nader bought me coffee once, and I used to own every book that Noam Chomsky had ever written). As I've gotten older however, I've realized that the more protections and services that the government offered, the more rules we had to play by. I DON'T LIKE RULES!!! I hate rules so much that I wear black socks with shorts because my wife tries to tell me that I CAN'T. I like freedom. Freedom over how I spend my money AND how I spend my free time. And it doesn't matter whether I like it or not, because the Constitution guarantees it.

I also can't stand the sentiment in that famous speech by President Kennedy. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." What an awful thing to say. It should have ended "...ask what you can do for YOURSELF." (since I mentioned Penn earlier, I'll share his thoughts on the speech...I've been saying this for a long time, but he said it better). I prefer the quote attributed to Uncle Ben (Spiderman's uncle, not the rice guy). "With great power comes great responsibility." The power in this case is freedom and the responsibility is to yourself and your loved ones. Uncle Ben should have been a presidential speech writer. Uncle Sam could learn a lot from him.

Primarily because Uncle Sam does so many things inefficiently and at such a great cost. Take a look at the United States Post Office. Do you think for a second that if FedEx or UPS had lost $20 billion since 2007, they would "keep on truckin'"? NO!! Of course, you could argue that the government may deem them "too big to fail", and bail FedEx or UPS out...but that's just the government interfering in free markets, and I'm not a fan...let 'em fail!! And no, I'm not saying because we deliver mail inefficiently we should end government. Our government does several things poorly, this was just an easy one to point out (and quite frankly, I'm lazy). There are some things that the government does well. I'm not talking about anarchy (I won't dismiss it either). What I am asking is that we require a little more evidence and proof before we place our "faith" in the almighty Government. And I don't want to hear about all the "great" altruistic social programs that it offers. Altruism by force ISN'T altruism, so stop calling it that. If they went away tomorrow people would take care of one another.

As an atheist, I don't believe in a supernatural being because there is no evidence for him/her/?. Call me a skeptic. We should be applying that same level of skepticism to our political institutions and leaders. It seems that in the fight to remove "In God We Trust" from the money, liberal atheists have somehow adopted the motto: "In Government We Trust". Why fight for "separation of Church and State" only to turn our faith in government INTO a religion. Is there evidence that putting our "faith" in the government is a good thing? Three wars we are unlikely to get out of anytime soon, a $14 Billion plus federal deficit, failing public schools, unsustainable Social Security...(you get the idea). Skeptical yet?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Countdown to Backtracking

It's well after 6 PM in New Zealand at the time I am typing this, so it appears that once again, Harold Camping has inaccurately predicted the Rapture. "End Times" predictions are not uncommon. In 1999, there were 45 such predictions followed by 42 more in 2000. The ones made by the groups with the largest following (and the most money) make it into the mainstream media. Camping has not only raised 100 million dollars over the last several years, but he also runs a Christian radio station, Family Radio, that makes it easier for him to spread his message. It may seem pointless to even think about "doomsday" predictions (especially by a guy like Camping who was also wrong the first time in 1994), but there is one aspect of this that doesn't get covered in the media. The Family Radio following is a VERY small group of people who subscribe to the Christian faith. The majority of Christians strongly disagreed with them that Jesus would be returning today. But only that he was returning TODAY. Almost half of Americans believe that he will be returning and that the "good" followers will be vaporized and ascend to heaven. They ONLY disagree about the date (or more accurately, whether the date is knowable). So while we discount Harold Camping, and people like him who make predictions about the "end times", as crazy (and we should), consider for a moment that he is not that different from many mainstream Christians in our country. He just picked a date (okay..he picked it twice..but you get the idea). Take a minute to think about the families that have been tortured and the people who will be devastated financially by the insanity of this prediction. Sad.

And after you are done feeling bad, cheer yourself up with this:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My New Toy

I recently purchased a Nook Color. Apart from being a great e-reader, the Nook Color has been updated to a tablet with the introduction of Android software. You can browse the web, watch YouTube videos, even listen to Pandora radio while reading your books. But enough about that, this is not an advertisement for Nook (but I'd gladly do one). What I'd like to talk about is a few of the GREAT books that I have enjoyed during the three weeks or so that I've owned it.

The first was The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. This book is basically a love letter to the footnote. A 100+ page book about a man's trip up an escalator. An homage to the self-referencing super computer that is the human brain. It reminded me in a lot of ways of one of my favorite books about consciousness, I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter (which you should also check out). This book is great and I will definitely be reading more by Nicholson Baker (Human Smoke is next on my list from him).

The next book that I read on my Nook was The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. I can't say enough good things about it. The book is basically a celebration of free trade and free markets, and it make a clear argument for Ridley's belief that (despite the pessimism that permeates in particular) the world is always getting better. Ridley writes about science in a way that makes it easy for goofs like me to understand what he is saying. And when he points out facts like the average life expectancy has DOUBLED over the last fifty years, it's hard to argue with his premise. If you only listen to one recommendation that I make, do yourself a favor and READ THIS BOOK!!!

I also just finished The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I failed to read many of the "classics" that you are supposed to read as a young person (basketball consumed my every thought in high school..not even girls could compete). I read "Gatsby" as a first step towards getting caught up. I liked the book a lot, as I have an interest in American life during the "roaring twenties" and I liked the relationship triangle that existed between the characters (I'm a sucker for that). It wasn't Fight Club or even The Mezzanine for that matter, but I enjoyed it, and it made me want to continue reading the classics that I am behind on.

Which brings me to the book that I am currently reading, The Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell. In this book, Russell argues that many of the freedoms that we enjoy today come not from the pious leaders that are celebrated in Social Studies class, but instead from the renegades and deviants that have existed throughout our countries history. No less a hero of mine than Nick Gillespie (of Reason Magazine fame) recommended this as his favorite book of 2010. I am only about a third of the way through the book, so I won't give my final thoughts on it just yet. But I will say that it has me intrigued as much as The Rational Optimist, and I am having trouble putting it down (never a bad thing...except when you have to go to work, of course).

One thing is for new toy has me reading more. And that seems like a positive development. Of course, all the reading has kept me from blogging, so I need to get back on that. I will make sure to check in more often (sadly, there are no more Capitals games to distract me, so it should be a little easier).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Babies and Ugly Math

My birthday is at the end of May. I think there is something special about having a birthday in May (and no, it has nothing to do with astrology...obviously). If you do the math and go back nine months from my birthday, it puts you at the end of August. I've heard it said (and it's probably bullshit) that more children are conceived during winter months because it's cold out and the weather sucks so what else do you have to do. Well, that's just not the case in August. You could do so many things at the end of August. You could take a trip to the beach or go to a barbecue. You could go to the zoo or a park. You could take in a movie (you know all the big blockbuster movies are released during the summer). You could do any of those things during August. But even though they had all of those activities to choose from, my parents made the decision to participate in the love-filled (or lust-filled) act of conceiving me. That seems special to me. Of course I realize that this also works for April and March birthdays, but I don't have a March or April birthday so I'm highlighting May...get over it, it's my blog.

Then I got to thinking about my son's birthday (end of July) and did the math on when he was conceived. That puts you in the end of October. And all of the sudden, that extra special feeling I got from being conceived out of summer was replaced by the realization that it's likely that my son's father (me) had to get dressed up in costume in order to get laid. Damn math!!!