Equal Time

I rarely disagree with Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I watched a video he did about Evolution and there was one area where we disagreed.  What makes it even odder is that I agreed with the Creationists he opposed, and I almost never agree with them about anything.

Tyson’s point was that since there is so much more evidence for evolution, Creationists should not be given equal time.  I totally agree that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, but I would like to see the Creationists be given equal time.  I don’t think that Science teachers should be forced to present both sides, though.  The Science teacher should present the scientific evidence for evolution, and a Creationist should present whatever evidence they have for Creation.  Then each side should be given time to rebut the other’s argument.

I feel the same about other disputed issues, such as the Holocaust and the Holocaust deniers, even though I know for a fact that the Nazis ran concentration camps.  How do I know this?  My father, a tank commander in WWII, helped liberate the prisoners in one of the camps.  He, personally, shot the lock off the gate.

So, why do I think that the weak side of a disputed subject should be given equal time?  I have three reasons.  First of all, the side with the most supporters isn’t always right.  Gallileo Galilee was alone against the Inquisition when he spoke about the Earth revolving around the sun, instead of vice versa.  It turns out that he was absolutely right, but the lesser minds of his day condemned him for this thinking, because they had the power and greater numbers.  Today, I, too, am in a great minority.  Nine out of every ten people believe there is a Supreme Being who controls the universe.  I don’t.  If there was still an Inquisition, I would be declared a heretic.  But might doesn’t necessarily make right, and I feel that my minority opinion is well-worthy of equal time in a discussion.

Secondly, I think that the best way to shut up dissenters is to give them a chance to state their case and face rebuttal.  That is what science is really all about.  Scientists come up with theories to explain things and then other scientists try to confirm those theories or prove them wrong in a never-ending struggle to get closer and closer to the truth.  Nothing is automatically accepted as true just because somebody powerful says it.  Isaac Newton was a brilliant physicist, who developed the Law of Gravity that explained everything from apples falling from trees to correctly predicting the orbit of planets and their moons around the Sun.  Newton was a recognized genius in the field, but that didn’t stop Albert Einstein from announcing that there was really no such thing as a gravitational force.  Instead, he wrote, what we call gravity, is actually a force caused by acceleration and the warping of the space-time continuum.  Don’t ask me to explain that.  I’m no Einstein.  I’ll defer to a Neil deGrasse Tyson’s video on that subject.

It’s ironically funny that mostly everyone believes in gravity, which Einstein stated doesn’t actually exist, because there is a “Law of Gravity.”  That law is just a way of mathematically calculating and accurately predicting results, not a proof that those results are caused by a force of gravity.  Darwin’s evolution is challenged by Creationists and many others because it is a “theory” of evolution.  We think of a theory as a hypothesis, a guess, a feeling, a hunch.  For scientists, though, the word theory has a completely different meaning.  In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world.  Darwin’s “theory” of evolution by natural selection has stood up to extensive scientific scrutiny for over 160 years, and, believe me, many people, especially Creationists, have tried desperately to prove it wrong and failed.

Many Holocaust deniers rest their claim on the fact that there is no lock on the gas chamber door at Dachau.  How could it be used to kill people if there was no lock on the door?  Creationists, attempt to deny evolution, based upon things written in the Bible, and they claim that they must be right simply because the Bible is infallible.

It turns out that the chamber door in Dachau today is not the same door that was there during the Holocaust.  That one did lock.  It also turns out that the Bible is not infallible.  It is loaded with inconsistencies and many outlandish claims that just don’t hold up to scrutiny.  Supposedly God created light on the first day.  We all know the words, “Let there be light.”  Then God created plants on the third day, but He didn’t make the Sun that generates the light that plants need for photosynthesis until the 4th day.  The Bible may be the greatest story every told, but it should be filed under fiction, not used as scientific proof of anything.

The third reason why I think that contrary opinions should be given equal time is because I believe that given enough rope and public exposure, Creationist, Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists will eventually hang themselves.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,


Religious Rights

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers who have sincerely held religious beliefs — unless doing so poses an undue hardship.

It’s been in the news a lot lately with anti-vaxxers hoping that they can use this religious loophole to avoid vaccine mandates and, thus, save their jobs.  Good luck, I say.  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get a religious exemption for decades because I have long believed that my acceptance of marijuana as a Rastafarian sacrament should allow me to be able to get high legally and spiritually.

It turns out that I cannot get a religious exemption, and that’s not simply due to the fact that I am a professed Atheist, but because religious exemptions do not apply to substances that the Federal Government considers illegal.  So, knowing this section of the law, I never bothered to try and grow dreadlocks in case I might have to make a court appearance.

Fortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does allow medical marijuana, and my hip pain qualifies me for a medical exemption, so long as I scream bloody murder whenever a doctor touches my leg, and I tell them that on a scale of 1 to 10 my pain is at least an 11.

My Pain Level when asked

Religious exemptions work differently from Medical Exemptions, though.  You cannot just get a note from your, priest, rabbi, iman, minister, Pope, ayatollah, witch doctor, or shaman.  This wouldn’t work, anyway since all major religions have recently encouraged their flocks to get vaccinated.  No Church wants to lose parishioners, especially not the parishioners who put paper money in the collection plate.  Pope Francis even says that getting vaccinated is a sign of love.  Christian Scientists, who notoriously believe in the power of prayer over medicine and medical care, do not ban vaccinations. 

God works in mysterious ways, though.  There are new religions springing up, that will give anti-vaxxers a letter promoting a religious exemption, as long as you demonstrate your devotion to the religion by making a good-faith contribution to their church. 

Even this doesn’t always work, though.  Before granting an exemption, employers may probe whether an employee’s religious belief is in fact sincere. They may ask questions about your vaccination history or church attendance.  Those Christians, who only see the inside of a church on Easter and Christmas, don’t qualify.  If the employer determines that your belief is not sincere, it may deny the exemption request.  Getting a Religious exemption now is harder that getting a Conscientious Objector deferment from the Army during the Vietnam era.

Even if an employee’s religious belief is determined to be sincere, it’s still the employer who decides what the reasonable accommodation will be. It does not have to be the accommodation you want.  It could be that they will allow you to remain employed by the company, but you will be put on unpaid leave until either the mandate is changed, or you get vaccinated.

There is another way, though, to get a “reach-around” Religious exemption.  You can claim on high moral ground that you do not put anything in your body that used fetal cells in the research, testing, or production of the product.  The current vaccines all used fetal cells in the research, even though they did not actually use fetal cells in the production of the vaccine.  So, easy peasy, right?  Not so fast.

There’s a big gotcha in this approach to a Religious exemption.  Your employer can force you to sign a sworn statement attesting to the consistent strength of your conviction.  You must state that you do not use ANY products that used fetal cells in the research, testing, or production of the product.  No big deal, you might think, but fetal cells have been around for decades, and they were used in the research or testing of acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, Benadryl, Claritin, Ex-Lax, ibuprofen, Lipitor, Motrin, Maalox, Pepto Bismol, Preparation H, Prilosec, Sudafed, Senokot, Tums, Tylenol, Zoloft, and maybe even Flintstone vitamins.  I’m still “researching” that one on my own.  Before you sign that sworn statement, are you sure that none of these items ever appeared on your credit card statement?  Remember that CVS or Walgreens might even have you in their database with a list of every drug they ever sold you.

Think about it.  It reminds me of that car rental scene with all the “F-Bombs” in Airplanes, Trains, and Automobiles?

If you’ve ever taken a Tums for the tummy, you’re f**ked.   Your employer can deny your Religious exemption on the grounds that your objection to fetal cell research is bulls**t. 

Okay, let’s say that your employer believes that you should be granted a religious exemption, they can still deny your case if it causes them undue hardship, and thanks to the tireless work of the Republican party, anything that costs a corporation money is considered an undue hardship.  So, in that case, take another look at the above graphic.  You’re still f**ked.

So, anti-vaxxers, who refuse to wear masks, I leave you with the immortal words of Harrison Ford in the movie Air Force One, “Get off my plane.”

Peace and Love, and all of the above,


Is God Stupid?

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” 

-Carl Sagan

One thing I’ve learned in the past year is that it is next to impossible to change somebody’s beliefs with facts.  Whatever we believe is locked into our minds and no mountain of facts to the contrary will change our mind.  The reason is because of something known as Cognitive Bias.  Our brains will only accept “facts” that confirm our belief.  We dismiss as false, those that are counter to our way of thinking.

So, a discussion of our beliefs, will often only lead to an argument, which nobody wins.  We do this all the time on social media.  The key to a good discussion, I’m told, is to listen to the other person.  First try to find common ground and work from there.

How do you find common ground?  Practice.

I decided to begin small, with something I believe 100% that only a tiny percentage of others do not believe.  According to the Scientific American Magazine, more than 1% of Americans believe that the Earth is flat.  I, like more than 98% of Americans, believe that the Earth is round, not perfectly round like a ball, but certainly not flat.

Before I got involved in a live discussion of my own, I decided to watch one on YouTube and practice listening to someone with an opposite viewpoint on something.  It was a half-hour program where three scientists discussed the shape of the Earth with three “Flat Earthers.”  My own cognitive bias kicked in automatically, and I immediately assumed that the scientists would be smart and the Flat Earthers would be stupid, if not outright morons.  So, I paused the program, trying to get that thought out of my head.

I couldn’t.  That’s the power of cognitive bias.  I was already prejudiced in favor of the side that held my beliefs.  Finally, though, I convinced myself to try to withhold my opinions until I had, at least, heard everyone speak.  That lasted only a few seconds, as the moderator began the show by asking them if they believed that God created the universe.  As an Atheist, I was pleased than none of the scientist professed to believe in an Almighty Creator.  I was kind of shocked, though, that only two of the Flat Earthers, Wendell and Shelley, did believe that God created the Universe.  Ed didn’t, and I found myself unable to keep from thinking of him as the “smart” Flat Earther. 

Then, each side was asked to present the reasons for their belief.  Wendell went first.  He was a Bible scholar and a Creationist, who believed that every word in the Bible was literally true.  He presented several of the hundreds of Bible passages he found that implied that the Earth is flat.  He knew his Old Testament and his “facts” very well, and I no longer thought of him as stupid, but rather just misguided.  My cognitive bias had budged a tiny little bit, but not much, and I couldn’t find any common ground with him.  What proof did he have, outside of Bible verses?  Well, he had a landscape picture that he took in California, and the area looked very flat.  I found that less convincing than his Bible verses.

Then Shelley presented her case.  She had formerly believed, as she was taught in grammar school, that the Earth was round, but her study of many ancient religions showed her that they all believed in a flat earth, and she therefore changed her belief.  Her entire argument consisted of “facts” from ancient religions, and I couldn’t help but think, she’s the stupid one.  Then she mentioned that she had graduated from West Point.  I don’t think that a college degree necessarily proves you are smart, but I do believe that it means you are not stupid, unless your family donated millions to the school just to get you in, or if you were a star athlete who the faculty was warned not to fail, if they ever wanted to get tenure.  So, I changed my mind about her.  She wasn’t stupid, and she had studied the subject extensively.  She just hadn’t studied both sides of the issue.  She didn’t study modern scientists, because she felt they were all paid to go along with whatever story the government was trying to sell.  She got all her information from ancient peoples who didn’t know any better, people who had never looked through a telescope.  We had no common ground that I could find.

Then Ed went.  I had pre-determined that he was the smart one.  So, I listened carefully.  He was a skeptic.  Good.  I’m a skeptic, too.  We had common ground.  He knew the arguments on both sides but had decided to do his own research.  Wasn’t that what I was doing, sort of?  So, we had even more common ground.  Then, our connection was broken.  His research consisted entirely of studying conspiracy theories on the Internet.  He hadn’t bothered checking with NASA or other scientific organizations because, as far as he was concerned, they were all involved in a government plot to keep people from knowing the truth about the faked moon landing.  He was just using one conspiracy theory to try to prove another.

Damn, I had really been hoping for him to be the smart one, the guy who would present some fact that would at least make me stop and think.  It was not meant to be.  I failed.  I was unable to find any common ground with any of the Flat Earthers.

The three scientists presented the usual facts that scientists present in such debates.  When ships sail out to sea, we see less and less of them, until all we can see is the top of their masts, because of the curvature of the earth.  When we witness the shadow of the Earth on the moon during an eclipse, it’s always round, which is only possible if the Earth itself is actually round, and if you went to the top of the Empire State building you would not be able to see the light from the city of Chicago a thousand miles away, because of the curvature of the earth.

The three Flat Earthers made the weak argument that if the air wasn’t so polluted you would be able to see the lights of L.A. from N.Y.   They insisted that a ship sailing to sea would not appear to dip below the horizon.  The entire ship, not just the mast, would just appear smaller.  Then the debate was over.  Nobody changed their mind, especially not me.  I never expected to change my mind though.  I just wanted to listen to somebody with a completely different opinion.

I did try to keep an open mind throughout the discussion, but in the end, of course, I believed the scientific evidence over the supposed evidence contained in the Bible, the “Word of God.”  I couldn’t believe that any of the hundreds of references in the Bible to a flat Earth that Wendell had amassed would be deemed as actual facts by anyone.  The flat shape of the Earth and its supposed position in the center of our universe with the sun revolving around it were just the ignorant thoughts of ancient people who had never peeked through a telescope.  They certainly had never seen the edge of this supposedly flat Earth.  My conclusion was that using the Bible as a source of scientific facts was even more useless than using Playboy as a textbook on human anatomy.  Either the Bible was written by ancient people who knew absolutely nothing about science, or it was the divinely inspired Word of a God who was very stupid.

So, I failed to find any common ground with this particular group of conspiracy theorists, but I’ll keep looking.  Maybe I’ll find it elsewhere.  The world is small, and it goes around.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,



In his dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell wrote that “Big Brother is watching.”  Will Big Brother still be watching us in 2084?  Currently, the United States has terabytes of the written and oral conversations of its citizens.  Homeland Security scours phone calls, e-mails, and social media searching for threats against the country.  Computer programs scan for words like nuclear war or shoe bomb.  Of course, government agencies don’t usually put the pieces together until after the horse leaves the stable.  Then they find evidence that warned about everything in complete detail.  They always have enough information after the fact to know who did it, but, in the end, the dastardly deeds still got done.  By the time they can act, the damage is already done.

Our government has the capability to digitize everyone’s telephone calls, but they don’t have the ability to process this incredibly vast amount of data.  Technology will give the government the tools to know everything, but man’s bumbling, the government’s well-known inefficiency, and just the vast quantity of the collected data will ultimately save us from the threat of Big Brother.

The difference between Big Brother in 1984 and now, was that in the book the government was constantly informing the citizens that Big Brother was watching.  Today, they are constantly denying that they are spying on their own citizens.  They only record your conversations, they say.  They don’t actually listen in on them, they say.  Become a political activist, though, and you can be sure that they’ll call-up every conversation, e-mail, and posting you’ve ever made looking for ways to discredit or imprison you.  Hit the gas when the traffic light turns yellow, and if you don’t make it across the intersection before the light turns red, you just might find a traffic ticket in your mailbox a few days later.  Big Brother may be a bureaucratic stumblebum, but he is indeed watching.

By 2084 we’ll have bigger problems than Big Brother, though.  I’m not just talking about Global Climate Change, either.  Hopefully, the brightest and the best will figure out ways to solve that problem, once we pull our heads out of our asses and realize that it is a real problem.  The big problem in 2084 is going to be jobs.  There aren’t going to be many.  There is going to be a severe job shortage, when artificially-intelligent robots are doing most of the work.

In the old days, we thought that having machines do all the work would lead to a utopia.  That was back when we all got long better.  Now, though, I think it will lead to dystopia, because we will not want to pay people for doing nothing, even when there is nothing to do.

Years ago, when you went to the supermarket, a clerk would have to check each item for a price and total them up on a cash register.  Then bar codes came in.  Now, cashiers can scan each item as quickly as the conveyor belt can move.  You can even do it yourself, and cashiers are no longer necessary.

The problem with labor-saving devices is that employees don’t share in the benefits.  Instead, the stores make more profit as employees are laid off. The quixotic will tilt at windmills and refuse to use the cashier-less checkout.  They will wind up on long lines as only one window will be open to the anti-self-scanners.  Their pleas to open up more windows will fall upon deaf ears, and their screaming children will eventually make them give up the battle.

Several hamburger restaurants opened recently with robot short-order cooks flipping burgers.  They even have built in sensors that detect the temperature of the burger and remove it from the heat when it is cooked to the exact perfect temperature.

Robot drivers will revolutionize the trucking industry, the taxi industry, and the automatic drivers will probably even have sidekick robots or drones to help them make deliveries.  Millions will be out of work, but the people who own the robots will be rich, very, very rich.  They’ll still hire a few live servants, just for the thrill of it, but robots will do all the major work.  There will be a few jobs for programmers in the robotics industry, but eventually AI will write better programs than the human programmers.

Robots will pick up the garbage, sweep the streets, work with hazardous material, and they do not need vacations or down time.  They might even recharge themselves automatically with solar power while they work. 

Rock N Roll will never die.  People will always want to hear live bands.  Some robot bands might form, but they’ll never be as good as live bands, even if they sound better.

Probably there will still be human dentists, but they might have robot hygienists and robot receptionists helping them out.  Robots will make your clothes and clean them.  There won’t even be jobs for shoeshine boys, because robots will do that too.

Baseball players, football players, and race-car drivers will probably still be in demand, because there would be little thrill in watching a robot crash or take a vicious hit.  Artists will be popular, because the rich will still like to collect art.  Poets might still be around too, and novelists and screenwriters.  Nobody wants computer-generated poetry or movie scripts.  Computer-generated actors will replace humans, though.  They are already here.  Plus, they have the advantage that Clint Eastwood can be a young Dirty Harry, or a cantankerous old man depending upon which one the director wants to use, and Clint Eastwood doesn’t even have to be on set.

When computers came in and you were able to do the work of 10 people, did your salary increase tenfold?  No, you might have gotten a small raise, while 9 of your co-workers reported to Unemployment.  As technology advances, there will be less and less work for humans to do, but laborers will not benefit from labor-saving devices.  Unemployment may reach 80-90%.

Will the ultra-wealthy pay a guaranteed minimum salary to everyone who is out of work?  Not willingly.  They are already fostering the idea that people who don’t work shouldn’t even get unemployment benefits.  What will happen in 2084 when there is little work?  Who will provide the unemployed with food, clothing, shelter, and a little entertainment, so that everyone can live in peace in a little utopia?  The government?  Not likely, since the governments will be broke, because corporations don’t pay taxes, and corporations will have all the money. 

Whoever owns the robots will get rich, and the rich will just get richer.  The poor will scratch out a living or die.

What can we do to prevent this?  We’re going to need a method of sharing the wealth.  We need more employee-owned businesses, and we need the rich to take a smaller piece of the pie.  Today, the ultra-rich who own sports teams, insure that they will make a healthy profit by instituting salary caps on the players.  Perhaps we will have to apply salary caps on the ultra-rich.  Let’s just say that we put an earnings cap at $1 billion a year.  Everything that is earn over that will go to provide for the have nots.  We have the numbers.  There are more non-billionaires than billionaires.  We can change the laws and “make America great again” for everyone.  The ultra-rich can feed the poor instead of feeding off them, and if they don’t like it, they can just get in their rocket ships and go to Mars.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,